"I'm sorry, Mr. Pujols. You're not invited."
"No, there's no Hanley anywhere on my list."
"Ryan who? Back of the line please."
It's true. Not every fantasy baseball league uses the entire major league baseball talent pool. There are many intrepid owners who take things to the next level by hanging the velvet rope and restricting their rosters to just those players in the American League. This not only forces owners to go deeper into each AL team's bench in order to fill all 25 roster spots than they would in a mixed league, but the overall number of available studs is severely slashed, as well.
The ESPN.com fantasy staff held our AL-only mock draft on March 2, using ESPN standard rules. Ten teams were drafted, featuring the following positional breakdown: one of each infield position, five outfielders, one 1B/3B, one 2B/SS, one utility player, nine pitchers and three bench spots.
The drafters, in first-round order, determined at random were: Tristan H. Cockcroft, me, Matthew Berry, James Quintong, Eric Karabell, Jason Grey, Christopher Harris, Nate Ravitz, Pierre Becquey and Brendan Roberts.
What did we learn about the quality of the talent in the land of the designated hitter? Read on to find out. For each early round, I'll outline what my thought process was when my turn came around, as well as pointing out where I thought the best values and biggest reaches by my colleagues were to be found. And at the end of the column, I'll add a description of a very cool new feature available in the ESPN draft rooms this season.
With that tantalizing tease out of the way, Tristan is on the clock:
AJ's decision: After A-Rod goes first overall, it should surprise nobody who has read my contributions to the Draft Kit that I went with Jacoby Ellsbury at No. 2. Now I don't have to obsess about stolen bases later on in the draft, and hope to steal some value picks in rounds where others try to play "catch up" in that category. Matthew took the opposite approach, selecting Evan Longoria next, feeling steals were plentiful and third basemen scarce. We'll see how that plays out as the draft moves along.
Best of the rest: Roberts, Joe Mauer. Brendan was very proud of his double-dip at the wraparound spot with Mauer and Ian Kinsler, and I have to agree. With the exception of Pierre, firmly in the anti-Mauer camp, most people were surprised he lasted that long.
Biggest stretch: Harris, Ichiro Suzuki. Maybe this is the pot calling the kettle black, but I just don't see Ichiro as a first-rounder anymore. Those leg issues just scare me, and he's not a kid anymore. Obviously I have no problem paying for speed early, but I'm not sure you're guaranteed speed here.
AJ's decision: Nate clearly felt that you were better off grabbing an elite starter late in the first round, but I wonder if, having picked King Felix in Round 1, the pick of Zack Greinke might come back and hurt him in the hitting categories later on. We'll see. By the time my second pick came around, I opted for Curtis Granderson's 30-homer potential in Yankee Stadium. With five outfield spots to fill, I didn't want to wait and get stuck with too many from the glut of aging relics that linger on AL rosters.
Best of the rest: Karabell, Derek Jeter. It's only Round 2, and yet, when Jeter gets taken off the board as the first shortstop, it is painfully obvious that he's in a tier by himself. We won't see another shortstop taken until Round 5, because there isn't one anywhere near worth a selection until then. This position is thinner than the plot of a Keanu Reeves movie.
Biggest stretch: Cockcroft, Grady Sizemore. If Grady is able to completely bounce back from his twin surgeries at the end of last season, this is great value. But it is a risk, and to select him too much higher than this is a bit foolish. Although when Chris Harris, clearly immersed in the NFL combine, jokingly inquired as to Grady's time in the 40, it occurred to me that without the steals, Sizemore could well be interchangeable with Jack Cust in 2010. Just saying.
AJ's decision: I pretty much consider Robinson Cano, Dustin Pedroia and Brian Roberts to be relatively interchangeable, but once two of them were off the board, and with 17 picks until my next selection, I felt obligated to take Roberts next. Although second base is somewhat deeper than shortstop, because you also need to select a middle infielder, you do not want to miss out on the top-5 guys here.
Best of the rest: Berry, Victor Martinez. You only need to start one catcher, but remember -- there are only 14 AL teams to choose from. Unless you really want to settle for a Brayan Pena-type in your starting lineup for the long haul, it makes a whole lot of sense to snatch up V-Mart before someone else puts two and two together.
Biggest stretch: Harris, Bobby Abreu. Does he have another 100-RBI season in him? Perhaps, but I think we're beginning to see how few truly reliable options there actually are in the outfield with the need to fill five spots. Personally, I put Abreu in the same neighborhood as Torii Hunter, Carlos Quentin and Johnny Damon, and those guys are all still a few rounds away from being taken off the board.
