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March 2 mock draft: Old dogs trying new tricks

3/5/2009

Editor's note: This mock draft was held before news of Alex Rodriguez's hip surgery broke, so that is not incorporated. For more on what A-Rod's hip injury means to his and others' value, check out the fantasy spin on the site.

There is more than one way to win a fantasy baseball league, and don't let us tell you differently.

In any given draft, you could have 10 owners carrying out 10 different strategies. In fact, most of the time you do. Unless you're all using the same set of rankings and have little opinion on the players, everyone works from his own biases and and mental (or printed-out) projections for players. Only occasionally do two owners work from the same game plan, and I swear it's inevitable that those two guys pick next to each other during the draft and repeatedly steal each other's players.

We writers and editors at ESPN Fantasy know many of the different strategies an owner can take, from the very basic (taking the best player available in the first several rounds) to the most diverse (punting a category, having an imbalance between the positions). Heck, we've even tried them, even if just for a mock draft. We see how different a team can look as a result, how difficult or easy each strategy is to accomplish, regardless of whether we like the way the team looks on paper afterward … and that helps us settle into the strategy we find most comfortable.

But there's just something about the second mock draft with much the same group of owners that made us all think a little bit more. You see, we as a staff held a mock draft a few weeks ago, the results of which can be seen here, and in my mind, we stuck with the strategies that worked for us. Many of us went with the best player available in the early rounds, started to fill gaps in the middle rounds and looked for sleepers late. It was a pretty standard draft, with few diverse strategies. Each pick made sense; few eyebrows were raised.

This time around, a handful of us decided we'd mix things up, and it changed the entire complexion of the draft. Picks were made earlier than expected, teams had a major imbalance after the first several rounds, and certain players fell further than expected. The picks were solid, but the players just weren't taken in quite the order as they would've been taken in a boring, mindless mock draft.

I like that. It made the draft interesting and engaging, and it's probably more like the real thing because just about every fantasy league has a handful of owners who mix things up every year anyway. Players fall to you that you didn't expect because other guys are working from a different agenda.

So in this round of mock draft analysis, I decided I'd have each owner explain his strategy in a little bit more detail and provide some examples of how it worked. Then I'd have each owner tell me which players fell because of the strategy differences, which players appealed to the owner because of the owner's strategy, which players he reluctantly had to let go of because they didn't, and which players might have been taken too high, probably because they fit someone else's game plan.

With that, I introduce to you our March 2 mock draft. The draft itself is below, listed from the first pick to the last one. ESPN Fantasy ADPs (average draft positions) are listed where appropriate. Following that is the analysis, which is sorted by owner from his first pick in the first round to last pick. Enjoy!

Shawn Cwalinski (first overall pick)

My strategy, and examples of it: I am not a fan of selecting first and rarely do, so this was a bit unusual for me. I decided that my best strategy was to make sure I picked an elite shortstop and second baseman, which I did by drafting Hanley Ramirez first overall and taking Ian Kinsler in the second round. I also wanted to get a top first or third baseman, if I could, and focus on solid all-around players with good batting averages in case I had to take on some low-average guys later. Well, none of the top first or third basemen fell to me by the third round, so I took three outfielders -- Carlos Beltran (Round 3, 21st pick), Alex Rios (Round 4, 40th pick) and Vladimir Guerrero (Round 5, 41st pick) -- who I felt met my objective. As such, I decided to wait on pitching, not taking my first pitcher until grabbing James Shields in Round 7 (61st pick).
My best bargain pick: Really, I didn't have one, which is why I hate picking first. Drafting at the turn forces you to reach on players. I suppose Manny Corpas (pick No. 240; ADP 207.7) could be considered my best bargain.
The player I (apparently) like more than others: It looks as though I had my share of them, but the one who stands out is Nelson Cruz (pick No. 141; ADP 214.1). I was not a big Cruz fan until the news that came out that he'd be batting cleanup for the Rangers against left-handed pitching, and fifth or sixth against right-handers. I like the sound of that. Sometimes you have to roll the dice during a draft.
Player I wanted but just didn't need: Adam Jones (pick No. 188; ADP 167). He will be a very good player this season and easily could surpass our projections, but I needed a corner infielder, and pitching and could not afford to take a bench bat.
Player you were surprised was drafted so high: Rickie Weeks (pick No. 178; ADP 205.2). Sure, getting a second baseman who will hit 15 homers and steal 20 bases is nice, but not when he comes with a .230 batting average, 30 missed games and fewer than 50 runs scored.

