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How to learn from a mock: 12-team roto fantasy baseball draft

Where does Clayton Kershaw get taken when there are 12 owners instead of 10? Stephen Dunn/Getty Images

When approached properly, mock drafting isn't only educational for those participating, but it can be quite enlightening for those observing as well. Today, we're going to look at a recent ESPN Fantasy Baseball staff mock draft through the eyes of a participant, as well as offering tips on how you can glean useful information for your own drafts.

The participant is, of course, yours truly -- I picked fourth in the 12-team, one-catcher mixed league mock. Generally, fourth is Clayton Kershaw territory unless one of the first three opt to snag the best arm on the planet and leave one of the big-three hitters. However, I decided to go in another direction.

One of the tenets of doing a mock is to try different things and to put yourself in an uncomfortable situation. We all have our pet players and pet strategies. Sometimes the draft flow lends itself perfectly to pulling them off, but other times, you run into choppy waters. Putting yourself in uncharted waters forces you to navigate to safety. Doing this in a practice environment is great preparation for when it counts.

When it comes to taking Kershaw fourth ... been there, done that. I know what it takes to build a winning squad with the lanky lefty as my anchor. However, I have yet to open a draft with the ultimate boom or bust, Giancarlo Stanton, at the helm, so I opted to make him my first pick. Furthermore, I usually take Kershaw or push pitching a bit, not waiting too long but not jumping in early enough to get Max Scherzer, so I double-tapped players I rarely own and made the right-hander my second selection.

The key with owning Stanton is finding some speed to supplement the power. Even though a 12-team league goes a little deeper into the player pool than an ESPN standard 10-team league, my preference is still to avoid one of the mostly speed outfielders such as Ben Revere, Billy Hamilton, Billy Burns, etc. Power is at a premium, thus grabbing bases in bunches with perhaps one middle-infield speedster seems to be a more efficient use of assets.

Adding Starling Marte (third), Christian Yelich (seventh), Kolten Wong (11th) and Kevin Pillar (13th) provided a nice speed foundation without sacrificing too much power. My favorite source of middle-infield speed is Ketel Marte, but since I always snare him, I opted to see where others rank him. I faded him for another shortstop with wheels, Jonathan Villar (16th). Remember, Villar may not start the whole season, but when he is playing, on a per-game basis, he'll perform at a high level in terms of steals. I'll get the bags now and deal with replacing him later.

Backing Scherzer wasn't a particularly tough endeavor. I usually have two pitchers by Round 6, so grabbing Jose Fernandez (fifth) put me right on course. I don't like Fernandez as my ace, since he doesn't offer the innings to support the rest of a staff, but paired with Scherzer, the base is just fine.

Enough about me; let's talk about you. The biggest mistake an observer can make is basing their draft plan around a specific outcome in a mock. Each draft has its own flow and dynamic. A lot of interesting tidbits can be gleaned so long as the big picture is the focus.

Look at overall team constructs and not individual players

Maybe you haven't begun a draft with Kershaw, so it would be beneficial to see how Derek Carty approached things from the five-hole. Did he back up Kershaw quickly with more solid arms? Did he wait on more hurlers and build up his hitting? Were his picks risky or safe? Personally, my philosophy is not to take chances when I own Kershaw. I have the best fantasy player in the universe on my side; don't blow it. Carty opted to wait several rounds for his next pitcher, trusting his ability to pick up skilled arms in the second half of the draft, which speaks to using assets in the most efficient manner. You need to know your strengths and weaknesses and draft accordingly.

Looking at the wheel teams (1st and 12th) can be useful since they have the best chance to pair up players and really focus on team construction. After kicking things off with Mike Trout, Joe Kaiser went hitter/pitcher at each of the next three turns. This is a great way to set a balanced foundation. A.J. Mass patiently waited for eleven others to start their team, then put together a solid power/speed base with Edwin Encarnacion and Mookie Betts. This is exactly what I like to do. Remember, don't focus on the specific players but rather the strategy. It could have been Jose Bautista and Dee Gordon. The take-home point: It's very easy to pair up power and speed at the wheel.

Look for runs

Runs, be it positional or statistical, define tiers. You don't want to focus on a specific player, but rather a player type and aim to pick one from a tier of similar players, hopefully maximizing return by waiting as long as possible. The most common runs involve pitching, but there are position runs as well, most notably at catcher. Between picks 22 and 63, there were 15 starting pitchers drafted, then closers began to leave the board. This defines the tier of ace pitchers to anchor your staff. It may not always be these picks or rounds, or even order of players, but if you want an elite arm, expect a run somewhere in the Round 3-5 range.

As suggested, closers were next; Kenley Jansen, Wade Davis and Craig Kimbrel all went within eight picks. This doesn't mean that every time one elite stopper goes, the others will immediately follow, but if you want one, you can't take the chance.

Some players are exceptions

While it was suggested not to focus on individual players, there are a handful of exceptions. Some players lack a history, so it helps to gauge where others are ranking them. In general, a tool like an average draft position (ADP) should be more of a tiebreaker when you're deciding the order you take two players as opposed to a proxy for a cheat sheet. However, players such as Miguel Sano (37th), Byung-ho Park (101st), Ketel Marte (180th) and Kenta Maeda (197th) are intriguing, but they're devoid of track records to help gauge the market's pulse. Observing where they are taken can help you decide if you're in or out.

Injured players or those coming off an injury are important to note, as well. Some examples are Albert Pujols (83rd), Michael Brantley (112th) and Yu Darvish (223rd).

Where Aroldis Chapman (107th) and Jose Reyes (267th) went may help you decide if they're part of your plan. Similarly, getting a feel for where the DH-only players are drafted helps you decide if you want to clog up your utility with David Ortiz (44th) or Prince Fielder (65th) or have flexibility.

Check out the end game

If your league allows a decent amount of roster drops and pickups, spend some time identifying a few upside plays from the last few rounds. Some examples are Byron Buxton (229th), Tyler Glasnow (243rd), Trevor Story (252nd), A.J. Reed (266th), Jose Berrios (268th), Trea Turner (279th), Socrates Brito (276th), Tyler Naquin (277th), J.P. Crawford (280th), Jesse Winker (283rd) and Lucas Giolito (297th).

In summary, while no two drafts are alike, if you focus on the big picture, there is valuable information that can be distilled and applied to your future endeavors. As is the case with most everything, the more times you practice, the better you'll be when it counts. There's nothing like sitting down and doing a mock, but if you know what to look for, what others do can serve as a roadmap as well.

Draft recap

Below is the full recap of the draft, featuring ESPN fantasy writers and editors. The draft participants, in order, were Joe Kaiser, Leo Howell, Pierre Becquey, Todd Zola, Derek Carty, Tim Kavanagh, Dan Mullen, Tristan H. Cockcroft, Dan Szymborski, Ron Shandler, Eric Karabell and A.J. Mass.