So we had the UPL draft yesterday. It was fun as usual, but it was also a reminder of how the more things change, the more they stay the same.
For starters, I showed up to spring training out of shape. Every year I say to myself, "Two weeks before the draft I'm going to start preparing." But what really happens is that my preparation is minimal until I wake up early on draft day and read what I can. I'm kind of like Shaquille O'Neal in the sense that I just play myself into shape. It's probably not until the middle of May that I have a solid grasp of who's who on each team, which farm systems have the top prospects, and how that all applies to the fantasy baseball decisions I should have been making the first six weeks of the season. By that time I've either caught lightning in a bottle and my team is a force to reckon with, or I'm mired in 7th place and posting poor imitations of Weird Al songs on the message board.
In other draft news, Westy and Benver were no-shows again. (And they both were the first to complain about their teams on the message board--again.) Phatsnapper told us how many fantasy leagues he's in--again. ISSC drafted the entire Red Sox roster--again. JimmyDix nearly drafted the entire White Sox roster (and will likely trade for "the ones who got away")--again. C-Lauff took Albert Pujols with his first pick--again. Whenever someone with either unproven talent or a culturally diverse name (or both) was picked, Roland never missed the opportunity to ask, "Who the hell is that?"--again. And I had about half of my picks openly questioned or even mocked--again.
To that last point, that's actually one of my favorite aspects of fantasy baseball. In the real world, it's rather difficult to get honest feedback from people. But in an online draft room or message board about a game, well, people just let it fly; and in that context, I'm all about honest feedback, putdowns, and outright taunting.
Getting back to how I prepare the morning of the draft, I do come up with some lists for each position, but they're not long. In fact, I usually only have a few names of players that "I like" at each position. And by "like," I'm referring to whether or not the value they provide matches up with the round I can draft them in. (For example, last year I scratched Albert Pujols from my 1B choices. Although, I'm not sure which was dumber: Scratching Pujols from my list or reminding you that I did.)
Admittedly, this year was tougher for me to come up with my player rankings. That could be because there were seemingly more injuries to star players, or it could be that the more I learn about fantasy baseball the more I don't know.
I picked 8th in the first round and could have gone in a few different directions. I think Ryan Braun was the highest Y!-rated player still on the board, but I went with Ryan Howard. Before the draft I noticed that Howard's 48 jacks last season cleared the field by 8--and he would be returning this season to a similar situation (same championship-caliber team minus the inconsistent Pat Burrell). Furthermore, I had read that Howard came into spring training in better shape than usual and is focused on getting off to a fast April start (which he hasn't done the past two seasons). This, of course, doesn't mean he'll get off to a fast April start. Heck, it doesn't even mean he'll do as well as last year. But at the end of the day, he's had a great track record for power numbers the past three seasons, and he's a proven winner. I do recognize that his numbers have been dropping and his OBP was relatively low last season, but hey, that's why he's not a top 5 pick.
Rather than give my reasoning for each pick, I'll just show my team here:
C Victor Martinez (1B)
1B Ryan Howard
2B Mike Aviles (SS)
3B Aramis Ramirez
SS Stephen Drew
OF Carlos Beltran
OF Manny Ramirez
OF Justin Upton
Util Milton Bradley
Util Conor Jackson (1B, OF)
SP Dan Haren
SP Javier Vazquez
SP Ryan Dempster
SP Joe Saunders
RP Joe Nathan
RP Brian Wilson
RP Chad Qualls
RP Troy Percival
BN Pablo Sandoval (C, 3B, OF)
BN Ian Stewart (2B, 3B)
Note: Rajai Davis, Eric Byrnes, Wandy Rodriguez, and Dana Eveland have been excluded from the above list in order to make my draft look less sucky.)
Some years I feel pretty good after the draft. If I've accumulated nearly all of my targeted players and have seemingly built a team without any glaring weaknesses, then I'm happy. I don't think I've ever had a draft where I haven't second-guessed a pick immediately afterward, but I have had drafts where I felt that I did really well.
This year it was a mixed bag for me. On offense, I think we've got a great shot at putting up competitive power numbers. But my team is lacking in speed, and the past few champions have been very competitive in steals. I'm less happy with my pitching, but it might turn out okay. I could have done much worse than Haren as my #1 starter and Nathan as my #1 closer. But after those two guys, things get dicey. Maybe I should have reached for Matt Capps and Joakim Soria--especially Soria in a keeper league. Should I have taken Roy Oswalt instead of Vazquez? In hindsight, probably. But Vazquez will have more K's and who knows how he'll do in a new environment. (Plus I'm just now learning that Oswalt has been much healthier the past five seasons than I had realized.)
A few final comments on my team. I do think that I've drafted enough to be dangerous. If my team gets off to a hot start (and let's face it, any team could get off to a hot start), then more options will become available to me in the way of trades and/or knowing what I need to grab from the waiver wire. I also like the versatility of my team. For the infield, I have at least two players with eligibility at each position (C, 1B, 2B, 3B, SS). And with Victor Martinez as my catcher, he'll actually be playing a lot at 1B and DH. So not only will that mean he should tire out less, but his manager has gone on record saying he'll find a way to get Martinez in the lineup every day. (Here's hoping that come September I won't be -30 games at catcher.)
So who do I think had the best draft? Well, after reviewing the tape, I was startled to see the batting lineup of the Black Sox. My best chance at outdoing his offensive production might be to buy him off. But the Black Sox seemed less fortunate on the pitching side. As such, I've got to go with the Thugs. On paper, his team looks the best heading into this season. His starting pitching and bullpen are loaded, and it looks like he'll have enough on offense.
Let the games begin.