The Washington Times - March 20, 2009, 12:03AM

I traveled to Massachusetts on Monday for my fantasy baseball draft and got back in the early morning hours Thursday, which explains my lack of posts the past few days. The draft is one of my favorite days of the year, not only because it’s such a blast to hand-pick your team for the upcoming season, but also because I get to see all my friends from up north that I don’t get to see all that often now that I live in Maryland. One of the local bars up there lets us have the draft in their function room upstairs, and we all toss back a few, catch up between picks and have some good laughs. It’s like a high school reunion, limited to the people that I actually want to see.

I play in a very competitive points-based head-to-head CBS Sportsline 16-team league in which basically any positive offensive or pitching statistic accrued will net you points and negative statistics will cost you points (like most leagues, defense unfortunately doesn’t factor in). We start nine hitters (the standard positions plus a utility player) and six pitchers (either four starters and two relievers or five and one), and the scoring system is set up so that, in theory anyway, your six pitchers should score about the same number of points as your nine hitters in any given week. Before you blast me for taking starting pitchers with five of my first six picks, keep in mind that above-average starting pitchers score a ton of points in my league, and that I’ve won the past three years drafting pretty much the exact same way I did this year.

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The draft is snake format, and I drew the No. 11 pick. Here’s how it went, from my perspective:

 

PRE-DRAFT

I like to kick off my drafts by building a strong starting rotation, and as the draft approached, I realized I wasn’t thrilled with the starters that would likely be available to me at pick No. 11 (sore-armed Cole Hamels, Jake Peavy). I decided to swap my first and second-round picks (Nos. 11 and 22) with the team that was drafting 14th and 19th in hopes of snagging two of the top second-tier starting pitchers.

 

1st ROUND

1. Johan Santana
2. Tim Lincecum
3. Hanley Ramirez
4. C.C. Sabathia
5. Brandon Webb
6. Albert Pujols
7. Roy Halladay
8. Dan Haren
9. Jake Peavy
10. Jose Reyes
11. Cole Hamels
12. David Wright
13. Ryan Braun
14. Jon Lester, SP, BOS
15. Josh Beckett
16. Miguel Cabrera

I actually wanted to draft James Shields here, but I also coveted Lester. Given that most of my league members hail from Massachusetts and are die-hard Red Sox fans, I figured it was now or never for Lester and that I could snag Shields five picks later. I was drawn to Lester because of his 2008 success (16-6, 3.21 ERA, 1.27 WHIP, 152-to-66 K-to-walk), obvious upside and the fact that he pitches for one of the best teams in baseball. When I took Lester, the owner with the next selection unleashed an expletive, confirming that I had executed the proper maneuver.

 

2nd ROUND

17. Grady Sizemore
18. Scott Kazmir
19. James Shields, SP, TB
20. Roy Oswalt
21. Jimmy Rollins
22. Josh Hamilton
23. John Lackey
24. Chad Billingsley
25. Zack Greinke
26. Carlos Zambrano
27. Chase Utley
28. Daisuke Matsuzaka
29. Edinson Volquez
30. Ryan Dempster
31. Evan Longoria
32. Francisco Liriano

Just as I had hoped, Shields was still available at No. 19. I’m higher on him than most, but on closer examination, the Rays righty is basically Dan Haren with one fewer K per start - compare their 2008 numbers if you don’t believe me. A durable proven winner who posts great WHIPs (1.15 in 2008) and K-to-walk ratios (160 to 40 last year), Shields has been quietly outstanding the past two seasons and, at 27, probably hasn’t reached his ceiling. The contending Rays should give him a shot at 17-plus wins if his peripherals stay close to the same.

 

3rd ROUND

33. Ian Kinsler
34. Mark Teixeira
35. Yovani Gallardo
36. Felix Hernandez
37. A.J. Burnett
38. Adam Wainwright
39. Francisco Rodriguez
40. Carlos Beltran
41. Cliff Lee
42. Joe Nathan
43. Joba Chamberlain, SP/RP, NYY
44. Ryan Howard
45. Justin Verlander
46. Joakim Soria
47. Matt Holliday
48. Jonathan Papelbon

Simply put, I loved Joba’s upside too much to consider passing on him here. He’s yet to prove that he can hold up as a starter over a full season and that does concern me, but his 2.60 ERA and 118-to-39 K-to-walk ratio in 100 1/3 innings last season were far too tantalizing to pass up. The relief pitcher eligibility also helps, especially because he’d likely close for the Yanks if anything happened to Mariano Rivera.

