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Tuesday 25th Jul 2017

When preparing for my fantasy baseball drafts, I begin with a process of elimination approach. Go ahead and try it sometime, it can be effective. Rather than deciding players to target, make a list of players you have no interest in, due to performance, draft price inflation concerns, or a combination of both. Often, this list will be a long one, but that's good. The less players to consider on draft day, the better. 

A common mantra among industry pundits is to be prepared to draft anyone if the price is right, which makes sense, though it is not entirely realistic. If you have negative feelings about a certain player, chances are you will not draft him, even at a discount. So, using the Mixed LABR results and the results of my NFBC Draft Champions draft still in progress, here are some early-round players who I'll be staying away from. Note that both of these leagues are 15-team mixed leagues.

Trea Turner

LABR: Round 1, Pick 10

NFBC: Round 1, Pick 8

Drafting Turner in the first round seems crazy to me. But if you want him this year, it's looking like he will not fall past the opening round. This is a guy with three months of big league experience. It was a remarkable three months, but it was three months. The speed is unquestioned, but a .342 batting average and 13 homers in just 73 games? Turner's career .316 AVG in the Minors suggests that a .300 AVG is certainly attainable, but he slugged a combined 19 home runs in 268 minor league contests, so matching last year's 13 home runs, even in a full season, is far from a lock. If you own Turner in a keeper league, congratulations. But in a redraft league, let someone else make the first-round investment. For reference, Manny Machado, Josh Donaldson, Miguel Cabrera and Anthony Rizzo were all taken after Turner in both of these drafts.

Giancarlo Stanton

LABR: Round 2, Pick 14

NFBC: Round 2, Pick 13

The issue here is health, and when it comes to health, it's tough to have much confidence in Giancarlo. Detailing each and every one of Stanton's injuries over the years is equivalent to a thorough lesson in human anatomy, and at some point, it is fair to wonder if staying healthy is as much a skill as it is luck. Rather than banking on that "imminent" 50-home run season, I'll be looking elsewhere in the second round, and so should you. Wait another round or two and draft Nelson Cruz or Yoenis Cespedes instead.

Jean Segura

LABR: Round 4, Pick 10

NFBC: Round 3, Pick 6

Can Segura steal 33 bases again? Sure. Can he score 102 runs again? Probably not. Can he hit .319 again? Highly unlikely. Can he launch 20 homers again? No way. Prior to last season, Segura had amassed 23 career home runs in 479 games, and he will now be moving from hitter-friendly Chase Field to spacious Safeco Field. In order to earn third or fourth round value, he will need to at minimum bat .300 with 15 homers, 30 steals and 90 runs. I'll pass.

Kyle Schwarber

LABR: Round 5, Pick 13

NFBC: Round 6, Pick 9

Impressive hitter, but a hitter with only 236 big league at-bats under his belt. The fact that Schwarber made a sooner-than-expected return from major knee surgery is encouraging. The fact that he is slated to bat leadoff this season is encouraging for his runs total but discouraging for his RBI upside. He will not be catcher-eligible in most leagues, to open the year at least, which is discouraging. Also discouraging is his likely draft cost, which equates to that of a proven .290-30-100 slugger. Although I'm not strictly opposed to owning Schwarber this season, he will surely be gone by the time I'd seriously consider drafting him. And I'm fine with that.  

Eric Hosmer

LABR: Round 6, Pick 1

NFBC: Round 7, Pick 7

Let's see, 19, 14, 17, 9, 18, 25. Which of these numbers doesn't belong? Hosmer recorded a single-season high 25 home runs last year, but there's reason to be skeptical regarding his ability to sustain the increased power. The Royals first baseman has always been more of a ground ball hitter, and his GB/FB rate last season was actually a career-high. But his HR/FB rate was also a career-high. Strange indeed. Drafting him with the 76th overall pick is assuming that he will duplicate the 25 homers. Pick #97 is reasonable, but I still want more proven power from my starting 1B. 

When Hosmer's name is called at the Tout Wars Mixed Auction in three weeks, you won't hear a peep from me. 

Zach Steinhorn is the 2016 Mixed Auction Tout Wars Champion. Follow him on Twitter @ZachMLB

Analyzing the FSTA draft results is fun. But the real fun begins upon the conclusion of the Mixed LABR draft, when we actually have two non-mock industry drafts to compare and contrast. When it comes to preparing for our own drafts, the more data the better, and the first thing I look for are the draft position discrepancies. These are often the controversial players, the players who carry varying degrees of value depending on which pundit you ask. These are the players who you will need to think about the most, the goal being to form your own educated opinion. Well, it's now time to start thinking about these guys.

