Top 10 fantasy baseball draft strategies

Picking from a pool of hundreds of players for eight different positions and judging them on 10 categories can be dizzying as a jog to the mound for a geriatric manager. To help sort through the numerous lists, follow these 10 steps for a successful draft and earn a fantasy roster that can compete for the rotisserie league title.

*All draft advice is based on a 12-man, 23-round draft in a rotisserie league.

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1. Build the infield with top talent early

Catcher: After Joe Mauer, Brian McCann, Geovany Soto, Russell Martin and Victor Martinez are taken, the fantasy values drop precipitously at catcher. However, owners may be better served taking more productive corner infielders than catchers early in drafts. Only three catchers reached 20 homers and just one had at least 90 RBI last season. After the top class, owners can wait until the late rounds before selecting a competent catcher. For leagues that require two catchers, owners can wait until the later rounds with many of the catchers offering similar low potential.

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First base: This position is deep with power. Take advantage of the depth and great productivity by drafting two of the following for the fantasy positions of first base and corner infield in the early rounds. Durable Albert Pujols, Miguel Cabrera, Mark Teixeira, Lance Berkman and Ryan Howard are safe for 30 homers and 100 RBI, making them excellent first-round picks. Justin Morneau is a solid second-rounder, while Adrian Gonzalez, Kevin Youkilis and Prince Fielder are enticing third-rounders. Carlos Delgado, Derrek Lee and Carlos Pena are strong fifth-rounders, and Joey Votto offers excellent value in the mid-rounds.

Second base: Chase Utley is in a class by himself in talent, power and proven stats at second base, and he's also worth a first-round pick just by virtue of positional scarcity. AL MVP Dustin Pedroia is a contender for the batting and run title, along with serving as a 20-20 possibility. Though lacking Utley's 30-homer potential, Ian Kinsler is a 20-20 threat who can produce a .300 season and 100 runs. Both are worth claiming in the second or third rounds. After them, Brian Roberts is the position's best producer of stolen bases and offers capability of 40 steals, 100 runs and a .300 average. Next, Brandon Phillips offers 20-20 possibility, along with Alexei Ramirez (still eligible at second). If those players disappear too quickly, then wait until the late rounds to choose a steady all-around performer, such as Mark DeRosa, Jose Lopez, Rickie Weeks or Robinson Cano. They are solid choices for middle infield spots as well. Otherwise, pick from a comparable group and boost a weak category, such as Howie Kendrick for average, Kazuo Matsui for steals and Akinori Iwamura for runs.

Hanley Ramirez hit .301 with 33 home runs and 67 RBIs last season.
Shortstop: Hanley Ramirez is a candidate for the top overall pick as a 40-40 talent with a .300 average and 100 runs. Jose Reyes is a first-rounder as a perennial threat to lead the league in stolen bases. Though he's lost power, Rollins provides capability for 50 steals, 100 runs and a .300 average in the next several rounds. Rafael Furcal may be overlooked after being injured for most of last season. Look at him and emerging Alexei Ramirez for excellent value as all-around performers. Youngsters Troy Tulowitzki and Stephen Drew also provide all-around contributions and are solid picks in the first third of the draft. Drafting one of those will ensure an advantage at this thin position. Aging veteran Derek Jeter could be bypassed frequently, making him an enticing choice in the middle rounds. After him, wait for the late rounds to draft the next group of shortstops, headlined by Jonny Peralta, J.J. Hardy and Ryan Theriot.

Third base: The first two spots are loaded with Alex Rodriguez and David Wright serving as top five overall picks. Each can hit 30 homers, drive in 100 RBI, score 100 runs, steal 15 bases and hit .300 in the same season. For the next two rounds, Evan Longoria is one of the game's top young sluggers, while Kevin Youkilis is a model of consistency. Look by Round 4 at Aramis Ramirez for a 30-homer, 100-RBI season with .300 potential. Drafting one of the above will provide owners with season-long production and an advantage at third base. After the first four rounds, Garrett Atkins combines adequate power with high average, and Chipper Jones is a candidate for the batting title. Excellent values from four-category contributors (excluding steals) can be found in the late rounds for corner infielder spots with Troy Glaus, Melvin Mora, Adrian Beltre, Casey Blake and Jorge Cantu. Younger options include Edwin Encarnacion, Mark Reynolds and Ryan Zimmerman. As a last resort, gamble on the return of aging Mike Lowell or the potential of Chris Davis.

