Strike Zone

Reviewing My Favorite Preseason Picks

by Matthew Pouliot
Updated On: September 30, 2021, 3:15 am ET

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I’m taking the Strike Zone into recap mode for the next few weeks. First up today is a look back at my preseason column on all of my favorite players to draft for the 2021 season. Starting next week, I’ll be posting projection review columns, comparing my projected numbers to how things ended up. The final Strike Zone of the year, running through the winter’s top 111 free agents, will come right after the World Series ends.

Today, I’m just going to repost my position-by-position rundown here with new comments. The numbers next to each player shows where they were listed in my overall top 300 as of March 26 and their average draft positions in NFBC (for March only) and at Yahoo.




Francisco Mejia - 232nd in Top 300 - 530th in NFBC - N/A in Yahoo

Will Smith - 101st in Top 300 - 100th in NFBC - 108th in Yahoo

Gary Sanchez - 150th in Top 300 - 149th in NFBC - 151st in Yahoo

Jorge Alfaro - 282nd in Top 300 - 253rd in NFBC - 86% undrafted in Yahoo


I just didn’t like the catcher position this year, and unless Sanchez slipped, I waited until the end of drafts to fill the spot. I didn’t see Salvador Perez doing anything like this; he was my No. 3 catcher behind Smith, but he wasn’t someone I ever drafted. Obviously, I also didn’t see Mike Zunino making the All-Star team and dashing my hopes for Mejia. Mejia hasn’t been particularly impressive anyway; his .250/.308/.413 line is solid, but Statcast thinks he should be a fair amount worse than that. His exit velocity numbers are all down from 2019.


First base

C.J. Cron - 122nd in Top 300 - 191st in NFBC - 240th in Yahoo

Vladimir Guerrero Jr. - 36th in Top 300 - 48th in NFBC - 45th in Yahoo

Ryan Mountcastle - 126th in Top 300 - 155th in NFBC - 161st in Yahoo

Eric Hosmer - 132nd in Top 300 - 152nd in NFBC - 171st in Yahoo


This is a little better, though perhaps I should have stopped at three players. After posting the lowest groundball rate of his career during a strong 38-game stint in 2020, Hosmer returned to form this year, hitting the ball on the ground 55% of the time. It also hasn’t helped matters that far fewer of his flyballs have left the yard than usual.

Cron hasn’t been as great of a value as he could have been if the Rockies would have spent more time batting him third or fourth. They also liked sitting him once a week during the first half, but at least that’s stopped.


Second base

Ryan McMahon - 147th in Top 300 - 226th in NFBC - 254th in Yahoo

Ketel Marte - 57th in Top 300 - 80th in NFBC - 78th in Yahoo

Nick Madrigal - 135th in Top 300 - 199th in NFBC - 222nd in Yahoo

Dylan Moore - 109th in Top 300 - 124th in NFBC - 146th in Yahoo

Nick Solak - 155th in Top 300 - 176th in NFBC - 221st in Yahoo

Brendan Rodgers - 223rd in Top 300 - 455th in NFBC - N/A in Yahoo


Drafting McMahon pretty much everywhere seemed like it’d pay nice dividends early on, but his value has been dropping steadily; he’s totaled eight homers the last four months after hitting eight alone in April and five more in May. The really annoying thing there is that he’s doing better than ever when pulling the ball this year, but he has one of the league’s lowest pull rates. I might take a chance on him again next year anyway; his strikeout rate is down and the power is there; he just hasn’t utilized it.

Looking back at it now, perhaps ranking Moore ahead of Marcus Semien wasn’t such a good idea. The scary thing with Moore is that he would have finished with 20 homers and 30 steals this year if he could have hit enough singles to stick in the Mariners lineup... he’s not finished frustrating fantasy leaguers.


Third base

Ke’Bryan Hayes - 72nd in Top 300 - 132nd in NFBC - 147th in Yahoo

Matt Chapman - 96th in Top 300 - 114th in NFBC - 98th in Yahoo

BrIan Anderson - 163rd in Top 300 - 260th in NFBC - 244th in Yahoo

Austin Riley - 170th in Top 300 - 216th in NFBC - 239th in Yahoo


My coworkers disagree, but I still think Hayes would have justified the ranking had he not messed up his wrist in the second game of the season. I’ll be high on him again next year; he makes contact, he hits the ball hard and he’s growing more confident as a basestealer, having gone 5-for-5 there this month.

