Fantasy Fox: 5-minute guide to expert drafting

Here’s my annual “Five-Minute Guide to Faking Your Way Through a Fantasy Baseball Draft,” a piece that was largely inspired by the fake book, Performing Heart Surgery For Dummies.

Now, I’m not saying performing heart surgery and crafting a successful 25-round draft are similar occupations, requiring the same skill set.

However, if given the task of explaining “rudimentary heart surgery” or the “art of fantasy drafting” to my 90-something grandma (or 30-something wife), they’d probably have a better grasp of clearing blocked arteries than why Mark Trumbo has 1B/OF eligibility — even though Albert Pujols occupies first base, full-time, for the Angels.

12 Simple Draft Rules To Live By

1. Select at least one corner infielder in the first three picks.

2. Avoid being at the tail end of a same-position draft run — after Round 2.

3. Avoid taking more than three starting pitchers in the first eight rounds of 12-team drafts.

4. Give major consideration to an outfielder every three picks.

5. When in doubt with starting pitchers, target strikeouts and WHIP.

6. When in doubt with closers, target saves and ERA.

7. Avoid drafting catchers before Round 4. The rationale: For 12-team leagues which require only one starting backstop, it makes little sense to reach for assets at this position … unless they’ll be regular considerations for the 1B or 1B/3B slots (like Buster Posey, Joe Mauer, Carlos Santana, Victor Martinez and Mike Napoli).

8. With the special-case exceptions of Craig Kimbrel and/or Aroldis Chapman (back in the Reds’ bullpen), avoid taking a closer in the first seven rounds. Many unsung stars can be found in the middle rounds.

9. Do not obsess over other owners’ drafts. The only ones who truly matter are those drafting one slot away from you — on both sides.

10. It’s OK to reach for your favorite prospective star — after Round 16.

11. Don’t be afraid to handcuff a closer with his No. 1 setup man.

12. If you wait for speed at the end of the draft, it may come with a good-to-very good batting average. On the flip side, if you wait for power at the end of the draft, it’ll most likely accompany a painfully low batting average.

Semi-Obvious Tip of the Day

When live-drafting on the Web, it’s comforting to know the mainstream sites have already done the legwork, in terms of aligning each talent with their prospective draft slot or value.

So when you’re on the clock with seconds to spare, it’s important to realize that Matthew Berry, Brad Evans, Eric Karabell, Scott White, Eric Mack or Jeff Erickson did not conceive their own preseason rankings as some kind of Jedi mind trick. And when you draft on FOXSports.com … our team of experts will happily carry owners through 25 exhaustive rounds of preparation.

If Colorado’s Troy Tulowitzki has a No. 18 pre-draft ranking, he’s a comfortable lock for Round 2 (especially as the premier shortstop). And if Blue Jays masher Edwin Encarnacion has a No. 26 value, he’ll likely be one of the first to disappear from Round 3. The same thinking applies to subsequent rounds — just be leery of injured players who haven’t been downgraded on the mainstream sites.

This is the reason why no one should ever use “autopick” for a non-absentee draft.

Sleeper Cells

Speaking of ADP, here are my favorite 40 sleepers to pursue after the 180th pick — at least the ones with five or less years of major league service time:

