Fantasy Baseball 2023: News/Notes/Articles

Staff member
Jan 2, 2002

Fantasy baseball: Bold 2023 predictions for every AL team​


Spring training games are just about ready to get going, which also means that the 2023 regular season is not all that far off. As such, it is time to get a little bit bold when it comes to fantasy baseball!

Bold predictions, by their occasional wild nature, are not likely to hit, but they can be fun, and there usually is some foundation for the logic. Perhaps it would have seemed ridiculous a season ago to project 62 home runs for Aaron Judge or a 1.75 ERA for Justin Verlander, but both of these things happened, and we certainly had clues these players were skilled enough to make history.

Who will it be this season? Let's get bold in fantasy baseball, starting with the American League. (We'll voice our National League opinions Thursday.) Again, to be clear, most, if not all, of these predictions are not going to happen. Still, perhaps I'm on the right track with some of them -- and that might be just as important as we get ready for our fantasy baseball drafts.

Baltimore Orioles: C Adley Rutschman finishes as the top catcher in points leagues. He's already going fourth at catcher in NFBC ADP and, with his impressive walk/strikeout rates from his rookie campaign and a likely No. 2 lineup slot again, his future is clearly bright. ... 3B Gunnar Henderson out-steals Jorge Mateo 15-14. It's not that I think Henderson (who is awesome!) will run so much, but Mateo and his .267 OBP from last season may not/should not play so much. Be wary of investing, even if you need stolen bases. Henderson starts 150 games at SS.

Boston Red Sox: OF Adam Duvall slugs 30 home runs. Hey, he's done it three times before, and he's got the starting CF job. Duvall may again slug more homers than walks drawn, but this is relevant, late-round power -- and both the Red Sox and fantasy managers need it. ... RHP Garrett Whitlock is Boston's top fantasy hurler. That doesn't mean he'll be an ace, but I like him, and it's hard to be optimistic about Chris Sale (11 starts over the past three years). Whitlock posted a 4.15 ERA as a starter last year, with a strong strikeout rate. Take a chance on him as your last starter.

Chicago White Sox: 1B Andrew Vaughn over former 1B Jose Abreu in fantasy? There is a 40-pick difference in NFBC ADP, but that's not much. Vaughn finally gets to play first base and will emerge as the star everyone expected. Nothing against Abreu, 36 and now an Astro, but Vaughn hits .280 with 25 HR and 80 RBIs. Will Abreu? ... OF Oscar Colas swats 27 home runs. Colas should win the team's RF job out of spring training, showing off big left-handed power, which is a glaring team need. He'll assume the No. 5 lineup spot, too, right between Eloy Jimenez and Vaughn.

Cleveland Guardians: OF Oscar Gonzalez also swats 27 home runs and hits .270. Some view Gonzalez as the new Franmil Reyes, but he is better. Gonzalez, also a right-handed hitter, hit .308 off right-handed pitching as a rookie. There's upside here. ... OF Steven Kwan leads the majors in runs scored. The rookie Kwan scored 50 runs over 69 games after the All-Star break. He gets on base and should steal more than 25 bases, too. Watch him score 115 runs.

Detroit Tigers: OF Kerry Carpenter leads the team with 26 home runs. No Tiger reached 20 home runs last season, but six will do so in 2023. Carpenter is the sleeper who mashed 36 total home runs a season ago, including six in the majors. ... OF Riley Greene hits .275 with 20 home runs. Greene's rookie season was a bit of a struggle, but a star lurks. Ignore that he was 1-for-5 on stolen base attempts. He steals 12 bases this season. Watch where he hits in the order. If it is leadoff, he runs more.

Houston Astros: SS Jeremy Pena hits 30 home runs. Pena had a rough second half of his rookie season and plate discipline is an issue, but the skills are there. I boldly predicted Pena (22 HR, 63 RBI, 72 R, 4.8 WAR) would outshine former Astros SS Carlos Correa (22 HR, 64 RBI, 70 R, 5.4 WAR) last year. And I was really close! ... RHP Hunter Brown becomes the team's No. 3 starter, winning 12 games with 175 strikeouts. Brown moved quickly through Houston's system, piling on ground balls and strikeouts. He's better than either Luis Garcia or Jose Urquidy.

Kansas City Royals: Both Royals catchers hit 30 home runs and end up in the top 10 at the position on the ESPN Player Rater. Salvador Perez has done it before. It's time for C/OF MJ Melendez to join him. Melendez is an excellent draft day value. ... 1B Nick Pratto hits .245 with 24 home runs. Everyone loves starting 1B Vinnie Pasquantino -- and for good reason -- but everyone seems to be giving up on Pratto too early.

Los Angeles Angels: Everyone in the lineup hits 20-plus home runs, including 3B Anthony Rendon, C Logan O'Hoppe and 2B/3B Luis Rengifo, who handles SS duties until prospect Zach Neto emerges. This is an underrated lineup and, finally, a playoff team. ... LHP Tyler Anderson wins 15 games again. Yeah, he achieved this with the other, better Los Angeles team last season, but few expect anything resembling a repeat. Oh, his ERA jumps to 3.50, but he'll give the team stability and good innings.

Minnesota Twins: OFs Joey Gallo and Matt Wallner each blast 25 home runs, but only Wallner hits his own weight. The Gallo signing by Minnesota was odd. Wallner hit 27 home runs in the minors last season and can be better. ... There's not much talk about saves in bold predictions and we will predict each team's saves leader in a later column, but you should get RHP Jhoan Duran if you can. He's going to save 30-plus games.

New York Yankees: Bet on the Oswalds! SS Oswald Peraza holds off prospect Anthony Volpe all year with a 15-HR, 20-SB season. You'll want him over 2B Gleyber Torres and 1B/2B/3B DJ LeMahieu, too. OF Oswaldo Cabrera is also legit. The team's regular left fielder hits .265 with 24 HR. ... RHP Luis Severino makes 30 starts and achieves a better ERA and WHIP than Gerrit Cole. That's right. The last time Severino made 30 starts was back in 2018. We always note he should pitch well when he pitches. Cole's ERA rises for the fourth consecutive season, this time to 3.70.

Oakland Athletics: OF Esteury Ruiz steals 50 bases. Ruiz hit .332 and stole an incredible 85 bases over 114 minor-league games last season, but neither the Padres nor the Brewers had room for him. The A's certainly do! Ruiz should play regularly and run whenever he wants! ... RHP Drew Rucinski is the team's All-Star representative. A former MLB reliever who has thrived as a starter in Korea over the past few seasons, Rucinski returns to lead the staff. How about 12 wins and a 3.95 ERA?

Seattle Mariners: C Cal Raleigh swats 35 home runs. "Big Dumper" surprised in his first full season, and he's capable of even more. Raleigh edges Perez for MLB's catcher HR crown. ... RHP George Kirby leads Mariners starters with a 2.88 ERA. In fact, three Mariners starters (Luis Castillo, Logan Gilbert) finish with sub-3.00 ERAs. Kirby is the youngest.

Tampa Bay Rays: OF Jose Siri delivers a 20-20 season. Siri isn't much of a walker, but he's full of power/speed possibility and can defend in center field. We'd all still take his teammate Randy Arozarena, of course, but their numbers may look more similar than most realize. The Rays know what they are doing. ... RHP Tyler Glasnow wins 17 games. First of all, Glasnow has never even started 17 times in a big league season, so that's bold already. Did you know that no Rays right-handed pitcher has ever won more than 16 games in a season? Glasnow has electric stuff. It's time for him to stay on the field and win.

Texas Rangers: 3B Josh Jung hits .275 with 25 home runs. Ignore his 2022 numbers over 102 PA, as he was returning from shoulder surgery. This small sample size should not erase all the prospect love. This fellow will hit. ... RHP Jon Gray finally blossoms into a top-30 starter with 14 wins, 180 K and 3.25 ERA. Colleague Tristan H. Cockcroft touted Gray as a breakout candidate, and I concur.

Toronto Blue Jays: 1B Brandon Belt (and five other Jays) hits 30 home runs. Belt hit 29 home runs in 97 games for the 2021 Giants, and he'll love both his new role (DH) and new home ballpark. What a perfect fit and an underrated late-round fantasy option. ... RHP Jose Berrios strikes out 200 hitters for the third time. Sure, Berrios struggled last season, as no qualified pitcher had a worse ERA and WHIP, but we should rely on track record. His stuff was there, and he was a bit unlucky. Let's go with a 3.75 ERA, too.
Staff member
Jan 2, 2002

Fantasy baseball: Impact of the new shift rules for 2023​


Williams was the National League's career home run leader through 1929, before ceding the top spot to Rogers Hornsby. Opposing managers would position two outfielders in deep right in an effort to catch anything that Williams didn't hit over the shallow right field wall in the Baker Bowl.

Or maybe the fault belongs to Ted Williams. In 1941, White Sox manager Jimmy Dykes instructed his second baseman to play in shallow right field, directing his shortstop to move to the right side of the keystone while positioning his third baseman where the shortstop usually plays. Sound familiar? The famous "Williams shift" is the precursor to many of the defenses currently deployed by MLB managers.

Well, "currently" is no longer true as MLB will legislate the shift, beginning in the 2023 season. What Joe Maddon and the Tampa Bay Rays popularized around 12 years ago grew to the point where many felt that defensive shifts were hurting the game. Analytics evolved such that the shift was used on 30.9% of plate appearances last year. It was only 13.7% when Statcast first started tracking in 2016.

In 2022, left-handed batters faced the shift a whopping 55% of the time. Their right-handed brethren were only burdened at a 19.6% clip. Base hits have been down in recent seasons and MLB is theorizing that the use of shifts is at least partly to blame. So, instead of rewarding teams for advanced scouting and optimally positioning their players, they will now need to adhere to new rules governing where infielders can be positioned.

Starting this season, two infielders need to set up on either side of the keystone, with their cleats on the dirt or infield grass. Something to keep in mind is that teams can still situate their defenders in a "non-conventional" manner. The third baseman can still slide to the right while the shortstop can continue to guard up-the-middle, so long as he remains just left of the second base bag. The second baseman can't venture into a rover position, but he can still play to the edge of the outfield grass.

However, there are no restrictions on outfielders. There has been some scuttlebutt regarding whether teams will use some extreme alignments with their outfielders. For instance, the left fielder could assume the rover spot in right field with the other two covering the rest of the acreage.

Shifting your fantasy rankings​

From a fantasy baseball perspective, ascertaining which batters will benefit the most from the elimination of the shift is a great way to gain an edge. Of course, everyone knows this -- so it's a matter of the accuracy of the various methods used to identify these batters and how to best quantify the effect.

On paper, this seems like a plausible puzzle to solve as there is a bevy of shift-related data available. Unfortunately, there is a statistical elephant in the room. The operative question is, "What would have happened if there were no shift?" Again, there is accessible data to address the query. The problem is, to do so, the adjusted defensive alignment needs to be presumed.

The simple truth is no one knows what the alternate positioning facing these hitters in 2023 will be. As I mentioned, teams do not need to place their infielders in conventional spots across the diamond. Furthermore, the approach of both pitchers and batters may be different with the fielders in different spots. However, to quantify the effect -- which is what everyone wants -- the derived outcome is based on where they expect the fielders would have been placed, with the same pitch and batted ball event. As disheartening as this may seem, all it means is a numerical adjustment is no more than a "guesstimate."

Now, it's still logical to pinpoint certain hitters as being likely to benefit more than others. In scientific terms, the exercise can be accurate, but not precise. This group of players stands to gain the most, but the extent is unclear. The caveat is those of us required to project and rank players need to assign a static adjustment. That said, we need to do the same when regressing a hitter's or pitcher's BABIP and HR/FB and all the other metrics impacted by this new change, such as LOB%. What follows is a description of how the 2023 ESPN Fantasy Baseball projections account for shift legislation.

Shifting your focus​

The first step is discerning what subset of batters are most likely to aided by the new rules. Statcast has been tracking shifts since 2015. Looking for BABIP trends on various batted-ball types is a good means to gauge shift effectiveness. By means of reminder, BABIP stands for batting average on balls in play. It's the same as the standard batting average formula, except that homers are excluded from the numerator while homers and strikeouts are omitted from the denominator (although sacrifice flies are included).

Ignoring the element of luck intrinsic to BABIP, a lower BABIP indicates better defense. Since data from an entire MLB season will be incorporated, the luck element should be minimal, expect perhaps in the truncated 2020 campaign where the sample size remains unavoidable small by comparison to other seasons.

Here is the league-wide BABIP on ground balls since 2015, broken down by batter handedness:

League-Wide BABIP On Ground Balls​

It's always nice when intuition is supported by data. It makes sense that left-handed hitters are more affected by shifting, since most of these now-banned defensive alignments are designed to combat the tendencies of left-handed hitters. This suggests that left-handed pull hitters, especially those hitting a higher percentage of ground balls, stand to be helped the most by the new rules, assuming they frequently faced the shift in the first place.

