Fantasy Clicks
By Jay Clemons
Early Mock Madness
Ian Kinsler: Jim Cowsert/Icon SMI

Apparently, Divisional Playoff weekend in pro football also serves as the unofficial launching point for Mock Drafting season in fantasyland baseball. Or, maybe I'm just a year-round sucker for a way-too-early mock ... with a bunch of random people I've never met. Whatever the case, here are the results from my first mixed-league mock draft of 2010. For this 12-team league, I drew the 12th pick ... allowing for back-to-back selections 11 separate times:

Round 1 (No. 12): 2B Ian Kinsler, Rangers
Round 2 (No. 13 overall): 3B David Wright, Mets
Round 3: 1B Justin Morneau, Twins
Round 4: OF B.J. Upton, Rays
Round 5: SP Jon Lester, Red Sox
Round 6: SP Yovani Gallardo, Brewers
Round 7: RP Jonathan Broxton, Dodgers
Round 8: RP Joe Nathan, Twins
Round 9: SP Josh Beckett, Red Sox
Round 10: OF Michael Cuddyer, Twins
Round 11: OF Carlos Gonzalez, Rockies
Round 12: SP Chad Billingsley, Dodgers
Round 13: C Miguel Montero, Diamondbacks
Round 14: 3B Alex Gordon, Royals
Round 15: 2B Casey McGehee, Brewers
Round 16: OF Vernon Wells, Blue Jays
Round 17: OF Dexter Fowler, Rockies
Round 18: RP Frank Francisco, Rangers
Round 19: SS Everth Cabrera, Padres
Round 20: OF Julio Borbon, Rangers
Round 21: RP Daniel Bard, Red Sox
Round 22: C A.J. Pierzynski, White Sox
Round 23: SP Ricky Romero, Blue Jays

Verdict: With mixed leagues, I usually avoid pitching in the first five rounds, while trying to collect at least two outfield studs during that period. And yet, I started off with three infielders (Kinsler, Wright, Morneau) and then went pitcher-pitcher in Rounds 5/6 (Lester, Gallardo). Looking at the outfielders, I would need the Twins' Cuddyer to repeat his '09 production of 32 homers to compensate for the presumptive lack of power from Fowler, Borbon and probably Vernon Wells. Carlos Gonzalez and B.J. Upton are certainly wild cards in the power categories; but at the same time, both players possess realistic 20-25 potential. As for pitching on the whole ... even if Ricky Romero falls short of The Big Four (Lester, Gallardo, Beckett, Billingsley) this season, he's still an ideal No. 5 or 6 pitcher in fantasyland -- provided he stays healthy in Toronto ... and the Blue Jays don't audition 27 different arms for the starting rotation (more on that next week).

In Case You're Wondering ...

Here are the first 25 picks from last week's mock draft (5x5 rules):
1. 3B Alex Rodriguez, Yankees
2. 1B Albert Pujols, Cardinals
3. SS Hanley Ramirez, Marlins
4. 1B Mark Teixeira, Yankees
5. OF Ryan Braun, Brewers
6. 2B Chase Utley, Phillies
7. 1B Ryan Howard, Phillies
8. 1B Prince Fielder, Brewers
9. OF Matt Kemp, Dodgers
10. 1B Miguel Cabrera, Tigers
11. 3B Evan Longoria, Rays
12. 2B Ian Kinsler, Rangers (my pick)
13. 3B David Wright, Mets (my pick)
14. OF Carl Crawford, Rays
15. OF Matt Holliday, Cardinals
16. SP Tim Lincecum, Giants
17. SP Roy Halladay, Phillies
18. C Joe Mauer, Twins
19. SS Troy Tulowitzki, Rockies
20. OF Jacoby Ellsbury, Red Sox
21. SP Zack Greinke, Royals
22. OF Grady Sizemore, Indians
23. OF Justin Upton, Diamondbacks
24. SS Jimmy Rollins, Phillies
25. SP Felix Hernandez, Mariners

One Man's Throwaway Pick ... Is Another's Treasure

While thumbing through The Sporting News' 2009 fantasy baseball annual the other day (yes, I collect old fantasy mags, as sad as that sounds), I was blown away by the surprising number of supremely talented veterans that were taken after the 200th pick in TSN's official mixed-league mock draft: Trevor Hoffman (No. 202 overall), Adam Jones (207), Frank Francisco (225), Jered Weaver (228), Jorge Posada (232), Pablo Sandoval (236), Mark Buehrle (241), Heath Bell (244), Justin Upton (253), Ubaldo Jimenez (261) and Wandy Rodriguez (265).

