Browsing simulated drafts yields a few mock surprises

ON FANTASY SPORTS

The Kickoff

March 01, 2007|By CHILDS WALKER

We all enter drafts with notions of where certain players should be picked. And it's human nature to be shocked when reality doesn't conform to those conceptions.

But you want to guard against that as much as possible because nothing's worse than being thrown into a haze of confusion mid-draft. You can never know exactly what your league mates will do, especially if you haven't played with them for years. But in this computerized age, you can study the most recent drafting tendencies for thousands of fantasy cohorts.

That will give you a pretty good idea where players might be picked and allow you to plot out some opportunities for pouncing on undervalued talent.

I turn to two sources for such research. ESPN.com keeps track of the average draft position for each player in all of its fantasy baseball drafts. Mockdraftcentral.com does the same for hundreds of faux drafts. A subscription to Mock Draft Central costs $2.99 a month, but they chart drafts on a weekly basis and filter out unrepresentative samples, so their data help you keep up with trends over the preseason.

I've sifted through the average picks for some early mock and real drafts and I already see some surprises and opportunities shaping up.

There aren't many shocks at the very top. Albert Pujols and Alfonso Soriano seem to be going first and second, and after his brilliant 2006, Mets shortstop Jose Reyes is falling just behind them.

Reyes strikes me as an interesting case. He might have the most upside of any player in the fantasy game, because he could hit .300 with excellent power for his position and lead the majors in steals. His incredible speed also limits his fantasy downside. On the other hand, he's had only one excellent season, and problems with plate discipline and sore hamstrings haunted him until recently.

So you could justify taking him first overall or dropping him below more proven commodities such as Johan Santana, Vladimir Guerrero and Alex Rodriguez. I don't think Reyes will explode past the numbers he posted last season, but they were good enough to justify his popularity. I think I'd take him second overall behind Pujols.

Ryan Howard is going in the top five of many drafts coming off his big 2006. I think he'll be great, but if I could grab an all-around threat such as Carl Crawford at that spot and then come back for a bopper such as Travis Hafner (averaging 17th overall) in the second round, I think I'd prefer that. Guys with tremendous speed and other excellent skills are much rarer than sluggers. And as great as Howard is, I don't think he's a sure bet to outproduce Hafner or Mark Teixeira. Those who picked Teixeira in the top five last year know what I'm talking about.

The second base pool features this year's biggest gap between the top guy, Chase Utley (a top 10 pick in most leagues), and the runner-up, Brian Roberts (going in the fifth or sixth round in mix leagues).

I love Utley, but I think you're giving up too much potential production if you take him over Guerrero or A-Rod or David Ortiz. I'd rather take Roberts' speed or Robinson Cano's average and burgeoning power five rounds later. Better yet, young second basemen such as Howie Kendrick and Ian Kinsler are falling a dozen or more rounds after Utley. Those are the guys I'd really target.

I was surprised to see Texas shortstop Michael Young falling to 37th on average. I'm not a huge fan, but his batting average, overall production and durability make him a good match for Miguel Tejada, who's going a round higher in most drafts. If that scenario were before me, I'd rather grab an outfielder such as Jason Bay or Bobby Abreu (assuming he's healthy) and come back around for Young.

There's also a big gap between Santana, who's going sixth on Mock Central, and the next pitcher, Chris Carpenter, who's going 28th. I've never been one to pick a pitcher in the first round, because they're all injury prone (well, except for Greg Maddux). Santana is a spectacular talent, but there's such a strong upper-middle class among the pitchers that I'll probably turn that way. John Lackey, C.C. Sabathia and Ben Sheets have been available six and seven rounds after Santana, and I'd be comfortable with one of them as my ace in a mixed league.

Jeremy Bonderman is going in the same range. I touted him in an earlier column, but that draft position suggests that many owners like him, so he won't be available at great value.

I was surprised to see Jered Weaver, a relatively unproven second-year guy, going above workhorses such as Curt Schilling and Dan Haren. I'd rather have Erik Bedard, who has better stuff and is going 38 spots lower. Milwaukee's Dave Bush seems a popular sleeper this spring, but he's only going 171st at Mock Central, so he still looks like a strong bargain.

childs.walker@baltsun.com

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