How do I know when it's time to raise the intensity of my fantasy baseball draft preparation from relaxed to serious? Of course, it's when the annual MLB.com Fantasy 411 mock draft, a 12-team, 23-round exercise, gets underway. I've been running this mock, conducted via e-mail, for quite some time now, and even more helpful than the pick-by-pick results is the pick-by-pick commentary from each of the owners.
Well, five rounds are complete, and these five rounds had a much different feel than the early rounds last year. But why? Just out of curiosity, I decided to peruse the results from the 2016 MLB.com mock (yes, I did have this page bookmarked in my browser). Not to sound cliché or anything, but what a difference a year makes. Let's take a look at a handful of players who were selected within the first three rounds in the 2016 mock but have yet to find a mock team home in the 2017 version.
Jose Bautista (Round 2, Pick 11 in '16) - Forget five rounds. There's a real possibility that Bautista will still be on the board in Round 10. The veteran slugger's contract year didn't exactly go as planned, as he posted his lowest home run total since 2009 and was limited to 116 games due to injury. So, Joey Bats was forced to settle for a one-year deal to remain with the Blue Jays. Despite his advanced age and shaky health history, the 36-year-old actually offers some appeal as a discounted power source if drafted at the right spot, let's say #100 overall. Just be careful not to chase his past.
Chris Davis (Round 3, Pick 8 in '16) - Speaking of power, this guy has plenty of it, and it shouldn't be much longer before his name is called (or in this case typed and sent). He was probably a bit overvalued in 2016 drafts, and his batting average has fluctuated wildly from year to year. But Davis is also one of the only safe bets for 35-plus homers. His fantasy value is boosted significantly in OBP leagues thanks to his consistently high walk rate. In those formats, he will be squarely on my radar.
Todd Frazier (Round 3, Pick 10 in '16) - Frazier is coming off a season in which he set career bests in homers, RBIs and runs scored, yet his fantasy stock has dropped. Ah, the batting average. His .225 mark was a career worst. Do note, however, that his BABIP was an unusually low .236, so with a little better luck, a return to the .250 level is well within the realm of possibility. Considering the reduced price tag, I'm very interested in rostering Frazier this year.
Carlos Gomez (Round 3, Pick 11 in '16) - Gomez, on the other hand, is someone I'm not too interested in rostering. Yeah, his 33-game stretch with the Rangers last year was impressive, but how can one overlook the first four and a half months of his 2016 season? And he was already showing signs of decline in 2015. Back with the Rangers on a one-year deal, the former All-Star will try to prove that his finish to 2016 was no fluke. There will be someone in every fantasy league who will reach for Gomez. Don't be that someone.
Gerrit Cole (Round 3, Pick 12 in '16) - What a letdown. Cole's exceptional 2015 season (19-8, 2.60 ERA, 1.09 WHIP) convinced many owners (including yours truly) that he was a legitimate fantasy ace and would remain a legitimate fantasy ace for years to come. So much for that. Multiple injuries marred his 2016 campaign, and even when he was able to take the mound, the consistency just wasn't there. The elbow issues are a little scary, but the good news is that he's expected to be fine for spring training. There's some risk here, but Cole's expected mixed league SP3 price factors in that risk. Ultimately, this is a risk I'll be willing to take.
Zach Steinhorn is the 2016 Mixed Auction Tout Wars Champion. Follow him on Twitter @ZachMLB