Who doesn't love a draft?
We sure do; we do dozens of them every preseason. In fact, things change so rapidly once spring training games start, we'll often say around our offices, "Joe Nathan's out (presumably) for the season? Let's do a new mock draft!" Any old excuse will do. After all, as we'll often remind you, practice makes perfect.
Coincidentally enough, we embarked upon our latest mock draft this past Wednesday, the day after news broke of Nathan's torn ulnar collateral ligament. You won't find his name in here, and while you might see some others whose outlooks have changed in the two days since (Jose Reyes, I'm looking at you), values have hardly shifted so much that the results are any less relevant.
Besides, even if they are, we can always just do another mock draft, right?
This draft was based upon a standard ESPN 10-team mixed league, rotisserie scoring and a snake draft. Our drafters, in order, were Shawn Cwalinski, myself, Brendan Roberts, James Quintong, Matthew Berry, Nate Ravitz, Pierre Becquey, Eric Karabell, Christopher Harris and AJ Mass.
Tristan's pick: One of the nice things about picking second in a mixed-league draft is that your first selection is effectively made for you. For me, it's Pujols or Hanley at the top, and while if I'm in the No. 1 draft slot I'd take Pujols over Hanley, in no way is that an indictment of Hanley as Pujols' near-equal. I just prefer Pujols' Triple Crown-caliber offensive totals, which provide as stable a starting point for a fantasy team in terms of batting average, home runs, RBIs and runs scored. That said, getting Hanley serves the important purpose of filling shortstop, not to mention one-third of my middle infield, and in addition to providing a strong start in the aforementioned four categories, he also helps in stolen bases.
Best value: Is there really such a thing as best value in the first round of a fantasy draft? Ryan Braun (Ravitz) was picked two spots later than his average draft position, so if anyone qualifies it's him.
Biggest stretch: Ian Kinsler (Mass). Mass' contention that "middle infield is light" helps explain his decision, as does the fact that his No. 10 spot in the draft order ensured that Kinsler, whose ADP is 23rd (24.3), wouldn't have remained on the board by the time his third- and fourth-round picks (Nos. 30 and 31) came back around. Still, while it makes sense for owners to pick the players they like in the first two rounds, since they represent the core of your team and the differential between a late-first and mid-second round pick can often be slim, Kinsler seems like a reach, as he finished only 49th on the 2009 Player Rater. His .253 batting average hurt his 30/30 campaign, and how much room for improvement does he really have in the category? To the .270 level, maybe, but .290-plus?
Tristan's pick: Harris and I sat five feet apart during this mock draft, and one of our discussions heading into my pick in the second round was that Ryan Howard -- whom I had already been considering, having missed out on Pujols in Round 1 -- continues to get so little love in our mock drafts. Howard actually dropped by one spot from our Jan. 21 mixed-league mock, and while I was sorely tempted to begin assembling my pitching staff with Felix Hernandez, I felt a second-round selection would be too early for Hernandez, while a third-round pick was ridiculously late for Howard.
Besides, upon realization that I was targeting either Howard or "King Felix," Harris promised me Cwalinski wouldn't draft Hernandez. (He was wrong.)
Best value: Carl Crawford (Harris). Going by ADP, Mark Teixeira was comparatively speaking the second round's best value, but if I ranked Crawford a top-five player during the offseason, surely getting him at the No. 12 pick overall is nothing short of a steal. It took Harris by surprise, too, as after taking Tim Lincecum with his first-round pick for the third time in four mock drafts -- the fourth being our AL-only mock -- he was stunned to find Crawford still available.
Biggest stretch: Jacoby Ellsbury (Mass). If you don't know by this point that AJ Mass is going to draft Ellsbury no later than the second round of a mixed-league draft, then you obviously do not know AJ Mass. Ellsbury was 13th in Mass' "
Pierre Rankings," and I can't say I differ in opinion on Ellsbury's true value by all that much. He's a top-20 player for sure, but here's what underscores it as an odd selection: Kinsler, his first-round pick, already provided Mass a solid base of stolen bases, and as a result if Mass was going to pick another speedster, he might have been smarter to take Crawford, who last season topped Ellsbury in every other rotisserie category except steals, in which he trailed by only 10.