The data for outfield line drives and fly balls isn't as definitive. In fact, the respective 2022 BABIP calculations were higher than 2015. The yearly numbers jump around. That is, there isn't a linear trend. The shift may in fact be hurting batters with respect to balls lofted into the outfield, but the nature of the BABIP formula may be making the trend. Specifically, home runs are left out of the equation, so the nature of the actual baseball used each season influences outfield line drive and fly ball BABIP.

For example, in 2019, the baseball traveled further, increasing homers. A batted-ball event in 2019 may have resulted in a home run, but it would have been an out or hit in another season, affecting the BABIP. As such, making individual player adjustments based on their outfield line drive and fly ball BABIP is sketchy. The sage approach is to focus on estimating how many more ground ball hits a batter would have had if defenses were not allowed to shift.

To be honest, everybody comes to a similar conclusion, sometimes via intuition. Still, it's reassuring when the data corroborates the assertion. However, here is where different approaches veer off. Some overlay a batter's spray chart over a conventional defense and determine how many of the grounders would have been fielded successfully. Others compare results both with and without the shift and simply well, assume the outcomes of the former will just "become" the latter.

Shifting your expectations​

Look, there are going to be flaws with any approach. Yet, some means of quantifying the effect is necessary, so calling any of the above "wrong" is too harsh. The key is to treat those numbers like any expected numbers, and regressing towards them, often splitting the difference. As an example, there are various expected HR metrics. Some utilize a park overlay, others use trajectory and distance to judge how many venues in which each batted ball would have resulted in a homer.

The idea is that the hitter just happened to strike the ball in a particular manner in a specific venue. In another park, the same exact flight may have had a different outcome, quantified by an expected stat. A wise projection process regresses actual stats to their respective expected measure. In other words, if a batter hit 25 homers, but the expected number was 29, a fair way to handle the difference would be to average the two and project the upcoming campaign as if the hitter had in fact clubbed 27 homers.

Circling back to the shift data, what would have happened without the shift is akin to expected hits (xHits). The best way to quantify future expectations is to regress the actual results halfway towards the expected results -- in other words, to average the two numbers. There are some xHits determinations publicly available (Statcast) and other proprietary sources that account for the shift (among other things).

The system used to generate ESPN's fantasy baseball projections regresses these xHit measures, so they are accounting for the shift. Keep in mind that the adjustment is an average of actual and expected, which will be lower than other systems projecting 2023 numbers based strictly on xHits.

Ultimately, it is up to each fantasy baseball manager to decide if a particular player will outperform his hit projection due to shift legislation. This is no different than deciding how much Kevin Gausman's .363 BABIP from last season needs to be regressed or how much of Tony Gonsolin's 83.8% LOB mark was merely good fortune.

Let's conclude with a table displaying the top-50 players whose 2023 projected average is most improved from their 2022 mark. To make the list, the hitter needed to face the shift at least 50% of the time, with switch-hitters qualifying if that percentage was reached from either side of the plate.

Hitters Most Likely To Be Impacted Positively By New Shift Rules​

Juan SotoL59.0%47.4%.242.286.044
Jesse WinkerL76.1%38.8%.219.261.042
Jeimer CandelarioS53.0%42.6%.217.256.039
Jesus SanchezL49.9%46.8%.214.251.037
Trent GrishamL64.3%46.1%.184.217.033
Ketel MarteS55.7%43.2%.240.271.031
Corey SeagerL92.8%40.2%.245.276.031
Joey GalloL90.0%28.2%.160.190.030
Brandon BeltL85.2%29.3%.213.241.028
Jared WalshL72.2%46.3%.215.243.028
Anthony RizzoL82.6%33.3%.224.252.028
Yoan MoncadaS62.1%39.3%.212.240.028
Kyle IsbelL56.7%44.0%.211.238.027
Yasmani GrandalS59.5%43.6%.202.229.027
Rowdy TellezL78.4%39.7%.219.246.027
Max MuncyL89.0%32.5%.196.223.027
Carlos SantanaS78.2%39.1%.202.228.026
Keibert RuizS68.1%40.6%.251.275.024
Eddie RosarioL83.6%39.5%.212.235.023
Kyle SchwarberL90.5%34.3%.218.241.023
MJ MelendezL78.2%39.6%.217.239.022
Jorge PolancoS69.1%30.6%.235.257.022
Jorge SolerR78.0%43.1%.207.229.022
Brandon LoweL85.3%38.3%.221.243.022
Marcell OzunaR50.4%38.4%.226.246.020
Joey VottoL86.2%44.9%.205.225.020
Alex KirilloffL87.2%55.5%.250.269.019
Cody BellingerL90.5%35.6%.210.227.017
Ji-Man ChoiL83.9%46.6%.233.249.016
Dylan CarlsonS47.3%43.0%.236.252.016
LaMonte Wade Jr.L66.9%34.3%.207.223.016
Oneil CruzL53.3%49.5%.233.249.016
Kyle TuckerL90.9%34.4%.257.272.015
Matt OlsonL81.3%39.6%.240.255.015
Lars NootbaarL53.0%46.0%.228.242.014
Enrique HernandezR53.3%39.8%.222.236.014
Adam DuvallR71.7%29.3%.213.227.014
Mitch HanigerR71.1%37.3%.246.260.014
Wander FrancoS43.3%44.2%.277.291.014
Anthony SantanderS64.9%32.2%.240.253.013
Ozzie AlbiesS75.0%38.7%.247.258.011
Josh BellS43.9%50.5%.266.277.011
Cal RaleighS79.0%29.2%.211.221.010
Mike YastrzemskiL81.2%34.8%.214.224.010
Max KeplerL89.7%46.6%.227.236.009
Ronald Acuna Jr.R58.4%47.7%.266.274.008
Bryan ReynoldsS57.0%43.7%.262.270.008
Adley RutschmanS73.5%40.0%.254.262.008
Jurickson ProfarS45.7%44.8%.243.250.007
Salvador PerezR75.6%36.9%.254.260.006

Clearly, there is more to a hitter's improved projection than just a shift adjustment. That said, It is not a coincidence that none of the first 23 hitters on this list are right-handed and only seven righty swingers made the cut at all.

While it isn't reasonable to precisely pinpoint how any individual player will be influenced by the new rules, there are characteristics that do help us to identify those most likely to notch more base hits in the upcoming season. Most are left-handed (or switch-hitters) with an above-average ground ball rate. Still, in the end, what we don't know will always outweigh what we do know.

Arm yourself with the best information you can, trust your gut, and when the evidence starts to point towards the wrong direction, shift your conclusions and embrace the new reality.
Staff member
Jan 2, 2002

Kings of Command: Fantasy baseball breakout pitchers to draft in 2023​


Just as has been the trend in the on-field game the past three seasons, it's becoming increasingly mandatory to squeeze every last bit of value you can out of each of your active pitchers in fantasy baseball.

The game's continuing specialization of the pitching landscape has forced this approach, with high-volume aces decreasing in number, pitch counts becoming more of the rage and teams turning to high-leverage bullpen arms earlier in the game than ever. Fantasy managers need to keep their pitching staffs on notice for frequent turnover, and that means the need to mine as much value as we can with our draft picks.

That's where this column comes in. Among the best ways to find hidden value on the pitching side is to identify pitchers with elite skill sets, whose surface statistics -- think old-school measures like wins and ERA -- belied their true talent in the most recent season. They are my "Kings of Command," pitchers who met a very specific set of minimum statistical baselines demonstrating excellence in these skills.

Kings of Command baseline numbers​

Pitchers who qualify for inclusion exceeded the major league averages listed below in all of the following categories during the 2022 season. Starting pitchers must have faced at least 200 batters, and relief pitchers must have faced at least 100 batters, while serving in those specific roles.

Starting pitchers:
Swinging-strike rate (SwStrk%):
11.8% or more
First-pitch strike rate (1stPStrk%): 61.9% or more
Command rate (K's per walk, or K/BB): 2.89 or more

Relief pitchers:
Swinging-strike rate (SwStrk%):
12.9% or more
First-pitch strike rate (1stPStrk%): 60.7% of more
Command rate (K's per walk, or K/BB): 2.58 or more
Put-away rate (K's per 2-strike count): 20.2% or more

Using those thresholds, 96 pitchers (36 starters and 60 relievers) met all of those criteria in either role. Among them were both Cy Young Award winners, Sandy Alcantara and Justin Verlander, both Relievers of the Year (Trevor Hoffman and Mariano Rivera Awards), Emmanuel Clase and Edwin Diaz, and 13 of the 21 highest-ranked pitchers on the Player Rater.

The nine pitchers selected below, however, also qualified, despite none of them receiving nearly the same hoopla. Each could wind up as a bargain in fantasy drafts this season, considering their comparably strong skill sets but lackluster 2022 surface statistics. All it might take is one small tweak, better luck or an expanded role for any of them to provide a huge return on your investment.

My "Kings of Command" are listed in alphabetical order, along with their 2022 Player Rater finishes and fantasy point totals using ESPN's standard scoring.

Kevin Gausman, Toronto Blue Jays

2022 Player Rater: SP40/121st overall
2022 fantasy point total: 392 (SP34)

Why he's on here: After breaking through in a big way in 2021, finishing as the No. 6 starting pitcher and No. 9 player overall in points leagues, ninth and 22nd on the Player Rater and earning both his first All-Star appearance and Cy Young votes, Gausman took what was perceived to be a big step backward. The reality, however, is that he was comparably excellent, posting the majors' third-best swinging-strike (16.4%) and fifth-best walk rates (3.9%) among those with a minimum of 100 innings pitched, and his 3.34 Statcast expected ERA represented a career best. Gausman was strikingly unlucky on balls in play, as his batting average allowed (.272) was 30 points higher than his expected batting average allowed (.242), the widest among ERA qualifiers.

How he could improve: Better luck on batted balls, obviously, which could tie to how Rogers Centre plays with its new outfield dimensions and wall heights. Gausman had a 4.57 ERA at home, compared to 2.30 on the road, and his best course to narrow that gap is to also close his home/road gap in batted ball metrics (43.7% hard-hit rate and 89.5 mph average exit velocity at home, 33.6% and 87.7 on the road).

Jon Gray, Texas Rangers

2022 Player Rater: SP69/245th overall
2022 fantasy point total: 260 (SP69)

Why he's on here: Gray's first year away from Coors Field's hitters'-heaven environment went generally well, as he scored an elite 25-plus fantasy points in four of 24 turns, while posting personal bests with his 1.14 WHIP and 3.59 Statcast expected ERA. All of Gray's skills-based metrics fell very much in line with his best years in Colorado, as his 95.9 mph average fastball velocity was competitive with his 2017 and 2019 numbers (96.0), his 41% whiff rate with his slider was his best with the pitch since 2018 and his 12.7% swinging-strike rate overall was his third best in any season.

How he could improve: Better health, most notably, as Gray made three trips to the injured list last season, missing one April start because of a blister, two starts in late April/early May because of a knee sprain and nearly six weeks in August/September while nursing an oblique strain. Altogether, he has made seven trips to the IL in the past four seasons alone, a track record that on its own is enough to keep him outside the positional top 40.

Hunter Greene, Cincinnati Reds

2022 Player Rater: SP82/324th overall
2022 fantasy point total: 225 (SP82)

Why he's on here: The No. 2 overall pick in the 2017 draft and a top-25 prospect entering last season, Greene showed us why he was worthy of either status with one of the more beneath-the-radar great campaigns by any 2022 rookie. He was one of only three pitchers to record 80-plus strikeouts with two different pitches -- joining Robbie Ray and Carlos Rodon, who like Greene did so with their four-seam fastballs and sliders -- scored 25-plus fantasy points in four of 24 starts and finished seventh among pitchers who logged at least 100 innings with his 30.9% strikeout rate, eighth in whiff rate (32.0%) and 10th in swinging-strike rate (15.6%). Greene's stuff is absolutely filthy, his fastball averaging 98.9 mph and his slider generating a 38.0% whiff rate.

How he could improve: Greene's changeup, which he located increasingly more effectively as the season progressed, remains a work in progress. Its development might have a huge bearing on his 2023 prospects, however, not only because of how it might balance his pitch selection, but also how it could provide added effectiveness to his blazing fastball (below-average, minus-5 run value per Statcast) as well as elevate his ground ball rate to closer to his minor league levels. We've seen what Greene can do with premium command, most notably his 7⅓ no-hit innings on May 15, or his 11-strikeout, no-walk masterpiece on Sept. 17.

Brandon Hughes, Chicago Cubs

2022 Player Rater: RP64/296th overall
2022 fantasy point total: 173 (RP64)

Why he's on here: Following the Cubs' Aug. 2 trade of then-closer David Robertson, the team's closer-by-committee approach in his absence probably has most fantasy managers forgetting most of the team's individual performances. Hughes' breakthrough was one of those that was overlooked, as he posted a 2.50 ERA, 1.01 WHIP and 27.5% strikeout rate in 42 appearances from July 1 forward. From Sept. 1 on, he went 5-for-5 in converting save chances and added five holds, putting himself firmly in the team's closer competition heading into spring training.

