Breaking down the mock draft: Rounds 7-9

On Sunday, Jan. 16, 12 baseball analysts from around the web mock snake-drafted fantasy baseball team for 2011.

They assumed 25-player rosters, using the standard 5×5 categories and a 1,500 innings-pitched limit. Using Mock Draft Central, teams were constructed with three starting pitchers, two relief pitchers, four “generic” pitchers (starter or reliever), three bench players, five outfielders and one of each of catcher, first baseman, second baseman, shortstop, third baseman, middle infielder and corner infielder.

We have broken this draft into four parts—rounds 1-6, 7-12, 13-19 and 20-25—and over the coming weeks, each of the participants to the draft will provide insight into each of their picks. All preseason projections below are courtesy of the Bill James projections available on Fangraphs.com. Please post comments below.

Other round analysis: Rounds 1-3 || Rounds 4-6

Those who wish to follow the rounds in which players were selected by their respective owners should check out Mock Draft Central (a free Mock Draft Central account will be required to view this).

Round 7

Pick No. 1 (73 overall): Paul Konerko
Preseason projection: .273 AVG, 32 HR, 0 SB, 78 R, 96 RBI, 626 PA
Drafted by: Vince Caramela, The Hardball Times

Seeing there was a shortage of first basemen (and not wanting to get stuck having to depend on Billy Butler or Carlos Pena as my starter), I grabbed what I figured to be the best available. Last season, Konerko was awesome, fantasy-wise, hitting .312/39/111 with 89 runs. Outside a lousy May, he was very consistent in 2010 but he will be 35 next month and coming off a near career season does scream regression. His isolated power score has remained fairly high through his 30s, not counting 2008 when he battled thumb and knee injuries, so I’m not too worried about the HR/RBI categories but I’d be a fool to expect a batting average anywhere near his ’10 season.

Pick No. 2 (74 overall): Jay Bruce
Preseason projection: .280 AVG, 31 HR, 7 SB, 87 R, 83 RBI, 598 PA
Drafted by: Josh Shepardson, The Hardball Times

With my seventh-round pick it was time to nab my first outfielder, in fact maybe overdue time, considering the league format calls for five. Jay Bruce was the clear selection for me at this pick. Perhaps I’m a bit optimistic in my ranking of him, but I could see him producing like a top 10-15 outfielder thanks to his plus-power and ability to hit for a useful average and even chip in a handful of stolen bases.

It would be easy to look at Bruce’s 2010 season and think I’m delusional for such lofty expectations in 2011, but don’t forget he suffered a broken wrist during the summer of 2009. It’s often suggested that players who suffer wrist injuries take a full year to regain power, and while sometimes it can be detrimental to blindly follow general thinking, the power flurry Bruce displayed to end his 2010 campaign would lend some credence to the year recovery time in his case. From August through the end of the season, he ripped 15 home runs in just 153 plate appearances, a staggering display of pop, though one he almost certainly couldn’t keep up for the duration of a season. The 31 home runs Bill James projects Bruce to hit seem to be a safe estimation, but I think that is far from the ceiling—it wouldn’t shock me to see him rip 40 long balls if he’s able to stay healthy.

What will determine Bruce’s value is his batting average. The .223 average he posted in 2009 is clearly the product of an insanely low .221 BABIP, but his .281 average is also likely due in large part to a .334 BABIP: He struck out 26.7 percent of the time. I do believe Bruce is capable of posting an average north of .280 thanks to a solid line drive rate (20.1 percent in 2010) and the muscle to send a healthy percentage of his fly balls into the seats. It is also possible that if Bruce will reduce his strikeout rate, which was just 21.7 percent in 2009. Sign me up for owning a 23-year-old outfielder with a fairly high floor and an exceptionally high ceiling.

Pick No. 3 (75 overall): Martin Prado
Preseason projection: .305 AVG, 12 HR, 4 SB, 87 R, 65 RBI, 625 PA
Drafted by: Ray Flores, Fantasy Baseball Cafe

Not exactly a sexy pick, but I felt that Prado was a good fit for my team at this stage. Aside from Miguel Cabrera, I had a couple of batting average insecurities in Prince Fielder and Matt Kemp and I took a certain average liability in B.J. Upton with my last pick. Also, I needed cover in one of my scarce positions, seeing how I had filled up on two first basemen, two outfielders and two aces.

Prado gives me some flexibility, being second base and third base eligible. That’s a luxury, but what I sought most here was a batting average buffer, someone who can get on base often to score 90-100 runs, and can add a little bit of punch (15-20 homers). Prado ticks all the boxes here. Besides, with a couple of drafters’ reaches on Rickie Weeks and Alexei Ramirez already, I was better off snagging a second or third baseman now than nearly waiting 20 picks later for scraps.

