Commentary

Dream Team: The 'perfect' draft

Updated: March 28, 2012, 3:43 PM ET
By Tristan H. Cockcroft | ESPN.com

Model Kate Upton might disagree, but the truth is nobody's perfect.

Oh, for one shining day, a baseball player might be: Ask perfect game pitchers Roy Halladay, Dallas Braden or David Wells about that; or Shawn Green, who had a 6-for-6 day with four home runs, a single and a double in 2002.

But even the fašade of perfection occasionally presents flaws: Ask Armando Galarraga, he of the "28-out" perfect game; or Jonathan Sanchez, who would have been perfect if not for a Juan Uribe error in a July 10, 2009, no-hitter; or even David Wells, whose May 17, 1998, perfecto is sometimes downplayed because of the poor quality of the opposing Minnesota Twins lineup (for the record, it did include one Hall of Famer, Paul Molitor).

Perfection might be what we all strive to achieve, but all too often, it ends up barely outside our grasp.

Maybe fantasy owners, in general, believe they've achieved it upon the conclusion of draft day. You'll often hear someone say, "I love my team," as he exits the draft room. My theory is we're (mostly) eternal optimists; the truth is that if we really sat down to examine, rather than revel in the excitement that is draft day, we'd realize that even our "perfect" teams have fundamental flaws.

But what if we could have that perfect draft? Surely it exists, no?

This column says "yes."

The following is a team of my choosing, selected under conditions that assure everything falls into place: It is my "Dream Draft."

It's the draft in which I'm slotted precisely where I want, in which the team before me in the order never, ever steals my pick, the team after me always falls into the position-run trap at the spot I just picked, the pizza we ordered has all my favorite toppings and I get the most comfortable seat in the room. I used this phrase last year, and I'll repeat it: It's like everything is coming up chicken parm.

Now, to at least give this exercise a hint of reality, I first examined three things: our ESPN live draft results, which are based upon our standard game -- a 10-team, Rotisserie 5x5 mixed league -- our preseason rankings and our recent mock drafts. I then set some ground rules: No player could be picked more than five spots earlier than his average draft position (ADP) through the first 10 rounds, and no one more than two rounds later than his ADP in the final 15.

I then gave myself, just as last year, the No. 8 draft spot. This is not supposed to be easy. The idea is to give myself a spot that I don't totally loathe, but that presents a challenge in order to provide readers with my specific player insights.

Listed below are my picks, in order, round by round, with players listed at the positions I would initially slot them in my lineup:

Round 1, Pick 8: OF Justin Upton, ADP: 13.4

Upton
Mark J. Rebilas/US PresswireTristan would be downright "bubbly" if he got Justin Upton with his first pick.

If I didn't go off the board at the very beginning, this wouldn't be any fun, would it? Frankly, I see three players I'm targeting with my first pick if I'm not slotted in the top five: Joey Votto and Adrian Gonzalez, plus Upton. In this case, selecting Upton over either first baseman emphasizes his worth as a bona fide first-round pick, and it underscores some of the comments I made about him during our preseason rankings summit.

To recap: Flash forward one year from today, and if Upton is the consensus No. 1 pick in every fantasy format, I won't be at all surprised. Upton is one of only seven players in the history of baseball to manage multiple 20/20 seasons with at least an .800 OPS by the age of 23, yet he is considered by many to be a career disappointment to date. Seriously, this guy has the capability to register a .300 batting average, 40 homers and 20 steals in a season in the not-too-distant future.

Round 2, Pick 13: SS Hanley Ramirez, ADP: 15.5

As difficult as it is to pass on Evan Longoria, Ramirez stands out as the potential steal of the second round. Every report on him this spring, every game of his that I've watched, plus his spring statistics, has been glowing. The instinct to grant Ramirez a "free pass" for his down 2011 feels right. He's one of the few players in baseball with the capability to fill all five standard Rotisserie categories and fill them well, and he's a shortstop, something most other players with his skills can't claim. I was down on Ramirez two months ago, but every day that has passed since then, he has convinced me that he'll bounce back in a big way.

