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Wednesday 29th Mar 2017

In 13 days, I will be making the trek from Downtown Manhattan to the SiriusXM headquarters in Midtown Manhattan to participate for the fifth time in the Tout Wars Mixed Auction draft. My preparation process has now officially entered the serious stage, but let's face it, auctions are pretty tough to prepare for. You can assign dollar values to players and make a list of players to target, but master plans can easily get thrown off by a few unexpected winning bids, so flexibility is a must.

Still, I do like to enter the draft room with a master plan in the form of an ideal team that I expect to fit under the $260 cap, though I make sure to include contingency plans. But, this column will not be about the auction phase of the draft. Instead, I'm going to focus on the easy (well, easier) part, the reserve rounds. Roughly ten minutes after the conclusion of the 345-player auction, we will conduct a six-round snake draft to fill out our benches. By this time, I'm usually so drained out from the auction that it's hard to think straight, which is why I like to have an extensive list handy of intriguing players that could be available in the reserve rounds. Using my still in progress 50-round, 15-team mixed slow NFBC draft as a guide, here are some of the players that are piquing my interest. (Note that all of these guys were taken in rounds 24-29 in the NFBC draft, coinciding with the reserve rounds in Tout.)

Trevor Story - This is probably wishful thinking, as the 23-year-old top prospect is the favorite to open the season as Colorado's starting shortstop. It seems likely that he will garner a bid at least in the $3-$5 range. If Story produces right away, it will be difficult for the Rockies to justify making a lineup change, even when (or if) Jose Reyes rejoins the team.

Brandon Finnegan - Although the Reds say that Finnegan will need to compete for a rotation spot this spring, I just don't see Michael Lorenzen standing in the way of the former first-round draft selection. Call it a hunch. There's immediate mixed league mid-rotation potential here.

James Paxton - Speaking of potential, injuries have so far prevented Paxton from making his mark at the big league level, and he was inconsistent during his 13-start 2015 campaign. But if he can pitch more like the guy who posted a 2.66 ERA and 1.13 WHIP over his first 17 major league starts and actually avoids the DL, now that would be something.

Desmond Jennings - Him again? I just can't seem to shake off my fascination with Jennings and his power/speed ability, even though he lets me down time and time again due to a combination of health woes and overall mediocre performance. Jennings will likely still be available in the reserve rounds, and there's little risk in taking another chance on him for a price of $0. I will really try to resist though. Let's see how that goes.

Pedro Alvarez - It would help if Alvarez actually signed with a major league team. But assuming that Pedro receives fairly regular at-bats somewhere, even as the strong side of a platoon, go ahead and tell me where you can find a cheaper 25 homers.

Joaquin Benoit/Kevin Quackenbush/Ryan Madson - Don't we all love the saves speculation game? In deep mixed leagues, my general closer strategy is to draft one upper-tier stopper, one mid-range closer with a high degree of job security and one setup man who is next in line for saves behind a shaky or injury-prone closer. Benoit, Quackenbush and Madson all fit this description, and there's a good chance that at least one of these relievers will find a home on my Tout Wars roster in 13 days.

On Wednesday, February 17th at 1:00 PM ET, my 2016 Fantasy Baseball season officially began with the start of the NFBC Draft Champions League 3719, a 15-team mixed, 50-round slow draft. For those unfamiliar with the Draft Champions format, well, the draft is kind of important. In addition to no trading, a rule that applies to all NFBC leagues, no in-season pickups are allowed in Draft Champions leagues. The 50 players you draft (23 starters, 27 reserves) are the 50 players you will have for the entire season. The only in-season management required is setting lineups every Monday, with hitter lineup changes permitted on Friday as well.

Since owners are allowed eight hours to make each selection, patience is a must. While it is very rare that someone uses the full eight hours, it is not uncommon for an hour or two to pass between some of the picks. But the relaxed pace suits me just fine, as there is ample time to research players, and in the latter stages of the draft, research players who I might not know much about. In this respect, I have found the Draft Champions setup to be an invaluable tool to help me prepare for my other drafts, which is why I make sure to schedule it well in advance of the mid to late March draft crunch.

Let's now take a peek at the early portion of my league's draft and focus on a handful of players whose draft position differed significantly from their NFBC ADP. Although I will never use ADP lists to tell me who to pick, they can be useful when trying to determine if it is too risky to wait another round to take a certain targeted player. That said, every draft is different, so treating ADP too seriously can often lead to either missing out on a player you really wanted or, in hindsight of course, regretting that you reached for a player. So, if you plan on drafting any of the following players, it might be a good idea to ignore ADP entirely.

Jason Kipnis

ADP: 83

DC draft: 109

If Kipnis bats in the leadoff spot for most of this season, as he did for the vast majority of 2015, he should once again score a high number of runs. But he has yet to bat at least .260 in consecutive seasons and his power and speed production has tailed off in recent years. Considering the quality depth at the 2B position, I'm leaning towards going with one of the cheaper options in my March drafts, even though he could turn out to be a solid pick, especially at #109.