Pick No. 4 (76 overall) Michael Young
Preseason projection: .293 AVG, 17 HR, 5 SB, 89 R, 82 RBI, 677 PA
Drafted by: Adam Kaplan, Game of Inches

I said in my last post that I have my eye on several players I purposely didn’t draft here so as not give away my secrets. Michael Young is not one of them: I have made public my love of him, so trying to deny it now would be futile. ESPN’s Matthew Berry talks about the “Wow Factor” in drafts: sleepers and “undervalued” guys who, when taken, draw “Wow, great chaoice!” from everyone in the league. (It got a little ridiculous in this draft when Russell Martin was a “Wow factor” guy.)

But really, it’s the solid steady guys like Young who win you leagues. You look at his numbers and they just seem, well, pedestrian. Bill James predicts a decently high batting average but neither the projections nor anything Young has done in the past makes you say “I need that guy on my team immediately!” Yet you look at the player rater and he’s among the best third basemen out there. Last year, Young was the seventh best 3B and was top 10 the year before. Now especially considering Young is in my corner infield slot and not even my starting third baseman, I love this pick.

(No one said “Wow, great pick” when you drafted Vladimir Guerrero or Paul Konerko last year. But they did say that about Adam Lind and Gordon Beckham. Just sayin’.)

Pick No. 5 (77 overall): Francisco Liriano
Preseason projection: 15 W, 3.42 ERA, 1.23 WHIP, 207 K, 200 IP
Drafted by: Dave Chenok, THTF Competition Winner

I’m noticing that since my Wainwright pick, a lot of the other Tier One pitchers have been selected. I often wait until after round 10 to take a second starting pitchers on the theory that there is always decent one available, but looking at my lineup I see that I’ve got pretty good balance, and can probably afford to bypass a position player in favor of another ace. I considered Liriano, Jered Weaver and Matt Cain, ruling out pitchers with high upsides but less of a track record like Mat Latos and Tommy Hanson, and guys who could be on the downslope like Roy Oswalt.

Liriano is a bit of a gamble because of his past arm trouble, but when he is right there is no better pitcher in baseball, and I figure even two-thirds of a season of his stats (plus one-third of a season of a good, late-round pitcher pick) will generate a good overall outcome. I like Weaver and Cain a lot, but wemt with Liriano because (a) I see him as having the highest upside, (b) I like the Twins’ pen behind Liriano, (c) I don’t like the situation around Weaver: The team is getting old and the bullpen is bound to cost him a few games, and (d) Cain has thrown a LOT of innings the last three years, and he’s still pretty young—easy to see him wearing down as the year goes on. So Liriano it is.

Pick No. 6 (78 overall): Brian Wilson
Preseason projection: 80 IP, 48 SV, 3.04 ERA, 1.29 WHIP, 87 K
Drafted by: Zach Sanders, Roto Hardball, FanGraphs

Whoever told you “Don’t pay for saves” was peddling something other than the truth. Saves are a rare and valuable commodity, and while overpaying for a cruddy reliever just because he will pick up some saves is a bad way to go, elite closers are more valuable than most give them credit for. Wilson is as steady as they come, and with a beard like that, it’s hard not to draft him. I’m surprised to see his Bill James projection is so pessimistic, as I have him having a much better season.

Pick No. 7 (79 overall): Jayson Werth.
Preseason projection: .275 AVG, 28 HR, 14 SB, 98 R, 91 RBI, 644 PA
Drafted by: Ben Pritchett, The Hardball Times

I’m not a Jayson Werth fan entirely. He has a lot of question marks surrounding him in the Capital. Can he build on his previous three years of success in Philly? He saw 4.37 pitches per plate appearance, tops in the National League. He struck out a decent amount, but I like that he waits for his pitches and he’s more than capable of punishing righthanders (.937 OPS) which is second behind Albert Pujols in the NL. He steals a few bases, and the Washington line-up is improved over previous years. I make myself a believer just writing about him.

Pick No. 8 (80 overall): Tommy Hanson
Preseason projection: 15 W, 3.41 ERA, 1.19 WHIP, 207 K, 219 IP
Drafted by: Brett Greenfield, Fantasy Phenoms

Similar to Ubaldo Jimenez a year ago, Hanson’s strong finish is what caught our eye. Hanson sported a 2.51 ERA and a 2.06 ERC, which shows not only how legit his performance was, but that it could have been slightly better. His only “negative” trait was the 6.19 second half K/9 ratio, but it’s something that can certainly improve given his past. Hanson walked only 56 batters last year in 203 innings, and only 22 over his final 100 innings. Opponents batted only .205 against Hanson from the All-Star break on.

Hanson struck out more than a batter per inning in the first half. If he can combine that aspect of his game with his second half ERA and WHIP, he’ll contend for this year’s Cy Young award. I’d rather stack up on hitters early in the draft, and grab a pitcher here who may produce similar numbers to someone drafted much earlier.

Pick No. 9 (81 overall) Mike Stanton
Preseason projection: .268 AVG, 38 HR, 5 SB, 85 R, 104 RBI, 591 PA
Drafted by: Jeffrey Gross, The Hardball Times, Game Of Inches

With two elite pitchers locked up, I turned back to my offense. Though I already had two outfielders, I still had three more to draft. Though some perceive outfielder as a deep position, I disagree in light of the number of positions there are to fill. Even in a three-outfielder, 12-team league, adding outfield, utility and multi-flex positions, between 45 and 50 outfield-eligible players tend to be drafted. Here, a minimum of 60 outfielders were to be drafted and with few top-tier names left in the position on the board, I squared my sights on Stanton, who I also perceive as the best overall player left.