Joc Pederson

FSTA: Pick #106 

Mixed LABR: Pick #190

Pederson's inability to hit lefties will continue to take away at-bats, but the 24-year-old has now posted back-to-back 25-plus HR seasons. Despite the high strikeout totals, the power is legit, and Pederson is still young enough to improve and maybe even earn some more at-bats against lefties. The way I see it, Pederson's .246-25-68 line from last season is his floor for 2017, and he's especially appealing in OBP leagues (career .349 OBP). His FSTA price is reasonable. His Mixed LABR price is a huge bargain.

Yasmany Tomas 

FSTA: Pick #115

Mixed LABR: Pick #184

I just don't get the pessimism surrounding Tomas among the Mixed LABR owners. To repeat a nugget I shared in The Fantasy Baseball Guide 2017 Professional Edition, Mookie Betts, Yoenis Cespedes and Ryan Braun were the only other outfielders to bat at least .270 with at least 30 home runs last season. Yeah, this surprised me too. While many of your league mates focus on Tomas' poor plate discipline and defense (which doesn't count in fantasy, by the way), go ahead and spend a mid-round pick on this underrated power source.

Hunter Pence

FSTA: Pick #122

Mixed LABR: Pick #175

The model of durability throughout most of his career, Pence has been limited to just 158 games combined over the last two seasons. His on-field performance hasn't really suffered, which suggests a return to health could result in a return to All-Star form. Pence has been a member of many of my fantasy squads over the years, so maybe I'm biased in my optimism, but I'm certainly intrigued by the idea of drafting him as a third or fourth outfielder in mixed leagues and possibly getting back OF2 production. The fact that Pence recently had to slow down his workouts after receiving treatment on his side probably contributed to his cheaper price in Mixed LABR, but this issue is not considered to be serious.

Felix Hernandez

FSTA: Pick #127

Mixed LABR: Pick #186

Was Felix's inconsistent and injury-marred 2016 campaign an aberration or a case of a 30-year-old former elite hurler who is simply worn down from a massive number of innings (2415 2/3 to be exact) at a relatively young age? While his ace days might be over, it seems like the market has completely given up on him, which is a little unfair. I'd be happy to draft Hernandez as my second or third starter in a mixed league, and he's a steal at #186 in Mixed LABR. His FSTA draft position sounds about right. 

Vince Velasquez

FSTA: Pick #155

Mixed LABR: Pick #214

After going 8-2 with a 3.32 ERA across 15 starts in the first half last season, Velasquez stumbled in the second half (0-4, 5.33 ERA in nine starts) before being shut down in early-September due to an innings limit. Still, it was an impressive first full season in the big leagues for the 24-year-old righty, who registered a gaudy 10.4 K/9 rate. Perhaps he was a bit overvalued as a 12th rounder in the 13-team FSTA draft, but a 15th rounder in the 15-team LABR draft? There's a lot to like about that. 

Zach Steinhorn is the 2016 Mixed Auction Tout Wars Champion. Follow him on Twitter @ZachMLB

Mock draft results are fine resource tools. But there's nothing like the real thing. Many owners, especially industry owners, use mocks to try out different strategies, assembling rosters that they wouldn't even think of assembling under normal circumstances. While this approach works well if the goal is to promote discussion, it might not be helpful for those studying these results in hopes of getting an idea as to how their actual drafts will play out. 

This is why the FSTA draft results can be quite useful, as the annual FSTA draft is usually the first prominent non-keeper industry league draft of the industry league draft season. On Monday night, representatives from 13 fantasy baseball media outlets (Todd and Lawr took the reigns of Team Mastersball) gathered in Nashville to fill their 2017 FSTA league rosters. You can check out the complete draft grid here and be sure to read Todd's analysis in the Platinum section as well as Lawr's recap

Here are some of the picks from the first five rounds that really got me thinking:

A.J. Pollock (Round 3, Pick 3 to Mastersball) - To be honest, I wasn't all that surprised by this one considering Todd's affinity for Pollock. The Diamondbacks outfielder was limited to just 41 at-bats last year as a fractured elbow delayed his 2016 debut until late-August before a groin injury ended his season a couple weeks later. Pollock was a legitimate first-rounder heading into 2016 drafts, so although he does carry some injury risk, as an elite five-category contributor, he offers plenty of profit potential as a third-round pick, though I expected the discount to be steeper. 