Sound bites: Ravitz astutely points out, "Would anyone be truly surprised if we looked back at the end of the year and discovered that picks 11-20 were just as or even more valuable than picks 1-10?" It's a fair point, especially considering that two of these picks have average draft positions in the top 10 (Teixeira ninth, Crawford 10th), two won 2009 RBI crowns (Howard and Teixeira), one led the majors in batting last season (Mauer), one led the majors in steals (Ellsbury) and one has placed in the top five in Cy Young voting in each of the past four years (Halladay).
Tristan's pick: After Harris lied to me about "King Felix's" certain availability in Round 3 -- and naturally I'm just kidding -- I was doubly disappointed to learn that Cwalinski wouldn't have even selected Howard had I let him slip back to my third-round pick. D'oh! Still, Greinke seemed a perfectly natural fallback choice to begin my staff. The guy won the Cy Young award, is one of the game's most talented hurlers and even if you want to criticize him for poor win potential on the Kansas City Royals, if you know me you know I don't care that much about wins when evaluating pitchers. Always build around ERA, WHIP and K's.
Best value: CC Sabathia (Becquey). No knock on Sabathia as a "chasing wins" guy, because if Greinke wasn't my third-round pick, surely it'd have been Sabathia. The value differential between Felix Hernandez, Zack Greinke and CC Sabathia is actually minuscule -- they're all within six spots of each other in terms of ADP. Here, they were also only six spots apart, but Sabathia was the last picked of the three, and seven spots later than his ADP.
Biggest stretch: Ichiro (Ravitz). None of our third-round picks was a significant "stretch," but Ichiro is the one of the bunch with seemingly the greatest downside, as he's now 36 years old and coming off a season in which he set career lows in runs scored and stolen bases. It might be smarter to wait on Ichiro, even if it means having to piece together steals with cheaper options.
Tristan's pick: After suffering the heartbreak of watching the two players I wanted most in Round 4 go with the two picks immediately preceding me, I turned to an old favorite in Werth, who has proved in back-to-back seasons that he's capable of another 30-homer, 20-steal campaign. When all else fails, go with a category-filler, especially one who plays his home games in a hitter-friendly park.
Best value: Grady Sizemore (Roberts). Ouch, Brendan, ouch. Sizemore might be a batting-average risk coming off an injury-plagued year, but let's not forget that he's only two years removed from a 30/30 campaign, not to mention a string of four consecutive seasons of 20/20 numbers. His ADP (29th, 32.2) is also noticeably higher than this, so he'd have been a potential steal at No. 39 overall.
Biggest stretch: Mark Reynolds (Mass). This is one of the drawbacks not only of having the final slot in the draft, but also overpaying for speedsters in the first two rounds -- you sometimes have to then reach again just to get the power needed to fill homers and RBIs. Reynolds could be a 40-homer, 20-steal dynamo again, but Mass put himself at tremendous risk with this pick. Between Kinsler and Reynolds, he might have torpedoed his team's batting average.
Tristan's pick: These days I'm not afraid to pick pitchers early, since there are more productive ones available and teams seem to be doing as good a job keeping them healthy as they are hitters. Lester is the kind of pitcher who hardly feels like an ace, but definitely is an ace. He was the 14th-best starting pitcher on last year's Player Rater, and he's going a solid seventh in terms of ADP at his position (41.1). He was a more attractive pick to me than Roberts, or either of the elite catchers -- the latter something I rarely ever target in drafts.
Best value: Cliff Lee (Harris). Unless you have a significant problem with his win potential, Lee is the kind of pitcher who is in a dream circumstance this season. Pitching-friendly ballpark? Check. Sensational defense backing him? Check. Playing in a contract year? Check. Frankly, it's amazing that Lee lingered as many as 11 picks beyond his ADP (41.3); he should have gone at the beginning of the round.
Biggest stretch: Justin Morneau (Cwalinski). After insisting he had no interest in Howard three rounds earlier, at the time pointing out the depth at corner infield, Cwalinski succumbed to temptation, picked Morneau eight spots higher than his ADP and let out an angry growl. Just wait to see what his reaction might be if he hasn't traded the first baseman by Aug. 1, right around the time the Minnesota Twins slugger's production typically goes into the tank.