Round 3, Pick 28: OF Andrew McCutchen, ADP: 28.3

This is a dream round, with Felix Hernandez and Giancarlo Stanton also perfectly worthy choices in this slot, but a one-two-three punch of players with five-category potential is the kind of dream scenario I prefer to start off my team. McCutchen already has a .286-average season, a 23-homer season, an 89-RBI season and a 33-steal season on his résumé. And he's still just 25. How are we to say he won't match those personal bests in 2012, yet all in the same year?

Round 4, Pick 33: 2B Dan Uggla, ADP: 41.3

Uggla has big-time power for a middle infielder, and he gets nowhere near the respect he deserves. Uggla has 189 career home runs as a second baseman in six seasons, more than halfway to the all-time record at the position (Jeff Kent, 351). He also holds the record for 30-homer seasons by a second baseman (5), and he already has four homers in what has been a standout spring thus far. I called Uggla's poor 2011 first half a matter of pressing while adapting to his new surroundings. His performance the second half of the year, and this spring, suggests he has fully settled in now.

Round 5, Pick 48: SP Zack Greinke, ADP: 46.1

I simply can't repeat the key statistics more often: He was the major league leader in both xFIP (2.56) and strikeouts-per-nine innings ratio (10.54) last season. If you'd like to see my thoughts of him in more detail, check out my "Components of ERA" preseason column.

Round 6, Pick 53: C Carlos Santana, ADP: 56.0

Wait, what?!?! Tristan, you just picked a catcher in the first 10 rounds of your draft … are you feeling all right? My response: Yes. I make exceptions, and Santana is one of them. There isn't a catcher in baseball who possesses his combination of power and selectiveness at the plate, and his prospects at leading the position in homers, RBIs and runs -- while putting forth numbers in those categories that rival a good first baseman, which is his other eligible position -- are excellent. My favorite stat: He has played seven full months at the big league level and has improved his OPS in every single one of them, with the exception of June 2011, when it dropped a mere two points (from .787 in May to .785).

Round 7, Pick 68: SP Yovani Gallardo, ADP: 63.2

He has made significant advances in terms of command that rival the progress Clayton Kershaw made in 2010, and we all know what Kershaw did for a follow-up. Gallardo has shaved two walks per nine off his number in the past two seasons; he averaged 4.56 in 2009 and 2.56 last season. Accordingly, he has worked deeper into games, averaging 6.43 innings per start after the 2011 All-Star break. It's his time to join the game's elite.

Round 8, Pick 73: SP Madison Bumgarner, ADP: 82.5

Talk about "joining the game's elite" … if Bumgarner isn't already there, then he certainly will be. If it's not Gallardo who winds up as the 2012 version of Kershaw -- yes, that means a legitimate shot at the Cy Young -- then it'll probably be Bumgarner, who became a bona fide strikeout artist a year ago. It's all about his slider, which is truly nasty: He recorded 85 of his 191 K's with that pitch.

Round 9, Pick 88: 3B Kevin Youkilis, ADP: 89.8

I agree with Matthew Berry: "Dude, he's Kevin Youkilis!" Berry ranked Youkilis 57th overall; I ranked him 61st. The guy is 33 years old and averaged .308-25-90 numbers from 2008 to 2010 despite missing 103 games during that span. He's an absolute steal at his current (ninth round) ADP.

Round 10, Pick 93: SP Daniel Hudson, ADP: 94.7

He had a 70.5 left-on-base percentage and .295 BABIP last season, compared to 83.1 and .241 in 2010, yet his xFIP in those two years was almost identical: 3.76 in 2010, 3.79 in 2011. Hudson's "true" value probably resides somewhere in between, but he won 16 games last season with a 3.49 ERA and 1.20 WHIP. If he were to actually improve upon those numbers …

Round 11, Pick 108: OF Desmond Jennings, ADP: 102.8

[+] EnlargeJennings
Peter G. Aiken/US PresswireDesmond Jennings had 10 homers and 20 steals in just 63 games for the Rays in 2011.