Banking on Chapman in his return from hip surgery was a mistake. His average exit velocity has come in at 89.6 mph this year, which was well down from the 93.0 mph he averaged the previous three seasons.



Carlos Correa - 47th in Top 300 - 120th in NFBC - 126th in Yahoo

Adalberto Mondesi - 15th in Top 300 - 25th in NFBC - 29th in Yahoo

Corey Seager - 22nd in Top 300 - 30th in NFBC - 41st in Yahoo

Willy Adames - 181st in Top 300 - 427th in NFBC - 91% undrafted in Yahoo

Willi Castro - 156th in Top 300 - 227th in NFBC - 252nd in Yahoo

Amed Rosario - 189th in Top 300 - 436th in NFBC - 77% undrafted in Yahoo


I might just run it back with this list next year, minus Castro anyway. It was a mistake to expect as much power from Castro as I did. Everyone else here, though, could be a good value pick next spring. I don’t think Adames is finished improving, and Milwaukee is a better situation for him than Tampa Bay ever was. I’ll probably be especially high on Seager again, though it depends some on where he ends up in free agency. He hasn’t showed the MVP potential I was hoping he’d flash this year after his exceptional 52-game run in 2020, but he’s still making plenty of hard contact.



Byron Buxton - 26th in Top 300 - 113th in NFBC - 129th in Yahoo

Nick Senzel - 86th in Top 300 - 223rd in NFBC - 255th in Yahoo

Ian Happ - 79th in Top 300 - 158th in NFBC - 154th in Yahoo

Luis Robert - 21st Top 300 - 36th in NFBC - 35th in Yahoo

Yordan Alvarez (DH) - 38th in Top 300 - 81st in NFBC - 60th in Yahoo

Eddie Rosario - 75th in Top 300 - 104th in NFBC - 122nd Yahoo

Teoscar Hernandez - 55th in Top 300 - 83rd in NFBC - 87th in Yahoo

Franmil Reyes (DH) - 95th in Top 300 - 159th in NFBC - 149th in Yahoo

Anthony Santander - 115th in Top 300 - 162nd in NFBC - 167th in Yahoo

Max Kepler - 129th in Top 300 - 189th in NFBC - 211th in Yahoo

Andrew Benintendi - 145th in Top 300 - 217th in NFBC - 228th in Yahoo

Raimel Tapia - 167th in Top 300 - 229th in NFBC - 62% undrafted in Yahoo

Sam Hilliard - 187th in Top 300 - 330th in NFBC - N/A in Yahoo

Gregory Polanco - 204th in Top 300 - 417th in NFBC - N/A in Yahoo

Franchy Cordero - 209th in Top 300 - 491st in NFBC - N/A in Yahoo


Things certainly didn’t go as hoped here. Buxton has performed even better than I thought he would, but obviously not in sufficient quantity. I won’t put Senzel back in the top 100 next year, but I’ll still love him as a late-round pick. His performance in the 36 games in which he was healthy was quite a bit more encouraging than his .252/.323/.315 line suggests. He struck out just 13% of the time, and he had a 40% hard-hit rate. Statcast things he should have hit .303 and slugged .427.

Kepler frustrates me eternally. His BABIP, always his biggest problem, has hit a new low of .229 this year. He came into this season with 96 barrels and 101 home runs in his career. This season, his barrel rate is twice his career rate (11.1% to 5.6%), yet he has just 19 homers on his 35 barrels. His batting average is .214, but Statcast thinks he should be at .254. Statcast actually thinks he should be doing better than ever before; his xwOBA this year is .347, which is better than his .339 mark from a 2019 season in which he hit .252 with 36 homers.

Alvarez and Hernandez were bargains, at least. My longer shots did not pay off, though Benintendi and Tapia have been okay. If only I had been a little more aggressive on Tyler O’Neill; I had him 236th, compared to an NFBC ADP of 386.



