The National Fantasy Baseball Championship hosts live drafts in Chicago at the end of the month. I'll be there, hobnobbing, sniffing the rarefied air, and well, fantasizing about playing against some of the nation's sharpest would-be general managers.
The NFBC players are my kind of guys, and I'm pretty sure I can hold my own with them, but the entry fee, at $1,400, is too rich for my blood. Besides, NFBC is a mixed league—American League and National League players jumbled together—with no trading. What fun is that?
For me, there's only one way to play fantasy baseball: Ultra.
In an Ultra league—more commonly known as a "keeper league"—you play either with AL players or NL players. No mixing. Players are auctioned off, and after that reserves are drafted. You need to know prospects and how close they are to the majors. You need to know guys who are not getting much playing time but could succeed if given the chance. You need to know scrubs. In short, you need to know your baseball.
You might say, "Why would I want to play in league in which Bryan LaHair is my first baseman?" My response would be, "Because you're a Major League manager, Mr. Sveum." Actually I'd say that playing in a deep keeper league more closely resembles real baseball. You have some stars (unless you're the Astros), some above-average players (unless you're the Astros), and the rest is filler (Astros!) In a shallow league, your team is made up of great players. You may think your team is stacked at first, but you soon realize that everybody's team is stacked. In Ultra there's more strategy. It's all I want to play.
But it's not easy to win an Ultra league. You need to put in a lot of work, and you need a lot of luck. You also need some narcissistic online writer to come up with a list of Ten Things You Need to Win Your Fantasy Baseball League.
Ten Things You Need to Win Your Fantasy Baseball League
This is probably the most important thing I use to prepare for the auction. Even if you don't bring your computer to the draft, you still need some way to organize all your preparation. I make a sheet for hitters and a sheet for pitchers with projected stats and estimated cost. I add a column for notes. I highlight guys I like one color and guys I want to stay away from another. Do that every day for a couple of months, and suddenly you have a lot of information for draft day. I can also use this to keep track of the other teams in my league – once they decide whom they're keeping, I can see who was smart and who was Chuck. Keep an eye on the smart ones on draft day – you'll want to try to screw them at every opportunity.
You need time to do this right. You may have to sacrifice some of the NCAA Tournament or pass on that spring break trip (with Northwestern out, a lot of time has opened up in my life.) If you're married, your spouse better be very understanding. And under no circumstances should you agree to have your parents, or hers, come visit three weekends before draft day.
You need the names on a little piece of paper: three or four catchers you can pick up at the end of the draft (I like Welington Castillo of the Cubs and Tyler Flowers of the White Sox as good $1 backup catchers). About a dozen pitchers with upside who will cost you nothing. That's it.
A projected budget for each open spot on your roster
If you have $180 to spend on nine spots, don't just say, "I can spend $20 per player!" Jot down how much you want to spend in each open spot. If you want to spend $1 on the last catcher and $1 on the last pitcher, that means you have $178 to spend on seven spots, or about $25 a player. You can go up to $45 or $50 for one stud if you budget for it.
One fantasy baseball magazine (preferably RotoWire's)
Bring it with you and don't be shy about it. Make sure it's one that has games played by position last year so that you can consult it in a hurry.
List of everyone's rosters
You can fill in the keepers beforehand. Make sure you have pens and a calculator, and keep track throughout the draft. Knowing another owner's maximum bid, and their remaining needs, couldn't be more crucial. True story: Two owners wanted Rafael Betancourt last year and both had a maximum bid of nine bucks. One owner, thinking he'd "save a buck," bid only eight. The other owner bid nine. The owner who tried to save a buck got second place and would've won with Betancourt instead of Hong-Chih Freaking Kuo.
One good luck charm
My family has been tearing the house apart looking for DunKenn, a basketball-playing ear of corn I got in a Happy Meal in 1993. He's been with me at every draft since. This picture was taken a few weeks ago, but he hasn't been seen since. There is a reward if found.
Know your rookies
Find a website you trust and spend a day or two learning about the prospects. Mark big stars next to the guys you like. Tattoo the name "Anthony Rizzo" inside your forehead, for example, just like Sveum surely has. Sure, you might get snide comments for picking Addison Reed when no one else had heard of him. The snidest comments will be from the guy who just wasted a roster spot on Aaron Miles.
Don't stay up drinking or even preparing for the draft. Get to sleep. Draft day is not for the weary.
Don't have children
Oh, they're great and all that, but they take time away from fantasy. And definitely try to not have them born in March while you're trying to prepare. (In an unrelated note, happy first birthday, Evan Ruby!)
Note: This article originally appeared on ChicagoSideSports.com