Follow These Tips, Dominate Your AL-Only Fantasy Baseball Draft

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It’s already shaping up to be an interesting 2013 for AL-Only Fantasy players, as the Houston Astros’ move to the AL West will bring with it 25 new players to the draft pool. Granted, not many of them are of major league quality, but still, they are an entire roster of players that should make things that much more interesting. Not as interesting, however, as when the Blue Jays decided to become the Marlins North, helping Miami to complete the gutting of its roster and leaving Giancarlo Stanton to perform as a one-man band in South Beach. We’ll take a look at how those two, major personnel shifts will factor into your draft strategy, as well as a few other tidbits that will give you a leg up on the competition when you sit down to build your 2013 roster.

Astro Land

While it’s true that the Houston Astros aren’t bringing Murderer’s Row with them to their new address in the AL West, they do have a number of players that will be a sight for sore eyes to AL-only Fantasy owners tired of being two teams short of their NL counterparts in the player pool. Center fielder Justin Maxwell showed 20/20 potential last year, delivering 19 HR and 9 SB in just 95 games. 2B Jose Altuve, Houston’s lone All-Star in 2012, returned nice value with 33 SB. However, he scored just 80 R in 147 games with a dismal output of 37 RBI. He’s a nice addition, as long as you don’t overpay.

Also, outfielder J.D. Martinez was on his way to a solid season before a hand injury sat him down, newly acquired 1B Chris Carter looks to build on a 16 HR half-season with the A’s, while top prospect, C Jason Castro, gets an opportunity to show the Astros what he’s got. There isn’t much to consider when it comes to the pitching staff, but Jose Veras gets first crack at the closer role.

Canadian Imports

The addition of another team to the AL had been on the horizon for some time. What wasn’t expected, though, was the immigration of top NL players to Toronto. The Blue Jays, now favored by some to win the AL East based on these acquisitions, offer a number of new and exciting options to AL-only leagues. First and foremost, don’t get caught selling R.A. Dickey short because of his age. The Cy Young winner, while 38 years old, has been throwing a unique version of the knuckleball for just 6 years and is still improving. That he throws it with significant velocity makes him a legitimate threat for 200 Ks and a solid WHIP. Jose Reyes, now the top SS on many AL lists, comes off a great season in Miami and is still in his prime. The turf in Toronto will certainly help his BA, but may take a toll on his SB total.

Elsewhere, SP Josh Johnson brings a world of talent north of the border, but his inability to stay healthy is a red flag. Don’t reach. Emilio Bonifacio might not be able to find a regular spot in the lineup, but his multi-position eligibility should get him on the field enough to return a decent SB total. Mark Buerhle remains a serviceable and effective starter for his MLB employers but not so much for their Fantasy counterparts. He’ll give you double-digit Wins but will disappoint in all peripherals. He’s a late-round option at best.

Keep Your Closers Close, and Your Setup Guys Closer

Without question, the most precarious position in all of baseball is the closer. And for good reason. The idea that there are 30 guys (or 15 in the AL) who can dominate another team’s lineup in tight situations is ridiculous. In what other sport do we think a guy can do a job simply by being assigned. Would you think that any player that was 6’10” could perform like Kevin Durant simply by being given the opportunity? Of course not. Yet, every year, MLB follows this ill-fated practice, which is why there are always three or four undrafted relievers who go on to accumulate 25-30 saves.

Now, you can rely on a quick trigger finger to grab them off of the waiver wire, or you can be prepared during your draft to target certain “handcuff” guys wherever you think the closer will fail. We like the second way best. Let’s face it, in a 10-team league, there aren’t enough closers to go around anyway, so you’ll have to take a few eighth inning guys. They might as well have the potential to return some value.

Cleveland’s Vinnie Pestano has been the Tribe’s closer-in-waiting for a while. However, Chris Perez has managed to hold him off for the better part of the last two seasons. Even if Perez holds the position, Pestano will still return impressive numbers. In Toronto, Casey Janssen returns from shoulder surgery as the Jays’ first choice, with Sergio Santos next in line. Keep an eye on how that plays out over the spring. The Angels bullpen is unsettled at this point, with Ryan Madson, the projected closer, out until April with a bad elbow, opening the door for Ernesto Friere. The safe bet is to expect Madson to get the job upon his return, but the uncertainty will force you to take both of them and wait until the situation is resolved.

Be Careful on the Turns

The first and last two draft positions in every round are tenuous in any format, as Fantasy owners deal with a double-edged sword. On the one side, there is the benefit of selecting two players at a time and addressing dual needs. For those of us a little more sly and crafty, it also provides the opportunity to dictate the direction of a draft. Want to start a position run? Take two relievers on the turn of the 5th and 6th rounds of a mixed draft. On the other side, there is the dilemma of deciding whether you’re selecting someone too early, based only on the fact that he won’t be there eighteen to twenty picks later. That huge gap between picks can be a deadly blow to a Fantasy season.

Each of these situations becomes more beneficial/dangerous in a single league format because of the smaller player pool. In a mixed pool, there is likely an alternative selection still available to you if the player upon whom you were waiting gets scooped up. However, you could get cute and wait on a second baseman in an AL-only and watch every reasonable alternative disappear by the time things get back to you. Be careful.