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Tuesday 28th Mar 2017

Tout Wars 2016  is now in the books, and Saturday, as part of the festivities, I went up against mates Ron Shandler, Chris Liss, Glenn Colton and Rick Wolf, among others in this year's AL Tout.

On Saturday morning, I published my wish list for the day, so here is the actual fall-out, with brief thoughts. Feel free to fire back at me @lawrmichaels, and see the final results here.

C - Jason Castro ($7): I like Castro elevating his game, four years into a career and on a contending team. Castro was a few bucks more than I imagined, but I do think he can do .265-15-60 on that team, and that will be worth every penny.

C - Ryan Hanigan ($1): I might have screwed myself some here as I targeted Blake Swihart, but he cost just a bit too much and then so did Josh Phegley when I only had $3 left for two players. I wound up with Hanigan, but I am thinking for the same price, Caleb Joseph was probably a better investment.

1B - Eric Hosmer ($25): I had targeted Albert Pujols, who went for the exact $19 I was hoping for, but Hosmer and his improving on-base and power numbers made me want to take the chance here.

2B - Jason Kipnis ($24): $5 more than I paid in LABR, but a guy I love this year.

3B - Danny Valencia ($11): A buck less than I projected. I not only am sold on Valencia, but even my mate Lord Zola has come around on the Athletics third sacker. So, the bottom line is now Valencia better deliver!

SS - Ketel Marte ($15): Same price as LABR, same upside, same happiness at having Marte on a second roster.

CI - C.J. Cron ($8): I needed power and Cron was there for the end game and I simply had enough cash to control the board. Cron has to be a major coup at this price: the kind who could indeed help win a title.

MI - Devon Travis ($6): Looks like I might have to pick up Eric Sogard to cover until Travis returns, hopefully in May. But like Cron, if Travis can play as we anticipate, I think he will prove to be a steal.

OF - Kole Calhoun ($18): OK, I love the guy, and he is someone who should give me 20-plus homers, and I hope 80-plus RBI.

OF - Kevin Kiermaier ($10): I had envisioned an outfield of Josh Reddick, Steven Souza, Kevin Pillar and Kiermaier, but the other three just were too expensive, so I adjusted accordingly. Or tried to.

OF - Eddie Rosario ($8): The Twins starting centerfielder had ups-and-downs getting adjusted to a full-time gig, but he wound up with a .267-13-50 line that included 11 steals and 15 triples. Now that he has been to the dance, he can step up his moves.

OF - Rusney Castillo ($7): Ideally the starting left fielder in Boston, like Rosario, with a full-time gig, and some acclimation to the USofA and MLB, Castillo can also give me double digits in homers and swipes.

OF - Coco Crisp ($1): Cheap but not that much of a gamble in that the Oakland managers are pretty sure Crisp is healthy, and ready to both play and contribute. For a buck, if he gets me five dingers and ten steals, he will be more than worth it.

UT/SW - Yonder Alonso ($7): Got him in LABR for a couple of bucks less, but again, my understanding is Alonso will be the everyday guy and his on-base numbers are getting better and better.

P - David Price ($27): I had targeted Chris Archer for this spot for $26, but I decided to blow the extra buck on Price, who is a better bet, like it or not.

P - Sonny Gray ($25): A buck more than anticipated, but Gray with Price gives me a better one-two pitching punch than any other team.

P - Marco Estrada ($9): Strikeouts, WHIP, and a good team smell like success.

P - Jesse Hahn ($7): Again, the Athletics are expecting 175 innings from Hahn, and if he picks up where he left off last year, look out.

P - Hector Santiago ($6): Common to my LABR team (as are Hahn and Estrada), I like Santiago to step it up as a third-year starting pitcher.

P - Ervin Santana ($4): As long as Big Erv can avoid getting suspended, for $4 he is a pretty good deal.

P - Nathan Eovaldi ($2): Was looking at getting a reliever here but simply could not pass on the Yankees starter. Ideally I will have a starter to swap for what I need, when I need it.

P - Craig Kimbrel ($22): Best stopper in the league? I hope so.

P - Roberto Osuna ($8): As the incumbent closer, I am hoping Osuna keeps the gig, and if not, if he can get me 10-15 saves, that will be good.

Res - Kendall Graveman: Will be in the Athletics rotation, and, well, can never have too much pitching, right?

Res - Rob Refsnyder: If he makes the big club, I can slot him in until Travis returns.

Res - Collin Cowgill: Another fave who should do ok as the fourth guy in the Indians outfield.

Res - Mike Zunino: Catchers get hurt, so obviously this is insurance, but Zunino can bang dingers.

It is starting to be crunch time as the Majors begin to whittle down rosters, and we speed towards Opening Day and the draft season reaches its apex. Of course, players come and go, so we can bid adieu to Maicer Izturis, Randy Wolf, Willie Bloomquist and Skip Schumaker, who all announced retirements this week.

On the other hand, I have indeed been drafting in some pretty deep--24-team, 35-man rosters--leagues and coupled with a few late signings this week and since there is often survival linked to nabbing the correct floatsam and jetsam out of the free agent pool, here are a few more names of interest who could be cheap or undrafted and might even be of interest on draft day, or help over the course of the season.

Austin Jackson: Signed this week with the White Sox, Jackson is pretty much a similar statistical commodity to Avisail Garcia, Adam Eaton and Melky Cabrera at this point, and with DH open, all four should get plenty of time and at-bats. A crapshoot/afterthought before the signing, Jackson is actually a nice play in an AL-only format and a good fourth or fifth flychaser in a deep contest.

Kelby Tomlinson: Tomlinson will surely earn the utility spot on the team following his good .303-2-20 line last year when pressed into service after Joe Panik went down. Tomlinson has played a little third this spring and has enough stick to spell his infield mates with more stick than what the Giants bench has produced the past few years.

