Although the following tips are geared more toward the daily, head-to-head fantasy player, they are also applicable in the rotisserie format.
Analyze your draft from last year
What worked for you a year ago, and what didn't? How could you have drafted differently? If you have the ability to review your draft from the previous season, do it. Hindsight is 20/20, but it could also give you some valuable insight for this year.
Dig up last season's numbers
For those of you who played fantasy football and might also be participating in fantasy basketball leagues, there have been a lot of non-baseball related statistics to keep track of since the end of the 2004 baseball season. Preseason publications are great for getting you up-to-speed on last year's stats, but if you don't want to fork over the seven or eight bucks for a magazine, any major sports news web site will do just fine. If possible, use a filter on the web statistical reports to rank players overall, by position and according to categories (i.e. HR, stolen bases, saves), to better organize your own preseason rankings.
Don't rely heavily on preseason publications
While the aforementioned magazines are helpful with regard to a player's past performances, don't accept the projections and prognostications in these publications as law. These prospectuses typically go to print in early January and will obviously not include major transactions that have taken place, and will take place, since then. It's probably in your best interest to limit their use for their statistical information and "cheat sheets."
Create a "wish list" depth chart
Depth charts can be extremely useful on draft day as players go flying off the board. By having a preferred selection of players at various positions, you can calmly cross them off your "diamond" while your drafting competitors are fumbling through pages of notes and statistics in a sheer state of panic. The depth chart becomes especially critical for the draft's dreaded middle and late rounds, when you can take advantage of your preparation by landing quality players who have flown under your opponents' radar. While creating your draft day depth chart, a spreadsheet or other computer-related program is recommended. That way, once injury and other player news start pouring in, you can easily make the necessary updates to your chart, prior to the draft.
Put less emphasis on starting pitching and more on saves and steals
Selecting starting pitchers early not only costs you valuable picks that could be spent on hitting, but also gives you another position that requires extra research. Save yourself the time and energy by focusing more on your position players and relief corps. Plenty of quality starters will be left in the later rounds.
Saves and steals are important categories to lock down because consistent specialists in those areas are difficult to secure during the course of the season. Sure, new closers pop up during the year, but it's tough to carry that category week-in and week-out with a mediocre bullpen. Scraping up legitimate stolen base artists as the season progresses can also be very challenging, especially if you're in a league where your competitors closely monitor any potential candidates.
Participate in mock drafts, and observe actual drafts that are taking place
Want to know what the consensus is about who will go No. 1 in the fantasy draft or when the first closer is typically being selected? Taking part in mock drafts will not only help with anticipating who will go where, but will also give you an idea on how you'll respond when one of your coveted players is selected right before your pick. The mock drafts through the ESPN Fantasy Baseball site are beneficial, yet somewhat restrictive, due to the limit they place on how many players you can actually select. Still, it's good practice.
ESPN Fantasy Baseball also allows you to observe drafts as an outside party, which can also be extremely helpful, without the added pressure of officially being "on the clock." Scan the drafting teams and envision yourself as one or more of the participating owners. Putting yourself in their shoes, you can hypothetically make selections based on how the draft is being played out.
Steer clear of the oft-injured or part-time player
In most cases, you'll avoid the sleepless nights if you do your best to avoid drafting players with injury histories. I say most cases for a reason. After selecting "iron men" Richie Sexson, Billy Wagner, Magglio Ordonez and Eddie Guardado in the second through fifth rounds, respectively, of my 2004 draft, I began clearing space on my wall for another League Champion banner. Well, you know the rest of the story, and yes, it was a struggle for me just to make the playoffs. So while there are no guarantees, last year's M.A.S.H. unit (a.k.a. my fantasy roster), served as a reminder of what can happen if your team is laden with players that take up residence on the DL. Injuries are unpredictable, but you can swing the odds more in your favor by selecting the healthier players.
Part-time or platoon players, particularly in the head-to-head format, will send you to the bottom of the standings faster than you can say Mark Grudzielanek, who, incidentally, shared time with Todd Walker for the Cubs last season. Selecting part-time players limits your team's at-bats. And when you're not getting as many at-bats, your production numbers suffer. Be prudent in targeting only players of the every-day stature.
If your draft doesn't go as planned, it's not the end of the world
It doesn't take a genius to figure out that the fantasy baseball season is a marathon, not a sprint. If you have, in your estimation, conducted a bad draft, you've got the next six months to make trades or fish for reinforcements in the free agent pool to stay in contention for your league title.