Max Scherzer - 18th in Top 300 - 27th in NFBC - 28th in Yahoo

Walker Buehler - 16th in Top 300 - 22nd in NFBC - 19th in Yahoo

Jack Flaherty - 24th in Top 300 - 33rd in NFBC - 32nd in Yahoo

Luis Castillo - 25th in Top 300 - 30th in NFBC - 42nd in Yahoo

Tyler Glasnow - 29th in Top 300 - 48th in NFBC - 57th in Yahoo


Jose Urquidy - 43rd in Top 300 - 196th in NFBC - 191st in Yahoo

Chris Paddack - 40th in Top 300 - 102nd in NFBC - 115th in Yahoo

Joe Musgrove - 52nd in Top 300 - 122nd in NFBC - 125th in Yahoo

Dinelson Lamet - 50th in Top 300 - 109th in NFBC - 107th in Yahoo

Kyle Hendricks - 44th in Top 300 - 82nd in NFBC - 86th in Yahoo

Jesus Luzardo - 62nd in Top 300 - 99th in NFBC - 114th in Yahoo

Kevin Gausman - 71st in Top 300 - 138th in NFBC - 146th in Yahoo

Jose Berrios - 64th in Top 300 - 83rd in NFBC - 93rd in Yahoo

Carlos Carrasco - 81st in Top 300 - 105th in NFBC - 94th in Yahoo


Drew Smyly - 121st in Top 300 - 243rd in NFBC - 248th in Yahoo

Pablo Lopez - 92nd in Top 300 - 132nd in NFBC - 149th in Yahoo

Julio Urias - 85th in Top 300 - 127th in NFBC - 127th in Yahoo

Elieser Hernandez - 151st in Top 300 - 233rd in NFBC - 232nd in Yahoo

James Paxton - 165th in Top 300 - 228th in NFBC - 220th in Yahoo

David Price - 123rd in Top 300 - 205th in NFBC - 163rd in Yahoo

Yusei Kikuchi - 194th in Top 300 - 288th in NFBC - 87% undrafted in Yahoo


All in all, I’m pretty happy about this. Ranking Buehler and Scherzer ahead of Trevor Bauer, Yu Darvish and Lucas Giolito worked out very nicely, and Gausman and Urias had two of the year’s biggest breakthroughs. I wish Urquidy would have stayed healthy; he’s the one guy I had in every league that I drafted.

There were misses. Luzardo was obviously an awful call, and making such a big bet that Lamet’s arm would mostly hold up didn’t work out. I wasn’t at all in on Robbie Ray (my No. 102 ranked SP), Adam Wainwright (No. 138) or Carlos Rodon (No. 140). If only I had listed one more pitcher here after Kikuchi, it almost certainly would have been Logan Webb; he was No. 197 on my overall top 300, compared to an NFBC ADP of 586. I was afraid the Giants would jerk him around again, and they actually did send him to the bullpen in mid-April, only to reinstate him almost immediately because Johnny Cueto got hurt.



James Karinchak - 51st in Top 300 - 103rd in NFBC - 91st in Yahoo

Edwin Diaz - 58th in Top 300 - 78th in NFBC - 84th in Yahoo

Kenley Jansen - 89th in Top 300 - 121st in NFBC - 98th in Yahoo

Ryan Pressly - 93rd in Top 300 - 109th in NFBC - 111th in Yahoo

Trevor Rosenthal - 100th in Top 300 - 113th in NFBC - 132nd in Yahoo

Jordan Romano - 110th in Top 300 - 445th in NFBC - 85% undrafted in Yahoo

Emilio Pagan - 128th in Top 300 - 485th in NFBC - 92% undrafted

Pete Fairbanks - 162nd in Top 300 - 450th in NFBC - 96% undrafted in Yahoo

Will Smith - 142nd in Top 300 - 194th in NFBC - 194th in Yahoo

Diego Castillo - 165th in Top 300 - 335th in NFBC - 227th in Yahoo

Tyler Rogers - 198th in Top 300 - 698th in NFBC - N/A in Yahoo

Joakim Soria - 158th in Top 300 - 292nd in NFBC - 237th in Yahoo

Craig Kimbrel - 136th in Top 300 - 179th in NFBC - 161st in Yahoo

Giovanny Gallegos - 169th in Top 300 - 283rd in NFBC - 64% undrafted in Yahoo

Hector Neris - 193rd in Top 300 - 326th in NFBC - 220th in Yahoo

Amir Garrett - 181st in Top 300 - 242nd in NFBC - 213th in Yahoo


Quite the mixed bag here, but that was probably to be expected. It hasn’t exactly been a banner year for full-time closers; it looks like just nine pitchers will finish with 30 saves and 19 with 20 saves. Brad Hand is still tied for 16th in the majors in saves.

My big regret was the Padres situation. I had Mark Melancon as the man there from the time he was signed until the middle of the spring (he was present in this section in the first version of the column posted in early March), but I was convinced to switch to Pagan. That one really hurts.

I assumed Karinchak would dominate, and he mostly did for two months. Unfortunately, he was also apparently the king of sticky stuff; his spin rates plummeted after the league started checking for foreign substances. He’s spent the last five weeks of the season back in Triple-A.