You’ve probably seen guys like David Wiers, Chris Cwik, and Howard Bender discussing their mock draft teams. And I mean, that’s cool and all, but I just want to talk about my team. Well, sort of — I mainly just want to ramble on about this draft that absconded with six weeks of my life (not full-time, obviously, but the constant iPhone e-mail checking drove everyone around me nuts). For those of you just waking up after a bit of holiday season hibernation, we’re talking about a way-too-early Rotographs mock draft: 12 teams, ESPN rosters, 23 rounds. Eno Sarris covered week-by-week breakdowns (1-5, 6-10, 11-15, 16-23) but Cwik has been kind enough to provide the whole thing in a public Google Doc here. So here’s what I was able to cobble together:
Strategy: Honestly, I probably wasn’t as structured heading into the draft as many other drafters. I like to target guys who can contribute in multiple categories early, trying to assess whether or not they are in good run-scoring environments, and then look for single-cat contributors and/or high upside guys late. I lean towards up-the-middle positions where the replacement level is low or dropoff from elite talent is steep early, and pick less scarce positions like first basemen and right fielders late (although I didn’t exactly follow that, as I discuss below). As covered in my relievers piece, bullpens were off limits for me until after pick 15, allowing me to accumulate value at less volatile positions and roll the dice on the magical save stat late. I feel that if I totally flame out draft-wise, there will be plenty of good closers on the wire as the season progresses.
What I liked: It’s tough to get outright steals in a such a competitive draft but there were a few picks I was more happy about than others. I love Roy Halladay in the ninth round. I’ve seen him fall in some early mocks because of last year’s shoulder woes, but he has top 10/15 starting pitcher upside if he recovers even 90% of his pre-2012 rates. I’d even be a buyer in the sixth/seventh round if he is throwing and on track come March — unfortunately, I expect other people will feel the same way, and I expect his draft stock to slowly climb as we get closer to Opening Day.
As some commenters have pointed out, I am beyond content with Anthony Rizzo in the 17th round. In fact, my exact comment to my fellow drafters via e-mail was “I can’t believe I’m taking a third 1B but I’ve been shocked this guy has been on the board past round 12ish so I’ll go “best available” and assume I could always part off Butler/Davis if they get off to a hot start.” Word for word. Chris Cwik mentioned this might be a function of him not having enough at bats to appear on some leaderboards, so beware if you are looking through last year’s rankings when you make your spreadsheets this spring.
Taking Brett Lawrie so early is a bit of a risk, but I was able to hedge him with Pedro Alvarez in the 16th. I’m not sold on Alvarez sustaining all his gains from last year (and even if he does, there are still holes in his fantasy game), but he provides late-round, starter-level insurance if Lawrie doesn’t take another step forward. Jed Lowrie may be nicknamed Mr. Glass, but if you can get a shortstop with the upside of a homer every 20 at bats in the 21st round, you take him. During healthy stretches, he should perform like a top-15 middle infielder option.
What I didn’t like: There are a few things I’d do differently if I had to do it over again; mostly it is a function of who was available later in the draft that I didn’t anticipate. Billy Butler is elite talent, and will likely be eligible at first in many leagues (thanks to some fortuitous starts there down the stretch) but had I known Ike Davis would be kicking around in the 10th and Rizzo in the 17th, I certainly would have passed on him and gone with Curtis Granderson or Felix Hernandez. First base seems deep this year (guys like Yonder Alonso and Brandon Belt are going borderline undrafted in some standard leagues) so I should have stuck to my guns and been more patient at a position with such a high replacement level.
I like Carl Crawford as a bounceback candidate, but I think he can be had even cheaper in many leagues, especially if he’s out for the first month or so recovering from Tommy John. I probably overpaid by a few rounds there. Elvis Andrus is a guy who is steady, but has yet to put up elite fantasy numbers. In hindsight, I panic-bought a little with most shortstops already off the board. Since most drafters already had the position locked down, I might have been better served taking an outfielder there and either waiting a round or two on Andrus or taking two high-upside fliers later like Jean Segura, Alcides Escobar, Josh Rutledge or Andrelton Simmons.
Some guys did a good job snagging high-upside, end-of-draft youngsters like Shelby Miller, Casey Kelly, Mike Zunino and “recovering from injury” players like Brandon Beachy and Danny Duffy. While some (or even all of them) may turn out valueless, you’re essentially panning for gold in the late rounds and should be gambling on guys who can easily be cut early, but also could provide significant return on investment. I was not quite as prepared as my fellow drafters and was forced to settle for more proven veterans coming off down years. Which, I mean — I’m fine with (ex: Lowrie) — but I really like Miller this year!
What else I learned: Every year pitchers seem to be going a bit faster and you need to pounce earlier if you want elite talent. Of course, if you are doing a Yahoo! league with your friends from home, you’ll probably see guys like Clayton Kershaw and Justin Verlander go in the first round. However, for the majority of my more competitive drafts, it’s been traditional to almost play chicken with pitchers, daring someone to pick early and either kick off the run or face the “buying him NOW? Overpay!” taunting in the draft room. However, this year 12 pitchers went in the first 60 selections. That number might not be extraordinarily high, but if you want a top-10 pitcher, you’re going to have to invest more than a fifth round pick on him.
Final thoughts: Most everyone who has ever owned a fantasy team thinks their draft is one of the tops in the league and, of course, I’m no different. I allowed myself to deviate from filling specific positions when what I thought was good value (Halladay, Rizzo, Alvarez) was available on the board and I’m happy about my newfound flexibility. There’s some risk in a couple of the guys I drafted to start, but there’s also some backup plans on the bench who aren’t totally devoid of upside. However, I did underestimate some of the guys I had higher grades on who were available later in the draft and probably overpaid in a few slots. Hopefully that is something a few more mocks and a little more clarity to big league depth charts can solve. My outfield needs Hunter Pence to bounce back and Alex Rios to finally shake his odd-even year curse. But other than that, I think I’m competitive in every category and should have some trade flexibility as the season marches on. And isn’t that really an owner can ask for immediately post-draft?