Fast forward to 10 months later ... as it's impossible to believe that some fantasy owner unwittingly drafted his team MVP (Upton -- 26 HRs, 86 RBIs, 84 runs, 20 steals, .300 BA) after Jerry Hairston, Jr., Jeff Francoeur, Mark Ellis, Edgar Renteria, Ty Wigginton and Oliver Freaking Perez went off the board. And it's similarly stupefying that some random owner lucked into Wandy Rodriguez in Round 23 ... while Manny Corpas, Gavin Floyd, Brad Ziegler, Joel Zumaya and Armando Galarraga came flying off the shelves long before Wandy and his 0.75 ERA in five July starts last year.

All this brings to light one inescapable truth about drafting, regardless of prep time:
You will encounter one bust in the first four rounds. Citing the TSN published mock draft again, not one owner hit a proverbial home run in Rounds 1, 2, 3 and 4, value-wise. And no one could definitively argue they had selected the best player in every round (with the possible exception of Frank Neville getting Chase Utley, Mark Teixeira, Carlos Lee, Jason Bay). The lesson here for 2010: If your preferred stud is taken just seconds before your pick ... take a deep breath, maybe take a swig of beer and simply roll with the punches. Chances are your second choice is a stronger play than the first one.

On the flip side, it's possible to strike out on the first four picks and rally for a league title. Take Roger Kuznia, for example, from the TSN draft of 2009: With the 9th overall pick, Kuznia may have had the worst luck with his Big Four (Jose Reyes, Brandon Phillips, Brandon Webb, Magglio Ordonez) ... before being blessed with Troy Tulowitzki, Carl Crawford, Jon Lester, James Shields, Ryan Zimmerman and Justin Verlander in five of the next six rounds. He also drew good fortune from Round 16 or later -- usually the time when owners unwisely take shots in the dark untested rookies or unflattering "name" veterans -- with Huston Street, Frank Francisco and Jorge Posada. Amazingly, he had the foundation for a championship ... without a true franchise player from Rounds 1-4.

Catch A Rising Star

Here's our list of the top 15 catchers in 5x5 leagues (HRs, RBIs, batting average, steals, runs):
1. Joe Mauer, Twins
2. Brian McCann, Braves
3. Victor Martinez, Red Sox
4. Jorge Posada, Yankees
5. Miguel Montero, Diamondbacks
6. Matt Wieters, Orioles
7. Geovany Soto, Cubs
8. Russell Martin, Dodgers
9. Mike Napoli, Angels
10. Bengie Molina, Giants
11. Jesus Flores, Nationals
12. Kurt Suzuki, Athletics
13. A.J. Pierzynski, White Sox
14. Jarrod Saltalamacchia, Rangers
15. Kelly Shoppach, Rays
15b. John Buck, Blue Jays
Sleeper To Watch: Buster Posey, Giants

The Impetuousness Of Youth

It's a grim reality of fantasy baseball, folks: To win a roto-style championship in AL- or NL-only leagues, you must possess intimate knowledge ofbaseball's next wave of dynamic playmakers. To wit, here are the 23-or-under players who'll likely make the greatest fantasy impact:

1. SP Felix Hernandez, Mariners
2. OF Justin Upton, Diamondbacks
3. SP Clayton Kershaw, Dodgers
4. SS Elvis Andrus, Rangers
5. OF Andrew McCutchen, Pirates
6. SP Brett Anderson, Athletics
7. SP/RP Netfali Feliz, Rangers
8. OF Jay Bruce, Reds
9. OF/DH Travis Snider, Blue Jays
10. OF Desmond Jennings, Rays
11. SP Stephen Strasburg, Nationals
12. SP Brian Matusz, Orioles
13. SP Rick Porcello, Tigers
14. 1B Jason Heyward, Braves
15. SP Trevor Cahill, Athletics
16. OF Cameron Maybin, Marlins
17. SP Matt Latos, Padres
18. SP Chris Tillman, Orioles
19. SS Alcides Escobar, Brewers
20. SP Derek Holland, Rangers
21. RP Drew Storen, Nationals
22. RP Ryan Perry, Tigers
23. OF Gerardo Parra, Diamondbacks
24. 1B Justin Smoak, Rangers
25a. OF Austin Jackson, Tigers
25b. OF Michael Taylor, Athletics

For a detailed listing of each franchise's top 10 prospects (courtesy of Baseball America), click here.

