This article will appear in the RotoWire Fantasy Baseball Guide 2014 that was recently published. Look for more from Howard during draft season in the Mock Draft Army @RotoBuzzGuy and throughout the year in his weekly column The MLB Barometer.
Ask anyone in the fantasy sports business and I'm sure they'll confirm that no one loves a good mock draft more than I do. I'll happily spend the offseason doing some hardcore number-crunching while setting up my own positional depth charts, but if you want the best possible way to judge a player's market value and determine how high you need to reach or how long you can afford to wait, then a series of mock drafts is, without question, the best way to go. I say a series, because obviously you need the largest sample size possible to determine how accurate a player's ADP is before you head into your real draft. Plus they're a ton of fun!
So when I was asked to put together this mock draft again, my eagerness took over. I could say that I wanted to get everything in to the printer early, but deep down I just needed to get my baseball fix. I gathered some of the finest minds in the business and with the help of our friends over at RealTime Fantasy Sports, got a group together in early December for a 12-team mixed draft with the rules of the RotoWire Online Championships in mind. Obviously, there are a few caveats to understand with respect to such an early draft date. First and foremost, there is still a significant amount of player movement yet to happen. We often have to speculate potential increases and decreases in draft value for many free agents just based on where we believe they will end up. And, of course, there are the late-round sleepers who are likely to go much higher in a March draft than one in December.
A draft such as this should be used as a guideline as opposed to gospel. Part of our intent in drafting now is that we want to help create the actual ADP numbers you will be using and provide you with base thoughts from which trends will develop when additional news becomes available closer to your draft date. Using this as your "square one" will enable you to track draft outliers, risers and fallers, and, of course, where in your draft you are most likely to find better values.
Click on the image below to view the results grid:
Rather than ask each expert the same questions, we asked questions specifically tailored to each participant's draft.
Tim Heaney, KFFL
Miguel Cabrera and Mike Trout typically go first and second in almost every draft, though not necessarily in that order. What is your reason for taking Cabrera over Trout?
It was hardly an easy decision. I'm a big believer in "show me" for multiple years when it comes to early picks in the first round, and after 2013, Trout is now my firmly entrenched No. 2. But the declining power around the majors prompted me to take Miggy first. With health, there's no better thumper in the game. Plus, have you seen third base this year? I couldn't pass up his last firm year of eligibility there.
It's easier to speculate on stolen bases in the late rounds than home runs, and my selections of guys like B.J. Upton, Peter Bourjos and Junior Lake played into that strategy. Even without Prince Fielder in Detroit, Cabrera will post top-three fantasy returns. Remember, you don't necessarily have to get the BEST player at No. 1 -- just the one you think is the closest to automatic first-round value -- and Cabrera has done it for a much longer time than Trout.
Kevin O'Brien, RotoWire
People talk about position scarcity in drafts and not only did you wait until Rounds 12-15 to grab your three middle infielders, but you ended up with three very unproven youngsters. Would you have taken such a risk if this were a real draft and not a mock?
One of my main beliefs in drafting is to take the best player available, so while I realize that positional scarcity is important, I felt there were better players still on the board, and knew there were a lot of middle infielders I liked lower in the rankings. I probably should have drafted a shortstop in Round 11. Looking at the results, however, I don't see much difference between the non-elite middle infielders. In terms of the players themselves, I feel comfortable that Bogaerts and Profar will be regulars all season, and I like Villar given his stolen base potential. So, while I'm gambling on a lot of youngsters, I do feel confident in them, and I was able to take my pick of the top players at other positions.
Todd Zola, Mastersball
Do you see Jason Kipnis as a legitimate second round value or was that a move strictly due to position scarcity?
I don't believe in position scarcity - it's a complete myth and perhaps the most overblown strategy in all of fantasy baseball. I do however, want to have open spots for two outfielders late in a draft (2 OF or 1 OF/1 UT) so I won't lock up all of my outfield spots early. How I get to the end is dictated by the flow, but I don't get there by overdrafting the perceived scarce positions early. I guess that means Kipnis was worthy of that spot simply on his potential production, irrespective of position.
Tom Kephart, Baseball HQ
Todd Zola claimed that Alex Rios was a second round pick but passed on him, wanting to see how far he would fall. You got him with the 45th overall pick (tail-end of the 4th round). Is that where you see his value or do you feel like he's more of a steal there?
I considered Rios a steal where I got him. I had him easily in my top-30 players. He stood out as one of the better players when I took Longoria in Round 3, another player who I did not expect to last that long. I don't necessarily view Longoria as a steal at 28th overall, but since I had him rated third among third basemen behind only Miguel Cabrera and Adrian Beltre, I did not really expect him to be there. I thought I got a later steal also with Jayson Werth in Round 8.
Derek VanRiper, RotoWire
Why should we believe that Hanley Ramirez is back?
