Fantasy Baseball 2013: Draft Tips for How/When to Target Each Position

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Fantasy Baseball 2013: Draft Tips for How/When to Target Each Position
Jennifer Stewart/Getty Images
If only every fantasy owner could get a Ryan Braun.

This past Sunday marked St. Patrick's Day, and while most people were out enjoying the "festivities" and pretending to be Irish for a day, another very specific group of folks instead were inside, acting like shut-ins, staring at their computer screens and anxiously awaiting what to them was a more important event—draft day.

(Being of the latter breed myself, there will be no judgment here.)

With fantasy baseball drafts and auctions hitting peak time as we enter the final two weeks of spring training, let's review the best way to handle drafting at each lineup position based on depth and average draft position* (ADP).

Each position breakdown includes data from MockDraftCentral.com on the number of players being drafted on average in the first 60 picks, the first 120 picks and the first 180 picks—essentially, through Rounds 5, 10 and 15, respectively, in a 12-team league—to provide context and help owners know when to target specific positions.

 

Rich Pilling/Getty Images
Buster Posey won't come cheap on draft day.

CATCHER

Number Drafted in Top 60 Picks on Average: 6

Number Drafted in Top 120 Picks on Average: 10

Number Drafted in Top 180 Picks on Average: 15

What This Means: Drafting an elite catcher early can pay off, but it's very risky, especially if you target Buster Posey, who remains far and away the highest-drafted catcher. Going at the end of the first round and into the second in most 12-team leagues, Posey may be the reigning NL MVP, but you better be all-in to grab him that early.

Even in the early rounds, it's smart to find better value at this position, especially in formats that start only one backstop, as Carlos Santana and Joe Mauer are going three or four rounds later and offer premium upside. If you miss out on the first half-dozen or so by Round 5, there's always promising young talent like Jesus Montero and Salvador Perez or golden oldies coming back from injury like Victor Martinez and Brian McCann.

 

FIRST BASE

Number Drafted in Top 60 Picks on Average: 13

Number Drafted in Top 120 Picks on Average: 23

Number Drafted in Top 180 Picks on Average: 26

What This Means: First base is deep. And top-heavy. Not only will basically every owner draft at least two, but they'll have selected a starting first baseman before Round 5 is done. In other words: Get in on the action right away if you want the tip of the top tier, as Albert Pujols, Joey Votto and Prince Fielder all go in Round 1 or 2.

Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images
Is Paul Goldschmidt worth where he's going in drafts?

Otherwise, it's a pick-and-choose approach, depending on whether you prefer the tried and true path with one of, say, Adrian Gonzalez or Billy Butler, as opposed to an up-and-comer like Paul Goldschmidt (whose ADP of 20 is absolutely crazy), Anthony Rizzo or Freddie Freeman. Compared to those three, specifically, Eric Hosmer, who's going a few full rounds later and has the same potential, looks like he could return plenty of value, as long as he's over his sophomore slump.

Once your draft approaches the double-digit rounds, there are still some intriguing options, but guys like Adam LaRoche, Kendry Morales and Adam Dunn all have flaws and should be treated as backups at first or starters at utility.

 

SECOND BASE

Number Drafted in Top 60 Picks on Average: 4

Number Drafted in Top 120 Picks on Average: 9

Number Drafted in Top 180 Picks on Average: 10

Elsa/Getty Images
Robinson Cano has a first-round bat—and smile.

What This Means: It's very possible that at least two teams in a 12-team format may eschew second base until after Round 15. Going in Round 1, Robinson Cano is the Posey of second baseman, but he's worth it if you have a mid-first round selection.

After that, there's the Ian Kinsler-Dustin Pedroia-Jason Kipnis cluster that's lodged into the third or fourth round. Owners might be wiser to steer clear of this trio and instead focus on waiting two or three rounds and nabbing a Ben Zobrist, Aaron Hill or Jose Altuve, depending on category needs at that point.

If you're wondering who's that one keystoner sneaking into the Round 10-15 range, it's the under-appreciated Rickie Weeks, who was a batting-average anchor in 2012 but still holds a strong possibility of a 20-20 season.

 

THIRD BASE

Number Drafted in Top 60 Picks on Average: 8

Number Drafted in Top 120 Picks on Average: 9

Number Drafted in Top 180 Picks on Average: 15

What This Means: Like with first base, you need to grab your hot cornerman early, but there's quality depth between Rounds 2 and 5 if you want a stud for a starter. We all know Miguel Cabrera is easily one of the top three overall picks. After him, it's Adrian Beltre, David Wright and Evan Longoria—all of whom will be off the board by pick No. 20 or so—followed a round or two later by dealer's choice between Hanley Ramirez (bonus: also eligible at shortstop), Aramis Ramirez, Chase Headley and Ryan Zimmerman.

J. Meric/Getty Images
Is Brett Lawrie ready to join the elite third basemen in fantasy?

Stuck in the not-quite-elite-but-could-be range is Brett Lawrie, who is the only 3B to go off the board between Rounds 5 and 10. Meanwhile, if Pablo Sandoval (ADP: 131) can just stay healthy for once, he could be a steal if he's still available after that.