2. Take five-category outfielders early and often

Taking well-balanced outfielders who post solid stats in average, homers, RBI, runs and stolen bases will help ensure a strong across-the-board results and competitiveness in the league standings. The top ones are Carlos Beltran, Ryan Braun, Josh Hamilton, Matt Holliday, Alfonso Soriano, Carlos Quentin, Grady Sizemore, Jason Bay and Nick Markakis. Opting for a high-power, low-average player like Adam Dunn or a one-dimensional speedy outfielder such as Willy Taveras too early will cost owners significant points in their deficient categories. A power outfielder who can only hit in the low .200s or a speedy one who can produce only steals, in conjunction with a low average, will leave his owner feeling short-changed. He'll quickly fall behind the majority of owners in the standings by being deficient in as many as four hitting categories, and it will be difficult to compensate for those lost stats. Even taking those who are strong in four categories of homers, RBI, runs and average is smart. They offer great productivity in 80 percent of the hitting stats without simultaneously hurting a category with negative stats, like a player who posts low averages. These are Manny Ramirez, Carlos Lee, Magglio Ordonez, Jermaine Dye, Milton Bradley, Matt Kemp and Raul Ibanez. The next class of solid all-around outfielders include Bobby Abreu, Johnny Damon, Torii Hunter, Curtis Granderson, Carl Crawford, Alex Rios, Nate McClouth, Corey Hart and Hunter Pence. If any of these five-category players are available in the middle rounds, grab them quickly and often to be strong at multiple outfield spots.

3. Grab durable, starting pitchers with high K's and low ratios

The Giants' Tim Lincecum is coming off a Cy Young season.

It's essential to take power starters who own excellent ratios of ERA and WHIP in order to compete effectively in four of the five pitching categories comprising of wins, strikeouts, ERA and WHIP. It's imperative to draft at least three. At the top of the list are Johan Santana, Tim Lincecum and CC Sabathia. If any of the three are available in the second round, pick them. Santana and Sabathia have proven to be durable and consistently finish among the league leaders in wins, strikeouts and ratios. Lincecum led the majors in strikeouts and finished third in ERA in just his second season. Roy Halladay, Cole Hamels, Josh Beckett, James Shields, Dan Haren, Brandon Webb, Cliff Lee, Jake Peavy and Daisuke Matsuzaka headline the next group of aces. In addition, look closely at A.J. Burnett, Roy Oswalt, John Lackey, Ervin Santana, Javier Vazquez, Derek Lowe, Scott Kazmir, Matt Cain, Randy Johnson, Ricky Nolasco, Jon Lester, Ryan Dempster, Rich Harden, Zach Greinke, Ben Sheets and Ted Lilly as excellent opportunities to deliver a big bang in the pitching categories. Youngsters David Price, Chad Billingsley, Felix Hernandez, Joba Chamberlain, Edinson Volquez, Yovani Gallardo and Max Scherzer represent the next generation of great pitching stars in their early 20s and can complete the trifecta of dominating, power fantasy starters.

4. Wait on closers early and draft three later

Some experts advise punting saves to focus on other categories. Don't believe them. Owners can find an elite closer in the mid-rounds, then grab two lesser ones later to round out the closers and finish in the upper tier of saves. Just look at 2007 late-rounders Jose Valverde and Joe Borowski, as both led their leagues in saves with 47 and 45, respectively. Or check out 2008 late-rounder Joakim Soria, who finished third in saves (42), giving him more than Brad Lidge. Or view another 2008 late-rounder Brian Wilson, who generated the fourth-most saves (41), giving him the same number as Jon Papelbon. Owners will find the top group of closers consists of Papelbon, Lidge, Joe Nathan, Mariano Rivera and Francisco Rodriguez. All are durable, have already recorded 40 saves in a season and post dominating ratios with high strikeout rates. If these are taken too early, then look at the second-tier group of Brian Fuentes, Bobby Jenks, B.J. Ryan, Francisco Cordero, Joakim Soria, Jose Valverde and Kerry Wood for two closer picks. Other options for a second and third closer are Matt Capps, Trevor Hoffman, Jonathan Broxton, Carlos Marmol, George Sherrill, Mike Gonzalez, Matt Lindstrom and Brian Wilson for two closer picks. As the final options in the last rounds, look at Troy Percival, Huston Street, Chad Qualls, Brandon Lyon, Chris Perez, Brad Ziegler, Frank Francisco, Tyler Walker and Joel Hanrahan.

