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Fantasy Baseball: 10 tips to a successful draft: #1 and #2
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 #1: Homework, homework, homework

If you've ever participated in a live fantasy draft, you already know that your success hinges on how well you've researched, debated, dissected and analyzed the players and their numbers. Go into a draft or auction unprepared and you'll come out with a roster doomed to a season-long stint in the cellar. Before that first pick is ever called, you need to have a basic idea of who you want, who you don't want and how you'll accomplish your goals, and you also need to have all your information right in front of you in an easy-to-read format, because once the picks start rolling you won't have much time to wrestle with the numbers.

Here are just some of the things I do before the draft to help make an already hectic day a little less demanding:

Create your own depth charts
Check out this scenario: You're up in two picks, and you've got your eyes set on two of your top sleepers. You were sure they wouldn't slip this far, but now with only two picks before yours you're positive that at least one of them is going to fall into your lap. But instead, as if the two owners before you were reading your mind, both players are snapped up, leaving you flustered and uncertain about who you want to take now. This is without a doubt the most frustrating thing that will happen to you at least once during your draft. Like I said above, you don't have much time to scramble through your books once your turn is called, and as has happened to me in the past, when you've got your heart set on one or two guys, oftentimes you haven't even thought of who you would take if they're both off the board when it's your turn. 

To help alleviate this problem, the best thing to do is create your own depth charts, broken down position-by-position. Try to have them all on one sheet of paper if you can -- much easier in football than in baseball -- so you can look at the entire list at once. If your 10-team league requires every team to have two catchers, then your catcher list needs to be at least 20-players deep. That way you don't wet yourself when it's time to select your second catcher and everybody on your depth chart has been taken. And keep up with your draft -- when Mike Piazza is chosen, be sure to scratch him off your list so you have an accurate picture of who's still available. Nothing slows down a draft more than that guy who consistently tries to draft players that've already been picked.

List the specialty players
Let's say you're nearing the end of your draft when you realize your team is really lacking in steals. What do you do, go through your magazine to find a guy who can swipe 20 bases? Sure, that could work, but if you don't have the time to flip through all the pages, chances are you'll make a poor, rushed decision only to have the guy after you snag the player you really should have taken. After you get done cursing yourself for making such a boneheaded choice, you realize your turn is up again and you still need more speed….

Instead of letting this happen, make a detailed list of the players who will give you help in certain categories before the draft. Have a long list of all the guys who are good for double-digit steals, and next to their names be sure to also include how many bases they stole the previous year and maybe even how many you think they'll be good for this season. Do the same thing with average (those guys who may not give you many homers but will hit .300 or better), power (maybe you've got a slap-hitting team and need to add some bulk late in your draft -- who can you find in the 15th round that'll smack 25 homers?), runs, saves and maybe even strikeouts. And as always, keep your lists current by crossing off those players who've already been drafted. The difference between a mid-round steal and a mid-round bust could very well depend on quick reference.

Fill in the blanks
Writing down all your picks is certainly a smart move, but if all you do is list the guys you have, you may not see the big picture. Maybe you're nearing the end of your draft and you're still an outfielder short of meeting a league requirement, but because you only have the players laid out in a list-format, you don't notice that discrepancy until the last round, leaving you with Troy O'Leary in your starting lineup.

If you draw up a roster fill-in sheet before your draft, though, you won't run into this problem. This one's pretty self-explanatory, just make sure your sheet matches your league's roster requirements. Then when you've got all five of your starting outfielders, you'll know for sure that you can now focus on other positions.

As an add-on, I also like to include a category checklist to my fill-in sheet. Say I just drafted Vlad Guerrero. I'd write his name down in one of my outfield slots, then put a check under all the categories his numbers will qualify in: .300 average, 30 homers, 100 RBI, 20 steals. With this system, a quick look at my roster in the middle rounds tells me what areas I still need help in and what areas are already taken care of just by how many checks are in each column. Simple but very effective -- a well-balanced team is more often than not a contending team.

Top-tier list
Yes, another list. I don't always follow this guideline, however, because it doesn't always work out the way you want it to, and this only seems necessary if you subscribe to the "Take the best available talent" theory during the first few rounds of your draft. Basically, make a list of your top-tier players. Make the list as long as you want it to be, but be sure to include every player from every position. If you're all for taking the best available talent and ignoring positions in the first, say, five rounds, then list your top-50 players. Three rounds, then you obviously need a list of 30 (assuming you're in a 10-team league, of course). Take your time with this so that, when it's draft day and you're up, you don't start second-guessing your decisions. With this method, you end up selecting the highest remaining player on your list until everybody's crossed off, making for a painless first few rounds. Again, this isn't something I wholeheartedly recommend but it seems to work for some people.

Strategy map-out
Whatever plan you use, you should always have a basic strategy laid out to help take panic-picking out of the draft-day equation. If you're participating in a live draft, figure out if and for how long you want to use the "best available talent" rule. If instead you plan on drafting for position, try to at least have a general idea of when you want to select your first starting pitcher. Some people seem to think the depth at starting pitching is greater than most realize, meaning they stockpile position talent in the first four or five rounds before ever selecting their first starting pitcher. With guys like Roy Halladay, A.J. Burnett and Vicente Padilla slated to go in the later rounds, I tend to agree.

I also think pinpointing the players you want is a great idea, but something that works much better in an auction format. If, however, you're in a typical live draft league, you can still have a loose idea of who you want to select and when you'd select each player: "I'd really like to get Torii Hunter but only if I can get him in the sixth round or later." If things work out the way you want them to, you may have your selections ready to go each round long before your name is even called.

If you're in an auction, this is obviously much easier. Look at the list of available players, highlight the guys you absolutely have to have on your team, then figure out the most you'd be willing to commit to each player, based on your salary cap. Outlining how much you want to spend on certain players while also figuring out how much you're going to devote to every other position will help you quickly allocate any extra money you may find yourself with during the auction -- say you got Shawn Green for $5 less than you had budgeted for. A quick peek at your plan tells you where those extra five bucks are needed most.

There are several other ways to make draft day a little less stressful, but these are a few preparation tips that'll no doubt help you walk out of your draft with a competitive team.

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