How would you like to be invited to participate in the most unique Fantasy Baseball league in the industry? Looking back to 2002, the Old Duck was thrilled to be part of the Xperts Fantasy League (XFL), the vision of Ron Shandler and the first industry keeper league. Some of the most respected pundits and players of the game were kind enough to invite three “challengers” to be included as part of the 12-team group. As one of these home-league players, I was nervous and excited to sit down at the draft table that November and test my skills against the best.
As we enter our 16th season, it has been a great ride for this lifetime baseball fan. We’ve expanded to 15 teams and the camaraderie established over the years has led to genuine friendships with a great group of guys. And, to my surprise, the Quacker has turned out to be a decent player with championships in 2005, 2009, 2011 & 2012.
The XFL is a 5×5 keeper league (with OBP instead of BA) that has an auction budget of $260 for 23 players. We conduct the draft only a month after the baseball season ends and no research (or computers) are allowed at the table. Utilizing just MLB depth charts handed out prior to the first player being nominated, it is a test of your player-pool knowledge and prognostication. There is a significantly high inflation factor because many of the players on the keeper lists have salaries much lower than their projected values. Here’s the roster of Donald’s Dux (“K” for keepers, “D” for drafted) following the November draft…
C – Willson Contreras $7 (K)
C – Jason Castro $1 (D)
1B – Anthony Rizzo $33 (K)
3B – Eduardo Nunez $18 (D)
1/3 – Jose Abreu $13 (K)
2B – Yoan Moncada $4 (K)
SS – Didi Gregorious $6 (K)
2/S – Jonathan Scoop $11 (K)
OF – Yasiel Puig $16 (K)
OF – Shin-Soo Choo $12 (D)
OF – Odubel Herrera $16 (D)
OF – Domingo Santana $16 (K)
OF – Michael Taylor $9 (D)
U – Randal Grichuk $3 (D)
P – Kenley Jansen $23 (D)
P – Patrick Corbin $3 (D)
P – Julio Urias $4 (K)
P – Jeff Samardzija $17 (D)
P – Michael Wacha $10 (D)
P – Julio Teheran $10 (D)
P – Gio Gonzalez $12 (K)
P – Kelvin Herrera $6 (K)
P – Luis Gohara $8 (D)
FARM – Willy Adames (K)
FARM – Gleyber Torres (K)
FARM – Kolby Allard (K)
FARM – Alex Verdugo (K)
To lend some insight into the keeper salaries, players drafted in the auction have their salary increase $5 each season. So, for example, Santana was drafted for $11 the previous year. Any player who qualifies as a rookie has his salary increase only $3 each season. So, because the Dux drafted Puig in 2013 before he appeared in an actual major league game, he is entering his 6th year on the roster. The league plays the season with 40-man rosters (23 active each week), so at the end of March there is a supplemental, on-line, snake draft to fill the remaining slots. These legal supplements can have a huge influence on the success of your team because so much can happen between November & March. For the teams who drafted (or kept) Danny Salazar, Zack Britton, Eduardo Rodriguez, Julio Urias, Jimmy Nelson, Ervin Santana, Jose De Leon, Brent Honeywell & others, the first few rounds of this supplemental phase are critical to their team’s ability to contend.
As the result of finishing 5th in 2017, the Dux had the 4th pick in this supplemental phase as the first of 13 players to be added to the roster. As always, it becomes a lesson in strategy as to the utilization of scarce resources from a pool where over 350 players were already rostered. The current projections for the 23-man rosters have the Dux in a respectable 5th place, but the weakness is in starting pitching and the injury to Gohara exacerbates that problem. The first question regarding strategy was whether or not an available SP was worth the 4th pick, as compared to the best player (or prospect). Research indicated that the SP pool only had names like JA Happ, Mike Tomlin, Joe Musgrove, Hyun-Jin Ryu, & Tyler Chatwood. That made it clear that the value of the 4th choice needed to yield a prospect who might be a long-term keeper.
Now, a word about prospects. Due to deep rosters, teams are not shy when it comes to rostering young players low in the minors and holding them until they’re ready. This is one of the key elements to a “dynasty” format and the owners in this league know everything about projectable minor leaguers, college players and even an occasional high-school star. In any given year, you could take a top-20 prospect list from your favorite publication or website and about 18 of them are already on one of the XFL teams. The real gems in the 1st round of the supplemental draft are players who have rookie status and a major league job like Jose Abreu, who the Dux selected with the first pick in 2014. No player in that category emerged for 2018, so minor-league prospects were the priority.
Interestingly, the best available youngsters were all Shortstops…Fernando Tatis Jr., Bo Bichette & Royce Lewis. While SS isn’t a great fit for my roster with Torres & Adames already on the Farm, you can’t have too many good players at a scarce position. So, unless they went 1-2-3 ahead of me, one of them would be the choice. If you might wonder why a young pitching prospect wouldn’t be a priority, it is because the fragility of those players isn’t worth rolling the dice in the first round…Honeywell was taken with the 9th pick last year. A major-league starting pitcher would be targeted in Round 2, then major league back-ups for 3B, SS & C with an eye for players who might be able to be kept for two seasons ($1 this year and $6 next year).
