By Mike Harmon
February 9, 2005
The most exciting and nerve-wracking moment of a fantasy draft is experienced by the person with the No. 1 selection. Regardless of the type of draft utilized by the league, the pageantry and importance of being the first team on the board is not lost.
Make no mistake about it, although the manager in the top slot has the ability to select any active player in the universe (unless the league uses "keepers," of course), this pick serves as the springboard to the fantasy season. It also means that another 23 players (in Yahoo! default leagues) are coming off of the board before that manager picks again. Therefore, the pressure associated with making the appropriate pick is enormous.
My colleague, Brandon Funston, devoted two columns to providing results and commentary from the two Krause Publications Experts Drafts in which he participated.
Not surprisingly, there was tremendous volatility in the selections overall. Some players moved 30, 40 and even 100 spots up the draft board from one draft to the next based on offseason movement and whispers. Among the consensus first-round picks alone, Carl Crawford rose seven spots to the fourth pick overall.
Even the top three spots were the same only in name, as Alex Rodriguez, Albert Pujols and Carlos Beltran were shuffled around between the first and second drafts. Some would argue the merits of Johan Santana or Vladimir Guerrero for the top spot, but the depth among starting pitchers and power-hitting outfielders makes me slide those guys down the chart just behind this trio.
With all of that said, if the commissioner begins to call out my team name at No. 1 and says that I'm on the clock, the slip of paper that says simply "A-Rod" hits their hand before that sentence ends. Pujols and Beltran will need to wait for their turn to don the new cap if I'm picking in the leadoff spot.
Comparison of four-year averages Beltran: .287 average, 111 runs, 70 extra-base hits, 29 HRs, 102 RBIs, 37 SB, 171 hits
Pujols: .333 average, 125 runs, 90 extra-base hits, 40 HRs, 126 RBIs, 3 SB, 197 hits
Rodriguez: .301 average, 124 runs, 80 extra-base hits, 48 HRs, 125 RBIs, 18 SB, 185 hits
One of the factors that normally weighs heavily in determining pre-draft rankings is that of durability. All three of these players are gamers, so that doesn't weigh in as heavily. You have to go back to 2000 for a significant loss of action, when Beltran participated in only 98 games (.247, 7 HRs, 44 RBIs, 13 SB).
However, Pujols enters the season with continuing concerns about the plantar fasciitis condition that plagued him during the 2004 season. I use the term "plagued" only in the sense that Pujols experienced significant pain throughout the entire season.
Pujols actually was stronger in the second half of the season, hitting a full 57 points higher while continuing to post prodigious power totals. The latest word from St. Louis had Pujols undergoing an OssaTron treatment two weeks ago that provided relief. If St. Louis runs away from the pack again, will Tony LaRussa spell his superstar more? His foot will be the most talked about on-field baseball issue as spring training unfolds.
Regardless of the injury, I'll pass on Pujols. Veterans such as Todd Helton, Carlos Delgado and David Ortiz and fellow youngsters Mark Teixeira and Travis Hafner offer the potential for similar power totals later in the draft.
In fact, in the aforementioned "experts" league, Hafner was the 61st pick overall (.311 average, 96 runs, 72 extra-base hits, 28 HRs, 109 RBIs, 3 SB, 150 hits in 140 games). Paul Konerko mashed 41 home runs with 117 RBIs in 2004 without Magglio Ordonez and Frank Thomas for much of the season. He was drafted in the ninth round of this particular draft.
As for Beltran, the move to New York concerns me on several levels. First, he'll be the focus of a major media market for the first time. Yes, he received a boatload of press upon being dealt to Houston, but let's be real. The media focused on Roger Clemens from Opening Day to the hoisting of his seventh Cy Young Award.
Second, Beltran will hit in the third spot for the Mets. No offense to Doug Mientkiewicz, but he doesn't provide quite the same protection of a Mike Sweeney, Jeff Bagwell or Lance Berkman. As a result, Beltran will see fewer pitches to hit and will begin to press, thereby expanding his hitting zone. This will serve to hurt his batting average and OBP. Additionally, his stolen base total may take a hit.
The move to New York is also significant in that Beltran will be hitting in a ballpark less renowned for moon shots than Minute Maid Park. Shea Stadium ranks in the middle of the pack in runs scored per game and 22nd in the major leagues for home runs in the past three years. It would appear that the second half of 2004 in Houston was the best of all worlds for Beltran.
Vladimir Guerrero and Bobby Abreu certainly rival the exploits of Beltran, but let's be realistic. Neither of those players will be available for selection at the end of the second round when your next pick comes around. Managers may see Gary Sheffield available at that spot to match or best Beltran's power numbers, as evidenced by this draft, but they will most certainly be able to nab a Corey Patterson (24 HRs, 72 RBIs, 32 SB), Johnny Damon (20 HRs, 94 RBIs, 19 SB) or Torii Hunter (23 HRs, 81 RBIs, 21 SB) much later to assist in the stolen base category.
Therefore, Alex Rodriguez is my first overall pick.
In a "down" year, Rodriguez still bashed 36 homers with 106 RBIs, 112 runs and most importantly, 28 stolen bases. The lone blemish to the record was his merely mortal .286 batting average. His 28 steals ranked third among third basemen behind Ryan Freel and Chone Figgins, neither of whom contribute in the power department. With 36 home runs, A-Rod tied for second at the position with Aramis Ramirez behind Adrian Beltre.
The fact of the matter is that a number of factors mitigated Rodriguez's opportunities to shine in 2004. First, he came into the Big Apple and a veteran clubhouse with a monster contract and unworldly expectations. In his words – "I didn't want to shake anything up." In trying to fit in, he didn't stand out. He remained quiet, leaving all those responsibilities to Derek Jeter.
Additionally, Jeter posted batting average and OBP numbers far lower than his career averages. His batting average was an anemic .220 through the end of May, meaning that the massive RBI opportunities that were anticipated didn't materialize. This was compounded by the mysterious illness and disappearance of Jason Giambi from the lineup. The combined numbers from Giambi and his replacement, Tony Clark (28 HRs, 89 RBIs), weren't horrible, but they hardly measure up to the 41 bombs and the fear that Giambi had instilled in opposing pitchers in the past.
There are power hitters at third base, no question. Beltre led the majors with 48 home runs in a contract year with Los Angeles. But that's the question. Has Beltre finally matured as a hitter where he'll keep his average at such a level (.334 in 2004), or will the move to the pitcher's park in Seattle adversely affect him?
The aforementioned Ramirez, Scott Rolen (like Beltre, a career year in 2004), Eric Chavez and Hank Blalock will put up big power numbers. Vinny Castilla hit 35 home runs last season, but since he's left the rare air of Coors Field, his numbers should tail off somewhat.
While these hitters can rival Rodriguez with the long ball, not one of them provides the full package that the run scoring, base-stealing Yankee star affords owners. Only Melvin Mora and Beltre joined A-Rod above 100 runs, and only Tony Batista joined the 30 HR, double-digit steal club (never mind that Batista hasn't hit above .260 for a full season since 2000).
Remember, Rodriguez enters the season at the ripe old age of 29. For most hitters, that signals the beginning of a hitter's prime. Isn't that a scary thought? With a full year of the New York media behind him and that hyper-intensive attention deflected to Randy Johnson, Rodriguez will get to go out and hit.
And that's what makes him No. 1.
Now, what to do with Ichiro Suzuki, Carl Crawford and Juan Pierre on draft day? I'll tackle that dilemma next time.
Updated on Wednesday, Feb 9, 2005 7:00 pm, EST
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