How he could improve: Hughes has an extreme fly ball tendency (32.6% last season), which is a worry for a short reliever who paired it with an 8.8% walk rate. He had better control in the minors -- 5.2% between Double-A and Triple-A last season, albeit in a small, 10-game sample -- which would help if he could match it in the majors.

Nick Lodolo, Cincinnati Reds​

2022 Player Rater: SP87/341st overall
2022 fantasy point total: 213 (SP93)

Why he's on here: Lodolo joined Greene in the Reds' Opening Day rotation last season, and while Lodolo's season got off to the rockier start, including missing 10 weeks with a lower back strain, he's the one who made the bigger, louder final impression. From the All-Star break forward, Lodolo went 8-for-13 in quality starts with a 2.92 ERA and 30.0% strikeout rate, the latter two ranking 19th and ninth among qualified pitchers during that time. Lodolo's curveball was especially strong during his rookie season, responsible for 65 of his 131 strikeouts while he sported the sixth-best whiff rate (45.4%) among pitchers who threw at least 200 curveballs.

How he could improve: Lodolo's control is still a work in progress, as his 8.7% second-half walk rate ranked 58th among 66 qualifiers, and his 19 hit batsmen was the major leagues' most. He'll need to rein those in, at least bringing them closer his 6.0% rate as a junior at TCU in 2019 or his 5.2% in 10 Double-A starts in 2021. Lodolo could also stand to polish his changeup, which would be a big step toward lowering his .344 wOBA allowed to right-handed hitters.

Jesus Luzardo, Miami Marlins

2022 Player Rater: SP64/235th overall
2022 fantasy point total: 228 (SP80)

Why he's on here: Even a forearm strain that cost Luzardo nearly three months didn't prevent him from being consistently successful throughout his first year in Miami, and he finished on such a high note that a significant step forward might be in store for 2023. He had a 12-strikeout game in his first start of the season, and 11- and 12-strikeout performances in two of his final three turns. In his final two starts, against 101-win Atlanta Braves and New York Mets teams, he turned in quality starts both times, limited hitters to two runs and a .182 batting average and struck out 18 of 47 hitters he faced (38.3%). Luzardo restored some velocity to his fastball, averaging 96.3 mph, and both his curveball and slider had better-than-40% whiff rates.

How he could improve: As with Gray, health is Luzardo's final obstacle in his path to greatness, as he has spent at least four weeks on the injured list in three of his past four seasons and hasn't exceeded 124⅓ innings combined between the majors and minors in any of his seven professional campaigns.

Andres Munoz, Seattle Mariners

2022 Player Rater: RP39/221st overall
2022 fantasy point total: 202 (SP45)

Why he's on here: Put aside the lackluster Division Series showing (3 appearances, 3 earned runs allowed), because Munoz was one of the filthiest relievers in all of baseball for the entire 2022 season. Among pitchers who threw at least 750 pitches in 2022, his 22.9% swinging-strike rate placed second behind only Edwin Diaz's 26.0%, and his 96 total strikeouts were tied with Devin Williams for second-most among relievers behind Diaz's 118. During Munoz's final 42 regular-season appearances, his ERA was 1.21 and he struck out 71 of 162 hitters he faced (43.8%), making him one of the most dominating relievers during that span. Unfortunately, his 26 saves plus holds ranked 27th, limited by manager Scott Servais' reliance on a committee to close games. That was a large part of the reason for his modest fantasy numbers.

How he could improve: Health will probably be the first thing that comes to mind for many, considering Munoz pitched only 4⅓ total innings from 2020-21, but that was primarily because of his slow recovery from Tommy John surgery. More importantly, Munoz could earn more ninth-inning looks from Servais if he can extend his second-half showing into 2023. Given even 25-30 save chances, Munoz would have an excellent chance at a top-five positional stat line.

A.J. Puk, Miami Marlins​

2022 Player Rater: RP69/306th overall
2022 fantasy point total: 178 (SP59)

Why he's on here: Puk put the injury issues of 2018 to '21 behind him last season, settling in as an effective late-inning option for an Athletics team thin on experienced relievers. He added both extension and velocity to his four-seam fastball, using his 6-foot-7 frame to give the pitch averaging 96.7 mph added effectiveness, and his slider had a 37.0% whiff rate to serve an effective put-away pitch. By July, he had forced his way into the team's closer conversation, a role he'd likely have competed for during spring training if the Athletics hadn't abruptly traded him to the Marlins in early February. Puk has the skills to succeed as either a starter or reliever, but it seems that a late-inning role is more in store for him with his new team.

How he could improve: As with Munoz, Puk might best benefit from his team trusting him with its ninth-inning chores. From a skills perspective, however, Puk was a bit more ground ball-oriented throughout his minor league career than he showed last season (45.0%). He was typically closer to 50% in the category in the minors, a rate that would be more palatable for a pitcher who has an 8.8% career walk rate as a pro.

Joe Ryan, Minnesota Twins

2022 Player Rater: SP41/123rd overall
2022 fantasy point total: 339 (SP46)

Why he's on here: A popular 2022 preseason fantasy breakout pick and ultimately the Twins' Opening Day starter, Ryan fell short of his lofty expectations, going only 11-for-27 in quality starts and delivering a so-so 3.55 ERA. Much of the cause was the regression of his slider, leaving him as a fastball-reliant pitcher, though at least that pitch was one of the league's most effective (Statcast graded it with a minus-21 run value). Ryan was shelled for 10 runs in his final start of July, but he rebounded nicely in the two months that followed (3.23 ERA and 28.2% strikeout rate during that span). It was a signal that he might be moving beyond his adjustment period and ready for a true breakthrough heading into 2023.

How he could improve: Ryan is an extreme fly baller, his 32.8% fly ball rate last season ranking seventh highest among the 140 pitchers who worked at least 100 innings, so he's always going to be at risk for home runs and occasionally ugly innings. Getting his walk rate back down to the 5.0% he posted in 2021 would go a long way toward minimizing those damaging frames.
Staff member
Jan 2, 2002

Fantasy baseball: Impact of the new balanced schedule for 2023​


Among the many changes major league baseball is implementing for the 2023 season is to have a more balanced schedule. The primary difference will be fewer divisional games, with each team also playing one series with every club in the opposite league, along with the continuation of an interleague home-and-away set with a designated geographical rival.

Last season's version of the schedule saw each team playing 19 games against each club in their division, either six or seven games against the other 10 clubs in their league, and either three or four interleague games against six teams (including a rotating series of matchups against all the teams from one particular division). Starting in 2023, the schedule will include only 13 games against each divisional opponent with the same six or seven games against the other 10 clubs in their league. The interleague portion entails a three-game series with 14 teams and a pair of two-game rivalry series (like Mets-Yankees, Cubs-White Sox, etc.)

The impetus for the change helps to level the field for postseason qualification. Clearly, while the quality of opposition will still vary slightly per team, the top-to-bottom difference should be more clustered.

From a fantasy baseball perspective, the task is deciding whether the schedule change will help, hurt, or be indifferent for expected production. Can a player's projection be generated in the same fashion from before the change, or does the anticipated effect of the new schedule need to be a factor?

On the surface, the answer is a resounding, "Yes!" Even though projection and valuation theory have inherent flaws, it still helps to be as accurate as possible. The problem is that quantifying the effect is easier said than done.

The complication is that comparing divisions is not an apples-to-apples endeavor. Using wRC+ (Weighted Runs Created) as an example, a 100 mark from a player in one division is not necessarily equivalent to the same level in another division. The wRC+ formula accounts for home park, but it can't neutralize the quality of competition.

This is an extreme example, but a player posting a 100 wRC+ in the Double-A Southern League is not the same level of player with a 100 wRC+ in MLB. The difference between the quality of players in the six major-league divisions is obviously closer, but there still is a disparity between each. In fact, it's not just the quality of hitters and pitchers in each, but rather the delta between the aggregate hitting and pitching driving the generated statistics.

The upshot of all this is that simply choosing a metric to gauge quality and then ranking the divisions accordingly may not be an accurate reflection of true skill level. Not to mention, the player makeup for each division will be different than in the previous season, adding another layer of guesswork to the quantification.

Mainly to satisfy curiosity, what follows are some metrics calculated for each division. One good way to determine the quality of pitching that hitters faced is to look at opponent K% and wOBA (Weighted On-Base Average), which is a good proxy for run-scoring potential.

2022 Opposition Hitters Vs. Each Division​

AL East.31722.2%
AL Central.30221.3%
AL West.30323.1%
NL East.31422.2%
NL Central.30823.4%
NL West.31422.3%

2022 Opposition Pitchers Vs. Each Division​

AL East.30822.3%
AL Central.30822.0%
AL West.30622.5%
NL East.31122.9%
NL Central.31322.4%
NL West.31122.4%
As we've said, trying to assess the quality of opposition using the above tables is not a prudent approach. Instead of seeking a direct ranking, let's decide if it is even worth attempting to rank the quality of opponent per division. The following isn't perfect, as it incorporates some of the apples-to-oranges concerns already discussed, but it provides some useful information.

Those two tables above are a composite of what transpired playing last season's schedule. What if they were recalculated assuming each team played their 2023 schedule last season? Again, there are some flaws, but we're not looking to quantify the change, only to gauge if it's significant enough to further pursue a more precise adjustment.

With that, let's see what the differences could have been, presented by team, if they played this season's schedule last year. Keep in mind these numbers are for each team's opponents.

Opposition Hitting WOBA Vs. Each Team​

Opposition Hitting K Rate Vs. Each Team​

Baltimore Orioles22.2%22.3%Atlanta Braves22.3%22.2%
Boston Red Sox22.4%22.3%Miami Marlins22.4%22.3%
New York Yankees22.3%22.3%New York Mets22.8%22.7%
Tampa Bay Rays22.3%22.3%Philadelphia Phillies22.5%22.4%
Toronto Blue Jays22.6%22.5%Washington Nationals22.8%22.6%
Cleveland Guardians22.4%22.5%Chicago Cubs22.7%22.6%
Chicago White Sox22.1%22.2%Cincinnati Reds22.6%22.6%
Detroit Tigers21.7%22.0%Milwaukee Brewers22.7%22.6%
Kansas City Royals21.9%22.2%Pittsburgh Pirates22.6%22.6%
Minnesota Twins21.8%22.1%St. Louis Cardinals23.1%22.9%
Houston Astros22.8%22.8%Arizona Diamondbacks22.3%22.4%
Los Angeles Angels22.2%22.3%Colorado Rockies22.5%22.5%
Oakland Athletics22.5%22.4%Los Angeles Dodgers22.6%22.5%
Seattle Mariners22.5%22.5%San Diego Padres22.5%22.5%
Texas Rangers22.4%22.4%San Francisco Giants22.2%22.3%
Using the Cleveland Guardians as an example, in 2022, their pitchers faced a composite .305 wOBA. Had the 2023 schedule been in place, all else being equal, that wOBA increases to .307 -- indicating this new schedule would have been a little bit tougher. This makes sense since they will be playing fewer games against weaker AL Central lineups.
Staff member
Jan 2, 2002
Continued From Above

Now let's do the same analysis on the strength of pitching that each team had to face last season in the less-balanced schedule, compared to 2023's changes.

Opposition Pitching WOBA Vs. Each Team​

Opposition Pitching K Rate Vs. Each Team​

Baltimore Orioles22.6%22.6%Atlanta Braves22.7%22.5%
Boston Red Sox22.5%22.5%Miami Marlins23.0%22.7%
New York Yankees22.1%22.2%New York Mets22.7%22.5%
Tampa Bay Rays22.2%22.3%Philadelphia Phillies22.9%22.7%
Toronto Blue Jays22.2%22.4%Washington Nationals23.4%23.1%
Cleveland Guardians21.9%22.1%Chicago Cubs22.4%22.4%
Chicago White Sox21.8%22.1%Cincinnati Reds22.4%22.4%
Detroit Tigers22.2%22.4%Milwaukee Brewers22.1%22.1%
Kansas City Royals22.3%22.4%Pittsburgh Pirates22.6%22.1%
Minnesota Twins22.0%22.2%St. Louis Cardinals22.6%22.6%
Houston Astros22.0%22.1%Arizona Diamondbacks22.7%22.7%
Los Angeles Angels22.6%22.4%Colorado Rockies22.8%22.7%
Oakland Athletics22.9%22.7%Los Angeles Dodgers22.1%22.2%
Seattle Mariners22.4%22.4%San Diego Padres22.3%22.3%
Texas Rangers22.6%22.5%San Francisco Giants22.3%22.4%
The largest delta between the opposing pitchers' allowed wOBA is .002. The correlation between wOBA and runs scored is a very strong 0.95. Extrapolating that data indicates that each point of wOBA generates about five runs per team. That is, the most runs a team would have scored (or lost) with the new schedule is 10, which is divided among all its batters. In other words, the changes to each hitter's projections could have been lost simply by way of rounding off. That is, a hitter's RBI projection could increase from 67.7 to 68.4, both of which would be presented as 68.