Desmond Jennings should not be going outside the top 100 picks overall of a mixed draft. There's batting average risk, yes, but he also knows the strike zone -- his 19.6 percent chase rate last season was 15th best (as in, most disciplined) among hitters with 250 plate appearances in 2011 -- and with additional walks comes additional stolen-base opportunities. I'll take the 30-plus steals, and I figure that with 15-plus homers, he'd more than return my investment.

Round 12, Pick 113: DH Billy Butler, ADP: 110.0

At worst, he'll provide this team batting-average stability. At best? Well, one would have to think that, at age 26, some of the 140 doubles he hit the past three years combined would begin clearing the fence, right? In defense of that, check out these numbers, which are the percentages of his balls in play that were hard-contact line drives or fly balls: 19 (2009), 21 (2010), 32 (2011).

Round 13, Pick 128: SP Jordan Zimmermann, ADP: 120.7

The kid gloves come off this season, and the Washington Nationals, who fancy themselves contenders, should absolutely allow Zimmermann to approach 200 innings now that he's another year removed from Tommy John surgery. Last season, he both posted a professional best in walks-per-nine (1.73) and increased his fastball velocity (average 93.3 mph).

Round 14, Pick 133: RP Jason Motte, ADP: 141.5

Everything I've ever advised you about ignoring postseason heroics gets tossed out the window when it comes to Motte. He's not a one-pitch pitcher -- that a straight-as-an-arrow fastball -- anymore, having added a cutter to help neutralize left-handers and keep all opposing hitters off-balance. Believe.

Round 15, Pick 148: OF Cameron Maybin, ADP: 148.7

Maybin finished 81st on our Player Rater last season -- no, that is not a typo -- or 66 spots higher than where his current ADP places him. Excuse me, am I missing something? He batted .264, hit nine home runs and had 40 RBIs. How can anyone possibly expect him to decline from those numbers at age 25? Even a hint of burgeoning power would guarantee him a top-100 finish.

Round 16, Pick 153: MI Neil Walker, ADP: 153.3

Walker just may be the sneakiest 90-RBI guy in baseball, much less this late in the draft. Oh, and he's a second baseman, filling a challenging position on your lineup card.

Round 17, Pick 168: OF Logan Morrison, ADP: 164.0

Anyone who tweets as much as "@LoMoMarlins" does is A-OK with me. Oh, and he's a pretty good hitter, too. The one question I have about him, however, is which direction he's headed: Will he return to the .300-hitting, teens-power prospect he appeared to be during his minor league days, or is he trading some batting average for perhaps 25-homer power? Either way, it's a chance I'm happy to take.

Round 18, Pick 173: RP Joe Nathan, ADP: 185.2

His first season fresh off Tommy John wasn't a pleasant one, but at least it culminated with a second half that included 11 saves, a 3.91 ERA and 1.00 WHIP, plus a slight bump in fastball velocity (92.9 mph average, up from 92.3 mph in the first half). The Texas Rangers were willing to take a chance on him, and so am I, as he's one of the more attractive late-round closers out there.

Round 19, Pick 188: SP Brandon McCarthy, ADP: 188.0

McCarthy is another good example as to why I'm so willing to wait on pitching, particularly the back end of my staff, in so many leagues this season. Good pitcher, available late. Can't beat that.

Round 20, Pick 193: Delmon Young (bench), ADP: 197.7

It's time to break out some of Tristan's Twenty. The entire point of that column -- at least the majority of the picks -- was to give you a strong starting point for late-round sleepers in mixed leagues, or to provide you bargain candidates in the middle rounds in singular formats (AL- or NL-only). Here's the other angle with Young: If Morrison indeed attempts to adapt his game to being more of a .260-25 hitter than a .290-15 type, then Young might be a wise mix-and-match partner in that outfield spot.

