"The National League is far deeper in hitting than the American League." -- Fantasy urban legend.
Sorry, folks. It's just not true. Yes, the first round of an NL-only draft is going to look awfully sweet, with Albert Pujols, Hanley Ramirez, Chase Utley and the top-notch Brewers tandem of Ryan Braun and Prince Fielder. Yes, there were more players with 90 or more RBIs in the National League, but the fact is, the NL is a bit "top-heavy." Even with two extra teams in the league, there simply aren't enough quality batters to go around.
Do the math: The American League has 14 teams and nine lineup slots for a total of 126 maximum possible every-day starters. In the NL, with 16 teams but only eight non-pitchers swinging a bat, you're looking at 128 regulars. Two extra hitters. That's all you get. So don't make the mistake of reaching for a role player before you have to, thinking you've got some extra cushion to fall back on, because you don't.
The ESPN.com fantasy staff held our NL-only mock draft on Wednesday, March 3, using ESPN Standard rules. Ten teams were drafted, featuring the following positional breakdown: one of each infield position, five outfielders, one 1B/3B, one 2B/SS, one utility player, nine pitchers and three bench spots.
The drafters, in first-round order, determined at random were Tristan H. Cockcroft, James Quintong, myself, Eric Karabell, Pierre Becquey, Christopher Harris, Keith Lipscomb, Matthew Berry, Nate Ravitz and Brendan Roberts.
For each early round, I'll outline what my thought process was when my turn came around, as well as pointing out what I thought were the best values and biggest reaches by my colleagues. And at the end of the column, stay tuned for a look at a cool new feature available in the ESPN Draft Rooms this season.
Everybody's seat belts fastened? Good. Tristan is on the clock:
AJ's decision: After seeing how quickly second base dried up in our first mixed-league mock, there was no way I was letting Chase Utley get past me in this NL-only affair, and since the third second baseman doesn't end up getting picked until Dan Uggla is snatched up in Round 7, I think my colleagues would agree with my decision.
Best of the rest: Ravitz, Prince Fielder. Everybody did well for themselves in the first round, but we'll give the kudos here to Nate for getting one of the two Milwaukee sluggers all the way down at No. 9. That's not going to happen too often in mixed leagues, let alone National League-only drafts.
Biggest stretch: Berry, Justin Upton. It's hard to make a bad pick in the first round and Matthew didn't do so here, but since Upton is the most likely of these first 10 names to last until Round 2 in other NL drafts, we'll reluctantly award this pick with the "stretch" designation.
AJ's decision: Regular visitors to my chats know how high I am on the Arizona Diamondbacks' Mark Reynolds, and I gladly grab his 40-home run potential and ability to play either corner spot rather than get stuck with Adrian Gonzalez and his one-man show in San Diego.
Best of the rest: Lipscomb, Ryan Howard. Who wouldn't like to have the league leader in home runs and RBIs fall into their lap in Round 2? While I understand that there's a lot of first-base depth to go around, I wouldn't have let Howard pass me by at No. 14 either.
Biggest stretch: Becquey, Ryan Zimmerman. Zimmerman's home run totals cannot continue to grow at their current pace due to an exaggerated and unsustainable HR/FB rate. I fear he may end up with closer to 20 than 30 in this department.
AJ's decision: As I wrote in my article on Jason Bay, I believe he's a virtual lock for 30 home runs, making him the runaway favorite to anchor my outfield. I'm pleased as punch that he's still around at No. 23, though if you wanted to argue for Jayson Werth in this spot, I couldn't really fault you. Speaking of which
Best of the rest: Ravitz, Jayson Werth. If I think Werth at No. 23 is a valid argument, then Werth at No. 29 is as no-brainer as they come. There are a lot more solid outfielders available at the start of this draft than in its AL-only counterpart, but with Eric Karabell selecting to protect against positional scarcity with Brandon Phillips (Round 2) and Brian McCann (Round 3), Werth was able to slip through the cracks.