Brendan Roberts (second pick)

My strategy, and examples of it: You've heard it a million times: "Take the best player available in the first five to six rounds." Well, I decided I'd take that a step further and take the best player available until I literally had to start filling in positions. Makes sense, right? It's a shallow league, so there's plenty of depth at each position. And you get literally the best guy statistically off the board for at least half the draft, which can't be a bad thing. The results? They were predictable: I'm loaded with all-around talent on the front end of the draft, but fairly weak on the back end. That said, at a few of the positions where there were gaps, I was able to fill them with what I felt was good talent, such as shortstop J.J. Hardy in the 12th round, catcher Chris Iannetta in the 19th round and middle infielder Miguel Tejada in the 17th round. But at other positions, such as second base (Placido Polanco, Round 14) and first base/corner infield (Mike Jacobs, Round 22), I just didn't get it done. I'd call the strategy an overall success, though.
My best bargain pick: Daisuke Matsuzaka (pick No. 102; ADP 84.5). He fell because a number of similarly talented pitchers were around the same spot. Well, I was looking for K's and wins, and look who just happened to be there. In fairness, I don't think he should be taken at pick No. 84 … but there's no way he should be around at pick No. 102.
The player I (apparently) like more than others: Michael Bourn (pick No. 242; ADP N/A). We have him ranked at No. 294, he's not even in our live draft results, and yet I'm pleased as punch to get a junior version of Willy Taveras. In my mind, there's nothing like getting a potential 40-steals guy with your last pick.
Player I wanted but just didn't need: Ryan Ludwick (pick No. 104; ADP 90.3). I'm just gonna say it: It's unfair how low we have Ludwick ranked. Not that I did much to fight that, but after a closer examination, he should be ranked higher than 118th. He deserves better after his performance from last season. I just felt safer taking Jermaine Dye in the 10th round (99th pick), then Dice-K fell … but I sobbed when Ludwick was taken two picks later.
Player you were surprised was drafted so high: Francisco Liriano (pick No. 44; ADP 68.0). Liriano just might outperform Jake Peavy and Roy Oswalt this season, but based on the draft demand of the three pitchers, there's no reason he should be taken before them. I felt Liriano would have been there a round later.

Tristan Cockcroft (third pick)

My strategy, and examples of it: Frankly, this was a "best player available" draft for me. Simple as that. I did nothing cute nor creative; I just saw talent, draft talent. That strategy certainly would explain my first four picks: Albert Pujols, Josh Hamilton, Matt Holliday and Aramis Ramirez, three of whom (Holliday excluded) fell at least two picks beneath where I had them in my personal rankings. As the draft progressed, though, I decided I'd save at least two outfield spots and my middle-infield spot for 20-steal certainties, and under no circumstances would I draft high for saves. That helps explain the Johnny Damon and Rickie Weeks picks, and I'd toss Jayson Werth in there as a potential steals sleeper, too. Other strategic decisions: Don't draft a catcher until Round 20 (hello, Bengie Molina, at pick No. 203), draft for strikeouts late (Manny Parra stands out), and use the bench for upside plays only (i.e., Elvis Andrus, whom I don't even like that much despite getting him in back-to-back mocks, and Eric Byrnes).
My best bargain pick: Jacoby Ellsbury (pick No. 58; ADP 64.9). It's not that I think I got him so late, it's that I was able to pick a player in the sixth round who could so nicely fill the need I had for stolen bases after the first five rounds. In other words, picking Ellsbury untied my hands for future rounds. Plus, it's always a bonus when one of your picks so thoroughly enrages the owner picking behind you (in this case, Mr. Roberts).
The player I (apparently) like more than others: Joba Chamberlain (pick No. 103; ADP 118.9). It's not that I like him more, necessarily, but I'd slot him as high as, say, the 13th or 14th round in a 10-team mixed league just if the Yankees were planning to use him the same way they did in 2008. But they aren't; the team is serious about giving him 30 starts in 2009. Trust me, he'll pitch more than 150 innings (health willing), and if he does, he'll be without question a top-100 player.
Player I wanted but just didn't need: Probably Jose Lopez (pick No. 151; ADP 144.8), and I almost took him anyway. It would have been Andre Ethier (pick No. 143, ADP 120.9), but eventually I caved and took him despite my glut of outfielders. What kept me from nabbing Lopez was a need for speed at my middle-infield spot based on the construction of my team. Believe me, it's not as if I prefer Rickie Weeks!
Player you were surprised was drafted so high: Alexei Ramirez (pick No. 47; ADP 64.1). I'm not especially anti-Ramirez, but the guy didn't even crack the top 100 on the 2008 Player Rater. He's also a notorious free swinger, walking once per 28.3 plate appearances. Maybe Ramirez will swing for the fences and hit 30 homers (a possibility) or shorten his swing and post another .290 batting average (less likely), but I don't see both happening, which he'd need to do to be a top-50 player.

