It takes more than just having your projected rankings, and maybe an average draft position list, to have success on draft day. You have to know how to use them. Here are some strategies, tips and considerations:
Drafting for position scarcity
The concept of position scarcity is always a hot topic of discussion during the draft season, and it's often used as a justification by an owner who appears to have drafted a player too early. Quite often, I think people assume positional scarcity is there without really checking the actual makeup of the player pool. They figure that if some position was scarce a season or two ago, it is still scarce. Some owners also give too much weight to scarcity factors in player selection.
The only way we can examine positional scarcity accurately is to look at how the player pool is constituted each season. There are three positional scarcity factors you want to give weight to when formulating your draft strategy for 2008. They are:
1. The catcher pool is even weaker than in recent seasons: It's shaping up to be that way. Some might use this as an excuse to reach for one of the top performers at the position, but every time you reach (draft a player earlier than he's expected to go), you give up value you might not be able to get back later in the draft. There are players at all positions that wind up being undervalued, including catcher, and your best bet might be to just wait and grab one of these sleepers. Based on what I have seen thus far, there are numerous veteran catchers, such as Jason Varitek, Bengie Molina, Ramon Hernandez and Ivan Rodriguez, who are being undervalued in drafts. They're not the "hot" picks at the position, but it's better to get them at a bargain than it is reach for a Geovany Soto or Russell Martin.
2. Second base is top heavy: There is some positional scarcity at second base, but not quite in the way you'd think. Overall, the pool is fairly deep, with good production and value. However, the position is stratified, with three clear choices at the top in Chase Utley, Brandon Phillips and Brian Roberts. If you want to reach a tiny bit to ensure getting one of those top three, that is acceptable. If not, there is a ton of value to be had at the position if you want to wait until Round 9 or later in a standard 12-team mixed league.
3. The outfield pool is thin: It might surprise you to learn that the outfield pool is relatively thin this season, continuing a trend that began last year. On the other hand, the shortstop and corner infield positions are pretty deep. I know it might seem hard for some to believe that outfielders could be considered scarce, but there are more question marks at the end of the draft for those filling out their outfield than usual. Traditionally, owners have been told to wait until that point to grab their last one to three outfielders. That's not necessarily the case anymore.
One general rule of thumb is not to get too hung up on any type of scarcity for the first four to five rounds. You should draft the best player on the board regardless of position.
How do you want to draft your pitching staff?
One of the first things you must consider when formulating a draft strategy is your plan for assembling your pitching staff. You have a number of different options.
The Santana Strategy: A hotly debated topic is whether or not Johan Santana is worthy of a first-round pick, regardless of your place in the round. A number of teams in high-stakes leagues last season won titles by selecting Santana in the first round, so it can be done, despite the conventional wisdom that says not to use your first-round pick on a pitcher. Given his move to the Mets and the NL, Santana's numbers could be in for a nice bump, making him an even stronger first-round candidate. It's a matter of personal preference, and while I would prefer to get him in Round 2, his projected value puts him anywhere between picks seven and 10 overall. If you are in a mixed league of 12 teams or more, and he's still there after pick No. 10, you certainly can justify a first-round pick for him if he's part of your pitching plan.
Waiting to draft pitchers: A strategy that I have used often is not drafting my first pitcher until Round 9 or 10. I focus on grabbing the best hitting talent I can over the first eight rounds of the draft, knowing that there still will be quality pitching available even if I wait.
From here you have two ways to go. Either you can go through the balance of the draft normally, picking up whatever player you deem to be the best value on the board at that point, whether it's a position player or a pitcher. Or you could grab one more pitcher in Round 10 or 11 if there is a good option, and then wait until your absolute last picks to fill out the rest of your staff. In a standard 12-team mixed league, that would mean using your picks from Round 17 until the end of the draft to grab the best hurlers available, focusing on hitters in the rounds before that. You're basically rolling the dice on some late-round pitchers with upside and hope a few break through, while also following the conventional wisdom that says hitters are more reliable than pitchers.
