For the most avid fantasy baseball players, the months of preparation for draft day is the highlight of the fantasy baseball calendar. Comparing, creating, and modifying projections and cheat sheets for the upcoming year is an integral part in making the most of the fantasy baseball experience. However, all that number crunching seems incomplete without taking a few test drives in a few mock drafts, and the more capable your fellow mock drafters are, the better prepared you will be for the day when the draft rolls around. With that said, it was a great honor and privilege to represent the Cafe in a recent live Expert Draft on Mock Draft Central (MDC), which featured fantasy experts from Sports Illustrated, Fox Sports, Newsday, and Crooked Pitch among others. Just like in the first two expert drafts MDC had run this offseason, a running live commentary podcast show hosted by Paul Greco and Lenny Melnick, complemented the MDC live draft to make this mock feel like a must-see event.
The presumed format of the expert draft was roto with standard 5×5 scoring (R, HR, RBI, SB, AVG / W, SV, K, ERA, WHIP). Each drafter selected a 23-man starting lineup with the following roster configuration: two catchers, one first baseman, one second baseman, one third baseman, one shortstop, one middle infielder, one corner infielder, five outfielders, one utility player, and nine pitchers.
Here are the MDC Expert Draft #3 participants, sorted by the draft order:
1. Chris Spencer, Fantasy Baseball Trade Market
2. Jay Clemons, Sports Illustrated
3. John Halpin, Fox Sports
4. Rob Reed, PLAYERtrack
5. Mark Haverty, Crucial Sports
6. Mary Poplawski, Fantistics
7. Tim Williams, Accuscore
8. Adam Ronis, Newsday
9. Mike Lombardo, Wise Guy Baseball
10. Knox Bardeen, Crooked Pitch
11. Brad Stewart, MLB Front Office
12. Ray Flores, Fantasy Baseball Cafe
Here are my round-by-round thoughts:
Rounds 1 & 2
My picks: Mark Teixeira (1.12), Chase Utley (2.01)
The first round seemed like standard fare, but with Jimmy Rollins and Ian Kinsler being taken a few picks earlier than I would have expected, I narrowed my options down to Mark Teixeira, Ryan Howard, and Chase Utley. In a roto league, I like Big Tex over Howard for the marginal gains in runs and the likelihood he posts a .300 average. Hitting in the heart of arguably the best lineup in the Majors, Teixeira could shake off the customary early-season slump and come close to matching his career year in 2005.
I gave a good hard look at taking Howard at the turn because of his 45-50 homerun potential and the possibility that last season’s relatively sub-par batting average was more or less a byproduct of bad luck. However, the optimism hovering around the possibility of Chase Utley being ready to suit up for Opening Day following offseason hip surgery was enough for me to take the top-flight second baseman and give my middle infield a promising start. Even if he has a sluggish April getting back to speed, Utley is one of those hitters who is capable of surging on one of those hot streaks to make up for a sluggish stretch and still remains a fairly good bet to produce a 100 R/30 HR/100 RBI/10-15 SB/.300 BA campaign at the least.
Best pick: Johan Santana. If his velocity and strikeout rate return to his norms, Johan Santana should be an even better bargain as a late second round pick. Opting out of the World Baseball Classic to represent his native Venezuela should help in keeping fresh for the upcoming season.
Worst pick: Dustin Pedroia. It seemed like yesterday when a number of folks compared Pedroia to another incarnation of David Eckstein, but these days, he’s a late second-round pick after nearly going 20/20, scoring a boatload of runs, hitting for a near-.330 batting average, and knocking in 80-some RBI’s from the two-hole. Pedroia’s peripherals are quite good to suggest that he can be a solid contributor in runs, RBI, and batting average out of 2B, but I remain skeptical about the prospect of Pedroia approaching or meeting a 20/20 year.
Rounds 3 & 4
My picks: Carlos Quentin (3.12), Brandon Phillips (4.01)
A late third round pick is a more than acceptable time to take a chance on Carlos Quentin, who was on track for an MVP-type campaign before suffering a right wrist injury that rendered him out for the remainder of 2008. “CQ” has been a bit injury prone in his career, but his track record and peripherals suggest that Quentin can be a .300 BA/30 HR/100 RBI slugger year in and year out. In some respects, Quentin was better than Ryan Braun in that he struck out less while posting a great HR/FB rate in spite of his line drive percentage being relatively low. The wrist injury is cause for concern, but as a right-hander, the most crucial part of his swing comes from his left wrist, which makes Quentin’s prospects bright to hit at least 30 moonshots with the upside for a 40 homerun campaign.