Similarly, there aren't any opposing batters' wOBA with a difference greater than .002, so most pitching staffs would have allowed (at most) just 10 more (or fewer) runs. Again, these would have been distributed among the entire staff. To get an idea of the extent of the adjustment, every earned run allowed by a pitcher throwing 150 innings accounts for 0.06 points of ERA. For example, a pitcher yielding 60 runs for a 3.60 ERA would be adjusted to 3.66 if he was expected to surrender one more run.

So what have we learned?​

It may not be the most exciting result, but it's still worth doing this analysis to predict that the change in schedule isn't likely to significantly improve or diminish any individual player's projection. As such, the projection methodology to generate our projections was not changed on account of the schedule. Sure, it would have been wonderfully helpful if this article ended with a list of teams whose hitters and pitchers are significantly helped or hurt by the new schedule, but the numbers indicate otherwise.

However, this is still valuable information unto itself. After all, some drafters may assume otherwise and overcompensate on draft day, either by taking a player too early, or by avoiding someone they shouldn't -- and possibly to your benefit. Plus, there is an advantage to be gleaned from this information, although it entails individual evaluation of the divisions and keeping in mind that some teams (like the Texas Rangers) will have vastly different pitching staffs than last season.

One of the shortcomings of valuation is that the entire season's worth of stats fuel projected earnings. However, in the standard ESPN format with daily moves, adept team managers can pick and choose the players they wish to deploy, most often based on matchups. While an individual pitcher's ERA may gain or lose only 0.06 based on the new schedule overall, savvy lineup management can extract a lower-than-projected ERA from a starting pitcher by activating him only for favorable matchups.

In other words, the ERA of a pitcher in the AL Central (for example) may not be projected differently with the new schedule, but he still will have more chances to be active against weaker divisional opponents, albeit not as much as last season. Still, this type of thinking can be utilized to break a tie between two closely ranked players, keeping in mind the difference within divisions is more of a subjective than an objective determination.
Staff member
Jan 2, 2002

Fantasy baseball: Bold 2023 predictions for every NL team​


Spring training games are just about ready to get going, which also means that the 2023 regular season is not all that far off. As such, it is time to get a little bit bold when it comes to fantasy baseball!

Bold predictions, by their occasional wild nature, are not likely to hit, but they can be fun and there usually is some foundation for the logic. Perhaps it would have seemed ridiculous a season ago to project 62 home runs for Yankees OF Aaron Judge or a 1.75 ERA for Astros RHP Justin Verlander, but both of these things really happened, and we certainly had clues these players were skilled enough to make history.

Who will it be this season? Let's get bold for 2023 in fantasy baseball, starting with the National League. (We previously voiced our American League opinions here.) Again, to be clear, most, if not all, of these predictions are not going to happen. Still, perhaps I'm on the right track with some of them -- and that might be just as important as we get ready for our fantasy baseball drafts.

Arizona Diamondbacks: OF Lourdes Gurriel Jr., now healthy after offseason wrist surgery, smacks a career-high 25 home runs, leading the club. Gurriel continues to make strides in both strikeout and contact rates. ... Three Diamondbacks steal 30 bases, led by rookie OF Corbin Carroll and followed by OF Jake McCarthy and 2B/3B Josh Rojas. The team steals a league-leading 160 bases, most since the 2016 Brewers stole 181.

Atlanta Braves: 2B Vaughn Grissom ends up as both a top-10 2B and SS, with 20 home runs, 24 stolen bases. He finishes higher on the ESPN Player Rater than former teammate Dansby Swanson. Grissom has more speed and plate discipline. ... Remember RHP Mike Soroka? He makes 29 starts and wins 14 with a 3.25 ERA. Soroka last pitched in the majors in 2020 before injuries sidelined him. We can't hope or expect a big strikeout rate, but we can hope for health.

Chicago Cubs: OF Cody Bellinger bounces back to hit .250 with 30 home runs and a career-best 19 steals. Bellinger enjoys baseball's banning of the shift to help his batting average, but also his fresh start away from Los Angeles. ... RHP Hayden Wesneski earns a rotation spot in March and leads the team with a 3.50 ERA in his 28 starts. He's not a big strikeout option, but he'll be good enough. Wesneski came over from the Yankees and, ironically, this summer RHP Kyle Hendricks gets traded to the Yankees.

Cincinnati Reds: Four Reds OF-eligible players reach 15 home runs and 15 stolen bases, led by (finally) Nick Senzel, who earns a career-best 500 PA. The others are Wil Myers, Jake Fraley and TJ Friedl. ... LHP Nick Lodolo outpaces the more heralded RHP Hunter Greene in wins, strikeouts, ERA and WHIP. He also makes the All-Star team as the team's representative. Lodolo whiffs 200 hitters.

Colorado Rockies: OF Kris Bryant, after hitting nary a home run at Coors Field in 2022, leads the NL with 26 home blasts this season. Bryant hits 39 home runs overall. ... SS Ezequiel Tovar not only wins the starting job, but he becomes the leadoff hitter in April. He steals 29 bases and scores 87 runs. Tovar ends up as a top-10 fantasy shortstop.

Los Angeles Dodgers: OF James Outman wins the starting CF job out of spring training. He and 1B Miguel Vargas (the team's regular second baseman) each hit 25 home runs. The Dodgers lead the league in runs again. ... More rookies! RHPs Gavin Stone and Bobby Miller force their way into the injury-riddled rotation and combine for 160 excellent innings and 167 strikeouts.

Miami Marlins: OF Bryan De La Cruz pops 27 home runs to lead the club. De La Cruz, a right-handed hitter, posted an .805 OPS against right-handers last season and had a big September. He's a top-50 outfielder in NFBC ADP for a reason. ... LHP Jesus Luzardo leads the Marlins in strikeouts. Don't worry, Sandy Alcantara investors, as the defending NL Cy Young winner will thrive again, but Luzardo will pitch a career-best 170 innings and soar past 200 whiffs.

Milwaukee Brewers: OF Joey Wiemer earns a promotion in June and produces 24 home runs and 12 stolen bases in four months. Wiemer is a power hitter with speed, and the Brewers lack outfield power, especially versus left-handers. ... RHP Freddy Peralta joins Corbin Burnes and Brandon Woodruff with 200 strikeouts and a sub-1.00 WHIP. Peralta's problem has been durability, but he throws a career-best 160 IP in 2023.

New York Mets: OF Tommy Pham returns to a 15-HR/15-SB season for the first time since 2019. Pham may not look like he has a path to playing time, but Starling Marte, who missed more than 40 games in both of the past two seasons and had offseason groin surgery, is a clear health risk. Pham will produce dividends for deep leaguers. ... RHP Justin Verlander becomes the seventh hurler to win the Cy Young Award in both leagues. His teammate Max Scherzer has done it. Verlander spins another sub-2.00 ERA, too.

Philadelphia Phillies: OF Bryce Harper is one of six Phillies to reach 25 home runs. Harper hits .299 with 26 HR in 101 games after returning from Tommy John surgery. Revitalized OF Nick Castellanos also hits 26 home runs. ... RHP Andrew Painter wins 10 of 15 starts, posts a 2.66 ERA and an 0.96 WHIP. Painter becomes the first teenager to start since the Dodgers' Julio Urias in 2016. Mark Davis did it for the Phillies in 1980. Painter thrives.

Pittsburgh Pirates: SS Oneil Cruz delivers a 30/30 season, even while striking out 200 times -- a first in MLB history. Cruz may never contend for a batting title, but he will be fun to watch. ... OF Ji Hwan Bae makes the roster out of spring training, primarily handles second base and steals 30 bases. Bae reached base at a strong clip in the minors, and his skills will translate.

San Diego Padres: DHs Nelson Cruz and Matt Carpenter (who will end up handling plenty of 1B duty) combine for 50 home runs as well! Some teams rely on prospects. Then there are the Padres. Cruz is not done yet. ... Three Padres whiff 200 hitters, led by LHP Blake Snell, who proves his strong second half to 2022 was no fluke. Snell paces the rotation with a 2.90 ERA.

San Francisco Giants: A year after only one Giant (Joc Pederson) hit 20 home runs, seven do so in 2023, led by OF Mitch Haniger with 29. 3B David Villar hits 21. OF Michael Conforto hits 26. ... RHP Alex Cobb, unlucky with a .336 BABIP last season (fifth highest among SP with 140 IP), gets lucky in 2023 and lowers his ERA to 2.95. He wins a career-high 14 games.
St. Louis Cardinals: OF Lars Nootbaar bashes 30 home runs. Four Cardinals reach that mark (Paul Goldschmidt, Nolan Arenado, Tyler O'Neill), but Nootbaar -- never a top prospect -- is the surprise. He ends up being more valuable than O'Neill in points formats. ... RHP Adam Wainwright wins 20 games for the third time, then calls it a career. Wainwright pitched well until a rough September last year. He will top 200 innings and flash 2021 numbers.
Washington Nationals: 1B Joey Meneses hits .275 with 30 home runs. The longtime minor leaguer emerged from obscurity in his age-30 season with big numbers in 240 PA, and he now elicits the dreaded Frank Schwindel (now in Japan) comparisons. Nope. ... LHP MacKenzie Gore leads the Nationals with nine wins and a 4.20 ERA. OK, so it's not a lot, but work with me. This is not a good pitching staff. At least Gore gets a regular rotation turn for four months.
Staff member
Jan 2, 2002

Fantasy baseball: Cardinals prospect starts strong​


Fantasy baseball managers love the prospects and St. Louis Cardinals slugger Jordan Walker is one of the better ones in the sport. Walker is only 20 years old and has yet to play at the Triple-A level, but his long home run in Sunday's Spring Training game -- a definitive, three-run blast in the first inning off veteran RHP Johnny Cueto (now a member of the Miami Marlins) -- should pique the interest of fantasy managers, especially if he continues to hit and earns a promotion to the majors for Opening Day.

Walker is eligible at third base in fantasy for now, but is handling corner outfield duty for the Cardinals since they employ All-Star Nolan Arenado at the hot corner. He is barely a thought in ESPN redraft leagues (which now feature smaller lineups) as he is rostered in fewer than 5% of them. He is going just inside the top 250 of NFBC drafts, though and the statistical upside is impressive. Walker, a right-handed hitter, hit .304 with 19 home runs and a 10% walk rate for Double-A Springfield last season -- and he stole 22 bases.

The Cardinals can be patient with Walker as they employ Tyler O'Neill, Dylan Carlson and Lars Nootbaar as likely outfield starters, but Sunday's game in Sarasota provided a glimpse of change. O'Neill, with a mere 26 career starts in center field (out of 405 games), played the position both Saturday and Sunday. He also hit second in Sunday's game, and we should remember the 34 home runs he mashed two seasons ago. O'Neill is going to play somewhere and so is Nootbar, a left-handed hitter with a high walk rate.

The Cardinals will not give up on Carlson, a switch-hitter and natural center fielder, but he struggled to hit right-handed pitching last season (.633 OPS), so he is going to have to do better in order to secure his role. Walker, who played mostly third base at Double-A but then later in the season moved to right field, seems likely to hit. The Cardinals have options for DH as well, with Juan Yepez, Nolan Gorman and others. This should be a loaded lineup, but Walker can still make his mark.

Prospects tend to get overrated in Spring Training, as most clubs are certainly aware what their early April lineup will look like and want to avoid any of their projected regulars getting hurt. Check out any box score, especially in February, and there will be myriad names that are far, far off the fantasy radar. Walker is clearly not part of that myriad. He hit sixth in Sunday's lineup, which featured regulars Tommy Edman, O'Neill, Arenado and Gorman. The Cardinals want to see him at the plate and in the field. Fantasy managers should watch the results.

Other weekend thoughts​

New York Mets rookie 3B Brett Baty may be in a situation similar with that of Walker in that the team, expected to be strong, can afford to be patient. However, it may not wish to be. Baty homered on Saturday. Now, he has only 26 PA at the Triple-A level and the Mets can utilize veteran Eduardo Escobar at third base. Still, Baty could make things interesting over the next few weeks.

The big Sunday baseball news featured the San Diego Padres and potential free agent 3B Manny Machado agreeing to a new long-term contract. It alters little for fantasy purposes. Those hoping that SS Xander Bogaerts might move to third base anytime soon (or that new OF Fernando Tatis Jr. would move back to the infield) can now hope for other things. This move may prevent OF Juan Soto, himself a free agent in two years, from sticking around long-term, but there's no need to worry about that now. The Padres lineup appears set, except for DH duties, where newcomers Nelson Cruz and Matt Carpenter form a potential platoon. We will keep a close eye on that situation.