Coco Crisp: I noted last week that Coco is on a mission, and even though his spring totals are on the anemic side (.077-0-1), the Oakland management maintains Crisp is in great shape and determined to prove he is not nearly as through as last year indicates. Crisp has his eye on being the starting left fielder, although Khris Davis will clearly get his starts to keep Crisp as fresh as permits, but Coco is streaky, productive, and can still give you 10/10 in steals and homers or better. Right now, he fetches a bargain basement price, if that. 

Alex Guerrero: In my scoresheet league, Guerrero was pick #786 out of 840 picks. For a guy on a Dodger team with some potential holes and questions as the season draws near--especially one who played in 106 games last year and hit .233-11-36--nabbing the utilityman that late is a steal.

David Freese: Freese signed with the Bucs this past week, but he has not really been much of a force since 2012. Now 32, injuries and age have relegated the third baseman to the role of afterthought. If I had to pick a bench guy in a deep league, I would go Guerrero and Tomlinson before I froze out.

Dilson Herrera: The Mets have so many veterans up the middle with the likes of Wilmer Flores, Asdrubal Cabrera and Ruben Tejada that the now 22-year- old Herrera is kind of lost in the shuffle. He will start the year in Triple-A most likely, but this kid is oozing with talent while Cabrera and Tejada are not much of a long-term position threat. Drop Herrera in your back pocket for future considerations.

Doug Fister: Coming off a rough season in Washington (5-7, 4.19), Fister is an Astro, with a chance to make the rotation. I do have to admit that I have never been much of a fan of the guy, despite his success. But now, as a cheap crap shoot on a team that is really good where maybe Fister is a fourth starter at best, things point to some success.

Arquimedes Caminero: The 28-year-old Domincan holds my favorite name this spring (how I wish I had a team with Caminero, Socrates Brito and Homer Bailey), but the 6'4", 245 pounder throws hard and did a more than credible 74.6 innings last year, striking out 73 while posting a 1.232 WHIP. I am a big fan of having a couple of solid strikeout producing set-up guys to plug in as necessary, and Caminero is the flavor of the month for me.

In Saturday's Bed Goes Up, Bed Goes Down, I previewed some players I sought in preparation for the AL LABR draft.

So, later that same day, mob leader Steve Gardner assembled the masses and the likes of Rick Wolf, Glenn Colton, Tim Heaney, Eno Sarris, and Greg Ambrosius et al went at it.

It was a good draft, and though I have no clue whether my team will work or not, I did fill a mythical roster and was able to get virtually all the players I coveted for a little less than I projected. I did try to focus on the "three "S's," strikeouts, saves, and steals.

So, here goes. Feel free to comment below or hit me up @lawrmichaels. And, you can review the entire draft results here.

C) Caleb Joseph ($4): Hit .234-11-49 over 100 games last year, and bearing in mind that Matt Wieters' back is troublesome, I see most of the squats going the way of Joseph. I would like a little improvement on the average/on-base side, but for $4, a repeat performance would be just fine.

C) Jason Castro ($6): Two bucks more than I anticipated, but a modest $10 invested in my pair of backstops should give me 20-plus homers, and supporting stats to match.

1B) Joe Mauer ($13): Hardly the player he was five years ago, Mauer can still hit, and last year he managed 158 games while hitting .265-10-66. Still just 32, I would like to think the now first sacker can do a little better than that. The price of $13 was three bucks more than I planned, but it was late in the draft and I had the bucks. If Mauer is healthy, he will indeed play every day. He still has a .280-15-80 season in there somewhere, I hope.

2B) Jason Kipnis ($21): A couple of bucks more than I planned, but on this very good Cleveland team, I think Kipnis will up his numbers-maybe 10%-over last year.

3B) Danny Valencia ($10): I budgeted $12 for the Oakland third sacker, so two bucks to the good helped elsewhere. I have already mentioned what a perfect fit Valencia is for this team, and I think he too can improve his 2015 line of .290-18-66 with the security of knowing he is playing every day.

SS) Ketel Marte ($15): I had budgeted $9 for the slot, but again, savings elsewhere allowed me to pursue the tempting and speedy Mariners shortstop.

MI) Ryan Goins ($3): Deep league, few choices at this point, and he should make the team.

CI) Yonder Alonso ($5): A couple of bucks less than my projected cost for the guy Ron Washington said they want to grab 500 at-bats this coming season. Like Valencia, the first sacker is the perfect type of Oakland reclamation project.

OF) George Springer ($30): Though I listed my hope to cop Springer for $26, I actually budgeted $35 for him, so this was a good score of a player with major upside.

OF) Avisail Garcia ($15): I vastly underestimated the postential cost of Kevin Kiermaier (as noted by Todd), and I wanted some pop, so instead of $16 for Kiermaier, I dropped a buck less on the White Sox flychaser, whom I really like.

OF) Steven Souza ($12): Pretty similar to the Kiermaier line for a few bucks less. Ideally, Souza will build off last year like his shiny rookie mates of last season.

OF) Coco Crisp ($1): Crapshoot, but again, per Ron Washington, Coco is in camp, healthy, and determined to play. Bob Melvin wil give him time off, but for sure Crisp, who plays with a lot of pride, wants to prove that last year was a fluke. For a buck, if he can steal ten bases, he will have been worth the investment.

OF) Dustin Ackley ($9): I had $9 on the table and Ackley was my last acquisition, hence the opening put-away bid. Ackley did flourish once the Yankees used him properly, and hopefully he can pick it up, and maybe even spell second base once in a while, giving me some position flexibility.

U) Evan Gattis ($12): I am never sure of the direction of my team until I actually start buying players, and I penciled Gattis in for $13. Supporting the notion of not letting a player get by you at below value if you can help it, I grabbed Gattis as my first pick, and plugged my DH slot. As long as he hits like last year, we are good.

P) Chris Sale ($33): I budgeted $70 for Springer and Sale, so this was just fine for my ace.

P) Lance McCullers ($17): Upside on a good team with 180 or so whiffs if he can manage close to 200 frames.