Passing up Pedro Alvarez‘s third base eligibility, I still was getting elite power. Stanton, who jacked a combined 43 home runs split between Double-A and the majors last season (153 games played). His .248 ISO in just under 400 plate appearances in the majors last season seems to square well with his minor league numbers (.296 ISO), and Oliver, which gives heavy weight to excellent performances by players under 25, sees much room to grow (.330 expected ISO for 2011) for this soon-to-be 22-year-old power-hitting phenom.

Though Stanton strikes out quite a bit (31 percent in the majors last season), his average foot speed, low groundball rate and plus-power profile should keep his batting average relatively high compared to his power-hitting contemporaries. Oliver expects a .281 batting average and 45 home runs, which would be insanely awesome profit on my end, but my expectations settle around a more tempered .270 average and 35 home runs; Bill James seems to largely agree. Stanton also stole five bases in 100 games? If he cuts back on strikeouts and infield fly balls, look out!

Pick No. 10 (82 overall): Pedro Alvarez
Preseason projection: .277 AVG, 27 HR, 4 SB, 78 R, 103 RBI, 599 PA
Drafted by: Tim Heaney, KFFL

My guess: When this draft took place, Alvarez was on his third go-round at the buffet line. His potential for 30 homers outweighed (yup, went there) his strikeout and batting average issues, along with the lack of help in the runs column he’ll receive from his teammates.

His struggles versus lefties won’t keep him out of the lineup, though; if he’s up, he’s playing. Things clicked in August (.306-6-27). With the middle rounds swinging in, I was willing to take the chance of him extending that success. Sure, I could’ve waited on a corner infielder, but why not go big? He’s the Mike Stanton of corner infielderss.

Pick No. 11 (83 overall) Grady Sizemore
Preseason projection: .265 AVG, 23 HR, 23 SB, 105 R, 81 RBI, 708 PA
Drafted by: Paul Singman, The Hardball Times

I’ll admit right off the bat this was not a smart selection. Sizemore was covered this past week by Ben Pritchett in his Aversion all stars article, and I agree that he is someone to be averse to in 2011. Whether I take Curtis Granderson with the next pick or Drew Stubbs a couple of rounds later, either choice is better in this spot.

Pick No. 12 (84 overall): Curtis Granderson.
Preseason projection: .264 AVG, 25 HR, 14 SB, 95 R, 73 RBI, 646 PA
Drafted by: Lane Rizzardini, Bruno Boys

The outfielder I really wanted here was Jay Bruce, as I think he’s poised for a breakout year, but I’m clearly not the only one so I looked to Granderson for my home run desires. He didn’t exactly blow up the world in Yankee Stadium, as many expected, and posted an extremely disappointing .247 batting average. There is plenty to be hopeful for, though, as his ISO rose from .204 to .221 and he still managed 24 bombs despite missing nearly all of May with a hamstring injury. Seven homers came in the final 16 games of the regular season after hitting coach Kevin Long worked through the second half of the year to compact his swing. He is also due for an upswing in BABIP, which was 37 points off his career average. If he can finally gain some respectability against lefties (.215 for his career), he could get back to the .280 batting average that made him a stud in 2007-08.

Round 8

Pick No. 1 (85 overall): Aramis Ramirez.
Preseason projection: .275 AVG, 25 HR, 1 SB, 68 R, 89 RBI, 514 PA
Drafted by: Lane Rizzardini, Bruno Boys

Third base was getting pretty shallow at this point, so I went with one of the last remaining legitimate options. His last two seasons have been marred by injury, most recently a thumb injury that cost him almost all of June. Of course, that’s the month where he sports the highest career batting average and when he begins to get hot after his usual two-month warm-up period in April and May. Despite the injury, he performed exactly as expected, batting .287 with 20 home runs and a .556 slugging percentage from June 25 on. A .245 BABIP in 2010 also bodes well for a return to batting average respectability, so I’m treating the Bill James projection as a minimum for the Cubs third baseman in his contract year.

Pick No. 2 (86 overall) Mariano Rivera
Preseason projection: 33 SV, 1.89 ERA, 0.94 WHIP, 58 K, 62 IP
Drafted by: Paul Singman, The Hardball Times

Wow, I’m thankful this was only a mock draft because I’m making a mockery of myself here, literally. In my latest article on the current closers market I discuss how there is a lack of elite closers this year and you are better off waiting a few rounds compared to jumping on the “elite” closers. Follow the article, not the pick.

