It takes more than just having your projected rankings, and maybe an average draft position (ADP) list, to have success on draft day. You have to know how to use them. Here are some strategies, tips and considerations:
Drafting for position scarcity
The concept of position scarcity is always a hot topic of discussion during the draft season, and it's often used as a justification by an owner who appears to have drafted a player too early. Quite often, I think people assume positional scarcity is there without really checking the actual makeup of the player pool. They figure that if some position was scarce a season or two ago, it is still scarce. Some owners also give too much weight to scarcity factors in player selection.
The only way we can examine positional scarcity accurately is to look at how the player pool is constituted each season. Brendan Roberts' positional previews from the draft kit do just that, so make sure you check them out. He breaks out each position by tiers or specific categories so you can evaluate how much depth is at each. Here are a few additional things to keep in mind:
1. There is cheap catching value available late: This is the complete opposite of the options at catcher just a year ago, when the draft-day talent at the position looked as weak as it had been in recent seasons. This year, given the upside at the tail end of the catching pool, I'm not going to be concerned if I don't get one of the top backstops, and I won't reach a round early to grab one. I might not even pay the going price for Matt Wieters, no matter how much I love him; instead, perhaps I'll take a chance on an undervalued Chris Iannetta, the always-overlooked Bengie Molina or the underrated Chris Snyder. Or I might go one step farther and wait until the very end and take a chance on the winner of the Texas battle between Taylor Teagarden and Jarrod Saltalamacchia, or go with Jeff Clement, who could see significant time at DH this season, giving him an opportunity to put up numbers without the wear and tear of catching. The bottom line is there's enough potential in the end game at catcher that you can feel comfortable waiting if there are better values to be had.
2. You want one of the top shortstops: If it's early in the draft and you're in doubt, and one of your two similar draft options is a shortstop, go with him. As Brendan alluded to in his shortstops preview, the position looks relatively thin this year compared to recent years. For actual solid impact, it might go 10-12 players deep, at best. Obviously a player or two will step up and provide unexpected production, like Mike Aviles did last year, but you'll feel more comfortable having one of the established options here.
3. The outfield pool is back to its usual self: After a couple of seasons in which the pool was relatively thin, to the extent that it wasn't an optimal play to wait until the end of the draft to fill your last few outfield slots, a smorgasbord of options awaits you once again this season, so feel free to mix and match your outfielders as you see fit. Veterans, young players with upside, power/speed combos, single-category specialists -- there are a lot more options to choose from this season. Once again, Brendan has the lowdown in his outfielders preview.
Oh, and a general rule of thumb: Don't get too hung up on any type of scarcity for the first four or five rounds. You should draft the best player on the board regardless of position. AJ Mass lays out the reasoning behind this pretty succinctly in his column about "the myth of position scarcity."
How do you want to draft your pitching staff?
One of the first things you must consider when formulating a draft strategy is your plan for assembling your pitching staff. You have a number of different options. Here are just a few:
The Santana Strategy: Is any pitcher worthy of a first-round pick? For that matter, are any of them even worth a pick in the first two rounds before the swing picks? A number of teams in high-stakes leagues have won titles in recent years by selecting Johan Santana in the first round, so it can be done, despite the conventional wisdom that says don't use your first-round pick on a pitcher. It's a matter of personal preference. I generally don't grab a pitcher in the first three rounds, but you certainly can justify a high pick for a stud starter such as Santana or Tim Lincecum if acquiring such a player is a part of your overall draft plan.
Waiting to draft pitchers: This is a strategy that I have used often, not drafting my first pitcher until Round 9 or 10. I focus on grabbing the best hitting talent I can over the first eight rounds of the draft, knowing that there still will be quality pitching available even if I wait. I might tweak that this year to Round 8 given the mock drafts I have seen thus far.
It really depends how the flow of the draft is going. From there you have three ways to go:
1: Go through the balance of the draft normally, picking up whatever player you deem to be the best value on the board at that point, whether it's a position player or a pitcher.
2: You could grab one more pitcher in Round 10 or 11, if there is a good option, and then wait until your absolute last picks to fill out the rest of your staff. In a standard 12-team mixed league, that would mean using your picks from Round 17 until the end of the draft to grab the best hurlers available, focusing on hitters in the rounds before that. You're basically rolling the dice on some late-round pitchers with upside and hope a few break through, while also following the conventional wisdom that says hitters are more reliable than pitchers.
