Drafting a great roster is the vital base for a successful fantasy baseball season. In order to do that, you’ll need to find an optimal draft position. All draft spots are not created equal. Finding the right spot for you is your first task. Everyone has their own preference on the best spot to start the draft. The purpose of this article series is to get you thinking about building your team from a certain section of the draft order. This is, of course, assuming you have a choice in where you draft from in your league.
This article will describe why drafting from the middle (picks six through 10 of 15-team leagues) is very advantageous and how to build a great roster base from these spots. These picks definitely help you avoid any “runs” on positions so you won’t miss out when closers, catchers, or pitchers are flying off the board. Also, drafting in the middle allows you to benefit from the strategies and biases (for & against players) of six to eight fantasy managers from each direction. You won’t be able to plan again these, but you’ll find that players you favor might fall to your lap due to the preferences/strategies of a third of the league. Contrarily, if you’re drafting on the end, it is likely that one of the 12-14 people will either target the exact players as you or have a very similar draft strategy.
Below are three different teams that draft from the middle. This is NOT a guide-map of specific players to select. This is a hypothetical draft discussing some players that you COULD select at these draft spots as well as the thought process behind each selection. Your competitors aren’t just drafting aimlessly. They’ve got a goal in mind with each pick. Give each draft selection its own respect. Roster construction is the name of the game! **”We” mentioned throughout this draft is referring to the team manager (obviously the author).
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A successful team will have these priorities for the first five rounds of the draft:
• Load up on speed
• Load up on elite pitching
• Load up on power bats
• Get elite saves
How do we accomplish all this if there are only five picks?
For this riddle, we look to the Rolling Stones for help:
You can’t always get what you want;
But if you try sometimes; well, you just might find
You get what you need.
You can’t get everything. Get what you need and have a plan to get the rest throughout the draft. Your “need” could be based on your personal strengths & weaknesses. Put pride aside and be truthful with yourself. Now build that draft plan.
1st round: Trea Turner fell to us and we were stoked to start our roster with a five-category contributor that isn’t an outfielder (OF is loaded). It’s great to have a baseline of 20 homers and 30 stolen bases with a .290 batting average. It was tough to pass on Jacob deGrom, but we’re confident there will be a few quality starting pitchers in the second round. This allows us to get premier speed without sacrificing pitching.
2nd round: Since we took a bat in the first round, we were set to take the best pitcher available in the second round. In this case, that turned out to be Jack Flaherty. Yes, Flaherty gets a mulligan for his 2020 season. We are pretty confident that he’ll compile 200 strikeouts. Does it also give us a warm fuzzy that he has a gold glove third baseman behind him? Hell yeah. We love the bats in the third round so that will probably be the choice unless an SP we like falls.
3rd round: We figured that none of the quality arms we wanted would fall to us and we were correct. We were left to decide between Whit Merrifield, Anthony Rendon, and Eloy Jimenez. We chose Eloy Jimenez. The other two were solid options and a solid draft roster could be built with them. In this case, we wanted the raw power of Jimenez. He should provide 30 homers with a .280 batting average. Also, we have our eye on a couple of hitters with power/speed in the fourth round.
4th round: We had originally planned to add more speed to the roster. However, Starling Marte and Randy Arozarena were both drafted ahead of our pick. It was a simple adjustment as we planned to take an SP if that happened, which led us to Sonny Gray. His stat line isn’t flashy, but he should be able to generate nearly 200 strikeouts as well.
5th round: We don’t like the fifth round. There’s nothing sexy here at all. We wanted to use this round to draft a known elite closer like Josh Hader, Liam Hendriks or Aroldis Chapman, however, they were already taken. Therefore, we looked to the future. There are two guys we liked in round six so we grabbed one here in Kyle Hendricks to stabilize our pitching ratios. He might not rack up the strikeouts but he will give us innings and offset any starting pitcher later that has high strikeouts and low ratios. This selection also allows us to potentially grab our other guy in round six.
