If you’re looking for the easiest way to win your fantasy baseball leagues, I’ve got three words for you: proper draft prep. Without it, you’re done before you watch your first baseball game of the season. A proper draft prep is the foundation upon which you build a championship team, plain and simple. You need to walk into that war room on the day of your draft, not just with a working knowledge of the player pool, but with a full-blown game plan. You need a strategy and a knowledge so deep that no matter what happens that day, no matter how many of your so-called friends try to throw you off your game, you remain unfazed. You start there, and everything else is cream cheese.
Now if you’ve already read my latest piece on Mock Draft Central, you can skip ahead a few paragraphs and get to the meat of this article which is an overview rather than an ADP analysis. If you haven’t, then keep reading and get acquainted with the draft prep gift I am about to bestow upon you…
One of the best tools I like to use when doing my fantasy baseball draft prep is the mock draft. They weren’t lying to you when you were a kid and they told you that practice makes perfect, and participating in a number of mock drafts is some of the best practice you’ll get. Do enough of them and you’ll not only pick up a deeper knowledge of the player pool, but you’ll know when to take a particular type of player, who the trendy picks are that people are likely overvaluing, how long you can wait on drafting some of your sleepers, and how aggressive you may need to be to acquire a player you covet.
Unfortunately though, not every mock draft experience is as rewarding as it should be. If you don’t have enough people to fill a draft, then you’re picking against computer players who make picks strictly according to the web site’s default rankings, most of the time regardless of position. There are also those who join a mock draft just to see how the first few rounds go and once they reach the eighth round, they walk away, leaving the rest of their team to computer picks as well. And then, of course, there are those who get bored easily and just start taking random players just to disrupt the process. What they’re even doing in a mock draft to begin with is beyond me.
And that is why I created the Mock Draft Army. With the help of RotoWire’s baseball managing editor Derek Van Riper, I put together a rotating group of industry experts dedicated to making the mock draft experience one of quality for our readers. The goal is to run as many mock drafts as time permits between now and the start of the season with each draft having at least half industry folk and the other half open to fantasy players prepping for their drafts. In an effort to keep things from becoming monotonous, drafts will be for a variety of different league styles and you’ll probably never see the same group of experts twice. In addition, the experts have been instructed to mix up their draft strategies to give people a different look each time. The best part is that, even if you don’t get in to a draft, you will have access to the results and there are enough experts involved that you’ll probably catch a few different write-ups around the web.
Tuesday evening was the Mock Draft Army’s first draft and it went a little something like this…
28 rounds — Standard 5×5 mixed roto league
Rosters: 2 C, 1B, 2B, 3B, SS, MI, CI, 5 OF, UT, 9 P, 5 BN
Industry folks in attendance: Pasko Varnica (Mastersball), Moe Koltun (Roto Analysis), Michael Stein (Fantasy Judgment), Anthony Tynan (RotoWire), Kenn Ruby (RotoWire), David Wiers (RotoGraphs), and yours truly
While, technically, I didn’t walk in with a particular strategy I made sure that I stuck to my general gameplan for leagues of this size and style. No pitching before the sixth round, cover at least two “scarce” positions within the first five picks, focus on power early and wait on speed. Nothing too rigid, but a good, base outline. I had the number two pick in the draft and the following is a round by round look at my team with rationale for each pick, as well as my favorite (that obviously isn’t mine) and least favorite picks of each round. Here are the full draft results so you can follow along.
My pick: Ryan Braun — is there really a need for an explanation here?
Favorite Pick: Albert Pujols (Eric @FBSubmission) — Most go with Joey Votto first but with his knee and the crazy drop-off in power last season, Pujols seems like the safer pick. Not to mention how sick the Angels’ lineup looks.
Least Favorite: Jose Bautista (Kenn Ruby) — Power decline, wrist injury, no 3B eligibility all working against him. I would have gone Prince Fielder or Giancarlo Stanton if I wanted power to start.
My Pick: Hanley Ramirez — Not only do I expect a rebound in what will be his first full season with the Dodgers, but the dual eligibility at third and short makes him an even more valuable commodity.
Favorite Pick: Giancarlo Stanton (Munson15) — Awesome power and now paired with Fielder, he’s got at least 70 HR from his first two picks.
Least Favorite: Jay Bruce (David Wiers) — Big reach here. Probably could have had him in the next round. If he wanted big power and a low average in the outfield, Stanton was available.
My Pick: Jason Heyward — I expect first round production out of him this year. Check out the RotoGraphs piece I did on him in late January which, mind you, was mostly written prior to the Justin Upton trade.