Pierre Becquey (fourth pick)

My strategy, and examples of it: I try to build my fantasy teams from the infield out and decided to grab only two pitchers in the first 10 rounds to see what kind of staff I could build if I focused on starting pitchers in the early-teen rounds. And there definitely were great deals to be had -- Adam Wainwright (Round 12, 117th pick), Ricky Nolasco (Round 13, 124th pick), Max Scherzer (Round 15, 144th pick) -- and I also got two solid closers in B.J. Ryan (Round 14, 137th pick) and Francisco Cordero (Round 15, 157th pick).
My best bargain pick: Chris Ray (pick No. 224; ADP 196.7). The latest out of O's camp is that George Sherrill will start with the closer's job and Chris Ray will set him up. That could change at any moment, so I jumped at the chance to grab a potential fourth closer with my first bench spot before Sherrill's owner could get him.
The player I (apparently) like more than others: Yovani Gallardo (pick No. 77; ADP 103.2). Forget the injury; it was his knee, not his arm. If he had played a full season in '08, he would have been ranked in the top 50 this season, right alongside Jake Peavy and Cole Hamels. Gallardo has a big-K arm -- he could finish in the top 10 in strikeouts -- and can help shape your WHIP and ERA at a discount.
Player I wanted but just didn't need: Chris Iannetta (pick No. 182; ADP 165.9). More proof that you can wait to draft a catcher and still get a good one. He went 118 picks after my catcher pick, Geovany Soto (pick No. 64; ADP 70.4), and 117 picks after Joe Mauer (pick No. 65; ADP 53.8), but is much more likely to outperform his roundmates.
Player you were surprised was drafted so high: Ichiro Suzuki (pick No. 13; ADP 25.2). I know Nate Ravitz loves his Ichiro, and he likely wouldn't have gotten him with the 28th pick, but I wouldn't have picked him over any of the other players who went in the second round.

AJ Mass (fifth pick)


My strategy, and examples of it: I was asked to bring a "semi-unique strategy" to this draft, so I opted for using the collective wisdom of the ESPN audience and went strictly off the latest ADP list for my selections. What I discovered was that my pitching staff, with three Cy Young winners and four solid closers, should sweep the pitching categories, but my offense, even though I have David Wright, Manny Ramirez and Ryan Howard, leaves a lot to be desired, especially at the thinner positions such as second base and the outfield. To compete, I would need to trade some saves for power sooner rather than later.
My best bargain pick: Francisco Rodriguez (pick No. 96; ADP 62.3). K-Rod's falling is just a quirk of the ESPN expert drafts, where generally speaking we all tend to wait on our closers and respect the "don't pay for saves" mantra. If not for my strategy, I wouldn't have grabbed him this early, either.
The player I (apparently) like more than others: Kelly Johnson (pick No. 205; ADP 207.8). By this point in the draft, I probably could have waited a few more rounds and still claimed Johnson, but I wanted to make sure I had a second baseman on my roster before filling my bench spots.
Player I wanted but just didn't need: Mike Aviles (pick No. 189; ADP 166.2). Aviles' upside is a steal in Round 19, and I was hoping he'd last until my pick in Round 20. Alas, that did not happen. That said, although Aviles is a nice potential sleeper, he probably is not yet starter-worthy in a 10-team mixed league.
Player you were surprised was drafted so high: Hunter Pence (pick No. 74; ADP 91.6). Jason Grey reached a bit for the player my wife now calls "Underpants," thanks to a mumbling announcer on TV (just mumble it to yourself a few times). This was especially true with the likes of Adam Dunn, Ryan Ludwick, Justin Upton and Raul Ibanez lasting until Round 11. It's not a bad pick, but I just think he could have filled other needs first.