P) Marco Estrada ($8): A few bucks more than anticipated, but again, on a solid team, coming off a solid year, Estrada can get me innings, WHIP, and whiffs.

P) Jesse Hahn ($6): Again, per Wash, Hahn is healthy and learning new pitches and is ready for 175 innings in a pitcher's park.

P) Edinson Volquez ($4): Filling out pitching with a good starter on a good team coming off a good year. Volquez' stuff is not as electric as when he was brought up, but he is still pretty good.

P): Hector Santiago ($2): Not sure why my mates seem to hate a guy who had a 3.55 ERA with 162 strikeouts over 180.6 innings last year, but I am willing to bite.

P) Craig Kimbrel ($21): Locking up some saves, which was the prime directive, with the best closer around?

P) Brad Boxberger ($11): I guess job security scared some off, but if Boxberger gets swapped, it would be to close elsewhere.

P) Luke Hochevar ($1): Filler, but potentially helpful filler.

Res: Chris Young: As in the pitcher.

Res: Kendall Graveman: More bench support in view of never having enough arms. Again, per Wash, Graveman is healthy and ready to take the ball every five days.

Res: Collin Cowgill: Long time fave, playing in the one sort of weakness area the Indians have, so 300-plus at-bats should be in the mix.

Res: J.B. Shuck: Bench spot, hopefully with some speed.

Res: T.J. House: He is healthy, and lurking should there be issues with the Tribe's rotation.

Res: Nick Martinez: Don't forget his hot start last year, right? Hopefully, Nick won't, and will build off of that.

There is, in my opinion, a lot of value in mock drafting.

And, while I am not an ADP person, I do understand the value of knowing roughly when a player will or should be selected. However, I prefer to transitively participate in mocks, and literally see where players are picked and fall, so I can see for myself how the draft chips fall. 

But, mocking tells me more than this, especially if when I participate in a mock, I change around strategies from draft-to-draft. For, even though the first few rounds of picks might be similar in all drafts, the development of my team might be radically different were Clayton Kershaw my first pick once, then Manny Machado during a second draft, and then Mike Trout a third time.

Mocking also gives a much better broad feel for the player pool, for though we all have guys we love and guys we loathe, it is indeed hard to remember everyone who might fill a specific hole. But, mocking shows who might slip to the middle rounds and more important. who will fall to the end. 

For, though we can build a foundation of stats with the selections the first six rounds, and ideally help stabilize those totals in rounds seven through 18, it is the jackpots in the late rounds that usually win the first place prize for teams. 

So, while I have been mocking--a lot with the #MockDraftArmy driven by This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it., whom you should contact should you have an interest--I have been scouring the late rounds for bargains. So, this time, let's look at guys who in 12-team leagues hardly get drafted at all, and in 15-team mocks maybe in the 19th round or later.

These players are lesser known, and some are vets who have been dismissed. But, if you are scrounging for late picks or auction selections that I would guess would carry a price of $5 or less relative to the depth of your league, dollar structure and time nominated, here are some names to consider. Should you be able to control your board with $35 or so remaining in a 15-team auction, I am confident you could walk away with almost all of them.

So, who are these guys?

Odubel Herrera (OF, Phillies): A 24-year-old Venezuelan, Herrera hit .264-4-24 over the first half of last season but then kicked it into gear, going .329-4-17 in the second half, jumping his OBP by almost 100 points from .297 to .394. Herrera, who was a Rule 5 pick from the Rangers in 2014, swiped 16 bases and could actually steal 30 bags (he did it twice in the minors) and with experience could parlay some of his 125 minor league doubles and triples into homers, meaning 15/30 potential. If you play games where defense counts, he will help you there, too.

Aaron Altherr (OF, Phillies): A bad team will force roto players to look elsewhere for production, which can be a mistake, for bad teams do hit homers, score runs and earn saves. The Phillies, who are working through their bad team karma, promoted Altherr, their ninth-round selection in 2009, and the 6'5" flychaser responded accordingly. Altherr was hitting .294-8-38 at Lehigh Valley, then .241-5-22 as a Phil. But, over the last month of 2015, he lifted his OBP by 50 points and the outfielder really does have 20/20 capabilities.

Jose Iglesias (SS, Tigers): Iglesias hit .303 split betwen Boston and Detroit in 2013 and then missed all of 2014 due to injury. But he returned to hit .300 last year over a full season with Detroit. True, he hits a pretty hollow .300 with 52 RBI and 83 runs cumulative over the two seaons and 836 at-bats, but in an AL-only format, you could do a lot worse.

Neil Walker (2B, Mets): A .271-16-71 mean over 162 games per Baseball Reference, and yet Walker rarely gets selected before round 19 it seems. Not sure what Walker did for us to dismiss his skill set, but I would be glad to roster him.

Robinson Chirinos (C, Rangers): Double digit homers two straight years playing part-time, Chirinos did raise his on-base numbers last year by 30 points to .325 despite his average dropping seven points to .232. If he plays full-time, the Ranger will hit a little better I believe, but if the function of a second catcher in fantasy is to contribute without really inflicting pain, Chirinos fits that description.

Marco Estrada (P, Blue Jays): Does give up homers, and sometimes his ERA gets knocked around, but over 722 big league innings, Estrada has a 1.150 WHIP and whiffs eight per nine innings. He never gets picked (except by me as a last starter).

Jason Castro (C, Astros): Castro has battled injuries and streakiness as he has matured with the Astros. But, this is now a team of veterans, and, it generally takes catchers a little longer to master hitting in the Show because catching and calling a game is the primary directive. Castro hit .276-18-56 in 2013 and now has two more years under his belt. Castro, who often is not selected in mocks, is a fine late power source.

Nick Castellanos (3B, Tigers): He hit .255-15-73 last year but struggles to make contact with 293 strikeouts and a .304 OBP over 313 games with Detroit. Castellanos actually turns 24 this week, so let's give him a little time--and I am inclined to like third seasons--to step up, and .270-25-90 totals will be your reward. Swear.

