By now, many of you are in full draft preparation mode, a time of year that a lot of us approach in different ways. There is no exact science to this, but let me take a moment to share how I approach my far too many drafts and auctions.
Step No. 1: Read, read, read. This should be a year-round process. Read as much as you can about as many players and situations as you can, so that you aren't that guy in your non-keeper auction last year who says "Adam Wainwright - opening bid $25." Read RotoWire and news sites like Yahoo!, ESPN, etc., and buy annuals like Baseball Prospectus 2012, Ron Shandler's book and the one by Bill James.
Step No. 2: Make your lists. I like to use the RotoWire draft software where I can, especially as it's customizable to your league settings. One of its great feature is showing the latest news for every player, so when you're about to draft a guy, you can ensure you're not pickup up someone who just got into a car accident - hope you're OK, Tommy Hanson.
Step No. 3: Continually adjust your lists. As news continues to surface, make sure you filter it appropriately. I like that Russell Martin, Phil Hughes, Jay Bruce and a host of others are in the "best shape of their lives," but don't go crazy and overdraft players on this knowledge alone.
Step No. 4: Make a list of players you are high on (or conversely, a list of those to avoid). Rank these players on your lists based on these ideas, but recognize that others might think the same way, so you might have to draft those players a round or two earlier than planned. That's OK.
Step No. 5: Be flexible. If during the draft you are at a point where you need a starting pitcher and the next two players on your list are Jaime Garcia and Cory Luebke, don't automatically go with the top available pitcher on your list. However, if at that moment you start thinking that Luebke is for real and that the Padres could have an underrated offense to support Luebke and think he may be the better option, then by all means, draft with your gut.
I am sure there are other strategies, some likely far more scientific than mine, but if it works for you, go with it.
On to pitching ...
From now until Opening Day, I will be in full "helping you to win your league" beast mode. This week, we'll take a division-by-division look at several rotation and bullpen situations worth monitoring.
Yankees: The Yankees rotation has improved dramatically over 2011, but there's still some uncertainty in the No. 5 slot. Phil Hughes has come to camp in better shape, but that in no way guarantees that he beats out Freddy Garcia for that job. Still, consider Hughes a sleeper, as he's still just 25.
Red Sox: If signing the likes of Carlos Silva and Vicente Padilla constitutes addressing the back-end of the Boston rotation, then the Ben Cherington era is off to a slow start. We don't know what to expect from Dan Bard as a starter, and Alfredo Aceves has a grand total of nine big-league starts. I can't see Boston trading Will Middlebrooks, but it has to deal for a starting pitcher.
Rays: Many think Matt Moore is already the Rays' best starter, but what about the No. 5 hole? Jeff Niemann and Wade Davis will compete for that slot, as Tampa Bay is in no hurry to deal James Shields. Barring an injury, expect Davis to wind up the odd man out, as he simply misses fewer bats than Niemann.
Orioles: Wei-Yin Chen and Tsuyoshi Wada were brought in to fill two spots in the Baltimore rotation, with Jason Hammel likely will procure another. That leaves Zach Britton (shoulder inflammation), Brian Matusz, Jake Arrieta and a host of (even) lesser options in Tommy Hunter, Alfredo Simon and Dana Eveland. If you put a gun to my head and forced me to own one of these guys, it would be Matusz (AL-only, deep mixed).
Blue Jays: This should be the year that Brandon Morrow tops 200 innings for the first time, but raise your hand if you haven't been a disappointed Morrow owner in the past. Yeah, same here. Watch Dustin McGowan this spring, as while he hasn't been relevant for four years due to shoulder issues, he did average 93 mph with his fastball in limited innings last year.
Tigers: The Tigers are set in spots 1-4, leaving Andrew Oliver and Jacob Turner competing for the No. 5 slot. Personally, I think Turner needs a half year in Triple-A, but this will come down to whoever pitches best this spring. In keeper leagues, watch out for Drew Smyly, who reportedly also will receive consideration this spring despite just 45.2 innings above A-ball. Smyly, however, had a 2.07 ERA and more than a strikeout per inning in the minors last year. It probably also doesn't hurt that like Oliver, he throws with his left hand.
Indians: Take this with the appropriate grain of salt, but Ubaldo Jimenez added eight pounds of muscle this offseason, also reporting that he's fully over a groin injury that affected him last year. He could have a big season. Another to watch is Kevin Slowey, who meets one of my criteria in evaluating pitchers - he finds the strike zone with regularity. On the flip side - a ton of home runs and DL visits.
