As the temperature hovers around single digits today, knowing that pitchers and catchers report in four days—and that spring training is just around the corner—makes it a little easier to deal with. Every baseball fan, fantasy enthusiast or otherwise, exudes optimism every spring. Every team is 0-0 and has dreams and aspirations of greatness.
Every fantasy manager LOVES his team after the draft. He can’t wait to tell everyone about all of the great values he found in the later rounds and how he executed his strategy masterfully. Then most, after a couple months of the season pass, realize that maybe it wasn’t quite as amazing as initially thought.
I’m here to pass on useful nuggets of information and draft strategies in an effort to help your team look as great at the end of the season as you thought it did on draft day.
Last week in my article on position battles, I mentioned one very important rule to follow when building your offense. This rule mainly applies to deeper 14- or 15-team mixed leagues that start 14 offensive players. If you’re playing in an 8-12 team league, you’ll probably end up with a full-time player in each roster spot. However, in those deeper leagues, the ones that separate the men from the boys, you need to take this mantra seriously:
MAXIMIZE YOUR AT-BATS!
Don’t let yourself settle for players who are in platoon situations. I don’t want to hear, “But Garrett Jones was great in 2009 and provides much-needed power to my team!” Sure, but Matt Diaz is going to steal all of the at-bats against left-handed pitching.
In addition to making sure your players are locked into full-time jobs, there is another area you should focus on as well. While there will be fluid situations during the season, try to draft players who are hitting at or near the top of the batting order.
Again, this seems very simple, yet every year I watch as people overlook this aspect. The difference between someone hitting first or second in the order compared to another player hitting eighth or ninth could be 150-plus at-bats over the course of the season. This is especially useful when trying to select between two similar players.
For example, let’s say you’re looking for a fourth outfielder around pick 270. Your team is lacking in speed, and Coco Crisp and Julio Borbon are still on the board. As of now, these two players have very similar values and ADP. However, Crisp is expected to lead off in Oakland, while Borbon is slated to hit ninth in Texas. An additional 150 at-bats makes a ridiculous difference and would make this choice a no brainer to me.
Here are a few players whose value you may need to reconsider based on their premium slot in the lineup.
Lorenzo Cain (MockDraftCentral Average Draft Position: 359): If the season started today, it appears that Cain is most likely to lead off for the Royals. Given 600-plus plate appearances and Cain’s elite speed, you could be looking at 40 or more steals at an insane bargain price.
Chris Coghlan (ADP 340): Coghlan had an extremely disappointing sophomore campaign after his 2009 ROY. Still, however, he will bat leadoff for the Marlins this coming season. Given the extra at-bats and hitting ahead of Hanley Ramirez and Mike Stanton, Coghlan could approach 100 runs scored. This would push his value above Cody Ross, Jonny Gomes and several other outfielders who are being selected in the same tier currently.
Daric Barton (ADP: 333): I find Barton to be a very interesting player. Sure, he doesn’t offer the power that most desire from a corner infielder, but I still believe that he can be useful in mixed leagues.
As it stands, he’s going to be hitting second in the A’s much-improved lineup. Barton has always been an on-base machine and could score 90 or more runs. In addition, he’s still going to be only 25 years old, which means we could still see a small uptick in his power potential. This year I expect Barton to approach .280/90 R/15 HR/60 RBI/6 SB, which makes him a steal at this point of the draft.
Neil Walker (ADP: 254): As it stands, it appears that Clint Hurdle will slot Walker in the three hole in his Opening Day lineup. If he can build off his very productive rookie season, Walker could be a beast of a second baseman in 2011. A potential .285/70 R/16 HR/80RBI/5 SB season could be attainable, which would provide solid numbers from a second baseman or middle infielder.
Now, I’m not saying that a player’s spot in the lineup is the be-all and end-all; it’s just another tool that you should pay close attention to as spring training progresses. When comparing similar options to draft, the added bonus of having a top-of-the-order hitter should play a pivotal role. Hopefully, if this was something you weren’t already focusing on, it helps to make your teams even stronger and more complete.
As always, questions and comments are welcomed and appreciated!