AJ's decision: I was eyeballing Nelson Cruz at this spot, but Jason Grey got to him first. So, I decided not to delay getting at least one starting pitcher under my belt. Although I'm not all that enamored with Javier Vazquez, the New York Yankees are sure to score runs for him, so he's got a better chance at tallying victories than most pitchers in the league. Tristan -- a Yankees fan who had the next pick after me -- certainly was not happy with my decision, but he rebounded nicely.
Best of the rest: Cockcroft, Josh Hamilton. Grabbing Hamilton here is a good value, especially given the upside if he stays healthy all season, and the fact he's a good 10 years younger than the "pushing-40 posse" alternatives still available here.
Biggest stretch: Roberts, Joe Nathan. There's no question Nathan should be one of the first closers taken off the board -- and this is definitely a reasonable time to do so -- in most leagues. Even though in AL-only leagues the number of safe closers is limited, when you know most of the other owners in your draft believe that "you don't pay for saves" then you don't need to be the first to break the seal on this category. Every league is different, but if you know the tendencies of your competition, you should adjust your strategy accordingly.
AJ's decision: Knowing that middle infield was going to be tough to fill, I selected Gordon Beckham here. I would have been fine with waiting to grab someone like Adrian Beltre at third base a few rounds later, but being able to get Beckham here, knowing I could move him once he gained second base eligibility seemed too important to miss out on.
Best of the rest: Ravitz, Michael Young. By taking Beckham, I passed on Young, which left him out there for Nate to grab. Clearly this was a wise move, since the next hot-corner resident to come off the board wasn't going to come until Alex Gordon in the 10th. There's a definite tier that ended with this pick.
Biggest stretch: Cockcroft, Elvis Andrus. Jason passing on Howie Kendrick for Jose Lopez was a surprise, but not nearly something to be ashamed of unlike Tristan's way-too-early grab of Elvis Andrus. In fairness to Tristan, he did admit to making this selection to try and shake up the draft room and perhaps get others to overreact and start an unnecessary shortstop run. The steals here are nice, but Andrus would likely have still been around 30 to 40 picks later.
AJ's decision: Another clear tier break here, as Alexei Ramirez and Asdrubal Cabrera mark the end of middle infielders with 15-home run, 15-steal potential. I opt for Cabrera because of his two-position flexibility and a higher batting average, but could have gone either way.
Best of the rest: Ravitz, Carlos Pena. We all know Pena could single-handedly cost you several points in batting average if he repeats last season's futility at the plate, but 40 home runs is 40 home runs. In the sixth round of a single-league draft? You don't get too many opportunities to improve your power numbers this late.
Biggest stretch: Berry, Julio Borbon. Matthew likes to say "you can't avoid speed in the outfield" but I think that's all the more reason for him not to have grabbed Borbon this early. Juan Pierre, Brett Gardner, Rajai Davis and Coco Crisp were all still on the board. So unless your plan is to corner the market, if you've waited this long to address that category, you might as well wait a little bit longer.
AJ's decision: Because I knew taking Ellsbury early would cause me to chase home runs all draft long, I was planning to suck it up and draft Carlos Pena here, but Nate beat me to it by one round. So I went with Chris Davis, in the hopes that 30-plus homers is in the cards for him. If Tristan had grabbed Davis, I would have settled for Michael Cuddyer here, but was glad he went pitching with both of his back-to-back picks.
Best of the rest: Roberts, Matt Garza. Considering the Rays are a team that could well finish third in the AL in victories and still miss the playoffs, it's a wonder Matt Garza is being selected after guys like Scott Baker and Brett Anderson. For Roberts to add Garza to Cliff Lee in Round 7, to me, gives him as huge a boost to his staff at this stage of the draft as is possible.
Biggest stretch: Becquey, Nolan Reimold. I like Reimold's potential, however, recovery from surgery on his left Achilles tendon has kept him on a short leash. Already having been held out of games due to "cold weather" in Florida, will he be ready to play every day out of the gate once Baltimore moves north? With so little room for error in the outfield, I might have waited a round or two here, though if healthy, I do like what he should give Pierre's fantasy team.