Sound bites: Mass, finally letting his frustration with his No. 10 draft slot get to him, remarks, "It's fun having eight guys in a queue and watching them all go before the snake returns to you. No, really, it is." The persistent beeping as his desired picks are plucked off his queue makes him feel like he's on a submarine. "I'm friggin' Sean Connery in 'Red October'!" he says.
Tristan's pick: I'm now 2-for-2 in landing Ethier in our mixed-league mocks, and both times he was a solid sixth-round pick, this time going an insignificant three spots later in the round than on Jan. 21. I also paid $25 for Ethier's services in the past weekend's League of Alternative Baseball Reality (LABR) National League draft, so apparently I must like the guy. I do: It's the four-year trends of improving power and walk rate.
Best value: Nick Markakis (Harris). Harris and I disagree on this one, because our in-draft discussion centered around my wondering whether Markakis, whose numbers have shown little growth the past two seasons, might be following a similar pattern to Matt Cain's entering 2009. Cain, if you remember, was a bust-out pitcher last season, though just like Markakis, he showed little improvement in his statistics entering the year to hint it was coming. At the time, Cain was 24 and entering his fifth big league season. Markakis is currently 26 years old and entering his fifth big league season.
Harris himself was skeptical: "If I could have one pick back, it might be Nick Markakis. It does seem as though I find myself reaching for him every year just a little, thinking he's finally going to go wild. Maybe this is who he really is, though."
"Maybe this is who he really is." Sounds just like what I said about Cain a year ago!
Biggest stretch: Jose Reyes (Roberts). To be fair to Roberts, we drafted Wednesday, the day before the news broke that Reyes would miss anywhere from two to eight weeks with his thyroid condition. Still, what was known at the time was that Reyes did have a thyroid condition and tests were being conducted, and chances were he might miss a month or more. It doesn't mean Reyes should have gone undrafted, but anything in the ballpark of his No. 36 (40.8) ADP was risky business. Even after Reyes' bad news, however, Roberts maintained a positive outlook, pointing out that "the season is 26 weeks long, not two to eight."
Tristan's pick: Figgins was another point of debate between me and Harris, as I'm of the opinion that Figgins is the final third baseman you want to draft, while Harris feels Figgins is the first third baseman you do not want to draft. Whether the line is drawn at Figgins' spot, slightly above it or slightly beneath it is open to interpretation, but the consensus is clear that you do not want to be picking your first third baseman after he's gone, at least if you can help it.
Why I believe Figgins belongs among the group of "third basemen you want:" He's no longer quite the one-category performer he was a few years back -- having vastly improved his on-base percentage, ensuring elite totals in stolen bases and runs scored -- and his defense, which ensures every-day at-bats.
Best value: Kendry Morales (Ravitz). If you plan to wait on first basemen, picks like Kendry Morales in the seventh round are a perfect argument in favor of your strategy. He's one of only six players in baseball who managed .300-30-100 numbers in 2009, and three of the others who did it were first-round picks.
Biggest stretch: Javier Vazquez (Roberts). Though Vazquez's ADP (66th, 70.7) suggests this might not be any significant stretch, most people seem to feel the right-hander stands little chance at coming close to his 2009 numbers now that he's back in pinstripes. Unfortunately, he's Roberts' ace, though Roberts did have a definitive plan for these rounds.
"I knew we typically tended to hit the starting pitchers hard in Rounds 8-12, so I grabbed them in Rounds 7-9," Roberts said. "As Herm Edwards famously said, 'You play to win the game!' I played to win this game, and that meant reacting to the people I was playing against. Put me in a different group of people and I wouldn't have drafted anywhere close to the same way."
Tristan's pick: While our Bobby Abreu projection does anticipate some regression for the 36-year-old, even the numbers we forecast have him certainly being a player who warrants selection in the top 75 of a mixed-league draft. He kept slipping, and slipping, and slipping, and while he wasn't the kind of player I either wanted or needed based upon the construction of my roster, he wasn't one I felt I could pass up this late, either. Such tough decisions at this stage of the draft!
"You know what they say: Picking 79th is the worst spot," Harris said.
Best value: Tommy Hanson (Quintong). Take your pick of either Beckett or Hanson, both members of my recent
Diamond Debate with Jason Grey, because both of those pitchers make strong eighth-round selections. The group, however, seemed to feel that Hanson was a strong value this late. "I guess the grumblings from people when I took him in the eighth says a lot," Quintong said.
