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2014 Draft Prep: Dynasty strategies

Senior Fantasy Writer
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If playing the game of Fantasy Baseball makes you a nerd (a line of thought I don't subscribe to, but just play along), playing in a dynasty league makes you ... something way beyond nerd. I'm not even sure there's a word for it. You not only have to know every player in the majors, but at least 100 prospects -- and then you have to track their stats over the course of the season. On top of that, playing in a dynasty league requires a constant struggle with the ages-old, "Do I play for this year, or do I play for the future?" question, while living with the paranoia that any add, drop, trade or draft pick you make could have decade-long ramifications.

It's not for the weak of heart. But it's a pretty awesome format if you have the time for it. Fantasy Baseball is a grueling exercise over a 162-game season. A dynasty league is that, multiplied by 25, cubed, divided by .001 and then multiplied by 25 again. Which makes victory so much sweeter.

What follows are some guidelines for dynasty noobs (and perhaps some fresh perspective for the dynasty pros among us).

1. Get to really know the prospects. I know that sounds obsvious and trite, but don't just take MLB.com's Top 100, print it out at work (because it's free!) and work off that. Study the list, check out Baseball America's top 10 for each team, read Scott White's list of 50 top prospects and then go to milb.com and take a look at who led the minors in home runs, steals, average, ERA last season -- all that fun stuff. Then cross-reference the players you like with Baseball Reference to get a better idea of what they've done to this point in their careers. Then take a look at the parent club and figure out where there's a crack in the lineup. Age, experience and success in the minors all play a role. As does opportunity (Aaron Hicks got his shot last year, maybe a little early, because the Minnesota center field job was open).

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In most dynasty leagues, the top prospects are already owned (because we're hoarders), but there's plenty to mine as far as prospects who slip through the cracks (like Kole Calhoun or Patrick Corbin). Don't make the mistake of drafting based solely on top prospects lists. They're well-researched and solid places to start, but they are based on talent and skill, not necessarily proximity to the majors. Take some risks with players you like, and you may be rewarded halfway through the season with a callup.

2. Dig a little deeper to find some fringe prospects you like. Jeremy Jeffress is a great example of this (despite being just one major league inning away from losing his "rookie" status). He was lights out with the Blue Jays last season, with a 0.87 ERA and 12 strikeouts in 10 1/3 innings. And in 32 1/3 minor league innings in 2013, he had a 1.39 ERA and 1.11 WHIP, with 30 strikeouts. But he has a career 4.10 minor league ERA -- something didn't add up. I googled him, looked through news articles, read old updates ... and stumbled upon a gem. Jeffress had been misdiagnosed and wrongly medicated for an anxiety problem, when he actually had juvenile epilepsy. He'd been taking the wrong medication for years. In June, the Blue Jays sent him to a doctor who figured it out. The new diagnosis and prescription (along with a tweak in arm slot) changed everything. Heading into 2014, Jeffress, 25, looks like he has a real shot to relieve for Toronto, and could be converted to a starter (although the Jays have already squashed the starter idea for spring training) down the line. I will own him in most of my dynasty leagues, and can get him with a late-round pick.

Similarly, in January, I was shuffling through pages of winter league leaders and came across Mitch Lively, who has spent seven seasons in the minors and has never thrown a major league pitch. As a reliever, Lively has just one season with an ERA over 3.25, with a sub-2.15 ERA in three seasons. He was named this season's Venezuelan Winter League Pitcher of the Year, with a 1.70 ERA and 1.25 WHIP. So I went back and looked at his 2013. The Giants were stretching him out to be a starter (he hadn't started a game in his professional career before last season), and he struggled in the Pacific Coast League, with a 4.72 ERA and 1.34 WHIP. But over his last eight starts, Lively had a 2.54 ERA and 0.91 WHIP. The Giants look to have a full rotation heading into 2014, but injury (or regression) could strike at any time. Lively will probably find his way onto all of my dynasty league teams, probably as the pick right after Jeffress.

For a minor investment, I could have two very cheap starters by July 2014 (this is being very optimistic). And if Jeffress stays in the bullpen and Lively never gets a shot, there's still hope for 2015, assuming they keep up their recent success. These types of quiet minor league gambles can be huge boosts to the fortunes of a dynasty league team. I'll get my top prospects early, but these late picks could be difference-makers, especially in deeper leagues.