3: Start picking off quality starting pitchers in the middle rounds. Based on the way the starting pitching pool looks this preseason, this might wind up being the best route of all. There's a lot of value that could be had in the middle rounds with mid-to-upper-tier starting pitching. Grabbing five or six very good starters with strikeout ability in the seven picks between Rounds 9 and 15 is very doable this year, and could work out very well. Again, I might tweak that to Rounds 8 and 14, depending on how the draft is going.
If you want to widen the scope a bit, you can look to hit a "sweet spot" of pitching value somewhere between Rounds 6 and 17 (in a standard 12-team mixed league). In that span of 11 picks, you want to draft your nine pitchers. You take advantage of some value at the top, get a bunch of solid picks in the middle and avoid some of the question marks at the end of the draft. You can even wind up with a couple of undervalued closers in this scenario. That sweet spot worked well in last year's mixed-league drafts, and I don't foresee that dynamic changing much for this year's drafts.
The bottom line is that whatever your pitching plan is, it can be adjusted on the fly, depending on how your draft is going, and if certain players are taken or the depth at a given position is sinking fast.
When to draft closers
You definitely want to come out of the draft with at least one closer, maybe two if your league does not allow trades (or trades are tough to accomplish), but I would definitely not use a high pick on one. There's just too much volatility among closers to aggressively pursue one early in the draft, especially when there are still solid stoppers to be drafted in Rounds 14-17 of a standard 12-team mixed league.
Many leagues wind up having a "run" on closers in the earlier rounds. Don't panic, though, and don't jump into the fray. There will be at least one more run later in the draft, and that is the one you need to take part in so you get at least one reasonably stable closer with a firm hold on a job. You're free to pick up a second one, if you wish, especially if someone is really sliding to the late rounds. Be aware, though, that there will be saves available in the free-agent pool eventually. Don't feel you must grab two closers just because your fellow owners do.
The "first-10-rounds" strategy
In this method, you seek to establish the base of your roster by making sure you have certain positional requirements met within the first 10 rounds of the draft.
For example, you could set a goal of having all four infield positions, one catcher, two starting pitchers, one closer and two outfielders by the end of the 10th round. After establishing this base, you then go about filling your roster as needed with the best available player.
This strategy was a bit more effective a few years ago when there was more positional scarcity to deal with in the infield. It can be used as a guideline, but don't be concerned about filling the exact requirements if it means letting a great value pass by in order to take an inferior player at a position you haven't filled yet. This strategy gives you a potential plan of attack for the early stages of the draft, but it shouldn't dictate it.
Draft slotting: a plan for each round
In your ideal scenario, how would you like your draft to go? Why not make that happen?
If you're realistic in your expectations and don't plan out drafts that have, for instance, Jimmy Rollins falling to you in the third round, you can have a plan mapped out for each selection. You will have a good idea how your draft is going to go and what your team will look like when it's all done.
This is where ADP rankings can come in handy, helping you approximate who will be available with each pick of your draft, all the way to the very last round.
Set your player rankings, and then compare them to ADP data to identify groups of players to target with each pick. Ideally, you want to draft players as many picks after their ADP as possible in order to maximize the value of your draft as a whole. But don't plan your entire draft around players sliding to you in each round, or you're bound to be disappointed.
Give yourself three choices for each pick. If someone that is better than any of the three choices you have targeted slides to your pick well, that is just a bonus. Do this for each round until your roster is full, and you'll have your draft planned out well in advance. You can even run several different realistic iterations to find a plan that has the best overall result in terms of projected statistics.
For example, let's say you have the seventh pick in a 12-team mixed league. You could decide that your targets for that pick are Grady Sizemore, Ryan Braun and Rollins. Your next pick will be No. 18 overall, and checking your projected rankings and ADP lists, your targets are Evan Longoria, B.J. Upton and Lance Berkman. Your next chance to draft will be at No. 31, and there you have your eyes on Aramis Ramirez, Nick Markakis and Brian Roberts. Continue to do this method for every pick. See what the end result looks like, and then go back and change things to see if you can come up with something better.
Obviously, things are subject to change, depending on the flow of the draft, but at least you have set some guidelines for yourself to keep you on track. If you've ever felt you didn't come out of a draft with as strong a team as you should have, this strategy can indeed be a powerful tool.
Jason Grey is a graduate of the MLB Scouting Bureau's Scout Development Program and has won two Tout Wars titles, one LABR title and numerous other national "experts" competitions.