Teams have very difficult choices in the initial rounds, as they need to balance filling holes on their roster with also acquiring some long-term talent. This year, as we gathered at our computers, the wheels were turning for 15 separate owners and here are the 1st Round results…
> 1.01 Fernando Tatis Jr. – Arguably the best prospect on the board.
> 1.02 Brandon Morrow – One of a handful of Closers available, he could rack up the Saves in Chicago if his health holds up.
> 1.03 Bo Bichette – Dante’s Son and named after Bo Jackson, he’s only 19.
> 1.04 Royce Lewis – As predicted, one of the three SS fell to me at this spot…he’s not that far behind the first two and at age 18, the future is bright.
> 1.05 MacKenzie Gore – This 18 year-old Padre LH was one of the highest rated pitching prospects on the board.
> 1.06 Dustin Fowler – Seems to be recovering well from a horrific 2017 injury and could be the starter in CF for the A’s.
> 1.07 Forrest Whitley – Along with Gore, the Astro RH brings great promise.
> 1.08 Cal Quantrill – Another big talent in the Padres system, this RH is the Son of Paul Quantrill, who pitched 14 years in the majors.
> 1.09 Luis Urias – Not your typical young hitter, he has strike-zone judgment and puts the ball in play…he had 68 Walks and only 65 K’s at AA last season.
> 1.10 Anthony Alford – The highest-rated OF on my cheat sheet, this Toronto prospect has a bright future.
> 1.11 Austin Riley – Maybe the Braves shied away from signing Mike Moustakas because this kid is waiting in the wings?
> 1.12 Jonathan Villar – Fantasy experts love a player with skills coming off a disappointing season…only hit .241 last year but led the NL with 62 SB’s in 2016.
> 1.13 Issac Parades – There’s always one player taken in the 1st round who is a stranger to me…this is a 19 year-old infielder in the Tigers organization who hasn’t played above A ball yet.
> 1.14- Sixto Sanchez – Slots right in with Gore, Whitley & Quantrill as a potential ace…this Phillie phenom is 19.
> 1.15 Kyle Wright – This Braves RH makes it five SP’s in the first round.
Additional picks for the Dux roster…
> 2.12, Steven Matz – Was targeting Chatwood in this spot but he went at 2.08…Matz has talent, but not durability.
> 3.04, Colin Moran – Nunez was the only 3B on the squad, so getting a back-up was important…the Pirates wouldn’t have made the trade if they didn’t think he could do the job.
> 4.12, Vincent Velasquez – Trying to accumulate pitching depth…in 46 major-league starts, he has a 9.7 K rate.
> 5.4, Kurt Suzuki – Wanted Mitch Garver in this spot because he’s going to back-up Castro, but he surprisingly went off the board in Round 3…Suzuki was the best option at this point
> 6.12, Addison Reed – Didn’t really need another Closer, but this was low-hanging fruit at this point in the draft. Two good reasons for the pick…1) trading the best Closer in baseball (Jansen) in mid-season could bring help in other categories and 2) Reed signed a two-year with the Twins and a successful season gives the Dux a $6 Closer for 2019. Fernando Rodney would only scare me if I owned him.
> 7.4, Brandon Crawford – Needed a back-up for Gregorius and Crawford will play everyday due to his Gold Glove defense.
> 8.12, Kevin Pillar – Another one who’ll play because of his defense, he’s a back-up OF with a little speed…has averaged 18 SB’s over the last three years.
> 9.4, Jesus Sanchez – With all the back-up spots covered, it was time for another prospect…he’s an OF with the Rays who played A ball in 2017 at age 19 and produced a .305 BA with 15 HR’s & 82 RBI’s.
> 10.12, Leonys Martin – He broke my heart last year, but I’m all about forgiveness…had 15 HR’s & 24 SB’s for the Mariners in 2016.
> 11.4, Michel Baez – The Padres system is loaded and this Cuban RH had a 13-4 record last season with a 2.50 ERA and a 12.6 K rate.
> 12.12, Ben Zobrist – Probably doesn’t have much left in the tank, but multi-position eligibility is nice to have on your bench.
> 13.4, Chad Kuhl – Not asking for much, just another Pirates make-over from Ray Searage.
All in all, a fairly productive draft. The three extra SP’s give some flexibility for match-ups and streaming until Gohara gets back. Moran could be a sleeper, while the other back-ups seem solid. Seven minor-leaguers also give hope for the future.
If you consider yourself a baseball expert, consider that the following players were taken in this draft…Tetsuto Yamada, Yusei Kikuchi (Gesundheit), Wander Javier, Ian Anderson (why not draft Jethro Tull?), Triston Casas, Luis Alexander Basabe, Travis Swaggerty and Colton Welker (taken in the 2106 amateur draft out of Stoneman-Douglas HS in Parkland, Florida).
More information and the league history can be found at fantasyxperts.com