The 2017 I-75 League draft is going to feel like quite a comedown from the 2016 draft’s cavalcade of elite prospects. Years from now we’ll look back with minds blown that the same draft produced Correa, Lindor, Bryant, Syndergaard, Russell, CSeager, Schwarber, Buxton and more.
No such luck this time around. There’s prospects available, but the drool factor is significantly drier. Still, the draft will carry intrigue for one particular reason.
Have you been paying attention to the offensive trend in baseball? Suddenly, the long ball is back. The 2016 ML season saw 5,610 homers crushed. That’s 700 more than 2015 (4,909) and 1,424 more than 2014 (4,186)!!! That’s a 34% increase in two years!
Fangraphs.com noted that at second base, an all-time high of 15 players hit 20 or more homers. In the previous four years combined, there were only 12 20-home run seasons at that position. It happened at shortstop too: 15 players with 20-plus homers. Old record: Nine, in 2009.
That 5,610 homer total is the second-most in baseball history. (Record: 5,693 in 2000.) Overall, 111 players hit 20+homers in 2016. The year before? It was 64.
What’s this mean to our league?
By now you know: There’s no defense for the long ball. You can have a great pitcher that allowed 0 homers; if the other guy rolls on his hitter’s card, there’s nothing you can do about it. Except try to keep up with it. Ballpark selection can only minimize the damage. And you can’t pitch around a slugger if the lineup is full of sluggers. Take that 111 figure and divide it among 15 teams. That’s an average of 7.4. If you don’t have 7-8 hitters in your lineup who can mash 20 homers, then you better draft some.
With that, we present our postseason non-mock draft. It’s not a mock draft because we are not attempting to assign players to teams. These are just our picks for the 15 best players available in the draft. The list comes with a presumption that Lucas Giolito of the Nationals (age 22) and Tyler Glasnow of the Pirates (age 23), two of the best starting pitching prospects, will not get cards. Giolito had 21 1/3 innings and Glasnow 23. Last year, Cleveland’s Kyle Crockett (17 2/3 innings) and Seattle’s Charlie Furbush (22 innings) both got cards — but they were relief pitchers, and LOOGYs at that. With fewer games played, we don’t think Giolito and Glasnow will be so lucky. But if they do, they’d be on this list, with Giolito in the top five and Glasnow in the bottom five tier, even with unusable cards.
Let’s do this.
- Mark Trumbo, RF, Baltimore (Bats R/Throws R, age 31 on March 1, 2017, WAR: 1.6) — Mark Trumbo not only led all draft-eligible players in homers, he led the majors in homers with 47. He slugged .850 and did most of his damage against righties (average of .284, on-base average of .347, slugging of .584, on-base-plus slugging of .931). He’s no gazelle in the outfield, though he did record 10 assists. He’s a beast compared to any other option among full-time players. (Previous rank: 2)
- Gary Sanchez, C, N.Y. Yankees (R/R, 24, 3.0) — In 2015 it was Justin Turner. In 2016 it was Chris Colabello. In 2017, even with far fewer at-bats, the part-time monster available in the draft (201 at-bats) is Gary Sanchez. The difference is Sanchez is also a highly regarded prospect. Sanchez had an unbelievable two months for the Yankees, crushing one homer every 10 at-bats (20 all told) with a .657 slugging percentage and 1.033 OPS. And like Trumbo he did much of his damage against RHPs (.338/.404/.689/1.093). For comparison, Colabello had a .868 OPS vs. RHPs in 2015 and Turner had an .890 OPS vs. RHPs in 2014. Sanchez also threw out 41% of basestealers. Among qualified catchers, only KC’s Salvador Perez (48%) topped that. His prospect status has slid in recent years and there’s some questions about his attitude, but at his position, with his card against righties, he’s a smart risk. (PR: Not ranked)
- Trevor Story, SS, Colorado (R/R, 24, 3.1) — If only he hadn’t gotten hurt. If only he had more than 372 ABs. Project Story’s numbers across a full season and he’s a possible No. 1 pick. He did hit 27 homers. As it is, he skews somewhat toward LHPs, though his RHP numbers (.268/.324/.559/.883) will play well in the right ballpark. Expect about an e18 in the field. Story had a couple of mediocre years in the minors and wasn’t ranked very high on prospect lists, and there’s that Coors Field effect, so buyer beware. (PR: 7)
- Dansby Swanson, SS, Atlanta (R/R, 23, 0.9) — His actual draft position may vary, as a lot of I-75 League teams already have their shortstop for the next decade, but this former No. 1 overall pick by the Arizona Diamondbacks doesn’t take a backseat to any of them. A .361 on-base average in particular stands out among his digits (.302/.361/.442/.803). He has good speed and developing power. Expect a high e-rating (about e28) for his first year in the league. Limited to 129 ABs. (PR: Not ranked)
- Julio Urias, SP, L.A. Dodgers (L/L, 20, 1.0) — If Giolito doesn’t get a card, Urias becomes the best available starting pitching prospect at age 20, despite a wobbly debut in 2016 for the Dodgers. His 77 innings of mostly-starting, a little relieving are on the low end of usability next season, with figures of .274/.349/.378/.728. Started slowly but when Clayton Kershaw went down, Urias stood up, pitching best in August (1.99 ERA) and September (1.93), boding well for 2017. (PR: 9)
