February mock draft: Best-player-available strategy pays off

Different people, different strategies, one common goal.

When the ESPN Fantasy group got together the afternoon of Wednesday, Feb. 18, we didn't just show up cold. All of us -- as in every single person -- came to the party with lots of baseball work already behind us, either writing or editing or projecting … So while this might seem early in the draft season, we're midway through our preseason cycle.

And I've found that the more we jump into it, the more biases we gain, gleaned from the depth of our work. For instance, I was pretty anti-Hunter Pence. Then I took a closer look into his numbers while writing the outfield profile. Hmm, not as bad as I thought; he moves up a few spots in my personal outfield rankings. Every one of the 10 owners below can tell a good five or 10 or more similar stories, and they are evident on draft day.

With that, I present to you our mock draft held Feb. 18 for an ESPN standard (10-team) mixed league. Really, there were few surprises, other than a few players falling a little further than expected. Then again, that's pretty typical with this group. Instead of just one owner analyzing everyone's team and/or the draft overall, we decided to have each owner analyze his team and the draft. He'll explain his pre-draft approach, best and worst pick, the player he wishes he'd have gotten and a general conclusion. Many different strategies, but the goal is still the same: Put together a team that, with some roster turnover, could win a 2009 ESPN standard league.

First, the draft is below, listed from the first pick to "Mr. Irrelevant," Andy Pettitte. Then the analysis, which is sorted by owner, first overall pick in the first round to last pick. Enjoy!

James Quintong (1st pick overall)

Basic strategy: By hoarding high-average players such as Albert Pujols, Ichiro Suzuki, Dustin Pedroia and Chipper Jones early, I was able to absorb the batting-average hit from guys like Adam Dunn and Carlos Gomez, who definitely help in other categories.
My best pick: Brandon Webb, Round 4. Very safe, very consistent, and yet he was the eighth starter taken. He's a nice pitching anchor at the end of the fourth round.
My worst pick: Chris Iannetta, Round 17. Sure, this Rockies catcher has promise, but I probably could have waited a few more rounds to get him, or any number of reasonably productive catchers.
Player I wish I had gotten: Edinson Volquez, Round 16. The first of three pitchers to go just before me (along with Justin Verlander and Ryan Dempster), I would have liked to round out my starting pitchers.
General conclusion of my team: I have batting average sewn up, and the offense looks good. And in this case I didn't mind drafting two stud closers fairly high since there were many bargains at starting pitcher.
Overall best pick of the draft: Manny Ramirez, Round 4.

Keith Lipscomb (2nd pick overall)

Basic strategy: I decided to target big bats early and fill in with some steals later on. Also, I wanted to get at least one sure-fire closer earlier than I normally do, since there are so many question marks as spring training begins.
My best pick: Vernon Wells, Round 12. The possibility of getting .290-30-100 out of my fourth outfielder made him an easy choice at this point of the draft.
My worst pick: Russell Martin, Round 7. In a 10-team league with just one catcher per team, there's really no need to take a catcher this early, but I took him anyway. I'd rather have Victor Martinez three rounds later.
Player I wish I had gotten: Justin Upton, Round 13. I was hoping he'd last another round because I really liked the improvement I saw from him late in 2008.
General conclusion of my team: I like the power bats I got early, and I'm not worried about covering for Howard's low batting average. I'm happy with the pitching staff, but I would have liked more steal potential. That's nothing a trade or two can't fix, though.
Overall best pick of the draft: Adam Dunn, Round 10. Getting 40 homers this late is nice, but the biggest reason I like this pick so much is because of how James prepared himself for it by taking high-average guys earlier in the draft.

Pierre Becquey (3rd pick overall)

Basic strategy: Build from the infield out, and alternate between pitchers and hitters in every round after the fourth. And go high-upside as much as possible.
My best pick: Francisco Liriano, Round 6. He'll be more valuable than most of the starters taken in the fourth and fifth rounds.
My worst pick: Kevin Youkilis, Round 5. There were better players to be had, but I was too focused on filling third base.
Player I wish I had gotten: Victor Martinez, Round 10. Karabell got a huge bargain there. I almost grabbed him in the ninth round, but I went with a closer instead, which turned out to be a round or two premature.
General conclusion of my team: This team is set to compete in every category, has no holes in the infield and has a very high ceiling. In a shallow league like this, that's the best way to make a run at first place.
Overall best pick of the draft: Brandon Morrow, 173rd pick overall.

