As most of these stories start, it seemed like a good idea at the time.
I was assigned to write a mock draft. Normally, when we do a mock draft, it's all of us ESPN Fantasy analysts getting together and going nuts. Karabell usually buys the keg, AJ Mass brings the entertainment and Cockcroft is behind the grill, flipping burgers and warming up the smoked turkey legs, yelling out setup men he wants to target. Oh, it's a grand old time, at least until Stephania drags out the karaoke machine.
But there's also a sameness to it all. The lot of us have spent the better part of the past two months together, virtually or otherwise, arguing, ranking and drafting players. Over and over and over. A certain type of "group think" starts to settle in. More importantly, it's not like most drafts that people do.
Most (all?) leagues that people play in are not filled with people who do this for a living, who have spent eight weeks discussing how they feel about every player and exposed their draft strategy for the upcoming season to all the people they are going to draft with. Many leagues are filled with strangers or, at the very least, people who do not know everyone else's draft strategy.
So I wanted to try to replicate a "regular" league's draft as closely as possible, but also have it be filled with knowledgeable fantasy players. So I put out a call to the folks who follow me on Twitter to see if anyone wanted to do a mock draft with me. My thinking: Anyone who followed me on Twitter, was actually on Twitter at the time I put it out there, willing to do a mock draft in the middle of a work day, was, on some level, pretty serious.
Our standard league here on ESPN is a 10-team mixed, but I know I get a lot of requests for information for deeper leagues, so I decided to make this a 12-team mixed league using standard 5x5 roto categories.
So that was the idea behind doing it this way, to try and be helpful in a different way than some of our other mocks. Was it a good idea? Time -- and by time, I mean the amount required to get to the end of this column -- will tell. I made the league wide-ranging. So there is someone from Costa Rica in there, two women (love that we have more women playing fantasy sports these days), a former writer for my old TalentedMrRoto.com website, the national winner of the Jewish Community Center Challenge -- of which I was the honorary commish this past year -- and even JD Harmeyer, who needs no introduction. You either know exactly who he is or you don't.
Let's meet our drafters, in their own words, in the order in which they'll draft:
@patchus: I have been playing since 2004. I have 1 really serious league with keepers, 1 work league (gotta brag around the office) and 1 joke league that I do with friends to try to convince them fantasy sports is actually fun / cool. I am obsessed with coffee to a degree that makes people think I am Juan Valdez himself.
@theanamachine: I've been playing fantasy for 2 years, never played baseball before. Thought I should get into it since I'm from Miami and with all the new changes to our home team. I'm a 24-year-old female law student from the University of Miami hoping to be the next big agent or Matthew Berry.
@Tarnoldt: I'm the National JCC Champ for Fantasy Football. This is my 3rd year playing fantasy baseball. I do three leagues (2 H2H, 1 Roto) and just because my name is Thom Arnoldt doesn't mean you can make a bad Roseanne joke.
@MatthewBerryTMR: I recently downloaded a ton of Def Leppard and Motley Crue off of iTunes. Been listening non-stop since. I have a ridiculous soft spot for bad '80s hair metal. "Kickstart my Heart" is one of the great, underrated rock songs of all time.
@jeffpasquale: I'm 46, live outside Toronto, two sons, 12 and 9. Used to do some writing for the old talentedmrroto.com site. Been playing since 1989, currently in three serious leagues, all very deep, AL- or NL-only. I was once a contestant on a Canadian sports trivia game show called knockout, hosted by former Blue Jays catcher, manager and current broadcaster Buck Martinez. Lost in the finals.
@ascarborough05: This will be my third year playing any fantasy team. This is my first year playing in two leagues. In my rookie year of fantasy baseball (2010) I drafted Jose Bautista as my last pick. Yes, I am proud of this and photo proof is available. I'm a 24 year old female from Toronto.
@Jdharm: I've been doing fantasy baseball for 5 years. People know too much about me already.
@duece420: Married with two children, I have been playing since I was 8 (I am 29). My favorite league is a keeper head to head points. I used to have a podcast of my own.