[+] EnlargeIke Davis
Bennett Cohen/Icon SMIIke Davis offers potential "early-round" power from a late-round pick.

Round 21, Pick 208: 1B Ike Davis, ADP: 213.9. Though he has struggled recently during Grapefruit League play, perhaps that's helping to suppress his draft stock, creating another buying opportunity. The New York Mets have few stronger alternatives for one of the prime spots in their lineup, so the risk is well worth it … at least for a price like this.

Round 22, Pick 213: CI Lucas Duda, ADP: 209.5. Duda becomes valuable Davis insurance, or a corner infielder with upside if Davis succeeds.

Round 23, Pick 228: SP Derek Holland, ADP: 216.0. This is a pitching staff that will require careful maintenance and meticulous matchups selection, and I'm confident in my ability to do both. Holland is a patently obvious start-on-the-road candidate, and he's a good play at home against weak offenses, too.

Round 24, Pick 233: Vance Worley (bench), ADP: 218.8. He has 18 strikeouts in 16 spring innings, after having 66 in his final 61⅔ innings of last season (postseason included). Take him seriously, folks.

Round 25, Pick 248: Mat Gamel (bench), ADP: 226.2. It's only fitting that my final pick be another of "Tristan's Twenty," and the sixth in a row from that list. It sure helps that Gamel will quickly acquire first- and third-base dual eligibility, and that he's tearing up the Cactus League so far.

Here's how the team would shape up, using only projected statistics accrued by players drafted into active lineup spots. Projections are from ESPN's 2012 Draft Kit, to give you a sense of the team's expected performance.

Now, this assumes that every player on the team performs at his projected level and that I agree with every projection -- which I don't. Part of the reason this is a "dream draft" is that these are players I personally consider more valuable than our consensus rankings and projections dictate; that's the entire point of the exercise. To be specific, the projections for Upton, Ramirez and Hudson seem awfully conservative to me, and there is considerable upside potential to picks like Bumgarner, Butler, Maybin, Morrison, Davis, Holland and Gamel, with the odds of these players exceeding our projections better than their falling short.

We've provided a handy reference guide as to the average categorical performance in Rotisserie leagues the past three seasons combined right here, and if I'm to grant my "Dream Team" a number equivalent to the Rotisserie point total that's next-lowest to my projected number -- meaning that a projected 264 home runs would earn six points, because that's greater than 262.2, the average total from a team that earned six in that category -- this is how the team would fare:

Feel free to criticize a 68-point projected team, if you wish -- I'm not about to hide that that looks like a third-place number -- especially in light of the fact an average winning team in an ESPN standard Rotisserie 5x5 league managed a hair north of 80 points in 2011. It is a "Dream Draft" without a perfect score; those things seem contradictory. But, a few caveats:

• This team features two closers, but it has been well documented how frequently saves can be gotten off the waiver wire. I'm active on the add/drop front and have no fear padding that save total by at least another 30, meaning careful roster management alone should massage that total to at least six. If you think you have to win saves at the draft table, you've got another thing coming.

• These projections fail to account for add/drops of any kind, and besides merely saves, plenty of value can be found on the waiver wire in-season. This is a team, for example, likely to stream starters, and with careful enough management, there's no reason it couldn't lead its league in both wins and K's.

• Again, I think our projections for this group is conservative. Using my own estimates, this would be more like a 74-point team straight out of the draft. And if you can't be confident in your ability to manage a 74-point team into the 80-point range, you're going to be in trouble once the regular season arrives.

Perhaps that's me just waxing poetic about my team at draft's conclusion, just as everyone does. Perhaps. But I'm confident in this squad, and remember, the point is to always strive to get as close to perfection -- however you judge it -- as possible.

Now, Kate, let me in! "Randy Johnson" tells me the lobster is great …