In looking back at the results of our 100-plus drafts in the National Fantasy Baseball Championship, I went through several rounds of the draft and saw where ONE SEAT was the difference between a winning selection and a losing selection. Here's a look at a few of those rounds and the tough decisions that went into each pick. Maybe you can relate to these experiences as well.
1st Round -- Chase Utley vs. Jimmy Rollins: Coming off an MVP season in which he hit .296 with 30 homers, 94 RBIs and 41 stolen bases, Rollins was the logical choice ahead of Utley and his Average Draft Position (ADP) in NFBC drafts was 6, with Utley going 8th overall on average. Well, Rollins has had a very disappointing season (.277-8-40) despite stealing 29 bases in just 92 games, while Utley is an MVP candidate in 2008, hitting .286 with 28 homers, 78 RBIs and 10 stolen bases. Those fantasy owners who grabbed Utley are in much better shape than the Rollins owners right now.
2nd Round -- Lance Berkman vs. Carlos Beltran: No fewer than eight outfielders were picked in the second round this year and none of them can top Berkman, who may have even fallen into the third round. He has been better than Alfonso Soriano, B.J. Upton, Vladimir Guerrero, Ichiro Suzuki and Beltran. Berkman's ADP in the NFBC was 26, one spot behind Beltran. While Beltran hasn't been bad (.274 with 16 HRs, 76 RBIs and 17 stolen bases), Berkman has just been so much better (.334-22-78-15). The added speed numbers, the increase in runs (92) and the chance for a batting title make Berkman the best second round value of 2008.
3rd Round -- Corey Hart vs. Troy Tulowitzki: The Rockies sensational sophomore was a hot pick on Draft Day, going 33rd overall, with Hart going two picks later. Tulowitzki has played a big part in the demise of any fantasy team that has him; you can't lose a pick that high for an extended period. He's been on the DL twice and has played in only 58 games, although at least he's showing some signs of life in the last three weeks. Hart started slowly, but has settled down and could challenge for a 30-30 season (.284-17-69 with 19 stolen bases). The Hart owners are the big winners here.
4th Round -- Anyone vs. Eric Byrnes: Like Tulowitzki in the third round, Byrnes was the fantasy landmine in the fourth round. After stealing 50 bases in '07 with 21 HRs and 83 RBIs, Byrnes was a legitimate Top-50 pick even though you knew the stolen bases would decrease. But nobody expected a season of .203-6-23 with four stolen bases, did they? To top it off, he suffered two hamstring injuries that have him on the DL for the rest of the season. His ADP was 47 and two spots later you could have had Carlos Guillen (.287-9-53-8) or even OF Chris Young (.233-15-56-8). Either pick would have been more productive than Byrnes.
5th Round -- Justin Verlander vs. CC Sabathia: It's hard to believe now, but Verlander went ahead of Sabathia on Draft Day '08. His ADP was 57 and Sabathia went two picks later on average. It's a runaway victory for Sabathia, especially during his last eight outings with Milwaukee. He's been unhittable recently and is 12-8 overall with a 3.11 ERA, 1.13 WHIP and 175 strikeouts. Verlander has been a major disappointment, although he's improved recently, going 8-12 with a 4.56 ERA, 1.27 WHIP and 121 strikeouts.
I could play this game for all 30 rounds if the space warranted it, but I think you get my point. I'll look at the later rounds in a future column, but it's time to look forward, not backwards. Keep battling for a league title and at season's end you can second-guess your Draft Day choices.
It was a very slow week for minor-league call-ups and even players who were promoted. Here's a quick look at the best rookies to grab for the upcoming week:
Gio Gonzalez, SP, Oakland: The No. 1 prospect of the White Sox before being traded to Oakland this summer in the Nick Swisher deal, Gonzalez lost his MLB debut on Wednesday but impressed some folks with his good stuff. The 22-year-old lefty was a '04 first-round pick who started this season at Triple-A Sacramento and went 8-7 with a 4.24 ERA and 128 strikeouts in 123 innings. He doesn't possess a dominant fastball, but it moves so much that he finishes with a lot of strikeouts and gets a lot of groundball outs. In his MLB debut, he pitched six innings and gave up four earned runs on four hits and two walks with six strikeouts. He's here to stay and is a worthy pickup in AL-only leagues and even in mixed leagues. He's going to be good and the A's are definitely setting up a strong, young nucleus of players for a playoff push in 2009.
Luis Montanez, OF, Baltimore: With Adam Jones possibly out for the season, the Orioles promoted Montanez from Double-A Bowie to be their fourth outfielder. Jay Payton will start in center, but it's possible that Montanez could get a look there as well. Montanez was the third overall pick of the 2000 draft by the Chicago Cubs, but he's now 26 and no longer a top prospect. The Orioles chose not to promote him to Triple-A even though he was dominating at Bowie, hitting .335 with 26 homers, 97 RBIs and 90 runs in 116 games. He's not a worthy fantasy pickup at this point, but watch his situation down the stretch nonetheless.
Wladimar Balentien, OF, Seattle: Back for his second stint with the Mariners, Balentien should get steady at-bats at DH and in the outfield. Since his recall on Aug. 5, he's hit in every game and added a homer on Friday night. From July 1 on, he hit .304 with 10 homers at Triple-A Tacoma. He's a risky pickup, but with Jose Vidro being waived this week the DH spot is open and Balentien should have no problem filling it.
Anthony Reyes, SP, Cleveland: Cut by the Cardinals last month and resurrected by the Indians, Reyes looked like a new pitcher this week during his AL debut. He picked up the win on Friday against Toronto, limiting the Blue Jays to one run on seven hits and one walk with four strikeouts. He has a lot of talent and may be a worthy gamble down the stretch for your fantasy team.
The Diamondbacks suffered a major blow on Saturday when Orlando Hudson suffered a bad wrist injury. They are now forced to go with a platoon of Augie Ojeda and Chris Burke or make a trade for a veteran second baseman. Neither Ojeda nor Burke are good fantasy options, but keep an eye on Ojeda if he gets most of the playing time.
Eddie Guardado suddenly has fantasy value as the new closer in Texas, while Aaron Heilman will have another week of saves with the Mets while Billy Wagner is on the DL. J.J. Putz is back in the closer's role in Seattle, while Brandon Morrow has been sent to the minors to convert back to a starter. Yikes. In Oakland, Brad Ziegler continues to throw shutout innings -- 37 to start his career -- and could get a look as the closer soon. He's had an amazing run and it could just get better if they give him Huston Street's job.
It's possible that if Tampa promotes hot prospect David Price to the majors, it will be in a relief role rather than for the starting rotation. That would make his fantasy value less appealing, but think of him more in the role of what Joba Chamberlain had last year for the Yankees. Right now, he just keeps cruising along at Double-A Mobile as he's 11-0 in 15 starts between Mobile and Vero Beach with a 1.87 ERA, 1.01 WHIP and 92 strikeouts in 91.2 innings.
Good luck this week and remember to make good decisions with your rosters.