When it comes to drafting a fantasy baseball team, you can never study too much or get too much practice. With that in mind, 10 of Sports Illustrated's baseball and fantasy experts sat down and held our own fantasy baseball mock draft. Below, we break down the draft round-by-round, with a self-assessment from each owner, some observations and more. Be sure to check out the rest of our fantasy baseball draft prep content, including the Top 300, printable cheat sheets by ranking and position and more.
This draft is for a 10-team 5x5 mixed head-to-head league with 17 starters -- one catcher, one first baseman, one second baseman, one shortstop, one third baseman, one utility player, three outfielders, five starting pitchers and three relief pitchers. For this mock draft, we did not draft a bench, since we simply wanted to analyze starters.
• Clayton Kershaw was the first pitcher off the board with the fifth overall pick, but as a whole, pitchers went relatively late in this draft. We were drafting for only a 10-team league, and with the depth of pitchers this year, that leaves quite a bit to go around. However, the No. 1 relief pitcher, Craig Kimbrel, was drafted with the first pick of the fifth round, No. 41 overall -- right around his average draft position. But remember, this is a 10-team league, and relief pitchers come cheap in fantasy.
• The first Miami Marlin (Jose Fernandez) was drafted in the third round with the 30th overall pick, while the first member of the defending NL champion St. Louis Cardinals was drafted just one pick prior. However, by the end of the draft, nine Cardinals had been drafted, while only three Marlins were on rosters. But that's not the team with the most players or the fewest players drafted -- those honors go to the Washington Nationals, with ten players drafted, and the Minnesota Twins, with just two players drafted.
• Many fantasy owners have been wondering when to target Masahiro Tanaka. In our draft, the Yankees rookie went in the 11th round with the the 109th overall pick, after starting pitchers Alex Cobb, Hyun-Jin Ryu, Sonny Gray and James Shields, and before Andrew Cashner, Shelby Miller and Danny Salazar. Keep that in mind during your draft.
After landing the No. 1 overall pick, taking Mike Trout was a no-brainer. In a larger format, I'd consider Miguel Cabrera ahead of Trout based on position scarcity, since the outfield position is much deeper than the third base position. When the draft came back to me, I was happy to draft David Wright and Justin Verlander. I was even happier that Felix Hernandez was still available in Round 4. I couldn't pass up Albert Pujols in the eighth round despite his injury risk, and drafting Michael Wacha, one of the young pitchers I targeted, was a boost to my team. Add in steals-specialist Billy Hamilton, and I'm very happy with this team.
The second pick was obvious -- once Mike Trout was off the board, I snatched up two-time defending MVP Miguel Cabrera. In the second round, I knew I had to follow Beller's strategy of drafting a first baseman early, especially since Edwin Encarnacion was the only top-tier first baseman remaining. I drafted a pitcher a little earlier than I would have liked to; however, I wasn't impressed by any of the players on the board at the time, and I knew that with our snake-draft format, 16 players would be off the board before I was able to draft again. In Round 7, I reached a bit for Rays' Ben Zobrist, but I couldn't resist his eligibility at multiple positions. Like pretty much everyone else in this draft, I waited on drafting my pitchers, and may have waited even longer if we were drafting a full bench.
I went into the draft knowing I'd prioritize offense. That's my default position, and that inclination only becomes stronger in a 10-team league where there will be plenty of starting pitchers to go around. That strategy paid off in my opinion. I think I lap the field in terms of offense. Eight of my nine hitters could conceivably end the season in the top five at their respective positions -- at least three are favored to do so -- and I was still able to build a staff fronted by Max Scherzer with tons of strikeout upside.
This team would stand a decent chance winning the league wrestling title, perhaps a weightlifting competition (though Uehara might bring our scores down), but the roster itself is going to need some tidying up. I was burned by "the pick before" in the first few rounds -- I wanted Goldschmidt, but I certainly can live with CarGo's versatility. I wanted Tulowitzki in the third, and ended up with Posey. The strengths of my team lie in the rotation, as I would likely be near the top of the league in ERA and WHIP. My money picks are in the middle rounds. Cespedes let fantasy owners down last year, but is primed for a breakout of his sophomore slump. Matt "Big Mayo" Adams has a full-time job at first now and could hit 30 HRs. I mean, haven't you seen him stand in the box?
