Commentary

March 25 mock draft: Spring training lessons

Updated: March 27, 2009, 5:51 PM ET
By Brendan Roberts | ESPN.com

"If you can't pick well according to your own projections, you're doing something wrong."

That's just one of our mantras here at ESPN Fantasy. You should have your own opinions on players, not someone else's. And then you come into your draft with a game plan and an idea when you want to draft players, and you stick with it.

But sometimes it's just handy to have a nice example to work from. It's like that algebra class in the eighth grade. One of my math teachers, Mr. Kratz, would work out a math problem, showing all the steps, on the blackboard (do schools even have blackboards anymore?), and then leave it up there while turning us loose to solve our own problems. Even when I had a grip on what I was doing, I still looked up at his work several times during the course of the assignment. I could stray and solve the problem my way, but there was always his to refer to if I got stuck.

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Our ESPN Fantasy staff mock drafts are there for the same reason. They're the chalk on the blackboard, there for you to refer to if you get stuck. Not sure whether to take Milton Bradley or Justin Verlander? Well, check to see what the ESPN Fantasy guys did. Not sure whether you should take the first closer in the fourth round? Look at what we did. Not sure whether to take Michael Bourn at all? Well, see if one of us did in our 25-round draft (hint: We didn't).

And with that, I introduce to you the final piece of our mock draft puzzle, a full 10-team mixed-league mock draft that we hammered out earlier this week. You print these out or keep the link on your laptop -- that's right, you take the blackboard with you -- and have it beside you for your weekend drafts or late drafts next week. Make it one of your reference items, and then go solve the equation that is your league's draft.

It's the same setup as our previous mixed-league drafts: a 10-team league with 22 active roster spots (standard 23-man active roster setup minus the second catcher), three bench spots, snake draft. The picks, and the ESPN expert who made each one of them, are below. I'll follow up with analysis of a handful of players who have moved the most since our March 2 mock draft. Enjoy, and of course, good luck in your upcoming drafts!

Round 1

Recap: Nothing too surprising here, other than Chase Utley sliding into the first round at Mark Teixeira's expense. But you're likely to see some variation of those first eight guys in your mock drafts (it was the first nine guys before A-Rod's injury). That has been the case in about all the drafts I've taken part in, give or take maybe a player.

Moving up (since last draft): Utley, of course. Hey, he's back on the field following hip surgery after making a quick recovery, he reportedly has had no problems, he's at a weak position … you have my full blessing to take him in the No. 9 hole. But I must admit there's a tiny shred of doubt that sneaks into my craw regarding Utley. That was a major surgery he had, and while he had it early in the offseason, is there a chance he has a little post-surgery tendinitis or some kind of follow-up problem? I can't discount that, nor can I discount the fact that it might affect his performance, at least the baserunning. Go ahead and take him there, but I'd feel much better seeing him go on the wraparound pick, whether that's at No. 10/11 or No. 12/13.

Moving down (since last draft): Teixeira. This is probably no more than being replaced by Utley, but even I, about as big a fan of Tex as there is, can see moving him down a few spots given the absence of A-Rod for what appears to be about 5-6 weeks of the season. Teixeira tends to be a slow starter anyway, and I could see him disappointing for the first month-plus of the season, just as he has in the past. And you can't afford your first-rounders to have extended slumps.

Round 2

Recap: More of the best-player-available strategy, but the story here is the drop of Johan Santana. Here's what I think happened, and it happens a lot in drafts: About the middle five guys in this second round had a guy (or maybe two) in mind when their pick came around. Then Johan falls to them, forcing them to rethink whether they want to change their plan or continue on with what they had in mind. After probably 10 seconds of playing out scenarios, those drafters decided to stick with their original game plan, choosing instead not to go with a starting pitcher that early. Honestly, if it were Teixeira or Hamilton who had slid back there, I bet they jump. But getting any pitcher that early does change the whole complexion of a team, and it's not something just everyone wants to do.

Moving up (since last draft): Carlos Beltran stood out to me; he went 21st in our first draft and ranks 25th in average draft position (ADP). That said, looking at his '08 and projected '09 numbers, I can't really put together an argument against him being taken in the middle of the second round. … Hamilton moves up slightly, probably helped by the fact that he has hit .404 this spring and remained injury-free. … And Ian Kinsler moves up to No. 20, which I really like. In fact, I'd take him before Pedroia (but not quite at No. 13) because of his ability to boost all five fantasy categories immensely (read: more steals than Pedroia), and I think last year's hernia thing was a fluky injury. And from what I've been reading, I'm not alone in this thinking.