Rougned Odor

ADP: 102

DC draft: 77

There's been plenty of hype surrounding Odor heading into the 2016 campaign, and maybe the Rougned Fan Club will prove to be right. But as I mentioned in a previous column, is there really a huge difference between Odor and Neil Walker, who was taken with pick #231 in the DC draft?

Ian Kinsler

ADP: 92

DC draft: 112

Although Kinsler's 30/30 days are a thing of the past, he remains a reliable across-the-board contributor. His ADP of 92 seems about right while drafting him at #112 could net quite a profit. Keep in mind that Kinsler was taken 35 picks after fellow second baseman Odor and a few picks after Kipnis.

Adrian Gonzalez

ADP: 69

DC draft: 49

You know the deal with Adrian. He's a little boring but he's also extremely consistent. In other words, he's a comfortable fallback option should you miss out on the truly elite first basemen. I have no problem with my DC league mate selecting him at #49 and I don't understand why he's ranked well outside of the top-60 in ADP.

Danny Salazar

ADP: 79

DC draft: 62

 Starting pitchers were going off the board early and often in the DC draft. In fact, Salazar was the 21st SP selected. That's right, more than one-third of the first 62 picks were starting pitchers. Taking into account the league format, it does makes sense, as streaming pitchers is not an option, so owning the high-end guys who can safely be started regardless of the matchup becomes all the more important. As for Salazar, there's a lot to like, most notably the high strikeout rate. But the track record is rather thin, so it's no sure thing that he will deliver low-end ace/high-end SP2 numbers. And that's what he will need to do for his Draft Champions league owner to break even.

It's now 5:30 PM ET on Saturday, February 27th. With pick #410, I'm on the clock.

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.

Catcher

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.

First Base

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.

Second Base

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.

Shortstop

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.

Third Base

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.

After devoting last week's column to comparing infielders taken at various stages of the MLB.com Fantasy 411 Slow Mock (still in progress), let us now shift our attention to the outfield and the mound. As a reminder, the purpose of this exercise is to identify pairs of players who were not drafted anywhere near each other but could produce at a similar level in 2016. Also note that I'm not at all criticizing the earlier picks or calling them reaches. All I'm saying is that the later pick may prove to be the better pick, particularly when factoring in the draft position discrepancy.

Outfield

Yoenis Cespedes: Round 5, Pick 1 (#49 overall)
Matt Kemp: Round 7, Pick 7 (#79 overall)

Cespedes was far and away the more productive player in 2015, and Kemp's days as an elite fantasy option are long over. But 2015 was also far and away Cespedes' finest season to date, so my confidence in Yoenis duplicating the .291-35-105 stat line is low. Would a .265-25-90 output this year surprise me? Not really. Actually, that looks a lot like Kemp's 2015 line of .265-23-100. Interesting, right?

Brett Gardner: Round 9, Pick 10 (#106 overall)
Curtis Granderson: Round 11, Pick 11 (#131 overall)

This decision comes down to whether you're in need of a few more homers (Granderson) or a few more steals (Gardner). The batting averages should be similar and maybe Gardner gets the slight edge in runs. All things equal, I'd have a tough time deciding between these two. But when throwing in the 25-pick discount, give me Grandy.

Billy Hamilton: Round 8, Pick 1 (#85 overall)
Ben Revere: Round 11, Pick 3 (#123 overall)

Let me say that I'm not a fan of one-category specialists, especially early round one-category specialists. If I end up using a top-100 pick on Hamilton in any of my drafts this year, it's a sign that something went terribly wrong with my first handful of picks. Spreading risk is one of my most important draft day principles, and relying on one player to provide nearly half of your team's swipes is just too risky, especially when considering the possibility that he gets injured. I probably won't be drafting Revere either, though Round 11 is hardly a reach for a guy who could post a .300 AVG with 40 steals and 90-plus runs hitting atop a potent Nationals lineup. He's the wiser investment here.

Starting Pitcher

Masahiro Tanaka: Round 10, Pick 3 (#111 overall)
Justin Verlander: Round 14, Pick 11 (#167 overall)

Speaking of players who I will not be owning this year, Tanaka heads the list. Yeah, he could deliver a profit if he stays healthy, but Tommy John surgery is inevitable, and I don't want to be the one with Tanaka on my roster when the inevitable happens. As for Verlander, he also carries injury risk, but he finished the 2015 campaign both healthy and effective. He won't need to rediscover his old ace form in order to make a 14th round investment pay off.