Speaking of Soto, two youngsters acquired by the Washington Nationals in last season's trade looked good this weekend. SS CJ Abrams singled, doubled, and stole a base in Saturday's game as the team's leadoff hitter, and the team seems open-minded to the 22-year-old speedster securing a role at the top of their lineup. Abrams produced a .604 OPS over 302 PA between the Padres and Nationals last season, but he succeeded on only 7-of-11 stolen base chances. He can do better. Meanwhile, LHP MacKenzie Gore tossed a scoreless first inning on Saturday, and he may be the team's top starting pitcher. It is not too late for Gore to become relevant for fantasy.

Houston Astros OF Yordan Alvarez did not play this past weekend and, according to manager Dusty Baker, has yet to even start swinging a bat as he deals with hand soreness that also plagued him last season. It did not seem to be much of an issue back then, however, as he hit 37 home runs and produced a 1.109 OPS, second in all of baseball to Aaron Judge. My take on Alvarez is simple: Ask me in two weeks. If he still is not swinging, I will take it more seriously.

Speaking of injury, new Arizona Diamondbacks OF Lourdes Gurriel Jr. played with a wrist problem last season with the Blue Jays, which contributed to him hitting a disappointing five home runs. Gurriel had twice previously reached 20 home runs in a season with Toronto. It was thus a positive sign that Gurriel, who pronounced himself fully healthy, homered on Saturday. He also drew a walk as the No. 3 hitter in what could have been a 2023 lineup preview, batting between IF Josh Rojas and 1B Christian Walker. Gurriel may not be a top-30 outfielder (and therefore unworthy of attention in ESPN's new standard leagues), but in deeper formats, let us remember his power potential.
Staff member
Jan 2, 2002

Kiley McDaniel's top fantasy baseball prospects for 2023​


Hope springs eternal when it comes to baseball teams, both in the major leagues as well as with fantasy baseball squads. Some of the biggest importers of hope each season are those "shiny new toys" -- highly touted rookies who have yet to disappoint, bringing tons of promise and optimism to the table.

The list you're about to read is strictly for fantasy purposes and is a spin on my real-world value Top 100 list, which is heavily influenced by scouts, executives and my own scouting looks. I don't play fantasy anymore, but I do help some friends with their teams, and I get the big-picture adjustments from the baselines of my other lists: defense doesn't matter, position matters a little, speed doesn't really matter unless they steal bases, etc. This list will generally be in the order of that list, only after adjusting for those factors.

With that in mind, here's my ranked top 20 of the best fantasy bets for 2023 among prospects and rookies -- and I'll detail below where those two terms diverge. These candidates were culled from my original list of 1,294 players whom I ranked on this year's team lists (split into AL and NL prospects), so there are a few dozen more viable Rookie of the Year (ROY) candidates I could rank. However, I know you are looking more at the top of this list for your drafts than the bottom.

1. Corbin Carroll, OF, Arizona Diamondbacks
2. Gunnar Henderson, SS, Baltimore Orioles

I'm flipping my top two here, but they're alone at the 65 FV tier and are close to a coin flip in both real life and fantasy, so they're pretty interchangeable (as well as the screaming favorites for the two ROY awards. Henderson has a good chance to be both SS and 3B eligible with a power-and-patience skill set and some stolen base upside, while Carroll is an electric athlete with 30-plus steals upside but also solid contact and power skills. I'll lean toward the standout SB potential.

3. Masataka Yoshida, OF, Boston Red Sox
4. Kodai Senga, SP, New York Mets

I don't include any professional players from overseas in my prospect list, but both of these players are new to MLB and ROY-eligible, so I will include them here. Yoshida is a polished hitter with average-or-so power (roughly 15-20 homers annually) who will play every day for the Red Sox. His real-world limitations of playing left field and not offering much speed don't matter as much for fantasy. Senga fits in the tradition of NPB starters who can step in and be an SP2/SP3 immediately, but he's also on a contender, which will help his win total.

5. Triston Casas, 1B, Boston Red Sox: Casas might platoon at first base, which would limit his playing time and puts him just behind this clear top four for me. He'll probably only play 1B and DH but has a rare combination of hit, approach and power, with 25-HR upside in an ideal rookie season.

6. Esteury Ruiz, OF, Oakland Athletics: Ruiz is an elite runner who stole 86 bases last year across three levels and has 40-plus SB upside as the likely Opening Day center fielder for the Athletics. He was the headliner of the Sean Murphy trade and, at least on paper, Oakland is the worst team in the American League, so Ruiz will get a lot of opportunities. That said, he might also be limited by a weak offense and his potentially batting ninth.

7. Ezequiel Tovar, SS, Colorado Rockies: Tovar is a "toolsy" young shortstop who was promoted aggressively last season and also looks set to start the season with an everyday spot near the bottom of the Colorado lineup. He has a shot to put up double figures in both homers and stolen bases. However, he also swings a lot, so there's potential for a slow start that could get him optioned to Triple-A. On the other hand, he's talented enough and has Coors Field on his side. He could get ROY consideration if things fall into place.

8. Miguel Vargas, 2B, Los Angeles Dodgers: Vargas is the next multipositional Dodgers prospect who can really hit. He looks likely to start the season in the lineup as the team's regular second baseman but may get time at all four corner spots as well. He's a fringy defender at all five spots and, if he's not hitting, that will limit his opportunities. Still, he's good enough to hit .280 with 15 homers, so I think the Dodgers will be looking for reasons to get his bat in the lineup.

9. Josh Jung, 3B, Texas Rangers: Jung was set to be a strong ROY candidate last year until he ended up missing most of the season due to shoulder surgery. He's back, and the former top-10 overall pick is penciled in as the everyday third baseman, but there's some risk as his plate discipline regressed when he returned late last year. If things click, he could surpass both a .260 average and 20 homers.

10. Oswald Peraza, SS, New York Yankees: Peraza will very likely be the starting shortstop for the Yankees this year, with even better prospect Anthony Volpe lingering behind him and probably starting the season at Triple-A. Peraza is the best defensive shortstop of the many infielders the Yankees have, so he'll have to really fall on his face at the plate to not get a lot of playing time this season. He's a plus runner who has 20-plus SB potential and sneaky power that could manifest in 15 homers -- if he starts for the whole season.

11. Gabriel Moreno, C, Arizona Diamondbacks: Moreno is technically not ROY eligible since he already has 61 days of MLB service and the cutoff is 60, but he is still on my prospect list since he didn't surpass the 135 at-bat limit. I think the point of this list is guidance on young players with limited (or no) MLB time, so I'll include him here. He's a fantastic athlete for a catcher who might start the season in a part-time role, but one I think will rack up 350-plus plate appearances. The headline here is his plus-plus hitting ability (.280 or better average), some steals upside and low double-digit homer upside.

12. Anthony Volpe, SS, New York Yankees: As I mentioned earlier, Volpe looks like he'll start the season at Triple-A while the Yankees sort out their infield depth. It seems likely that someone will get hurt or slump, which would be just enough of an opening for Volpe if he starts hot, which I'd expect. Since he isn't on their 40-man roster yet, the Yankees won't want to call him up until they have to, but he could still hit his way onto the Opening Day roster.

Volpe is only the third-best SS defender in New York's system (behind Peraza and Isiah Kiner-Falefa), so Volpe may also get some looks at second or third base. If it all clicks in 2023 and he plays the whole season in the big leagues, he could hit .265 with 25 homers and double-figure stolen bases -- he's a fringy runner but has good instincts and stole 50 last season. However, that exact outcome in 2023 isn't that likely.

13. Hunter Brown, SP, Houston Astros
14. Grayson Rodriguez, SP, Baltimore Orioles
15. Jordan Walker, OF, St. Louis Cardinals
16. Logan O'Hoppe, C, Los Angeles Angels
17. Spencer Steer, 3B, Cincinnati Reds
18. Ken Waldichuk, SP, Oakland Athletics
19. Andrew Painter, SP, Philadelphia Phillies
20. Garrett Mitchell, OF, Milwaukee Brewers

I'll go rapid fire now in order to briefly cover some of these other candidates at the back end of my top 20.

  • Both Brown and Rodriguez have plus-stuff and could be SP2/SP3 right away. However both also come with your typical pitcher risk. Waldichuk is a funky lefty who is more of a steady SP3/SP4 type.
  • Painter and Walker are both ranked down here because they aren't likely to break with the parent team right now. That said, they are both so good that they have ROY upside even if they play only half of the season. They also could still have a blazing-hot March and make their clubs, so continue to monitor them.
  • O'Hoppe and Steer are likely to be non-platooned everyday players without start upside but should both be solid contributors. Meanwhile, Mitchell has power/speed potential but also could spend time in the minors and might well get platooned if he stays up all year.

Others who could be top-20 worthy by Opening Day

Francisco Alvarez, C, Mets; Jonathan Aranda, 1B, Rays; Brice Turang, SS, Brewers; Royce Lewis, SS, Twins; Gabriel Arias, SS, Guardians; Brett Baty, 3B, Mets; Curtis Mead, 3B, Rays; Oswaldo Cabrera, IF/OF, Yankees; Nolan Jones, IF/OF, Rockies; Alec Burleson, OF, Cardinals; Kerry Carpenter, DH, Tigers; Cade Cavalli, SP, Nationals; Ryne Nelson, SP, Diamondbacks; Shintaro Fujinami, SP, Athletics; Brandon Pfaadt, SP, Diamondbacks

  • Pfaadt probably won't break with the big team but is a sleeper ROY candidate whom both scouts and analysts love. The team, park and division don't help much.
  • Alvarez and Baty are the first two (ahead of Mark Vientos and Ronny Mauricio) of the Mets' hitting prospects on the 40-man roster who will either headline a trade or come up after the first injury/slump.
  • Carpenter, Jones, Aranda, Turang, Arias, Cabrera, and Burleson all have bench or platoon roles right now, but could each potentially grab a full-time spot with a strong spring.
  • Cavalli, Nelson and Fujinami have mid-rotation upside and are set to start the season in a rotation but have command warts to work through.
  • Mead has ROY potential, even in a half-season, but isn't a great defender and the Rays have a tendency to platoon their many position-player options.
  • Lewis is a former No. 1 overall pick and a longtime top-100 prospect, but he has missed tons of time with various injuries. He could return to the big leagues in the second half with a power/speed combo that fits up the middle.
Staff member
Jan 2, 2002

Fantasy baseball: The state of the stolen base in 2023​


Sometimes, crime does pay. In fact, some are expecting it to pay even more in 2023. The "unlawful act" in question, of course, is stealing bases, a transgression likely to rise under the guise of the new MLB rules.

There are four changes coming this season, all of which are expected to work in tandem to increase steals. Let's examine each of them with an eye towards how they might assist and abet runners in an increase of nefarious basepath activity.

Change No. 1: Disengagement from the rubber

With a runner on base, a pitcher is allowed to step off and/or try to pick him off only twice per plate appearance. A third attempt is allowed, but if the runner isn't called out, a balk is ruled. Once a runner advances, the disengagement count resets.

It may not happen a lot, but this sets things up for an entertaining "cat and mouse" game between the pitcher, catcher, and runner. Some will test the limits and extend their lead after two disengagements. It then becomes a decision of whether the pitcher has a better chance of picking off the daring runner, or if the catcher has a greater probability of throwing him out.

Change No. 2: Bigger Bases

The bags will now be 15 inches per side, up from a foot. The stated intention if to reduce collisions between first basemen and oncoming runners. However, with the distance between bases now being 4 1/2 inches closer, this could help shift bang-bang plays in favor of the runner, especially with replay reviews.

There are other repercussions serving to assist the runner. Assuming a tag is applied in front of the base, the added width offers up more room for the runner to evade the fielder's glove -- another act which replay can help identify. In addition, with more surface area to grab, there is less of a chance that a runner will overslide or otherwise lose contact with the bag.

Change No. 3: Pitch Clock

In lieu of throwing over, some pitchers have tended to hold the ball in the set position for an extended period of time before releasing it towards home plate. This tactic is now all but eliminated since holding the ball too long with result in a ball being called.

The mere presence of the pitch clock may increase running since some hurlers will be more focused on the clock and less on the runner. Chances are this will only be a problem in the season's early days until everyone grows accustomed to the brand new ticker, but it could be an influence in April and May.

Change No. 4: Shift Legislation

Fielders will still be able to shade towards the bag, so this is not going to be a factor during the stolen-base process itself. That said, the hope is that legislating the shift will result in more hits, hence there should be an increased number of opportunities for runners to take off. It may also bring the hit-and-run back into the game.

Working in concert, these four factors should inflate the number of steals this season. With that now established, the next question to ask is clear.