@guymharrison: Live in Arizona, raised in Philly. I've been playing fantasy baseball for the last 12 years (since I was 15). I'm a newly-published author. My debut action/suspense novel, "Agents of Change," was published last month.
@Vamsi: I'm 29, from Missouri, live in LA. Been playing for about 15 years. This year we have to schedule the draft to get members to participate on the east coast, west coast, Bora Bora (honeymoon), Australia (work), and Afghanistan (deployed). Not easy. Also, I'm going to be on Jeopardy!
@gmusmanni: I'm a 30-year-old single guy with no kids (still living the life) from San Jose, Costa Rica. I've been playing since 2003, so this would be my 10th year. After 25 years of being a Cubs fan (sigh), I'm finally going to see them play on April 19th in the new Miami ballpark. Really, really, really excited about this!
@pdezara: Been playing for 12 years, two primary leagues are AL-only auction/keeper. Got into two dynasty leagues last year. Last August me and 6 buds saw Romero pitch a 2 hit complete gem then ran into him at a bar where he was on his first date with Miss America, Rima Fakih. Good day for him huh?
Good day, indeed, Paul. Let's get drafting.
Was thinking about ... Not thrilled with pick four, which was randomly assigned. If I can't get pick one or two, I'd rather be toward the end of the round this year. Was thinking hard about Ryan Braun here, whom I have ranked at four.
Ended up taking ... Jose Bautista. I decided to play this draft as close as possible to my Top 250 ranks to see, frankly, if there are any major adjustments I need to make to it. I have Bautista just ahead of Braun because of Bautista's third-base eligibility and because there's still a few unknowns with Braun given his offseason and the departure of Prince Fielder. Obviously, I feel Braun is ultimately fine (I ranked him fourth, after all) but at this level, you have to nitpick, which is what I did here. JoeyBats, come on down.
Things that made me go hmmm ... I also have way too many C+C Music Factory songs on my iPhone. I'm a MTV child, what do you want from me? Ian Kinsler going in the first round surprised me. I have him at 21 overall and that's a lot of risk (injury, batting average, remember he hit only nine home runs in 2010) for a first-round pick. Especially since I feel second base is much deeper this year and Dustin Pedroia was still on the board.
Draft room chatter:
@Jeff0Pasquale: In the five hole, I was taking Joey Bats or Tulo. No suspected PED users for me. We run a clean program.
@guymharrison: Damn. Wanted Upton at No. 9, since OF is shallow. But...
Was thinking about ... How I might have made a mistake here. Was really hoping Jose Reyes would fall to me and yet he goes one pick before me. I have Reyes at 13 overall, much higher than his ESPN average draft position (currently 22). He went at pick 20, which is perfectly fine, except he went to @jeffpasquale, who used his first pick on Troy Tulowitzki. If you've looked at my Top 250, you know I love Reyes, you already had a shortstop, and you go shortstop again in the second? Was drafting with 11 people who all follow me a good idea? Am I being bird-dogged here? With Reyes gone, I thought about Michael Bourn for some speed or perhaps going pitching with Clayton Kershaw.
Ended up taking ... Adrian Beltre. I'm on record as saying I believe Beltre is the "safest" of all the third basemen this season. He's on my "love" list and I have him ranked 17th overall, so I was happy to get him at pick 21. Since Bautista qualifies at outfield, this gives me some flexibility, creates some scarcity and it gave me some better batting average protection than Mark Teixeira would provide; remember, Bautista's .302 average last season is a long ways off his career .254 mark. He's transformed as a hitter, but there's still risk there.
Things that made me go hmmm ... Other than Jeff taking two shortstops with his first two picks? They provide very different stats and he'd have no problem dealing either one, so it's not a terrible pick, but it is surprising. I was surprised that @vamsi went Prince Fielder after drafting Joey Votto in the first. Also would have thought Evan Longoria would have gone earlier. Nice value there for @duece420.
Draft room chatter:
@jeffpasquale: OK, I'm set at SS
Was thinking about ... How much I hated this spot. Really wanted Bourn to fall to me. Thought about pitching, but decided I wanted to wait as I felt anyone left would have been a reach at this point.
Ended up taking ... The artist formally known as Mike Stanton. I have him ranked 22 and he was the highest guy remaining on my list, so getting him at pick 28 seems like good value, especially given Stanton's growth last year. I actually think we might be low on his projected batting average. No speed on this team, but so far I have rostered a projected 275 runs, 109 home runs, 306 RBIs in my first three rounds.
Things that made me go hmmm ... Given how deep pitching is and the fact it's a 12-team mixed league (so streaming pitchers is an option here), drafting Felix Hernandez a round after taking Roy Halladay raised a few cyber eyebrows. Harrison said he felt he was reaching for any offensive guy here so he'd use Roy or Felix as trade bait later on, which is fine in theory except it's hard to trade starters for value in shallow mixed leagues because pitching is so plentiful.
Draft room chatter:
@patchus: Didn't want to pick Bourn, but needed steals and didn't think he would be there once I got back.
@jeffpasquale: If I had a "hate" list, Dan Uggla would be on it. Just sayin'.
@duece420: I wanted Cliff Lee!
@patchus: That's what the Rangers said.
Was thinking about ... Drafting a first baseman here, as they were starting to be in short supply. Looked at Michael Morse in Round 4 and Eric Hosmer in Round 5. Also considered Ben Zobrist in the fifth as he's a guy, as Nate and I like to say on the podcast, with a high floor. Meaning that even if he has a bad season, he's still very likely to have some value and to not entirely fall off the table, even in a worst-case scenario.
Ended up taking ... A guy I "love," Elvis Andrus. Really needed speed, especially in the middle infield, and while it may have been a bit of a reach by our draft results, I have him at 42. So to get him at 45 made me very happy. In Round 5, though, I made my first mistake. Probably should have gone Eric Hosmer here. I'm a big Greinke guy this year (my rank: 40, picked him at 52) but pitching ended up being really devalued in this draft. Passing on Hosmer as my first baseman would end up coming back to haunt me later. This is what literary types refer to as "foreshadowing" and what my 7-year-old calls "ruining the story."
Things that made me go hmmm ... Well, you know I think our Brett Lawrie rank is ridiculous to begin with, based on 150 at-bats, and his average draft position is 50. So to take him at 44 is a reach for me. The odds of him providing more value than pick 44 aren't great, but he could very easily struggle some and perform well below fifth-round value. He's gonna be great, maybe even this year, but at pick 44 you've taken any potential profit out of the pick. @Duece420 goes pitching back-to-back as well, with Cole Hamels in Round 4 after Tim Lincecum in Round 3. Like @guymharrison, he'll feel this later. Finally, how did Jay Bruce (my 33) fall to 42? Nice pick by @jdharm. Mike Napoli going at 46 is probably a round too early as well, in a one-catcher league.
Draft room chatter:
@guymharrison (after Hosmer went): Fudge. 1B sucks now.
Was thinking about ... In Round 6, I strongly considered David Ortiz, who is really undervalued, and toyed with the idea of Kevin Youkilis in Round 7. With the exception of Adrian Gonzalez, Jon Lester and Dustin Pedroia, most of the Red Sox are undervalued in a big way this year. I also was looking at Rickie Weeks in Round 7 as I still needed a second baseman and it was starting to get thinner here. As for Round 8, I really wanted Jayson Werth or Ichiro Suzuki to fall to me as both guys (along with Youk) are perfect PPOBYs (proven player off a bad year). Carl Crawford, Matt Cain ... lots of players on my "Love" list are starting to go in these rounds, so I'm starting to get paranoid. Is there collusion going on here? Have we become the NFL? (Bitter Redskins fan here. Carry on.)
Ended up taking ... Brian McCann, Shin-Soo Choo and Corey Hart. It became clear to me at this point that many (not all, but many) of the people in this draft were using my Top 250, so our ESPN average draft positions were useless to me and everyone had an idea of where I was going next. So I decided to try and switch it up with McCann, as I almost never take a catcher early in a one-catcher league. The value is fine (ranked him 59, got him with pick 69) but in retrospect, I wish I had gotten Michael Young (whom I wanted with my next pick) since he qualifies at first. Love the Choo pick (PPOBY!) and while Corey Hart is hurt, he's already walking without a limp. It got to a point where I could no longer ignore him (ranked 62 pre-injury, got him with pick 93). Still, I was hoping Howard Kendrick would last until Round 9, as he's another guy I love. And of course, once again, he didn't.
Things that made me go hmmm ... The Alfonso Soriano pick by @theanamachine is an obvious head-scratcher and taking Derek Jeter at 74 in the previous round (his ADP is 108) was another reach. Kevin Youkilis dropping to pick 78 (I have him at 57) is a great value and I can now turn my paranoia away from @jdharm and @guymharrison shading me; they both decide to pay for saves, taking Craig Kimbrel and Mariano Rivera in Round 7.
Draft room chatter:
@duece420: I hate my last pick (Aramis Ramirez) I wanted Cabrera.
@duece420: 2pm: it looks like no one thinks Alex Gordon can repeat
@jdharm: I believe in ya Alex
@jeffpasquale: My INF is full and I have non OFers. My team's gonna get ugly.
@duece420: And there is the Jennings reach Matthew has warned us about :)
Was thinking about ... In Round 9, I thought about Carlos Beltran, whom I like a lot this year, and potentially Michael Cuddyer, who is going to be sneaky good in Colorado. In Round 10, I was looking at potentially going for Jhonny Peralta or maybe Daniel Hudson, who had fallen way too far at this point. In Round 11, it was a toss-up of Dee Gordon or Erick Aybar and in Round 12, I was thinking "dammit, I can't believe Cuddyer and Freddie Freeman went." At that point, I felt like most of the rest of the first basemen were of a similar ilk in terms of risk and potential reward, so I decided to wait until the very end.
Ended up taking ... Round 9: Chris Carpenter. I was, er, bummed, that Madison Bumgarner didn't fall to me. One pick! I might have been more risk averse given Carpenter's injury status if this were not a mock or if it were later in spring training but at this point, I like Carpenter's upside too much to ignore him two rounds after I have him ranked. Billy Butler has been taking grounders at first and Ned Yost says he will get time at first this year, spelling Eric Hosmer, so I took Butler (I think he breaks out this year; of course, I say that every year) with the hopes he becomes my first baseman this year. Needed speed by Round 11, so I went with the crazy upside and high risk of Dee Gordon over the safer Erick Aybar. Again, normally I would have played it safe there, but I was trying to change it up as I felt most folks knew where I was going. Finally, in Round 12, I love the Shaun Marcum pick at 141. I have him at 114 and while I don't have the healthiest pitching staff around, it has a lot of skills. And in a 12-team mixed league, I can work around the injuries.
Things that made me go hmmm ... I'm pretty bullish on Emilio Bonifacio this year (my rank: 136) but pick 118 is super early. Carlos Quentin is another reach -- @theanamachine is clearly working from a set of rankings that will either win her the league by a mile or ensure she's finishing dead last. @Duece420 reaches for Drew Stubbs here (ADP of 122, went pick 104) and we see closers start to go off the board, with Jonathan Papelbon, Drew Storen and Ryan Madson all going in Round 9. I think you know how I feel about that. Jeremy Hellickson going before guys like Brandon Beachy, Cory Luebke, Mat Latos or even Shaun Marcum, Josh Beckett or Max Scherzer, drives me batty. Lastly, @ascarborough goes Cuddyer, Buster Posey, Aybar, Latos. All solid picks. She is quietly putting together a really good team.
Draft room chatter:
@tarnoldt: Call it a reach but I won a league last year thanks to Emilio's flexibility.
@jdharm: I hate my team.
@tarnoldt: I hate your team too.
@guymharrison: Damn! Just put [Dee] Gordon in my queue.
(to me privately) @vamsi: It's surprising me how many people are using your top 250 (seemingly). I have to specifically ignore your list to try to find value elsewhere, for better or worse.
@MatthewBerryTMR: I knew it!
@jeffpasquale: Ha, Lawrie/Jennings/Pineda. I'm having the anti-Berry draft.
Was thinking about ... How I really hate Nick Markakis and wondering whether there was a way to avoid him in Round 13. I thought about Nick Swisher here and the lot of second basemen left (I still needed one) including Jemile Weeks, Dustin Ackley and Danny Espinosa. Anibal Sanchez also gave me some winks. I like him a lot. In Round 14, I considered Ackley and Espinosa again and in Round 15, I decided it was a matter of finally getting a closer, so I considered all who were left, mostly Andrew Bailey, Huston Street and Jose Valverde. In Round 16, trendy sleeper Lucas Duda and his first-base eligibility were getting long looks from me as were some other starting pitchers I like, such as Brandon McCarthy. Round 17 was another closer and I was thinking "Why do people pay for saves?" Still lots of solid closers left.
Ended up taking ... Nick Markakis in Round 13. I really needed batting average at that point and while I like Swisher a lot more, I felt I was good in power, needed another outfielder who would hit safely for average and that's Markakis. But did I feel dirty? Absolutely. Round 14, I decided on the safe, underrated production of Neil Walker over the upside of Dustin Ackley. (I have them next to each other in the ranks). I reached for Walker here (have him ranked 178, got him at 165) but desperately needed a second baseman and was worried I wouldn't get one in the next round. He's very solid and underrated. The fact Ackley went at pick 166 (I have Ackley at 179) tells me I might have been right. In Round 15, Joel Hanrahan doesn't get a lot of love because he was on the Pirates, but he was the seventh best closer on our Player Rater last year. Click on his name for a more in depth write-up on him, but he strikes out a nice amount of guys (K/9 of 8.00 last year) and will have a low WHIP, something I try to look for in closers. Round 16, I ended up taking Neftali Feliz, whom I love (have him ranked 131, got him at pick 189). We obviously don't know how his transition to starter will go, but Texas has had a lot of success moving guys from the bullpen to the rotation, Feliz is working with Pedro Martinez on refining his changeup and, well, I'm a believer. Round 17 and look who is still here? Our No. 13 reliever on the Player Rater last year, Kyle Farnsworth. The cutter is legit, kids, and so is he. Never pay for saves.
Things that made me go hmmm ... Didn't like @vamsi taking Rafael Betancourt or @pdezara taking Sergio Santos in Round 13. Too early for closers, especially guys with question marks like these two. I actually like both, but Betancourt has never closed for a full season before, Santos has Francisco Cordero there and there were a lot of other proven closers still on the board at that point. It's clear at this point that @theanamachine is drafting off a very different list, though I do like the upside of J.D. Martinez. Jesus Montero is a slight reach here (pick 171, ADP of 183). Hopefully he both becomes catcher eligible and lives up to expectations to be worth this pick. Didn't love @Jdharm's taking Mike Carp here. I'm no one to talk about someone's first baseman, but Carp's playing time isn't assured and with guys like Paul Goldschmidt, Kendrys Morales and Ike Davis still out there (and I liked all those picks in Round 17), there were higher upside "risky" guys at first. Other picks I liked included Kelly Johnson, who could explode in Toronto, the Tim Hudson and Chris Sale picks (man, was starting pitching devalued here) and Danny Espinosa at pick 192 is a nice gamble.
Draft room chatter:
@tarnoldt: J.D. Martinez was a sleeper of mine. Was hoping to get him in the 20th or so.
@jeffpasquale: Almost took Feliz.
@duece420: I almost took him too but I will put another reliever turned starting pitcher on the board Matthew. Sale vs Feliz - I got Chris Sale.
