On Monday Jan. 24, FantasySharks.com sent Tony Holm and Dave Tchorz to the Fantasy Sports Trade Association’s (FSTA) fantasy baseball expert draft in fabulous Las Vegas. The field was stacked with fantasy baseball legends Charlie Wiegert (The Godfather of Fantasy Sports), Ron Shandler (Baseball HQ) and expert representation that included, among others, CBS Sports, KFFL, Roto Experts, Rotoworld, Rotowire and
USA Today. The draft was simulcast live on SiriusXM’s Fantasy Sports channel and in a pre-draft show on SiriusXM, Team Shark landed the No. 5 draft slot in this 13-team, 29-round serpentine style draft.
Our initial strategy was to assemble a balanced team with a Top 5 or 6 ranked player at every position and a strong pitching staff. In other words, grab a top player at every position without having to overpay for him. We had discussed prior to the draft, acquiring players in scarce positions early and had near 100 percent certainty that we would be selecting shortstop Troy Tulowitzki at our No. 5 draft slot. The assumption was that the first four picks would go something like Albert Pujols, Hanley Ramirez, Miguel Cabrera and Carlos Gonzalez. This left us to debate between Tulowitzki, Ryan Braun and Carl Crawford. We settled on “Tulo,” because of the position scarcity at shortstop this year.
This well laid-out first-round plan went out the window almost immediately when Ron Shandler, with the second overall pick, took outfielder Ryan Braun. Suddenly every player moved up one slot in our minds and we knew we would be taking either “Miggy” or “CarGo.” Cabrera, a Detroit Tiger, was selected right before us by the RotoWorld.com team of Rick Wolf and Glen Colton, so while there was continued debate between Gonzalez or Tulowitzki we decided to go with numbers of scarcity and selected Gonzalez, a Rockies outfielder, with the fifth overall pick. Admittedly, he does not have the track record or position scarcity of the selections before him, but last season, at 24 years old, this true five-category player was the No. 1 fantasy scorer in his first full year of service. We could not pass up a possible (probable?) repeat of 34 home runs, 117 runs batted in, 111 runs scored, 26 stolen bases and a .336 average. Even if you think his batting average won’t hold up, there is no reason to believe the other numbers will decrease. He has proven he can play at a very high level, good enough for us.
Our dream second round pick would have been Roy Halladay, Adrian Gonzalez, Joey Votto or Mark Teixeira – in that order. All were gone before we took the overall No. 22 pick. With the “position scarcity” strategy still fresh in our minds we scooped up the consensus top catcher on the board, Joe Mauer. Some may think this is a bit of a reach for the 27-year-old and it may be, but only by a few slots. The catcher position is historically very weak, and to our eye this year is no exception with a lot of jobs still up for grabs in January. Last season was a bit of a disappointment for Mauer owners with his home run total dipping sharply from 28 down to nine, but the rest of his numbers were solid. He may not get to 28 home runs again, but take his three year average of a .340 average, 93 runs scored, 15 home runs and 86 runs batted in as a floor. His best years should still be ahead of him!
Nine picks after choosing Mauer, our third-round decision was upon us. We had an outfielder and a catcher as we watched the middle and corner infielder positions get picked cleans (the top 17 infielders were gone). Here we considered the likes of pitchers Cliff Lee and Adam Wainwright, outfielders Nelson Cruz and Jacoby Ellsbury, first baseman Ryan Howard and catcher Buster Posey. The pitching position was still like fresh virgin snow so we felt we could wait one more round on pitching. Ellsbury’s below average power numbers ruled him out. Howard was very tempting due to his high-end home run/runs batted in/runs scored stats, but his batting average can be a little scary and he regressed last season across the board.
In the end, we took what we considered the best all-around producer in outfielder Nelson Cruz with pick No. 31. Another five-category guy who was limited to less than 400 at bats last year and still produced good numbers. Extrapolating his season to a full season’s worth of at bats (600), Cruz’s 2010 stats would be a .318 average, 90 runs scored, 33 home runs, 117 runs batted in and 26 stolen bases. In retrospect, we almost wish we had the guts to take Posey as our second catcher to play keep away from some other teams. Posey is a stud catcher with a high probability of putting up a Mauer type year (more home runs, lower average) given full time at bats.