Brandon Phillips (2B, Reds): I have taken Phillips in the last round of two 12-team mocks to serve as my middle infielder. True, he is on the downside of his career, but he is 34 (not dead yet) and hit .294-12-70 with 23 swipes last year. Even with the same totals and half the swipes of 2015, he will be a fine choice in any format for 2016.

Alex Gordon (OF, Royals): Is it that Gordon was hurt a lot of last year, or that it took awhile to re-sign with the Royals or what? But, Gordon seems to be an afterthought, selected in the 23rd round of the #MockDraftArmy 12-team league. Huh? He did have an .809 OPS last year despite the injury, and is still just 32. Go figure.

The draft season has officially begun.

Sure, the XFL was last November at FPAZ, and the FSTA a month ago in Dallas. But this weekend, This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it., the amiable and roto-enthusiastic proprietor of The Wreck Room in San Francisco, hosted the first ever Bay Area Experts League, which I dubbed Bay Area Roto-Fantasy (BARF).

In addition to his barkeep activities and roto-focus, Tod makes a wicked sausage. With dogs and brew, he coaxed This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it., This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it., This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it., This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. (by proxy with This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.) and a bunch of great guys into his cozy sports and games bar--which is a happening place for sure--for what became the first BARF draft.

It was a 12-team format, and I got stuck in the middle, so I determined with pitching carrying so much power these days, I was going to take two premiere starters out of my first four picks. In fact, I sort of reasoned out hitter, pitcher, pitcher, hitter, hitter, pitcher, and then several position players in a row.

I did think that for some reason should Clayton Kershaw fall to me at seven--and, with Carlos Correa and Kris Bryant and Anthony Rizzo tantalizing there was a chance--I would take the Dodger lefty with my first pick, then take a hitter, and then the next best pitcher I could. The other thing I determined was to wait as long as possible for closers, knowing there would be enough and that the position was ever-volatile.

You can check out the final draft here, and though I like my team, I think we all have to be careful for Justin, who had a great draft. Note the league is 12-team, 5x5, with OBP and Quality Starts instead of AVG and Wins. We get a five-man reserve, can have three players on the DL, and $1000 in FAAB that process on Mondays.

So, here goes in order (and obviously open to your scrutiny and comments below).

1) Clayton Kershaw: Woo hoo.

2) A.J. Pollock: Pop, speed, average, and upside (this is the year of the upside).

3) Chris Sale: I cannot imagine a better tandem going into Spring Training than Kershaw and Sale. Seven months to go and we find out.

4) Yoenis Cespedes: Obviously a personal favorite. Cespe's on-base is a little concerning, but I think he is on the verge of tapping enormous skill now that he is experienced and acclimated to the USA and Show.

5) Freddie Freeman: Not sure if this was premature, but it is an on-base league, and Freeman, who is still just 26, is proven in that area.

6) Jason Kipnis: A little bit of everything up the middle on a good team. Like Cespe and Freeman, I think Kipnis' best is ahead.

7) Randal Grichuk: Another guy who makes a lot of my mock teams. I am thinking Grichuk with 500 at-bats can out-produce Matt Kemp at this point, playing on a very good Cardinals team.

8) Jonathan Lucroy: At this point, I am fleshing out my team with the best possible option, with my eye on filling my roster. Usually by this pick I maintain a list of five acceptable players, and order them by my own preference. When it was my turn, Lucroy was atop the list, and I was happy to grab him.

9) Brandon Crawford: Again, perhaps a little early, but I think Crawford can come close to repeating his fine 2015, if not maybe improve the numbers just a little. 20 homers out of shortstop is fine.

10) Jeff Samardzija: Strikeouts, a good pitcher's park, and a return to the National League should help the Shark out, I hope.

11) Lance McCullers: #4 starter, gets strikeouts, is on a winning team, and has that magic upside.

12) Stephen Piscotty: No secret how much I love the two young Cardinals outfielders: one with pop, one with chops, I will take both.

13) Kolten Wong: I wasn't really expecting to nab Wong here, but he was available and will give me some pop and swipes, and I think will improve his hitting numbers from last year. A nice play at middle infield.

14) Ender Inciarte: Another youngster I really like, I am hoping the new Brave can finish 2016 somewhere between his fine 2015, and that of Pollock's.

15) Brandon Finnegan: #5 starter with lots of skill and the ability to miss bats. His team is rebuilding, so the leash might need to be short, but a risk I am willing to take.

16) Brett Lawrie: I covered first, second, and short, along with middle, so Lawrie can indeed plug in at third, or move to second should I need it, and he will give me .260-15-65 totals, or thereabout.

17) Mike Fiers: Again, whiffs, and a winning team where a quality start is more important than a victory.

18) Derek Norris: Power, on-base skills, and he is a starter at #2 catcher.

19) Danny Valencia: Can play multiple positions, can hit, and again, good on-base numbers on a team that values and utilizes all these skills. What can he do but flourish (don't answer right away, please)?

20) Luke Gregerson: First stab at a closer.

21) Roberto Osuna: Second stab at a closer.

22) Ketel Marte: I should have taken another closer, but I could not in clear conscience leave Marte out there at this point. My team is flexible enough that I can take advantage of a lot of my infielders so all bases are covered, so to speak.

23) Hunter Strickland: Closer in waiting. This year, maybe even.

24) Nick Castellanos: More potential power on a great hitting team, with you know what (starts with "u").

25) Marco Estrada: Reserve starter, and one who whiffs hitters and has a good WHIP.

26) Aaron Altherr: Some outfield help with speed and power potential, the Phillies flychaser has 20/20 capability and logged a .350 OBP once he was established as a full timer in September.

27) Brandon Maurer: I am not sure if Maurer will start (I suspect the pen is his destiny, as a closer) or not, but I think he will be pretty good, and maybe cop some saves, or at least QS.

28) Robinson Chirinos: A back-up backstop with pop. Always good to have.

-Check out Ray Flowers' assessment of BARF.