Relief Pitcher

Glen Perkins: Round 10, Pick 11 (#119 overall)
Jonathan Papelbon: Round 15, Pick 9 (#177 overall)

I haven't personally met either of these players, but I can confidently say that Perkins is the more likable person. And, perhaps likability is playing a factor in Papelbon's depressed stock, because he continues to be one of the more reliable closers in the game. Perkins is pretty good too, and I wouldn't mind drafting him as a low-end CL2/high-end CL3 in a 12-team mixed league. But he's now dealt with injuries in two straight seasons and finished off 2015 by allowing seven runs over his final 7 2/3 innings. The main risk with Papelbon is that he might get traded at some point to a team that uses him as a setup man. But with the Nats in win now mode and Papelbon in apologetic mode for his actions in the dugout brawl with Bryce Harper, I don't see a trade happening. It pains me to say it, but don't forget about Papelbon when searching for your second closer, or even your first closer if you really want to wait on the position.

While it's nice to actually like the players on your fantasy team, it's not a requirement.

The end of the NFL regular season begins a dull period for us fantasy players. Unless you compete in season-long NBA leagues (which I do, but it is without question my third favorite fantasy sport), there are no teams to manage. For a few weeks, I occupied myself with NBA DFS, playing almost every day, and it was fun for awhile. But eventually, I lost more often than I won, and I'm now at the point where I have drawn the line and will not spend any more money on NBA DFS.

So, almost by default, I'm getting an earlier than usual start on baseball prep, and mock drafting, especially slow mock drafting, helps quite a bit. The MLB.com Fantasy 411 expert slow mock, which I have been running for several years now, is roughly one-third complete, and you can check out the results along with in-depth commentary here.

When studying the player pool, I like to pay particular attention to the more controversial availables. In other words, we're talking about players who carry a wide range of perceived value. These are the guys who I have to research thoroughly. Ultimately, I will need to figure out where I stand, and it's not easy. I might even change my mind multiple times.

On that note, let's review the results of the 12-team mixed MLB.com mock in progress along with the final results of the 13-team mixed FSTA draft from earlier this month and identify some players that exhibited a particularly large discrepancy in draft position.

Xander Bogaerts

MLB.com mock: #24 overall

FSTA draft: #64 overall

After struggling to the tune of a .240 batting average in 2014, Bogaerts broke out last season, rewarding his fantasy owners with a .320 average to go along with seven homers, 81 RBI, 84 runs scored and 10 steals. Although his 35 doubles suggest that there could be further growth in the power department, from looking at his minor league numbers, I get the sense that Bogaerts will end up being one of those guys who is better in real life than in fantasy. From a 5x5 rotisserie league standpoint, batting average is the only category in which he truly stands out. He is only 23, however, so it is entirely possible that he will prove me wrong. Still, I'd be careful about paying a premium price for his services, and #24 overall is certainly a premium price.

Jose Reyes

MLB.com mock: #71 overall

FSTA draft: #111 overall

The wait continues as we have yet to learn if and for how long Reyes will be suspended under baseball's new domestic abuse policy. Depending on the verdict, the 32-year-old could be one of this year's biggest value picks as he heads into his first full season of playing his home games at Coors Field. On the other hand, since when was Reyes a safe bet to stay healthy for a full season? The difference in draft position is understandable as choosing Reyes in a mock draft is a lot easier than adding him to your actual fantasy squad. The wait continues.

Brian Dozier

MLB.com mock: #51 overall

FSTA draft: #80 overall

By now, we know the deal with Dozier. If you want a second baseman who will deliver high-end power to go along with a useful number of stolen bases at the expense of batting average, he's your guy, and there's little reason to expect anything different this coming season. 51st overall sounds about right while 80th overall sounds like a steal.

Prince Fielder

MLB.com mock: #78 overall

FSTA draft: #99 overall

Losing 1B eligibility does put a damper on things, but Fielder remains one of the more reliable run producers in the game. Many owners avoid filling their Utility slot early in a draft, but with such a limited supply consistent power hitters these days, maybe it's time to forget about that rule.

Anthony Rendon

MLB.com mock: #70 overall

FSTA draft: #50 overall

Just 12 months ago, Rendon was a no doubt top-20 pick thanks to his stellar five-category contributions. However, an injury-marred 2015 campaign has lowered his stock to the point where he could actually reward his 2016 owners with a nice profit if he can stay off the DL. But that will be no easy feat for Rendon, who has now played fewer than 100 games in two of his first three big league seasons.

Carlos Gonzalez

MLB.com mock: #64 overall

FSTA draft: #44 overall

Speaking of health woes, Gonzalez has experienced his fair share of them over the course of his career, but last year was an exception. Colorado's star outfielder launched a single-season high 40 home runs and appeared in a single-season high 153 games. The good news about investing in Car-Go this year is that injury risk is still reflected in his price. Even 44th overall is not unreasonable as long as he avoids a prolonged DL stint. But really, how confident can we be that Gonzalez will remain healthy for a second consecutive season? Plus, he doesn't steal bases anymore and batted just .271 last season, this compared to his career .290 average. Even if he's still there for the taking at #64, I will be looking elsewhere.

At least that's where I stand for today.

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