Saturday afternoon marked my third draft as a participant in a very competitive fantasy-baseball league made up of Yankee Stadium bleacher creatures and, after fourth-place finishes in 2009 and 2010 — and especially after being knocked out of third place and money on the last day of the 2010 season — I’m hoping to take the next step.
I had pick No. 11 in a 12-team draft, for the second year in a row. The draft order goes back-and-forth, so I pick, the No. 12 team picks twice, I pick again, and then I sit idle for far too long, scratching player after player off my want list. I’m not complaining — it’s pure luck of the draw (in this case, names picked out of a hat), and someone who has been in leagues as long as I have should be able to work out of any draft position. Plus, while the draft is obviously a major component of the fantasy season, moves made during the year can make a difference, as well.
Without further ado, I present the 2011 edition of the Hoboken Nine:
Round 1, Miguel Cabrera, 1B, DET: For some reason, I have never been a fan of Cabrera, even though he has been a steady, durable fantasy producer. He was by far the best offensive player left on the board at this point, though. If Roy Halladay had been available, I would have considered going against my usual strategy and drafting a starting pitcher in the first round. Felix Hernandez was still up for grabs, but I had a strong feeling I could get him in the second round (it only involved one person passing on him).
Round 2, Felix Hernandez, SP, SEA: For the second consecutive season, King Felix was my second-round pick. He is, without question, a fantastic performer, both in real-life and fantasy ball. But the drawback is that the Mariners are not a strong ball club, so he doesn’t earn as many victories as he should, often losing frustrating 2-1 games. Wins (and saves) are huge in our league, accounting for eight points apiece and often making the difference between an average day or session (two-week periods for which the winner gets cash), and a stellar one. The next pitcher on my board was Cliff Lee, and I just didn’t feel comfortable taking him in the second round.
Round 3, Matt Kemp, CF, LAD: Kemp is coming off a down year, but he puts up numbers in every category, and I’m hoping for a bounce-back year, aided by a new manager for the Dodgers, Don Mattingly. Plus, I didn’t want to make the mistake I made last season, when I waited until the sixth round to draft an outfielder, and the first one I chose turned out to be a disaster (Jason Bay).
Round 4, Jered Weaver, LAA: I really wanted two outfielders with my third and fourth picks, but I just didn’t see fourth-round value in the outfielders who were left, and I thought Hernandez and Weaver represent an incredibly strong 1-2 punch. I had to forgive him for being Jeff Weaver’s brother, but that’s all water under the bridge now.
Round 5, Victor Martinez, C, DET: There are so few quality catchers out there. I didn’t want to overshoot like I did last season, when I took Joe Mauer in the first round and he had a disappointing season, but I couldn’t pass up Martinez here. I believe the Tigers’ lineup will be stellar, and I like having both Cabrera and Martinez, although on the days when the team doesn’t score, I may not quite feel that way.
Round 6, Brandon Phillips, 2B, CIN: Much to my dismay, I am heading down the same path I did last season when it comes to outfielders. But once again, I looked closely at the remaining outfielders and thought I would get much better value out of another position. Phillips is one of the top second basemen and, while I was sad to say goodbye to Ian Kinsler, a member of my first two Hoboken Nine squads, I’m very happy with Phillips.
Round 7, Andrew Bailey, RP, OAK: One of the disadvantages of picking very early or very late is that when a run starts on a specific position, you are often caught at the tail end of it. This happened to me with closers. All the elite closers were gone well before my pick, so I took the best one left. Bailey is far from a slouch, though, so I don’t feel bad about this.
Round 8, Jimmy Rollins, SS, PHI: It seems that at least once every draft, I make a pick that I know I’m going to hate myself for, and Rollins was this season’s entry. Once again, I thought drafting any of the remaining outfielders would be sacrificing value to fill a position, and Rollins was the best shortstop left on the board. He’s also coming off a down year, but I’m hoping that if the Phillies are as successful as everyone is projecting, success will be contagious.
Round 9, Phil Hughes, SP, NYY: I was very happy to fill the No. 3 spot in my rotation with a guy who put up 18 wins last season and seems to be improving more and more with every start. Yes, I am a Yankees fan, so I am slightly biased, but I don’t let my rooting interests get in the way of my fantasy drafting. I thought Hughes was a solid pick here.
Round 10, Mark Reynolds, 3B, BAL: Outfield? What’s an outfield? Reynolds holds the Major League Baseball record for strikeouts in a season, but since strikeouts don’t count against you in fantasy baseball, I chose to ignore the gale-force breezes created by Reynolds’ bat and instead focus on the prospect of someone who has clouted 40 home runs in the past playing at Camden Yards, which has been a home run factory over the years.
