Fantasy baseball is different from other fantasy sports because the season is so long. Over the course of 162 games, an owner must remain active in order to fill voids that arise due to injuries, add new closers and keep tabs on top prospects who get called up.
In other words, a draft can't carry a team through an entire season as it could for football, or to a lesser extent basketball or hockey. That said, building a strong base through the draft is still the first key step on the journey to a fantasy championship.
These tips aren't in relation to any single player because each owner is going to have a different view in those cases. Instead, these are basic guiding principles to follow during the draft to ensure your roster is as strong as possible heading into Opening Day.
Build Hitting Foundation Early
The allure of fantasy aces like Clayton Kershaw and Yu Darvish is obvious. They are going to provide plenty of strikeouts and will contribute positively in the three other categories. Yet, the pick that must be invested in order to get them on the roster eliminates a lot of that intrigue.
In order to select Kershaw or Darvish, owners will likely need to use their first-round pick or an early second-rounder at the latest. Or they can wait a couple rounds and end up with somebody like Felix Hernandez or Chris Sale as an ace, which is still a strong start to a staff.
That's why building a strong hitting foundation in the early rounds is the way to go. Even a player like Jacoby Ellsbury, who's dealt with some injury issues during spring training, should be preferred to using a first-round pick on a starter. He told Wallace Matthews of ESPNNewYork.com he'll be ready to roll:
The best thing about it is we have time right now. Obviously, I need to cover a lot of ground, steal bases, do a lot of different things as far as using my legs, so we want to make sure it’s 100 percent. But as far as me not being ready, in that regard, I'll be good to go.
Hitting options like Ellsbury or Andrew McCutchen are going to make their presence felt six or seven days a week. A starting pitcher is only going to pitch once a week most of the time. So build a strong foundation of speed and power early, then take one of those secondary aces and start creating a staff.
Identify Overvalued and Undervalued Players Before Draft
One of the biggest mistakes owners make before a draft is a lack of preparation. It's crucial to enter with at least a general idea of some players to target after the first few rounds because it's easy to select superstars, but the middle and late rounds are just as important.
A good resource to check out is Fantasy Pros' average draft position list. It shows where more than 500 players are selected on average, which is the best way to figure out which potential targets are being overvalued and undervalued in drafts.
One good example is Chicago White Sox first baseman Jose Abreu. The Cuban import presents intriguing upside, especially for somebody getting selected just inside the top 100 on average. Steve Gardner of USA Today explains why he likes the value:
I'm targeting Abreu as one of my top power sources in the middle rounds. Yes, there are a lot of questions about how his power will translate after posting a career OPS of 1.068 in almost 800 games in Cuba. As we've seen with Cubans Yoenis Cespedes and Yasiel Puig, it's possible to make an instant impact. And noted Cuban baseball expert Peter Bjarkman says Abreu is a better pure hitter than either Cespedes or Puig.
Waiting on Abreu instead of reaching for an overvalued, declining option like Albert Pujols will allow owners to get better options in place at other positions. Just doing some research before the draft on these type of situations will prove very helpful.
Load Bench with Starting Pitchers
Finally, after the hitting lineup is set, the top end of the rotation is filled, a couple closers are in place and it's time to think about the bench, starting pitching is the way to go. There is far more value there than in bench hitters.
How many fantasy baseball teams will you draft?
A general thought is to draft a few hitters that can fill in for off days. The problem is that it's very rare a team will have more than one day off in any given week, which means those players spend a vast majority of time sitting on the bench.
Instead, fill up the bench with extra starters, especially in leagues that allow lineup changes daily. An extra start or two per week is going to help teams win more games than a once-a-week fill-in hitter, who could end up going 0-for-4 anyway.
Taking a chance on Ivan Nova, Scott Kazmir, Alex Wood and the host of other starters worthy of a late flier will pay off. If a hitting need arises, the odds are much better there will be a serviceable free agent available to fill the hole than searching for a useful starter.