AJ Mass (4th pick overall)

Basic strategy: I went strictly from my personal rankings list, not concerning myself with what other owners were doing. Doing that allowed me the opportunity to relax and avoid making desperation "reaches" after watching a guy I was about to pick get snatched up. Luckily, that happened only twice, and not once in the first 15 rounds.
My best pick: Kelly Shoppach, Round 22. Waiting until the very last moment to grab my starting catcher and still getting a 20-homer guy? Fantasy gold!
My worst pick: Carlos Delgado, Round 9. I already had two Mets, and I hate having that many from one team. Plus, Carlos Pena was still available. That said, I did stay true to my list.
Player I wish I had gotten: Willy Taveras, Round 18. Brendan stole him from me just when I thought I was going to guarantee a victory in the stolen-base category. I settled for Coco Crisp instead.
General conclusion of my team: I have a very balanced team. Every hitter has 20-100 potential, save maybe Jose Reyes and Crisp, who provide speed, and all starting pitchers could win 15-plus games. I'm happy with the starting point here.
Overall best pick of the draft: Edwin Encarnacion, Round 22.

Brendan Roberts (5th pick overall)

Basic strategy: Obviously to put the best team together, but to do so while also reacting to tendencies I've noticed in my workmates in the time I've worked and played with 'em. For instance, I knew I could get a top closer later in this draft than I would in about any other.
My best pick: Mike Cameron, Round 21. I'm not even a fan of him, but getting a potential 25-20 guy with the 205th pick is pleasing to me.
My worst pick: Pat Burrell, Round 17. Pat Burrell? That was the best I could do there? Blech! I knew I had made a mistake when …
Player I wish I had gotten: Clayton Kershaw, three picks after Burrell. The iron pendulum hit me, then swung back around and hit me again. I think Kershaw is headed for Cole Hamels-like success sooner than later.
General conclusion of my team: You know, I more or less took the "best player available" strategy in just about every round, and I think it worked like a charm. While I didn't take many chances on players, I think this team is solid across the board. Might be a little light on power, but that's the easiest to pick up during the season.
Overall best pick: Francisco Rodriguez, Round 11.

Christopher Harris (6th pick overall)

Basic strategy: What I usually try to do, especially when there are "experts" in the draft, is zig when everyone else is zagging. When I do mock drafts with my ESPN brethren, everyone waits on starting pitching too long. In CC Sabathia, Jake Peavy, Roy Oswalt and Josh Beckett, I got four of my top 15 starters (and three of my top eight). And because it was a 10-team mixed draft, getting quality at all positions isn't an issue.
My best pick: John Smoltz, Round 23. He's throwing well and has incredible upside. He should be drafted in all leagues.
My worst pick: Mark Reynolds, Round 15. Mocking my own 15th-rounder is harsh, but I fear Reynolds' strikeouts.
Player I wish I had gotten: Aramis Ramirez, Round 4; and David Ortiz, Round 8. Tristan Cockcroft stole Aramis and Papi -- who were the next guys up in my draft queue -- a pick before me.
General conclusion of my team: My pitching is the best in the league and I have enough speed to be competitive. I might have to deal for a bat if Vladimir Guerrero and/or Carlos Pena get hurt or don't perform, but overall, this is a pretty good squad.
Overall best pick of the draft: The best value? Travis Hafner, Round 23. The best pick itself? Albert Pujols, Round 1.

Tristan Cockcroft (7th pick overall)

Basic strategy: It's pointless for anyone to go into a 10-team mixed-league draft with any strategy other than "getting the best player available," but I did know from the start that I wanted to get one ace starting pitcher early and a strong balance in the five hitting categories with my other four picks in the first five rounds. Saves could wait, take power/speed types wherever possible and fill the remainder of the pitching staff with bargain bets.
My best pick: David Ortiz, Round 8. He was a top-25 player in 2008 drafts, and he still has what it takes to hit 30 homers and rack up 100 RBIs. Has he really slipped this much?
My worst pick: Scott Kazmir, Round 9. I got scared into thinking a run on starting pitching was coming, but only three of them went in the next 19 picks. Ugh, a painful miscalculation. I could -- and probably should -- have waited.
Player I wish I had gotten: Chad Billingsley, Round 8. I can't really be that upset considering I tabbed my own eighth-rounder as my best pick, but I had Big Papi and Billingsley on my "watch list" at the time. I knew both players were a steal at that point, and I ended up with the one I actually wanted less. That speaks volumes about how much I like Billingsley.
General conclusion of my team: My offense is loaded, and even more balanced than I expected, as names like Grady Sizemore, Matt Kemp and Brandon Phillips fell into my lap. Wins and saves might prove to be problem areas, but since when have those categories ever been my target?
Overall best pick of the draft: Matt Garza, Round 13.