Royals: Jonathan Sanchez could walk 100, but he might strike out 180 in Kansas City. Instead of landing Sanchez and trying to stomach those seven-walk games, target Felipe Paulino. He'll come cheaper, and if he can figure out how to find the strike zone, maybe he can take that next step. In K.C., however, it's all about waiting for the future - Jake Odorizzi, Mike Montgomery and John Lamb among others.
Twins: Francisco Liriano was hit or miss last year and pretty much the same in winter ball this year. I don't know what to expect here, but I don't think I'll be a Liriano owner in too many leagues this year. Scott Baker says his elbow feels great, but I'm done waiting for a huge breakout.
White Sox: In Chicago, Chris Sale has the No. 5 slot over Zach Stewart barring a poor spring, but Sale's value this year will be limited by an innings cap (150?). The big question, however, is whether Jake Peavy can return to form. Clearly, he will not approach the 240 strikeouts he put up in 2007, but we'd at least like to see more than 20 starts, a mark he hasn't reached since 2008. We have no early Peavy news this spring, but it is worth noting that his K/9IP rates haven't completely fallen off the map the last two years, checking in at 7.8 and 7.7.
Angels: The Angels might have the league's deepest rotation 1-4, but the five-hole is still a question. Jerome Williams is the heavy favorite, but that's based off of a mere 44 pretty good innings last year. Should Williams falter, the Angels likely would turn to top pitching prospect Garrett Richards. I'm not overly high on Richards, as his ability to miss bats at Double-A last year was marginal (6.5 K/9IP), but he could still carve out a nice career as a No. 4/No. 5 type.
A's: The A's turned over a good portion of their rotation, with Brandon McCarthy likely the next to go sometime this year. Brett Anderson (elbow) is still the organization's best pitcher, but he's out until August. Jarrod Parker has very good upside, but I'm not sure he makes the team out of spring training. All in all, unless Bartolo Colon was given another stem cell treatment, there's not much to get excited about, at least for the first few months.
Mariners: The future is bright in Seattle, with the likes of Taijuan Walker, James Paxton and Danny Hultzen in the pipeline. Hultzen could crack the rotation from day one, but in all likelihood, he'll get a couple months at Triple-A to refine a few things. Keep an eye on Hector Noesi, who came over from the Yankees in the Montero-Pineda swap. Noesi's stuff isn't dominant, but he has excellent control and could thrive at Safeco Field.
Rangers: The big news in Texas was obviously swapping in Yu Darvish and letting C.J. Wilson walk in free agency. The other big news is Neftali Feliz transitioning to the rotation. How will that go? We don't know for sure, of course, but Feliz has reportedly met with future Hall-of-Famer Pedro Martinez, who made the same transition in 1994. Feliz's WHIP likely will be below average, but he's going to approach 200 strikeouts and have a sub-4.00 ERA - I think.
Phillies: Joe Blanton is reportedly feeling good after being limited to 41.1 innings last year due to elbow issues, so he'll fill out the back end of a still excellent rotation. The real question is whether Vance Worley (11-3 with a 3.01 ERA in 131.2 innings) can repeat a solid rookie season. Worley's peripherals were solid (8.1 K/9IP, 3.1 BB/9IP), but asking him to approach a 3.01 ERA again is asking a bit much. Expect regression there, perhaps to the 3.75 level or so.
Mets: Expect Jon Niese to be the Mets' best starter this year, but all eyes will be on Johan Santana. His shoulder surgery was far from routine, so a setback is certainly possible. He hasn't made 30 starts in a season since 2008, but while Santana's Cy Young days are behind him, don't write him off just yet. I'd risk a couple bucks on him evolving into a solid No. 3 starter.
Marlins: It's a deep and potentially very talented Miami rotation with Josh Johnson being ace-level if healthy. Carlos Zambrano will occupy the back-end of the rotation, and before you write him off completely, Zambrano is still just 30 and reportedly worked hard over the winter. Watch him this spring.
Braves: The Braves have a deep stable of young pitchers, and they might need all of them. Tim Hudson (back) is out until May, Jair Jurrjens is returning from a knee injury and Tommy Hanson had the shoulder problem a year ago and now a concussion from an auto accident. Assuming Jurrjens and Hanson are ready to go on Opening Day, Mike Minor and Brandon Beachy will be the Nos. 3 and 4 starters, with Randal Delgado and Julio Teheran competing for the final slot. Teheran just turned 20 in January, so Delgado is probably the favorite for now, but Teheran has No. 1 starter potential, just perhaps not this year.
