FanGraphs Prep: Build Your Own Mock Draft

This is the fifth in a series of baseball-themed lessons we’re calling FanGraphs Prep. In light of so many parents suddenly having their school-aged kids learning from home, we hope is that these units offer a thoughtfully designed, baseball-themed supplement to the school work your student might already be doing. The first, second, third, and fourth units can be found here, here, here, and here.

Overview: A one-week unit centered around the MLB Draft.

The amateur draft is one of the most important events in baseball. Months and years of work go into each team’s preparation for the exercise. In this unit, you’ll squeeze all of that work into a single week as you learn about the decision-making process that goes into making a selection in the draft.

Learning Objectives:

  • Gather data from various sources to form an opinion.
  • Evaluate a dataset using a set of criteria to identify data points that fit.
  • Project potential fits based on needs and trends.
  • Adapt and adjust as new data is available.
  • Explain the reasoning behind a decision-making process.

Target Grade Level: 9-10

Daily Activities:
Day 1
Your first task is to prepare your draft board. Every team has strengths and weaknesses in their farm system and those will inform the needs they’re seeking to fill through the draft. Use this spreadsheet with information about each team’s needs, recent draft trends, and the top prospects currently in their system. Make sure you make a copy of the spreadsheet so you can edit it later.

Now pick your favorite team. What kinds of players will they to be looking for in the draft? Using the “Draft Pool” tab, start highlighting players who you think might fit the needs and recent trends of your team. Don’t worry about your draft position yet; just get familiar with the players available that you might be interested in picking.

The “Draft Pool” tab includes all the relevant data for the top 50 draft eligible players. It includes things like their position, age, school, and some brief scouting notes. One thing that might be unfamiliar to you is FV or Future Value. This is a grade on the 20–80 scouting scale that represents a player’s anticipated value in the major leagues. In the words of FanGraphs’ lead prospect analyst Eric Longenhagen, it “attempts to combine a prospect’s potential (reasonable ceiling and floor) as well as his chance of realizing it (including injury-related risks or proximity to the majors) into one tidy, value-based number.” A 50 grade represents major-league average. You can read more about the how and why of FV in the FanGraphs scouting primer.

Additional Resources:

Day 2
Now that you’re familiar with your team’s needs and the player pool, let’s start to narrow down your draft board. On the “Mock Draft” tab, you’ll find the draft order for the first round. Find your team’s position. If it’s helpful to you, you can use the tab labeled “Draft Board” to organize the players you’re targeting. If your team is drafting early in the round, many of the top players will likely be available. If your team is drafting later on, you’ll have to take some of the top players off your draft board because they’ll likely be drafted by teams with better draft position than yours.

For the players you’re targeting who might be available at your draft position, start to do some additional research into their skills and tools. Read scouting reports from The Board on FanGraphs, Prospect Pipeline on, or any other source for prospect content. Copy over their information from the “Draft Pool” tab and then organize them into your own rankings.

Day 3
Before we get started with the draft, let’s stop to think about drafting for need versus drafting the best player available. So far, we’ve assumed that the players you’re targeting will fit into the needs and recent trends for your team. After all, if your team has a serious weakness at a particular position, it makes sense to try and fill that hole with fresh talent in the draft.

Major league teams almost always ignore or minimize the holes in their organization, and simply try to pick the best player available at their draft position. This gives them greater flexibility when making their selection, helping them avoid reaching for a lower ranked prospect just because they’re trying to fill a need. Plus, this isn’t like the NFL, where newly drafted players generally take the field in the fall after being drafted in the summer; the players taken this week in MLB’s real draft might take years to reach the majors. Your needs today might not be your needs when draftees are major-league ready.

Which strategy makes sense to you? Does your draft position influence your choice of strategy? Is there a lack of players who fit your needs at your draft position? If you change strategies and focus on picking talent over need, reorganize your draft board to reflect this adjustment.

Day 4
It’s the big day! Use the actual draft selections to fill in the mock draft until your team is on the clock.

Opportunity: If you have classmates, friends, and/or family who are open to participating with you, this would be a fun group activity, where each person takes on a different team to create a true simulated draft.

Day 5
Did your team select the same player as they did in real life or did you go a different direction? If you picked differently from what happened in real life, what influenced your decision and why do you think the team picked the way they did in real life?

One reason why your real life team might have picked differently than you is the idea of signability. Each draft pick is assigned a slot value, i.e. the first pick is worth $8 million, the second pick is worth $7.7 million, and so on. Each team totals up the value of all the slots where they pick; this represents the team’s bonus pool. If a team spends more than their total bonus pool, they’ll incur penalties. Sometimes teams will pick a player they know they can sign to a deal with a bonus lower than the slot value. This gives the team some additional money to use later on in the draft if they want to sign a player to a deal with a bonus higher than that player’s pick would otherwise dictate. If a high school player’s bonus demands aren’t met, he can go to a four-year or junior college and reenter the draft later. This is a difficult wrinkle to account for in a mock draft like this, especially since the contract demands of each player aren’t often publicly known. Good public mock drafts take bonus demands into consideration as best they can, but it’s an imprecise science.

Write an explanation for your draft selection. What skills, tools, and characteristics attracted you to your eventual draft pick. Did you change your draft strategy before the draft when given the opportunity? Why? Did the draft picks of teams ahead of you affect your strategy? What did you do to adjust? If slot values and signability had been included in your decision-making process, how do you think it would have affected your strategy?

Additional Resources:

Adaptations for a younger or older learners:
To increase complexity:

  • Instead of taking on a single team, prepare a draft board for every team. Familiarize yourself with each team and create a true mock draft where you make every selection.
  • Continue drafting through the entire five-round draft. Don’t stop with just the first round. Build a full draft board with a larger list of draft eligible prospects. Find the draft order for the entire draft and continue drafting for your team in rounds two through five.

To decrease complexity:

  • Use the draft guides above to help you create a draft board. Those guides list projected selections. Focus your research and draft preparation on the names listed in those guides.

Jake Mailhot is a contributor to FanGraphs. A long-suffering Mariners fan, he also writes about them for Lookout Landing. Follow him on Twitter @jakemailhot.

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3 years ago

I’m sorry that I didn’t see the other lessons until now. They all are pretty interesting. I have a major edit to make to the first lesson in that it repeats a typical error for assignments that I (and increasingly other history teachers) try to prevent my students from making and that’s jumping to a thesis and then hunting evidence to support the thesis. This is a really bad historical error. I may want Ryan Howard to be in the Hall of Fame, but there is no way I should be looking for evidence to support that argument. Instead, I should interrogate what qualities are worthy of Hall of Fame induction in the brainstorming phase. Next, in the evidence collection phase, having decided what categories are important, I should a) make sure that my criteria have evidence to support them as criteria and b) find evidence that match my criteria. (In other words in the first task, I’m trying to validate the criteria I selected, in the second task I’m figuring out how I measure those criteria: what counts as “being a good person” for example or a “a run producer.” Only then can I start to write my essay about whether my favorite player does or does not meet my criteria.

This has real world implications. If I start with particular policy preference and I only research evidence that supports that preference, that’s a problem. This whole thing can easily be fixed if you start with the assignment as “Does my favorite player belong in the hall of fame?” And then proceed with the hall of fame criteria aspects and then the essay.

See also:

Sorry for being so far behind. Teaching on line with four kids and wife all working from home was way more time consuming than any of us thought.