The major league season may not start for a couple of months, but the fantasy baseball draft season is now under way, and for me it starts with the annual League of Alternative Baseball Reality (LABR) 15-team mixed-league draft featuring a number of top fantasy baseball analysts.
It provides a good way to test some draft strategies and get a feel for how players are being valued heading into spring training. The 15-team format means more players are taken compared to a standard mixed-league draft. Thus, you can take a few more chances on potential value selections, but are not stuck having to scrape the bottom of the barrel to fill out rosters as you might in a single-league draft.
This league is similar to an ESPN standard one with the 5x5 category setup, with the major differences being a 23-man starting roster (adding a second catcher to the lineup), a six-man bench with additional DL spots as needed.
My basic strategy was to get a nice balance of hitting stats early, but trying not to reach too much for players to fill those needs, getting one ace pitcher, waiting a little bit for a closer, then taking some calculated gambles on other arms and bats later in the draft. I had the No. 8 pick in the first round, so I was still going to get a solid player early, but also was in a nice position in the middle of each round not to have to force myself to reach for someone knowing I wouldn't be picking for a while.
So here's how my team turned out, including how and why I made each pick, and even some guys I had hoped to get but didn't.
Round 1: Edwin Encarnacion, 1B, Toronto Blue Jays: With most of the usual suspects already off the board, I was debating between Encarnacion and fellow Blue Jays slugger Jose Bautista. I opted for the slightly younger Encarnacion for that extra little bit of upside, but I didn't think I could do wrong with either Toronto hitter. Each will hit a bunch of homers and drive in lots of runs in a very positive offensive environment.
Round 2: Adrian Beltre, 3B, Texas Rangers: The choice came down to Beltre and Josh Donaldson, both solid options at the hot corner. I opted for Beltre's batting average prowess over Donaldson's power potential in Toronto. In a league this size, it helps to have all the scoring categories covered reasonably well.
Round 3: David Price, SP, Detroit Tigers: I had hoped for Jose Reyes at this spot to help my speed numbers, but he went the pick before me. And while I try to wait on pitching, I figured I should get one ace to anchor the staff, and with a number of starters going off the board, this looked to be a decent spot to get Price, who is a steady and elite option. I also thought about an outfielder here, but wasn't really sold on the oft-injured Carlos Gonzalez or new Padres Matt Kemp and Justin Upton.
Round 4: Corey Dickerson, OF, Colorado Rockies: After waiting on outfielders (and missing out on potential targets Hunter Pence and Yoenis Cespedes just before my slot), I swooped in here for the first of three straight outfielders. I'm betting on Dickerson to at least match his numbers from 2014, and playing at Coors Field obviously helps matters.
Round 5: Christian Yelich, OF, Miami Marlins: I really like pairing up these two outfielders. Yelich may not have a ton of power, but he can hit for a high average, steal a bunch of bases and score runs with Giancarlo Stanton and Marcell Ozuna driving him in.
Round 6: Nelson Cruz, OF, Seattle Mariners: No, I'm not counting on him hitting 40 homers again, especially playing home games at Safeco. However, he's still got enough power in him to keep my home run and RBI numbers up without killing my average. On the other hand, I probably could've rolled the dice on Victor Martinez's health or not worried about clogging up my DH spot and taken David Ortiz. Martinez went six picks after Cruz, and Ortiz three spots after that.
Round 7: Salvador Perez, C, Kansas City Royals: I'm a big fan of Perez and his power potential, even if his rate stats dropped off from 2013 (thanks in part to an awful second half). Hopefully he won't need to catch 140-plus games, which could help get his bat back in order this season.
Round 8: Doug Fister, P, Washington Nationals: It felt too early to dive into the middle infield pool just yet, so I opted to join the pitching frenzy and grab a second starter. Fister doesn't have the same strikeout potential as others, but he can be a huge help in the ratio and wins categories with that team.
Round 9: Daniel Murphy, 2B, New York Mets: I had my eye on Kolten Wong, who could break out this season, but he went the pick before me, so I went with Murphy, who quietly puts up solid numbers across the board. He's a great complementary pick to the rest of my lineup.
Round 10: Jonathan Papelbon, P, Philadelphia Phillies: While I try not to chase saves early in drafts, this seemed to be a good spot to get a closer, and Papelbon is as steady as they come, even if his future in Philadelphia is in doubt. No matter where he pitches this year, Papelbon is getting his saves. I got Papelbon in a similar spot in the 2014 draft.