Last season, I was a bit skeptical about Brandon Phillips replicating his 30/30 season from 2007 and he regressed as expected. However, Phillips is slated to hit in the three-hole for the Reds and hitting in a small bandbox like the Great American Ballpark, he can reasonably go 25/25. Bonus points if he can bump that average to about .280. Both Quentin and Phillips tend to be early-to-middle round picks in the mock drafts I’ve seen, which makes them both potential values. Straight out of the chute, I had two top five second basemen to lock up my 2B/MI spots to go with two sluggers who have 40 homerun potential. A fine start, I’d say.
Best pick: Manny Ramirez. As much as I liked the fourth round picks of Jake Peavy, Cole Hamels, and Brandon Webb, Manny Ramirez going practically at the heart of the third round draft could pay great dividends. Assuming Manny signs to a Major League team (I’m crossing my fingers it’s the Dodgers), you can pencil him in for another solid power campaign, even if he doesn’t produce at the ridiculous second-half pace he displayed as a Dodger.
Worst pick: Brian McCann. It’s a bit early for a catcher here for my liking, in the late 3rd round, even in a 2-catcher league. True, McCann has 25-30 homerun ability to put him tops for his position, but his R/RBI potential could be limited with Mark Teixeira long gone and Chipper Jones a formality to reach the disabled list. What’s more is, Mike Lombardo took Joe Mauer in the 4th round and while I see validity in taking two above-average catchers, there’s potential sunk production that can be had elsewhere in the potentially superior players across the board.
Rounds 5 & 6
My picks: Jonathan Papelbon (5.12), Josh Beckett (6.01)
From what I’ve heard, had Lenny Melnick not been under the weather and commented on the draft as usual, he would have slammed my Papelbon pick for taking a closer relatively early. However, I felt that with the rest of the draft pool being on par value with Papelbon, taking Papelbon with the 59th overall pick was a reasonable enough wait to draft perhaps the best closer in the game today. It turned out I should have waited on a closer much later because there was a goldmine of closers to be had in the 12th-13th rounds.
I’m not that keen on the Beckett pick myself, but seeing how it seemed the majority of experts were drafting based off MDC’s rankings, I was sure I could get Chad Billingsley back in the next round given his relatively low ranking and perhaps, I would have gotten Ervin Santana if he’s been flying under the radar in some mock drafts I had seen. However, when healthy, it’s reasonable to believe that Beckett can post 200 strikeouts, a 3.50 ERA, and 17 wins more or less.
Best pick: Curtis Granderson. Grandy might not steal 20 bases, but I believe the Tigers’ leadoff man can post a 25 homerun season and with the kind of lineup behind him, he can reasonably score 110 runs. An early fifth round pick sounds like a potential bargain, especially if Jim Leyland green-lights Granderson a bit more on the basepaths.
Worst pick: Michael Young. Young gets some bonus points for the extra 3B eligibility, but the fact he posts a pedestrian power/speed combination limits his value. He’s no Spring chicken either and he’s no longer a shoo-in for a .300 average. To put this into context, Young was taken a few picks before Stephen Drew, who I’m comparatively more bullish on for the 25 homerun potential.
Rounds 7 & 8
My picks: Chad Billingsley (7.12), Troy Tulowitzki (8.01)
As I predicted, Billingsley fell to me at the end of the seventh round. In a published mock here on the Cafe, I took Billingsley near the end of the 5th round. Not much to dislike about Bills: 200 strikeout potential, the chance for a relatively low ERA in seeing NL West opponents frequently, and the chance for 15 wins. The leg injury is a concern for a power pitcher reliant on his legs to deliver his top-flight stuff, but it seems that it shouldn’t deter him from being ready for Opening Day.
The one pick I have some regret on is Tulowitzki. I’m a bit concerned about how polarizing his performance has been in being either terrific or terribly bad. In hindsight, I should have taken J.J. Hardy for the 25 homerun potential and the fact he could be slated to hit second in the Brewers’ lineup in front of Braun, Fielder, and Hart; without Holliday, Tulowitzki doesn’t quite have that run-scoring upside. Nevertheless, Tulowitzki returned late in the second half to improve a bit with his plate discipline, walks, and in batting average. It wasn’t a bad pick, but this is the one pick I have had second thoughts about.
