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Fantasy Baseball: Ten tips to a successful draft: #5 and #6
by: Jamey Codding
Pg 1 of 2

Opening Day is Sunday, March 30, meaning it's time to get ready for your fantasy baseball drafts. Hopefully, Jamey Codding's 10 draft-day tips will help kick-start your preparation.

Tip #5: Don't believe all the hype

Can you name all the rookies who lived up to their draft-day hype last year? Eric Hinske, Austin Kearns, Jorge Julio, Josh Phelps and Mark Prior. A pretty impressive list, but compared to the dozens of names that were being whispered in fantasy circles at this time last year, the 2002 rookie class could realistically be viewed as a fantasy disappointment.

Aside from the five players mentioned above -- plus Colorado's Jason Jennings, who took home the NL ROY crown with a 16-8 record and a 4.52 ERA -- the latest crop of hot prospects flopped last season. Sure, Hinske, Kearns, Julio, Phelps, Prior and Jennings all produced some fantasy-worthy stats for their owners, but for every rookie success story from last year there were at least three youngsters who never came close to matching their hefty reputations.

Tell me if any of these names sound familiar: Nick Johnson, Sean Burroughs, Hank Blalock, Josh Beckett, Dennis Tankersley, Wilson Betemit, Carlos Pena, Bobby Hill, Rafael Soriano, Marlon Byrd, Mark Teixeira, Juan Cruz, Juan Uribe, Kurt Ainsworth, Joe Crede, Jon Rauch, Jack Cust, Jake Peavy and Brett Myers. Those were just some of the guys that were featured prominently on everybody's rookie sleepers lists last season, and there are plenty more where those came from.

But when the season ended, only six rookies had contributed fantasy-worthy stats, meaning most owners who took a shot on any of these prospects last year had some holes in their roster, holes that were undoubtedly tough to fill. That's it, just six guys out of 25 or 30 who actually gave their owners some meaningful stats, and let's also remember that even Kearns, Phelps and Prior all failed to log a full big-league season after spending some time in the minors last year. Sounds like a rather paltry output, doesn't it? Well, here's a tip:

Those numbers are pretty average.

Every year you'll hear 20 or 30 rookies being mentioned as potential fantasy sleepers. And every year, only a handful of those 20 or 30 rookies ever amounts to anything that season. For that reason alone, you need to be conservative on draft day when it comes to selecting youngsters.

Sure, if you had Hinske, Julio, Kearns, Jennings, Phelps and Prior last year, you probably would've competed for your league title. But what are the chances you'll actually pinpoint the five or six best rookies every spring in your draft? Instead, you'll be lucky to snag even one of the top youngsters, and you'll probably waste at least one pick on a busted prospect.

Two years ago, names like Corey Patterson, Jose Ortiz, Julio Zuleta, Toby Hall, Ryan Anderson, Britt Reames, Ben Sheets, Vernon Wells, Wes Helms and Billy McMillon were touted as pre-draft surefire sleepers. We all remember how well Albert Pujols, Ichiro Suzuki and Roy Oswalt played, but we tend to forget about all the other rookie busts that started the season on fantasy rosters.

Don't handicap yourself like that before Opening Day even rolls around. The last thing you want is to see two of your starters get sent down to the minors in April for some more seasoning, so just don't put yourself in that potentially miserable situation. Sounds simple.

Now don't get me wrong -- I'm all for taking a shot on a rookie or two on draft day, but you have to be smart. If you've got a couple prospects in your crosshairs, don't rely on them as your Opening Day starters. Last season, many of you probably handed Hank Blalock a starting job after he generated so much hype during his scorching spring performance with the Rangers. Unfortunately, Blalock was sent back down in May before again earning a late-season call-up. By the end of the year, Blalock, who entered 2002 as the Rangers' starting third baseman, had a .211 average with just three homers and 17 RBI in 147 at-bats. Not exactly the kind of power production we were all counting on.

Instead of throwing an unproven rookie in your starting lineup, make sure you've got room to stash these guys on your bench, a move that minimizes your risk. But at the same time, don't underestimate the importance of your fantasy pine -- at some point during the season you'll have to deal with an injury or two, and those replacements usually come from your bench. If you've got a couple underachieving rookies hogging those precious reserve spots, though, you lack the depth that every championship team needs. So be conservative and selective by limiting yourself to just one or two of the absolute top prospects in baseball, guys who have the best chance of earning a starting job and then hanging on to that job all season. Let your other league mates fight over the unpredictable talent.

Obviously, if you're in a league that lets you carry an expanded supplemental roster, then you have more room for judgment errors. We had a 25-man active roster and a 15-man reserve roster in an NL-only keeper league I used to participate in, which gave me ample room to stockpile four or five top prospects while also leaving plenty of slots for injury replacements and valuable middle relievers. If you play in a similar format, feel free to take some chances -- don't go overboard, but with that many extra roster positions to work with, why not be more aggressive in regards to youngsters?

Everybody wants to uncover the next great prospect, that Rookie-of-the-Year candidate who'll storm through a full season with 30 homers or 25 saves. Unfortunately, for every Eric Hinske in your draft, there are guys like Sean Burroughs and Carlos Pena, guys who aren't quite ready to help out your fantasy squad just yet. Your success could very well depend on, not only how accurate your forecasts are, but how successful you are at resisting that infamous rookie overload. Hee Seop Choi, Victor Martinez, Travis Hafner, Mark Teixeira, Jerome Williams, Brandon Phillips, Jason Lane and Lyle Overbay may all seem like sure things right now, but by the All-Star break I guarantee some of these guys will either be struggling through rocky rookie seasons or toiling in the minors again. Your job is to separate the rookie studs from the rookie stiffs. Good luck.

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