Moving down (since last draft): Ah, Johan. I think the drop down was more coincidental than anything else, but were I to try to explain it, I'd say that the unreliability of elite starting pitchers played into this. Santana, so far, hasn't fit into that "unreliable" class, and there's no saying he will this season. But just the simple sniff of doubt (caused by that elbow injury) can send a guy down the list in the early rounds. I think that's what happened: Given the choice of a stud hitter or stud starting pitcher, drafters simply took the safe route.

Round 3

Recap: Here goes A-Rod, and then a handful of players who typically go right around this time. No real surprises, although there were a few guys who have an ADP in the second round. Read on.

Moving up (since last draft): Alex Rodriguez goes 21st, six spots higher than he's averaging in drafts and 10 spots higher than we have him ranked, but I like it. First of all, he has proven a quick healer with less severe injuries in the past, and his rehab reportedly is going well. His target date to return is around May 15, Joe Girardi told the New York Post. Let's give him a few days of struggling and say he then busts out around May 18 or so. That means he misses six weeks of a 26-week season. In my eyes, having the No. 1 player in fantasy for 20 weeks is worth the 21st pick overall. Well played, Rick.

Moving down (since last draft): Ichiro Suzuki was taken 13th in our March 2 draft and 21st in the average draft. In most leagues, he won't fall to No. 30. … CC Sabathia's draft slot (No. 23) seems about right to us, but he's at No. 14 in average picks, thus making him a bargain. Please note that, in general, the ESPN Fantasy guys tend to shy away from all pitchers in the early rounds, and this might have been the aftermath of Johan being taken later than expected.

Round 4

Recap: Here's where two things happened: 1.) The remnants of the guys who usually are selected earlier were taken, just because folks couldn't let them drop further; and 2.) The gambles of players becoming elite were taken. No. 1 explains guys like Brandon Phillips, Kevin Youkilis, Justin Morneau, etc. And No. 2 explains Nate McLouth, Alexei Ramirez and arguably a few others.

Moving up (since last draft): I was a bit surprised by that McLouth pick, surprised to see him taken before such players as Morneau, Alex Rios, Jason Bay and others. I'm just not a believer in McLouth's power, I guess, and those other guys have proven Roto upside in more than one season. Meanwhile, Alexei Ramirez's ADP is at 59th, and he was taken 47th on March 2. But this is what happens in these early-middle rounds; you want a guy, and he normally goes about this time, you have to take him when you can. I understand that, and I did that later on.

Moving down (since last draft): Youk and Morneau particularly tend to go a bit higher, but note that this group tends to place a high value on its middle infielders, and 10 corner infielders went in the first 32 picks of this draft. A lot of teams didn't want to saddle themselves with two corner infielders in their first four picks, and the guy who took Morneau already had Hanley Ramirez, and probably could use some corner insurance after A-Rod, and the other guy (Karabell) was one of the few to take a pitcher in the first three rounds. Both great picks, though.

Round 5

Recap: More of the same as in the fourth (bargains for these spots and players we just like). Pierre Becquey got his Francisco Liriano, Dave Hunter went after Russell Martin, and I finally got me some Jacoby Ellsbury.

Moving up (since last draft): I reached for Ellsbury, plain and simple; he ranks 63rd in ADP. But sheesh, to have a guy we have projected to hit .286 with 10 homers and steal 49 bases, which I think might even be light, available at the No. 50 spot, I felt I had to. Call it my own little guilty sin; I've waited for Ellsbury like a good boy in all my past drafts, only to watch him taken before me. I wasn't going to let that happen this time. I mean, 63rd? He hasn't made it near that far in any of my drafts. … Pierre got Liriano, and before you raise your eyebrows, read his case for taking Liriano. It's quite compelling.

Moving down (since last draft): B.J. Upton is the story here. He was having a tough time bouncing back from shoulder surgery, and then he got plunked on his left hand. He likely will start the season on the DL. The team is targeting April 13 for his return, just more than a week after the regular season begins. So if an expected 26 weeks of Upton is worth the 32nd pick in our March 2 draft, then how does 25 weeks of him equal No. 51? It doesn't add up, and he should go higher. Rick Paulas is having himself one fine draft. … Webb is another guy whose draft position has fallen, in this case because of some minor forearm tightness this spring and his 8.18 spring ERA at the time. But Webb has been saying all along he'll be fine, and he went out Thursday and fired six innings of one-run ball. We shouldn't have let spring news affect us.

Rounds 6-7

Recap: The filling in of quality players. In every 10-team mixed league draft I'm in, I'm stunned by the talent that is available this late. It's loaded. Oh, and we saw our first closer guy, 19 spots after his ADP suggests.