Round 11: Jimmy Rollins, SS, Los Angeles Dodgers: He still has at least a couple of useful years left in him, even if he's left Philadelphia for a pretty good Dodgers lineup. His age drops him down the draft board, but he still provides good value. As you'll see with a few more of my picks, I often gravitate toward low-ceiling, high-floor veterans over slightly more unproven youngsters. This isn't a keeper league, so these older players can still be very helpful.
Round 12: Aramis Ramirez, 3B, Milwaukee Brewers: Another oldie but goodie, Ramirez doesn't have a lot of upside, but his statistical floor in terms of homers and average is worth the investment, especially at the corner infielder spot.
Round 13: Lorenzo Cain, OF, Kansas City Royals: As I try to build up some speed in the lineup, I'm hoping he maintains the stolen base numbers he had last year, even if there's a good chance the .300 average doesn't repeat.
Round 14: Jose Fernandez, P, Miami Marlins: I'm a bit surprised he lasted this long, even coming off Tommy John surgery. I can stash him on the DL until he comes back sometime this summer, and there are plenty of useful pitchers to mix and match on the roster in the meantime. Here's hoping he's the same dominant force he was before the injury.
Round 15: Francisco Liriano, P, Pittsburgh Pirates: He may not help my WHIP, but he'll provide nicely in the ERA and strikeout categories, which he's done since joining the Pirates. In standard leagues, he's nice back-end fantasy starter. In leagues like this, he'll help fortify the middle of a rotation.
Round 16: Jose Quintana, P, Chicago White Sox: One of the pitchers featured in Tristan H. Cockcroft's Kings of Command piece, Quintana's ERA, FIP and K/9 are trending in the right direction. With the revamped White Sox lineup, there could be more wins in play as well. Plus, it's not often you'll find players sharing my initials.
Round 17: Tyler Clippard, P, Oakland Athletics: I always seem to get Clippard in my drafts, and this is no exception. He will be in the running for saves at least early on with Sean Doolittle injured, and there's always that chance he'll keep the job afterward. If not, he still solidifies the ratio categories and offers up decent strikeouts for a reliever.
Round 18: Michael Morse, OF/1B, Miami Marlins: I might've passed up Matt Kemp and Justin Upton in San Diego early on, but then took risks on Nelson Cruz in Seattle and Michael Morse in Miami. But I still think Morse provides enough power to merit a pick at this point in the draft as my fifth outfielder.
Round 19: Carlos Ruiz, C, Philadelphia Phillies: Since we have to start two catchers, Ruiz is useful if unexciting option who can at least keep the batting average afloat. The pickings do get pretty slim when having to start two catchers, and that would even be the case in 10- and 12-team leagues, never mind 15.
Round 20: Brandon Phillips, 2B, Cincinnati Reds: The middle infield options have really thinned out at this point, especially those with guaranteed at-bats, so why not take another chance on a veteran in Phillips and hope his home run total can rebound from 2014. I was also looking at rookie Dalton Pompey here, but he went a few picks before.
Round 21: Nathan Eovaldi, P, New York Yankees: Another of Tristan's Kings of Command, Eovaldi is hoping that his ERA gets closer in line to his FIP. Here's hoping the move to the Bronx helps him as much as it did to Brandon McCarthy, another favorite of mine.
Round 23: Matt Garza, P, Milwaukee Brewers: Steady if unspectacular veteran starter who doesn't kill your ratios to help round out the rotation.
Round 24: Jonathon Niese, P, New York Mets: See Matt Garza's entry. If these guys come up big, great. If not, these are probably the first ones on the chopping block if someone else emerges on the waiver wire.
Round 25: Juan Lagares, OF, New York Mets: Great defense doesn't mean a whole lot in fantasy, but he can be of decent use in stolen bases.
Round 27: Francisco Lindor, SS, Cleveland Indians: Might as well take a chance on a stashing a top prospect in the hopes he'll get called up midseason, so I went with Lindor, who should provide speed at the very least should he come up.
Round 29: Jonathan Schoop, 2B, Baltimore Orioles: Good power but not much in the way of on-base or batting average skills so far in the majors. However, he's still very young and there's time for his game to develop, and he's got the starting job in Baltimore. Plenty of upside to round out my draft.