- Jake Lamb, 3B, Arizona (L/R, 26, 2.6) — Why a .249 hitter discarded last year by the Springfield Isotopes as the No. 6 overall pick? Well, how about 69 extra-base hits, tied for the most available among any draft-eligible player not named Trumbo? How about nearly full-time status (523 ABs), 29 homers, and a lefty batter with stats of .271/.346/.552/.898 against righties? You’d have to swallow about an e25 at third base, and yank him against lefties, but in the right park, maybe as a DH, he’s the biggest LHB difference-maker available. (PR: 3)
- Michael Fulmer, SP, Detroit (R/R, 23, 4.9) — So you say you want a starting pitcher you can actually use this year? Michael Fulmer is your best bet. There’s a candidate with a better card, but far fewer innings (Rich Hill); there’s a candidate with more innings and better overall stats, but an imbalance that could be deadly (Kenta Maeda). So Fulmer, who became a reliable starter for the Tigers in his first year after being acquired in the Yeonis Cespedes trade, gets the nod with a 1.12 WHIP in 159 innings. Boasting a sub-.300 OBP vs. both lefties and righties, he’s probably a No. 3 or 4 starter on most I-75 League staffs. (PR: 8)
- Willson Contreras, C, Chicago Cubs (R/R, 24, 1.8) — Is Contreras marking the dawn of a new breed of catcher? Instead of a bulky behemoth behind the plate, a nimble, athletic, versatile backstop? Contreras hit .282 in 252 at-bats, with 12 homers and an .845 OPS. He’s only 6-1 and 175 pounds. Threw out 37% of runners and played errorless ball in LF and 1B; was signed as a third baseman. Getting him out from behind the plate on occasion will keep his legs fresher. (PR: 12)
- Jonathan Villar, SS, Milwaukee (B/R, 25, 3.9) — The MLB leader in steals with 62, Villar is the ideal full-time switch-hitting leadoff man for anyone who needs that role filled. If you can overlook his 174 strikeouts, that is. Still, Villar has nice on-base numbers both ways (.385/.363). He also brings 19 homers to the table. Expect an e22 or thereabouts at SS, and it’s worth noting Villar can also play second or third. He’s coming off a career year, can he reproduce it going forward? (PR: 5)
- Jose Ramirez, 3B, Cleveland (S/R, 24. 3.9) — The question is, is Jose Ramirez for real? It’s absolutely nice to have a switch-hitting full-time player who is eerily consistent from both sides of the plate (average: .311/.312; OBP: .368/.361, SLG: .473/.457), but the previous year he hit .219 in 315 at-bats. Not a lot of home run power, but his 46 doubles are the best in the available player set and he stole 22 bases. Expect him to be a solid e8 at third base, and will be carded for 2B, SS and LF as well. (PR: NR)
- Chris Carter, 1B, Milwaukee (R/R, 30, 0.9) — Normally we’d never propose a .222 hitter to be a first-round selection unless he was a future pick. Carter’s on this list for one reason — or rather, 41 reasons. That’s how many homers he hit for the Brewers, and while his overall numbers are a far cry from Mark Trumbo, 41 homers can do a lot of damage. They drove in 94 runs for the Brewers. Yeah, he struck out 206 times, second-most in MLB. Price of admission. He also had 27 doubles and a triple in 549 at-bats, giving him 69 extra-base hits to tie Jake Lamb for the second-most XBH among draft-eligible players. (PR: NR)
- Alex Reyes, SP, St. Louis (R/R, 22, 2.2) — This fireballer is rated just behind Giolito as one of baseball’s top right-handed pitching prospects. Called up in August, Reyes went 4-1 with a 1.57 ERA and 1.22 WHIP in 46 innings. He’ll have hard-righty stats (.170/.275/.234/.509) that will make for a useful situational righty reliever in his first I-75 League season, and he should be a No. 1-2 type starter after that. (PR: NR)
- Aledmys Diaz, SS, St. Louis (R/R, 26, 3.5) — It isn’t easy to make a case for a projected e25 shortstop, but Diaz had a ridiculous start to the season and finished with a .300 year in 404 at-bats, doing the bulk of that damage against righties, to the tune of .317/.387/.554/.941. That’s the highest OPS vs. RHPs on this page of everyone except Gary Sanchez, and Diaz has twice as many ABs as Sanchez. He hit 14 of his 17 homers against righties. (PR: 6)
- Tyler Naquin, CF, Cleveland (L/R, 25, 0.9) — Naquin was strictly a platoon player, albeit on the favorable side, hitting .301/.372/.526/.898 in 321 overall at-bats, while recording just one error vs. six assists. Struck out in 35% of his at-bats. The Indians have a crowded outfield situation between returnees and prospects, so Naquin’s future playing time is far from guaranteed. (PR: 11)
- Andrew Benintendi, OF, Boston (L/L, 22, 0.6) — The seventh overall pick in the 2015 draft after winning college baseball’s Player of the Year honors at Arkansas, Benintendi will make a great lefty pinch-hitter bat off the bench while we wait to see if he can crack the Red Sox’s tough outfield. Versus righties, Benintendi checks in at .338/.400/.584/.984. Arguably the best outfield prospect in the game, with .300 average, 20-homer potential. May not make it past Steve Hart’s mid-round pick. (PR: NR)
Next five: 16. Rich Hill. 17. Seung Hwan Oh. 18. Hyun Soo Kim. 19. Adam Duvall. 20. Chris Devenski.
No longer ranked: No. 1 Kenta Maeda, No. 4 Michael Saunders, No. 10 Steven Wright, No. 13 Nomar Mazara, No. 14 Seung Hwan Oh. No. 15 Ryan Dull.