Compare & Contrast

Here are three early projections (CBSSports.com, Fanball mag and The Sporting News) for Alex Rios, Nelson Cruz, Bobby Abreu, Johnny Damon, Curtis Granderson -- all of whom could easily finish the season with 20 or more steals:

Rios
CBSSports.com: 17 HRs, 75 RBIs, 66 runs, 25 steals, .268 BA
Fanball: 21 HRs, 82 RBIs, 89 runs, 27 steals, .276 BA
The Sporting News: 15 HRs, 68 RBIs, 64 runs, 22 steals, .268 BA

Cruz
CBSSports.com: 32 HRs, 81 RBIs, 75 runs, 19 steals, .255 BA
Fanball: 26 HRs, 83 RBIs, 71 runs, 13 steals, .273 BA
The Sporting News: 35 HRs, 86 RBIs, 88 runs, 18 steals, .273 BA

Abreu
CBSSports.com: 14 HRs, 86 RBIs, 81 runs, 22 steals, .289 BA
Fanball: 16 HRs, 79 RBIs, 98 runs, 26 steals, .293 BA
The Sporting News: 14 HRs, 98 RBIs, 94 runs, 28 steals, .290 BA

Damon
CBSSports.com: 17 HRs, 69 RBIs, 95 runs, 14 steals, .288 BA
Fanball: 32 HRs, 103 RBIs, 105 runs, 16 steals, .294 BA
The Sporting News: 20 HRs, 76 RBIs, 87 runs, 19 steals, .278 BA

Granderson
CBSSports.com: 27 HRs, 80 RBIs, 110 runs, 22 steals, .272 BA
Fanball: 25 HRs, 81 RBIs, 103 runs, 17 steals, .264 BA
The Sporting News: 25 HRs, 69 RBIs, 80 runs, 18 steals, .275 BA

Verdict: Hmmmm ... either the Fanball people are taking a pie-in-the-sky approach with the quintet, OR TSN and CBSSports.com are going out of their way to suppress expectations in the power categories (excluding Cruz). Either way, we're particularly drawn to Abreu, Cruz and Granderson -- especially if Grandy enters the neighborhood of 110 runs with the Yankees in 2010. Interestingly, Damon possesses the greatest capacity for across-the-board greatness (32 HRs, 103 RBIs, 105 runs, 16 steals, .294 BA), via Fanball. Of course, he'll need to sign with an actual Major League club to get the ball rolling.

Score One For The 6-Hole

Next up, the early, early listing of the top 15 shortstops:
1. Hanley Ramirez, Marlins
2. Jose Reyes, Mets
3. Jimmy Rollins, Phillies
4. Troy Tulowitzki, Rockies
5. Jason Bartlett, Rays
6. Derek Jeter, Yankees
7. Alexei Ramirez, White Sox
8. Elvis Andrus, Rangers
9. Yunel Escobar, Braves
10. Stephen Drew, Diamondbacks
11. Asdrubal Cabrera, Indians
12. Rafael Furcal, Dodgers
13. Jhonny Peralta, Indians
14. Mike Aviles, Royals
15. Alcides Escobar, Brewers
15b. Marco Scutaro, Red Sox
Sleeper To Watch: Everth Cabrera, Padres

I Don't Know's At Third Base

Last but not least ... the early top-15 listing of third basemen:

1. Alex Rodriguez, Yankees
2. Evan Longoria, Rays
3. David Wright, Mets
4. Mark Reynolds, Diamondbacks
5. Michael Young, Rangers
6. Chone Figgins, Mariners
7. Pablo Sandoval, Giants
8. Kevin Youkilis, Red Sox
9. Gordon Beckham, White Sox
10. Adrian Beltre, Red Sox
11. Aramis Ramirez, Cubs
12. Scott Rolen, Reds
13. Garrett Atkins, Orioles
14. Ryan Zimmerman, Nationals
15. Alex Gordon, Royals
Sleeper To Watch: Brett Wallace, Blue Jays