 

4th ROUND

49. Rich Harden
50. Manny Ramirez
51. Dustin Pedroia
52. Brandon Phillips
53. Chien-Ming Wang
54. Nick Markakis, OF, BAL
55. Ted Lilly
56. Justin Morneau
57. Aramis Ramirez
58. Brett Myers
59. Carlos Quentin
60. Ricky Nolasco
61. Prince Fielder
62. Josh Johnson
63. Carlos Marmol
64. Kevin Youkilis

With three starting pitchers in the fold I was looking to draft the best available hitter in Round 4. Markakis may not have been the absolute best bet, but he’s a young star who will only continue to get better, and, as a Maryland resident, I’ll have the pleasure of watching a lot of his games either at Camden Yards or on MASN. Hopefully this will be the year he takes the step forward to .300/30/120 territory.

 

5th ROUND

65. David Price
66. John Danks
67. Bobby Jenks
68. Ubaldo Jimenez
69. Lance Berkman
70. B.J. Upton
71. Mariano Rivera
72. Brian Roberts
73. Carlos Lee
74. Alex Rodriguez
75. Derek Lowe, SP, ATL
76. Ervin Santana
77. Matt Cain
78. B.J. Ryan
79. David Ortiz
80. Clayton Kershaw

Lowe has made 32 or more starts and won 12 or more games in seven straight years and can usually be counted on for a good ERA and WHIP. He doesn’t hurt himself with walks, either. He’s one of the safer bets among starters entering 2009. After taking a chance on Joba’s upside in Round 3, the reliable Lowe was exactly what I needed.

 

6th ROUND

81. Erik Bedard
82. Matt Garza
83. Rafael Furcal
84. Brandon Morrow
85. Jered Weaver
86. Gavin Floyd, SP, CHW
87. Javier Vazquez
88. Ichiro Suzuki
89. Stephen Drew
90. Carl Crawford
91. Brad Lidge
92. Aaron Harang
93. Jonathan Broxton
94. Brian McCann
95. Matt Kemp
96. Oliver Perez

I was leaning toward taking the best available hitter here but thought Floyd was too good to pass up. The longtime Phillies prospect had a breakthrough season for the White Sox in 2008, going 17-8 with a 3.84 ERA, 1.26 WHIP and 145 K’s in 206 innings. Floyd definitely still offers some upside, but a repeat - or even a slight regression - would be just fine, thank you, considering he’s only my No. 5 starter.

 

7th ROUND

97. Curtis Granderson
98. Jair Jurrjens
99. Mike Pelfrey
100. Jason Bay
101. Derrek Lee
102. Fausto Carmona
103. Vladimir Guerrero
104. Jose Valverde
105. Joe Saunders
106. Alex Rios
107. Chipper Jones, 3B, ATL
108. Alfonso Soriano
109. Max Scherzer
110. Magglio Ordonez
111. Joey Votto
112. Russell Martin

With five starting pitchers and just one positional player in the fold through the first six rounds, I had to draft the best available hitter, and there’s no question that Chipper was the best available hitter. It’s unlikely he’ll get even 500 at bats, but he’s a lock to do some serious damage whenever he’s in the lineup. The fact that third base is uncharacteristically thin this season made the decision to take the future Hall of Famer even easier.

 

8th ROUND

113. Troy Tulowitzki
114. Kerry Wood
115. John Maine
116. Francisco Cordero
117. Dan Uggla
118. Adrian Gonzalez, 1B, SD
119. Johnny Cueto
120. Joe Mauer
121. Jacoby Ellsbury
122. Bobby Abreu
123. Chris Young (P)
124. Derek Jeter
125. Brian Fuentes
126. Ryan Zimmerman
127. Scott Baker
128. Nate McLouth

I wanted another big bat in Round 8 and was very happy to see that Gonzalez was still hanging around. Despite playing half his games in one of baseball’s most notorious pitchers’ parks, the 2000 No. 1 overall pick hit .279 with 36 homers and 119 RBI last season. He’s basically Ryan Howard with fewer homers and RBI but also fewer strikeouts - which hurt in my league - and Howard went five rounds earlier.