SHORTSTOP

Number Drafted in Top 60 Picks on Average: 4

Number Drafted in Top 120 Picks on Average: 8

Number Drafted in Top 180 Picks on Average: 10

Andy Lyons/Getty Images
Even Troy Tulowitzki is no longer a first-rounder.

What This Means: Short comes up, well, short. As third base echoes first base, so does shortstop mimic second base. Not every owner in a 12-team will bother drafting a shortstop by Round 15, as only 10 overall were selected by pick No. 180 on average. In addition, short is the only hitter position that doesn't have a real claim to a player who should be a first-round pick, as Troy Tulowitzki (injury-prone), Jose Reyes (new league, injury-prone), Hanley Ramirez (declining) and Starlin Castro (never been elite) all come with significant risks and/or questions. If you're feeling lucky, though, any one of those top four could be worth gambling on at the right time and place, given how shallow the position is.

If you don't want to worry about possibly wasting a premium pick, then simply wait and take your choice of Ben Zobrist in Round 6 or 7, or Jimmy Rollins or Asdrubal Cabrera around the 9th, 10th or 11th rounds. They don't have the same sheen as the top batch, but they're more than capable of providing above-average production at short.

 

OUTFIELD

Number Drafted in Top 60 Picks on Average: 17

Number Drafted in Top 120 Picks on Average: 35

Number Drafted in Top 180 Picks on Average: 50

What This Means: Outfield, as usual, is deep at first glance, but you should really divide the above numbers by three, since most leagues require at least that many starters. In that way, you see how important it is to obtain a couple do-it-all studs to anchor your lineup. Each of Ryan Braun, Mike Trout, Andrew McCutchen or Matt Kemp is well worth a first-round selection, but if you can't swing one of them, you should try doubling up by taking two straight outfielders or two in three rounds before the first 50 picks are through.

Lisa Blumenfeld/Getty Images
Mike Trout doing Mike Trout things.

After that, owners should use their other starting OF spot(s) to address category needs, because plenty of outfielders excel in a specific skill, whether it's Michael Bourn or Desmond Jennings (steals), Shin-Soo Choo or Hunter Pence (runs) or Nelson Cruz or Carlos Beltran (homers).

In the second half of drafts, outfield also becomes a prime area to target an under-the-radar type who can do a little of everything like Jayson Werth, Norichika Aoki and Carlos Gomez.

 

STARTING PITCHER

Number Drafted in Top 60 Picks on Average: 9

Number Drafted in Top 120 Picks on Average: 26

Number Drafted in Top 180 Picks on Average: 39

What This Means: There is a plethora of pitching these days, but if you want a true No. 1, you have to pay. All of Clayton Kershaw, Justin Verlander, Stephen Strasburg, Cliff Lee, David Price, Felix Hernandez and Cole Hamels will be gone anywhere from Round 1 to Round 4.

As with outfield, if you don't feel like ponying up for one of the above-mentioned pitchers, consider snatching two second-tier aces (think: Yu Darvish, Adam Wainwright, Gio Gonzalez, CC Sabathia) to make sure your rotation can hang with the owners who did.

Ronald Martinez/Getty Images
When you're building your fantasy rotation, you could do worse than Yu Darvish.

Just don't go overboard on arms early. You can easily take only one or two SPs in the first 10 rounds and still find quality, quantity and upside to fill out your staff in the latter half of the draft. In fact, by the end, you may wind up wishing there were a few more rounds so you could pick any number of starters still on the board.

 

RELIEF PITCHER

Number Drafted in Top 60 Picks on Average: 1

Number Drafted in Top 120 Picks on Average: 8

Number Drafted in Top 180 Picks on Average: 20

What This Means: Poor Craig Kimbrel, all by his lonesome in the first five rounds. You can argue he's worth it because of his insane stats, but in a standard 12-team format, it's hard to make up for bypassing a top-of-the-line starter or an elite bat just to ensure Kimbrel is yours—before pick No. 30.

Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images
Like a man on an island, Craig Kimbrel is all alone atop reliever ADPs in fantasy.

The tallies above do not take into account Aroldis Chapman, who is listed as an SP only and being drafted with pick No. 133 on average. But if you're treating him as a potential closer, and he returns to that role, that's extremely good value for a guy who was easily one of the three best RPs last year, along with Kimbrel and Fernando Rodney.

In the middle rounds, it's usually prudent to forgo an over-hyped closer and find a player who will impact more categories and with more weight. In other words, if you find yourself eyeing Jason Motte (ADP: 76) or Jonathan Papelbon (ADP: 78), shift your gaze elsewhere for a few turns, then when you glance back, you'll find, say, Tom Wilhelmsen, Sergio Romo and Greg Holland staring right back at you. Pluck a pair. You'll be fine.

 

Here is where you can find a more in-depth look at the ADPs ranked by position, including where specific players are being drafted on average, as well as the earliest and latest each player has been picked in recent drafts.

*All Average Draft Position (ADP) figures come from MockDraftCentral.com with reports from Monday, March 18.

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