Round 11, Nick Markakis, RF, BAL: Markakis and I have an abusive relationship, and I just keep coming back. I have had him on so many fantasy teams, and for the life of me, I still don’t understand how he can play in Camden Yards and not top 20 homers. He’s a solid hitter, but the power numbers just never seem to be there. I thought it might be a good idea to finally start filling in my outfield spots, and he was the best one left, so either he finally develops power, or I hate myself in October.
Round 12, Juan Pierre, LF, CHW: Wow, did I hate this pick. I felt that I had to round out my outfielders here, and that I couldn’t afford to wait until the draft snaked its way back to me, but Pierre is the classic one-category player. The only statistic he is good for is stolen bases, and his on-base percentage sucked last year. As the old baseball cliché goes, you can’t steal first base. I have a strong feeling Pierre will not last long in my starting lineup.
Round 13, Jeremy Hellickson, SP, TB: I seem to have a thing for taking young Devil Rays starting pitchers, as I selected David Price in the 15th round last year, and that couldn’t have possibly turned out better. Price was obviously off the board for quite some time at this point, but Hellickson is a highly touted prospect who moved through the system quickly and pitched well in the Majors after a September call-up, so I feel pretty good about this pick.
Round 14, Colby Rasmus, CF, STL: On the plus side, Rasmus is a solid No. 4 outfielder and option for the utility spot in the lineup. On the minus side, he only qualifies at center field, and Matt Kemp is the only one of my starting outfielders I actually feel good about. I still thought he was the best offensive player left, so I went with him.
Round 15, Matt Thornton, RP, CHW: A secondary closer run had begun, and even though Thornton wasn’t guaranteed the closer’s role, I didn’t like any of the other options. I didn’t know this during the draft (it was announced today), but the White Sox signed Thornton to a two-year extension, which made me feel much better about the pick.
Round 16, Angel Pagan, LF/CF/RF, NYM: Pagan is a solid, steady player who qualifies at all three outfield positions. I thought about taking him instead of Rasmus in round 14, but I had a feeling he would slip another couple of rounds, especially in a room full of people who hate the Mets.
Round 17, Edwin Jackson, SP, CHW: Jackson quietly had a great season last year, and I’m hoping for a repeat. And depth in the starting rotation is always key.
Round 18, Vladimir Guerrero, DH, BAL: I normally don’t like drafting players who only qualify for the utility position, but Guerrero was a sick value this late in the draft, and Camden Yards can only help his numbers.
Round 19, Chase Headley, 3B, SD: I feel much better having Headley to slip into the lineup if Reynolds falters or gets hurt than I would having to scour the waiver wire. Third basemen are hard to come by, even more so as the season goes on.
Round 20, Howie Kendrick, 2B, LAA: Kendrick is a good backup for Phillips and a dark-horse candidate for the utility spot on occasion. He is a very streaky player, and if I can catch one of his hot streaks, I will be very happy.
Round 21, Chris Coghlan, LF, FLA: Coghlan had a very good season, and I have a strong feeling either he or Pagan will replace Pierre in my starting lineup.
Round 22, Evan Meek, RP, PIT: He is the front-runner for the Pirates’ closer job right now and, while the Pirates probably won’t win many games, a likely closer in round 22 isn’t a bad pick.
Round 23, Dallas Braden, SP, OAK: He tailed off big-time after his perfect game, but he’s got good stuff, and I thought he was well worth a flyer this late in the draft. I wonder if I can get him to send me a “Get off my mound” T-shirt.
Round 24, Freddie Freeman, 1B, ATL: I was pleasantly surprised that Freeman was still available in round 24. If he ends up having anywhere near the success of last year’s highly touted Braves prospect, Andrew Heyward, this is a great pick. And if he doesn’t, this is a 24th-round pick.
Round 25, Chris Sale, RP, CHW: This guy has sick, insane stuff, and he has an outside shot at the closer job for the White Sox if Thornton doesn’t work out. The downside to this pick is that if he doesn’t close, he probably won’t start, and will pitch out of the bullpen. Wins and saves are vital in our league, and he may not have much of an opportunity for either. But I thought Sale was a solid gamble for my final pick of the draft.
Once again, I feel like I royally failed when it comes to outfielders, but I’m hoping that’s something I can fix during the season. I’m ecstatic with my rotation, and pretty happy with the rest of my offensive players and my closers. Play ball!