Mock drafting is by far the most effective way to prepare for the real thing. In addition to providing an opportunity to practice making specific decisions between players, mocks paint a fairly accurate picture of the perceived value of certain players. And this is a major reason why I try to participate in as many mocks as possible, because if I come to the conclusion that a player carries more value than what the market is dictating, I know that I might not need to reach for him. Instead, I can address other needs before drafting that player a round or two later. This information is especially helpful when comparing two or more options at a specific position, focusing on the difference in their draft day cost compared to the difference in their expected production level. If the projections are close enough, you will obviously want to side with the cheaper choice.
On that note, with the 12-team MLB.com Fantasy 411 Expert Mock more than two-thirds complete, let's take a trip around the infield and look at a pair of players at each position that were separated by at least 20 spots in the draft but could post very similar stat lines in 2016.
Brian McCann: Round 11, Pick 4 (#124 overall)
Russell Martin: Round 13, Pick 2 (#146 overall)
Last year marked McCann's eighth straight season of at least 20 home runs, and his 94 RBI tied his previous single-season high. But Martin topped McCann in three of the five standard rotisserie hitting categories (AVG, R, SB) and will again benefit from hitting in a lineup that could once again lead the Majors in runs scored. All things equal, I'd rather have McCann, but when factoring in the 22-pick discount, the choice becomes a lot tougher.
Joey Votto: Round 2, Pick 10 (#22 overall)
Adrian Gonzalez: Round 4, Pick 6 (#42 overall)
After being limited to just 62 games due to injury in 2014, Votto enjoyed a fine bounce-back season last year, but the Reds first sacker remains an injury risk, as the last time he put together two consecutive fully healthy seasons was 2010-2011. Meanwhile, Gonzalez has appeared in at least 156 games in every season since becoming a full-time player back in 2006, and from an offensive production standpoint, he's been the model of consistency throughout his career. Outside of OBP leagues, Gonzalez is the more reliable option, and at a price nearly two full rounds cheaper than Votto, Adrian would be my preferred pick.
Rougned Odor: Round 7, Pick 8 (#80 overall)
Neil Walker: Round 12, Pick 4 (#136 overall)
Would I draft Odor before Walker? Sure. Would I draft him 56 picks before Walker? Not so much. After slugging 16 homers (including 12 in the second half) in 426 at-bats last year, Odor carries a great deal of upside heading into his age-22 season. That said, drafting him at pick #80 is paying for that upside, which might work out just fine, but it's risky. At this point, Walker's 23-home run campaign in 2014 is looking like the outlier, but he's settled in as a dependable top-12 fantasy second baseman. Give me the cheaper veteran and I'll use the savings elsewhere.
Corey Seager: Round 5, Pick 11 (#59 overall)
Jhonny Peralta: Round 16, Pick 4 (#184 overall)
Similar to the 2B comparison, this is a case of high ceiling neophyte versus boring older guy, except that Seager is widely viewed as the top prospect in baseball. For full disclosure (you can look it up but I'll save you the time), I was the one who drafted Seager in this mock, and I'm expecting big things from him. But if I had known that Peralta, fresh off yet another steady season, would be there for the taking 125 picks later, well, I might have followed a different route.
Kyle Seager: Round 5, Pick 8 (#56 overall)
Evan Longoria: Round 9, Pick 2 (#98 overall)
Don't get me wrong, I'm a big fan of Corey's older brother, who offers the valuable combination of a stable floor along with some room to grow. Longoria isn't the player he used to be, but the Rays third baseman is still just 30 years of age, and despite carrying a reputation of being injury-prone, the reality is that he has played at least 160 games in each of the last three seasons. Drafting Longoria at pick #98 could net quite a profit, and although I wasn't planning on targeting him in drafts this year, I might now need to reconsider.
Until my next mock draft suggests otherwise.