Pick No. 3 (87 overall): Joakim Soria
Preseason projection: 46 SV, 2.42 ERA, 1.04 WHIP, 74 K, 67 IP
Drafted by: Tim Heaney, KFFL

With the falling stock of closers overall in fantasy drafts, I figured I’d grab a top option before the turn so I didn’t have to think about the position for a while. Soria kept up his elite BB/K and added more ground balls to his game. Few stoppers are as stable … of course, that is, unless he’s traded to be a setup man for another team. At this price, I was willing to dismiss that continued but irrational fear; such worries produce discounts, after all.

Pick No. 4 (88 overall) Max Scherzer
Preseason projection: 13 W, 3.56 ERA, 1.26 WHIP, 209 K, 205 IP
Drafted by: Jeffrey Gross, The Hardball Times, Game Of Inches

As I admitted with regard to Josh Johnson and Dan Haren, I have a penchant for pitching. Yes, the field is deep with potential value, but the volatility of arms limits reliability, thereby offsetting the deep pool. Of course, even the most reliable pitcher might succumb to injury, ineffectiveness, back luck, or some medley of all these unfortunate things, as did the Cubs’ entire roster in 2009.

Of my top 100 starting pitchers, I truly only like the top 50 or so names, and even then, there are a handful of pitchers like Matt Cain, Tim Hudson and David Price who are overpriced. My list of reliable “value” pitchers is thin. Hence, when I saw Scherzer, my No. 15 overall pitcher, still available in the seventh round, I decided to add to my team’s pitching depth rather than spring for offensive help.

Seeing as how most of the next 16 picks that sandwiched my seventh- and eighth-round selections were outfielders (I already had three), middle infielders (already had a second basemen and shortstop), pitchers (I feel I got the best one remaining) and closers (I never draft closers in the first 10-12 rounds), I feel I sacrificed very little to acquire “The Dirty Scherz,” who was filthy in the second half (2.47 ERA, 1.13 WHIP, 96:35 K/BB ratio over 102 innings). Let his September numbers (3.14 ERA, 1.12 WHIP, .289 BABIP-against, 42:11 K/BB ratio over 43 innings) be a fair warning to all who overlook him in 2011.

Pick No. 5 (89 overall) Colby Rasmus
Preseason projection: .261 AVG, 19 HR, 10 SB, 73 R, 54 RBI, 468 PA
Drafted by: Brett Greenfield, Fantasy Phenoms

Rasmus should bat second in front of Albert Pujols in a contract year and Matt Holliday. That’s a pretty good spot to be in. He could score 100 runs if he improves his on-base percentage this year. A 30/15 season can’t be ruled out and there may still be some growing pains. The power/speed combination was a worthy gamble at this point in the draft.

Pick No. 6 (90 overall): Stephen Drew
Preseason projection: .270 AVG, 16 HR, 8 SB, 82 R, 67 RBI, 655 PA
Drafted by: Ben Pritchett, The Hardball Times

Middle infielders proved to be in demand in this “expert” draft. I had Drew as my back-up plan had I not been able to nab Alexei Ramirez. I might have pulled the trigger a little too early, but the uncertainty at the position in this draft was forcing my hand. I like the way Drew finished 2010. He flashed the same potential that he exhibited in 2008 down the stretch (he had 11 homers and a .300 BA over the final two months). I’m buying on Drew as a cheaper shortstop.

Pick No. 7 (91 overall): Heath Bell
Preseason projection: 74 IP, 40 SV, 2.55 ERA, 1.16 WHIP, 80 K
Drafted by: Zach Sanders, Roto Hardball, FanGraphs

I’ll see you one Brian Wilson, and raise you a Heath Bell. The same reasoning for taking Wilson rings true, and Bell’s home ballpark makes him a very safe selection. Unlike James’ projection for Wilson, I really like what he has in store for Bell, and could certainly live with that line.

Pick No. 8 (92 overall): Jonathan Papelbon
Preseason projection: 38 SV, 3.06 ERA, 1.18 WHIP, 74 K, 65 IP
Drafted by: Dave Chenok, THTF Competition Winner

Well, my winning article in the fantasy competition related to a draft strategy involving relief pitchers, and here it is round eight and I haven’t taken one yet. I really do believe that strong relievers are key to a successful fantasy season. The three best closers in my estimation (Wilson, Rivera and Bell) have been selected earlier this round, and I am concerned that if I don’t take a closer now, I may miss a run. And if you’ve looked carefully, this is one of the most unstable closer seasons (at this point anyway) that I can remember—there are several teams on which the presumptive closer wasn’t the closer at the end of last year. Even a few good teams (like Tampa Bay) don’t know who the closer will be.

Let me interject a thought here about how draft position is critical in a snake draft. I don’t believe that a good fantasy player gains or loses significant advantage based on draft position, but draft position does matter. Example: if I’m picking from an early or late position and I’m going to get round-the-corner picks, I may be able to influence a little bit what happens in middle rounds. Say three or four top closers have been taken, and I take closers with both my round-the-corner picks. That’s bound to get people nervous. “The closers are going,” they think. “Here’s the run.” Closers start flying off the board. Since I started this, I have better closers than the ones being picked after me, and I also have two of them.