Jason Grey (8th pick overall)

Basic strategy: Load up on quality hitting and go for young, "upside" pitchers late because there will be decent starting pitching in the free-agent pool if they don't pan out.
My best pick: Carl Crawford, Round 4. I'm pretty happy with this one; Crawford should bounce back well this year.
My worst pick: Jed Lowrie, Round 22. I like Lowrie, but there was no need to grab him here. I covered him with my last pick (in the reserve rounds) by getting Mark Ellis, but I reached for Lowrie.
Player I wish I had gotten: Chris Davis, Round 7. I was going to take him that round, but he didn't get to me.
General conclusion of my team: My offense should be solid, and I'm happy with the pitchers I got. In fact, my getting stable-WHIP pitchers in Felix Hernandez, Adam Wainwright, John Danks and Josh Johnson allowed me to take chances on guys like Brandon Morrow, Clayton Kershaw and Johnny Cueto.
Overall best pick of the draft: Justin Verlander, Round 16.

Matthew Berry (9th pick overall)

Basic strategy: In a 10-team mixed league, talent is so plentiful that I don't concern myself with position scarcity the way I do in deeper leagues. I want well-rounded guys who contribute in multiple categories while protecting batting average as much as possible. I wasn't going to reach for any starting pitchers (they're so plentiful in a 10-team mixed league), and, of course, I never pay for saves. I get a bunch of "pseudo" closers at the end and they, along with the free-agent wire, do just fine.
My best pick: Derrek Lee, Round 10. Getting a bankable .290-20-90 RBI guy with some upside and very little downside in the 10th round is ridiculous. He should have been gone three rounds earlier but somehow slipped. Getting Ramon Hernandez in Round 20 was nice as well.
My worst pick: Corey Hart, Round 6. As you might know, I love him and have loved him for more than two years now. But I should have grabbed Chipper Jones or Chris Davis with that pick. As it turned out, I got stuck with Chone Figgins at third base, along with Melvin Mora. Neither of them are exciting options, and I had speed taken care of, so I really didn't need Figgins.
Player I wish I had gotten: Alexei Ramirez, Round 5. He went one pick before me. Stupid Jason Grey. I'm fine with Cano at second base -- I think he'll have a big comeback season -- but Alexei is something special, and he'll prove it this year.
General conclusion of my team: I really, really like my team. A lot of high-upside injury risks on the pitching side, but there are always guys available on the free-agent wire in a 10-team league, so I could afford to take chances like that. And if Rich Harden, Erik Bedard and Co. stay healthy, watch out. I have a bit too much speed, but I can trade that, and with a few exceptions, I managed to protect batting average pretty well.
Best pick in the draft: Brandon Morrow, Round 18; and Jose Lopez, Round 13.

Eric Karabell (10th/last pick overall)

Basic strategy: I love picking back-to-back, even if it means going last. I get two of the top 11 players, and since I trust Chase Utley's health, I think he and Johan Santana are top-10. My strategy after that was to get lots of offense, and then steal strikeout starting pitchers. I think I did that.
My best pick: Pablo Sandoval, Round 23. He'll probably hit third for the Giants and hit very well, and he could earn eligibility at three positions.
My worst pick: Manny Ramirez, Round 4. I'd feel better about this if he had a job. As such, the Orlando Hudson pick in Round 22 also was a risk.
Player I wish I had gotten: Matt Holliday, Round 3. He kept slipping, but not quite enough. I'm convinced he'll hit just fine in Oakland.
General conclusion of my team: It appeared I was building a team that lacked power, but getting Jim Thome and Adam LaRoche late saved me. I love this team. I wish we were playing this league out!
Overall best pick of the draft: Cameron Maybin, Round 19.