Aside from the adult beverages, banter, and food, fantasy baseball drafts are like the SAT — long and challenging. No matter if you’re acquiring players through a straight draft or an auction, it’s a mind-bender of an exercise because you have so many roster spots to fill: around 25, give or take a few.
The first two rounds move quickly because everyone knows the top guys. Pujols. Utley. A-Rod. Crisp (just making sure you’re following along). But then the real work kicks in when the draft moves into the middle and later rounds and you start having to make decisions between guys like, well, Coco Crisp (playing every day this year) and Delmon Young (thus far, a singles hitter).
We’re here to help. The following is a roster made up of players who aren’t unknowns but aren’t stars, either. They’ll be worthwhile picks as your draft moves toward the middle rounds.
Benjie Molina, C, San Francisco
The Giants' offense was terrible last year, but Molina delivered more than expected as the team's cleanup hitter, finishing with 16 homers, 95 runs batted in (tops among all catchers), and 33 doubles.
Adrian Gonzalez, 1B, San Diego
Gonzalez strikes out a ton (142 times last season), but even in a pitcher's park with mediocre hitters around him, he still cranked 36 home runs and drove in 119.
Jose Lopez, 2B, Seattle
Lopez won't help you with on-base percentage (only .303 for his career), but he does have 38 homers and 220 RBI over the last three years and cranked 41 doubles last season. Plate discipline is what separates the elite second basemen from Lopez, but he's only 24.
Alex Gordon, 3B, Kansas City
Gordon struggles mightily against lefties but had a respectable OBP (.351) for a young player still trying to figure out major league pitching. If you take a chance on Gordon's potential, you'll have to cover yourself later in your draft with a backup plan such as Melvin Mora.
Stephen Drew, SS, Arizona
On the verge of stardom, Drew (below) slugged .502 in '08 and became just the second shortstop in the history of baseball to compile 20 homers, 10 triples, and 40 doubles. At 26, he's already played three seasons in the big leagues. This is a great year to target him.
Justin Upton, OF, Arizona
Upton is just 21 but is worth a mid- to late-round selection, because at some point he's going to put it together and completely go off. An oblique injury kept him sidelined for an extended period in '08, but when healthy, Upton looked impressive.
Nick Markakis, OF, Baltimore
Markakis is not a No. 1 fantasy outfielder and has shown only modest power (20 homers last season), but his 48 doubles and .406 OBP in 2008 were excellent. Continued improvement will make him a steal in the fourth round or lower.
Hunter Pence, OF, Houston
Pence swings a decent stick and finished '08 with 25 homers, 34 doubles, four triples, and 83 RBI. Inconsistency has always been part of the package, but Pence will be 26 in 2009, and he'll be extremely productive if he can relax his free-swinging ways.
Dan Haren, SP, Arizona
Haren is a known commodity, but he's not even the ace of his team -- that honor falls to Brandon Webb. Still, Haren would be a fine choice to head your fantasy rotation: expect 15 to 20 wins and around 200 strikeouts.
Jose Valverde, RP, Houston
Don't fall off your chair, but Valverde has saved 91 games over the past two seasons and had the second most (44) last season. Control issues -- and thus, blown saves -- prevent him from being consistent, but he'll be available in the later rounds and will reward you with plenty of saves.
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This week's OT cover
OT beat writersMaureen Mullen brings you Red Sox information and insights.
Tom Wilcox covers the Patriots.
Scott Souza is all over the Celtics.
Danny Picard is on the ice with the Bruins.
Mike McDonald takes a look at the humorous side of Boston sports