By the time it comes back to me, a lot of closers are gone, but some strong position players who might otherwise have been selected that round are still available, and they may fall to me. So maybe I get two outfielders the next round that I wouldn’t have otherwise gotten. I’m using this example with relievers, but it can be done with other scarce positions as well. Unfortunately, I can’t execute this strategy picking from the five spot. Oh well…

So back to my selection: I’m considering Soria, John Axford, and Papelbon, having concluded that most of the other closers available are new, injured, or crap. I know what people are saying about Papelbon—he’s lost velocity, he isn’t the same pitcher he was, Daniel Bard is about to take over the closer role—but I don’t believe it. I think Papelbon just flat out had a bad year last year. It happens. At 30, he isn’t so old that that age should be an issue. He’s big as a horse so I doubt he’s worn down, and I haven’t heard anything about his being injured.

With the addition of Adrian Gonzalez and Carl Crawford, I think the Sox may win 100 games this year, giving Pap a lot of save chances. As bad as the closer situation is in baseball in general, if he does get traded, it will likely be as a closer, not a setup guy. Soria? I love him, and he’ll likely end up with better peripherals than Papelbon but man, the Royals are soooo bad. Look at their starting lineup and starting pitching, it is pretty ugly—if he saves half of the Royals wins, he’ll only have 30. Axford I like, but he’s been the closer for only a year, and as good as he was, closers can sometimes be flashes in the pan. So I go with Papelbon, who happens to pitch for the Red Sox, who are my favorite team, so I have the added bonus of having a guy on my team who I can root for enthusiastically. (I just don’t think I can work up much enthusiasm for the Milwaukee Brewers.)

Pick No. 9 (93 overall): Asdrubal Cabrera
Preseason prediction: .292 AVG, 8 HR, 13 SB, 78 R, 59 RBI, 571 PA
Drafted by: Adam Kaplan, Game of Inches

As I mentioned in my last post I sort of regretted taking Evan Longoria instead of Troy Tulowitzki. This selection is the reason why. Shortstop is so so so shallow that I think you need to, at least, grab one of the top six guys (Hanley Ramirez, Tulo, Derek Jeter, Jimmy Rollins, Jose Reyes, Alexei Ramirez) and A-Ram is barely on that list. I just really like him. He’s my go-to guy when the other five are taken off of the board.

Unfortunately, he went really early, in the fifth round. Even with hindsight being 20/20, I still would not have taken him over his teammate (the player I did take in the fourth, Alex Rios. So with those six off the board, I was left with Rafael Furcal and Cabrera. Both missed significant playing time last year, but Furcal is so old (for baseball players, 33) that I trust Carera (25) much more. While I think Furcal will put up better numbers when healthy, you still have to take health into account (you hear me Ian Kinsler?). So I went with Cabrera. In a 12-team league in which one team took both Tulo and Reyes, I guess I’m begrudgingly fine with Asdrubal.

Pick No. 10 (94 overall): Billy Butler
Preseason projection: .307 AVG, 18 HR, 0 SB, 78 R, 89 RBI, 653 PA
Drafted by: Ray Flores, Fantasy Baseball Cafe

Although I locked in my first baseman, corner infielder and utility spots within the first eight rounds with this pick, I thought Butler was a decent value here. There’s plenty to like about Butler: He’s a disciplined high-average hitter who doesn’t strike out too much and is a high-volume doubles hitter. Of course, the most disappointing aspect with Butler last year was a step back in his ISO and his home run production. Given his skill set, Butler can reasonably return to the 20-homer level, even though his runs/RBI totals will likely be tempered some by the lineup protection in Kansas City.

Pick No. 11 (95 overall): Chad Billingsley
Preseason projection: 11 W, 3.63 ERA, 1.32 WHIP, 189 K, 201 IP
Drafted by: Josh Shepardson, The Hardball Times

Billingsley has essentially everything I’m looking for in a solid No. 2 fantasy starter. Solid strikeout rate (8.03 K/9 in 2010), high groundball rate (49.6 percent) and the ability to pile up innings (no fewer than 190 since he split time between the bullpen and starting in 2007). While Billingsley no longer looks like a guy who could develop into a fantasy ace, as some may have believed after his 2008 season, he does look like a safe bet to strike out around 200 batters while posting an ERA in the mid-threes with a tolerable WHIP, while possessing upside as well. Small sample size alert is obviously in order, but Billingsley saved his best for last in 2010 by finishing the season posting a 10.89 K/9, a 3.18 BB/9 (good for a 3.43 K/BB) and a 55.0 groundball rate in 39.2 innings in September and October.

Pick No. 12 (96 overall): Casey McGehee
Preseason projection: .282 AVG, 20 HR, 1 SB, 72 R, 94 RBI, 628 PA
Drafted by: Vince Caramela, The Hardball Times

At this point I wanted to get my starting infield locked in, but third base had now boiled down to McGehee, Mark Reynolds,Pablo Sandoval and Ian Stewart. Since I have only one player who is a safe lock to bat over .300, I figured I would steer clear of Reynolds and his BA anchor. Sandoval is a popular gamble based on the reports of him getting in shape and Stewart is another BA black hole.