1. OF Domonic Brown, Phillies
2. SS Alcides Escobar, Royals
3. SP Brett Anderson, Athletics
4. SP Matt Harvey, Mets
5. SP Julio Teheran, Braves
6. RP Addison Reed, White Sox
7. SS Josh Rutledge, Rockies
8. SP Jarrod Parker, Athletics
9. SP Jeremy Hellickson, Rays
10. RP Bruce Rondon, Tigers
11. 2B/3B Jedd Gyorko, Padres
12. OF Lorenzo Cain, Royals
13. SS Andrelton Simmons, Braves
14. SP Chris Tillman, Orioles
15. 1B Brandon Belt, Giants
16. SS Jean Segura, Brewers
17. RP Ernesto Frieri, Angels
18. 3B Manny Machado, Orioles
19. OF Billy Hamilton, Reds
20. SP Marco Estrada, Brewers
21. OF Wil Myers, Royals
22. OF Justin Ruggiano, Marlins
23. OF Drew Stubbs, Indians
24. 1B Yonder Alonso, Padres
25. SP Alex Cobb, Rays
26. SP Bud Norris, Astros
27. C Jesus Montero, Mariners
28. SP Rick Porcello, Tigers
29. OF Starling Marte, Pirates
30. OF Aaron Hicks, Twins
31. SP Derek Holland, Rangers
32. SP Shelby Miller, Cardinals
33. 2B/3B Chris Nelson, Rockies
34. SP Trevor Bauer, Indians
35. SP Dylan Bundy, Orioles
36. SP Hyun-Jin Ryu, Dodgers
37. SP Vance Worley, Twins
38. 1B/3B Jordan Pacheco, Rockies
39. C Travis D’Arnaud, Mets
40. OF Kyle Blanks, Padres

Minimum Expectations for Starting Pitchers

Mixed Leagues

WHIP: 1.27 (the 1.40-plus guys are absolute killers)
Strikeouts: 163
Ratios: K/BB (2.5-to-1), K/9 (8.7)
ERA:
4.03 (don’t let 4.10-plus pitchers off the hook)
Wins: 13 (I’m the least militant about this one — pitchers have middling control over wins)

AL- or NL-Only Leagues

WHIP: 1.31
Strikeouts: 155
Ratios: K/BB (2.25-to-1), K/9 (8.4)
ERA:
4.12
Wins: 11

Choose Your Own Draft Adventure: Starting Pitchers

The golden rule: I don’t care how you prioritize the values of starting pitching on draft day. Just make sure to grab at least four (preferably five) of these assets before the dust settles.

It bears repeating: You can’t necessarily win a fantasy pennant on good-to-great pitching alone. However, you’ll seldom, if ever, win a championship with No. 4 and No. 5 starters masked as front-liners in the fantasy rotation.

Tier 1: Clayton Kershaw, Justin Verlander, Felix Hernandez, David Price, Jered Weaver Stephen Strasburg, Cole Hamels

Tier 2: Gio Gonzalez, Cliff Lee, Madison Bumgarner, Max Scherzer, Matt Cain, Chris Sale, Johnny Cueto, R.A. Dickey

Tier 3: James Shields, Adam Wainwright, Zack Greinke, CC Sabathia, Yu Darvish, Yovani Gallardo, Roy Halladay, Mat Latos, Kris Medlen, Matt Moore

Tier 4: C.J. Wilson, Jordan Zimmermann, Josh Johnson, Jeff Samardzija, Ian Kennedy, Brandon Morrow, Jake Peavy, Aroldis Chapman, Homer Bailey, Hiroki Kuroda, Jon Niese

Tier 5: Jon Lester, Brett Anderson, Anibal Sanchez, Tim Lincecum, Matt Harrison, Mike Minor, Tommy Hanson, A.J. Burnett, Doug Fister, Ryan Vogelsong, Jeremy Hellickson, Dan Haren, Marco Estrada, Matt Harvey, Jarrod Parker, Ryan Dempster, Chris Tillman

Choose Your Own Draft Adventure: Outfielders

The golden rule: In leagues that require five starting outfielders, it’s imperative to have at least three of these talents.

After that, owners can focus on getting value at every turn, while also targeting isolated categories of potential excellence.