Assessment & Priorities of Work for rest of draft:
Power and batting average: We only have one guy with elite power. We will need to grab a few more in the coming rounds that can contribute both home runs and batting average. There are a few power bats later in the draft, but they come with a lackluster batting average. So, we will need to keep that in mind with upcoming selections.
Closers: We missed on the premium closers, but there is still one in the sixth round we are looking to draft (Raisel Iglesias). If he is not available, we might just wait until the double-digit rounds to grab a couple of guys that should have the closer role. This category will be one of the most difficult challenges of the draft.
Speed: This team drafted Turner, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t need to draft more speed. It should still identify guys that can pitch in on the SB category. No free rides. Everyone pitches in, even if it’s only one.
Pitching: We’ve got a decent base of pitching so our focus needs to be on hitting for the next few rounds.
1st round: Pitching was the priority for this team and it started off well with Gerrit Cole. Since we have a premium starting pitcher we will want to back him up with another starter soon, potentially in the second round. We started this draft with a significant lead in pitching. We don’t want to just give that away.
2nd round: There was a huge run on pitchers so we grabbed the best bat available in Manny Machado. We are happy with 30+ homers, roughly 200 R+RBI, and maybe double-digit steals.
3rd round: We didn’t want to force pitching and that is what we would have done to grab a pitcher in this round. So we decided to go with the well-rounded bat in Whit Merrifield. We are happy with dual-position eligibility and the stolen bases. Unfortunately, this delays our pitching another round.
4th round: Finally, we were able to grab a starting pitcher we liked in Zach Plesac. Yes, he’s very controversial this preseason but his changes are very attractive, especially a 24.8% K-BB. Who knows, maybe his 40% fly ball rate will be helped by MLB’s new lead ball.
5th round: We had tough decisions in round five. We wanted to go with a closer here since Aroldis Chapman was available, but instead, we decided to go with Javier Baez. He is a bit risky, but the power/speed upside in the fifth round is very intriguing. Also, the shortstops available after him caused us to cringe so Baez was the choice.
Assessment & Priorities of Work for rest of draft:
Pitching: It’s ironic that pitching will be one of our priorities since we drafted Gerrit Cole in the first round. However, we didn’t back him up well so it isn’t as much of a strength as we had planned. That’s ok, we can build up the pitching over the next few rounds.
Closers: We chose not to grab one that was available in the fifth and that may cause some heartburn later. There are still plenty of opportunities to grab a few guys with roles later.
Power/Speed: We’ve got a comfortable base already. We will just continue to build upon it with quality. It will be important to keep an eye on the amount of team risk since we drafted Baez.
1st round: We wanted pitching and were lucky to nab Shane Bieber. We are focused on pitching early in this draft so that we can have a foundation since we don’t do very well at drafting pitchers late. However, we can identify hitting talent much easier.
2nd round: Pitching early was the game plan. Our decision was put to the test when Cody Bellinger fell to us. However, we stayed focused and drafted Luis Castillo to pair with Bieber. The plan will be to draft hitters with the next three rounds.
3rd round: It took all of two seconds to click the draft button for Xander Bogaerts. Premium shortstop options dry up quickly and we wanted to make sure we got one.
4th round: Closers keep getting pushed up higher and higher and we were tempted to draft Liam Hendriks to secure a reliable one. Instead, we resisted the temptations and drafted Randy Arozarena. We understand all the risks, but our team needs the possibility of 20 homers and 20 stolen bases.
5th round: We detoured from our original plan and grabbed up a closer in Aroldis Chapman instead of a hitter. Pitching is the strength of this team and this gives us one less thing to worry about the rest of the draft.
Assessment & Priorities of Work for rest of draft:
Speed: Both of our hitters pitch in with stolen bases, but we will still need more throughout the draft. We don’t want to be forced to draft a player too high just to get their stolen base potential.
Power: We are comfortable with the start even though we only took two hitters. There’s plenty of hitters we like in the top 10 rounds.
Pitching: Two premium starting pitchers will not fend off the competition, but it gives us a head start. We’ll add one over the next couple of rounds.