Aggressively pursuing pitchers in the middle of the draft: This is a bit of an offshoot of the strategy above that I think deserves a closer look this season, given the makeup of the pitcher pool and the dynamic of many mixed league drafts. I've both seen and implemented this strategy in many drafts thus far, and I've liked the results. You're basically looking to hit a "sweet spot" of pitching value somewhere between Rounds 6 and 17 in a standard 12-team mixed league. In that span of 11 picks, you want to draft your nine pitchers. You take advantage of some value at the top, get a bunch of solid picks in the middle and avoid some of the question marks at the end the draft. For example, I had one draft in which I started with Erik Bedard in Round 6, took a chance on Francisco Liriano in Round 12 and finished my staff with Kevin Gregg as a second closer in Round 17.
The best part about methods that involve waiting on pitching is that your plan can be adjusted on the fly, depending on how your draft is going, and if certain players or positions are falling. You have three different options above you can use to fill out your staff and take advantage of any opportunities. This flexibility allows you to choose whatever plan is best, depending on the flow of the draft.
When to draft closers
You definitely want to come out of the draft with at least one closer, maybe two if your league does not allow trades, but I would definitely not use a high pick on one. There's just too much volatility among closers to aggressively pursue one early in the draft, especially when there are still solid stoppers to be drafted in Rounds 14-17 of a standard 12-team mixed league.
Many leagues wind up having a "run" on closers in the earlier rounds. Don't panic, though, and jump into the fray. There will be at least one more run later in the draft, and that is the one you need to take part in so you get at least one reasonably stable closer with a firm hold on a job. You're free to pick up a second one, if you wish, especially if someone is really sliding to the late rounds. Be aware that there will be saves available in the free-agent pool eventually, though; don't feel you have to grab two closers just because your fellow owners do.
The "first-10-rounds" strategy
In this method, you seek to establish the base of your roster by making sure you have certain positional requirements met within the first 10 rounds of the draft.
For example, you could set a goal of having all four infield positions, one catcher, two starting pitchers, one closer and two outfielders by the end of the 10th round. After establishing this base, you then go about filling your roster as needed with the best available player.
This strategy was a tad more effective a few years ago when there was a bit more positional scarcity to deal with, particularly in the middle infield. It can be used as a guideline, but don't be concerned about filling the exact requirements if it means letting a great value pass by in order to take an inferior player at a position you haven't filled yet. The strategy gives you a potential plan of attack for the early stages of the draft, but it shouldn't dictate it.
Draft slotting -- a plan for each round
In your ideal scenario, how would you like your draft to go? Why not make that happen?
If you're realistic in your expectations and don't plan out drafts that have, for instance, Jimmy Rollins falling to you in the third round, you can have a plan mapped out for each selection. You will have a good idea how your draft is going to go and what your team will look like when it's all done.
This is where ADP (average draft position) rankings can come in handy, helping you approximate who will be available with each pick of your draft, all the way to the very last round.
Set your player rankings, and then compare them to ADP data to identify groups of players to target with each pick. Ideally, you want to draft players as much after their ADP as possible in order to maximize the value of your draft as a whole. But don't plan your entire draft around players sliding to you each round, or you're bound to be disappointed.
Give yourself three choices for each pick. If someone that is better than any of the three choices you have targeted slides to your pick ... well, that is just a bonus. Do this for each round until your roster is full, and you'll have your draft planned out well in advance. You can even run several different iterations to find a plan whose overall result you like best in terms of projected statistics.
For example, let's say you have the seventh pick in a 12-team mixed league. You could decide that your targets for that pick are David Wright, Chase Utley, or Matt Holliday. Your next pick will be No. 18 overall, and checking your projected rankings and ADP lists, your targets are Grady Sizemore, Prince Fielder or Ichiro Suzuki. Your next chance to draft will be at No. 31, and there you have your eyes on Derek Jeter, Magglio Ordonez or B.J. Upton. Continue to do this method for every pick. See what the end result looks like, and then go back and change things to see if you can come up with something better.
Obviously, things are subject to change, depending on the flow of the draft, but at least you have set some guidelines for yourself to keep you on track. If you've ever felt you didn't come out of a draft with as strong a team as you should have, this strategy can be a powerful tool.
Jason Grey is a graduate of the MLB Scouting Bureau's Scout Development Program and has won two Tout Wars titles, one LABR title and numerous other national "experts" competitions.