James Quintong (sixth pick)

My strategy, and examples of it: Instead of the all-batting-average team that seemed to fall in my lap last time, I tried to find a bunch of power/speed guys, then fill in the gaps with one-category specialists. Grady Sizemore, Nate McLouth, Chris Young and Mike Cameron fill that power/speed combination, while Derrek Lee and Prince Fielder (power) and Brian Roberts (speed) fill the other spots. As for starting pitching, I like getting a couple of solid studs first (John Lackey and King Felix), backing them up with old reliables (Derek Lowe and Ted Lilly), then filling out the staff with upside (Edinson Volquez and Brandon Morrow). I also made sure to pick at least one solid closer early, then see how the chips would fall after.
My best bargain pick: Derrek Lee (pick No. 75; ADP 59.8). I didn't need another first baseman, but he has slipped far in both mock drafts, and I felt it was a good time to get solid production there and not worry about the position the rest of the way. After Carlos Pena a couple of picks later, the first-base pool dried up quickly.
The player I (apparently) like more than others: Brandon Morrow (pick No. 175; ADP 212.8). I'm buying into the hype about his upside. And because he easily could slide back into the team's closer role if necessary, he's a surprisingly versatile guy who could round out a pitching staff.
Player I wanted but just didn't need: Dan Uggla (pick No. 93; ADP 82.2). I felt comfortable at second base with Brian Roberts but probably could've used more power there instead of going for saves, which would've been available later. And I was foiled in getting Uggla coming back around in the 10th round when Nate took him five picks before me.
Player you were surprised was drafted so high: Alexei Ramirez (Pick 47; ADP 63.8). Although I definitely love his upside, I would play things closer to the vest and not take him in the fifth round. I likely would wait an extra round or two and take the gamble then instead of relying on him as an anchor of my lineup.

Jason Grey (seventh pick)

My strategy, and examples of it: I was experimenting to see what kind of pitching staff I could assemble if I were to take nothing but hitters for the first 10 rounds, then go with the best value on the board after that. I actually took it as far as grabbing just two pitchers, Scott Kazmir (pick No. 107; ADP 100.2) and Josh Johnson (pick No. 134; ADP 169.6), in the first 15 rounds. I hadn't planned it to that extreme and was done with hitters after picking up Willy Taveras (pick No. 147; ADP 182.7) in Round 15. It didn't quite work out the way I had hoped, partially because a couple of desired bats went right before my pick, and partially because I didn't work some of the middle rounds well. But the category totals for the offense are strong, and the pitching staff has plenty of upside, which is what you're looking for when you forsake pitching until later in the draft.
My best bargain pick: Chris Carpenter (pick No. 214; ADP N/A). Carpenter has looked healthy thus far this spring. If he performs even just a bit as well as he used to, this pick will work out nicely. If he doesn't, it's just a 22nd-round pick, so I didn't invest much.
The player I (apparently) like more than others: Lastings Milledge (pick No. 114; ADP 153.1). Milledge's speed is already there, and his power is starting to develop. He'll also hit for batting average. Simply put, he's a potential five-category player.
Player I wanted but just didn't need: Matt Wieters (pick No. 192; ADP 190). I already had Mike Napoli, but I thought this was a nice grab by Eric Karabell.
Player you were surprised was drafted so high: Willy Taveras (pick No. 147; ADP 182.7). Hey, I did this one! Taveras fit my team at the time, as I was light on speed and either he or Carlos Gomez was the best steals threat still on the board. As it turns out, I think I picked Taveras a little early; Gomez went five rounds later.

Nate Ravitz (eighth pick)


My strategy, and examples of it: I always try to bulk up my batting average early, so getting Miguel Cabrera (pick No. 8; ADP 10.3) and Ichiro Suzuki (pick No. 13; ADP 25.1) were big. (Obviously, I think Ichiro is still an elite player.) There's plenty of power to be had later in the draft, especially if your average is already in good shape. Having Cabrera and Ichiro allowed me to take Dan Uggla (pick No. 93; ADP 79) and Pat Burrell (pick No. 153; ADP 150.4) without worrying that they'd hurt my average.
My best bargain pick: Uggla. Although others might have been scared by his average, I'll happily take the 30 homers, 90 RBIs and 100 runs from a position with little depth.
The player I (apparently) like more than others: The obvious answer is Ichiro, but in the interest of variety I'll say Carl Crawford (pick No. 28; ADP 37.8). I would have been totally comfortable taking him five to eight picks sooner. I think he'll bounce back to hit at least .290 this year, with 50 steals and helpful numbers everywhere.
Player I wanted but just didn't need: Howie Kendrick (pick No. 97; ADP 125.1). I love the guy and think he'll break out for a .320-average, 15-homer, 80-RBI, 120-run, 20-steal season one of these days, but I didn't need batting average enough to take him in the 10th round.
Player you were surprised was drafted so high: Jacoby Ellsbury (pick No. 58; ADP 64.9). I'm just not convinced he's substantially better than Shane Victorino (Pick 71; ADP 87.6) or Johnny Damon (pick No. 98; ADP 88.0), and he's certainly not 40 picks better than Damon. I think our resident Yankees fan, Tristan Cockcroft, must have been kidnapped for that portion of the draft.