3. You don't have to go fully into "play for next year" or "play for this year" mode. In a 24-team Head-to-Head dynasty league last year, I lost in the championship game. But while I sent out some young talent for playoff push help, I also made a couple smaller trades that jettisoned veterans (where I had roster depth) for some younger talent. In a league this size, with eight teams making the playoffs, you can be both buyer and seller to plenty of other teams. The result is a mish-mash of keepers that have me in a great spot for this season's auction. Adam Eaton, Ryan Zimmerman, Kole Calhoun, Jon Lester and Michael Pineda (among others -- we have unlimited keepers, as long as we're under budget) are on my roster. I'm keeping them all.

While it's tidy and time-honored to have one strategy for a dynasty roster, variety is going to allow flexibility for the following season. If I traded away all my bats for young, cheap talent, I would have to wildly overspend at the auction to get veteran bats for this year. If I went all-in for a playoff push, I'd be stuck with overpriced veterans and no future talent. Keeping a nice mix, though, allows me to control my own fate at the draft, with the flexibility to take the best value picks, instead of having to scramble to pick up certain players who I would otherwise want to pass on. As a bonus, I enter 2014 already owning youth to trade to rebuilders, and veterans to trade to contenders.

4. Don't go overboard with drafting youngsters. We get it dude -- you know your prospects. But the way to really prove that is to win, not to use all your picks to show your friends that you read a few articles. It isn't so much reaching for a Francisco Lindor in the fifth round. I can understand that as part of a balanced strategy. But going Lindor in the fifth, Bubba Starling in the seventh, C.J. Edwards in the eighth, and Kyle Zimmer in the ninth is a bit much. You're passing up a chance to win in 2014 for a core of unproven -- but promising -- commodities. Look at the 2011 top prospect list, for example -- Bryce Harper and Mike Trout led off Baseball America's top 20, but Jesus Montero was third, Jeremy Hellickson was sixth, Mike Moustakas was ninth, Dustin Ackley was 12th, John Lamb was 18th and Mike Montgomery was 19th. These players could all still turn a corner, but if you were reaching for them in dynasty drafts, they aren't looking like great picks three years later. And taking all of those players probably caused the owner to pass up on veterans who could contribute that season.

I like to force myself to take prospects only in certain rounds. It's a strategy that has worked well for me the past few seasons. I'll pre-determine some rounds for prospects -- in one league last year, I targeted the first (technically the ninth after eight keepers), eighth, 10th, 16th, 21st, 22nd, and 23rd as my "prospect" rounds -- and I promised to not stray from that strategy. It resulted in me being a more focused drafter, and allowed me to worry about building a team at certain points, and building a farm at others, instead of playing ping pong with the two strategies and having to decide between a prospect and Brandon Belt as the draft clock ticked down.

5. Go look at old prospect lists for post-hype sleepers. That 2011 list may have produced some disappointment if you chased them that season, but Lamb (who hasn't been the same pitcher since Tommy John, but did make it to Triple-A last season) and Montgomery (who peaked at No. 19 on Baseball America's top prospect list but hasn't been able to get his ERA below 4.80 the last three seasons in the minors) still have some hope, and could make decent late-round gambles in dynasty leagues. All it takes is one astute pitching coach to tweak one thing in a delivery (maybe Montgomery changes where his foot lands on the rubber) and all that talent just comes rushing back.

The 2012 Top Prospect list features plenty of possible diamonds in the rough. It includes: Trevor Bauer (who worked through mechanics changes last season), Danny Hultzen (who will miss 2014 after undergoing shoulder surgery), Bubba Starling (whose progress has stalled in the minors, but has been a top prospect in the organization), Manny Banuelos (a former top prospect who could make the Yankees in relief this season), Brett Jackson (who took a major step back in 2013 but still has a good deal of talent) and Gary Brown (like Jackson, took a big step back, but was a top-40 prospect in 2012). It's likely owners of these prospects in dynasty leagues discarded them after patience wore thin. But it sometimes just takes time for talent to win out. Look at Domonic Brown last year, or even Khris Davis. Smart baseball observers deemed these players top talents, and there may be reasons (swing tweaks, arm slot issues, injury) that stalled the progress. Swooping in with late-round dynasty picks on former top prospects is a gamble worth taking, and allows you to focus your early and-mid-round endeavors on established major league players.

6. Don't propose crap trades for top prospects. Say you own Miguel Sano in your dynasty league. You've had him since 2011 and you've been waiting for this big break -- there's a very real chance he could open the 2014 season with the Twins, at which point he will hammer home runs all year. But your buzz is now worn off, because a fellow owner in your dynasty league just offered you Coco Crisp and Yovani Gallardo for him.