 

9th ROUND

129. Geovany Soto
130. Kevin Slowey
131. Victor Martinez
132. Alexei Ramirez
133. Ryan Ludwick
134. Jay Bruce
135. Andy Pettitte
136. Gil Meche
137. Heath Bell
138. Manny Parra
139. Matt Wieters, C, BAL
140. Adam Dunn
141. Shane Victorino
142. Chris Carpenter
143. Ryan Doumit
144. Robinson Cano

Those of you who regularly visit National Pastime know that I’m a believer in Wieters, who is ranked by Baseball America as the top prospect in all of baseball. The switch-hitting catcher hit .355 with 27 homers in the minors last season and though he’ll likely start the season in triple-A, he’ll undoubtedly be up before long, a la Evan Longoria in 2008, and I’m willing to bet that anyone who took Longoria in the ninth round last year is glad they did. A .300 average and 15-20 homers are reasonable expectations for Wieters in his rookie season, and that would make him no worse than a top-3 backstop.

 

10th ROUND

145. Alex Gordon
146. Garrett Atkins
147. Aubrey Huff
148. Hunter Pence
149. Brian Wilson
150. Raul Ibanez, OF, PHI
151. James Loney
152. Miguel Tejada
153. Chris Davis
154. Jeremy Bonderman
155. Chris Iannetta
156. Jermaine Dye
157. Conor Jackson
158. Brad Hawpe
159. Howie Kendrick
160. Corey Hart

Ibanez is one of the most underrated fantasy players you’ll find, never getting mentioned as a top outfielder despite averaging .291 with 26 jacks and 113 RBI over the past three years. Those numbers only stand to improve now that he’s playing for the World Champs in their Little League park. I’m not the least bit surprised that he fell to me in Round 10, but I’m glad he did.

 

11th ROUND

161. Armando Galarraga
162. Edwin Jackson
163. Vernon Wells
164. Torii Hunter
165. Hideki Matsui
166. Matt Capps
167. Michael Young
168. Andre Ethier
169. Bronson Arroyo
170. Mike Gonzalez
171. J.J. Hardy, SS, MIL
172. Pat Burrell
173. Carlos Pena
174. Jhonny Peralta
175. Chris Volstad
176. Wandy Rodriguez

Shortstop is a premium position in fantasy, and I was surprised that Hardy - who I had ranked as my No. 5 shortstop - was still hanging around in Round 11. The fact that he posted nearly identical seasons in 2007 and 2008 means a .275 average, 25 homers and 75 RBI are likely in 2009, and he’s young enough that he still has the potential for more.

 

12th ROUND

177. Jeff Francoeur
178. Scott Olsen
179. Brad Penny
180. Mike Aviles
181. Huston Street
182. Jordan Zimmermann, SP, WAS
183. Randy Wolf
184. Carlos Delgado
185. Mark Buehrle
186. Adrian Beltre
187. Yunel Escobar
188. John Smoltz
189. Jon Garland
190. Anibal Sanchez
191. Tommy Hanson
192. Jorge Cantu

Zimmermann, a 2007 second-round pick, is 15-5 with a 2.74 ERA, 1.14 WHIP and 205-to-65 K-to-walk ratio in 35 minor league starts. He’s never pitched above double-A but has dominated this spring (12 innings pitched, no runs, 16 K’s, 2 walks) and appears to have a rotation spot locked up. I probably could have gotten him a couple rounds later, but he’s someone I was targeting and I didn’t want to take any chances. I’m hoping for 12 wins, an ERA below 4.00 and close to a K per inning, and I wouldn’t be the least bit surprised if he seriously contended for N.L Rookie of the Year honors.

 

13th ROUND

193. Chad Qualls
194. Randy Johnson
195. Mark Teahen
196. Bengie Molina
197. Trevor Hoffman
198. Chone Figgins
199. Mike Lowell
200. Jeremy Guthrie
201. Jose Lopez
202. Sean Marshall
203. Johnny Damon, OF, NYY
204. A.J. Pierzynski
205. Adam Jones
206. Edwin Encarnacion
207. Sean Gallagher
208. Kosuke Fukudome

Damon is 35 now and flies under the radar on the star-studded Yankees, but he’s still a very productive fantasy player. You might not realize that he hit .303 with 17 homers, 71 RBI, 29 steals and 91 runs scored in 2008, and all those totals are within reach again in 2009. There’s no way I could pass him up in Round 13, and his selection completes what I think will prove to be a pretty productive and relatively inexpensive starting outfield of Markakis, Ibanez and Damon.