Biggest stretch: Roberts, Yovani Gallardo. Can Yo-Ga finish up the 2010 season as a top-10 fantasy pitcher, worthy of being selected this high? Absolutely. Could he revert back to the pitcher who had an ERA of 5.33 over his final nine starts last season? That's just as possible, which is why it's a risk picking him this early.
AJ's decision: I have yet to grab my first pitcher, so I'm left to decide between Johan Santana and Josh Johnson. It's a real nice choice to have, but considering Johan was able to scratch together 14 wins last season with one of the weakest lineups in recent memory and the injury bug isn't likely to strike so universally again this season, I opt to go with the Mets' ace.
Best of the rest: Karabell, Adam Dunn. What are you getting with Dunn? Well, there are probably going to be 160 strikeouts, but as that doesn't count in most fantasy leagues, take the 40 home runs and the 100 RBIs and don't sweat the details.
Biggest stretch: Lipscomb, Tommy Hanson. Is Hanson ready for his closeup or is the dreaded sophomore slump just over the horizon? We're with Keith that it's probably the former rather than the latter, but we're not making him our staff anchor, just in case we're wrong.
AJ's decision: When Nate selected Jonathan Broxton in Round 4, I thought a run on relievers might be looming in Round 6 or 7, so I wanted to be a step ahead of the pack on this one. K-Rod was my third consecutive Flushing resident, but just as I wouldn't want to pick a player simply because I was a fan of his team, I wouldn't want to not pick him for that reason alone either.
Best of the rest: Quintong, Manny Ramirez. Look, I'm never drafting Manny again if I can help it, after he single-handedly ruined several of my fantasy teams' seasons last year thanks to that darn 50-game suspension. However, if he's serious about finding a new home for 2011, then he's not going to "be Manny" -- he's going to be on his best behavior. That's a steal in Round 5.
Biggest stretch: Becquey, Brandon Webb. If he hadn't gotten injured last season, Webb would be right there next to Roy Halladay on the draft board. But he did, and when you've got a pitcher who was only healthy enough to take the mound once the previous season well, that's the very definition of risk.
AJ's decision: Call me crazy, but I think the move to the sixth spot in the lineup will help Alfonso Soriano more than it hurts him. Fewer at-bats will diminish the effect of any drop in batting average, and I have to believe the extra RBI opportunities will be worth the trade-off. Besides, I can always grab Nyjer Morgan in Round 7 to get a few extra stolen bases in my fantasy bank account.
Best of the rest: Karabell, Nate McLouth. Was McLouth the same player in Atlanta as he had been in Pittsburgh? No, but he wasn't so far off that he should be thrown into the mix with outfielders like Chris Coghlan and Ryan Ludwick. He's far closer in value to Hunter Pence, and he went in Round 4.
Biggest stretch: Harris, Huston Street. I know I already selected a closer, but that run I was expecting hasn't started quite yet, and although Street has done very well in Colorado, he still pitches in Coors Field! There's nothing inherently wrong with any pick this round, in my opinion, but personally, I would have gone with either Francisco Cordero or Heath Bell before Street.
AJ's decision: After Tristan took Dan Uggla, whom I was eyeballing -- and he only did so because there's already so little to be had at second base with only two names off the board -- I was all set to take Morgan. Then James swooped in and snatched him up. With only 60 seconds to switch gears, I decided to grab Heath Bell and try and lock up (barring injury) a spot at or near the top of the saves category for the season.
Best of the rest: Harris, Carlos Beltran. I simply couldn't bring myself to take yet another Met, especially an injured one, but Chris had no qualms about grabbing Beltran in Round 7. Someone in your league is going to bite on Beltran, and probably a bit too soon, given the amount of time we're expecting him to miss but at this stage of the game, he's as good a value as one will find.
Biggest stretch: Ravitz, Todd Helton. It's probably the right time of the draft to grab Helton, but considering the fact that Nate was seriously considering taking Ryan Howard back at pick No. 12 to join Prince Fielder, by comparison, settling for Helton seems so much worse than what might have been.