-Check out Justin Mason's analysis of BARF.

-Check out The Welsh's podcast of BARF.

There you go. Remember you can always hit me up @lawrmichaels.

The mocks are going on full tilt, and we anticipate the arrival of pitchers and catchers at camp with the first spring games just a couple of weeks ahead, meaning baseball is indeed almost here.

As noted already over the past few weeks, we have indeed been mocking the night away, writing analysis of those drafts, comparing, contrasting, and trying to get a feel of what the reality of our real drafts will be.

So, this time, let's look at players who have prompted, as my mate Matthew Berry would say, "love/hate" among the drafters, and try to determine any logic behind said emotions.

As a point of reference, we can use the MLB.com mock run by Zach Steinhorn, currently in progress:

Michael Brantley (8.12): True, Brantley is coming off an injury, but would Chase Utley have lasted this long in his peak? How about Troy Tulowitzki, who has a far greater rating on the brittle scale, but was selected in the fourth round of the MLB mock? But, Brantley, who is pushing to be ready to play Opening Day (that might be a tad optimistic), hit .310-15-85 over 137 games last year, numbers the Tulo owner would likely be thrilled with (along with 137 games). No way I would let Brantley slip that far in any straight draft.

Yu Darvish (15.4): Darvish, coming off elbow surgery, is on track to return in May. If Darvish can deliver his normal numbers, he becomes a steal, but a month into the season, bereft of normal spring training, I would not expect him to feel comfortable cutting loose till the All-Star Break. Round 15 is probably ok for a half a season of Darvish, but personally, I would let someone else assume the risk and reconsider the Ranger as a 2017 possibility.

Adam Wainwright (9.10): Conversely, Wainwright, who missed the bulk of 2015, returned in September and held hitters to a .167 average over three innings before allowing just one run over 5 1/3 frames in three postseason appearances. That means Wainwright is a steal based upon the combination of his history and the recovery process, which seems to be over. 

Albert Pujols (12.10): Albert is 36 now, but he is coming off a 40-homer renaissance accomplished with some nasty plantar fasciitis problems. Pujols has had his surgery and like Brantley is optimistically pushing for Opening Day. Still, 40 homers falling to the 12th round? Crazy.

Carlos Correa: (1.8): Correa is a case in point against Pujols. If Correa can indeed bang 40 homers and knock in 95, then he is certainly worth at worst second round status even with the .244 average that Pujols posted last year linked to the dingers and knocks. But, were I to gamble, I would go with the guy who has hit 40 before in the third and the younster who might hit 30 around the fourth or fifth.

Michael Conforto (15.2): The signing of Yoenis Cespedes has made lovers of Conforto leery of his playing time. I would not worry about that a lick for barring a melt-down, Conforto will need playing time to improve, and I cannot imagine less than 400 at-bats for the young slugger. Round 15 is a steal-and-a-half.

Neil Walker (12.4): Walker is 29, and over a 162-game mean, posted .272-18-81 totals over his seven years in The Show. Last year, over 157 games, the line was .269-16-71, pretty much in sync with said mean, so round 12 is a bargain for certain.

Brad Boxberger (14.6): A 4-10, 3.77 record with nine homers allowed over 63 innings might be a tad scary, but 41 saves and 74 whiffs are not to be dismissed. Personally, in a 12-team format, I am willing to wait till the end for closers, much like I would wait for a kicker in a football league, but if you think Boxberger will not be given every chance to lead the league in saves again, well, pick him as your field goal guy come August, perhaps?

Matt Holliday (undrafted): Let's be clear: I don't like Holliday, and have not since he was so diffident about playing in Oakland. True, he only played 73 games last year and the numbers were down, but he still managed an .804 OPS. Holliday has some solid youngsters playing behind him, but the Cards will indeed give him 300 at-bats anyway, so expect Carlos Beltran-type numbers like .293-14-65 over those plate appearances. My MLB mock outfield is full--in fact I have Randal Grichuk and Stephen Piscotty rostered-but dismissing Holliday is a mistake.

Evan Gattis (undrafted): We started the MLB mock before it was revealed that Gattis was in need of hernia surgery. There is roughly a six-week max recovery for that, and Gattis does plug in at DH-only unless 10 games is your minimum (Gattis played 11 in the oufield), but he hit 27 big flies and knocked in 88 last year. Will Correa do that? Kris Bryant? Kyle Schwarber? Miguel Sano? Perhaps. All those guys were drafted already, unlike Gattis, so I am just asking.

Last week, I wrote about drafting in an extremely deep league, trying to balance reasonable expectation with speculation. 

The league and format discussed, Strat-O-Matic, is different by definition than DFS and regular season roto formats in that the game is H2H simulation, using the previous season's stats.

However, even though the format and manner of play of Strat is different than a lot of the set-ups for most players, I am a strong believer that whatever format you play will shine some light on play in other formats.

Well, one advantage to assessing players after the season--and a lot of times MLB debuts--is you have that first foray of high level competition to balance against age and experience in the Minors.

In the MidWest Strat League, we are just finishing our 37-player draft which allowed for the freezing of up to 29. There are no salaries in the league, but there are usage parms and penalties, meaning just about every selection and player must contribute at some time.

Since the league is just grabbing 37th round players, it is safe to say we are scouring through the dregs, as it were. Allen Craig, John Mayberry, Jr. and David Aardsma are among the hopefuls bubbling within the free agent pool and hoping to make the team.

However, there are some potential gems among the 75-odd players still available, so this time I want to look at a few for speculation maybe into 2016, but possibly even a little further out. Note that I have nabbed players like Carlos Marmol and Shane Victorino in the later rounds of said Strat draft, two players who became useful in any kind of fantasy ball, especially as cheap keeps on a freeze list.

So, let's take a bit of a look.

