So, I recently finished my fantasy baseball draft in my 15th year in the league. It’s a 14-team 5×5 mixed league snake draft, where I ended up with the number one pick.
Of course, I had to take Mike Trout #1. He’s the industry consensus, and he brings a great mix of speed, power, average, run scoring, and RBIs, coupled with consistency.
My strategy from there was to then pick up a starting pitcher somewhere else with my next three picks, and also thought I could steal Carlos Santana as a catcher (10-game eligibility in our league) at the end of the 4th/start of the 5th rounds. Past that, going into the draft I wanted to keep my average high early, pick up a few power bats, and make sure I grabbed two solid closers, as I hate chasing saves throughout the year. I also wanted to grab my catchers fairly early and get some real production, at the expense of waiting until late for my middle infielders, where I believe there are a large quantity of similar quality players late in the draft. However, a few minutes into the draft, that general plan went kablooey.
It then was a long wait to my second pick. I had hoped to pick up Adrian Beltre, Buster Posey, or any of a number of players, but when I saw Ellsbury still on the board, as well as Chris Sale, I switched strategies. Ellsbury and Trout gave me two outfielders early, but should put me in a great place with a combination of speed and power. Put them together and you’re looking at two .290, 20 HR, 30 steal guys who also deliver in terms of runs and RBIs. And with Chris Sale still on the board, my pick as the #2 pitcher in the AL, I picked him as well.
Waiting for my next picks, Carlos Santana was next off the board (shucks, that was quick!), then Adrian Gonzalez and Freddie Freeman followed shortly thereafter, somewhat as expected. By the time my pick came around again, I was amazed to see V-Mart still on the board, so I grabbed him as another BA guy with some power, and then with Cole Hamels on the board, a seemingly perennial pick on my team, I couldn’t let him get past. Two starters early, sure, but Sale and Hamels sure makes a great quality combo, and with a strong possibility for Hamels to land on a contender sometime this year (BoSox anyone?), he could be a great value.
Next, closers started flying off the board, but I restrained myself, so that when my pick at the end of round 6 came up, Pablo Sandoval, another favorite of mine, was still on the board. Given the Red Sox lineup, I think Sandoval is a fairly safe bet for a .280 average, 20-ish home runs, and decent run production, but with significant upside in the batting average department given his supporting cast and home park. Another favorite of mine, Hisashi Iwakuma, is highly underrated as a starter in my opinion, and though I could have perhaps waited another round to get him, I knew of at least two other team owners in our league who are fans of his, and they each had TWO more opportunities after this round to pick him up, so I grabbed him when I could.
Coming up to my round 8/9 picks, it looked like time to start picking up my catchers. I ranked Sal Perez, Yan Gomes, and Devin Mesoraco all fairly evenly, but believe Perez would likely get the most at bats and have the highest upside, so he was my pick in round 8. Next, I wanted to grab another power bat, and J.D. Martinez of the Tigers looked like quite a bargain at the top of round 9. Coming back around, the closer ranks were thinning quickly, so I grabbed Glen Perkins of Minnesota as a “safe” closer, coupled with my second catcher, Brian McCann, whom I expect to have a reasonable comeback season.
At this point, I really needed a bit more power out of my CI spot, and Adam LaRoche was the best bat available according to my predictions. Phil Hughes was also on the board as a starter, and though I don’t expect a ton of wins with the anemic Twins offense, his solid ratio contributions are great filler here (I hope!). At the next turn I saw closers were rapidly depleting, so I grabbed Koji Uehara as a slight injury risk with high skills, and coupled that with Santiago Casilla, recognizing I’d have to handcuff Casilla with Sergio Romo a bit later.
Aramis Ramirez was my next pick, providing a reasonable average and counting stats batting cleanup out of Milwaukee. He’s also expected to get a few more days off this year, which may actually improve his fantasy value. Carl Crawford was still on the board here as well, and I like his opportunity to rebound a bit with a few more at-bats this season. He’s still a young guy!
Still light on speed, I grabbed Emilio Bonifacio in the next round, providing some general backup for injuries across the middle infield and outfield, coupled Alex Cobb as the best starter still on the board. Yes, Cobb’s hurt, but I’m hopeful he’ll be back on the mound by May, which should coincide with about the time Brett Anderson typically gets hurt. So I planned to pick up Anderson to cover April in the reserve rounds, and drop him once Cobb comes back.
Now, it’s time to fix up that middle infield stuff. Bradley Miller became my shortstop, and I picked up Marcus Semien as an upside play in round 22, recognizing Semien would be eligible at 3B, 2B, and SS after the season starts. Now I have a team that is fairly flexible in terms of injury management with backups available across a variety of positions. In round 23 I grabbed Kevin Kiermaier as my last outfielder — yes, he’s mostly known for his defense, but I still needed speed, and with reasonable playing time he could provide some solid contributions out of the final draft slot.
Next, reserve time. I picked up a couple starters to cover for the injured Sale, Uehara, and Cobb picks with CC Sabathia, Clay Buchholz (who it turns out is the BoSox opening day starter) and Bud Norris. Luis Valbuena from Houston was also a late pick, providing some potential power from the infield spots and more flexibility, even if I don’t expect much from his average.
Looking back, I’m most concerned about the round 3 pick of Ellsbury. I was thinking strongly of taking Adrian Gonzalez there, but saw an opportunity to pick up a player I could see on TV quite regularly (the Yankees’ YES network is available from our cable provider) and picked him more out of “fun” than strategy. Getting VMart right after him was great, but a combo of Gonzalez and V-Mart together could have been quite the pick. Uehara is a risky closer pick, which could be terrific, or a complete waste in round 14. I expect he’ll hit the DL a couple times during the season, but I like his skill set and he’s fun to watch.
I’ve placed in the upper spots in this league fairly regularly over the past 10 seasons or so, but haven’t won yet. This year I decided it was worth taking some risks and shooting for #1, even if it meant some bad luck would drop me way out of contention. I think I’ve put myself in a position where the team could excel, but it also comes with risk. Three top pitchers are injury risks before the season even begins, and I gambled on pushing off middle infield until late in the draft, instead picking up catchers (who tend to be inherently risky) fairly early. Time will tell!