5. Search for bargains with last year's injured stars

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Stars who were injured last year may be undervalued on draft day. Usually, their talent and production in past seasons would entail a higher pick, but injuries have lowered their draft values. Owners may be hesitant to risk drafting injured stars in fear of another ailment derailing these players' stats. Regardless, though, many of them have been durable in their career previous to last season and are worth the risk of drafting. In 2008, some stars who were injured in 2007 had their values drop in fantasy drafts, but they rebounded with excellent seasons. Those players included Manny Ramirez, Chipper Jones, A.J. Burnett, B.J. Ryan, Jason Giambi and Troy Glaus. For 2009, these hitters who are set to produce excellent stats over a full season and may be discounted on draft day include Alfonso Soriano, Carlos Lee, Rafael Furcal, Milton Bradley, Troy Tulowitzki, Carl Crawford, Victor Martinez, Jorge Posada, Hideki Matsui, Paul Konerko, Mike Lowell and Eric Byrnes. On the pitching side, look at the following to be durable and worth drafting if they slide in drafts: John Lackey, Scott Kazmir, Chris Young, Erik Bedard, Adam Wainwright, John Smoltz, Chris Carpenter, Fausto Carmona, Chien-Ming Wang and Brady Penny. However, on the flip side, avoid players who are brittle and have an extensive injury history, like J.D. Drew, Gary Matthews Jr., Todd Helton, Hank Blalock, Troy Percival, Huston Street and Scott Rolen. They aren't worth the risk of drafting if comparable players are available.

6. Find late-round gems in dominate setup men for shaky closers

In the past few seasons, relievers who started the season as setup men received chances to save games when the closer became injured or ineffective. Last year, 13 setup men who finished with at least nine saves replaced relievers who started 2008 as closers. These included Fuentes (30) replacing Manny Corpas, Salomon Torres (28) replacing Eric Gagne,, Ryan Franklin (17) replacing Jason Isringhausen, Broxton (14) replacing Takashi Saito, Mike Gonzalez (14) replacing Rafael Soriano, Jensen Lewis (13) replacing Joe Borowski, Fernando Rodney (13) replacing Todd Jones, Dan Wheeler (13) replacing Percival, Ziegler (11) replacing Street, Brandon Morrow (10) replacing J.J. Putz, Luis Ayala (9) replacing Billy Wagner, Hanrahan (9) replacing Jon Rauch (traded) and Qualls (9) replacing Lyon. This year's top setup men who have the talent to succeed in closer's roles include Oakland's Joey Devine, Tampa Bay's Wheeler, the Cubs' Kevin Gregg, Atlanta's Rafael Soriano, Arizona's Rauch, the White Sox's Scott Linebrink, the Angels' Scot Shields and Jose Arredondo, Baltimore's Chris Ray, Boston's Saito, the Yankees' Damaso Marte, San Francisco's Jeremy Affeldt, the Mets' Putz, Toronto's Scott Downs, Milwaukee's Carlos Villanueva, Houston's Doug Brocail and Philadelphia's Chad Durbin.

7. Draft rising players, not declining ones

The Rays' Evan Longoria is an up-and-comer who could pay off.
Some owners may elect to choose declining vets like Vladimir Guerrero, David Ortiz, Derek Jeter, Gary Sheffield, Carlos Zambrano, Miguel Tejada, Hank Blalock, Jim Thome, Travis Hafner and Troy Percival. However, they would be best served if they drafted rising young hitters like Evan Longoria, Carlos Quentin, Stephen Drew, Joey Votto, James Loney, Justin Upton, Jay Bruce, Hunter Pence, Jacob Ellsbury and Jose Lopez. They'd also be wise to select young star pitchers who are still improving. These include David Price, Chad Billingsley, Joba Chamberlain, Ricky Nolasco, Edinson Volquez, Zach Greinke, Yovani Gallardo and Max Scherzer. Last year's examples of young hitters who kept improving and provided excellent values in drafts included Adrian Gonzalez, Matt Kemp, Dustin Pedroia and Ian Kinsler. Aging hitters who faded quickly and had inflated draft values last season were Gary Sheffield, Jeff Kent, Garret Anderson and Mike Lowell. Young pitchers who improved dramatically included Tim Lincecum, Ervin Santana, Jon Lester, Zack Greinke, Chad Billingsley and Joakim Soria. Aging pitchers whose stats eroded included Curt Schilling, Livan Hernandez, Eric Gagne, Todd Jones and Joe Borowski.