I felt like you could see the difference in the way Hanley was taking at-bats last season -- being on a team built for the postseason, he just looked more like the elite player we grew accustomed to from 2008-10. The health of his shoulder might have been the key reason behind the return of his power. A lot of it seemed to be motivation, and he'll have extra incentive in 2014 as he's playing for a long-term contract. A big part of my belief in the rebound is the team context, as the Dodgers' lineup should afford him plenty of chances to drive in and score runs.
Eric Karabell, ESPN
Based on your first three picks, would it be safe to say that position scarcity, even in a 12-team league, is a big concern of yours?
I don't enter drafts intent on selecting middle infielders in the first three rounds, but in this case it felt right, as the choices seemed undervalued. I pay some attention to scarcity, but wouldn't exactly select Nick Punto in Round 3. I've got Cano and Tulowitzki in my personal top 10, so getting each is nice. What's odd is Cano signed with Seattle a few days later, and this seemed unlikely on this draft day; I would have bypassed him for Carlos Gonzalez with the sixth pick knowing that. As for Reyes, I'm a believer he can play 130 games in a given season. His 2013 numbers make the third round worth it if it actually occurs.
Steve Gardner, USA Today
You grabbed Hunter Pence in the seventh round and clearly felt like he was not only a bargain there, but that you were one of very few people who felt the same way. Why do you think there is such a misconception of Pence's true talent level?
It's not unusual for a team of mine to have Pence on it. It seems people try to find reasons not to like him just because he runs like an antelope out of control. But when you look at the numbers at the end of the season, he always ends up getting the job done, and he's finished between 22 and 26 homers for six straight seasons. Last year, he had a career-high 22 steals. In 2012, his average was down, but he had a career-high 104 RBI. He does a little bit of everything – he just doesn't look smooth doing it.
Scott Pianowski, Yahoo Sports
Obviously your selection of Joey Votto in the first round means that you're not overly concerned with the power drop-off we saw last year. What are your expectations of him and what is your reasoning for him to return to his .220-plus ISO?
I didn't really plant a flag in the ground for Votto, I just didn't like the alternatives in that slot. I'm not taking a pitcher there and Carlos Gomez isn't quite the sure thing I'd like at that point. Maybe I should have brushed off the Braun dirt and moved on - I'm confident he'll be a star again. But Votto is a durable guy at a key spot and I'm willing to pay for his general three-year scan over last year's falloff.
Howard Bender, RotoWire
You have a number of last year's disappointments on your roster (Aoki, Eaton, Teixeira, Escobar, Moustakas, Markakis, etc.) -- any particular metrics or theme behind that? Or, is it just a case where you felt that the market was overcorrecting for their respective shortcomings?
It's probably more a case of watching the market overcorrect as none of them were taken earlier than the 15th round nor is my team reliant on them. If they bust, the replacement value needed for any of them is easily attainable on the waiver wire in a 12-team league and if they boom, well, then so does my team. I like grabbing players who were injured the year before as many forget about them while rummaging through cheat sheets based on the previous year's numbers. I will say that perhaps my work in covering the Royals for RotoWire has had somewhat of an adverse effect on my late-round drafting because I do believe in many of them, Moustakas for example, and I am probably looking at them through rose-colored glasses. In my defense though, Aoki, who actually didn't have that bad a year in comparison to his previous year, was not dealt to Kansas City until after the draft. I just liked his potential to post those 2012 numbers on a regular basis, though I'm a bit hesitant now with his move to a pitcher's park in the American League.
Jason Collette, RotoWire
In a span of three years, Carlos Gomez has gone from late-round sleeper to mid-round pick with both hope and skepticism to now a first-round pick in this draft. Obviously you wouldn't have taken him first if you didn't believe, but what are your thoughts to counter the doubters who question the unexpected spike in ISO and an inflated BABIP?
He was a top-10 fantasy player last season and I don't think it was a fluke. Players can create their own baseline for BABIP & ISO and that's what I think Gomez is doing. He makes consistent hard contact.
Jeff Paur, RealTime Fantasy Sports
Since you drafted him, your level of concern doesn't seem that high, but given the fact that we haven't seen him play since the suspension, what do you say to the skeptics who say that Everth Cabrera could be a reach in the seventh round?
I think the upside of Cabrera outweighs his risk, especially for a seventh-round pick. The shortstop spot is deeper than past seasons but remains a bit top heavy, so I think a guy like Cabrera still brings good value. I don't see his stolen-base totals suddenly plummeting because of the suspension. I still expect him to hit for a decent average and have among the best stolen-base totals for the position. If he were a power hitter or a guy that had a very high average, I would be a little more concerned about the suspension but that isn't the case with Cabrera. I expect more of the same from him based on past seasons.
John Halpin, Fox Sports
What are your expectations of Oscar Taveras with Peter Bourjos coming over to St. Louis? Will he play, and if so, at whose expense?
I figure that if Taveras is healthy, he'll get plenty of playing time at the expense of Jon Jay and - to some extent – Bourjos. Lots of upside, and if he winds up on my fantasy bench, I've got capable replacements.