Here’s one basic rule that seems self explanatory: The more time you put into preparation for the upcoming season, the greater chance you have for success. I believe that the most critical aspect of this is knowledge of the player pool. Having the most complete and updated depth charts, both major and minor leagues, is one area where you can gain a competitive advantage in your league.
Quick quiz: Who’s the starting first baseman for the Diamondbacks? How about the starting right fielder for the Phillies? Know the second or third baseman for the Indians?
If you can’t answer these questions immediately, or at least formulate some educated guess on how the playing time will be split, then you are at a disadvantage. There are people in your league who will dedicate more time to familiarize themselves with these types of questions and will be able to uncover impact players in the later and reserve rounds of drafts, while others draft purely on name recognition. In national competitions, where you’re drafting in 14- or 15-team leagues with 30-32 man rosters, if you’re not an expert on the inventory of players, it’s as if you’re taking a baseball bat to a shotgun fight.
For those of you paying attention, here’s another insanely useful nugget of information: One of the most important things that you can do in these national formats is to get the maximum number of at-bats each week. Again, this may seem like common sense, but settling for a platoon player in your lineup, or not having proper injury replacements can have a huge negative impact on the final numbers that you end up with.
For example, last season’s NFBC main event champion Stephen Jupinka finished with 7,660 at-bats across 14 offensive positions. That averages out to around 550 at-bats per player in your lineup. When you factor in that this is a league that starts two catchers, and catchers typically average fewer at-bats, you can see the need for a full-time player at each position. Losing at-bats means losing counting stats. Losing counting stats drops you down in four out of the five offensive categories. Simply put, maximize your total at bats and maximize your chances of succeeding.
Here’s a look at a few of the position battles that will go on around spring training this season. Knowing these players and having a good idea on who will win the most playing time will help you identify very valuable players who can be had in the later rounds of your draft.
Who’s the starting first baseman for the Diamondbacks?
This is one question that I tackled in my article on offensive sleepers. When general manager Kevin Towers acquired Miranda in November, he said Miranda would get a shot at regular playing time. Showing his faith in Miranda as the offseason went on, Towers passed on the opportunity to sign any of the veteran first basemen on the market. It appears that, as of now, Allen and Nady will compete for the starting job in left field, with the loser becoming the fourth outfielder/backup first baseman. As long as Miranda doesn’t completely fall on his face in the spring, I think the job is his. The upside here would be 500-plus at-bats, .280 average and 20=plus homers. For a guy who can be had after the 20th round, he makes a very intriguing corner infielder or bench option.
Who will start in right field for the Phillies?
Fantasy baseball enthusiasts are already singing the praises of highly touted prospect Domonic Brown. Bill James has him basically stepping right in and replacing Jayson Werth, hitting .288 with 84 runs, 26 homers, 94 RBI and 28 steals. I think those numbers are absurd—that would make him a top 45 pick in most leagues. I do recognize that Brown has talent, but he didn’t do a whole lot in his 35-game audition in 2010. I think that Brown will spend at least the first couple of weeks of the season continuing his development in Triple-A. This would open the door for Ben Francisco to become a decent fourth or fifth outfield option for the first month of the season. The moral of this story is that if you’re drafting Brown counting on a full season’s worth of at-bats, pick up Francisco later to hedge your bets.
Who will be the starting second/third baseman for the Cleveland Indians?
There are really two battles here. It looks like the Indians need to fill both third and second base. Now, it appears that Nix is the front-runner to start at the hot corner. While he’s not overly impressive, he could hit 15-plus homers if given an entire season’s worth of at-bats, and for fantasy purposes he also qualifies at second. The guy to really look for here is Kipnis. If he has a good spring and forces his way onto the roster, he has the ability to be a very cheap 15/15 option, which definitely holds value as an end-game pick and backup middle infielder.
As always, questions and comments are welcomed and appreciated.