Keyvius Sampson (Reds, P, 25): Sampson was originally drafted by the Padres in 2009, then grabbed off waivers by the Reds just a year ago--and turned 25 just a month ago. He has 434 minor league strikeouts over 607 frames, logging a decent 3-6, 3.38 mark last year at Double-A and Triple-A before spending time with the young Cincy pitching staff. Sampson did get pounded to the tune of 2-6, 7.39 with a 1.77 WHIP, but the strikeouts (42 over 52.3 innings) were ok, and Sampson is sure to be dismissed all over the place. His bane are the walks (302) in the Minors, but for a younger pitcher, wither goest whiffs, goest walks. Sampson might start the season at Triple-A, but I would track him.

Severino Gonzalez (Phillies, P, 23): The Phillies have become the hometown for "who?" when a member of their squad, and in particular their bullpen, is mentioned, making Gonzalez one of many pitching in obscurity at the highest level. Signed as a free agent in 2011, the native of Panama is 26-29, 3.36 in the Minors with a 1.106 WHIP and 394 strikeouts over 485.3 innings with just 83 walks. He was 3-3, 7.92 with the big club, but there is definitely some talent lurking, and time as well, for when Gonzalez fills out from his 6'2", 155 pound frame, I am guessing the power numbers go up.

Mayckol Guaipe (Mariners, P, 25): Signed by Seattle in 2006, when he was just 15, Guaipe has 31 saves in the Minors, 22 of them since 2012 when he moved to the pen permanently. At Tacoma last year, he was 0-4, 2.87 with five saves over 47 innings before a promotion and an 0-3, 6.41 mark over 26.3 innings. It should be interesting to see if the 6'4", 235 pound right-hander can eventually find himself in the closer role.

Jose Pirela (Padres, IF, 26): Thought perhaps to be the next big thing in the Bronx, Pirela was .310-3-23 with 42 runs over 69 minor league games in addition to 37 with the Bombers, hitting .230-1-5. Pirela was rather unceremoniously dumped off to the Padres for Ronald Herrera at the end of last season. The Pads, though, hardly have much of anything set anywhere, so Pirela could emerge with a bench gig to start 2016, and maybe even parlay that into something else.

Ryan Rua (Rangers, OF, 25): Rua gets props to start for being an Amherst graduate, meaning he is smart to go with any physical skills on his DNA profile. After the outfielder hit .295-2-14 to close out some 2014 playing time, big things were thought for Rua, who then struggled with a .193-4-7 mark over 83 at-bats. The Rangers are a team that can find hitters and score runs, and Rua just seems like the kind of guy to contribute accordingly.

Daniel Muno (Mets, IF, 27): Muno turns 27 on Tuesday, and for full disclosure, was drafted in the eighth round in 2011 after attending Cal-State, Fresno. He was a shortstop at Triple-A Las Vegas last year, hitting .277-3-24 over 83 games before a call-up that featured the somewhat abysmal totals of .148-0-0 over 32 at-bats, but played second and third at Citi Field. The downside is the Mets are fairly set up the middle with starters and bench, but Muno, his defensive flexibility, and his .390 minor league OBP (280 strikeouts to 321 walks) all point to a Jim Gantner kind of career. That ain't bad.

Picking rookies and prospects is among the diciest, and yet most satisfying aspects of building an Ultra League Franchise. In fact, for me, tearing apart a team and trying to reconstruct, particularly in a deep format, is where it is at.

In some of my leagues, like the XFL, players are often snatched up years before they achieve any big league success. For example, Carlos Carrasco was identified by Lord Zola back in 2008, as was Yu Darvish by Trace Wood. Carrasco did debut in 2009, but as we know has yo-yo'd up and down, tantalizing since, while it was a full four years before Darvish saw any active daylight on Trace's roster.

Needless to say, because of the rules of the league, and the fact that Carrasco has bounced around since his debut, he has been a longshot up until this year. But, Darvish, now priced at just $13 in the league, is still residing on Trace's roster.

Of course, it is so hard to correctly predict the arrival and success of a player ahead of time, but how much easier is the task a year into the process?

Well, in the MidWest Strat-O-Matic League, we have the luxury of that hindsight, but apparently having a rear-view mirror doesn't always point to prolonged success.

For, in Strat-O-Matic, players do not get cards and ratings and use till the year following their debut in the Majors, and even then depending upon innings/at-bats earned.

In the MidWest League, we have 30 teams, and can freeze up to 29 players from year-to-year. There are no salaries, but strict penalties for over usage of a player, who is allotted 20% over the previous season's innings or at-bats.

So, I thought I would look at the past five seasons of MidWest drafts, and then add in this year's gambles as we are in the throes of that draft right now.

Note that in 2013, all the free agents were thrown into a common pool, but prior, we had split the draft into separate American and National League lotteries. So, for 2011-12, I listed the NL and AL top five picks, respectively.

Pick 2016 2015 2014 2013 2012 2011
1 Carlos Correa Jose Abreu Jose Fernandez Bryce Harper Freddie Freeman Jason Heyward
2 Kris Bryant Jorge Soler Xander Bogaerts Matt Harvey Yonder Alonso Buster Posey
3 Francisco Lindor Yordano Ventura Jurickson Profar Lucas Harrell Dee Gordon Starlin Castro
4 Corey Seager Joe Panik Yasiel Puig Mike Fiers Brandon Beachy Stephen Strasburg
5 Noah Syndergaard George Springer Shelby Miller Jean Segura Cory Luebke Giancarlo Stanton
6 Lance McCullers Jacob deGrom Jedd Gyorko Manny Machado Mike Trout Carlos Santana
7 Kyle Schwarber Nick Castellanos Wil Myers Yu Darvish Eric Hosmer Austin Jackson
8 Addison Russell Gregory Polanco Julio Teheran Will Middlebrooks Michael Pineda Jeremy Hellickson
9 Miguel Sano Rusney Castillo Hyun-jin Ryu Yoenis Cespedes Brett Lawrie Colby Lewis
10 Byron Buxton Marcus Stroman Gerrit Cole Jarrod Parker Mike Moustakas Carlos Carrasco

Obviously, Buster Posey, Bryce Harper and Jose Abreu have held their value well, but what of Colby Lewis, Will Middlebrooks, Mike Fiers and Rusney Castillo, all of whom seemed like impacting contributors now and several years on?