Nationals: All eyes will be on Stephen Strasburg in the nation's capital this year, with the big question being how many innings he'll be allowed to throw. The current plan is to limit him to 160, so that makes him more of a top-15 pitcher than a top-3. Chien-Ming Wang is likely the favorite for the No. 5 job over Ross Detwiler and John Lannan, but Wang is a tough guy to buy into given the lack of strikeouts.
Pirates: The Pirates have a suddenly deep rotation with A.J. Burnett at the top and Erik Bedard and a young guy with some upside in James McDonald. The real hope for Pittsburgh fans is the future, with both Gerrit Cole and Jameson Taillon having true No. 1 starter potential. Look for Cole late this year, with Taillon still a couple years out.
Cubs: The only Cubs pitcher to get excited about owning is Matt Garza, and who knows whether he's still there come Opening Day. Theo Epstein has his work cut out for him, as there are no high-level pitching prospects on the immediate horizon.
Reds: The Reds have five solid starters, with Jeff Francis also in the mix, but all eyes will be on Aroldis Chapman as he attempts to covert to starting. Chapman walked 41 batters in just 50 innings for the Reds last year, but he also struck out 71, a number that would project to 284 over 200 innings. He's not going to reach that level as a starter, but if the conversion works (I'm skeptical), 200 strikeouts seem a lock.
Astros: Wandy Rodriguez is still a little underrated in my book, even though he's an Astro, but there really isn't much to look at in Houston. Jordan Lyles has a decent future, but he doesn't miss enough bats to be a top-of-the-rotation guy. Bud Norris sneakily struck out 176 last year, making him one I like more than most.
Brewers: Chris Narveson has Marco Estrada to compete with for the final rotation spot in Milwaukee, but Narveson has the clear edge. He's a soft-tosser with really no upside, but he's also reportedly learning to throw a cutter, so perhaps that will extend his major league tenure a bit. The big thing to watch here is whether the Brewers wind up trading Zack Greinke instead of losing him in free agency.
Cardinals: All signs report to Adam Wainwright (elbow) being ready from day one, but I'm hesitant to think he's going to be the pitcher we saw in 2009-2010. It might take half a year for that Wainwright to return. As for the rest of the rotation, we're looking at Jake Westbrook and Kyle Lohse as 40 percent of the rotation, which on paper is scary, but at least we have Shelby Miller (ETA: July?) to look forward to. Miller has the potential to be the team's best starter in a couple years.
Dodgers: The Dodgers have a deep rotation, but outside of Clayton Kershaw, it's not a fantasy-friendly rotation. I like Aaron Harang in Dodger Stadium, and I think Chad Billingsley shows improvement this year, but the one to really watch is Rubby De La Rosa, who should be pitching in minor league games come July.
Giants: We know Tim Lincecum, Matt Cain and Madison Bumgarner will be good, but can Ryan Vogelsong repeat? He's dealing with a back that has set him back about 10 days, but shouldn't impact his Opening Day availability. Vogelsong's peripherals were solid at 7.0 K/9IP and 3.0 BB/9IP, but a .280 BABIP and 81-percent strand rate don't support another sub-3.00 ERA. Still, don't expect a fade into oblivion either.
Diamondbacks: In Arizona, Josh Collmenter is vulnerable in the No. 5 slot due to his lack of top-shelf stuff, but due more to the presence of Trevor Bauer and Tyler Skaggs as a pair of elite, near-ready pitching prospects. Expect Collmenter to spend more time in Triple-A Reno than Arizona this year.
Padres: Cory Luebke's 9.9 K/9IP is still a surprising number to me, and he's probably a bit underrated by a lot of fantasy owners. I'll probably own him in multiple leagues. Edinson Volquez is another interesting name, as he's shown No. 2 starter type talent in the past, but with a career 4.8 BB/9IP, the control just hasn't been there. Padres pitching coach Darren Balsley has made it a "priority" to help Volquez throw more strikes, but we can't count on that happening just yet.
Rockies: Getting out of the AL East will help Jeremy Guthrie, but his new ballpark won't. Guthrie has allowed no fewer than 25 homers each of the last three years, a number that could be more like 35 in Coors Field. Expect Drew Pomeranz to be the team's best starter this year. Tyler Chatwood and Guillermo Moscoso are pitchers to avoid, as they don't miss bats and Moscoso allows far too many flyballs. I also really like what I saw from Juan Nicosio before the ugly injury and hope he comes back 100 percent, as his minor league numbers are also very good.
Regan, a five-time Fantasy Sports Writers Association award winner, was named the 2010 Fantasy Baseball Writer of the Year.
Follow @vtadave on Twitter.