Favorite Pick: Clayton Kershaw (Eric @FBSubmission) — Too early for me for a starting pitcher, but still a great value in the third round.
Least Favorite: Anthony Rizzo (David Wiers) — Another big reach into a deep position and you already had a first baseman on the roster.
My Pick: Billy Butler — Whiel the position is deep, lots came off the board early and few remaining are capable of a .300-30-100 season. Not to mention, the best nickname in the game right now – Country Breakfast.
Favorite Pick: Jason Kipnis (Bozos) — Great power/speed combo who covers a thin position and happens to be a guy I love. Better prepared for a full season’s worth of ABs so I doubt we see a second half drop like last year.
Least Favorite: Adam LaRoche (Pasko, Mastersball) — It was a panic pick. He saw all these first basemen coming off the board and reached way too early for a guy who could have been had at least half a dozen round later.
My Pick: Aaron Hill — Has thrived since going to Arizona and was the first guy I had listed on my depth charts after Kipnis. Also covers my second “thin position requirement” within the first five rounds.
Favorite Pick: Carlos Santana (Evil Kempire) — Ballsy move taking him before Joe Mauer who went with the very next pick.
Least Favorite: Michael Bourn (Moe Koltun) — I understand why, but there’s definitely some uncertainty with the switch to the AL. Cheaper speed to be had later on as well.
My Pick: Madison Bumgarner — half a dozen starters came off the board between this and my last pick, so the time was right. MadBum could very well be the Giants’ best starter this year.
Favorite Pick: Mark Trumbo (Sliders) — Might have been able to wait another round or even maybe two, but I like him for 30-plus HR this year and that’s tough to come by in the sixth inning.
Least Favorite: Melky Cabrera (Pasko, Mastersball) — I don’t like him this high and even though it’s a favorable park and a revamped lineup, the lack of some extra juice will bring him back to Earth and probably lower.
My Pick: Kris Medlen — Thought I’d mix it up a little and double-dip into the starter pool. Great upside and even with a bit of regression from last season, should post outstanding ratios.
Favorite Pick: Josh Willingham (Pasko, Mastersball) — I think the Hammer is one of the most underrated fantasy players over the last few years and the 30-HR season with Target Field as his home should say it all.
Least Favorite: Danny Espinosa (Bozos) — Love the added SS eligibility, but steady reports of a major shoulder problem (rotator cuff) have me and plenty other awfully nervous.
My Pick: Salvador Perez — Catcher run in this round, as expected. Probably won’t hit for same power as last year, but makes great contact and hits for a nice, high average.
Favorite Pick: Wilin Rosario (Munson15) — If you’re going to wait until the eighth round to make your pick at the position, getting the power of Rosario is huge.
Least Favorite: Hunter Pence (Michael Stein) — I just don’t like his numbers at AT&T Park. Could be in danger of first sub-20 HR season.
My Pick: Chris Sale — Like my power so far so why not build up the rotation a bit more. Love Sale’s strikeouts and ratios. High number of sliders coupled with some elbow issues last year do make me nervous though.
Favorite Pick: R.A. Dickey — Though I passed up on him, it’s hard not to like a Cy Young award winner in the ninth round.
Least Favorite: Mark Teixeira (Anthony Tynan) — We already got the news on Tex before the draft even started so he could have waited a few rounds more at the least.
My Pick: Martin Prado — May not hit for lots of power, but could see an uptick now that he’s in Arizona. Using him at third to start but love love love his position eligibility.
Favorite Pick: Kyle Seager (Sliders) — Hit 20 bombs last year and now they’re moving the fences in at Safeco. Killer line drive rates and if you have a 10-game minimum for eligibility, his 13 games at second base make him even more attractive.
Least Favorite: Yovani Gallardo (Michael Stein) — I’m just not a fan. Good strikeout totals,m but his ratios tend to get blown up a little too often for me.
My Pick: Tom Wilhelmsen — Felt a closer run coming and I really like Wilhelmsen. With little else in the pen in Seattle, the job security is pretty high.
Favorite Pick: Aroldis Chapman (Anthony Tynan) — Could very well lead the league in strikeouts this season. Not too shabby this far down.
Least Favorite: Dan Haren (Bozos) — Move to the NL might mask the loss of velocity initially, but not forever.
My Pick: Angel Pagan — Outfield was running thin again and I needed to start building up some stolen bases. Should also be a good source of runs scored hitting atop the Giants lineup.
