Never too early to prep for draft

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From the Super Bowl to the end of February, there isn't much to get excited about in the sports world. The NBA and NHL are in midseason. March Madness is still a month away. Spring training is a mirage when there's a blizzard outside your window. It's the real reason Sports Illustrated invented the swimsuit issue.

Normally, I would have spent this idle time preparing for fantasy baseball. I'd pore over every baseball article looking for any nugget of useful information. I'd participate in mock drafts. I'd make spreadsheets with complicated formulas. I could tell you the starting rotation for the Washington Nationals. In other words, I was deeply committed.

But last month, Olympic fever hit me. I was distracted by speed skating, figure skating, skiing, ski jumping, bobsledding, luge, curling and US-Canada hockey. I'm more familiar with Julia Mancuso, Lindsey Vonn and Kim Yu-Na than any Oakland A's outfielder. The closest thing to a baseball article I read was a piece by Perez Hilton gossiping about Matt Kemp and Rihanna.

If you're behind like me, I suggest you start by looking at projected depth charts. With so many players switching teams these days, it's not easy to keep up. I notice the Yankees said goodbye to outfielders Johnny Damon and Hideki Matsui (instant downgrades) and welcomed OF Curtis Granderson, 1B/DH Nick Johnson and SP Javier Vazquez (upgrades). SP Roy Halladay moves to Philadelphia's band box but he should stay unhittable with his sinker, and I like 2B/3B Placido Polanco in that potent Phillies lineup.

I try to get to know every team: the Braves signed 3B Troy Glaus to play first base (until he gets hurt), SS Orlando Cabrera is in Cincinnati (his seventh team in seven seasons), C Jason Kendall is with the Royals (somebody has to care) and OF Juan Pierre has a shot to play every day with the White Sox. I definitely won't be drafting Grandpa Randy Johnson, who finally retired. My spreadsheets are cooking now.

Next, I rejoin my circle of fantasy baseball friends, most of whom I haven't communicated with since September. Now is a good time to go over the rules. Some leagues value pitching over hitting. Some overvalue saves and undervalue steals. Is the league a traditional 5x5 or points-based? Will players be auctioned off? Are there any keepers? Are rosters NL-only, AL-only or mixed? If you have no idea what I'm talking about, ask your commissioner for a quick tutorial. The point here is you can't win a poker tournament if you think a straight beats a flush.

You should also come up with a draft strategy. Which players are you willing to reach for early in the draft? I like Pirates OF Andrew McCutchen, Orioles OF Adam Jones and C Matt Wieters, White Sox 2B/SS Alexei Ramirez, Braves SP Tommy Hanson and Nationals SP Stephen Strasburg (for keeper leagues only).

Which players will you avoid no matter how far they fall? I'm steering clear of Red Sox DH David Ortiz, Indians closer Kerry Wood, Reds 3B Scott Rolen, A's SP Ben Sheets, Mariners OF Milton Bradley and any Padres starter.

The worst thing you can do is be indecisive. I once competed in a league primarily populated by doctors, so we couldn't do a live draft (I guess saving lives was more important). We shamefully had to page one doctor in the E.R. because he took all day to make his picks.

For the sake of your draft mates (and your patients), please make quick decisions.

Another bad strategy is banking on one team. My buddy Don, a Pittsburgh Steelers fan, decided to build his fantasy football squad around his favorite players. He grabbed QB Ben Roethlisberger, RB Jerome Bettis, RB Duce Staley, WR Hines Ward, WR Antwaan Randle-El, K Jeff Reed and the Pittsburgh defense. The good news: the Steelers won the Super Bowl that year. The bad news: his fantasy team finished in dead last.

Finally, don't throw a tantrum at the end of your draft because you didn't get who you wanted, and then threaten to quit. Unlike football, there is plenty of time to make up for a bad draft with smart trades and waiver wire gems. But with a little preparation now, and a few savvy spread spreadsheets, you shouldn't have any excuses.