Closers: No, we aren’t naïve to think that we don’t need to draft more closers just because we have Chapman. However, we are able to take a couple of shots later.
General Tips (regardless of draft slot)
• Identify your strengths & weaknesses before the draft. If you know you are able to identify quality pitchers later in drafts, then lean more towards hitters early and vice versa.
• Plan your drafts, both before it starts as well as a couple of rounds ahead instead of just the current round. Familiarize yourself with the entire player pool.
• Don’t stalk and draft players because they, too, share similar hobbies of noodling, cosplay, underwater basket weaving, or even hash running. Draft players that, collectively, have the potential to accumulate enough stats in each category to get you to an overall victory
• Try to avoid drafting ALL the speed or ALL the power or ALL the closers or ALL the catchers. This might leave you with a glaring hole elsewhere. It is better to be in the top third of all categories than have an extraordinarily dominant lead in one category. To do that you need to have a solid foundation in all categories. Protect The Base!
• Stay flexible. Having a single plan is great, but you need to be able to improvise along the way. There will be players that drop to you that you didn’t think possible. Also, the players you wanted will be snatched right before your pick. These times are when you need to be able to make calm, competent decisions that fit your team construct.
• Have a mental flowchart. I don’t care if you get a third-grader to write it out and it looks something like the chart below. Are you married to the flowchart, “til death do you part”? No, but at least then maybe you’ve looked at the players going in each round and have an idea of which way you’d like to flow.
Draft Strategy Evaluations
We’ve established that drafting from the middle provides excellent benefits. Now, let’s see if certain draft strategies are more successful than others from this area. Below we have the overall statistics of the three teams through five rounds.
**The projections of the players came from the ATC projection system.
Team One utilized the Speed-First approach and finished with a team that has the best batting average and is in the middle of the other offensive categories with only two bats. The pitching staff has a slight lead in wins because it has three starting pitchers but it trails in the other pitching categories.
Team Two implemented a Hybrid approach starting with an elite arm but focusing more on power/speed guys. This team is the only one with three hitters so it stands to reason they would lead all the offensive categories. The one benefit though is the lead they have in stolen bases. It is the only team with two pitchers yet it still has very good ratios and a solid base for counting stats.
Team Three not only employed the Dual Aces strategy, but it grabbed the only closer chosen amongst these teams. The pitching staff is the bread and butter of this team. It is the foundation and it already has a lead on the other teams in strikeouts, saves and ERA. Although not the main attraction, it is impressive the quality of offense this team put together in the third and fourth rounds.
After going through the thought process and assessments as well as seeing the results (stats through five rounds) of each team side by side, it is clear to see which draft strategy reigns supreme. It is undeniable. The clear winner…and the draft strategy that every person across the fantasy landscape should adopt is….the one that is right for YOU.
You don’t win your league in the first five rounds, but you can definitely lose it if you don’t set up a solid foundation for your team. Because you’re drafting from the middle, any one of these strategies can be successful. The important things to consider are the next steps in the draft for each team to build a great roster. If you look at one of these teams above and you have no idea what the next steps would be, then maybe that strategy is not for you.
Personally, my preferred draft strategy has always been either Speed First or a Hybrid build led by an elite pitcher. The Dual Ace strategy has never been a part of my arsenal, but Team Three does have a foundation that is very attractive.
The middle picks of the draft are the perfect spots to be to have a great draft. You get to be more involved in the draft which will allow you the versatility to successfully employ any draft strategy you choose. You will also have opportunities that fall in your lap, and you will have the option to be aggressive if you choose. The middle picks do offer more decision-making chances, but since you’ll be prepared, that won’t be an issue at all.
Keep in mind, these three drafts above aren’t supposed to be the perfect build to start a draft. It was an exercise to show you how to build a solid base using different draft strategies and highlight some players that might be available picking from the middle of the draft. Yes, the entire baseball player list is your oyster. The important thing is planning so your draft ends up as a pearl and not muck at the bottom of the ocean.
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