Conversely, though I have had my failures with first rounders like Ike Davis and Jhoulys Chacin, similarly, I have had great luck with later picks like Marcell Ozuna (second round) and Derek Norris (fourth round). This suggests that the most obvious is not always the best investment, and that looking at age and opportunity as much as anything can be that harbinger to future success.

So, as we enter the busy drafting season, remember that picking the perfect prospect can be as ephemeral as picking the right first rounder in your snake draft. Baseball is a funny game.

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This is a busy, albeit sometimes confusing time of the year. It is now that leagues--particularly public industry contests--draft teams. Additionally, this is the time for Mocks (in fact the @rotobuzzguy Howard Bender starts his #MockDraftArmy this week).

At present, the Fantasy Sports Trade Association (FSTA) draft is going on, as is the MLB.com Experts Mock, both of which have my attention. Meanwhile, both of my Strat-O-Matic leagues are in the throes of long drafts as well. This coming week, I have four more--a couple each of mocks and 2016 for real--but I am hardly complaining.

I do find the process of drafting--especially mocking--not only a lot of fun, but beyond revealing not just because it gives me a feel for the flow a draft, or how configurations of players in a league might value players. With every set of picks, one must keep an eye on both the forest and the trees, simultaneously.

I have found the last couple of years that with the proliferation of solid pitching, I could really stall on the position--at least in mocks--filling out with an assortment of hitters, then fleshing arms starting by round eight. Generally, I have been able to cobble decent rotations from there, and though the speculative rotations certainly lack an ace, generally the likes of Francisco Liriano, James Shields, Gio Gonzalez, Jose Quintana and Hector Santiago comprise a nice cross-section.

Mind you, such rotations need some wizardry to guide a team to a title, but surely all these guys can throw 200 innings and each can at least give 150 strikeouts. Further, in the real world, I cannot say I would not at least jump on a Sonny Gray or Gerrit Cole by the fifth round, but the idea of mock drafts is to try things, in my view. And, that means see how they shake out.

It is rhetorical that pitching depth is indeed common knowledge, but in thinking about waiting longer to assemble a staff, coupled with Todd and my discussions during our FSTA draft, I am changing my tune some. 

If you check the link above to the FSTA matrix, you will notice that Todd and I grabbed David Price as our first pick of round four (4.2), selecting in the 12 spot of a 13-team league.

Picking at the wheel, this became sort of a no-brainer, since we would have to wait 22 selections before a chance at a #1 guy with strikeouts. But, since Clayton Kershaw, Max Scherzer, Madison Bumgarner, Chris Sale, Jose Fernandez and Jake Arrieta were taken over the first three rounds, it became "Price or never."

When the picks returned to us, what surprised me was how readily Todd and I both settled on Carlos Carrasco as our sixth pick, largely subverting that "wait on pitching" schema.

In the MLB.com draft, where I picked first, the same basic path was followed, as with my third pick I took the third arm off the board, Madison Bumgarner, reasoning that were pitchers the Beatles, Kershaw and Scherzer can be Lennon and McCartney, the best two song-writers in the band. I will take #3 in George Harrison.

It is not that I don't understand the power of having a dominant starter, for virtually all of my successful teams certainly had an ace. However, most of the time that ace did not necessarily turn out to be the guy I thought it would. Bret Saberhagen (his second season, my first playing roto ball), C.C. Sabathia (as a rookie) and even Zack Greinke last year were all guys I liked, but I did not think they would carry my teams forth to any type of reward, and they all did.

What I am suggesting here is as surely as you need power--those home runs and RBI--to boost your offense, you also need strikeouts from your pitchers, and ideally dependable ones. For, generally, with strikeouts flow the other good pitching numbers, just as runs and RBI get caught in the slip stream of homers.

However, when to pounce, and how to assemble the pieces to a winning roto puzzle lives in those variations of when you pick, how many teams, what are the rules, and other logistics of the league constitution.

To succeed in your draft, mocking as much as you can to identify players, identify player flows, know where you can grab a player or let him slip is the best way to make that completed puzzle a winner.

Note: If you are reading this, that suggests more than a passing interest in fantasy games. Please do write to your local lawmakers and tell them of your love of playing and desire to keep on playing, while keeping the game fair--and regulated--for all. Visit the FSTA site for more information (and thanks).

It is not much of a secret that I have an unnatural fascination with the transactions page. I need not go into the details, other than I see all the drama of life in the moves made by teams and subsequently affected onto the players.

Similarly, I do try to remember what a hard game baseball really is. For, remember, it is a game where a hitter who fails 70% of the time is really good, and that a team winning 55% of their games (which is 88) is likely a serious playoff contender.

Anyway, as a public service I want to look at some names that appeared in the Transaction Line just over the past week. The thing about the players I selected is they were all thought to be the next big thing, at least for a week or so.

And, the thing to remember about such players is they do often mature late, or better, just get hot for 140 games, all of a sudden making them solid fantasy pickups. Chris Shelton. Rob Wilfong. Ron Bryant. All of these players were obscure and mediocre, and came out of nowhere, and while this is the exception, not the rule, the thing about players on the fantasy margins is to never rule a player out. For, you just never know.

Carlos Triunfel (25, SS, signed to a minor league deal by the Reds): After hitting .287-8-49 with 30 steals at High Desert in 2008, Triunfel was rated the #55 prospect by Baseball Prospectus. That was the high-water mark for the career of the then 18-year-old, who is searching for something, somewhere. Triunfel is still just 25, and he hit .282-5-31 for Tacoma over 100 games in 2013, so I guess there is hope, apparently with Cincy. Just not much.