 

14th ROUND

209. Delmon Young
210. Orlando Cabrera
211. Justin Upton
212. Carlos Guillen
213. Joe Blanton
214. Mark DeRosa, 2B/3B/OF, CLE
215. Chris Young (OF)
216. J.D. Drew
217. Jonathan Sanchez
218. Clay Buchholz
219. Billy Butler
220. Travis Hafner
221. Joe Crede
222. Adam LaRoche
223. Lastings Milledge
224. Andy Sonnanstine

Now an Indian, DeRosa turned in a career year for the Cubs at age 33 in 2008. He hit .281 and clubbed 21 homers - eight more than his previous season high. I’m not counting on a repeat, but I’m not ruling it out, either. His triple eligibility will help my team regardless.

 

15th ROUND

225. Ian Snell
226. Rick Ankiel
227. Jed Lowrie
228. Placido Polanco
229. Kelly Johnson
230. Todd Wellemeyer
231. Aaron Hill
232. Yadier Molina
233. Casey Kotchman
234. Ramon Hernandez
235. Troy Percival, RP, TB
236. Jorge Posada
237. Hiroki Kuroda
238. Jim Thome
239. Rickie Weeks
240. Paul Maholm

I never draft closers early, mostly because saves come so cheaply in fantasy baseball. At least a third of all closers lose their jobs every year, meaning you’ll have plenty of chances to snag one on waivers. I need to start the year with a couple in the fold, however, and Percival seemed like the best remaining option. He’s old and injury prone but still effective, and pitches for the A.L. champs. If he can stay at least somewhat healthy, he’ll help my team.

 

16th ROUND

241. John Lannan
242. Dave Bush
243. Justin Duchscherer
244. Chase Headley
245. Anthony Reyes
246. Kelvim Escobar, SP, LAA
247. Kenshin Kawakami
248. Pedro Martinez
249. Xavier Nady
250. Aaron Cook
251. Carlos Gomez
252. Milton Bradley
253. Cameron Maybin
254. Jerry Hairston
255. Frank Francisco
256. Ryan Theriot

Escobar enjoyed his best year in 2007, going 18-7 with a 3.41 ERA, 1.27 WHIP and 160-to-66 K-to-walk ratio. He missed all of last season with shoulder troubles but hopes to be back on the mound by May. If he’s even three-quarters of the pitcher he was before his injury, he could very well be the steal of the draft. For now, I’ll be happy if I can use him in two-start weeks or when he has favorable matchups.

 

17th ROUND

257. Joel Hanrahan
258. Nelson Cruz
259. Nick Swisher
260. Coco Crisp
261. Casey Blake
262. Ian Stewart
263. Jason Giambi
264. Matt Lindstrom
265. George Sherrill
266. Orlando Hudson
267. Pablo Sandoval, 1B, SF
268. Barry Zito
269. Glen Perkins
270. Jarrod Saltalamacchia
271. Jayson Werth
272. Phil Hughes

Sandoval tore up the minors and then was awesome in 145 big league at bats in 2008, hitting .345 with three homers and 24 RBI. He walked just four times, but also K’d only 14 times. At this point in the draft I’m filling my backup spots, and when I can do that and get high-upside players at the same time, I’m all over it. In addition, Sandoval is set to play third this year and should have eligibility there by mid-April, meaning he’s insurance for Chipper in addition to being Gonzalez’ backup and my likely utility bat.

 

18th ROUND

273. Kyle Lohse
274. Jorge Campillo
275. Ken Griffey Jr.
276. Troy Glaus
277. Todd Helton
278. Manny Corpas, RP, COL
279. Melvin Mora
280. Jamie Moyer
281. Shaun Marcum
282. Kurt Suzuki
283. Adam Lind
284. Dana Eveland
285. Jesse Litsch
286. Chris Perez
287. Mark Reynolds
288. Nick Blackburn

Since Percival is far from a sure thing, I figured it would be prudent to grab another closer before they were all gone. Corpas stole the Rockies’ closer role from Brian Fuentes in 2007 but gave it back last year. He opens 2009 as the favorite for saves in Colorado, but will always be only be a couple bad outings away from losing his job to Huston Street. I’m not expecting too much, but if he can hang onto the job I should be able to use him from time to time.