AJ's decisions: Finishing off my first 10 selections, I opted to get two closers, Rafael Soriano and David Aardsma. My feeling was that I didn't want to put all my eggs into just one reliever's basket, in case of either injury or ineptitude, and if both guys stay healthy and get me a combined 60-70 saves, I'd easily finish no worse than third in the category. In Round 10, I grabbed Joel Pineiro, another of my 2010 favorite sons.
Best of the rest: Nate grabbing Vladimir Guerrero was fantastic value in Round 9. Sure, he's no longer the same guy who has averaged 115 RBIs per 162 games for his career, but as he's only going to be asked to DH in Texas, a minimum 25 home runs and 85 RBIs are well within reach. When Pierre followed with Clay Buchholz, a possible 15-game winner in Boston, Brendan nearly went completely off the deep end, as he was ready to select Vlad and Clay with picks 90 and 91. He settled for Big Papi and David Price, and moped for the greater part of the next few rounds.
Biggest stretches: Matthew, in retrospect, probably would not have grabbed Juan Rivera in Round 8, as the decision not to start to fill in his pitching staff with say, James Shields or John Danks left him scrambling for arms the rest of the draft -- ultimately filling out his quota of arms with talented guys with undefined roles like Neftali Feliz and Joba Chamberlain. As soon as Chris took Juan Pierre, he was already trying to trade him. Although Harris thought the value was decent at the time, he killed himself in the power department and ended up with far more speed than necessary.
A running joke gets started as to which poor soul would end up with Delmon Young, projected at No. 101 in AL-only leagues, after seeing player upon player passing him by and onto our rosters. ... Pierre selects Maicer Izturis as his shortstop in Round 11, making him regret passing over Jason Bartlett earlier in the draft even more than he already was. Talk about ugly! ... Still no Delmon, and Brendan suggests a small prize for whoever finally ends up taking him. ... Tristan wasn't thrilled with his consecutive picks of Travis Snider and Nick Swisher, at least not after the run of starting pitchers that followed soon after in Round 13: Brian Matusz, Francisco Liriano and Phil Hughes. ... After Chris Harris wonders if Delmon Young is sitting in a dark room somewhere, silently sobbing to himself, Tristan finally relents and our long national nightmare is over. Young is the last pick of Round 14.
Pierre grabs Desmond Jennings in Round 16, passing over Brett Wallace because he already has corner infield covered, and he thinks Jennings starts 2010 in the bigs. Wallace is taken by Tristan at the end of the round. ... Brendan takes Jack Cust in Round 17, a good 15 rounds after Grady Sizemore was taken off the board. ... James cringes when he realizes he's actually happy to select Cliff Pennington in Round 19. It's been seven rounds since Marco Scutaro and Jhonny Peralta were taken, and the only other options available now are the likes of Willie Bloomquist. Eek! ... Nate hates Travis Hafner, but at No. 188? Even he can put personal feelings aside. ... Round 20, Eric takes Matt Joyce and I take Chris Getz, both of us thinking that Jim Thome would still be there in Round 21. We are both sadly mistaken, as he goes to Tristan with pick No. 200.
It's the homestretch, and Chris -- after realizing that the draft room's remaining player list was not broken, and that those names he was reading were truly the best available -- selects Kelly Shoppach as his catcher. "I know the catcher depth is bad, but Kelly Shoppach bad?" Guess so, Chris. ... Jason "saves" Matthew from Joe Saunders in Round 23, while Nate is so embarrassed by his pick in Round 24, he has asked I not even mention it in print (although it is listed above). ... There's an awful lot of speculating on potential saves going on in the last few rounds, with Chris Ray, C.J. Wilson, Joey Devine and Jon Rauch. ... A Yankees prospect, catcher Jesus Montero, is "Mr. Irrelevant" -- closing out the draft as pick No. 250.
So, how did we do? Obviously, only time will tell, but while we were drafting, there was a new feature of the ESPN Draft Room keeping tabs on our progress. During your draft, Insiders and prize league drafters can click on the Standings tab and see, based on the ESPN Projections, exactly where their team currently stands in all league statistical categories.
Certainly it's not to be taken as gospel, but it is a useful tool, especially if it helps you notice that your team is say, way ahead in home runs but severely lacking in steals. That could help you decide to grab a Brett Gardner instead of J.D. Drew if you're torn between the two. It's also good for a hearty chuckle when you select Gil Meche (as Eric did in Round 19) and discover to your horror you've suddenly dropped five spots in the overall standings. Check it out, and check out our AL-only Mock "Final Standings" below: