In an effort to serve all of our fantasy baseball owners in a variety of league formats, we're running a series of mock drafts so that you can see how our experts alter their approach. Our most recent mock was an AL-only, 10-team roto league, the twin sibling of our NL-only, 10-team roto league that was drafted previously.
For those experiencing a single-league fantasy format for the first time, there are some unique challenges, primary among them is that you'll end up with players on your roster who aren't necessarily full-time starters at the outset of the season. Here, it makes sense to go after some younger players who aren't guaranteed a full-time job on Opening Day, but whose role could increase as the season goes along. This means that players such as Byron Buxton and Jonathan Singleton are in play as we get to the later rounds.
Our esteemed mock drafters here were: Pierre Becquey, Brendan Roberts, AJ Mass, Dan Szymborski, Matthew Berry, Brian Gramling, Eric Karabell, Tristan H. Cockcroft, Todd Zola and yours truly.
The results here are presented round by round, with each player's ranking from our AL-only cheat sheet, and a comparison of where he was drafted versus his ranking. As always, there were some notable differences between where a player was taken and where he was ranked, and some owners changed their appetite for risk as the draft proceeded.
The first round played out with few surprises, as our owners were merely testing the waters, avoiding anything too crazy. The most notable drop here was Robinson Cano, who went two slots below rank at No. 8 overall. With no Clayton Kershaw on the board, it wasn't a surprise that there were no pitchers taken in this frame.
The drafters loosened up a bit here in the second stanza, starting right off the bat with Alex Rios going four slots above his rank. Rios broke his spell of producing better in even-numbered years this past season, and he's a threat for 20/20, with a ceiling much higher than that in the steals department (he had 42 in 2013, splitting time between the Rangers and the White Sox).
Eric Hosmer was the other subtle reach of this round, though the arrow seems to be pointing upward on the Kansas City Royals first baseman, and he has posted double-digit homers and steals in all three of his major league campaigns thus far.
David Price -- taken six slots below rank -- closed out a run of six pitchers taken in Rounds 2 and 3, and for all we know at this point, he may end up as the best of the group. By comparison, at this point in our NL-only mock, there were already seven starting pitchers and two closers taken by this point.
The big risk of the round was Mass' selection of Ben Zobrist at No. 23 overall. However, the Eureka, Ill., native offers positional flexibility, solid production across the board and reliability: He has played in over 150 games each of the past five seasons.
Zola nabbed the first closer of the draft here in Round 4, taking Kansas City's Greg Holland at No. 33 overall. Holland has had a rough spring, but don't be too worried: He had a rough spring in 2013 as well, then went on to save 47 games.
This also was the frame within which Masahiro Tanaka was taken off the board, going No. 39 overall to Roberts as his No. 2 pitcher. Tanaka has impressed with an interesting mix of stuff this spring, and while it would be risky to rely on him as the ace of your staff, his considerable upside makes him a great buy as a No. 2.
By some cosmic circumstance, this wound up being the Yankee round, with three pinstriped players being selected: Carlos Beltran (No. 42), Brian McCann (No. 46) and David Robertson (No. 48). This particular trio all saw their circumstances change significantly this offseason -- the former two joining the Bronx-based ballclub, while the latter officially inherited closing duties from an all-time great -- and we can't point to much of anything this spring that would dissuade someone from selecting any of them in this range.
The other name that likely caught your eye is that of Jose Abreu, whose power potential is a nice grab at No. 49 overall.
With just two closers off the board, Round 6 saw a mini run of the door-slammers selected, with Koji Uehara, Joe Nathan and Glen Perkins all finding new homes. Manny Machado also was taken during this round, and remember: If your league's first scoring period already has started when you are drafting, be sure to choose the bench slot for any players who are currently injured (or slated to start the season in the minors). Machado should be a monster again this season, but you don't want to waste your 3B slot while he finishes his recovery.
It was during Round 5 that the drafters began to notice Anibal Sanchez falling -- his shoulder issues were enough to scare us off -- but that slide ended here in the seventh, as he was drafted a full 30 slots below rank. A nice value for Roberts, who has Max Scherzer and Tanaka already filling the top two slots on his staff.
The final two catchers in the top tier (for AL-only) were snagged here as well, with Salvador Perez and Matt Wieters going No. 64 and 65. There's a bit of a drop from the top five to the next class, so if you don't get one of the quintet, it's fine to wait quite a while (especially in single-catcher leagues).
I made the reach for Sonny Gray here at No. 77 overall (my second pitcher) to a chorus of groans from the draft room, as he was on the radar of a number of my fellow owners at that point. Gray made 10 starts last season -- generating a 2.67 ERA and 1.11 WHIP -- and will be Oakland's Opening Day starter. However, being totally honest, I was hoping for Danny Salazar, but he went at the tail end of Round 7.
Hisashi Iwakuma stuck around this long thanks to concerns about his finger, but with the splint off as of this past week, Iwakuma is on his way back to a return reasonably soon. Zola may have gotten the steal of the first third of the draft.
Roberts swings for the fences, landing Mark Teixeira a full 33 slots above rank. Tex declined in 2012 before missing nearly all of 2013, but he has looked good this spring, and it's not entirely out of the realm of possibility that he has another big year in his soon-to-be 34-year-old body.
Another trio of closers left the pool of undrafted players in the 10th round, leaving not a whole lot left for those who'd yet to invest in saves. A big bargain closed out this round, as Becquey ended Torii Hunter's free fall. Hunter's flip over the fence at Fenway gained him some Internet notoriety, but he's still a reliable player: His batting average has been on the proper side of .300 the past two seasons, and while he's not stealing bases like he used to, he did manage 90 runs in 2013.
A mix of moderate reaches and bargains here, with $52 million man Brett Gardner a nice pickup by Roberts near the top of the frame. Gardner will run and score, but not a whole lot else. Even so, the six-year vet can do both of those things well enough to be a solid asset in a fantasy outfield.
Three risks at the top of this stanza, at varying stages of their career. The hot name in the bunch is Kole Calhoun. Karabell wrote from his camp tour that Calhoun is ready to shine, and shone he has, to the tune of a .407 OBP and .480 SLG.
Former top prospect Justin Smoak also was a nice grab at this point, as he appears to be firmly entrenched as the starting first baseman for Seattle, and is entering his age-27 season.
As we hit the middle point of the draft, more and more prospects came off the board. The run in Round 13 began right away, with Becquey snagging Houston Astros outfielder George Springer. Springer will begin the season in the minors, but he managed a .333 OBP with nine runs and four steals during the spring; we'll see him this summer. A few picks later, I snatched Avisail Garcia, who is being considered for the No. 2 slot in the Chicago White Sox's lineup. Garcia has some plate discipline issues thus far, but some power upside.
The substantial slide from Kansas City Royals outfielder Norichika Aoki was ended by Zola here. Aoki managed 80-plus runs the past two seasons in Milwaukee, along with 50 total steals. Pegged to lead off for K.C., Aoki is a nice value at this point of the draft. Meanwhile, Mass had one of the bigger risks of the entire draft here, taking White Sox third baseman of the future Matt Davidson. This draft was completed prior to Davidson being optioned to Triple-A, but despite the demotion, Davidson should be back in the bigs relatively quickly; there isn't much ahead of him at the hot corner on the big league club.
Mass continued to swing for the fences here, nabbing the Baltimore Orioles' Bud Norris. The former Astro has never had a WHIP below 1.30, but does have potential to generate up to 175 strikeouts if he gets regular work in the Orioles rotation. Cockcroft closed out the round with another significant player, taking Michael Pineda 42 slots above rank. Pineda burst onto the scene in 2011, racking up 173 strikeouts in 171.0 IP, along with a 1.10 WHIP. He's yet to pitch in a big league game since then, but he's getting an early shot as the Yankees' fifth starter this season; with demonstrated prior dominance, Pineda is not a bad risk at pick No. 150.
With all of the risks being taken, some big values remained on the board at this point. Szymborski and I nabbed two of them, in Taijuan Walker and Phil Hughes. Walker is one of a handful of young hurlers who appear ready to make a name for themselves this season, though he may begin the season on the DL (with a debut at some point in April). Hughes was once like them, but after some uneven work in his final season with the Yankees, it was not surprising to see him land elsewhere. With a fresh start -- and a park that should be conducive to his performing well -- he's a decent gamble in the middle of an AL-only draft.
After Jacoby Ellsbury departed Beantown this offseason, that left the Boston Red Sox searching for their next leadoff man, and Jonny Gomes appears to be in the mix. Though he may not be the everyday leadoff man, his strong OBP will keep him among the options, which should mean lots of runs for his fantasy owners. A deft pick by Karabell.
A pair of young outfielders taken here represented two of the biggest risks of the draft: Houston's Robbie Grossman (No. 173, to Zola) and Seattle's Abraham Almonte (No. 178, to Mass). Grossman won't hit for much power, but he has shown good plate discipline at every level, and will run a bit too. Almonte is all but locked in as a starting outfielder for the M's, and despite a .148 BA this spring, he went .314/.403/.491 in 396 plate appearances with Triple-A Tacoma in 2013.
This round was split between prospects -- such as Singleton, who went to Springer owner Becquey -- and reliable vets who were hefty bargains at this point, including Mark Buehrle, who was snatched up by Roberts one spot later. The 22-year-old Singleton has a relatively clear path to regular work at first base for the Astros, but will begin the campaign in the minors.
Tyler Skaggs was the first man discussed in Keith Law's list of 10 breakout players for 2014, and he came off the board here to Szymborski 34 slots above rank. He's not a finished product, but the talent is there to make him worth grabbing at this point of a draft (Szymborski already had drafted five other starters).
It's important to take your minor-league-bound prospects at the right time. Too early, and you're missing out on guys who can help all season; too late, and, well, you miss out on the prospects themselves. Reasonably satisfied with the pitchers I'd landed already, Mark Appel made sense for me here. The No. 1 pick from the 2013 draft will begin the season either in High-A or Double-A, with a chance to arrive in the bigs later in the season.
Though Szymborski already had a catcher on his roster, his selection of A.J. Pierzynski at No. 216 overall was one of the steals of the draft. Pierzynski is beyond the peak of his career, but there's value for him playing in that Boston lineup. Note that this draft took place before it was announced that Bruce Rondon would be out for the season, owing to Tommy John surgery.
The final three rounds had some intrigue, although the most notable of the selections were Minnesota Twins super-prospect Byron Buxton (who went No. 236 overall to Szymborski) as well as the currently injured Derek Holland (No. 222) and Jose Iglesias (No. 244). In the case of all three, this is an investment in what the player will bring to the table for about half the 2014 season, and in the final three rounds -- and given what else was on the board at this point -- it makes sense to take a half-season of their production over a whole season of an alternative.
Hitters made up the bulk of the early portion of this draft, but once the dam was broken, the hurlers flowed onto teams quickly. With a few closer jobs remaining unclear at this point, be sure to check our frequently updated closer chart for the latest on which players to target should you fail to land your ninth-inning man of choice.
Remember, if you want to practice drafting in this or any other format we offer, be sure to head over to our Mock Draft Lobby, where you can get in as many reps as you'd like ahead of your own draft. Good luck this season!