When and how to draft prospects

Thursday, February 25, 1999

If you play Rotisserie Ultra or in a league that allows you to stock a reserve system with minor leaguers and college players, be careful. Regular subscribers know what prospects we like but when and how many do you take? Here are a few basic tips to follow.

1. Do not take any prospect list to the bank - theirs or ours. The Sandlot Shrink's rankings are fine but you have to take into consideration your own scoring system and team needs. The lists published in Baseball America, though comprehensive, do not have fantasy players in mind. They often feature raw "tools" hitters, teenage pitchers and defensive specialists who are 4-5 years away from the majors.

2. Watch for cuts closely in spring training. Many pre-draft rookie lists do not include last year's freshman who need more time in the minors. Don't forget about them. Aramis Ramirez in 1998 is a prime example.

3. Consider taking bonafide major-leaguers. Current players residing on major league rosters not selected in your draft might be better choices, at least for your first pick. Grab the prospects later in the draft, especially when the reserve phase lasts more than five rounds. Exceptions would be the obvious youngsters with bonafide star potential.

4. Select hitters over pitchers. Everybody knows that young hurlers are a crapshoot no matter how highly touted they are, Kerry Wood notwithstanding. It generally takes a rookie pitcher 2-3 years to establish himself in the majors. It takes a minor league teenager even longer. And there's always the threat of overuse resulting in arm trouble.

5. Avoid closer prospects. Even though the tide is slightly turning (Matt Anderson, Braden Looper), closer material still comes from veteran starters, middle relievers and setup men. Most managers are leery of throwing a youngster out there in a late inning pressure situation. If you need some save insurance, grab the relievers setting up the guys who are inconsistent or coming off an injury.

6. Ignore defensive players. Middle infielders and catchers that rely on their glove rather than their bat do not make good reserve picks. Sometimes the reverse is true too. Many players that hit well in the minors find their playing time curtailed when they get to the bigs because their defense is below average.

7. Draft Colorado hitters, not Colorado pitchers. For obvious reasons. This is a basic philosophy no matter what kind of draft you participate in, major or minor, unless WHIP does not count.

8. Consider the opportunity. A talented prospect has to have a position waiting for him in order to make the team.

9. Stock up on thin positions. If you come out of the regular draft weak in the outfield, then you might want to stock up on a couple of garden prospects. But remember, grab a solid major leaguer or platoon player first if you have the chance. If you need pitching, take fliers on the non-drafted major leaguers first.

10. Keeper leagues. If you play in a perpetual league, then you might want to consider drafting a couple of the younger non-pitching prospects. Just be prepared to sit on them for a while. Hitters from Class A and the Rookie Leagues generally take 4-5 years to make it to the majors.

11. Consider other factors like age, ballpark and batting eye. Just because a minor leaguer put up great numbers last year doesn't mean he will be a great hitter in the majors. Some are 23-year-olds still in A-ball. Some cannot draw a walk to save their lives and will be exploited by better pitchers at higher levels unless they improve their selectivity at the plate.  Some are playing in small parks and/or hitter's leagues (PCL, California League, Texas League). The Florida State League is the toughest league for a hitter because of the spacious park dimensions.



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