Trevor Story (Round 3, Pick 12 to Scout Fantasy) - Clearly, the kid can hit. But is a 97-game big league sample size enough to warrant a top-40 pick, even if that sample size included 27 homers and 72 RBI? Maybe, and he does have Coors Field in his favor. Still, the strikeout rate is a little scary. I need to see more before I can comfortably invest in Story at this level.

Billy Hamilton (Round 4, Pick 1 to Baseball HQ) - The improved OBP is encouraging, so the logical reaction is that his stolen base total is still on the rise. But as I've mentioned many times before, I'm not a believer in a top-heavy strategy when it comes to addressing steals. I'm sure Hamilton owners weren't too happy last year when he missed nearly the entire month of September due to injury. Kyle Seager, Yoenis Cespedes, Jose Abreu and Matt Kemp were all available at this point in the draft. Give me one of those guys instead. I'll deal with steals a little later.

Jean Segura (Round 4, Pick 6 to Fantasy Sports Network) - Can Segura steal 33 bases again? Sure. Can he bat .319 again? Probably not. Can he hit 20 homers again? Not a chance. I can confidently say that the new Mariners shortstop will not be a member of any of my fantasy squads this year. Considering his expected price tag, there's simply too much to lose.

Andrew McCutchen (Round 5, Pick 10 to Fantasy Alarm) - Wow. I'm usually risk averse in the early rounds, but McCutchen at #62 overall would have been too tempting to pass up. Maybe the 20-plus stolen base campaigns are a thing of the past, but after struggling mightily for the vast majority of last year, the Pirates centerfielder finished the season strong, launching a combined nine home runs to go along with 34 RBI in August and September. I'm not ready to give up on a 30-year-old who carries such an elite track record, especially at this price.

Zach Steinhorn is the 2016 Mixed Auction Tout Wars Champion. Follow him on Twitter @ZachMLB 

How do I know when it's time to raise the intensity of my fantasy baseball draft preparation from relaxed to serious? Of course, it's when the annual MLB.com Fantasy 411 mock draft, a 12-team, 23-round exercise, gets underway. I've been running this mock, conducted via e-mail, for quite some time now, and even more helpful than the pick-by-pick results is the pick-by-pick commentary from each of the owners.

Well, five rounds are complete, and these five rounds had a much different feel than the early rounds last year. But why? Just out of curiosity, I decided to peruse the results from the 2016 MLB.com mock (yes, I did have this page bookmarked in my browser). Not to sound cliché or anything, but what a difference a year makes. Let's take a look at a handful of players who were selected within the first three rounds in the 2016 mock but have yet to find a mock team home in the 2017 version.

Jose Bautista (Round 2, Pick 11 in '16) - Forget five rounds. There's a real possibility that Bautista will still be on the board in Round 10. The veteran slugger's contract year didn't exactly go as planned, as he posted his lowest home run total since 2009 and was limited to 116 games due to injury. So, Joey Bats was forced to settle for a one-year deal to remain with the Blue Jays. Despite his advanced age and shaky health history, the 36-year-old actually offers some appeal as a discounted power source if drafted at the right spot, let's say #100 overall. Just be careful not to chase his past.

Chris Davis (Round 3, Pick 8 in '16) - Speaking of power, this guy has plenty of it, and it shouldn't be much longer before his name is called (or in this case typed and sent). He was probably a bit overvalued in 2016 drafts, and his batting average has fluctuated wildly from year to year. But Davis is also one of the only safe bets for 35-plus homers. His fantasy value is boosted significantly in OBP leagues thanks to his consistently high walk rate. In those formats, he will be squarely on my radar.

Todd Frazier (Round 3, Pick 10 in '16) - Frazier is coming off a season in which he set career bests in homers, RBIs and runs scored, yet his fantasy stock has dropped. Ah, the batting average. His .225 mark was a career worst. Do note, however, that his BABIP was an unusually low .236, so with a little better luck, a return to the .250 level is well within the realm of possibility. Considering the reduced price tag, I'm very interested in rostering Frazier this year.

Carlos Gomez (Round 3, Pick 11 in '16) - Gomez, on the other hand, is someone I'm not too interested in rostering. Yeah, his 33-game stretch with the Rangers last year was impressive, but how can one overlook the first four and a half months of his 2016 season? And he was already showing signs of decline in 2015. Back with the Rangers on a one-year deal, the former All-Star will try to prove that his finish to 2016 was no fluke. There will be someone in every fantasy league who will reach for Gomez. Don't be that someone. 

