Tuesday officially kicked off fantasy baseball season for me, as I too participated in Sportsline's NL-only 5x5 expert (or "expert", if you prefer) league, carrying the banner for Rotowire.com. This isn't just a mock draft -- with people I actually know involved, including Will and Elias' Rob Tracy, there are some hard-core bragging rights on the line.
I also wound up with my most loathed of drafting spots, the second overall pick. Why most loathed? Well, aside from the makeup of the NL talent pool for 2006 (there's Pujols, and then a bunch of guys in a clump behind him) making most of the first round a wash in terms of the caliber of player you get, I also hate going so long without being able to draft anyone. Getting stuck down at one end of the snake or the other invariably means you are forced to take guys you want a little earlier than they're probably worth, because otherwise you get to watch someone else take them in the 20 or so picks that come off the board (it's a 12 team league) before your turn comes around again.
Here's who I ended up nabbing, with comments as necessary:
#2 Rotowire.com David Wright (3B NYM)
My first dilemma was sorting through that mass behind Pujols. Abreu was the first guy I thought of, but I quickly moved away from him. I just have a feeling he's going to start sliding this year -- not in batting average, which will probably rebound back to his usual .300 or so, but in steals. Bobby's in his 30s now, and at the age where the 'speed' part of the power/speed combo starts to go. I could have played it safe with a Derrek Lee or Andruw Jones, but I wasn't comfortable with either -- in both cases, last year's stat line has regression to the mean written all over it. That left me looking at two young studs whose best days should still be ahead of them, starting in 2006: Miguel Cabrera, and David Wright.
Cabrera offered a better track record, and position flexibility (OF and 3B). On the down side, the offense around him has been gutted, and he's got no proven major league hitters to either drive him in, or get on base for him to drive in. Hermida, Jacobs, Willingham etc. could end up being very good, but Cabrera could just as easily hit 40 home runs, and only get 90 RBI. That's a lot of risk for the #2 pick.
Wright hasn't established himself yet the way Cabrera has, but did have two things going for him: steals, and a much better lineup around him. True five-category third basemen are a rarity, and it was hard to pass one up... and so, in the end, I didn't.
#23 Rotowire.com Ben Sheets (P MIL)
#26 Rotowire.com Ryan Howard (1B PHI)
#47 Rotowire.com Ken Griffey (OF CIN)
#50 Rotowire.com Brandon Webb (P ARI)
All these picks came when I was at a doctor's appointment that couldn't be re-scheduled, and were auto-picked from the players I had queued up in the draft room. I blame no one but myself for forgetting that Sheets still has some concerns about the torn muscle in his back... in retrospect I should have had Oswalt, the safer choice, ahead of him in my queue.
Howard I'm comfortable with that early -- if he's an overdraft, he's only a slight one, and if he puts up the numbers everyone keeps expecting from Adam Dunn he'll be an outright steal at that spot. Griffey was the best of what was left in the OF, and considering how things went when I got back I'm glad I got him. Webb I took ahead of John Patterson, and deliberately. I think the improvements made in the Arizona defense behind him (specifically the addition of Orlando Hudson) will have a bigger impact than people expect. Look at the numbers Josh Towers and Gustavo Chacin put up for the Blue Jays last year despite their peripherals, then tell me a guy like Webb can't do them one or two better.
#71 Rotowire.com Ryan P. Freel (2B CIN)
#74 Rotowire.com Matt Cain (P SF)
#95 Rotowire.com Brad Hawpe (OF COL)
#98 Rotowire.com Brian McCann (C ATL)
#119 Rotowire.com Josh Willingham (C FLA)
Freel I grabbed because when I looked around at who came off the board while I was gone both steals, and middle infielders, were getting thin. After that comes four picks of exactly the kind I described above -- players I wanted, who were somewhere in the next couple dozen names on my list, and who I didn't think would be there when it got back to me. Hawpe was the biggest reach, but outfielders had gotten shockingly thin at that point in the draft as well.
I am inordinately happy with my catchers though. I'm usually the guy who punts catcher in these things, so getting two guys who can actually, y'know, hit back there is kinda novel.
One thing taking McCann and Willingham cost me, though, is a shortstop. I had my eye on Bill Hall, but figured taking two catchers back to back might set off a positional run. Instead I got to watch Hall go at #120, before the snake turned the corner and got back to me. D'oh! No problem, I thought to myself, I'll just take J.J. Hardy instead. But first I'll shore up my pitching staff, since surely Hardy won't go any earlier than... #130, apparently. Double d'oh.
Enter Adam "at least I'll get a few steals" Everett as my starting SS. Oh boy.
#146 Rotowire.com Ryan Madson (P PHI)
#167 Rotowire.com Chris Duffy (OF PIT)
#170 Rotowire.com Eric Byrnes (OF ARI)
#191 Rotowire.com Wilson Betemit (SS ATL)
Betemit, given my needs at that point, is a pick I really like. He can cover both my CI and MI spots, which gave me the flexibility to take some chances later on Hart, Hairston, Izturis, Baker and Miles -- if Betermit is at least decent I don't need more than one or two of those guys to pan out. Positional flexibility is far more valuable in deep drafts than most people realize.
#194 Rotowire.com Kip Wells (P PIT)
He could rebound -- hey, why not? At this point in a draft, any starting pitcher with reasonable upside looks pretty darn good.
#215 Rotowire.com Corey C. Hart (OF MIL)
He's either be a steal, if he gets 300-400 at bats, or a waste of a pick. I thought I needed to take some chances on offense though.
#218 Rotowire.com Damaso Marte (P PIT)
The lack of closers on my roster should be glaring by now, but they always go far too early in 5x5 drafts for me to waste my time with. I'll take my chances on caddies and longshots like Marte, Sanchez, Bruney, and Resop, plus whoever I can grab off the waiver wire, to keep me out of the basement in the saves category.
#239 Rotowire.com Scott Hairston (2B? ARI)
#242 Rotowire.com Duaner Sanchez (P NYM)
#263 Rotowire.com Cesar Izturis (SS LA)
Probably too early, given how long Izturis will still be out for, but the gaping hole in my middle infield was making me nervous.
#266 Rotowire.com Brian Bruney (P ARI)
#287 Rotowire.com Jeff Baker (2B COL)
I'm shocked I got Baker, quite frankly. Every Rockie who should have reminded folks in the draft that he was still out there (Ian Stewart, Quintanilla, even Jorge Piedra) went between picks #266 and #287. I even commented via sitemail to Rob Tracy that Bruney had been a mistake pick, and would cost me a guy I really wanted. I'm glad I was wrong.
#290 Rotowire.com Aaron Miles (2B STL)
#311 Rotowire.com Matthew Cepicky (OF FLA)
Another guy I like late. Someone has to play in the outfield for the Marlins, after all.
#314 Rotowire.com Jon Rauch (P WAS)
#335 Rotowire.com John Mabry (OF CHC)
Hopefully Mabry will be Dusty's designated "veteran who robs deserving kids like Matt Murton of playing time." I mean, you know he'll have one...
#338 Rotowire.com Jason J. Ellison (OF SF)
#359 Rotowire.com Chris Resop (P FLA)
And someone has to close for the Marlins too.
All in all, comparing it to the other 11 rosters, I think I'm in decent shape -- unlike last year, when I stubbornly refused to take part in an early starting pitching run and wound up with Greg Maddux as my 'ace', this year's roster didn't immediately make me think "Ninth place, here I come!" (I actually finished in seventh, three spots ahead of Will, but who's counting?)