But I drafted McGehee and now I must ask the question: Is his power for real? Looking over his career isolated power, his high was .197 in 2009 and last season it dropped almost 20 points to .179. Also, in Triple-A from 2006-2008 he didn’t fare much better, averaging an ISO of .119. He did hit 38 doubles last season, which suggests he may have some gap power, but at the age of 28 how much more development can we expect? I do respect the batting average he brings; of course he’s not going to win a batting title, but he won’t be an anchor either. I am excited about the Brewers’ season, but I am a little concerned about the other batters projected to follow him in 2011. Count this as a wishy-washy pick but his decent average and possibility for 20 homers and 80 RBIs won me over.

Uhm, any chance Jonathan Lucroy breaks out and protects McGehee in the lineup?

Round 9

Pick No. 1 (97 overall): Clay Buchholz
Preseason projection: 13 W, 3.54 ERA, 1.28 WHIP, 168 K, 193 IP
Drafted by: Vince Caramela, The Hardball Times

Buchholz is your classic crossroads pitcher. Looking at his innings progression, I think the Red Sox are handling him well; the team will be depending on more in 2011. Will he make a jump like Jon Lester did after his first full season? In terms of K/9, probably not, but Buchholz does have the repertoire and mentality necessary for a power pitcher. I am expecting a slight raise in his strikeout rate, but his command will be key. When you break down his last season stats month by month, you see some fluctuation in his walk rate, so that could bring out complications as he tries to establish himself more on the power side. This is a gamble pick; I probably should have picked someone else like Jered Weaver or rolled the dice on Brett Anderson (for the record, I love Anderson’s skill set but that elbow flat-out scares me).

Pick No. 2 (98 overall): Drew Stubbs
Preseason projection: .262 AVG, 20 HR, 35 SB, 90 R, 71 RBI, 604 PA
Drafted by: Josh Shepardson, The Hardball Times

While contact issues could be the undoing of Stubbs, I’m willing to gamble on him as my No. 2 outfielder thanks to his gaudy combination of power and speed. Stubbs was never able to show off his power tool in the minors, but has delivered in the majors by hitting 30 home runs in 779 plate appearances (a home run in every 25.97 plate appearances). His speed has never come into question even coming up through the farm system, and last year he was able to swipe 30 bags while getting caught just six times. With a 9.4 walk percent last year, Stubbs doesn’t necessarily have to post a high average to get on base and award himself both stolen base opportunities and chances to score runs.

Stubbs’ biggest pitfall is his potential to post a poor average as a result of a poor contact rate (just 72.3 percent) and a monstrous 32.7 percent strikeout rate. Bill James projects Stubbs’ strikeout rate to drop to 28.1 percent, which while still high, would be just a smidge above his strikeout rates in Triple-A and a fairly large improvement (4.6 percent) over last year’s mark. That should help him post a more palatable average. With batting average stalwarts Albert Pujols and Kevin Youkilis in place, Stubbs seemed like the type of batting average risk I could take for the reward of solid power and speed contributions as well as useful run and RBI totals.

Pick No. 3 (99 overall): Carlos Quentin
Preseason projection: .261 AVG, 28 HR, 3 SB, 84 R, 92 RBI, 562 PA
Drafted by: Ray Flores Fantasy Baseball Cafe

I mentioned a while back that I’m an eternal optimist on B.J. Upton and am more so when it comes to Quentin, especially when recalling his sensational 2008 campaign. In 131 games last year, Quentin still managed 26 homers in 453 at-bats, with the sub-par batting average souring his production some.

Quentin is still just 28 and in a prime situation (US Cellular Field, potent lineup) to post better than the reasonable projection of 30 homers and 100 RBI. If he can generate better contact on balls in play, Quentin’s average should rise. This might seem like a massive reach on my part, given that his ADP is probably 50-plus spots lower. However, at this stage of the draft, I didn’t mind reaching especially when the outfield is relatively thin on players who have upside.

Pick No. 4 (100 overall): Mark Reynolds
Preseason projection: .233 AVG, 35 HR, 9 SB, 89 R, 94 RBI, 606 PA
Drafted by: Adam Kaplan, Game of Inches

Ideally you want one of the top first basemen (Pujols, Joey Votto, Miguel Cabrera, A-Gon, Mark Teixeira, Ryan Howard, Prince Fielder) but my draft position didn’t allow me to take any of those players. By the time my first pick came around, Pujols and Miggy were off the board and I wasn’t going to take any of the others that high. When my second pick (17 spots later) came around, all but Fielder were gone and I chose the best pitcher instead).