Tier 1: Mike Trout, Ryan Braun, Andrew McCutchen, Matt Kemp

Tier 2: Josh Hamilton, Jose Bautista, Giancarlo Stanton, Carlos Gonzalez, Matt Holliday, Adam Jones, Justin Upton, Bryce Harper, Jason Heyward, Yoenis Cespedes, Alex Rios

Tier 3: Jacoby Ellsbury, B.J. Upton, Jay Bruce, Austin Jackson, Alex Gordon, Mark Trumbo, Michael Bourn, Desmond Jennings, Melky Cabrera, Martin Prado, Shin-Soo Choo, Ben Zobrist, Josh Willingham, Jason Kubel

Tier 4: Nick Swisher, Dexter Fowler, Nelson Cruz, Allen Craig, Carlos Gomez, Hunter Pence, Josh Reddick, Chris Davis, Jayson Werth, Angel Pagan, Norichika Aoki, Andre Ethier, Alfonso Soriano, Torii Hunter, Corey Hart, Carlos Beltran and Curtis Granderson (broken forearm)

Baseline Measures

First Base

Prince Fielder: You can expect … 83 runs, .313 batting and 108 RBI
Garrett Jones: You can expect … 68 runs and .317 on-base percentage
Chris Davis: You can expect … 85 RBI
Allen Craig: You can expect … 76 runs and .307 batting
Eric Hosmer: You can expect … 14 homers, 60 RBI, 65 runs and .232 batting
Adrian Gonzalez: You can expect … 18 homers, 75 runs and .299 batting
Freddie Freeman: You can expect … 94 RBI and .259 batting
Paul Goldschmidt: You can expect … 20 homers and 82 RBI
Billy Butler: You can expect … 32 doubles, 72 runs and .373 on-base percentage
Ike Davis: You can expect … 90 RBI, .227 average and .308 OBP

Second Base

Robinson Cano: You can expect … 94 RBI
Dustin Pedroia: You can expect … 15 homers, 81 runs and .290 batting
Ian Kinsler: You can expect … 19 homers, 72 RBI and .326 on-base percentage
Aaron Hill: You can expect … 26 homers and 14 steals
Dan Uggla: You can expect … 19 homers, 78 RBI and .220 batting
Neil Walker: You can expect … 7 steals, 14 homers, 69 RBI and 62 runs
Rickie Weeks: You can expect … 21 homers, 63 RBI and .230 batting
Brandon Phillips: You can expect … 77 RBI and .281 batting
Jason Kipnis: You can expect … 14 homers, 22 doubles, 76 RBI and .257 batting

Third Base

Miguel Cabrera: You can expect … 40 doubles and 109 runs (tough call on .330 batting)
David Wright: You can expect … 21 homers, 15 steals and 81 walks
Mike Moustakas: You can expect … 20 homers, 73 RBI, 69 runs and .242 batting
Adrian Beltre: You can expect … 33 doubles
Ryan Zimmerman: You can expect … 5 steals, 95 homers and .282 batting
Pablo Sandoval: You can expect … 12 homers, 63 RBI, 59 runs and .283 batting
Aramis Ramirez: You can expect … 27 homers
Jordan Pacheco: You can expect … 5 homers, 7 steals, 51 runs, 54 RBI, .309 batting
Brett Lawrie: You can expect … .273 batting and .324 on-base percentage

Shortstops

Jose Reyes: You can expect … 12 triples, 86 runs and .287 batting
Starlin Castro: You can expect … 14 homers, 78 runs, 25 steals and .283 batting
J.J. Hardy: You can expect … 22 homers, 68 RBI and .238 batting
Ian Desmond: You can expect … 72 runs and 73 RBI
Elvis Andrus: You can expect … 3 homers, 85 runs and 21 steals
Jimmy Rollins: You can expect … 68 RBI, .250 batting and .315 on-base percentage
Asdrubal Cabrera: You can expect … 9 steals, 16 homers, 68 RBI and 70 runs

One Last Piece of Advice

If you happen to get crushed on draft day by a phalanx of prepared owners, fear not. You’ll have the entire season to trade your way out of any March debacles.

Just stick to the rules above, and keep reading the Fantasy Fox blog … and you’ll be fine.

Jay Clemons can be reached via Twitter, day or night, at @FOX_JayClemons.