Moises Sierra (27, OF, signed to a minor league deal by the Marlins): Not so much top-ranked as a prospect, but Sierra has bounced around in the Majors for a total of 415 at-bats with a .243-9-37 line for the Jays and White Sox to go with a .267-75-362 minor league numbers along with 92 steals and a reasonable .331 OBP (212 walks, 636 strikeouts). Again, I am not sure what is there. Is he better than Allen Craig at this point? 

Tommy Medica (27, 1B, designated for assignment by the Marlins): After posting a .330-19-87 mark over 93 California League games in 2012, Medica moved up and played 76 games at Double-A in 2013, hitting .296-18-57, and that prompted a September shot with the Padres, wherein he went .290-3-10 over 19 more games. But, all the first baseman/outfielder could muster in 2014 was a .233-9-27 line over 103 games. Medica had a fine .367 minor league OBP but, alas, he must sink or swim with the Fishes.

Alex Liddi (27, OF, signed to a minor league deal by the Orioles): In 2011, as a 22-year-old, Liddi smoked Tacoma to the tune of .259-30-104, and then performed well enough to open 2012 (.270-11-30) in Tacoma, and then be promoted, where he hit .224-3-10 at Safeco. He then went back down, and by 2013, Seattle sent Liddi to Baltimore for "cash considerations."

John Mayberry, Jr. (31, 1B, signed to a minor league deal by the Tigers): Wow, a #1 pick of the Rangers in 2005, I remember seeing Mayberry at the Fall League many years back, thinking he just looked like a ball player. On the other hand, he had a huge looping swing with some holes that have kind of offset the fact that he looked "bitching out there" (see famous Dick Stuart quote). As a Major Leaguer, Mayberry has a .235-56-180 line over 570 at-bats but just a .299 OBP. I would like to think there is some Chris Carter in Mayberry somewhere, but likely not.

Joe Wieland: (26, P, traded by the Dodgers to the Mariners): A fourth-round pick of the Rangers in 2008, Wieland was then traded to the Padres with Robbie Erlin (who also belongs on this list) for Mike Adams. In 2014, Wieland was swapped to the Dodgers as part of the Matt Kemp swap, but all he has managed as a big leaguer is a 1-5, 5.85 record over nine starts. In 2012, Baseball Prospectus said that Wieland was the #4 top rated prospect following his 13-4, 1.97 line split between A+ and Double-A, and Wieland has 536 strikeouts over 590.3 minor league innings with a 1.203 WHIP, so maybe he makes the best flier.? Maybe.

As promised last week, the Top 250 Prospect List is out, and downloadable in a basic form, and with complete comments and sleepers as part of our Platinum Package.

To recap, there are always familiar names on the list, but also players who pop up and thus merit tracking, especially in ultra formats since basic skills--ability to hit or throw with power and discipline--at the earliest age is the best harbinger I have found for identifying baseball talent as early as permits.

Before we dig in to some thoughts on players outside the Top 10, take advantage of the changes made to the availability of the list this year.

Basic Top 250: The basic list, in order, with the player and rating can be downloaded HERE.

Complete Top 250: This lists all Top 250 players, with a brief comment by me, basic stats, my sleepers identified, and a separate sheet that basically rates everyone for a total of 2,004 players and is available as part of our Platinum Package. Note we also have our DraftKings deal going where you can get our Platinum--which includes Todd's projections and special analysis--for $10 off the regular price. Click HERE for that.

So, last week I revealed the Top 10, but this week, I want to look at some of the names bubbling under who caught my eye, but maybe no one else's as a future fantasy target.

Gleyber Torres (19, SS, Cubs, #66): As an 18-year-old, over 119 games, the native Venezuelan hit .293-3-42 with 22 steals and a total of 32 extra-base hits. Torres needs refinement as witnessed by the 108 strikeouts and 14 caught stealing he earned, but give the kid a couple of years and look out.

Cody Bellinger (20, 1B, Dodgers, #92): Kind of your prototypical hunky left-handed hitting first sacker, Bellinger, who is 6'4" but just 180 pounds, was a fourth rounder of the Dodgers in 2013. He hit .264-30-103 at Rancho Cucamonga with ten steals, with a decent .336 OBP (52 walks to 150 strikeouts) relative to age/level/experience.

Lewis Brinson: (22, OF, Rangers, #120): Texas' first-round pick in 2012, Brinson played at three levels, starting with A+ (.337-13-42) to Double-A (.291-6-23) to Triple-A (.433-1-4), giving an aggregate .332-20-69 line with 18 steals and 31 doubles with 44 walks to 98 whiffs (.403 OBP). Almost there.

Akeel Morris (22, P, Mets, #149): Can you spell dominate? That is what Morris did between A+ St. Lucie and Double-A Binghamton, going 0-2, 2.05 with 13 saves along with 81 strikeouts over 61.3 innings, but just 28 hits allowed (0.781 WHIP) for the Virgin Islands import. Morris got a shot at Citi Field (five runs over two-thirds of an inning) but should get a chance to strut it next spring.

Brett Phillips: (21, OF, Brewers, #156): Houston's #6 selection in 2012 was good enough to be part of the Carlos Gomez compensation, based upon a .295-30-170 line over 340 minor league games. In 2015, Phillips went .309-16-77 with 17 steals over 120 games and 565 at-bats over two levels (he finished in Double-A).

Alex Verdugo (19, OF, Dodgers, #226): The Dodgers' #2 selection in 2014, Verdugo began last year at A-ball, and after going .295-5-42 at Great Lakes, finished at High-A with a .385-4-19 line over 23 more games. Verdugo has hit .322-12-104 with 47 doubles and 25 steals over 178 games since signing.

Trevor Story (23, SS, Rockies, #242): Two things struck me with Story. First, it is tough to crack the 250, and he deserves respect for that. But what really caught my eye was that Story, a first-round pick in 2011, hit .281-10-40 over 69 Double-A games at New Britain before being promoted to Albuquerque where he went .271-10-40 over 61 more games at Triple-A. Story's OBP did drop from .373 to .324, but all in all, the .279-20-80 totals with 22 steals and 40 doubles is pretty good.

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