The Snake Draft is the most pure and simple way to pick a team. Even when we were kids and we were dividing up the usual neighborhood suspects for a game of backyard baseball we performed a snake draft. Team A gets the first pick, Team B gets the next two guys and so on. It is so easy to perform, but difficult to perform well. Knowing people's tendencies and where they value players comes into play a little more in a snake draft than in an auction, so strategy varies slightly and we are going to discuss those variations here.
Everything below is dependent on your leagues make-up of course. (Part 3c will point out some contradictions to parts 3a and 3b dependant on a league's scoring system.) Some advice may or may not apply to every league depending on your player pool, the positions on your active roster and exactly what stats are used for scoring, but those of you not playing in vanilla leagues (12 team, 5x5 mixed) will be able to pick up on those exceptions and of course they will be pointed out when it is fitting.
Just like in an auction the whole point of the draft is to get players to out perform their perceived draft day value. To be able to accomplish this you have to make sure you have successfully know your player pool. Knowing what is expected out of a player's performance as well as determining the perceived value of a player will allow you to more effectively decide when you need to draft said player.
Rule #1 - Target Your Players
Unless you are drafting your league with an online generated draft list, you should know what pick you have going into the draft. If you have pick one or two you know you are going to be rostering 1B Albert Pujols or SS Hanley Ramirez. If you are pick 5, then your first round choices get much broader, but you should know going into the draft who you should want if they are available - no if, ands, buts about it. In any draft, no matter if it is an only or mixed, the first round should pop off w/out a hitch until you get to about pick 9 or 10. Then after that you should have a short list to know who you are going to want in rounds 2-4 as well.
Rule #2 - Know How to Build a Team
As stated rounds 1-4 should be pretty much mapped out in your head, or written down if you get anxious, before you even sit down to the draft table. Typically in rounds 1-3 you are taking the best tiered players possible left on the board. You should try not to take two speed guys or two high homer / low average guys in your first few picks. Whether you have done this or not you have to use pick 4 to normalize your team. The reason I say pick four is because this is the final round where value really is not going to be found. Every player in their own way is still sitting at round value through the 4th round (except for 15+ team leagues or only leagues).
By normalizing your team, I mean if you have a deficiency in any category do your best to fill that hole with the fourth pick. If you are low in average grab OF Ichiro Suzuki. If you need a boost in homeruns and RBIs then DH/OF Adam Lind may be your guy. In the first four rounds you should not worry too much about positions but don't be ridiculous and grab three first basemen. From there you need to start identifying where the values still are at the positions you need.
Most tenured fantasy players will use a certain positional scarcity tactic in snake drafts. Within the first ten rounds you should have filled all of your MI slots, all your CI slots, 1 Catcher, 1 Outfielder and 2 Pitchers at least one of them being a Closer. Now you are probably saying, "wait a second you just said take the three best players in the first three rounds." What I actually said was take the best three tiered players possible in the first three rounds.
Rule #3 - Tier your Players
This really should be done before you target your players, but this is one of those rules that is dependant on the kind of league that you are playing in. All tiering the player pool does is give you a visual of where there is a deficiency in value left on the board. In the previous rule I talked about wanting to take all of your middle and corner infielders in the first ten rounds, but you are saying, there is a whole bunch of outfielders out there that are really good. Well with that statement you have just helped my argument.
According to current Average Draft Position at Mock Draft Central the 20th second basemen taken in a draft is Jeff Baker of the Chicago Cubs and the 20th outfielder taken is Shin-Shoo Choo, now who would you rather roster? You think I copped out by choosing second base, lets do the same exercise with first base, easily the deepest position in 2010, the 20th first basemen selected is Paul Konerko and the 20th starting pitcher selected is Clayton Kershaw. Now Konerko is no slouch, but I'd much rather have Kershaw on my team any day. By identifying equal valued players using a tiering system, it allows you to know who you really need to take off of the board.
My approach to a mixed snake draft is as follows: in rounds 1-3, I take the best possible off of the board and make sure that I do not take a pitcher or two outfielders. Now if SP Tim Lincecum is available after the middle of the second round in a 12 team league, I am going to take him but if you are in any competitive league, he won't be. With my fourth round pick I will take a catcher if one of the top three (Joe Mauer, Victor Martinez, Brian McCann) are still available, if they aren't, I normalize. With pick five I will take a top tier closer if one is available, if not definitely a middle infielder if I do not already have two. After that in rounds 6-10 I trust my tiers and stick to them. I have been able to successfully use my round 1-5 strategy without compromising my round four and five picks in every draft that I have utilized the strategy.
Rule #4 - Find Low Risk High Reward
In Rounds 10-20 there are no real positional rules to follow. What you want to do is roster as many solid players as possible to minimize your risk. Try to select a closer and most of your outfielders in the later rounds and fill your starting pitchers where appropriate. If you are on the fence between an offensive player and a pitcher you should, 9 times out of 10, go with the position player. There is a lower risk with position players than pitchers.
These rounds are not the ones to take gambles with or reach on players. Most of these picks are going to be the higher batting averages available and/or veterans that are still producing, but get overlooked because they are not the sexy pick anymore. Do not pass up on SS Elvis Andrus and take 3B/SS Miguel Tejada at this point in time, but don't take SP Stephen Strasburg while SP Roy Oswalt is still sitting in the player pool.
Rule #5 - Go Ahead and Gamble
Rounds twenty-one and beyond is what we like to call the end game. At this point in time of the draft you are speculating on break out or bounce back players, and since the player pool is depleted from sure things (except for the surely terrible) it is okay to stray from your tiers. Once you have filled your active roster with every day players - or players soon to be - you want to try to have back-ups for any of your rostered players that have been known to be injury prone. After you have found a warm body to back up your obvious possible holes, it is time to throw caution to the wind and pick whoever you want is left.
With my final pick, I roll the dice on a prospect that usually doesn't have a starting gig out of camp, but has an intriguing aspect to their game that makes you think they could burst onto the scene in a big way. Last year my final pick as OF Carlos Gomez, then at the time was the fourth outfielder for the Minnesota Twins. That didn't work out so hot for me, but it was my final pick, so nothing lost. The year before I went with SS Ryan Theriot of the Chicago Cubs, who had come up and played every day in 2007 but was not a lock to keep the job. That pick would have worked out well for me, but I ended up dropping Theriot in week three because I wanted a 2-start pitcher. But just so we have a success story on a final round pick, last year in the same league my buddy Chad, who was new to the league, was very excited when he saw OF Adam Jones sitting there for the taking with the very last pick of the draft. Needless to say he made out pretty good with that pick compared to my Carlos Gomez stinker.
The snake draft is a different monster than an auction, and I have said that it is the checkers to the chess of an auction, but it holds its own difficulties. It is even harder to build a well balanced team because you have to take players that are still around and the speed that a snake draft moves at compared to an auction. I myself prefer auctions because I believe it is easier to identify value picks. In a snake draft you can be rendered helpless with one or two bad picks early on, and playing from behind is not easy to do when you see "your guys" flying off the board in front of you.