Best picks: Francisco Rodriguez, Joe Nathan. I was in some disbelief that both top five caliber closers had drifted to the early seventh round, but indeed they did. I hoped my pick of Papelbon from a few rounds back would have triggered a closer run, but in truth, the other experts’ reluctance to draft a top closer in the top half of the draft persisted.
Worst pick: Cliff Lee. I’m in the camp that Cliff Lee had shown improvement in 2008 and can be effective in 2009, given the strides he made in his control. However, it will be tough to ask for him to repeat his Cy Young campaign given his HR/FB rate was unusually low. That said, I would have gone with James Shields or John Lackey, both of whom were eighth round selections.
Rounds 9 & 10
My picks: Carlos Delgado (9.12), Yovani Gallardo (10.01)
Carlos Delgado was the best bat left on the board and I elected to take him here. One commentator in the podcast actually hated the Delgado pick and then rambled on how the Mets should have gotten Teixeira while bolting on Delgado (being a Mets fan who dislikes Delgado). His flyball rates normalized in the second half which propelled his big-time power surge. Citi Field could be a downer on homeruns like Shea but the winds coming in from an open centerfield could be closed off with that end of the park enclosed and might be a boon for well-hit flyballs to fall for extra basehits.
At the turn, I was quite pleased to wrap up Yovani Gallardo, one of the frontrunners to break out in 2009. The silver lining with Gallardo’s season-ending injury was that it wasn’t arm-related and armed with a deep repertoire of pitches, Gallardo induces fairly good groundball rates with the potential to near 200 strikeouts should he come close to pitching an aggregate of 200 innings.
Best pick: Jay Bruce. When most folks gloat about Chris Davis’ power potential and his dual 1B/3B eligibility, Jay Bruce goes somewhat overlooked, being only outfield-eligible. Over a full slate of at-bats, Bruce would have a 30 HR season in his rookie year in spite of free-swinging ways. For a mid-ninth round pick on some tremendous upside, Bruce is a nice gamble I’d most definitely take.
Worst pick: Orlando Cabrera. At the pick before my Delgado selection, Orlando Cabrera came off the board, with the best shortstop available at the time being Mike Aviles (who was eventually taken in the latter half of the 14th round). The lesson to be learned here for any manager is not to underrate scarce positions to the point that a sub-par alternative for that position has to be taken, let alone reached for. Even a pick of Aviles in the ninth or tenth round is a far from ideal choice.
My picks: Johnny Damon (11.12), Jonathan Broxton (12.01), Lastings Milledge (13.12), Jorge Cantu (14.01)
As you can surmise, I was deficient in the outfield, with Quentin as my lone outfielder and I needed four more outfielders for a complete set. Picking from the bookends of the draft, a run on quality outfielders (at the expense of passing up on closers), and the fact there was value on the board in prior rounds were possible factors as to why my team’s outfield seemed barren on paper. That said, I was glad to get Johnny Damon at the end of the 11th round, to which one expert had replied that Damon was “yesterday’s news”. Last season’s numbers for Damon were surely not indicative of that expert’s thoughts as he posted a line of .303 BA, 17 HR, 29 SB, and 95 runs in 555 at-bats in what was considered a down year for the Yankee lineup as a whole. With Teixeira in the Yankees lineup, expect a bit of a spike in runs and 25 SB to boot. I was also glad to get Lastings Milledge two rounds later, a guy who can reasonably go 15/30. I also needed a 3B to boot and with Jorge Cantu there after a rebound campaign, he was too good to pass up in the 14th round.
All four picks in this stretch should be regarded as value picks, but in my opinion, the best pure value is the 12th round selection of Jonathan Broxton, who can potentially emerge as a top five closer. With a stellar K/9 rate of 11.7 and if he improves his command in save situations, Broxton should easily outproduce his 12th round value when he’s usually considered two to three rounds earlier.
Best picks: Javier Vazquez, Zack Greinke, Brad Hawpe, Chris Iannetta. There were some nice picks elsewhere from the other experts, namely those four picks. Iannetta in the late 13th round should be beneficial as he should be an above-average catcher in power production and in a two-catcher league, he’s a solid bargain. Had I not needed a 3B, I probably would have taken Hawpe as my fourth outfielder over Jorge Cantu. Javier Vazquez is one of my favorite targets and more so this year back as a move to the National League should translate into positive corrections to his ratios and he has legitimate 200 strikeout potential, which is fairly hard to come by in the 11th round and further. Zack Greinke isn’t the late-round bargain he was last season, but for the 11th round price on an up-and-coming ace who’s vaulting his way up mock draft boards and cheat sheets, Greinke should still be a more than reasonable bargain.