Lowball offers for prospects don't just get rejected -- they get the owner of the prospect legitimately angry. I know, because I've been on the receiving end of these offers. And I view anyone who has given me a lowball offer with a level of scorn and venom unmatched in my everyday life. When future deals are proposed from this other owner, not only will I reject the deal, but I will wait three days to reject it, just to play aloof and leave the trade offerer in a state of will-he-or-won't-he anxiety. If I drafted Sano two years ago, I know the kind of player he is and what he's capable of. I've watched him destroy the ball in the minors. I am genuinely excited about what he can do this year. Sano is not a mystery to me; if anything, I am more intimate with the potential of Sano than anyone outside of the Twins organization and, probably, the makers of Ballplayer: Pelotero . So when you come knocking with two players you probably weren't going to keep anyway, I take that as either an insult to my intelligence or laziness.

So don't be that guy. If you want my Sano, be prepared to give up something significant for him. Don't insult owners with offers that you would laugh away with a swift rejection. You have to play in a league with them for many more years.

7. OMG! Have fun!! The most important tip of them all!

Dynasty leagues are awesome. It's basically like getting a puppy, and then having to feed and care for it correctly in order to nurture it into a healthy dog. Except it never has to die! The more work you put into your dynasty league team, the better it will be. It's one of the more fulfilling rewards in the Fantasy universe, expanding the sample size of your Fantasy expertise from one season to several seasons.

Stay in touch with the most passionate Fantasy staff in the business by following us on Twitter @CBSFantasyBB or Nando at @NandoCBS .

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Player News
Nationals' Matt Skole: 'I'm eating healthy and working hard'
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(9:29 pm ET) Nationals first baseman Matt Skole missed most of 2013 after undergoing Tommy John surgery and struggled at the plate in 2014 but showed up to camp in better shape and will look to rebound in 2015, MLB.com reports.

"This offseason, I had a little more time to work on my body," Skole said. "I really got after it in the weight room. I ate right. I ate healthy. I think that was probably the biggest difference for me. I'm about the same weight as I was. I just leaned out a little bit. I'm eating healthy and working hard."

Skole worked with hitting coordinator Troy Gingrich for a month after the season and learned to keep his hands up in order to hit the ball consistently after having his hands too low during his down 2014 season.

"After taking a year off, it was more difficult than I thought it would be," the left-handed-swinging Skole said. "But coming back, I turned some corners, made some strides as far as getting to know myself as a player and know the things I need to fix. I think everything I did last year was a stepping stone for this year."

Skole hit .241/.352/.399 with 14 home runs and 68 RBI in 461 at-bats with Double-A Harrisburg last season.


Report: Dodgers sign center fielder Travis Witherspoon
by Jason Butt | CBSSports.com
(9:22 pm ET) The Dodgers signed center fielder Travis Witherspoon to their organization, according to a report from Baseball America

Witherspoon has previously been in the Angels and Mariners organizations. In six years of minor-league ball, Witherspoon has posted a career batting average of .252 with 68 home runs. He hit a minor-league single-season best 15 home runs in 2014 with the Mariners' Single-A affiliate High Desert Mavericks. 


Phillies' Buchanan 'working on being a complete pitcher'
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(9:11 pm ET) Phillies pitcher David Buchanan is "working on being a complete pitcher," manager Ryan Sandberg said, per the Philadelphia Inquirer.

The team's coaches spoke with Buchanan in the fall about command and pitch sequencing, executing bunts and thwarting would-be base-stealers, and Sandberg noted while examining the players that arrived early that the pitcher had taken the advice to heart.

"My biggest goal [this spring] is to show our front office and our coaches that I can throw the ball over the plate," Buchanan said. "That's one thing I had success with last year. I wasn't walking guys. I was throwing strikes, and that's what I'm known for. That's why I succeeded in the minor leagues; I was throwing strikes. So that's what I want to do this spring training, is continue to do that, pound the zone, force early contact and keep the ball on the ground."

Buchanan is scheduled to pitch the team's Grapefruit League opener Tuesday against the Yankees.


Giants' Bochy: Hunter Strickland 'needs to get a little smarter'
by Jason Butt | CBSSports.com
(9:01 pm ET) Giants pitcher Hunter Strickland is ready to learn from his mistakes from the tail end of his 2014 season.

Starting strong once he was called up from Double-A Richmond, Strickland gave up six home runs in the postseason. Giants manager Bruce Bochy said the remedy to put Strickland back on track is simple. 

"He needs to get a little smarter," Bochy said, per MLB.com.  

