Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Fantasy Baseball Draft: Where Do We Go From Here?

So here's the follow-up post to my post about who I think are the first-round quality players this year in fantasy baseball. The idea behind this post will be to examine what you should do next. I'm not going to go into specific pick-by-pick analysis; as I said, I want to avoid doing an entire mock draft. The idea behind this post will be to recommend what sort of players you should put around your first round pick to complement his skills.

One thing I want you all to keep in mind is that everything changes in the draft. My list will probably be obsolete by the time you hit pick #8 anyways, so be ready to adapt. And if someone keeps getting passed up, don't stick to your game plan. If Kinsler falls to you and you already have Utley, you'd better take a long look at him. If Hamilton and Howard go in the first round (as they often will), take some time to figure out how that changes what you can expect at your pick in the second round. Part of the reason that the draft is the most fun (and most stressful) day of the fantasy season is that you have to change everything on the fly. Read what you can, develop lists, and most importantly, have fun.

For kicks, we'll start with my #12 selection, Carlos Beltran.

12. Carlos Beltran, OF, Mets - Beltran has a great balance of skills, which makes your next pick both difficult and easy. Generally, when you take an across-the-board talent first, you can just go with the best available player next, but I actually recommend leaning towards power in this situation. You'll find more 40-steal guys than 40-homer guys, and they're available much later in the draft (see Taveras, Willy and Pierre, Juan). A solid second-round pick here would be someone like Ryan Howard or Josh Hamilton; I'm gonna say Hamilton in order to protect the batting average more, since that's Beltran's one so-so category. Later in the draft, you'll want to look for more balanced guys, with batting average being the one category you need to protect.

11. Ian Kinsler, 2B, Rangers - Kinsler is similar to Beltran in that he gives you production across the board, but he's got less power and more batting average and speed than Beltran. For this reason, I think you go with a big bopper second, and Ryan Howard is as big a bopper as there is. Some people think Longoria will be good for at least 35 and 110, so I could see a riskier owner taking a chance on him, since he'll undoubtedly have a higher average than Howard. But I think you go with the more sure thing, especially since Kinsler has only one year at elite production levels. That'll be your story for the rest of the draft, as well. When you're picking between players, draft the more known commodities, since your first round pick is a little of a gamble. Magglio Ordonez, Vladimir Guerrero, and Brandon Webb are some of the safer bets you'll want to target.

10. Chase Utley, 2B, Phillies - Utley can put you in a great position by getting surprising pop from the second base position, which gives you elite flexibility when it comes to the future of your draft. My instinct is to tell you to pair him up with Howard or Rollins if they're available; it's a very good lineup in a great ballpark, and getting more pieces of it is never a bad thing. I'd also consider Johan Santana or Tim Lincecum here (I like Santana better), as starting pitching is pretty thin at the top this year. The rest of the draft, I'd look to alternate speed/power, and just focus on keeping your batting average solid. Utley will give you such an advantage at 2B that you'll have a leg up on all of your competitors.

9. Mark Teixeira, 1B, Yankees - With Teixeira, you've got the power categories in real good shape. That said, I'd think strongly about going power again here, if you can get a guy who produces like Tex. Hamilton is a nice pick here, and if you're willing to tie up your utility spot early, Berkman and Morneau are appealing as well. Rollins, Longoria, or one of the big two SPs wouldn't be unreasonable either. The nice thing about drafting an elite power 1B first round is that you don't lock yourself into a pick for the second round. You got exactly what you wanted out of first base, so now just look for top talent. In the later rounds, stick with the "best available" mantra, and let your team fulfill expectations (get speed out of your middle infield and one outfield spot, power from OF and 3B).

8. Miguel Cabrera, 1B, Tigers - See Teixeira. Seriously, the descriptions will be pretty much identical. It's going to be hell for these two guys to draft next to each other, because they're going to have pretty similar needs.

