Fantasy baseball draft season is in full swing, which means it is time for experienced veterans and novices alike to brush up on some draft-day basics. Here are the top tips for laying the foundation of a championship squad:
1. Use updated projections
Experienced owners may wish to build their own projections, but most owners will save time by finding a set online. Before choosing a source, ensure that the projections are sensible and recently updated. If Carter Capps is projected for 60 innings or Ian Desmond is listed as a free agent, move on to another source. The MLB.com Fantasy Player Preview will be updated daily until the Cardinals and Pirates open the 2016 season on April 3.
Download the Fantasy 411 Cheat Sheet (PDF)
2. Know your league format and rules
Before heading into the draft room, be sure to know the details involving league size, scoring system, starting roster requirements, bench size, waiver-wire rules and trading rules. The value of certain players will vary widely depending on the format of the league.
Video: Fantasy experts discuss their MLB mock draft
3. Draft players you believe in
It is fine to base most picks around mathematical player projections, but fantasy baseball is also an art. When your number is called, pick a player you believe in, because you have to live with that decision all season.
4. Draft an ace, preferably two
There are many useful arms around the Majors, but only a few true studs can be counted on for roughly 200 strikeouts, a sub-3.00 ERA and a WHIP in the 1.10 range. Do not be afraid to spend an early-round pick on one of these aces and complete draft Rounds 6 or 7 with two top-notch rotation arms. Although hitters get most of the early-round attention, elite starters are just as important in the pursuit of a title.
5. Do not get cute with closers
Some owners try to outsmart the competition and find closers throughout the season on the waiver wire. But more often than not, this strategy leads to disaster. A fantasy owner can deplete in-season resources by trying to chase saves on waivers or in trades. It is best to come out of a draft with at least two secure closers, and drafting three can even be a good idea. Top stoppers such as Craig Kimbrel and Kenley Jansen are much more likely to keep their jobs all season than late-round relievers. Additionally, these late-inning dominators will help your team's rate stats.
MLB.com Closer Report
6. Target players in their prime
Many Major Leaguers follow the pattern of improving during their early 20s, reaching peak production between ages 26 and 32 and then declining during the remainder of their career. A fantasy roster replete with players in their prime will give an owner a great chance to receive plentiful production without the worry of having players who are too young for Major League success or are in jeopardy of an age-related decline.
7. Limit risky selections, especially in early rounds
Early-round picks need to form the statistical base for a roster, so it is important to avoid players with long injury histories or unproven track records. A strategic late-round pick on a player such as Clay Buchholz or Jose Berrios can be part of a terrific draft plan, but those types of acquisitions should be limited to two or three picks per draft. For every sleeper who breaks through, many more fail to deliver on their promise.
8. Stay current on the status of injured players and position battles
During the month of March, spend a few minutes each day reviewing player notes. You'll appreciate not having to look up a player's injury or job-security status during the heat of the draft.
9. Limit in-draft clutter
Many fantasy drafters have suffered from paralysis by analysis. In most leagues, owners have roughly 90 seconds to make each pick. That time frame does not leave room to flip through magazines or check websites. Wise owners should start the draft with a blank roster sheet, a rankings list and possibly a set of projections. All other information will only clutter the mind, which should be focused on in-draft strategies and adjustments.
10. Draft one solid player with multi-position eligibility
Even the best-laid plans can fall apart during the season. To have a versatile roster, draft at least one player with eligibility at two or three positions. Owners who do so will have more options in the event a member of their starting lineup falls to injury or ineffectiveness.
Tips for shallow leagues (usually 10 or 12 teams)
1. Wait on a catcher
In shallow leagues, just 10-12 catchers are necessary to fill all the active roster spots. The difference between a top catcher such as Jonathan Lucroy and a lower-ranked backstop such as J.T. Realmuto is not large enough to warrant using an early-round pick on a catcher. Wait until Round 20, pick the best catcher available, and enjoy the added talent at other positions.
2. Stash upside on the bench
In shallow leagues, the waiver wire will be full of productive options throughout the season. For that reason, hold some high-upside players on the bench. Closers-in-waiting or top prospects can pay big dividends in the second half.
3. Wait longer on closers
Although closers are still valuable in shallow leagues, their greatest value is in deep formats. Since most teams have a defined closer, shallow-league owners can still find plenty of near-guaranteed saves in the second half of fantasy drafts.
Tips for deep leagues (more than 12 teams in mixed formats or American League/National League only)
1. Avoid making large investments in rookies
Owners in deep leagues cannot afford to get cute. Because the waiver wire is usually barren in these formats, it is necessary to have reliable, productive players on the active roster and bench. Rookies are exciting, but a month-long slump can sometimes push them back to the Minors and leave deep-league owners with a huge lineup hole.
2. Draft catchers early
In two-catcher leagues, backstops have plenty of value. Given the defensive priority associated with the position, rarely are there 24-plus catchers with useful offensive profiles. Waiting until the late rounds to nab a receiver in two-catcher leagues can leave a fantasy owner with a large lineup hole.
3. Get reliable veterans on the bench
Deep-league owners will have a tough time finding high-upside talent on the waiver wire given the dearth of talent available in such formats. Rostering a couple useful bench options such as Joe Mauer or Nick Markakis is not an exciting strategy, but such players can provide useful statistics when called upon.
Tips for rotisserie leagues
1. Value speed
Stolen bases are one-fifth of the points in a typical roto league, but just seven players swiped 30 bags last season. For this reason, secure the services of at least one fleet-footed basestealer.
2. Draft high-strikeout hurlers
Projecting pitcher wins is quite difficult, and a hurler's overall ERA and WHIP can be greatly affected by a few poor performances. High-strikeout pitchers are usually consistent within that category, which ensures they will return some value regardless of how they fare in other areas.
3. Look for five-category hitters
Hitters who are productive in just two or three categories can leave owners in trouble if one skill deserts them for part of the season. But hitters who can help across the board are often able to continue contributing even if part of their game falls off because of an injury or a slump.
Tips for points leagues
1. Be wary of streaky hitters
Most points leagues use weekly head-to-head matchups rather than the season-long systems that are utilized in roto leagues. Streaky hitters are not a problem in roto leagues -- as long as the production is there by season's end. But in head-to-head leagues, streaky hitters can cause fantasy owners to lose some weekly matches. Players who have a high level of week-to-week consistency are generally preferred in these formats.
2. Consider walk rates
Almost all roto leagues use batting average instead of on-base percentage, which means that walk rates rarely affect player value in those formats. But in most points leagues, players usually earn points for drawing walks. Most online rankings are geared toward roto leagues, so points-league owners should bump up the players who frequently draw free passes.
3. Look for players who hit doubles
Players who rip many doubles may score a great deal of runs, but in general, roto owners care only whether an extra-base hit cleared the outfield wall. Meanwhile, the majority of points leagues count doubles as more valuable than singles, raising the intrigue of players with gap power.
* * * * *
Draft day is only the beginning of a winning season, but it is definitely the most important day on the fantasy calendar. A productive, balanced Opening Day roster sets a strong tone and affords a fantasy owner more flexibility to make wise moves the rest of the way. Although many tricks to the fantasy trade exist, following the above tips should set you up for a great chance at a league title.
Fred Zinkie is the lead fantasy baseball writer for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter at @FredZinkieMLB.