Dynasty Dynamics: The State of the Draft Pick
There’s nothing both more overrated and more underrated than a dynasty league farm team, as it (like with most other things in life) all depends upon how you use it. If you sit around waiting for the players you identified to be great and continue to supplement with other prospects for whom you’ll wait, you’ll find that a farm system can be an impediment to success. If you view them as assets and are unafraid to trade them (even the very good ones) when the right situation presents itself, a farm system can instead be a fast forward button to contention.
These prospects are acquired in many different ways, but for those of you who don’t find yourself in the early-to-middle stages of a rebuild will likely find that a good portion of your future talent will arrive via the draft. And before these players arrived on your roster, you knew them by another name: a draft pick. Often the most liquid of fantasy assets, draft picks are almost universally available as equalizers in trades that start off without them, and understanding the basic value of those picks is a way to gain an advantage over your league mates.
For example, we collectively fawned over the depth available in last year’s dynasty drafts; a collection buoyed by the strength of the Rule 4 draft, but augmented nicely with some international talent (though not the top-shelf variety we’ve grown accustomed to, unless Yoan Moncada was available). So how do the next two draft classes shape up, and what price should we be putting on those draft picks?
The 2016 Crop
Here we have the advantage of knowing how these players have looked in their brief pro careers, yet the initial performances should not be swaying our views very much. There will always be cases where people get a little too excited about a 4th or 5th round pick because they looked great in short-season or rookie ball (I’m looking at you, Drew Jackson), but playing a little arbitrage with amateur reports is often a good place to start. Back in June at Baseball Prospectus, the depth of the draft class really showed as the back-end of the top-40 list is comparatively weak. This depresses the value of some of those third and fourth round picks, depending on the size of the league you’re in, and creates the opportunity for you to cash in on them now. In fact, one might not stop there at all.
From the top, there’s still a group of around 11 players from the 2015 draft that sit before the jump (to steal an internet journalism term). You know most of these names already: Rodgers, Swanson, Bregman, Benintendi, Fulmer, Tucker, Tate, etc. The biggest question that still remains unanswered is how much international talent is going to affect this top group. If you’re drafting in February/March, it looks like it could potentially grow by four–which would make a nice even 15. The one we already know to be available is Yadier Alvarez, the $16 million man in Los Angeles, who profiles somewhat similarly from a fantasy prospecting perspective to Dillon Tate. The slam dunk name to pencil in here is Kenta Maeda, the 27-year-old Hiroshima starting pitcher, yet this is what we thought last year as well, when the decision was made not to post him. With his floor, he’d likely slide into the top-five. Then you get the Cubans, and here’s where it gets more unpredictable. Eddy Martinez was the top talent available on the international market this summer by a few different sources, and by all accounts, still appears likely to sign in the next couple of months. Same goes for Vladimir Gutierrez, who was declared a free agent by MLB in July.
In the end, even second round picks may not be worth their weight in 2016.
The 2017 Crop
It’s early, but never too early to see what those draft picks an extra year out might be worth either. Right now, despite the lack of a true game changer at the top of the draft, the depth of the 2016 MLB draft class looks to be closer to 2014 than 2015, and with a good portion of that bulk coming at the college ranks, it makes for more valuable draft picks. As we’ve grown accustomed to, the college arms will likely dominate the first ten picks of the draft, with AJ Puk, Robert Tyler, and Alec Hansen currently operating as the three most interesting names. College outfielders also look to crowd the top of the ballot, with Nick Banks and Ryan Boldt leading the charge. On the prep side, the big name remains Blake Rutherford from a fantasy perspective, with a strong hit/power combination, but there are a lot of other prep hitters that showed off skills that could make them very interesting to dynasty league owners, including Avery Tuck, Mickey Moniak, Will Benson and Alex Kirilloff. What’s the common theme among those hitters? Power (and enough of an idea at the plate to make it play). Finally, what would a draft class be without prep arms? Jason Groome and Riley Pint will likely spend the next eight months going toe-to-toe in order to be the top prep pitcher taken.
However, the 2017 group has external factors in play here, which could cause the depth to feel multiplicative. We’ve seen more and more Cuban players defect over the last 12 months, and with MLB loosening the restrictions around the paths of Cuban players to free agency, there could end up being a wave of young players with upside hitting dynasty leagues in 2016. Of course, if things start moving more quickly during the fall, some of these signings could happen sooner, but it seems unlikely based on what we’ve seen with Gutierrez and Martinez thus far. There are some exciting young position players (though not as exciting as Moncada was) in Randy Arozarena, Yusnier Diaz and Jorge Ona. Norge Ruiz will be the best Cuban pitching free agent to hit the open market since Aroldis Chapman. And there’s almost certainly more to come (though it will be in the form of added depth, not star power).
It’s too early to start acting on it, but these picks could be similarly valuable to their 2015 counterparts.