AJ's decision: I was actually tickled to death with my trio of picks here. First I was able to get Ian Stewart, who qualifies at middle infield, and his 25-home run potential from that slot. Then I grabbed Jair Jurrjens, who may see some regression from his incredible 2.60 ERA of last season but is still a 16-win candidate. Finally, I wrapped up my first 10 selections with Everth Cabrera, a top-five stolen base provider and you all know how I love me the speed.
Best of the rest: Brendan might have been able to get Cody Ross a little bit later in the draft, but why risk it? We're talking about an unheralded player who could very easily give you 25 HR/100 RBI production, while also hitting close to .270. In most leagues, Chris taking Jason Heyward at pick No. 95 would be way too soon, but although he'd be the first to admit he might have had a few too many sips of the Atlanta Braves' PR machine's Kool-aid here, the fact is that in this draft, waiting even one more round probably would have meant Heyward ended up on another roster. Besides, it's probable that Bobby Cox, in his swan song, absolutely brings the kid along in April.
Biggest stretches: Eric went back-to-back closers with Chad Qualls (Round 8) and Carlos Marmol (Round 9) and if he were completely confident in either, I could buy it. However, those guys only appear like "safe" closers when compared to the general dreck left on the board after them, and it seems to me to be a waste to select two players this early to essentially fill one role. As for Keith's Rafael Furcal pick, Chris said he could see Mr. Lipscomb's nose-holding through the computer. If you're "settling" at a position this late in the draft, why not wait a few rounds more when it doesn't offend the senses so much?
Tristan kicks off Round 11 with Jonathan Sanchez, but regrets that decision come Round 12, not because he doesn't like Sanchez, but because in the intervening 18 picks, Leo Nunez, Octavio Dotel, Matt Capps and Brad Lidge were all claimed. Eric also gambled and lost, hoping his selection of Edwin Jackson, made out of a need for strikeouts, wouldn't cost him a chance at Ted Lilly or Mat Latos. Unfortunately, both were snatched up before his turn came around again. Matthew also rolled snake eyes when Kyle Blanks was off the board in the four picks between his No. 128 and 133. The moral of the story? If you really want somebody, select them or prepare for them to be long gone by the time you're back on the clock.
What does it say about the depth of single-league drafts that Chris "throws up in his mouth a little bit" when drafting Daniel Murphy, James' selection of Luke Gregerson causes me to have to scramble for my next pick and Nate boasts for all the world to hear "You're damn right I took Barry Zito!" Still, there are some values to be had, most notably Aubrey Huff to Brendan in Round 18 and Randy Wells to Matthew in Round 20.
At this point, from Chris Dickerson at No. 201 to "Mr. Irrelevant" Oliver Perez at No. 250, it's all shots in the dark. A few of these picks may be "lightning in a bottle" success stories, but the reality is more likely that nearly all of these selections will be waiver-wire fodder as soon as the final rosters are determined at the end of spring training. Still, it behooves you to take these picks seriously, as all it takes is one of these last few selections to become "this year's Pablo Sandoval" to take your team from the cellar to the title.
So how did we do? Obviously, only time will tell, but while we were drafting, there was a new feature of the ESPN Draft Room keeping tabs on our progress. During your draft, Insiders and prize league drafters can click on the Standings tab and see, based on the ESPN Projections, exactly where their team currently stands in all league statistical categories.
Certainly it's not to be taken as gospel, but it is a useful tool, especially if it helps you notice that your team is, say, way ahead in ERA but severely lacking in wins. That could help you decide to grab a Carlos Zambrano instead of Hiroki Kuroda if you're torn between the two. It's also good for a hearty chuckle, as when Matthew noticed that after another owner (Chris) selected Micah Hoffpauir, his team suddenly dropped from third to sixth in the overall standings. Check it out, and check out our NL-Only Mock "Final Standings" below.