Moving up (since last draft): Stephen Drew went 67th in our March 2 draft, and is No. 80 in ADP, so you can image our surprise when AJ took him at No. 55. But I admit I even looked at him four picks earlier. I think the kid is going to have a huge year. But when I saw Rafael Furcal, Troy Tulowitzki, Michael Young and Derek Jeter, as well as J.J. Hardy, were still available, I decided I could wait. That's just it: If you like a player that much more than those guys, go for it. If you see at least 3-4 others you like about as much, you can wait. … The Chris Davis train is a-rollin'. In January, he'd probably gone about No. 70 in drafts; on March 2, he went No. 54; and he went 53rd in this one. … Shane Victorino isn't normally taken this high, but I really like that pick. What a great guy to pick if you find yourself a little light in steals after the first 5-6 rounds, as Chris did. … A little surprised to see Yovani Gallardo go this early, but hey, he's healthy, and if you believe in him, you go get him.

Moving down (since last draft): Vladimir Guerrero's slow recovery from knee surgery has forced him down to the sixth round, but if he had somehow made it back to me, I would have grabbed him. And I'm as down on Vlad for this year as anybody on our staff. … The problem we have with Chipper is his propensity for injuries. He's already hurt again, which is why I'm fine seeing him drop to the 64th pick. … Don't try this at home: Papelbon goes 65th. No way he'll last that long in your draft, but this group is so anti-closer-early that we really don't need to take him earlier.

Rounds 8-9

Recap: A question for my ESPN colleagues: We say not to pay for saves, but what about not paying for a second baseman, or not paying for starting pitching, when the talent level calls for it? This is something I likely will hit upon in a future column. I differ from my leaguemates in that I like to be sure I get an elite, proven closer, and I get it when I feel I need to. So I take Joe Nathan (ADP: 56) 71st overall, and then another closer isn't taken for 25 picks.

Moving up (since last draft): Jay Bruce before Magglio Ordonez, Dan Uggla, Torii Hunter, Adam Dunn … hey, if you believe in him, No. 79ish is where you'll have to take him. … Look at where Andre Ethier went. Now consider he was taken 143rd in our previous draft. Which do I think is more realistic? This one.

Moving down (since last draft): Lot of great bargains here, in my mind, including Bobby Abreu, Mags, Geovany Soto and Dunn. Soto, especially, should go much higher, and would were this not a one-active-catcher league.

Rounds 10-11

Recap: Finally the top closers go (late), and folks start to move up away from the hitting to fill up their rotation. This is usually when I feel teams head in different directions in terms of position focus. We all converge again in the later rounds.

Moving up (since last draft): Howie Kendrick went No. 92, an all-time high in drafts I've been in. That said, I bet he wouldn't have lasted the remainder of Round 10. … We've finally warmed to Ricky Nolasco, a little later than others. He went a full 29 picks earlier than our last draft. … Looks like Chris is a believer in Javier Vazquez, and I'm right there with him. … Ryan Ludwick went earlier than our previous draft, but still about 5-10 picks too late, in my mind. … Jason Grey is the guy we tease as having a man-crush on Justin Upton, but it's Eric Karabell who has taken him in both drafts (Jason wasn't in this one). And EK took him seven spots earlier than he did in the previous one.

Moving down (since last draft): I'm not gonna belabor a point here, but K-Rod went 106th, Lidge 109th and Mariano Rivera 110th. All three after A.J. Burnett, Justin Upton and Scott Baker? Woe is us! … Other than that, a lot of great bargains here, including Conor Jackson, Dice-K, Raul Ibanez and Lester (at least in my mind).

Rounds 12-13

Recap: Not one first baseman, only four outfielders … and seven starting pitchers were taken. Yup, we're filling out our squads with the best available at each.

Moving up (since last draft): I did some research on Hardy for a sim league I play in, and just fell in love with his power potential. Oh, and I need power, and this one comes from my middle-infield slot. … Peralta was taken 24 slots earlier than last time, and Jose Lopez 36 slots earlier. … Slowey was up 22 picks, but I've been hearing a buzz about him, and he probably wouldn't have made it much longer. … This staff does not like Matt Cain, and for good reason. What Rick didn't know is he probably would have been there when he picked again 19 picks later. In our first mixed, he went No. 152.

Moving down (since last draft): In this stretch of picks more than any other, I felt the best bargains were gotten, including Adrian Beltre, Vernon Wells, Jermaine Dye and Rich Harden. They won't last that late in most leagues. … Joba Chamberlain won't either, but we have several doubters on staff, and they've spread the poison to the others. But not resident Yankees fan and Joba believer Tristan Cockcroft. … Joe Mauer could be the best pick in the draft … or the worst.