Now of course there were still some quality guys out there (Konerko, Justin Morneau, Youkilis) but I just didn’t like them. As a White Sox fan I love Konerko, but he’ll never have a year like he did in 2010 again. I love the talent of Morneau, but after having him for a few years now (and last year) he’s kind of burned me and it seemed Youkilis was a reach in the third for the owner who did draft him. I wanted to then go after Billy Butler but I chose stupid Asdrubal Cabrera instead. Now I’m left with guys with huge power upside but extremely low batting average downside like Adam Dunn, Carlos Pena, and Reynolds. Dunn actually went before Butler, so now it was between Pena and Reynolds. So I chose the guy with the low average and high power who and also steals bases. I think he’ll have a batting average closer to .250 than .200. Maybe I have to reach a little for a first baseman. But then again, there will always be “Aubrey Huffs” in the free agent pool.

Pick No. 5 (101 overall): Carlos Lee
Preseason projection: .275 AVG, 22 HR, 4 SB, 69 R, 81 RBI, 614 PA
Drafted by: Dave Chenok, THTF Competition Winner

So after I took Papelbon right after Heath Bell, I expected a closer run, but it didn’t happen. That’s actually good news because now I don’t have to rush to take another closer. My biggest needs at this point are second base, corner infield and outfield. I gave thought to Ben Zobrist, because I can play him at second or outfield, but I’m really not sure about him after last year, and I remember Harold Reynolds saying on MLB network that Zobrist wasn’t as good as his 2009 numbers. Besides, there are several acceptable second basemen still available who can give me steals without killing me in other categories, and I figure one of them will still be there in a few rounds given how the other teams have drafted (many already have a second baseman).

There aren’t many third basemen available to place at corner infield—Pablo Sandoval would be an intriguing CI choice, but as I live in the Bay Area I know he continues to struggle with his weight, and who knows if he is really a guy who can sustain a .330 BABIP? I’m looking at the remaining first basemen and outfielders, and all of a sudden I think of Lee. He will end up with eligibility and both positions, so he’ll give me flexibility. Yes he is about to turn 35, but he is a solid player; in my experience great players (and I think Lee was a great hitter in his time) don’t like to end their career on a down note. I think Lee projects almost exactly as Paul Konerko and Big Papi did at the start of last year: “His bat speed has slowed; he can’t catch up to the fast one anymore; he’s on the downslope.”

If I’m going to gamble, why not do it on a guy who will hit in the middle of a pretty good Astros lineup, and who we know has the potential to hit 30 home runs? His second half split was much better than his first—I think he just got off badly last year. And I’ve followed his career—he is a proud guy. I say he gives one more solid year before ending up as the DH in Kansas City (or possibly in a slow-pitch league with Jermaine Dye).

Pick No. 6 (102 overall): Juan Pierre
Preseason projection: .283 AVG, 1 HR, 52 SB, 87 R, 42 RBI, 677 PA
Drafted by: Zach Sanders, Roto Hardball, FanGraphs

I didn’t love this pick at the time, and I still don’t. However, my rankings suggested Pierre was one of the best players remaining, and the market demanded that I take him. There weren’t many hitters left on the board who could provide me with good power numbers, so I decided to go the other direction and load up on a steals machine who I can count on hitting at the top of the order. I considered Brett Gardner in this spot, but I worry that he’ll be stuck at the back-end of the Yankees’ lineup on most days.

Pick No. 7 (103 overall): Jered Weaver
Preseason projection: 14 W, 3.45 ERA, 1.20 WHIP, 199 K, 222 IP
Drafted by: Ben Pritchett, The Hardball Times

He’s my No. 3 starting pitcher in nine rounds. I like Weaver’s strikeout improvement in 2010. At this point I feel I have locked up three 200-K pitchers and have put myself ahead of the rest of these guys in pitching. I have sacrificed some hitting and have work to do later in the draft.

Pick No. 8 (104 overall): Brian Roberts
Preseason projection: .279 AVG, 9 HR, 24 SB, 80 R, 49 RBI, 575 PA
Drafted by: Brett Greenfield, Fantasy Phenoms

Brian Roberts isn’t a player I was targeting, but it’s a nice value on a middle infielder who is leading off. The Orioles lineup is rather underrated. After Roberts the likely followers include Adam Jones, Nick Markakis, Matt Wieters, Mark Reynolds, Derrek Lee, Luke Scott. Roberts may not swipe 40 bags anymore, but 25 would suffice and 30 would be great. He had scored over 100 runs three seasons in a row until last year’s injury-prone debacle.

Pick No. 9 (105 overall) Pablo Sandoval
Preseason projection: .308 AVG, 18 HR, 3 SB, 71 R, 78 RBI, 574 PA
Drafted by: Jeffrey Gross, The Hardball Times, Game Of Inches

I expect my Kung Fu Panda selection to garner the greatest criticism of my drafted roster. That’s okay; that just indicates to me that I am almost certain to get Pablo Sandoval on draft day. Sure, at some level he has the body type of Prince Fielder, the walk rate of Juan Pierre and the power of Juan Uribe. These are clearly concerns, as manifested in an extremely disappointing 2010 campaign: .268/.323/.409 with 15 home runs, three stolen bases, and fewer than 125 combined runs scored and batted in.