Eric Karabell (ninth pick)

My strategy, and examples of it: Picking ninth, I vowed to avoid Johan Santana after selecting him 10th in the first mock draft. Back then, his elbow wasn't a major concern. Otherwise, my strategy rarely deviates: load up on offense while paying attention to those who hit and run, get closers late and be balanced. I seldom choose staff anchors, but I don't seem to like the second round much these days, so I took Tim Lincecum. Then I didn't take a pitcher until Round 10 (Jon Lester). I did try more than normal to get 20-homer/20-steal types, figuring I might not have anyone hit 30 homers, but plenty of people will hit 20, including my picks in Rounds 3 through 7: Brandon Phillips, B.J. Upton (I believe), Curtis Granderson and Corey Hart.
My best bargain pick: Mike Aviles (pick No. 189; ADP 162). I'm far from his biggest fan in fantasy, and I could see his batting average falling 50 points from last season, but his minor league track record shows enough pop and speed for a "double-double" season, maybe even high teens in homers. I wanted to put Carlos Zambrano here, but apparently nobody else, including our ADP, thinks he's a bargain.
The player I (apparently) like more than others: Justin Upton (pick No. 109; ADP 126). I thought others in this league liked him more and figured it was about time he was picked. I see at least 25 homers here and the potential for a decent batting average. If you're going to reach on a player, make it a dynamic, 21-year-old power prospect with a guaranteed everyday job.

Player I wanted but just didn't need: Matt Wieters (pick No. 192; ADP 186). In this case, I took the player I didn't need anyway. I happen to believe that Wieters not only is legit but also quickly will be a top-five catcher when he comes up in, say, mid-May. I like my Brian McCann pick but figured Wieters will be good enough to warrant utility status, or at least he or McCann could be some nice trade bait. No, I didn't need Wieters, but someone else surely will.
Player you were surprised was drafted so high: Jonathan Papelbon (pick No. 56; ADP 45.0). I'm going against the grain here. Yes, Papelbon appears a steal based on ADP, but apparently ESPN.com fantasy owners still haven't learned that age-old Berryism that saves always come into the league. This fact was borne out in this mock draft, as the second closer off the board went at pick No. 73. Look, Papelbon is great, and I'm not comparing here, but his career high in saves (41) matches what Brian Wilson did in 2008. I picked Wilson 169th.

Keith Lipscomb (10th pick)

My strategy, and examples of it: This time, I decided to try something I normally don't: get a few solid starters early who will eat up innings and pile up the K's. In addition, I wanted to make sure I stayed away from batting-average risks as much as possible, and I waited until the last few rounds before I took a catcher. I was able to get Roy Halladay, Ervin Santana and Josh Beckett in the first seven rounds, so I felt good about that. And I was happy about getting Michael Young because I think he'll return to his .300-hitting ways, and I just couldn't pass up Big Papi in the 10th round. And yet I was still able to get a serviceable catcher in the next-to-last round.
My best bargain pick: David Ortiz (pick No. 91; ADP 64.0). At this point in the draft, there was no way I could let him slide any further. He could prove to be quite the value if he can stay healthy.
The player I (apparently) like more than others: Jered Weaver (pick No. 170; ADP 221.4). I'm not discouraged that his ERA jumped for the second straight season; rather, I'm encouraged by his improved strikeout rate. I think his ERA will fall below 4.00, which would make him a nice value.
Player I wanted but just didn't need: Jhonny Peralta (pick No. 138; ADP 129.6). I think Peralta has the potential for 30 homers, but because I had decided to avoid low-average risks and had taken Michael Young earlier, I didn't need Peralta. Tristan did well with this one.
Player you were surprised was drafted so high: Brian McCann (pick No. 49; ADP 48.2). Surprised isn't the right word here, but in leagues in which you start just one catcher, I don't think you need to take one so early, even one as good as McCann. There are 10 worthwhile catchers, so I think you can get better players at other positions this early in the draft. I even regretted taking Russell Martin just one round later.

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