How much more will players run?​

A logical place to start is to access the league-wide impact of the new rules, based on the SB trends in the minors where these rules were all tested before being implemented by MLB. Of course, the effect will be different in the majors, but at a minimum, the level of increased running should serve as an upper boundary of what to expect. Most of the early studies suggest that steals increased at least 20% and perhaps even as much as a bit over 30%. When the 2023 ESPN Fantasy Baseball Projections were initially unveiled, a 20% increase over last season was factored into the process.

Recently, Rotowire's Jason Collette posted some preliminary work on Twitter, suggesting a potential 25% stolen base increase over last season. Even though there is some evidence the total could well jump by more than 20%, it was decided to leave the change intact. The chief reason is that minor leaguers are mostly young, with fewer health issues and less of a need to curtail running. It may be the case that MLB teams deem it to be too risky for many players to increase their exposure to injury via running and sliding. In other words, we're dealing with a vastly different subject pool.

Who will be doing the running?​

The next step is to determine the allocation of the approximately 500 additional stolen bases as compared to last season. Most analysts will break the player pool into three segments:

  • Those who will not run regardless.
  • Those who don't need the extra benefits to be successful.
  • Those who will benefit from the new environment.
The key to this process will be figuring out exactly how big that last group will be, which is (at best) educated speculation. While it's not uniform, many teams adhere to the "75% success rate" mantra since that is considered to be the break-even point with respect to run-scoring potential. It stands to reason everyone's success rate will tick up a little bit for 2023, but those edging into the 75% territory may be afforded the green light more frequently.

10-Plus SB Attempts In 2022, Success Rate Between 70-76%​

Identifying these names is the "educated" part. Deciding the extent of any increase in 2023's success rate and/or attempts is the speculation aspect, although it can be framed with logic. If the other two groups of players (those who don't run and those who will run regardless of rules changes) are not going to account for the expected 20% overall increase, then it stands to reason that the increase of this group of players has to be greater than 20%.

While the cutoff points for the following list of names may seem arbitrary, we do need to set some endpoints. As such, it was decided that those stealing between 10-35 bags last season are the most likely to increase their running in 2023.

Players With 10-35 Stolen Bases In 2022​

Jorge Mateo35979.5%
Cedric Mullins341077.3%
Tommy Edman32391.4%
Randy Arozarena321272.7%
Bobby Witt Jr.30781.1%
Ronald Acuna Jr.291172.5%
Trea Turner27390.0%
Kyle Tucker25486.2%
Adolis Garcia25680.6%
Julio Rodriguez25778.1%
Marcus Semien25875.8%
Jake McCarthy23388.5%
Josh Rojas23388.5%
Isiah Kiner-Falefa22484.6%
J.T. Realmuto21195.5%
Myles Straw21195.5%
Thairo Estrada21677.8%
Dylan Moore21872.4%
Michael Harris II20290.9%
Nico Hoerner20290.9%
Andres Gimenez20387.0%
Ke'Bryan Hayes20580.0%
Jose Ramirez20774.1%
Christian Yelich19386.4%
Steven Kwan19579.2%
Jose Altuve18194.7%
Bubba Thompson18385.7%
Amed Rosario18481.8%
Elvis Andrus18481.8%
Dansby Swanson18772.0%
Starling Marte18966.7%
Andrew Velazquez17194.4%
Harrison Bader17385.0%
Kolten Wong17673.9%
Aaron Judge16384.2%
Whit Merrifield16576.2%
Francisco Lindor16672.7%
Daulton Varsho16672.7%
Victor Robles15478.9%
George Springer14287.5%
Jose Siri14287.5%
Cody Bellinger14382.4%
Tyler O'Neill14477.8%
Trevor Story130100.0%
Tim Anderson130100.0%
Sam Haggerty13192.9%
Freddie Freeman13381.3%
Nicky Lopez13381.3%
Jean Segura13668.4%
Bo Bichette13861.9%
Austin Slater12192.3%
Jace Peterson12192.3%
Eli White12192.3%
Mookie Betts12285.7%
Ha-Seong Kim12285.7%
Garrett Hampson12285.7%
Joey Wendle12380.0%
Bryson Stott12475.0%
Adam Engel12475.0%
Jazz Chisholm Jr.12570.6%
Rafael Ortega12763.2%
Nate Eaton11191.7%
Tony Kemp11191.7%
Seth Brown11284.6%
Jeremy Pena11284.6%
Luis Robert11378.6%
Bryce Harper11473.3%
Luke Williams11473.3%
Leody Taveras11568.8%
Ramon Laureano11664.7%
Adam Frazier11664.7%
Shohei Ohtani11955.0%
Kyle Schwarber10190.9%
Chris Taylor10190.9%
Billy Hamilton10190.9%
Luis Gonzalez10283.3%
Aaron Hicks10376.9%
Taylor Walls10376.9%
Oneil Cruz10471.4%
Brandon Marsh10471.4%
Cesar Hernandez10471.4%
Gleyber Torres10566.7%
Christopher Morel10758.8%
Sparing you the tedious math, a formula was set up to increase the SB opportunity based on last season's numbers in a bell curve fashion. Those in the middle had their chances spike by close to 35% while those on the high and low end of this list enjoyed "only" a 25% increase.

Final thoughts​

  • This is obviously going to be a work in progress as the spring goes on and we start to figure out if reports and results out of training camps are actual news or just noise. For example, the St. Louis Cardinals, Toronto Blue Jays and Boston Red Sox have all said they plan to run more this season. Well, there are always reports of this nature. Some come to fruition while others fail to manifest. Our projections are updated weekly and will incorporate "manager-speak" if it's deemed to be actionable. That said, it is incumbent upon each fantasy team manager to do their own homework and make decisions of this nature, based on how they read and interpret the reports.

  • With respect to rotisserie and category scoring, having fewer active players under the new ESPN standard format renders it even more important to focus on multi-category contributors. The low-HR/high-SB type of player is even less useful in our new format.
  • These "steals specialists" are probably best deployed on Mondays and Thursdays (lighter-schedule days) when you're trying to have as many active spots filled as possible. Because they aren't as helpful overall, they may be available on waivers to stream against teams whose battery has issues controlling the running game. Paying attention to team trends in-season may assist in identifying players who are indeed running more.
  • The same notion holds true for points formats. That is, players with a high SB success rate and little else to offer a fantasy manager may be the best options available to "burn and churn" on Mondays and Thursdays.
  • During the draft in any format, "breaking a tie" between players by going with ones on the above lists could prove profitable. Yes, any steals increase is already baked into their projection and ranking, but the eventual distribution of our expected 500 extra bags is not going to strictly follow our described model. Life is never that neat. Some will end up adding even more steals than predicted and some will ending up being less successful than we thought. It's just another example of where your gut has to come into play.
There are so many factors that come into play when it comes to setting player expectations for the upcoming season, with more than usual being art as opposed to science. Even so, knowing the logic and scientific framework behind the projections can help keep your speculation in the sensical realm. Good luck! Now go out there and get some Draft Day steals of your own!
Staff member
Jan 2, 2002

Fantasy baseball: Class of 2019 graduates to the 'Do Draft' list​


Fantasy baseball managers sure do love their drafts, but perhaps they pay little attention to the annual MLB amateur draft -- the one in which top, young talent from American colleges and high schools gets dispersed to big-league franchises. After all, unlike professional football and basketball, baseball players rarely impact fantasy leagues in their first few seasons and quite often it does not happen at all. Yes, things are very different in baseball.

In a related story, fantasy managers -- and my hand is raised -- have to love many of the players from the top of the 2019 amateur draft. In fact, when I looked at the fantasy teams I have already filled for this season, there was a common denominator when it came to younger players. Many came from that 2019 draft and it wasn't just the top two selections, Baltimore Orioles C Adley Rutschman and Kansas City Royals SS/3B Bobby Witt Jr. What a stacked draft class for fantasy managers to enjoy this and future seasons!

Arizona Diamondbacks OF Corbin Carroll should be an immediate superstar, a legitimate five-category roto threat. Chicago White Sox 1B/OF Andrew Vaughn should emerge as a reliable slugger. Washington Nationals SS CJ Abrams should secure a top lineup spot and steal myriad bases. Detroit Tigers OF Riley Greene and Texas Rangers 3B Josh Jung should both hit. Yes, the word "should" is a popular one here, and perhaps it is greedy to expect all these players to perform to expectation, but they each have the ability.

On the mound, there are also several young pitchers from this draft already among the top 30 in our rankings, led by Toronto Blue Jays RHP Alek Manoah, Cincinnati Reds LHP Nick Lodolo and Seattle Mariners RHP George Kirby.

Call it coincidence if you prefer, but the 2019 draft class is teeming with emerging talent and it sure seems a wise plan to draft these fellows onto fantasy rosters. This is a rare occurrence, really. Take the top of the 2018 draft, where Tigers RHP Casey Mize and San Francisco Giants C Joey Bart are not exactly fantasy stars. Neither is Philadelphia Phillies 3B Alec Bohm, current Chicago Cubs 2B Nick Madrigal nor especially current Mariners OF Jarred Kelenic. That top 10 is a bit of a mess.

The top 10 from 2019 not only features proven, top-100 fantasy targets -- several of them considered franchise building blocks such as Rutschman, who may already be the top catcher in the sport and 30-HR/30-SB threat Witt -- but also other players who should at least pique our collective interest in deeper formats. The Oakland Athletics should give former Miami Marlins OF JJ Bleday and former Atlanta Braves farmhand C Shea Langeliers chances to play. The New York Mets should give 3B Brett Baty a chance for regular playing time. The New York Yankees should do the same with SS Anthony Volpe.

Fantasy managers should always strive for a reasonable balance on their teams, taking some risks in concert with upside and reward, and that means a mix of both younger and older players, durable and brittle options, taking into account positional needs as well. Of course, we should not target every one of these 2019 amateur draft options for one team. That is risky. Mix in safe, reliable veterans as well. But don't be surprised if Vaughn finally clubs 30 home runs, or Abrams steals 30 bases and Lodolo strikes out 200 hitters. Perhaps Carroll and Volpe earn top rookie honors or Rutschman ends up in the Hall of Fame. Dare to dream!

Here are the other players on my annual "Do Draft" list, which takes into important account their potential for fantasy statistics and impact, in coordination with draft day investment. We would all love to get Phillies SS Trea Turner and Yankees OF Aaron Judge on every team, but they are among the earliest fantasy picks. For this exercise, we are using roto leagues as a baseline, rather than ESPN's standard points format, unless noted.

RHPs Justin Verlander and Max Scherzer, New York Mets: Age is simply a number and the fact these future Hall of Fame right-handers combine for nearly 80 years of life on earth is not remotely a deterrent for me. Verlander was the best pitcher in baseball last season -- the lone starting pitcher to finish among the top 10 on the overall Player Rater. Scherzer did not pitch as much, but he was fantastic as well. Do not expect either to make 30 starts, but when they do pitch, they will pitch well. I am surely not fading them.

1B Paul Goldschmidt and 3B Nolan Arenado, St. Louis Cardinals: The corner infielders for the defending NL Central champions seem like bargains to me in ESPN ADP, going late in Round 3 or early in Round 4. They combined for 65 home runs and 218 RBI last season, each hitting for average and providing a handful of stolen bases. We get durability and reliable run production here, with little risk. Not every fantasy pick needs to come gleaming with upside. The Cardinals, by the way, boast upside rookie Jordan Walker, too. He is not popular in ESPN drafts, but watch him make the team and hit 30 home runs this season.

OFs Kris Bryant, Colorado Rockies and Nick Castellanos, Philadelphia Phillies: These high-profile free agent outfielders from the 2021 offseason underachieved in their debut seasons for their new clubs. Bryant, 31, dealt with back and foot injuries early in the season and never recovered, hitting for average but little power in his 42 games and 181 PA. Fantasy managers coveted the proven Bryant due to the lure of him playing half his games at Denver's Coors Field. Bryant never did homer there. Castellanos, meanwhile, played in 136 games, but hit only 13 home runs in his new home. He is a proven run producer and hitting in Philadelphia's Citizens Bank Park is also fun. These veterans are going well outside the top 100 in ESPN ADP. That is entirely why they are on this list.

RHPs Joe Ryan, Tyler Mahle, Jhoan Duran, Minnesota Twins: Three very different pitchers from the same team are clear bargains in Round 17 and later. Ryan won 13 games as a rookie with a 3.55 ERA and a stronger-than-expected strikeout rate. Mahle struck out 210 hitters for the Reds in 2021, but he appears to be healthy after a challenging season due to shoulder woes. Duran is a dynamic, power reliever who just needs save chances to become a top-five fantasy relief pitcher. Bet on skills, and the roles will come.

J.D. Martinez, DH, Los Angeles Dodgers: Martinez, 35, hit only 16 home runs for the 2022 Boston Red Sox, but I refuse to believe it means he is not capable of doubling that total. After all, Martinez hit .286 with 28 home runs just one year prior. The Dodgers are one of baseball's wisest teams and Martinez should bounce back. He will see plenty of run-producing opportunity hitting behind Mookie Betts, Freddie Freeman and others. I like several young Dodgers as well, starting with 1B Miguel Vargas (likely to play 2B) and OF James Outman, but for deeper formats.