Nonetheless, Sandoval is still under 25, had an impressive minor league career (.303/.342/.445), was able to sustain major league success over 2008-2009 despite never playing in Triple-A, has improved his walk rate each season in the majors, and strikes out very little while making superior out-of-the-zone contact (career 76.7 percent compared to a 62 percdent major league average mark). I do not expect Sandoval to set the world on fire in 2011 (my chart has him pegged for a line akin to .295/20/5/90/90), but I expect him to rebound plenty, especially in the batting average department. Sandoval probably won’t hit 30 homers any time soon, but 20 seems quite reasonable considering his slightly above average power and the fact that most of AT&T Ballpark’s ill effects on offense regard left-handed hitters.

Third base, as I have previously explained, is not a particularly shallow position. I could have not drafted Sandoval and, considering that Josh Shepardson would have drafted him, picked up Ian Stewart, David Freese, Chipper Jones or Michael Cuddyer toward the end of the draft. In my eyes, however, Sandoval was the last third basemen on the board who would not hurt you in the categories in which he did not contribute. Sandoval is a younger and higher-upside NL-version of Michael Young, whom Kaplan drafted two rounds earlier. If Sandoval does not pan out, I can always nab Chase Headley from the theoretical waiver wire.

Pick No. 10 (106 overall): Gordon Beckham
Preseason projection: .273 AVG, 15 HR, 6 SB, 81 R, 77 RBI, 605 PA
Drafted by: Tim Heaney, KFFL

One of my favorite bounce-back candidates, Beckham makes second base look deep. Before being hit by a pitch, he was charging back in the second half last season, thanks to a mechanical adjustment in his swing. There’s 20-homer, 90-RBI, .290 bating average potential here in a dangerous lineup.

Funny how fickle fantasy drafters can be. Beckham was a hot property in 2010 drafts. Were you surprised by his slow start? He barely had any farm time! Now, after the light finally goes on with a little more experience while he still at second base, everyone ignores him. He’s buried in most early ADP rankings (Hint: ADP isn’t gospel). I wasn’t taking the chance of him falling in this group.

Pick No. 11 (107 overall) Brett Gardner
Preseason projection: .275 AVG, 5 HR, 50 SB, 97 R, 47 RBI, 589 PA
Drafted by: Paul Singman, The Hardball Times

Coming into last season I was a big Gardner supporter and he followed through with a top-50 season as rated by ESPN’s player rater. Overall his line was not super-spectacular and I could see him repeating his 2010 performance and even beating it. At this point in a draft, after pick 100, I think Gardner is a fail-safe option that I will take advantage of in most drafts.

Pick No. 12 (108 overall): Matt Cain
Preseason projection: 14 W, 3.36 ERA, 1.22 WHIP, 183 K, 217 IP
Drafted by: Lane Rizzardini, Bruno Boys

Rounding out my top three pitchers is Matt Cain, World Series Champion and a great value in Round 9 to the point where I almost regret taking two pitchers in the first six rounds. Almost. There’s not much to hate on here other than a low win count as he showed improvements in strikeout rate, WHIP and xFIP, and posted a fantastic 2.46 BB/9 ratio that has shown steady improvement from the 3.76 he registered in 2008. What’s more amazing is that he seemed to save his best stuff for the playoffs, allowing zero, yes, zero earned runs against the Atlanta Braves, Philadelphia Phillies and Texas Rangers over 21.1 innings of work. At 27 years old with five full seasons under his belt, he is entering the prime of his career and gives me the best top three staff I could have hoped for.

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Comments

  1. Adam Kaplan said...

    I really don’t know how to say this without seemingly coming across as a jerk so I apologize if I do, but the “Game Of Inches” link next to my name directs me back to this article and not my blog “gameofinches.blogspot.com” yet the “Game Of Inches” link next to Jeffrey Gross’s name does direct me to the blog. If you could please correct this I would greatly appreciate it. Thank you very much.

  2. batpig said...

    Hate to say it, Adam, but that Asdrubal pick was horrrrrrrible.  It’s the worst type of logical extension of the “positional scarcity” thought process, where you take an utterly mediocre player because you are panicking about a bad position.

    But the bottom line is that, YES, shortstop is a terrible position, but Asdrubal is barely above the “replacement level” player you could have gotten for FREE much later.  How much incremental value do you get with him over Ian Desmond, Marco Scutaro, Johnny Peralta, shoot even Yuniesky Betancourt!

    You passed on a power/speed OF in Drew Stubbs, two SB monsters in Juan Pierre and Brett Gardner, some excellent pitchers (like Jeff Weaver and Clay Bucholtz) for basically barely-above-replacement-level value at SS.

  3. Josh Shepardson said...

    @ Baltimoron

    Keep in mind these are Bill James projections, hence the optimistic outlook for essentially every young player.  That said, if he’s able to make contact at a good enough rate and see 600 plus PA, it wouldn’t shock me one bit.

  4. Josh Shepardson said...

    Thanks for the kind words Chubbyfranklins.  It has been a pleasure working with all the other drafters on putting out this analysis, and the time they’ve put into it has been appreciated greatly.

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