2020 MLB Draft Guide: The Importance of Paying Attention To the Draft
Matt Selz breaks down why it is important to pay attention to the MLB Draft.
With all of the talk surrounding what will and won’t happen this MLB season from a games played perspective and service time and player’s salaries, there’s also chatter about the MLB draft this year and next. The chatter combined with the Farm Report series that’s been coming out as part of the draft guide here, this seems like the perfect time to talk about the importance of paying attention to the MLB draft.
While it’s not fair to compare different sports to each other, it’s pretty clear that the MLB draft has the least amount of import to the team’s roster as compared to ones like the NFL and NBA drafts where most of the players taken not only make the roster right away, but have starting roles in lots of cases. The draft held in June for baseball rarely generates players that make the majors that season or even the next season with the last player to do it being Brandon Finnegan when he pitched for TCU in the College World Series and the Royals in the 2015 World Series in the same year. However, that’s where most fantasy baseball players go wrong with not paying attention to who is getting selected, not just by their favorite teams, but also just in general and how that player fits into the team’s future plans.
Dynasty players though, know that the draft is your chance to get your hands on new, young, talent, just like the major league teams themselves. At Fantasy Alarm the last few years, we’ve given pick-by-pick analysis of the first round and compensation and Competitive Balance Round A picks. If you’ve followed that or referenced it, it might give the impression that the first round is the one is the only place that legitimate prospects come from, but that is the wrong way of looking at it. Much like other drafts, the first round picks are typically just the safer ones but that doesn’t mean that worthwhile prospects don’t come from rounds further down. For example, in one of the more recent farm reports, there were a few prospects that were taken well after the 10th round and are now looking like solid major league contributors as their floor of projection.
This past weekend we had the NFL Draft and a lot of talk throughout the selection process was on teams focusing on positions of need in the near future but several teams tended to focus on needs a few years down the road best on how their rosters are currently constructed. The same thing can be said during the MLB draft as well, though the near future for the MLB draft is usually two years down the road in the quickest sense but knowing how a player fits into the scheme of the system can really help you in dynasty leagues to cherry pick the prospects that might have the best chance of producing faster in each class. It’s also critical to know how each team views the draft from a fantasy perspective because that could very well affect how you view the future value of certain prospects as they move through the minor leagues. Let’s just look at the AL East shall we?
The New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox are generally always the class of the division and typically build their major league rosters by bringing up some key prospects and then filling most of their rosters with the high-priced free agents and big trade pieces on the market each season. Their draft picks, while the top prospects could come up the major league roster like Xander Bogaerts and Rafael Devers for Boston and Aaron Judge and Gary Sánchez for the Yankees, most of their big pieces get sent elsewhere in trades that bolster their rosters for championship runs. Then there are the Rays who are seemingly always in contention in the division and have made several deep playoff runs over the last decade plus. Tampa is known as a small-market team because they don’t draw the crowds or the bankroll that the top teams in the league do and they must develop their players from within in order to compete. The prospects they get in the draft are usually the building blocks of the majority of their major league roster for the next several years and they fill in with key veteran free agent signings but they rarely are dealing their top prospects for the flashy trade pieces. Toronto and Baltimore are in the middle or beginnings of rebuilds meaning they are trying to stockpile as many top picks as possible to reboot their system and have a corps of young players to build around much like several of the most recent World Series winners have done. The Blue Jays and Orioles draft picks are intended to stay in the system and be developed for Toronto and Baltimore to capitalize on while trying to make runs at titles. Just looking deeper at the AL East we can see the disparity in how certain teams utilize their draft choices while others take theirs to try and bolster their standing in future moves for stud players. The same can be said if we look at the rest of the divisions across the league, which there’s not time for, but knowing or viewing how the teams view their potential prospects can also help sculpt your strategies in dynasty leagues in acquiring prospects. If a team sees their future prospect as potential trade bait, it can lower their value for your dynasty leagues since you are quite sure where they are going to wind up for the first several seasons of their major league careers. However, if you know the team has a history of developing prospects and using them as part of their roster, it could up their value for dynasty leagues depending which organization they are drafted into.
As we touched on early in this piece, just focusing on who teams are taking high in the draft isn’t always the best way to pick up helpful prospects especially in deeper formats. The players taken in the top of the draft in June are the ones that grade out as the safest prospects and the ones with the best chance of developing four or five tools that are at least MLB average if not above-average or plus in some regard. That doesn’t mean that guys lower down in the draft classes can’t be valuable fantasy prospects though. Teams and GMs draft those types of guys because they have one unteachable skill and they feel they can develop at least a couple of the others to be reasonable enough to be a serviceable player in the majors. That one skill might just be enough to persuade you to take them in a dynasty draft especially if that skill is speed or a plus hit tool since those are tough commodities to come by nowadays. Focusing deeper in the draft classes will also make you a smarter player in your leagues since you will know what the possibilities are for teams a few years down the road and not just the surface names that everyone knows.
There is an important caveat to this for this season however, since MLB has the ability to shorten the draft to just five rounds instead of the 40 rounds it typically is. Players can still be signed as undrafted free agents after that point, but for much cheaper bonuses than being drafted would offer, and so still expect the same number of prospects to be added to a team’s farm system since they still need the influx of talent. However, the teams may not have as much obligation to hold a prospect in the system quite as long if they weren’t drafted as if they were.
So while the draft doesn’t directly affect the major league rosters like top picks in other sport’s drafts do, there is still plenty of import to the major league draft every year especially for dynasty leagues due to the influx of new talent we can all get our fantasy owner hands on. Paying attention to where guys land, not only in the first few rounds, but also down into the double-digit rounds for guys that have a skill you covet, is the key to consistently restocking your young players in dynasty format. There will be those owners that just focus on the sexy names at the top of the first round, and for good reason, but the real trick to winning your dynasty leagues are getting prospects that are usable and aren’t just a name like some of the top guys taken every year are. Finally, as a shameless plug, if there is an MLB Draft this year, which all signs point to there being one in some form in June, I will have pick-by-pick analysis for every pick made up to the second round, and possibly further, so look for that coming on Fantasy Alarm in June to start scouting players early.