By Rob Leibowitz
The Rule 4 draft, as always, is the keeper leaguer's first glance at potential minor league squad picks for the following season. In other words, the depth of the draft and where the talent ultimately lands (AL or NL) may determine how hard they wish to push in order to obtain a good draft pick.
Goldy blocking Palka
Of course, draft picks in keeper leagues come by a variety of means. Whether the simple last-place team gets first minor league pick (dump as hard as you can and eschew league-minimum IP and AB requirements) or the first non-money spot team (have to rebuild and somewhat still compete at the same time) gets first pick could impact your strategy.
Generally speaking, with the exception of the truly top prep candidates, I tend to prefer to draft college players given their more rapid ascent to the majors. This is particularly noteworthy given the tendency of keeper leaguers to go for it one year and dump the next. This way, you are acquiring keepers while you rebuild one year and then deal the next when you make your championship run.
With that in mind, here are some thoughts on some key position players who will be drafted this year:
The catching class was not particularly deep this year. Reese McGuire was the top backstop selected (Pittsburgh Pirates). The lefty bat is skilled enough to stick behind the plate and could develop plus power as he matures. Andrew Knapp was the top collegiate receiver taken (Philadelphia Phillies). The switch-hitter has the tools to be a catcher, but it is unclear whether or not he will remain there given that his main tools are on the offensive side of things. The Atlanta Braves may have gotten a bit of a steal in Victor Caratini, who is a disciplined hitter with teens or better homer potential.
Dominic Smith was technically the first "true" first baseman selected in the draft. The lefty has a quick bat, great swing, good approach, and possible plus-power potential, but he will have to stick at first base for the long term. It will likely be a long while before he sees the majors given the New York Mets' one level at a time approach with other recent prep selections. D.J. Peterson (Seattle Mariners), a third baseman in college, will likely be the first 1B to make the majors from this draft class. Peterson is a patient right-handed hitter with 20-plus-home-run-per-season power. The next first baseman was not selected until the 88th overall pick (3rd round). Yellow Jacket Daniel Palka is a left-handed hitter with good raw power. Given the presence of Paul Goldschmidt, however, Palka may have to move to a corner outfield spot for the Arizona Diamondbacks.
L.J. Mazzilli (yes that Mazzilli) was the top collegiate second baseman selected in a rather weak crop. Granted, there were a number of shortstops selected who were ranked higher who may end up at second base in the long run. Like his dad, Mazzilli projects to be able to hit for average, provide high-single-digits-to-teens power and has decent enough speed/savvy to be a double-digit stolen base threat. Mazzilli is not a high-ceiling player but for now does project as an MLB regular.
The draft was fairly deep at third base. Two of the top talents in the draft are third basemen Kris Bryant (Chicago Cubs) and Colin Moran (Miami Marlins). Both players project to stay at the hot corner long-term. Bryant, a righty hitter, has 30-plus-homer potential. Moran profiles more as a 20-plus-home-run type but is a lefty with a superior approach. I might be inclined to lean towards Moran when making my draft choice, even though Bryant has a higher ceiling, given Bryant's right-handedness and strikeout rates. The New York Yankees may have gotten a steal in Eric Jagielo when he dropped to them with the 26th pick. While Jagielo, a left-handed bat, may end up at first or the outfield long-term, he has mid- to upper-twenties home-run power to go along with a patient approach. The Oakland Athletics' selection of Chris Pinder was something of a traditional A's selection as a college player with advanced plate discipline, a good glove and gap power. The righty should be able to stick at third but is not a high-ceiling player.
Hunter Dozier (Kansas City Royals) perhaps plays good enough shortstop to stick at the position but may, due to his size, eventually move to the hot corner. If he can stay at short, his 20-plus-homer power could make him a standout. For those interested in speed, keep track of Tim Anderson (Chicago White Sox). The righty is a 30-plus-steal threat and has gap power along with very good contact skills.
The Cleveland Indians selected high-schooler Clint Frazier with the fifth overall pick. Like many early-round high school outfielders, Frazier has high-end tools and 20 HR/30 SB potential. The Pirates, meanwhile, selected Austin Meadows, who likely has greater long-term power potential compared to the 5-foot-11 Frazier. Frazier, however, is the less raw of the two prospects and has a greater feel for the hitting game at this point. Hunter Renfroe (San Diego Padres) was the first college outfielder selected. A righty bat, Renfroe has 25-plus-home-run potential as well as at least double-digit-stolen-base tools. Given Renfroe's tools, he should be amongst the first selections in any NL-only keeper league, but keep in mind that he will be playing in PETCO Park, and given his handedness/strikeout rates, a high batting average may not be a part of his game. The Cincinnati Reds selected centerfielder Phillip Ervin with the 27th overall pick. Given Billy Hamilton's presence, it's hard to see how the Reds will eventually fit the two into their outfield when both profile best as center fielders and neither is a slugger. Ervin at least has double-digit-homer potential to go along double-digit, if not 20-plus, upside for stolen bases. Ervin's arm would play well in either right or left field.
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