Gerrit Cole (Round 3, Pick 12 in '16) - What a letdown. Cole's exceptional 2015 season (19-8, 2.60 ERA, 1.09 WHIP) convinced many owners (including yours truly) that he was a legitimate fantasy ace and would remain a legitimate fantasy ace for years to come. So much for that. Multiple injuries marred his 2016 campaign, and even when he was able to take the mound, the consistency just wasn't there. The elbow issues are a little scary, but the good news is that he's expected to be fine for spring training. There's some risk here, but Cole's expected mixed league SP3 price factors in that risk. Ultimately, this is a risk I'll be willing to take. 

Zach Steinhorn is the 2016 Mixed Auction Tout Wars Champion. Follow him on Twitter @ZachMLB

It arrived in the mail this past Thursday and was immediately placed in a prominent spot on my desk, to be studied meticulously over the course of the next two-plus months. If you're looking for the fantasy baseball preview magazine that will best prepare you for the upcoming season, The Fantasy Baseball Guide Professional Edition, put together by Rotoman Peter Kreutzer, is the one to get. And trust me, I'm not just saying this because I contribute to the 160-page publication. 

The strategy essays and expert mock draft results provide invaluable information, but my favorite part of the magazine are the player profile Picks and Pans, where a cast of fantasy pundits offer their thoughts on players who they consider to be either undervalued (picks) or overvalued (pans) heading into draft day. My favorite part of my favorite part of the magazine is finding out if the players I chose were popular pick/pan selections, which is often the case. More interesting than the agreements are the disagreements, that is players who were deemed Picks by some experts and Pans by others. So, just to give you a taste of the magazine content, let's take a look at some of the guys who fit this description. 

Gary Sanchez (1 Pick, 5 Pans): Arguably the most controversial player of them all, some owners view Sanchez as a no doubt top-40 player while others are wary of overpaying based on a 20-home run, two-month stretch that was aided by an unusually high HR/FB ratio. Count me in the latter group, and clearly I wasn't alone.

Jose Abreu (6 Picks, 1 Pan): Well, so much for the idea of drafting Abreu at a steep discount. Apparently, I'm not the only one who wasn't taken aback by a "disappointing" .293-25-100 stat line. The White Sox first baseman is a safe bet for another strong batting average in 2017, and the fact that 14 of his 25 home runs last season came in the final two months suggests that a return to the 30-homer level is well within reach. The profit potential might not be as great as I originally thought, but Abreu remains an appealing lower-priced 1B alternative to Joey Votto and Freddie Freeman. 

Miguel Sano (2 Picks, 1 Pan): The batting average might be ugly and the strikeout total will be ugly, but through 196 big league games, Sano has already racked up 43 homers and 118 RBI. Pretty good. If you happen to play in an OBP league, he's even more valuable (career .346 OBP). Then there's the dual-position eligibility at third base and outfield. Sano's injury-marred 2016 season opens up a nice buying opportunity for 2017. Take advantage.

Jonathan Villar (1 Pick, 2 Pans): Stolen base totals are down throughout baseball, which is why you might be tempted to invest heavily in Villar and enjoy not having to worry too much about steals for the rest of the draft. I don't like to build my roster that way. What happens if Villar gets injured and you don't have enough 20-SB type fallback options because you were counting on at least 50 swipes from the Brewers speedster? What happens if he doesn't bat .285 again? (This is quite possible considering his .373 BABIP last season.) And what happens if he doesn't hit 19 homers again? There's simply too much that could go wrong here.

Jonathan Schoop (2 Picks, 2 Pans): A true split decision. I'm not sure if Schoop can improve upon his 2016 stat line, but for some strange reason, he's ranked outside of the top-15 second basemen on many sites, which is why I labeled him a Pick. Can we please show this guy a little more respect?

Adam Jones (1 Pick, 3 Pans): Ah, to be in the minority. Jones has now registered at least 25 homers and 82 RBI in each of the last six seasons. Yeah, maybe he's no longer an elite fantasy option, but there seems to be this idea that you will need to pay top dollar to draft him, which just isn't the case. I don't see his production all of a sudden plummeting. In fact, I consider Jones to be an intriguing contrarian pick, in that so many owners will view him as overvalued that he might end up being undervalued. 

Zach Steinhorn is the 2016 Mixed Auction Tout Wars Champion. Follow him on Twitter @ZachMLB

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