Prior to the draft our plan was to grab the two best power arms left with our fourth- and fifth-round picks. We executed this plan perfectly in our eyes. At pick 40, we chose Boston Red Sock Jon Lester and his consistently high-end starter numbers. He has averaged 17 wins, 225 strikeouts, a 3.32 earned run average and a 1.21 walks per inning pitched over the past two seasons. By our list this was an extreme value pick because we had the 27-year-old ranked overall in the low 20s. The second half of our plan was completed by selecting power starter Justin Verlander of the Tigers at pick 57. We got Verlander, also 27-years-old, right about where his average draft position says he should be selected. His two-year averages are: 18.5 wins, 244 strikeouts, a 3.41 earned run average and a 1.17 walks per inning pitched. We were pleased to pair Verlander and Lester together as they should both contribute heavily to our wins and strikeouts while nailing down earned run average and walks per inning pitched.
Further thoughts on our team:
With our sixth pick, we were feeling the pinch of neglecting our infield positions. We would have loved to have had players in those spots by now but we decided to let the draft steer us early on and not try to steer the draft. Up to this point we had been forced into taking the best player available, but at pick 66 we may have reached a bit for second baseman Brian Roberts. We filled out the remaining middle infield positions later in the draft with shortstops Asdrubal Cabrera and Erik Aybar in the 16th and 19th rounds, respectively. Not great talents, but good value picks in the later rounds with upside and there are always middle infielders late in drafts that end up being contributors.
By the eighth round, noticing that we had none of our corner infield positions filled, we reached a little bit again for 35-year-old third baseman Michael Young at pick 92. We rounded out our corner positions with third baseman Mark Reynolds and first baseman Derrek Lee in Rounds nine and 14, respectively. There are obvious question marks with our corner infielders. We may need to get a little lucky there.
We believe we assembled one of the better starting rotations in the league by following up Lester and Verlander with Clay Buchholz, Phil Hughes, Edwin Jackson and A.J. Burnett in Rounds 11, 12, 21, and 22. Sure they’re primarily AL East pitchers which doesn’t always add up, but they’re quality and will perform well.
We put together a bullpen that should be able to compete with Jonathan Papelbon, Chris Perez and Matt Thornton. We spent mid-round picks for these three at Rounds 10, 13, and 15. The hope is that they get us to the middle-of-the-road in the saves category and help our team earned run average and walks per inning pitched. All three are power arms and should be able to combine for 220-230 strikeouts during 2011.
Our speed should be a team strength. We covered the stolen base category well with the likes of Carlos Gonzalez (Round 1), Nelson Cruz (Round 3), Brian Roberts (Round 6), Brett Gardner (Round 7), Erik Aybar (Round 19), Franklin Gutierrez (Round 20), and Julio Borbon (Round 23). We hope this team speed leads to good production in the runs scored category too.
Power is a little bit of a concern. We don’t believe we will be toward the top in the home run or runs batted in categories, but we do still have some power bats in Gonzalez (Round 1), Cruz (Round 3), Michael Young (Round 8), Mark Reynolds (Round 9), Derrick Lee (Round 14) and Aubrey Huff (Round 17). It’s pretty safe to say that we will be looking to add to our power totals through free agency as best we can.
How did we end up with so many American league players (21 of our Top 23 picks)? In particular the AL East, where we spent 10 of our Top 23 picks? When building a pitching rotation, this is not generally a recommended way to build a staff with all the great hitting in the AL East and of course a designated hitter. It wasn’t a planned strategy of ours; the players just fell that way to the point it was comical. Each and every time we wound up with the next player we wanted he ending up being from the AL East! Toward the end of the draft we actually turned down a couple of selections just because they were a New York Yankee or a Tampa Bay Ray just so we wouldn’t have to take the abuse for the all AL East team.
Overall we like the team. We have some holes, but we’ll see if we can fill them. We hope to compete in this league of respected contestants.