Favorite Pick: Norichika Aoki — Had him queued up for this round actually. Great numbers form last year considering he platooned for the first two months of the season. Good source of speed.
Least Favorite: Torii Hunter (Evil Kempire) — Stayed afloat last year thanks to a favorable BABIP. Might not have the same luck this year and there were a number of other outfielders, I would have taken instead.
My Pick: Alejandro De Aza — Another leadoff guy who should get me 20-plus steals and decent runs scored. Wish his SB% was higher than the 68.4-percent from last year.
Favorite Pick: Jarrod Parker (Pasko, Mastersball) — I just love the upside on this guy. Future ace, especially if he stays in Oakland.
Least Favorite: Jake Peavy (Michael Stein) — Just when you think he’s going to be great…BAM!! he gets injured. You just watch…
My Pick: Mike Minor — If only K/9 were a category in this league. Love the strikeouts and the overall upside, but could hit a few bumps in the road along the way. Still, not a bad choice for a fourth starter.
Favorite Pick: Greg Holland (Sliders) — Great strikeout rate and should do a better job of missing bats overall. Could finish the season as a top five closer.
Least Favorite: Chase Utley (Michael Stein) — I just don’t think he makes it the full season.
My Pick: Jason Grilli — Felt the need for the second closer and he was, in my opinion , the best of the tier remaining. A handcuff to Bryan Morris is likely needed.
Favorite Pick: Dan Uggla (David Wiers) — I think he rebounds now that he’s healthy and that kind of power at second this late in the draft is awesome.
Least Favorite: Josh Johnson (Anthony Tynan) — For lack of a better “least favorite” pick, I’ll go with Johnson here. He’s probably a decent value here in the 15th round, but I’m just not a fan with the switching of leagues and moving into a hitter-friendly environment. He’s great for my opponent to pick, but I wouldn’t touch him.
My Pick: J.J. Hardy — His average won’t be anything special, but Hardy is good for a decent home run total at a weak position. And given some of the rest of my offense, I can afford a poor average here, so long as he bangs me 20 dingers again.
Favorite Pick: Tim Lincecum (Eric @FBSubmission) — I don’t know what it is. Maybe it’s something in the water here in the Bay Area or maybe I’m just drinking the Kool-Aid that Ray Flowers has been serving me, but I’m starting to believe in Timmy again and here in the 16th round, he could be a steal. Of course, one outing during the regular season could erase all that soi we’ll see where it goes.
Least Favorite: You know…given some of the talent and upside found in the players taken in this round, my least favorite pick is starting to look like mine.
My Pick: Todd Frazier — I’m actually pretty happy with Frazier here as my corner infielder, provided that his .225 ISO turns out to be more the norm than the exception. Good lineup, great hitter’s park, hard to ask for much more.
Favorite Pick: Brett Anderson (Sliders) — He looked sharp coming back from Tommy John surgery and has quietly slipped through draft relatively unnoticed. He’ll probably end up being one of the most asked for players in fantasy trades by mid-May.
Least Favorite: Carlos Ruiz (Pasko, Mastersball) — One could argue that a 17th round pick of Ruiz isn’t a heavy investment, but between the suspension and the chronic nagging of a plantar fasciitis issue, he could be missing an awful lot of time this year.
My Pick: Lorenzo Cain — It’s a little early in his career to label him an injury risk, but it’s something to keep in the back of your mind when drafting him. When healthy though, he’s a solid power/speed combo capable of a 15-15 or 15-20 season.
Favorite Pick: Carlos Gomez (Eric @FBSubmission) — Truth be told, I just lost track of him which is another endorsement for doing these mock drafts. Would have much preferred him over my previous two outfield picks of Pagan and De Aza five rounds earlier.
Least Favorite: Brandon League (Michael Stein) — I know closers seem to be at a premium in this draft but with so much debate between League and Kenley Jansen as the Dodgers closer, this is a situation where grabbing the loser of the battle could be a waste of a pick and it’s too early to throw a pick away.
My Pick: Jarrod Saltalamacchia — Second catchers have been coming off the board so it was time to pick one before getting shut out. Doing well with batting average so far so I can withstand a bit of a hit and take Salty’s power as a worthy trade off.
Favorite Pick: Hisashi Iwakuma (Munson15) — He’s a quality starter who should keep the ratios down and provide good balance for the middle to back end of your rotation.
Least Favorite: Sean Marshall (Moe Koltun) — I’m not one to pick up middle relievers/vultures late in drafts because they’re so plentiful on the wire when the season starts, so I’m certainly not looking for one this early.