Biggest stretch: Ricky Nolasco (Roberts). Sticking to his three-starters-in-a-row strategy, Roberts reached for another pitcher, this time one whose ADP was a whopping 16 spots later in Nolasco. Roberts himself was displeased with the pick, especially when Gordon Beckham went three picks later.
"Darn me for thinking Beckham would fall," Roberts said. "I'm not even a big fan of Nolasco. Sigh."
Tristan's pick: Though Jimenez's ADP to date is 100 (99.9), in defense of the pick, he did finish 24th among starting pitchers and 62nd overall on the 2009 Player Rater, so perhaps he's being undervalued in early drafts? There's little reason he can't at least match last season's 3.47 ERA, 1.23 WHIP and 198 K's, and with him on board I now have a strong trio of ERA/WHIP/K's specialists atop my staff.
Best value: Matt Cain (Karabell). Cain finished 42nd on the 2009 Player Rater, yet no one gives him much of a chance at a repeat, apparently. Getting him in the ninth round is good value, however, especially in light of the fact that none of the other picks in this round ranked higher last season, and only Jimenez and Lee finished in the top 100. In a move uncharacteristic of Karabell, he waited until the eighth round to select his first pitcher, then took three in a row and wound up with Beckett, Cain and Jake Peavy, which is a pretty strong top three that late.
Biggest stretch: Brandon Webb (Quintong). Another case of rolling the dice on a significant injury risk, and in Webb's case he was already being picked too high (ADP 83rd, 86.7) before it even became clear he'd likely begin the season on the disabled list. Each of the next three starting pitchers off the board was safer.
Tristan's pick: My biggest reach of the draft, but the last thing I wanted to see happen at second base was to wait on the position only to see both Lopez and Howie Kendrick get plucked off the board. Besides, I needed power at this point and the only alternative was to either overdraft Dan Uggla, gamble on waiting a couple of rounds for Lopez or Uggla or go ahead and take the second baseman I needed now. Lopez is certainly capable of hitting for a decent average with good pop -- something in the .290/25 homer range. That's a top-100 pick.
Best value: Jonathan Papelbon (Mass). This group traditionally waits on closers, so one of the flaws in our mock drafts is that they're not always the best place to look for a representative view of how your league might pick them. Still, this was one mock in which the group waited too long to start closer runs, as Papelbon remains a top-five save-getter, and that's hardly the kind of thing that should last to the back end of the top 10. His ADP is 74 (77.0), meaning Mass scooped up elite saves almost two rounds later than usual.
Biggest stretch: Jose Lopez (Cockcroft). This pick might have been better spent on a closer like Francisco Rodriguez, but outside of him and Hunter Pence, my 11th-round selection, none of the other 11th-round picks inspired me in the slightest. And as for K-Rod, that Brian Wilson lingered into the 12th round meant getting saves now was hardly mandatory.
"Old man" Manny Ramirez sneaked out of the top 100, a shocking development for a player whose ADP is 81st (85.0) and one with his proven track record. I'm one of Manny's biggest critics this season and still think that's a heck of a value selection by Karabell -- who apparently agreed. "I keep writing I don't want the guy, but that's awfully good value," he said. "I had no choice."
Our first true closer run began in Round 12, as Francisco Cordero kicked off a string of five being selected in a 10-pick span. Cwalinski doubles up on the wraparound, nabbing both Jose Valverde and Huston Street. Even the experts can't wait forever.
My Brett Anderson selection in the 13th round felt like a blatant reach, even though his ADP is only seven spots later. Call it a "put your money where your mouth is" pick after Anderson was my sleeper of the year in our
New Year's predictions.