 

19th ROUND

289. Kevin Kouzmanoff
290. Elijah Dukes
291. Micah Owings
292. Jeff Clement
293. Trevor Cahill
294. Andrew Miller
295. Tom Gorzelanny
296. Mike Jacobs
297. Lyle Overbay
298. Shin-Soo Choo
299. Justin Masterson, SP/RP, BOS
300. Josh Willingham
301. Jeff Samardzija
302. Dontrelle Willis
303. Denard Span
304. Eric Byrnes

Masterson would have been long gone if he was assured a spot in Boston’s rotation, but as things stand, he’s the No. 6 guy, on the outside looking in. However, Brad Penny hasn’t exactly been a picture of health in recent years, so I took a low-risk gamble on the relatively likely possibility that he’ll get an opportunity. Though his K-to-walk ratio (68-to-40 in 2008) is a concern, his ERA (3.16) and WHIP (1.22) suggest he’d be a successful starter.

 

20th ROUND

305. Joey Devine
306. Jose Arredondo
307. Curt Schilling
308. Brandon Lyon
309. Dioner Navarro
310. Cristian Guzman, SS, WAS
311. Matt LaPorta
312. Colby Rasmus
313. Jason Kubel
314. Jose Guillen
315. Brandon Wood
316. Hank Blalock
317. Vicente Padilla
318. Gordon Beckham
319. Elvis Andrus
320. David Murphy

The former speed-burner was fantasy relevant for the first time in years in 2008, stroking 183 hits - including nine homers - on the way to a .316 batting average. He doesn’t run anymore, but is a solid starter when he can stay healthy. I just need him to be an adequate backup for Hardy.

 

21st ROUND

321. Doug Davis
322. Paul Konerko
323. Ryan Garko
324. Edgar Renteria
325. Daniel Cabrera
326. Kevin Millwood
327. Ryan Rowland-Smith
328. David Purcey
329. Pedro Feliz
330. Chris Ray
331. Travis Snider, OF, TOR
332. Yuniesky Betancourt
333. Kelly Shoppach
334. J.J. Putz
335. Brad Ziegler
336. Khalil Greene

Snider reached the bigs at age 20 last season and showed why he’s so highly regarded by hitting .301 with a pair of homers in 73 at bats. The 23 K’s are cause for concern, but Snider is a top talent and could be a 30-homer guy as soon as this year. I doubt he’ll be that much of a stud right away, but if he is, I want to be the one in my league who benefits.

 

22nd ROUND

337. Brandon McCarthy
338. Jeremy Hermida
339. Barry Bonds
340. Gio Gonzalez
341. Ty Wigginton
342. Clint Barmes, 2B/SS, COL
343. Gaby Sanchez
344. Rocco Baldelli
345. Carlos Villanueva
346. Greg Smith
347. Franklin Morales
348. Bartolo Colon
349. Chris Duncan
350. Nick Adenhart
351. Jason Motte
352. Tim Wakefield

Barmes has looked really good and really bad at different points during his career, but he was solid in 2008 (.290, 11 homers in 393 at bats) and has the inside track on the Rockies’ second base gig. I’m not expecting much from him; I just hope he’s an adequate backup that I can use if injuries strike in my middle infield, or if Chipper goes down and I have to shift DeRosa to third.

 

23rd ROUND

353. Michael Cuddyer
354. Andy LaRoche
355. Russell Branyan
356. Aaron Laffey
357. Gerald Laird
358. Michael Bowden
359. Ivan Rodriguez
360. Carlos Carrasco
361. Jason Varitek
362. Rich Hill
363. Koji Uehara, SP/RP, BAL
364. Juan Pierre
365. Josh Fields
366. Freddy Sanchez
367. Joel Zumaya
368. Taylor Teagarden

It’s always tough to guess how Japanese imports will adjust, but Uehara seems like a good bet. The soon-to-be 34-year-old righty twice won the equivalent of Japan’s Cy Young award and went 2-0 with a 1.59 ERA in the 2006 World Baseball Classic. The Orioles have him penciled in as their No. 2 starter, and I’m hoping he can be at least as effective as a rookie as his countryman Hiroki Kuroda was last year. Anything more would be a bonus.

 

WAIVERS

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