Hunter Brown, SP, Houston Astros: The unsurprising injury to Lance McCullers Jr. opens up a rotation spot for Brown, a 2019 fifth-round pick who posted a 2.27 ERA between Triple-A and the major leagues last season. Again, as with the Dodgers, the Astros know what they are doing. I absolutely bet on the better franchises in fantasy drafts. Fellow Astros Framber Valdez and Cristian Javier are both top-100 overall picks and smart targets, but Brown is barely going in drafts at all.

Vaughn Grissom, 2B, Atlanta Braves: The team's new shortstop with Dansby Swanson now gone to the Cubs, Grissom has the skills to best Swanson on the Player Rater. Grissom, who skipped Triple-A last season and helped the team after the Ozzie Albies injury, is a 20-HR/20-SB threat who should hit for a strong batting average as well. While fantasy managers cannot expect him to hit atop the Atlanta lineup, give it time. Look how great the team's center fielder Michael Harris II turned out. Harris is going in Round 8 and, though he may deserve that, it's Grissom who is the better value at least 10 rounds later.

SS Oswald Peraza and OF Oswaldo Cabrera, New York Yankees: Here are two young starters in a strong lineup being underestimated by fantasy managers. Peraza hit 19 home runs and stole 33 bases at Triple-A last season, and certainly was not overwhelmed in his month in the majors. Anthony Volpe is the better prospect, but the Yankees can be patient with him. Cabrera is less of a certainty at the plate and for playing time, but the Yankees cannot expect full seasons from Giancarlo Stanton, Aaron Hicks and Harrison Bader. Cabrera had a 24-HR 19-SB season in Double-A in 2021.
Staff member
Jan 2, 2002

Do Not Draft: Buxton, Sale and others to avoid in fantasy baseball​


Major League Baseball is getting everyone excited about the stolen base by adjusting its rules, but this hardly means fantasy managers should simply go with the same old speedsters from last season. Miami Marlins 2B/3B Jon Berti and Baltimore Orioles SS Jorge Mateo led their respective leagues in the category last season. Neither is likely to do so again. In fact, there is hardly a guarantee these fellows play all that much again, and as a result, they make for poor fantasy investments.

My annual "Do Not Draft" list for fantasy baseball always comes with the important -- yet often overlooked -- caveat that we are talking about a player's value in comparison to my actual thoughts on his likely statistical output -- and we use average draft position to sort out the value. If you think Player X has 10th-round value but is going in Round 5, then -- voila! -- do not draft him there. Try to wait. In the case of Berti and Mateo, however, I'm not sure they are worth drafting at all.

We should also make the important point that stolen bases matter far more in rotisserie/category leagues than in points formats. As the ESPN fantasy staff's roto dinosaur, still keeping a 5x5 mindset, stolen bases matter quite a bit, and fantasy managers should target good players who provide myriad statistics to help a fantasy team. Neither Berti nor Mateo approached a .700 OPS last season. Berti is a utility/bench guy, ideally. Mateo stars defensively, but that .267 OBP is a big problem. The Marlins and Orioles might not be contenders, but they must and should do better.

Playing time matters in fantasy baseball, and I tend to harp on a player's lack of durability or injury risk in this annual column. However, baseball's attempt to make the game more exciting has fantasy managers lusting for significant stolen base options. Berti and Mateo combined for more than 900 plate appearances last season, and they really did not deserve them. Berti stole 41 bases in 46 chances, but much of that came in June when the Marlins let him start 26 games. He was 18-of-19 in steals over that stretch. Miami's current infield features newcomers Luis Arraez and Jean Segura, with Joey Wendle at shortstop. Berti is a likely reserve.

Mateo, who might have earned a Gold Glove last season had he hit better (yeah, it's silly that offense plays a role in a defensive voting award, but that's baseball), might start the season as Baltimore's shortstop, but that might not last long. Gunnar Henderson, a Rookie of the Year candidate, for sure, can play both shortstop and third base. Jordan Westburg, another top prospect, also can handle either spot in the infield, and Joey Ortiz is just about ready for the majors. Ortiz is, like Mateo, a gifted defender. He's also, unlike Mateo, an emerging hitter. Mateo had one of the worst walk rates in baseball last season (5.1%). His starting days are numbered.

It is easy to say that fantasy managers looking for stolen bases should target the likes of Trea Turner, Ronald Acuna Jr. and Bobby Witt Jr. Who would not want these players? Look for the category early in roto drafts and aim to avoid the Berti/Mateo types later. We used to recommend that fantasy managers avoid speedster Billy Hamilton because all he did for a fantasy team was steal bases. He could not hit for average or provide power. Power is always at a premium, and rostering anyone who lacks power makes it more difficult to compete in the home run and RBI categories. Arraez might win another batting title, but he offers little power. With smaller active rosters in ESPN's updated game, it is hard to rely on anyone who lacks power.

Here are other players who, based on their National Fantasy Baseball Championship roto average draft position (we cannot use ESPN ADP for this exercise, since it is based on our standard points format), I will not be drafting in roto leagues.

Edwin Diaz, RP, New York Mets: The league's top relief pitcher is going in the top 30 of NFBC drafts, which is too early for me. I recognize the value of a safe, reliable closer in a roto or points format, especially with so much uncertainty, but missing out on a top hitter or ace (Diaz over Francisco Lindor, Nolan Arenado or Sandy Alcantara?) is too much for me. Let's just throw any relief pitchers going in the top 50 into this grouping as well. After all, we all saw Josh Hader struggle at times last season. Do you really feel safe with Hader in 2023?

Jacob deGrom, SP, Texas Rangers: The former Met found a monster payday in the American League, and there should be little doubt about how deGrom performs when he is on the mound. He has a career 2.52 ERA and 1.00 WHIP, and he has struck out more than 30% of all the batters he has faced. He has won two Cy Young Awards. However, deGrom also has made only 26 starts over the past two seasons, succumbing to shoulder and elbow ailments. He is 34. Volume matters, and I find it hard to justify a top-30 selection on someone with so much injury risk.

Cleveland Guardians middle infielders: The dynamic and surprising duo of Amed Rosario (SS) and Andres Gimenez (2B) combined for 59 walks in 1,227 plate appearances last season. Yes, they also delivered 28 home runs and 38 stolen bases between them, along with strong batting averages, but the lack of plate discipline makes it unlikely they can hit for average annually. They simply do not feel like top-100 players (certainly not in points formats), and there no longer is an active middle infield spot in ESPN leagues (or corner infield either), making it less likely to take risks.

Byron Buxton, OF, Minnesota Twins: A wonderful player to watch hit and defend when healthy, but you know the problem here. Buxton, 29, has made it to 100 games and 400 plate appearances in only one of his eight big league seasons, and he's not exactly Mike Trout at the plate, either. Buxton hit .224 last season with a 30.4% strikeout rate. He stole 29 bases in that magical -- and mostly healthy -- 2017 season, but he attempted only six steals last season (in his 92 games). Hope for the best, but brittle players generally do not suddenly become durable as they age. Buxton as a later-round pick sounds great, but it's not going to happen. By the way, new Boston Red Sox SS Adalberto Mondesi is now a late-round pick and thus gets to avoid his annual ridicule/shaming here.

Chris Sale, SP, Boston Red Sox: Sale, as with Buxton, might be healthy today, but what can we expect tomorrow? Sale has made a mere 11 starts over the past three seasons. Unlike Buxton, he proved himself as one of fantasy's finest for a seven-year period, making the All-Star team each season and earning myriad Cy Young Award votes, but we are investing for this season and beyond. Sale turns 34 in late March. As with deGrom, assume Sale pitches well when he pitches, but volume is the issue. Other starting pitchers worthy of mention here include Houston Astros RHP Lance McCullers Jr. (he's already out until at least April), Los Angeles Dodgers RHP Dustin May (innings limit in his return from Tommy John surgery) and Milwaukee Brewers LHP Aaron Ashby (shoulder woes always concern us).

Pennsylvania's third basemen: Neither Pittsburgh Pirates defender Ke'Bryan Hayes nor Philadelphia Phillies non-defender Alec Bohm are worthy of spots in ESPN's new, shallower format. A highlight defensive player, Hayes simply has not hit enough to warrant a roster spot. Blame the home ballpark or a low fly ball rate or everyone expecting too much, but Hayes has slugged just .386 through his first 1,051 big league plate appearances. That's well below an acceptable level for a corner infielder, and there is little sign of things changing. Bohm, a brutal defensive option, has slugged a sad .391 in his career. Yes, he hit .280 last season but only .253 with a discouraging .629 OPS versus right-handed pitching, and there is far more right-handed pitching out there. Bohm hit .352 off left-handers. Fine, so utilize him that way in daily formats.

All Colorado Rockies pitchers: Closer Daniel Bard is the lone Rockies hurler going in the first 500 picks of NFBC leagues, which is smart, but we really should have doubts about him repeating his stunning 2022 season. Bard, 37, did mature last year as he relied more on a hard sinker to retire left-handed hitters, but he was also fortunate to escape with a 1.79 ERA, regardless of his home venue. Bard enjoyed a .221 BABIP, the fifth most generous among qualified relief hurlers (avoid Paul Sewald and his .158 BABIP, too!). Bard did not "conquer" Coors Field. He just had a magical season. And don't think about any other Rockies such as "ace" German Marquez for road games, either. Marquez did post a 3.43 road ERA last season, but that road mark was a bloated 5.38 in 2021.
Staff member
Jan 2, 2002

Fantasy baseball: Reason to worry about Carlos Rodon, Yankees' rotation?​


Fantasy baseball managers tend to accept the unlikelihood of squeezing a full season of major league starts from myriad, established starting pitchers, including Texas Rangers RHP Jacob deGrom, Boston Red Sox LHP Chris Sale and Los Angeles Dodgers LHP Clayton Kershaw, but they expect quality statistics when they perform.

New York Yankees LHP Carlos Rodon entered the 2022 season in this class, and then he made a career-high 31 excellent starts for the San Francisco Giants. He was a top-10 fantasy starter. Rodon seems unlikely to make 31 starts for this year's Yankees as he is sidelined with a left forearm strain, and he will begin the regular season on the injured list.

Whether he misses a few starts or a whole lot of starts remains problematic, but those that have already invested in his statistical services must be at least a little concerned, while he falls in our rankings due to the uncertainty. In fact, when it comes to New York's rotation, there is quite a bit of it.

RHP Gerrit Cole, arguably the top starting pitcher in fantasy, capably leads the staff but surprising LHP Nestor Cortes (hamstring) has yet to pitch this spring and RHP Luis Severino, who made 19 starts last season, has permitted five home runs in 8 2/3 spring innings. At least he is presumably healthy.

RHP Frankie Montas (shoulder) may not pitch at all this season. The Yankees really need Rodon, gifted a six-year, $162-million contract a few months ago, to make regular starts.

These are the Yankees, employing powerful OF Aaron Judge and carrying lofty annual expectations, and fantasy managers gravitate toward their players. For now, Rodon should not drop too far in rankings and current investors should not panic. The organization claims this is a minor muscle strain, not related to elbow management and similar to one he dealt with in May 2022 that did not cost him any starts.

Rodon boasts a 2.67 ERA and 0.99 WHIP over the past two seasons over 55 starts, striking out 34% of batters faced and leading all starters with a 2.42 FIP. He should pitch well when he pitches. Take the under on him making 31 starts again, though.

RHPs Domingo German and Clarke Schmidt are next in line and fantasy managers should consider them in the latter rounds of deeper drafts.

German, 30, won 18 games with a 4.03 ERA in 2019, but he dealt with shoulder problems and declining velocity since then.

Schmidt, 27, a once-top prospect who debuted in 2020, thrived in a swingman role for the Yankees last season, though he occasionally struggles to throw strikes. RHP prospects Randy Vasquez and Will Warren may have to debut this summer.

In other Yankees news, starting CF Harrison Bader (oblique) could miss some or all of April, forcing Judge or Aaron Hicks to handle the position, and perhaps opening regular plate appearances for the appealing Oswaldo Cabrera, who probably deserves to play over Hicks anyway.

Rafael Ortega, who thrived versus right-handed pitching for the 2021 Chicago Cubs, could earn a job. Manager Aaron Boone wants Giancarlo Stanton to play outfield as well, though durability is hardly a strength there.

Other weekend thoughts​

Congratulations to Arizona Diamondbacks OF Corbin Carroll and Washington Nationals C Keibert Ruiz for agreeing to lucrative, eight-year contract extensions with their franchises, buying out their arbitration and early free agent years. Carroll, a popular NL Rookie of the Year pick, played 32 big league games in 2022. He is already a top-20 outfielder in ESPN average live drafts, luring investors with his power/speed profile. Ruiz is more of a later-round selection, but still among the top 10 at his position and, due to circumstance, could hit in the middle of his team's lineup, which is appealing.