Dan Uggla's selection spawned plenty of colorful commentary, much of it from Harris, who made the pick. "That Uggla pick made me feel sick," he said. "Or maybe that was the risotto." After the draft Harris noted that our projected standings might have had an influence on the pick; it helped him recognize a need for home runs and therefore take a player he traditionally dislikes. Harris promptly announced his intention to rename his fantasy team the "Bumping Ugglas" in tribute to his pick. Cwalinski paid a 14th-round price to fill his corner infield spot with Garrett Jones, then realized afterward he had picked the wrong Jones -- he speculated after the draft that if he'd picked Chipper Jones there, he might have been able to wait until as late as the 17th round for Garrett. After picking Carl Crawford in the second round, Harris had trouble filling his stolen bases in the later rounds, eventually necessitating selections of both Michael Bourn and Rajai Davis, a strategy that displeased him. "I have basically no one else who can run," Harris said. "Bourn plus Davis equals yuck." Roberts fumbled his 16th-rounder, taking Adam LaRoche while waiting on the closer he really wanted, Rafael Soriano. "Soriano was taken two picks later, three picks before it came back to me. D'oh!" Roberts said. "I then compounded the mistake by taking Brian Fuentes because I felt he was the only guy with a decent closer track record left."
Vladimir Guerrero made it to Round 17, greatly pleasing Cwalinski, who didn't expect him to last so long. Hey, Milton Bradley once had a monster year as the Texas Rangers' designated hitter, right? Berry declared his "never pay for saves" mantra a success after landing Frank Francisco in Round 17, at the back end of another closer run that saw five go in a seven-pick span. That was his first closer of the draft, however, and he followed the pick with that of another closer who is no stranger to the disabled list, Mike Gonzalez. Becquey threw caution -- and his team WHIP -- to the wind by selecting Carlos Marmol in Round 18. "That was 100 percent due to the high strikeouts, which I valued more than the fact that he's risky," Becquey said. "Thanks to my three aces [Sabathia, Haren and Gallardo] I can afford his ERA/WHIP to be not that great, but not a closer that would only get 50 K's." The rookie phenoms began to fly off the board, as Jason Heyward goes at the back end of Round 18, to be followed by Stephen Strasburg six picks later. Heyward, incidentally, has an ADP 20 picks earlier than this.
Our individual sleepers began to fly off the board, beginning with Harris' selection of David Price, whom he declared a post-hype sleeper. Price, surprisingly, lingered for 29 spots later than his ADP. Berry followed up his Round 19 sleeper selection of Ben Sheets with Brad Penny in Round 21. But by draft's end, he was already second-guessing the picks. "I love both guys this year, but I probably could have waited on both," Berry said. "I think I have them rated much higher than everyone else, so that was an opportunity that was missed." Phil Hughes became a hot commodity come the 22nd round, as shortly after I added him to my queue, Harris plucked him off the board. Becquey is most displeased, "because who the heck steals someone else's five-round reach like that?" Roberts was most surprised to land speedy Everth Cabrera for the low, low price of a 22nd-round draft pick. "A potential 40-steal middle infielder with the 218th pick. Yahtzee!"
Among some of the final-round gems: Chase Headley, an underrated third base/outfield eligible I had my eye on with one of my final picks, before Ravitz snagged him. Colby Rasmus, another post-hype sleeper by Harris. Corey Hart, a player Mass was hoping to make "Mr. Irrelevant," but probably warranted a pick even earlier than in the 24th round. Miguel Tejada, whom Ravitz pointed out will have shortstop and third base eligibility by mid-April, increasing his flexibility. Nick Swisher, who despite the drain on Roberts' team batting average might be the cheapest 30 home runs in the draft.
As alluded to earlier with Harris' selection of Dan Uggla, ESPN Insiders get the added benefit of in-draft projected league standings. It's a fun little tool we typically discuss during our mocks ("Hey, I just moved ahead of you by 1.5!"), but its primary purpose for fantasy owners should be helping give you a sense of how balanced your team is midstream. Might you have built a strong foundation of batting average, ERA or WHIP in the early rounds? Perhaps a power-hitting, low-average hitter might suit your needs. Maybe you didn't grab enough saves in the early rounds and the closer pool has nearly run dry; the projected standings might alert you to it.
Not that projected standings should be taken as gospel, as unexpected injuries, in-season transactions and the play of sleepers and busts will have a profound impact on how a league plays out but to satisfy your curiosity, here are our league's projected post-draft standings.
Projected Standings as of March 12
Tristan H. Cockcroft is a fantasy baseball analyst for ESPN.com and a two-time champion of the League of Alternative Baseball Reality (LABR) experts league. You can e-mail him here, or follow him on Twitter @SultanofStat.