Strickland will be competing for a spot in the bullpen during spring training. His fastball is a strength, though it's a matter of his command improving on the mound. 

"The failures are what make guys better, I feel like," Strickland said. "I feel like they made me better. Just being in tune with yourself and knowing who you are and what you've got to do. In this game, you're not going to make it too far if you don't have confidence. If you don't believe in yourself, who else is going to believe in you?"


Mets' Nieuwenhuis, den Dekker competing for roster spot
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(9:00 pm ET) Mets left-handed hitters Kirk Nieuwenhuis and Matt den Dekker will be battling for one roster spot this spring, MLB.com reports.

While Nieuwenhuis is out of options, manager Terry Collins indicated that den Dekker has responded to the team's request that he reduce his strikeouts when sent to Triple-A last season.

"We'll just see how it translates this spring into what kind of an offensive player he can be," Collins said of den Dekker. "We know he's got the defensive skills."

Collins said that whichever outfielder shows the most promise will make the initial 25-man roster.

"He plays the game right. He's fearless," Collins said of Nieuwenhuis. "But right now, we've got to get some offense from one of those two guys. Which one of those two guys is going to be able to come off the bench as a pinch-hitter? The best closers in our division are all right-handed, so the left-handed hitter off that bench is going to be a big piece."


Stephen Strasburg wants to stay with Nationals
by Jason Butt | CBSSports.com
(8:40 pm ET) Though Stephen Strasburg's agent Scott Boras denied a report that he wanted to be traded in January, the right-handed pitcher said himself that he wants to remain with the Nationals and has no issues with the organization. 

"I haven't said anything like that," Strasburg said in an interview with MLB.com. "I don't feel like that. You have to accept it because that's how the system works. It's like they pick up on any little thing and they twist it. Some people want to turn it to see how many clicks they can get on the webpage."

Strasburg is set to be the ace of a deep rotation that looks to be on of the best in baseball this coming season. With the Nationals winning their second divisional title in the past three seasons, Strasburg said he's happy with the organization. 

"It's the team that drafted me. I love the players here, I love D.C. Winning cures everything, that's for sure," Strasburg said. "I'm excited to be part of the resurgence so far. It's great to see the type of players we bring in here every year. The expectations keep going up and up. Hopefully, we can do big things this year."


Nationals sign pitcher Rich Hill to minor-league deal
by Jason Butt | CBSSports.com
(8:26 pm ET) The Nationals signed pitcher Rich Hill to a minor-league contract with an invitation to spring training, the team announced Friday night

Hill spent time with the Angels and Yankees in 2014 and posted a 3.38 ERA in 16 appearances. 

His career ERA is 4.72 over 10 years, which includes additional stops with the Cubs, Orioles, Red Sox and Indians. 


Tim Melville, Kyle Lobstein to start Monday and Tuesday for Tigers
by Jason Butt | CBSSports.com
(8:18 pm ET) Tigers coach Brad Ausmus announced that pitchers Tim Melville and Kyle Lobstein, respectively, will get starts in upcoming games on Monday and Tuesday, according to MLB.com

Melville will start in an exhibition between the Tigers and college team Florida Southern. Lobstein will start in Tuesday's Grapefruit League game against the Orioles. 


Diamondbacks' Mark Trumbo more comfortable in right field
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(7:55 pm ET) Diamondbacks general manager Dave Stewart decided after last season that Mark Trumbo would be better in right field than left, where he started the 2014 season, MLB.com reports.

"From what I understood from talking to [Trumbo's former manager] Mike Scioscia, he's a much better right fielder than he is in left," Stewart said.

Trumbo indicated that he feels more comfortable in right field.

"Just reads off the bat, what I feel more comfortable with," Trumbo said. "Being right-handed I've just found right field, especially with some of those balls coming in, it's much easier for me with that angle as opposed to the one in left."

Trumbo has seen most of his defensive work in his five-year career at first base but has made 65 appearances in right field. He hit .235/.293/.415 with 14 home runs and 61 RBI in 328 at-bats last season.


Padres, Tyson Gillies agree to minor-league deal
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(7:49 pm ET) The Padres have agreed to a minor-league deal with outfielder Tyson Gillies, ESPN.com reports.

Gillies has spent time in the Seattle and Philadelphia organizations since being selected in the 25th round of the 2006 draft. He hit .214/.270/.289 with two home runs, 10 RBI and three stolen bases in 159 at-bats with Triple-A Lehigh Valley in 2014.


 
 
 
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