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TO SUCCEED, DON'T JUST RELY ON THE DRAFT, BUILD OFF IT

For most owners the fantasy baseball draft is over. That doesn't mean it's time to put it on autopilot, however.

While the hardest part is behind you, day-to-day operations can go a long way toward determining whether your team finishes in the black or the red.

In his book, "Baseball Annual 2005," fantasy sports expert John Benson breaks down what he considers to be four essentials for success with relative value of importance:

1. Scouting and forecasting, 40 percent.

2. Valuation based on expected statistics, 20 percent.

3. Conducting the draft or auction, 20 percent.

4. Managing the roster through trades, injuries, etc., 20 percent.

I believe Benson slightly undervalues the importance of point No. 4 because you can still incorporate the scouting and forecasting you did during the winter into the moves you make, or sometimes more importantly don't make, once the season begins.

Here are 10 points to consider as we get ready to hear those wonderful words, "Play ball!"

Save your draft lists.

You just never know who is going to slip through the cracks on draft day. Last season, I heard from several owners who reported that Detroit Tigers shortstop Carlos Guillen was passed over. All Guillen did was lead his team in runs (97), RBIs (97) and slugging percentage (.542), along with 37 doubles, 10 triples and 20 home runs. When it's time to start adding free agents or to participate in the first supplemental draft, you may surprise yourself when you look at some of the names that weren't crossed off.

Beware of fifth starters.

The month of April is not exactly a fertile time for the No. 5 man in any team's starting rotation. Between rainouts and scheduled off days, most fifth starters get no more than two or three opportunities during April. If you have a roster spot to spare, you may want to go after an undrafted No. 3 or No. 4 starter, even if his upside doesn't appear as promising as the No. 5 man. Sometimes that extra start or two in April can mean a precious extra point come September.

Don't be obsessed with closers.

If you've drafted better middle relievers than closers, use them. In the best of times closers are a crapshoot. The top save guys generally play for teams that win a lot of tight games because they have a mediocre offense such as Los Angeles, Atlanta and Minnesota. Only three players have averaged 40 saves or more the past three seasons -- Los Angeles' Eric Gagne (51), Atlanta's John Smoltz (48) and the Yankees' Mariano Rivera (40). Smoltz is back in the Braves' starting rotation.

Keep an eye on the high minor leagues.

You'll want to be the first in your league to know when to jump on top prospects such as Milwaukee first baseman Prince Fielder (23 homers, 78 RBIs at Class AA Huntsville), Tampa Bay outfielder Delmon Young (.320, 25 homers, 115 RBIs, 21 steals at Class A Charleston), Seattle outfielder Shin-Soo Choo (.315, 15 homers, 84 RBIs, 40 steals, .382 on-base percentage at Class AA San Antonio), Colorado third baseman Ian Stewart (31 doubles, 30 homers, 101 RBIs in 131 games as a 19-year-old at Class A Asheville) and Los Angeles pitcher Chad Billingsley (4-0, 2.98 ERA in eight starts at Class AA Jacksonville).

Keep springtime stats in perspective.

Good or bad, don't overestimate the numbers from the first month or two, especially with veteran players. Atlanta third baseman Chipper Jones had 13 RBIs through last May but still finished with 96. Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter batted .172 last April and finished at .292. Seattle outfielder Ichiro Suzuki, who set the record for most hits in a season last year with 262, has just a .270 batting average in April since 2002. So stay the course.

Value speed over power.

Power, power everywhere. Stolen bases are a different matter. In 1982, 11 players had 40 or more steals. Last year, there were just four. Florida outfielder Juan Pierre (52), Tampa Bay outfielder Carl Crawford (41) and San Diego outfielder Dave Roberts (41) are the only ones to average 40 or more steals the last three years. Speed/power demon outfielders such as the Mets' Carlos Beltran (38 homers, 42 steals) and Philadelphia's Bobby Abreu (3 0/4 0) are the most valuable commodities in the game, so treat them accordingly.

Favor multiposition players.

When in doubt, grab the guys who provide greater flexibility. Cincinnati's Ryan Freel and his 37 steals qualify at second, third and outfield. Kansas City's Eli Marrero can catch and play outfield.

Lower those Giant expectations.

With big bopper Barry Bonds out with a knee injury, San Francisco outfielder Moises Alou and third baseman Edgardo Alfonzo aren't going to see nearly as many good pitches. Bonds' absence probably makes outfielder Michael Tucker a serviceable option.

Think ahead.

Get familiar with the big-league schedule, especially if you're in a league that allows only weekly lineup changes. Hitters will be more valuable in places such as Coors Field, Citizens Bank Park in Philadelphia and Oriole Park at Camden Yards, less productive on trips to pitcher-friendly venues such as San Diego's Petco Park and Dodger Stadium.

Know your foes.

Study your opponents' draft day rosters. If you can identify a pressing need, don't hesitate to prey on it. It may mean a sweet deal for you down the road.
e-mail: tborrelli@buffnews.com