Worst pick: Mike Jacobs. The last time MDC ran an expert draft, Mike Jacobs was an early fifth round pick and here, he was taken with the first pick in the 12th round. This cued a boatload of Mike Jacobs jokes from me while the Mike Jacobs comments from the live audience didn’t relent.
My picks: Trevor Hoffman (15.12), Clayton Kershaw (16.01), Paul Konerko (17.12), Joel Hanrahan (18.01)
Although Hoffman and Hanrahan aren’t presently perceived as top closers, they’re serviceable complements to Broxton and Papelbon and are possibly cheap sources for saves. The best starter on the board hanging around the 16th round in my estimation was Clayton Kershaw and needing a 4th starter, he seemed like the way to go here. Paul Konerko was the ideal utility slugger pick because if healthy, “Paulie” can still slug 30 HR with a .270 batting average.
Best picks: Brian Wilson, Conor Jackson, Mark Reynolds, Mike Gonzalez. Compared to previous mocks I had skimmed through, Brian Wilson and Mike Gonzalez were both 17th rounders in this draft while in other drafts, they were normally taken three to four rounds earlier. The Arizona duo of Reynolds and Jackson are very reasonable late round picks, both going in the 16th and 19th respectively.
Worst pick: Michael Bourn. It’s hard to nitpick a late round pick when every manager should be scouring for upside, but Michael Bourn’s starting centerfielder job with the Houston Astros isn’t set in stone. Bourn’s poor contact rate was the biggest reason as to why he posted a batting average below .230 last season, which greatly inhibits his 40-50 SB potential as well as his playing time for the foreseeable future.
My picks: Jarrod Saltalamacchia (19.12), Carlos Gomez (20.01), Kurt Suzuki (21.12), Ty Wigginton (22.01), Grant Balfour (23.12)
Up until this point, I hadn’t drafted a catcher and the pickings were rightfully slim. However, if Jarrod Saltalamacchia gets his share of at-bats, he has the kind of 20 homerun upside to make him a good post-hype sleeper. Kurt Suzuki was another filler option who at least has an everyday job to produce some meaningful stats. To make up for it, I got a source of bargain steals to my power-laden lineup in Carlos Gomez while Ty Wigginton rounded out my fifth outfield spot but to my chagrin, I found that Shin-Soo Choo was still on the board, ranked well below from the top leftover options on MDC’s rankings. Lastly, Grant Balfour was my final pitcher and he could take over the mantle as Tampa Bay closer should Percival run into injuries.
Best picks: Chris Carpenter, Frank Francisco. Chris Carpenter should be a solid bet to outproduce his final-round pick while the potential Rangers closer Frank Francisco had gone in the 21st round, a few rounds farther down from where he ought to be drafted in my opinion.
Worst pick: Nick Hundley. Waiting on a second catcher in the final round proved to be Chris Spencer’s detriment when he passed up on relatively more attractive catcher options such as Kelly Shoppach and Yadier Molina a round or two earlier.
Normally, I dread picking at what I lovingly call the “caboose” pick of any draft and while picking at the lower extreme of the draft put me at some disadvantage, I thought I pulled off a decent draft. There’s an adequate power/speed balance throughout my offense. I can’t say I’m thrilled with having Gomez and Wigginton as my #4 and #5 outfielders nor the fact of relying on Saltalamacchia and Suzuki as my catcher battery. In spite of those weaknesses, I feel I made up for it in my pitching staff, which seems more designed to capture significant points in ERA, WHIP, and saves than it is to prevail on the win and strikeout fronts.
If you have any comments, questions, thoughts, or concerns, please feel free to voice them. In closing, special thanks go to my fellow experts on a good draft and to Geoff Stein of Mock Draft Central for putting this draft together and for the opportunity to take part in such an event.
True to his name as The Artful Dodger, Ray Flores is a disgruntled Dodger fan, who makes up for it by supporting his hometown Lakers, Manchester United F.C., and FC Barcelona. While being artful doesn't best describe him, Ray is a web developer, a part-time fantasy football blogger (the game actually played with feet), and head "Wicked Wikitect" of the Cafe's Fantasy Sports Wiki project.
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