Posey Buster (Source: USAToday)

 

My second NFBC Draft Championship team, The Artful Dodgers, drafted in the twelve spot. We started picking players on Jan. 9, and I just made my Round 45 pick, so we are well within the three-week average. Also in this league is another Canadian, Antonio Abruzzese, who, like me, won twice in this format last season. He picks at No. 11, bad for my chances. I knew that he would snag any really good players dropping. He has. The drafters at 13-15 aren't terribly strong, so I have been able to finesse a few hitters through the turn on that side of the draft, but not nearly enough to make up for all the talent Antonio has scooped on the long side.

 

Not to come across as defeated. I do like the team. Albert Pujols fell to No. 12, and Buster Posey to the second round and my No. 19 pick. Thrilled with the start. First decision came in Round 3, when Antonio plucked my first choice, Ben Zobrist. Remembering my troubles with the Bum's, waiting too long on my ace, I toss Cole Hamels, Matt Cain, Felix Hernandez and Gio Gonzalez into the air. Hamels, barely, over Cain. Comes down to K-rate. Post the pick, and right away, "You know Hamel's shoulder is barking..." appears in the chat. Gack. I'm sticking with power hitters. Jay Bruce makes it through the corner, and I happily add him to the Dodgers.

 

Antonio is thinking along the same lines as I in Round 5, he drafts Brandon Phillips, I settle for Jason Kipnis. More batting average risk, and likely less speed, but hopefully more power in 2013. Round 6, time for my second starting pitcher. Adam Wainwright, Max Scherzer or Jordan Zimmermann. I go with Wainwright. Scherzer's drop in velocity last fall has me concerned. Antonio drafts Max K.

 

Antonio surprises me in Round 7 by drafting Shane Victorino (Red Sox fan...?), and I am pleased to pick up Jose Altuve. Four of my five teams have two strong second basemen. I think the drop off in production at 2B in 2013 is too severe to mess with. Third base also drops off a cliff at a certain point, and I see that ridge coming up fast. Martin Prado makes it through the corner, and I draft myself some more batting average cushion to spend on Mark Reynolds-types later on.

 

For Round 9, I want one more power hitter at the corner, to pair with Pujols. Predictably, Ike Davis and Chris Davis (to Antonio) disappear right in front of me. No worries, I can still choose between Adam Laroche, David Ortiz and Paul Konerko. I check the rosters of the three guys behind me. Two of them already have two first basemen, and the other guy has Allen Craig and Pablo Sandoval. Between them, they have one shortstop and zero second basemen. Surely, one of those names will drop. Confident I will finesse some gift home runs, I think about adding another power arm. CJ Wilson, Jon Lester, Tim Lincecum, Ian Kennedy or Jeff Samardzija. Perhaps I had to squint between the lines a bit, but I got the distinct impression while researching the pitchers in the 2013 Forecaster, Ron Shandler would take the Young Cub in this spot. So I do. Ortiz goes first, then Konerko, then Laroche. Ooops. No stud for you! I draft Nick Markakis. Not a great power threat, but ok all-around numbers, and, added to the Prado pick, another excellent batting average prop.

 

The closer run starts very late in this league. I was prepared to draft the two I need at the 11/12 corner, but decide to wait, when Joe Nathan is the only one to come off the board in front of me. I am very pleased to add Nick Swisher and Josh Reddick in these rounds. I spend a little of my batting average surplus and get two hitters projected to bat in the middle of their respective lineups. After 12 rounds, I am very pleased with the power projection for this team.

 

I am fully prepared to go closers at 13/14, but again, the league seems reluctant to commit to a run. Just a few obvious names get drafted, and there are still several good options available when my turn comes. For some reason, Ben Revere is still available and I happily add his plus skills. The list of closers available at 14 is long; Chris Perez, Sergio Romo, Tom Wilhelmsen, Addison Reed, Glen Perkins, Casey Janssen, Grant Balfour, Jason Grilli. I think Romo is the most talented, but I see him as an extreme injury risk given his tiny stature, super-high percent of slider usage and the chronic troubles with his balky elbow. I see Wilhelmsen as a closer at risk of losing his role. The current Mariners' management churns through closers, preferring the cheap, hot hand. Wilhelmsen has historically struggled to throw strikes, the first half of 2012 was an exception. Reed is another pitcher on my at-risk list. Way too hittable in 2012, and he went almost exclusively fastball as he lost confidence in his off-speed stuff. I like all of Janssen's closer skills, but I am very concerned about his health. He's made several trips to the DL over the past five seasons, and had another surgery in the shoulder area this offseason. Santos returns, Delabar is capable, and the extreme pressure to 'win now' in Toronto make me leery of investing. I also like Perkins, but I think he would be more likely than the others to fall to Round 15. I feel similarly about Grilli. I have no interest in Balfour. This is how Perez becomes my top closer.

 

Luck seems to be on my side in this league as Grilli falls to me at 15. I need to fill out my starting staff, and grab Chris Carpenter for my fourth starter. In this format, starters get swapped in and out of the lineup fairly regularly as one attempts to play match-ups, take advantage of two-start weeks, avoid Coors, mid-summer Texas and Yankee Stadium. If you draft reasonably well, your starters will accumulate numbers. One must be mindful of the ratios, however, and pitcher's with Carpenter's talent for limiting base runners become increasingly valuable as the list narrows.

 

Which is why I am still scratching my head over the Ryan Dempster pick in Round 17. He is exactly the kind of pitcher I usually avoid. I know what I was thinking at the time. I was thinking shortstop. When Antonio drafted JJ Hardy, there were still several available, including Dee Gordon, Zack Cozart and Jed Lowrie. So I took Dempster. And four shortstops were drafted with the next six picks. So I take Russell Martin to be my second catcher. I like him returning to the National League, and he was very unlucky last season. Perhaps he will hit all the way into the mid .240s...which is why it is important to build batting average cushion in the early rounds.

 

Sometimes you just know things are going to turn out fine. Like when it is your turn to pick, and you flip over to Rotoworld, and the first news you read is about a veteran hitter signing to hit in the middle of the order of an offensive powerhouse. Lance Berkman, Round 19. Followed by Mark Reynolds, Round 20. There's some HR potential.

 

Next three picks are Brandon McCarthy, Jhonny Peralta and Bud Norris. The final projections on this team look very strong. I think I have easily covered runs and RBIs, hit the HR target, but come up short in stolen bases. I think I will be fine in the pitcher counting stats, but have some risk in the ratios.

 

I target stolen bases in the reserve, back-ups at each position with multiple position eligibility, closers-in-waiting and hopefully a couple more useful starters. Darin Mastroianni is my first reserve in Round 24, which helps cover the stolen base projection. I take Brett Myers in Round 25, partly, I think, because I want to gloat over one more finesse. I should simply draft Hiroyuki Nakajima here, as I really need another potential plus bat to cover for Peralta at shortstop. I am stubborn. Proudly so. Works this time, I get Nakajima, and I promise myself no more goofy moves, this draft.

 

The only other real key gets in the reserve are Joaquin Benoit and Al Albuquerque, the two pitchers I've targeted at the top of the Tigers bullpen behind Bruce Rondon, a pitcher I see as more a Joel Zumaya type. Either could easily earn a crack at closer, and run all season with it.

 

These drafts are a blast. A great way to force oneself to deep early-season study. At least half of each league is populated by fishy drafters, unprepared to go 50 rounds. Get into one of these leagues, take each and every pick seriously, you will never be more ready for your regular league in March.


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