Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) -
Most fantasy baseball drafts are still a month away, but now is as good a time as any to formulate a strategy. What else are you going to do, watch ice dancing replays?
I've been kicking around the idea of going heavy on pitching early in the draft (like-taking-a-pitcher-in-each-of-the-first-four-picks heavy) and then attempting to cobble together a competitive offense in the middle rounds.
Luckily, we have mock drafts to test these things out.
I went over to fantasypros.com, set up a 12-team mock draft in which I had the eighth selection and proceeded to take Clayton Kershaw, Yu Darvish, Stephen Strasburg and Chris Sale with my first four picks.
When the fifth round swung in my direction, it was time to take my first offensive player. I decided on Wil Myers of the Tampa Bay Rays, the 2013 AL Rookie of the Year. Myers is a high-upside talent with the potential to hit 30-plus homers in his second season.
Other options I could have grabbed include Detroit Tigers 2B Ian Kinsler, Washington Nationals 3B Ryan Zimmerman, Texas Rangers SS Elvis Andrus or top- five catchers Joe Mauer and Yadier Molina. Matt Kemp was also on the board, but I couldn't risk taking the injury-prone outfielder with my first offensive pick.
In the sixth through ninth rounds, I nabbed Carlos Santana, David Ortiz, Jayson Werth and Pedro Alvarez to fill out catcher, first base, my second outfield spot and third base, respectively.
The 27-year-old Santana hit .268 with 20 homers, 74 RBI, 75 runs and an .832 OPS in 2013 and he has a good chance to add to those numbers because he'll be playing fewer games behind the plate in 2014 (he started 81 games there last season for the Cleveland Indians).
David Ortiz is now 38 years old, but he hasn't yet shown his age. Over the last three years, the Boston Red Sox DH hit .311 with a .972 OPS, 82 home runs and 259 RBI, and he's coming off a World Series in which he went 11-for-16 (.688) with two home runs, six RBI and eight walks to win MVP.
Werth has hit at least .300 in two straight seasons and he rediscovered his power stroke by raising his hands in his batting stance last July. The Washington Nationals right fielder batted .343 with 17 home runs, 16 doubles, 53 RBI, 48 runs, seven steals and a 1.042 OPS in his final 71 games.
I've already written about Alvarez' upside after the 27-year-old launched 36 home runs and drove in 100 runs last season, his second straight year with at least 30 homers and 85 RBI.
I was able to grab Aaron Hill of the Arizona Diamondbacks for second base in the 10th round, Desmond Jennings of the Tampa Bay Rays for my third outfield spot in the 11th, Boston Red Sox shortstop prospect Xander Bogaerts in the 13th, New York Yankees LF Alfonso Soriano in the 16th and Detroit Tigers RF Torii Hunter in the 21st to round out my offense.
To the four aces I took earlier, I added Boston Red Sox right-hander Jake Peavy, Seattle Mariners top prospect Taijuan Walker, Cleveland Indians righty Corey Kluber and Oakland Athletics hurler Jarrod Parker.
I also built a bullpen of David Robertson, Grant Balfour and Bobby Parnell despite taking all three in Round 12 and later.
The pitching staff I constructed undoubtedly topped the league (fantasypros.com's post-draft team rater told me so).
As for my offense, it was far from the best in the league on paper but came with plenty of upside thanks to Myers, Alvarez, Santana, Bogaerts and Jennings while being anchored by veterans Ortiz, Werth, Soriano, Hill and Hunter.
So there's the answer. It is entirely possible to draft an ace starting pitcher in each of the first four rounds and still come away with an offense capable of competing.
The strategy allowed me to completely ignore starting pitching from Round 5 through Round 16, while the owners who took offensive talent in the first four picks still had to worry about completing their offensive roster, drafting a bullpen and putting together a pitching staff full of mid-level starters in that same stretch. They also had to spend more overall picks on starters to make up the difference between my aces and their mid-tier hurlers.
It's also easier to trade a top-tier starter for offensive talent during the season than it is to do the opposite because there's a higher demand for starters. For example, while eight teams may be interested in adding a starting pitcher at any time, only three might be in the market for a first baseman and only one may have enough starting pitching depth to trade an ace for your first baseman.
Next month when the drafts count, fantasy owners should consider taking the pitching-heavy path.
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