It's All About The Slot: #7

Some people consider the No. 7 pick in a 12-team draft as a two-hour exercise in futility. Basically sitting in No Man's Land for the whole process, powerless to control the proceedings ... while hoping that good value will consistently fall into your lap every 11th or 13th pick. Well, hath no fear or ambivalence ... because here's a great strategy for nailing your mixed-league draft when owning the 7th and 18th slots (and so on and so forth):

Round 1, Pick 7: Motive -- Best overall player
1st option: 1B Ryan Howard, Phillies ... 2nd option: 1B Mark Teixeira, Yankees

Round 2, Pick 18 overall: Motive -- Best outfielder or 5-category infielder
1st option: OF Matt Holliday, Cardinals ... 2nd option: 3B David Wright, Mets

Round 3, Pick 31 overall: Motive -- Best starting pitcher or outfielder
1st option: SP Zack Greinke, Royals ... 2nd option: OF Ichiro Suzuki, Mariners

Round 4, Pick 42 overall: Motive -- Best outfielder or power-hitting infielder
1st option: OF Nick Markakis, Orioles ... 2nd option: 1B Joey Votto, Reds

Round 5, Pick 55 overall: Motive -- Best starting pitcher
1st option: SP Felix Hernandez, Mariners ... 2nd option: OF Carlos Lee, Astros

Round 6, Pick 66 overall: Motive -- Best outfielder or top-ranked closer
1st option: OF Bobby Abreu, Angels ... 2nd option: RP Jonathan Papelbon, Red Sox

Round 7, Pick 79 overall: Motive -- Best high-end closer or middle infielder
1st option: RP Mariano Rivera, Yankees ... 2nd option: SS Jason Bartlett, Rays

Round 8, Pick 90 overall: Motive -- Best outfielder or flame-throwing starting pitcher
1st option: OF Andrew McCutchen, Pirates ... 2nd option: SP Yovani Gallardo, Brewers

Round 9, Pick 103 overall: Motive -- Best starting pitcher or high-end closer
1st option: SP Chad Billingsley, Dodgers ... 2nd option: 1B Billy Butler, Royals

Round 10, Pick 114 overall: Motive -- Best infielder or high-end closer
1st option: C Matt Wieters, Orioles ... 2nd option: RP Joakim Soria, Royals

Round 11, Pick 127: Motive -- Best corner infielder or starting pitcher
1st option: 3B Michael Young, Rangers ... 2nd option: SP Matt Garza, Rays

Round 12, Pick 138: Motive -- Best starting pitcher
1st option: SP Wandy Rodriguez, Astros ... 2nd option: SP Jair Jurrjens, Braves

Round 13, Pick 151: Motive -- Best power-hitting outfielder or starting pitcher
1st option: OF Michael Cuddyer, Twins ... 2nd option: SP Roy Oswalt, Astros

Round 14, Pick 162: Motive -- Best starting pitcher or speedy infielder
1st option: SP James Shields, Rays ... 2nd option: SS Elvis Andrus, Rangers

Round 15, Pick 175: Motive -- Best middle infielder or outfielder (emphasis on speed)
1st option: SS Elvis Andrus, Rangers ... 2nd option: RP Frank Francisco, Rangers

Round 16, Pick 186: Motive -- Best closer
1st option: RP Jose Valverde, Tigers ... 2nd option: RP Chad Qualls, Diamondbacks

Round 17, Pick 199: Motive -- Best available player
1st option: SP Kevin Slowey, Twins ... 2nd option: OF Juan Rivera, Angels

Round 18, Pick 210: Motive -- Best starting pitcher or outfielder
1st option: SP Brett Anderson, Athletics ... 2nd option: OF Drew Stubbs, Reds

Round 19, Pick 223: Motive -- Best closer or high-end rookie
1st option: RP Mike Gonzalez, Orioles ... 2nd option: C Miguel Montero, Diamondbacks

Round 20, Pick 234: Motive -- Best high-end rookie or closer
1st option: 1B Jason Heyward, Braves ... 2nd option: RP Jason Frasor, Blue Jays

Round 21, Pick 247: Motive -- Best outfielder or starting pitcher
1st option: OF Julio Borbon, Rangers ... 2nd option: SP Brandon Morrow, Blue Jays

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