My Pick: Michael Young — Love the fact that so many people are writing him off as it maintains his “sleeper value” getting down here in the 20th. I think he’s rebounding in Philly; happy to be out of Texas and looking to stick it to the Rangers with a kick-ass year.
Favorite Pick: Adam Eaton (David Wiers) — Love his upside, quality speed potential. Getting him in the 20th maintains his value. Any earlier and it cuts down on the overall return.
Least Favorite: Brian Roberts (Bozos) — I know there wasn’t much else left at second, but just how much time will Roberts miss this year? Might never see the starting lineup on Bozos’ roster.
My Pick: Jeremy Hellickson — Solid strikeout totals and could put it together here in his third full year, but truth be told, I settled for him as Pasko took my guy the pick before.
Favorite Pick: Marco Estrada (Pasko, Mastersball) — I’ve been complaining that he’s been take too early in drafts, killing his “sleeper value” but I wait one round too long and watch him go the pick before me.
Least Favorite: Scott Baker (Evil Kempire) — He may have always had decent control, but he’s also been very prone to the long ball. Sure, coming back from Tommy John will make the arm stronger, but when the wind starts blowing out at Wrigley, you can watch the ratios go bye-bye.
My Pick: Alex Cobb — Another young, upside arm for my rotation. Not a whole lot of strikeouts, but could finish the year with a sub-4.00 ERA and double digit wins.
Favorite Pick: Corey Hart (Munson15) — If he’s really only missing the first month of the season, he’s an outstanding value here in the 22nd round.
Least Favorite: Matt Garza (Sliders) — The lat strain is likely to keep him out for all of April but it’s also the type of injury that could nag and affect him all year as well.
My Pick: Tommy Milone — Another good control guy with low strikeouts. Not much of a ground ball rate, but having the benefit of a cavernous outfield in Oakland should help in the overall.
Favorite Pick: Ricky Romero (Bozos) — Should he bounce back, he could be a killer value this low. The Jays new offense should give him plenty of run support this time around.
Least Favorite: Chris Iannetta (David Wiers) — Just a preference thing at this point and Iannetta is not one that I prefer.
My Pick: Brandon Belt — He finally gets the opportunity he’s been waiting for. Now it’s just a matter of whether he can handle the job or not.
Favorite Pick: Andrelton Simmons (David Wiers) — If he can get on base and hold that leadoff spot in the Braves lineup all year, he’s going to score a ton of runs and bean incredibly productive shortstop.
Least Favorite: Derek Norris (Pasko, Mastersball) — Sure, he’s Pasko’s third catcher, but with Jaso coming to Oakland, Norris isn’t going to see much time on the field.
My Pick: Stephen Drew — If he can stay healthy, he’s got decent power potential. I just wish he would bat higher in the lineup.
Favorite Pick: Hiroyuki Nakajima (Kenn Ruby) — Often overlooked, but could be a great guy to stabilize batting average.
Least Favorite: Ervin Santana (Evil Kempire) — Was a disatser last year for the Angels and could be one again for the Royals.
My Pick: Cody Ross — Like him a little less with that crowded outfield, but could hit like a champ out in Chase Field.
Favorite Pick: Domonic Brown (Sliders) — Could finally show his potential with a legitimate opportunity.
Least Favorite: Tommy Hanson (Eric @FBSubmission) — Shoulder still a bit of a concern and now a move to the AL.
My Pick: Edinson Volquez — If he can keep his ratios in check, I can enjoy his strikeout total for almost no cost.
Favorite Pick: Billy Hamilton (Kenn Ruby) — Now this is where you pick up Hamilton and hope he gets called up. Any earlier would have been a colossal waste.
Least Favorite: Antonio Bastardo (David Wiers) — A middle reliever you could have had for nothing off the waiver wire during the year. Might as well try a rookie with upside instead.
My Pick: Jose Veras — He’s the closer for the Astros. They may suck and his ratios may be a bit out of whack, but 20-30 saves for less than the cost of feeding a starving child in Africa.
Favorite Pick: Zack Cozart (Anthony Tynan) — decent power, great ballpark; just needs to play well enough not to lose his job to a minor league call-up.
Least Favorite: Don’t have one here. Last pick of the draft and no one wasted it with a useless player. Impressive, right?
Be on the lookout for plenty more from the Mock Draft Army between now and the start of the season. And if you’re interested in enlisting, as I know many of you are, hit me up with an email at firstname.lastname@example.org, like me on Facebook and send a message, or follow me on Twitter (@rotobuzzguy) and give a shout! More than happy to have you if you’re serious about the work.