7. Ryan Braun, OF, Brewers - With Braun in the outfield, I'd take a long look at any bopper 1Bs remaining: Howard, Morneau, and Berkman are all solid picks here. There's a pretty big dropoff when it comes to those guys, and I definitely feel better with Morneau on my team than Prince Fielder or Adrian Gonzalez. And I wouldn't hesitate to nab either Santana or Lincecum at this point, either. The remainder of your draft is fairly wide open, similar to #'s 8 and 9. You'll want standard production from each position.

6. Jose Reyes, SS, Mets - This sort of highlights one of the weaknesses of drafting a guy like Reyes in the first round. He's a huge source of steals; so huge, in fact, that he makes any other steals guys seem unappealing. You shouldn't even consider Upton or Ichiro here, because you'll likely end up wasting steals after you fill out your team. Longoria is a good match, same with Morneau or Berkman. Throughout the draft, you'll be almost avoiding steals, because you don't want to "pay" for the value of any guy who steals more than 20 bases. Match Reyes up with Carlos Lee and/or Kevin Youkilis, and this is one team where I'd strongly consider drafting either Soto or McCann at catcher in the 5th or 6th, to ensure power value out of a weaker position.

5. Grady Sizemore, OF, Indians - This is really where the pressure cooker starts to heat up. The problem is that Sizemore certainly could hit as low as .265. If you match him up with someone in the second round who isn't a very strong bet to hit .300, you'll be playing catch up in batting average all year, probably without much success. Carlos Lee, Morneau, and Hamilton both look good here, but if they're all gone, you might actually consider taking a huge gamble and drafting Manny Ramirez. His production could be out of this world, early first round value, and he should hit at least .310, possibly a good deal higher. I wouldn't want to take a pitcher here; shoring up the batting average is too important. So important, in fact, that you'll probably spend half the draft trying to find ways to improve. Ordonez, Chipper Jones, and possibly David Ortiz will be good selections for this team. And you've got to avoid Adam Dunn, Dan Uggla, and Carlos Pena like the plague.

4. David Wright, 3B, Mets - Having Wright as your first pick puts you in a pretty favorable situation, in that he gives you bonus production pretty much across the board above what you'd expect from a solid 3B. I'd love to get Ichiro or Carlos Lee here, but if they're gone, that probably means either Santana or Lincecum is available, so you're sitting pretty either way. A team with Wright drafts normally the rest of the way, probably with an alternating power/speed makeup like that I described the post-Utley draft strategy. Prince Fielder and Matt Kemp are good targets in the 3rd and 4th, respectively.

3. Alex Rodriguez, 3B, Yankees - Another mirror image, this time of David Wright. A-Rod has a little more "natural power" (get it? hahaha) than Wright, but for drafting purposes the rest of the way, I'd treat them the same.

2. Albert Pujols, 1B, Cardinals - Pujols owners should draw from my analysis of Teixeira to figure out their direction, but of course, drafting this much later in the second round gives a different perspective. A few guys I haven't recommended yet that you'd want to consider here would be Alfonso Soriano, B.J. Upton, and Matt Holliday. All of them have some question marks, but their potential production could be huge. With a stud like Pujols as your first pick, I like a little gamble with the second pick. Still, as the draft moves on, you'll want to stay with more reliable guys. Having Pujols puts you in a good position right away; you don't want to concede that by drafting too risky.

1. Hanley Ramirez, SS, Marlins - And so we're back where we started. Having Ramirez puts you in a very good position for the rest of the draft. The same three guys I mentioned for Pujols make sense here (Soriano, Upton, Holliday). One of the big advantages of Hanley is the strength he gives you across the board, and you'll want to take advantage of that by drafting a guy in the second round who can keep boosting most of those numbers. After the second (and third picks; gotta love the wraparound), you'll be okay with focusing more on the 2- or 3-category guys. Protect batting average, and you'll be in a good position to take home the league.

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