There's age here, but serious breakout potential as well. I might have overdrafted Bryce Harper but figured that was a gamble I could live with. Carlos Santana's potential position flexibility (he's eligible at catcher and first base and could qualify at third during the season) and likelihood of playing 150 games boosted his value for me. Aramis Ramirez turns 36 in June but strikes me as a sleeper at third base. Kuroda and Lohse lack strikeouts but provide reliably low ERAs and WHIPs. Revere was purely a play for steals, drafted over Brett Gardner because he's five years younger and Gardner's injury history is problematic. I'm very happy with my pitching staff and feel as though I at least have a quality bat at every position, a good starting point for a long season.
Generally, hitting is more reliable than pitching, so my strategy was to load up on offense and find just enough solid hurlers to stay competitive on the mound. Early, the focus was on best available talent, and with Andrew McCutchen and Yasiel Puig, my team started with a nice combination of power and speed -- and some wow factor in case things go bad. While the others hit upon the elite hurlers, I tried to account for the relative scarcity of elite options around the infield and grab proven producers. That left pitching, and while it's unlikely my club will finish atop any of those categories, the starting staff hopefully will keep things close across the board. Most veteran owners will rightfully wait on closers, but in getting Greg Holland and Rafael Soriano, as well as potential Orioles stopper Tommy Hunter, I'm feeling good about saves, and may even have some depth to trade.
I chose to snatch up some quality starting pitching earlier than I should have. With three lineup spots for relief pitchers, I knew I wanted a decent RP/SP in one of those slots, hopefully, helping me get the edge in four of the five pitching categories every week. In retrospect, I should've punted saves altogether and gone with ALL RP/SP-eligible pitchers, like Drew Smyly, Tyson Ross and Hector Santiago. I was also happy to draft David Ortiz, as other worried about position eligibility. His power, combined with a high BA and OBP, in place of runs, should be a huge asset to my team.
You could argue that Fielder and Bautista were reaches in rounds two and three, but both have real 40-home run potential, and in this day and age, that kind of power is extremely valuable. I also like that pair after taking Ellsbury as my first rounder. Love where I got Pedroia, Reyes, and Donaldson; hate that I didn't take Jose Abreu in Round 10. I'm glad that I waited on starting pitching: Latos, Cain, Greinke, Hamels (if healthy) all have a chance to be elite. Not quite as high on Salazar as some, but as a fifth starter, I'm happy to take a chance on him.
In a league this shallow, going for pitching early felt like a waste. I decided I'd rather lock up the shallow positions (shortstop and first base) with the top options in Ramirez and Votto. Hanley is a risky choice given his health issues, but so is the other best shortstop available in Tulowitzki, and with the second-to-last pick, top-flight players at either SS or 1B weren't going to be around on the second pass. I've bet heavily on Brian McCann bouncing back at Yankee Stadium, which is risky, but if he pans out, I'll have production matched only by Buster Posey at a cheaper price. One regret: Steals are going to be a problem, with only Gomez as a reliable base-stealing option. But power and RBIs will be in heavy supply, with enough surplus to move for pitching help or steals if need be.
After drafting Ryan Braun at No. 11 overall and snagging underrated shortstop Everth Cabrera in the 8th round, I nearly picked Nelson Cruz to finish my outfield trip, but that would have required a name change to the Biogenesis Bunch. In short, I don't think there'll be much loss in performance from that group. Overall, I was thrilled with my five-man, 28-and-under rotation of Fernandez, Bumgarner, Gonzalez, Cashner and Moore, as it's smart to bet young on the mound. I may be a little light on speed but should mash enough homers and RBIs to compensate.