Whenever possible, I like to draft my fantasy teams as close to the start of the season as possible. In football, that means waiting until Labor Day weekend, or even the Tuesday or Wednesday before the now-traditional Thursday night kickoff. In baseball, that generally means drafting this upcoming weekend. Why wait so long? Two words: Ken Griffey.
That probably requires some explaining, but not if you've owned Griffey before. For years, he would go as one of the top players in our drafts, only to tweak a hammy or an ankle during one of the late, meaningless spring training games. In fairness, I can only really remember it happening to "The Kid" once, but it happened to a big-name player almost every year -- so we moved our draft to as late a date as possible.
We solved that problem as best as we could -- but it's increased the chance of another issue: when a player you are targeting starts to light it up in spring training, drawing the attention of the rest of your league. Hoping that no one values Ricky Nolasco as much as you do? Then his combined no-hitter with Leo Nunez and Dan Meyer last week was actually bad news for you. Thinking your AL-only league might not appreciate the potential value Mike Jacobs brings to the Royals? The fact that he's knocked six homeruns this spring only reduces that chance. The same goes for stolen base leaders like Michael Bourn and Carl Crawford, whose 2008 seasons reduced their 2009 draft value -- unless others in your league trust the spring statistics. I'm personally quite high on Nationals starting pitcher Jordan Zimmerman, but I know that if he continues to fight for the lead in spring training strikeouts, he'll command a much higher value than a week or two ago.
It's worth stating that, in general, it's important not to pay too much attention to those spring training stats. Regardless of how well Jacobs does in Kansas City, he's not a real threat to challenge for the HR title this season -- especially since he's probably splitting time with Ryan Shealy. Cubs outfielder Micah Hoffpauir's hot spring (featuring a league-leading 19 RBI) may gain him a spot on the major league roster, but the 29 year-old career minor-leaguer is unlikely to earn a similar spot on anyone's fantasy bench. A hot young pitcher, an exceptional stolen base thief or a veteran who appears rejuvenated -- these guys are worth paying some attention.
There are some other things that are hard to miss. For instance, did you know that the Milwaukee Brewers have a player named -- wait for it -- Brent Brewer? He's no threat to start the season with the big club, but seriously? That's fairly awesome.
You know what really isn't so great? This season of 24. When you can predict the "shocking" twists and turns a full episode or two in advance, it's time for a fresh writing staff. I'm just saying. Also, if Jack Bauer could actually speak in a normal tone of voice for more than 15 seconds, that would be great. Seriously -- he's either yelling or talking in a stage whisper, and I spend half the show adjusting the volume on my TV.
Here's a question: Did you draft either Kevin Gregg or Carlos Marmol, but not both? Good times, because manager Lou Piniella said he'll "flip a coin" to decide who will actually be the closer. For those of us not in the clubhouse, it seems like Marmol is the better arm, but the Cubs have seemed intent on not giving him that job for one reason or another. It's possible that one of them will emerge as the main guy, and on a team like the Cubs, even a shared committee could lead to decent totals for each. But yet again, it's a good reason to wait as long as possible before drafting.
I previously said that I'd give you a list of guys I like. For those who have already drafted, consider this a list you can hold me to at season's end. For those waiting to draft until this weekend, enjoy. These are folks who I think will substantially exceed their draft cost.
Josh Johnson, Ricky Nolasco, Mike Pelfrey, John Maine, Javier Vasquez, Jair Jurjjens, Derek Lowe and Tommy Hanson -- if he makes the team. (I might even take Hanson if he starts in the minors, as he's worth stashing if you have the room. And yes, I just named 80 percent of the Braves potential starting rotation. What the heck -- I'll take Tom Glavine too.) Other pitchers I wouldn't mind owning who aren't going to cost an arm and a leg: Wandy Rodriguez, Johnny Cueto, Ubaldo Jimenez, Jordan Zimmerman, Max Scherzer and, as a rule, any young pitcher who averages close to or more than a strikeout per inning.
As for batters, here are a few names I would absolutely love to buy for the right price: Joey Votto, Jay Bruce, Edwin Encarnacion, Willy Taveras (you can't ignore 50-plus steals), Justin Upton, Jeremy Hermida, Raul Ibanez, Jayson Werth, Ryan Ludwick, Rick Ankiel, Corey Hart and whoever wins the Giants second base job -- as long as its not Kevin Fransden. Yes, I know I have a bit of a Cincinnati Reds "problem," but they have a ton of players I flat-out love.
And yes, these are all National League players. Sorry, but that's just my focus right now as I'm prepping for my NL-only draft. Do I think these guys will all be studs this year? No. I think the odds of more than one or two actually being a stud is pretty meager. But I think they'll deliver more value than you'd have to pay to get them -- and those are the guys who win you titles.
Next week, I'll eat some humble pie and break down my team. In the meantime, enjoy the drafts you have left, and good hunting.