@guymharrison: Wanted Frenchy but I'll take this guy instead. (Brandon McCarthy)
Was thinking about ... All the first basemen that just went in Round 17, so I was mostly cursing myself for waiting one round too long there. I wanted to finish out the draft by addressing my starting pitching, hopefully get two more closers to give me something to possibly deal or just win that category and then once I have a lead, I can spot start over the second half to make up for strikeouts and wins if needed. I also had one outfield spot open and felt a little nervous with my speed, as Dee Gordon is no sure thing, so wanted to make sure I shored that up.
Ended up taking ...
Round 18: Mark Trumbo. Sigh. Needed a first baseman. If his playing time were assured, this would be a fine pick. Even a great one. And they want to find him at-bats. He's been playing some third in spring training, Morales is no sure thing, and he'll get some time in the outfield. He's got 30 homer potential if he gets at-bats. Not ideal, but could be worse.
Round 19: Wandy Rodriguez. I like him much more than our projections do. Way-Rod!
Round 21: Brett Myers, who was a successful closer before. You can be a very good closer on a bad team. And he's my fourth closer. Never pay for saves, kids. Learn it, love it, marry it in the state of Vermont.
Round 22: Peter Bourjos. A little pop (and more coming), nice speed, with an average that won't hurt you. Like him, obviously.
Round 23: Denard Span. And that takes care of my outfield. Another poster boy for my PPOBY theory, he is going waaaaay too late in drafts. The speed alone has value.
Rounds 24 and 25: Two pitchers that I have ranked much higher than our projections, I'm expecting nice years from John Danks (PPOBY!) and Jhoulys Chacin. If one of Danks, Chacin or Wandy performs at the level they have previously, I'm set.
Things that made me go hmmm ... Hard to really knock any picks this late. I always say there's no such thing as a bad pick after Round 17, but I will say I would much rather go for a guy with upside rather than a guy like Mark Buehrle (Round 25, to @jeffpasquale), who is exactly what he is with no upside. You can always find a guy like that on the waiver wire. So some of the "flyers" I liked (and many good picks here) include Edwin Encarnacion, who got stolen from me in Round 18, Matt Joyce and Delmon Young in Round 19, Bud Norris in Round 20 (where once again Kenley Jansen goes ahead of the actual closer, Javy Guerra), Raul Ibanez, Addison Reed, Mike Minor and Ryan Vogelsong in Round 21, Mat Gamel and Jonathon Niese in Round 22, Francisco Liriano, Jake Peavy and Will Venable in Round 23, Vance Worley in Round 24 and Nyjer Morgan and Wilson Ramos in Round 25.
Draft room chatter:
@vamsi: Yep, knew Trumbo would go to Berry there. I keep forgetting to reach for "his" guy.
@tarnoldt: Boesch is a great pick. I forgot about him. Could have a huge year in front of Prince and Miguel.
@vamsi: Well, [Ryan Howard] could be the worst pick in the draft, but at 231 I'm willing to take the flyer...
@pdezara: Lord help me for what I am about to do (He drafts Vernon Wells).
I had fun doing the draft, though it was weird with so many people knowing your thoughts without knowing theirs (the way you would in a mock with fellow analysts). There were some curveballs in there, but that's to be expected in any draft. I need to adjust my ranks to lower starting pitching even more and move a few guys up or down. Overall, I like my team. First base is a concern, but I've got a very strong, balanced offense with some batting average cushion, so I can deal for a free swinger midseason if I need to pick up power. If any of my starting pitching hits, this team will be right there.
Of all the teams, I thought Amanda Scarborough (@ascarborough), the 24-year-old from Toronto, had the best team. Just goes to show, never judge a book by its cover. Or a mock draft. Thanks to all who participated; everyone was a good sport. Next time, I'm drafting with the gang from my Facebook page. They never pay attention to my ranks!
Matthew Berry -- The Talented Mr. Roto -- has a bad feeling about his beloved Syracuse. He is the creator of RotoPass.com, a website that combines a bunch of well-known fantasy sites, including ESPN Insider, for one low price. Use promo code ESPN for 10 percent off.