A fantasy baseball draft is supposed to be fun. If you're not ready, though, participating in a draft can be a bit like taking a test without studying.
Whether you simply forgot to prep or just didn't have time to, you'd still prefer to avoid walking away from your draft feeling like a high-schooler who just failed a calc' final. Consider this five-minute guide your quick-and-dirty study session to help you cram for—and pass—that fast-approaching draft.
Find a source whose fantasy analysis and advice you trust and print out a copy of the rankings. It's especially helpful to have both an overall rankings list (read: top 300 players) as well as rankings by position. This way, you can easily identify your next targets by either overall talent and value or by position need.
Here are a few recommended options:
MLB Top 300 (and then some)
The key, then, is not to stray too far from the list you choose. If you really like a certain player who's ranked a little lower than you think he should be, take him when you think it's right; but don't start looking to pick players ranked in the 100s when it's still Round 3.
Separate from the overall and position rankings. It's always helpful to have handy a list of names, by position, of underrated players you want to take. Call them sleepers, call them overlooked, call them dark horses—whatever. Just write them down ahead of time.
When your brain is starting to shut down near Round 17, instead of panicking and trying to access the recesses of your noodle-souped noggin to remember the name of that guy on that team you really, really wanted to take...you can calmly and quickly find a few options. Believe me, you don't need to end up flummoxed, running out of time and resigned to simply selecting the next player in the rankings queue. Especially when that player is Gregor Blanco.
Recent News, Transactions and Injuries
If you're really out of the loop, it's important to do a quick check of current news and injuries to make sure you don't do something silly, like draft Mark Teixeira, who'll be out for a while, or that hot-shot prospect you'd heard was having a monster spring, but was just sent down to the minors.
AT THE DRAFT
So you've made it this far. Don't worry: That nervous feeling in your stomach is typical, pre-draft jitters. Hit the restroom, then grab a little nourishment to put by your side for later—we don't want any unnecessary interruptions, do we?
Once you're settled into your spot, try to avoid any last-second tinkering and give yourself at least a few minutes just before the draft actually begins to take a breath and relax. It helps.
Okay, ready? T-minus 10...9...8...
Focus on selecting hitters early on. You'll want to draft offensive players with the majority of your first 10 picks, maybe even as many as eight or nine. This is because pitching depth is plentiful, so you can always acquire above-average starters late.
Focus on grabbing the best available hitters you like most for the first few turns, especially at first base, third base and outfield. It's okay to sneak in a stud starting pitcher at some point, but make sure it's a good value pick and don't get caught up in any runs on SPs.
Then shift more toward addressing positions you still needs, so you can fill your active lineup with players worth starting. Remember, shortstop, second base and catcher are pretty thin, so you don't want to get completely left out, if you can help it.
Once you've locked in most of your lineup, target a batch of pitchers who fit one or more of these criteria: young arms with upside; strikeout artists; WHIP helpers; pitcher-friendly home ballparks (i.e., Mariners, Padres, Angels, A's, etc.).
Don't worry too much about going after the top closers, as the opportunity cost of passing over a quality hitter or starting pitcher is too high. There's a lot of turnover and injuries among relievers, whose performance and health can be very volatile from year to year. Instead, try to land three or four closers who have the ninth-inning job to start the year, even if they're lesser-knowns. What you miss out on in sparkling ERAs and WHIPs you'll make up for with sheer number of saves.
Depending on how deep your reserve roster is, you should use it to address any particular needs or potential weaknesses that you've noticed along the way. If, say, you didn't draft a shortstop until Round 13, and you're not sure how much you really trust Erick Aybar, then go ahead and grab a backup with some upside, like Josh Rutledge.
Or maybe you focused almost exclusively on power hitters early, and you find yourself with a need for speed. Well, then pick up a Cameron Maybin, Emilio Bonifacio or Juan Pierre. The opposite happened? Target someone along the lines of Alfonso Soriano or Nick Swisher.
Don't ignore pitching, either. You should be able to add capable starters in waivers and free agency, so don't be afraid to go bold and gamble on a high-risk/high-reward arm—Josh Beckett, A.J. Burnett or Tommy Hanson—because if they flame out, you'll have plenty of options to fall back on.
The draft you were so worried about that's coming up soon? You'll ace it.