8. Wait until the final rounds for hitting prospects

Avoid grabbing top hitting prospects too early whom have barely played or have yet to play in the major leagues. Houston's J.R. Towles was a highly touted catching prospect and was drafted too early in many instances last season. He went ahead of established veteran A.J. Pierzynski in numerous drafts but was sent down after a couple of months of poor production. Most rookies need a learning curve to adjust to major-league pitching and pressures. Let someone else waste a pick on a prospect in the mid-rounds; instead opt for one as a final pick for a bench spot in the hope he becomes the next Albert Pujols. Ryan Braun was great in 2007, and Evan Longoria, Jacob Ellsbury and Joey Votto performed superbly as rookies last year. This year's top prospects include catcher Matt Wieters (Baltimore), first basemen Gaby Sanchez (Florida) and Pablo Sandoval (San Francisco), shortstop Reid Brignac (Tampa Bay), third basemen Mat Gamel (Milwaukee), Dallas McPherson (Florida) and Brandon Wood (Los Angeles Angels), and outfielders Matt LaPorta (Cleveland), Travis Snider (Toronto), Chris Dickerson (Cincinnati), Cameron Maybin (Florida), Andrew McCutchen (Pittsburgh), Luis Montanez (Baltimore) and Colby Rasmus (St. Louis).

9. Use tiers in deciding whom to draft

Owners will benefit greatly if they separate each position into classes of fantasy talent. This will enable them to confidently choose the best player at different positions when it's time to draft. For instance, in Round 4, Aramis Ramirez may be the only one left from the pool of top third basemen, but many solid first basemen like Adrian Gonzalez, Prince Fielder, Carlos Delgado, Derrek Lee and Carlos Pena might still be available at first base. In this case, Ramirez would be the better choice with your No. 4 pick, to ensure solid stats at third base. It's likely that one of those strong first basemen will still be available in Round 5, ensuring top picks at both first and third base. Check out tier rankings in this issue's cheatsheet pullout and positional rankings.

10. Don't punt a category on draft day

Stolen bases and saves can be easily disregarded on draft day as they are the scarcest stats for hitting and pitching, respectively. In addition, owners may ignore batting average in favor or homers and RBI, and that can destroy a chance for a league title. Those owners would record the league's lowest team batting average, and consequently, register a measly one point for average in the league standings. The best way to avoid low steals and average is to take strong all-around hitters. To ensure saves are covered, be sure to draft three regular full-time closers.

However, if the all-around outfielders and closers disappear too soon to fill multiple spots, here are three ways to help with steals, average and saves. They will help ensure owners remain competitive in those categories.

  • Acquiring steals If five-category players are taken before your outfield has filled, then look at speedsters like Ichiro, B.J. Upton, Jacob Ellsbury and Shane Victorino in the early and mid-rounds. In the final rounds, look at accomplished fast outfielders, such as Michael Bourn, Carlos Gomez, Coco Crisp and Delmon Young. Outfielders Denard Span, Cameron Maybin, Josh Anderson, Brett Gardner, Joey Gathright, Jerry Owens, Nyjer Morgan and Fernando Perez may also help as last resorts. In the infield, look at the following to increase steals in the late rounds: Rickie Weeks, Kazuo Matsui, Jerry Hairston, Felipe Lopez, Emmanuel Burriss and Luis Castillo at second base; Ryan Theriot, Jason Bartlett and Cesar Izturis at shortstop; and Chone Figgins and Nick Punto at third.

  • Boosting average These players offer strong averages to help compensate for sluggers who have much power but own weak averages. To help with team average in the final rounds, look at Dioner Navarro and Yadier Molina at catcher; Conor Jackson at first base; Mark DeRosa, Kelly Johnson, Robinson Cano, Orlando Hudson, Matsui, Placido Polanco, Freddy Sanchez, Akinori Iwamura, Aaron Hill, Aaron Miles and Castillo at second base; Edgar Renteria, Yunel Escobar, Jason Bartlett, Miles and Cristian Guzman at shortstop; and Zimmerman at third base. Look at outfielders Ellsbury, Victorino, Gomez, Span, Delmon Young, David DeJesus, Skip Schumaker, Brian Giles and Randy Winn to assist with average. To help with both average and steals, consider Theriot, Bartlett, Johnson, Matsui and Castillo at infield. Watch for Ellsbury, Victorino, Gomez, Span and Young to boost both average and steals at outfield.

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  • Adding saves See step No. 6. Grab a lesser closer in the late rounds and claim a dominant or productive setup man. Especially focus on the relievers who are behind shaky or aging closers, and take them with the final picks. This year's top setup men who have both the talent and increased opportunity to succeed in a closer's role include Oakland's Devine (Ziegler), Tampa Bay's Wheeler (Percival), Arizona's Rauch (Qualls), Baltimore's Ray (Sherrill), St. Louis' Franklin (Perez), San Francisco's Affeldt (Wilson) and Milwaukee's Villanueva (Hoffman).

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Roger is a senior editor for the FOXSports.com fantasy group. Read his blog for more analysis. Have a question or comment? Send them!


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