HJ-ED-DHJHerald Journal Columns

March 26, 2007

A fantasy baseball preview

By Jesse Menden

There are options galore in this year’s fantasy baseball drafts. Fans frequently talk about parity in professional sports in recent years, well, there is plenty of parity at a number of positions this year, with a lot of average players and just a few dominant ones.

One position in the league that will be average this season is pitching. Not one pitcher won 20 games last season, meaning there are few dominating starters, but a number that can still score you some points.

If you have the first or second pick in your draft, take Santana, but if he is already gone when your pick comes around, don’t worry. With mostly average starting pitchers, wait on drafting them. There will be plenty of decent pitchers around throughout your entire draft. Pick starters sparingly in the first half of your draft, fill out your starters in the last half.

A lot of big names like Curt Schilling, Chris Young, Barry Zito, and Dontrelle Willis, will be available surprisingly late in most drafts.

That will go the same for relievers this year, too. On average, almost a third of the teams will have different closers in September than in April. Taking a closer in the opening rounds is not necessary; use those picks on position players. If you have the attention span to monitor the teams during the season, you can pick up a good closer out of the free agent pool in the first couple of weeks that would suit your team just fine.

Having said that, I am a believer in drafting good players at weak positions earlier. If you have a shot at Nathan, Mariano Rivera, Francisco Rodriguez, B. J. Ryan, or Billy Wagner after round five or six, give it some serious consideration. However, don’t panic if your competitors grab them before you do.

Another position that perennially is thin, is catcher. Don’t hesitate grabbing one as soon as you can. Drafting Mauer as early as the second round is not a bad idea because there are so few decent catchers available. Having said that, it is better than previous seasons. Cleveland’s Victory Martinez is also worthy of a first or second pick. Others worth taking a look at early on are Kenji Johjima, Brian McCann, and Ivan Rodriguez. Whoever you pick, draft one of those in the early rounds.

Working around the diamond, the first base position is strong. Several all-around players here will score you a ton of points, but also will a number of strong players. Draft from this position early. Several players will be a good anchor for your team from here.

Albert Pujols should be the top overall pick in any draft. Others such as Ryan Howard, David Ortiz, and Morneau could be just as effective. Just make sure not to fall into the trap of drafting Morneau ahead of the players listed.

Second base is another position with a couple of solid players, but most have average talent. Chase Utley is worthy of a second-round pick.

Typically, you want stolen bases from a second baseman. Players such as Chone Figgins and Brian Roberts become more valuable if you need that stat; don’t be surprised if they go in those early-middle rounds.

There are several sneaky picks if you want to focus elsewhere for awhile. Jorge Cantu basically had a “sophomore slump” last season and could rebound to hit 28 home runs like he did in 2005. The Twins’ Luis Castillo could have a good season, as well. He is in a contract year and almost certainly will not be back with Minnesota. Sometimes accused for his lack of effort, Castillo will be giving it his all more times than not this season, which should mean better overall numbers.

If you can’t get Utley early on, there will be plenty of chances at a decent second baseman later.

Shortstop should be largely ignored for the first half of your draft. When it finally comes time to choose one, you will have to decide if you need stolen bases or power. There is some of both.

If you need speed, Jose Reyes or Derek Jeter is your pick. If you are a gambling person, Florida’s Hanley Ramirez might suit your fancy with 51 steals in basically, his rookie season.

On the power side, Troy Glaus or even Bill Hall should be a good pick, but they don’t hit for average. The best bet is to draft for speed and contact at this position, and leave the power to the other boys.

Third base will offer multiple options for everybody. There are several players that are a sure thing, and even more that can help your team a lot.

If you have a shot at a Alex Rodriguez, Miguel Cabrera, or David Wright in the middle rounds, go ahead and draft one of them. If you want or need a good third baseman, don’t hesitate to take one of those three early on, otherwise, sit back and wait for the other players in your league to go after that position before you do.

Outfield is a interesting position because you can grab good players throughout the entirety of the draft. Feel free to go after Manny Ramirez or Vladamir Guerrero with one of your first two picks if you can, to anchor your outfield. After that, just sit back and wait. Plenty of other players with diverse talents will sit there for the taking later on. Just make sure to land at least one solid player to anchor the outfield.