The first pick of your fantasy draft may well be the least important pick of all, yet it's the one pick we spend the most time considering. In our minds, and perhaps in reality, it sets the tone for the draft. In part, this is because we do not generally know our draft position until shortly before we start, so there's the last minute recalculations of who might fall to us at a given spot, and how that will impact everything which comes later.
Some basic things to keep in my during any draft are balance, position depth, position eligibility, sleepers, and your own league settings. As an example of the latter; does your league count strike outs against hitters? If so, guys like Mark Reynolds and Adam Dunn may move down your rankings, or you'll need to be aware to balance them with low K hitters.
Balance: This does not mean you have to grab a 60 SB guy to get your speed. It's just as good (if not better) to find spread the steals around the line-up. When the 5-tool players are gone, know who the best 4 and 3 tool players are.
Position depth: When we think of this we automatically think of position scarcity-- a lack of quality middle infield players, catchers, and third basemen. However, it's just as important to know how deep other positions are. First base is a significantly deep pool this year with lots of 25+ HR hitters in the bunch. Don't take position depth for granted either. The outfield make look deep, but remember you need 4-6 of them, and so do the other managers. That pool can get shallow pretty quickly.
Position Eligibility: This is one of those added bonus sort of things. Nice to have, but you don't want to base you draft around it. Some players may go too early or for too much money because they qualify at extra positions. A guy like Ben Zobrist has high upside at 2B, but his value as an outfielder is limited. Don't overpay. Make sure he fits your need.
Sleepers: The bane of any fantasy sports. We all want to snag a great sleeper, but by the time the drafts roll around, they're not really sleepers anymore. Every fantasy site around has pointed a spotlight on them. In Google (and similar site) searches for fantasy sports, it's the most used search word. So a few words of advice. Do some research of your own and find one or two guys YOU think could break out. Forget the experts. If a solid sleepers falls to the right position, grab him, but don't over pay based on hype. There's usually a quality veteran with a solid track history you can get for less who will suit your needs.
Do not draft a starting pitcher in the first round-- You certainly can take a Tim Lincecum or Roy Halladay that early, and they may do as well this year as last, but they carry a greater injury risk, and cost you a chance to get a 5-tool or big power guy early. This is not to say you cannot grab an ace here and still own your league. It's simply less likely. If you do take an SP in round one, make sure it's late in round one so you can pair him with a monster bat. Last time I drafted SP's in round one (Jake Peavy, Johan Santana) they were busts that year for where they were drafted.
Focus on 5-tool guys in round one -- You can certainly make a case for a guy like Ryan Howard late in the first round, but he will hurt your batting average. In round one you prefer, if possible to grab the best at a position and preferably a guy with no weaknesses.
No closers in the first 100 picks...ever-- The most over-rated position, and too easy to fill in the mid to late rounds. As we've already seen this spring with Joe Nathan, Houston Street, Kerry Wood, and Andrew Bailey. Closers are not safe bets, and early picks are time-bombs waiting to get hurt or meltdown (the Brad Lidge effect).
Have fun-- Seriously, that's really what this is all about.
Rustyn's First Round
Pick 1 - Hanley Ramirez, SS: Pujols is the industry standard here. There's really no reason to think about it, right? I can't argue any reason not to take Pujols first. Still, I'm grabbing Ramirez. My reasons: He's at a very scarce position, is a 5 tool guy with nice steal potential, so I get my SS out of the way right out the gate. The depth at 1B this season makes this a call I can make with a clear conscience.
Pick 2 - Albert Pujols, 1B: A no-brainer as a first pick, certainly a George W. Bush caliber no-brainer at No. 2.
Pick 3 - Ryan Braun, OF/LF: He's a 5-tool stud. This is what you want in the first round. All he's done over his first 3 seasons is hit .308 while averaging 99 Runs, 34 HRs, 106 RBIs and 19 stolen bases.
Pick 4 - Matt Kemp, OF/CF: Like Braun above, he has 5-tool skills, and he's still young and improving. You could make an argument for taking him 3rd, but it is mitigated by his lack of history.
Pick 5 - Prince Fielder, 1B: After Pujols, he's the next 1B on my list, and he turns 27, that magical age, this season.
Pick 6 - Alex Rodriguez, 3B: He's going as high as 3rd on average, and he's at a shallow position. He's a safe call anywhere from the 3rd pick on down in the first round. For my money though there are legit options who are at or near his level in round two (Evan Longoria, David Wright).
Pick 7 - Chase Utley, 2B: He's lost a step, but he's still the only true 5-tool second baseman, and the best current 2B in the game.
Pick 8 - Miguel Cabrera, 1B: Sure he's lost his 3B eligibility, but he's incredibly consistent and he's entering his prime.
Pick 9 - Mark Teixeira, 1B: A lot of people are picking Carl Crawford somewhere in here, or Tim Lincecum. I can buy the Lincecum argument, but Crawford simply isn't a first rounder in my book. Teixeira is a first round stud.
Pick 10 - Ryan Howard, 1B: This deep in the first round you can grab the monster power first baseman and feel great, questionable batting average be damned.
Pick 11 - Evan Longoria, 3B: He is in rarified company at his thin position and I think he will be a first rounder for years to come.
Pick 12 - Joe Mauer, C: This is an extremely hard pick, as first round catchers never seem like a good idea, but he is by far the best at his position which is about the thinnest in fantasy baseball. What makes this palatable is knowing I can pair him with another strong bat back to back. Fortunately in most drafts having this dilemma isn't likely to be a problem as someone is bound to take Crawford or Lincecum ahead of this pick, allowing one or more of the above to drop to 12 and 13.