Rounds 14-15

Recap: The term "sleeper" is overused, but here are the official "sleeper rounds." We're looking for either breakout candidates (Alex Gordon, Chris Iannetta, Nelson Cruz), young studs (Matt Wieters, Pablo Sandoval), bounce-back guys (Justin Verlander, Josh Johnson, Brett Myers) or players who still must prove last year was no fluke (Jayson Werth, John Danks, Ryan Doumit, Xavier Nady, Edinson Volquez).

Moving up (since last draft): Yeah, I took Iannetta No. 131, what of it? I saw him in the WBC and did some researching, only to realize, um, he's going to be good. But when Mauer fell that far, I couldn't resist. So I have two catchers. In both cases, I felt I took the best available, and now I have a strength at a weak position with which to work some trades. … Danks normally is taken a bit lower, but look at his numbers last season, and then you'll see why Tristan was justified. … That Wieters pick is 51 slots earlier than we picked him last time, and 42 earlier than his ADP rank. In a one-catcher non-keeper league with no minor league slots and only three bench spots, most folks find it unnecessary to keep him around. … A little surprised by Tristan's Rickie Weeks pick at No. 145, but I'm sure he has his reasons.

Moving down (since last draft): A few of us made a stink about where both Gordon and Zambrano were ranked, and yet they fell even more from our last draft. … Doumit fell 11 spots for no reason that I can determine.

Rounds 16-20

Recap: Everybody is filling in the gaps, and I'm tellin' ya, there's still some decent talent left. I mean, the league's leading base-stealer at No. 191, a 30-homer guy in Pat Burrell at No. 188, a top-eight catcher (Ramon Hernandez) at No. 197 …

Moving up (since last draft): The pick of Encarnacion was 49 picks before he was selected last time. I think this is his true breakout season. … Carlos Gomez has moved up quite a bit since it now seems his everyday starting job is safe. … Chris Carpenter has been nigh unhittable this spring; this is a great spot to get him. … Chad Qualls before Brian Wilson? Hey, many of us would have done the same. … The Andrus hype appears to have reached us, too.

Moving down (since last draft): Brad Hawpe's spring nicks have dropped his value, probably unfairly so. … Rick Ankiel, Carlos Delgado, Mark DeRosa and Jim Thome are just a few of the many bargains in these rounds. … It appears Ervin Santana will miss the first month of the season, and maybe more. This seems like a good spot to slot him in. … Kerry Wood has actually remained semi-healthy (he did have some back pain early), but his draft status fell almost 50 spots. … Max Scherzer's offseason arm troubles continue to bother us; he fell 33 spots from our last draft. … Miguel Tejada drops 23 spots.

Rounds 21-25

Recap: Half of us took a best-player-available strategy in filling out our bench spots, while the other half just amassed as many pitchers as possible to give us more options, especially relief options. I went with the former, but I'd advise the latter.

Moving up (since last draft): Basically looking for players who weren't drafted before, including Andy Sonnanstine, Gavin Floyd and others. Many of them are just reevaluations of the numbers, but two that stood out to me were Ryan Freel, who appears to have worked his way into a platoon job in Baltimore (and also appears to have retained his 30-steal speed), and Chris Getz, who really sparkled this spring in winning the White Sox's starting job at second base.

Moving down (since last draft): David Price drops all the way to No. 201 on the prediction that he probably won't be called up 'til as late as June or July. Once again, in mixed leagues, you can't afford to waste non-DL roster slots on inactive players. … Brandon Morrow looked promising three weeks ago, but his arm troubles have dropped him almost three rounds. … Chris Young should not have gone this late; that was a great pick by Dave Hunter. … Jorge Posada has gotten through spring training relatively unscathed and has been picked, on average, at 167.9 in ESPN drafts, and yet he drops 18 spots compared to three weeks ago. … Paul Konerko going this late was a simple miss by us. I looked at the rosters, and in the case of all but a few owners, we simply didn't need another first base/corner infield/utility type. You can bet most of us regretted letting him fall, though.

Brendan Roberts is a contributing writer/editor for ESPN Fantasy.

Brendan Roberts is a contributing writer/editor for ESPN Fantasy. He has been covering fantasy sports as an editor and writer for more than eight years and was awarded the Fantasy Baseball Writer of the Year award in 2006 from the Fantasy Sports Writers Association. Roberts can be read in both the fantasy baseball and football areas at ESPN.com.