The Miami Marlins, who should be relying on young players as they rebuild, decided to sign veterans 1B Yuli Gurriel and SS Jose Iglesias to minor league contracts. Each seems likely to make the team though, in fairness, neither would really push aside a young player (Joey Wendle, Garrett Cooper). Gurriel, 38, struggled last season, but he won the 2021 AL batting title for the Houston Astros, hitting .319. Iglesias, 33, hit a hollow .292 for last season's Colorado Rockies. Ignore each player in ESPN drafts, but in deeper formats, they seem likely to play, and plate appearances matter in deeper leagues.

San Francisco Giants OF Mitch Haniger (oblique) could miss the start of the season, which is not exactly surprising based on his injury history. Haniger played in nearly every game during the 2018 and 2021 seasons, but he missed all of 2020 and more than 100 games last season with various and often unlucky ailments. Haniger is barely a top-50 outfielder in ESPN ADP, and even with pristine health, expecting big power in his new home ballpark is a challenge.

New York Mets OF Starling Marte (groin) made his spring debut Friday, hitting a home run in his first game, and then he left his second game after being hit in the head with a pitch. Marte, 34, is not expected to miss much playing time. He is considerably less valuable in standard points formats than in roto ones due to his skill set, which is sketchy for plate discipline and dependent on stolen bases, and he has missed more than 40 games in each of the past two seasons.
Even though two weeks remain of spring training, franchises are starting to farm out players that fantasy managers hoped to win starting jobs. Oakland Athletics OF JJ Bleday is one example. Bleday is off to Triple-A Las Vegas despite decent spring statistics. Defensive standout Cristian Pache singled and tripled in Sunday's game, and fights for the starting role with speedster Esteury Ruiz, a base stealing stalwart. The Athletics may not win many games, but fantasy managers in deeper leagues should pay attention to who earns playing time.
I don't know about you, but I cannot get enough of the World Baseball Classic, which started last week and features myriad big-league options on so many teams. Washington Nationals 1B Joey Meneses slugged a pair of home runs for Mexico in their surprising 11-5 win over the United States on Sunday night. Meneses, 30, hit .324 with 13 home runs in his 56-game debut last season, and fantasy managers may not believe he is capable of hitting to that level this season, but his WBC performance may spark more interest. Try to avoid analyzing pitchers in the WBC, as most are compromised by pitch counts and altered spring routines. Cleveland Guardians RHP Cal Quantrill could not escape the first inning for Canada Sunday. Resist the urge to adjust his ranking.
Staff member
Jan 2, 2002

Fantasy baseball: Carlos Correa, Jacob deGrom highlight injuries of note​


Perhaps the most puzzling offseason free agency "injury" situation involved Carlos Correa. Initially, it appeared that Correa would land with the San Francisco Giants on a blockbuster 13-year, $350 million contract but that deal fell apart at the eleventh hour due to "a difference of opinion over the results of Carlos' physical examination," according to Giants President of Baseball Operations, Farhan Zaidi.

Then, the New York Mets appeared as if they were going to swoop in on the shortstop, with a nearly equally lucrative deal (12 years, $315 million), but that also fell apart due to similar concerns. Ultimately, Correa landed back with his most recent team, the Minnesota Twins, on a six-year, $200 million agreement (with team options extending another four years and player-performance vesting opportunities built into the contract).

Naturally, questions arose as to what "physical" concerns would lead two teams -- both of which were initially so excited about the prospect of adding Correa that they offered huge sums of money and lengthy contracts -- to pull the plug? Neither team was able to publicly discuss specifics around their decision, but one need only look at the final deal Correa accepted with the Twins to read the tea leaves.

The main difference? Length. It has been widely reported that concern about Correa's surgically repaired right ankle and how it would fare over time were the ultimate deal-breakers when it came to long-term guaranteed dollars.

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So, why the concern? After all, Correa injured his ankle way back in 2014 while he was playing in the minor leagues, fracturing his fibula on an awkward slide into third base and subsequently undergoing surgery to have a stabilizing metal plate implanted and to repair ligament damage. It ended his season, but he entered 2015 healthy, made his MLB debut that June and hasn't missed any time due to the ankle since. In fact, he's gone on to become a Gold Glove shortstop (2021) and just last year led all MLB shortstops in OPS (.834) while ranking second in OBP (.366) and third in batting average (.291).

He did have a brief scare with the ankle last September when he came up limping following an attempted steal of second base. Correa later said that when he was tagged out, "He just hit my plate, just felt kind of numb, vibrating." However, he played the next day and concerns about his ankle were all but forgotten -- that is, until the offseason.

The concern from Correa's suitors was more about what would happen as the ankle continued to age under the stress of the position he plays. It is not uncommon to see changes on imaging over time in an area that has previously suffered orthopedic trauma. Once those degenerative changes are present, the expectation is that they will continue to progress over time -- perhaps at an accelerated rate, depending on activity.

Reports of Correa's MRI playing a role in teams trying to negotiate down the years on his deal hints at the presence of those indicators of "wear and tear" that could eventually limit his playing time. In a detailed interview with The Athletic, Correa expressed frustration as to how the deals with the Giants and Mets fell apart based on future projections around his ankle when he has not experienced any problems with it to date. "I've played at an elite level where my movement has never been compromised. It was just a year ago when I won a Platinum Glove at shortstop, one of the most demanding positions, where you have to move the most."

From there, Correa went on to point out that ever since his ankle surgery he has incorporated extra stability training into his routine and he plans to make it even more of an emphasis now, to help ensure his ankle stays healthy. To be sure, no one can predict the future, and certainly imaging is only part of the overall picture. Imaging does not always correlate with functionality. There are numerous MLB athletes actively playing at an elite level right now who, based on their MRIs alone, would have people believing it impossible. Still, it must be incorporated as a part of any future projection for a team doing due diligence prior to making a significant investment.

Will Correa be playing at an elite level in 10-12 years? Will the organizations who passed on him end up wondering what might have been? No one can say for sure. However, looking ahead to the 2023 season specifically, there is no immediate cause for concern for a player who not only has had zero issues with the most talked about ankle in baseball, but who has also posted excellent numbers at his position over the last two years while playing the second and third most games in his major league career since 2016.

Players with 2023 concerns​

On the other hand, there are indeed a few star players with injury concerns heading into 2023. Let's take a closer look at the reasons why.

Jacob deGrom, SP, Texas Rangers: After a remarkable three-year string of seasons with over 30 starts (2017-2019), the shortened 2020 season intervened, limiting deGrom to only 68 innings pitched. He hasn't been the same since. Is this coincidence or is the "disruption of routine" a culprit? Who is to say? Either way, 2021 represented a sharp contrast for the previously reliable ace as he was limited to just 15 starts due to elbow issues.

Yes, deGrom (who originally underwent Tommy John surgery in 2011 and a subsequent ulnar nerve procedure in 2016) was able to recover with rest and rehab, rejoining the Mets for the following spring training. Unfortunately, he made just one start in the spring of 2022 before shoulder soreness sidelined him. That soreness turned out to be a scapular stress reaction (a bony injury that can be a precursor to a stress fracture) and deGrom did not return until August.

When he did return, deGrom had his full arsenal available and was dealing over 11 starts. The question heading into 2023 is whether he can pick up where he left off. He is currently on a slower ramp-up this spring due to left-sided tightness (which, while not considered serious, is still something to note).

The bottom line? Despite consecutive years with injuries to his throwing arm, deGrom has always returned to form when he ultimately re-takes the mound. He remains a force when he is pitching and, most notably, has maintained his velocity. Still, he is 34 years old with a recent injury history that reflects the mileage of his career. Can deGrom hold up to an entire season of pitching demands with his new team? The trend over the last few years suggests that it's unlikely, but there's no reason to doubt the two-time Cy Young winner can still deliver premium results when he's got the ball in his hand.

Clayton Kershaw, SP, Los Angeles Dodgers: Kershaw has given clear indications that he is winding down his career, perhaps most notably by agreeing to only a one-year deal with the Dodgers for 2023. The 35-year-old southpaw has no doubt taken his health into consideration when contemplating his desire to continue to pitch, especially given that his health has perhaps been his biggest limiting factor of late.

Ever since a herniated disc cost him nearly two months of playing time in 2016, Kershaw has been sidelined with some type of spine-related issue in five of his last seven seasons. In 2021, upper extremity problems entered the picture as he missed a couple of months with shoulder soreness, only to return and then be forced to end his season early due to forearm soreness. In 2022, he again missed roughly one month on two separate occasions due to low back/sacroiliac joint issues.

The good news is that Kershaw is healthy coming into the 2023 season, at least so far. Despite his episodes of missed time over recent years, when he's been on the mound, Kershaw has remained the ace with the breaking pitches the Dodgers have come to rely upon (albeit with his average velocity down a tick from when he was in his prime). Ultimately, Kershaw remains a strong performer when available, but it should not come as a surprise if he misses some time over the course of the season.

Fernando Tatis, Jr., SS, San Diego Padres: When Tatis was suspended for 80 games last August for violating the league's PED policy, it may have yielded some surprise health benefits for both the young superstar and his organization. Just weeks after his suspension, Tatis underwent surgery to repair a torn labrum in his left shoulder, a shoulder he had repeatedly subluxed/dislocated on multiple occasions. With each repeat episode, the chance of recurrence increased, yet Tatis had previously been resistant to a surgical fix.

Between stabilizing his shoulder in September and undergoing a procedure to alter the hardware in his left wrist in October (the same wrist he had injured in the pre-2022 offseason which then required surgery when he arrived at training camp, costing him the early months of the season prior to his PED suspension), Tatis has addressed what would have otherwise been the primary concerns for him heading into this year. The suspension afforded him ample time to fully rehabilitate his left arm and he has been participating this spring without limitations.

While it may take a bit for him to fully regain the timing of his swing and his home run power (as is often the case after a procedure to, essentially, tighten up the shoulder) there will no longer be the apprehension that his arm could slip out of the joint at any moment. Even Tatis has described his shoulder as feeling "really secure," noting at the Padres Fan Fest in February he is "as close to 100 percent" as he's been in the last two years.

Bryce Harper, DH, Philadelphia Phillies: Sure, Harper is coming off surgery on his right UCL (ulnar collateral ligament) and won't likely be available to play until mid-season. However, this is about injury concern going forward once Harper is able to return. That return is expected to be staged with Harper's early outings likely to be as a DH, perhaps around the All-Star Break, with a later potential return to right field.

Here's the takeaway: Don't worry -- for several reasons. First, the November surgery was performed by one of the most renowned surgeons in baseball, who also happens to be experienced in this particular procedure, which is an important consideration. Harper underwent successful right elbow UCL reconstruction/repair with ulnar nerve transposition with Dr. Neal ElAttrache.

The procedure is considered to be a hybrid of a reconstruction along with a repair and InternalBrace of the native ligament. What does that mean? It adds to the benefits of reconstruction by repairing what remains of the athlete's original ligament and reinforcing it with a synthetic FiberTape that serves as a check-rein protection. This contributes to a strong construct for healing while providing increased confidence for the athlete as he stresses the healing ligament during rehabilitation and return to play.

One of the benefits for Harper when it comes to regaining the timing and power of his swing is the fact he remained active as a DH even after injuring his elbow last season. Much like pitcher Shohei Ohtani, who continued to participate as a hitter even after his injured UCL prevented him from throwing, Harper's ligament injury was to his forward arm as a batter. The UCL sits on the inner or medial side of the elbow, an area that is far less stressed when hitting from the opposite side. Harper couldn't throw with his injured right arm (and therefore couldn't play in the field) but he could still hit as a lefty.

And, hit he did. His power remained intact until he was sidelined in late June due to a fractured left thumb. His post-season stats showed he had overcome his thumb injury as he helped take the Phillies to the World Series. The lack of overall downtime from hitting even after his ligament injury will be a bonus as he starts to hit again. As a non-pitcher, Harper's road to return to play is shorter as he is not subject to the repetitive violent motion of pitching.

Still, he will have to be able to throw for distance and accuracy before returning to the field. Typically, a position player can initiate throwing around four months post-operatively and resume throwing in a game several months later -- hence the rationale for him to return as a hitter in advance of his return to playing defense. Harper has said he is not placing any timelines on his return, which is sensible given that every rehab effort is an individual one and it is a lengthy process. There will be good days and perhaps some less than good days as his elbow adapts to the demands of baseball but the overall rate of success following these procedures is high. Harper's own teammate Rhys Hoskins underwent a UCL repair in 2020 and has not had issues with his elbow since his return.

While Harper's total playing time is going to be shortened this year as a factor of his recovery, there should be optimism for what he can deliver at the plate in the second half of the season and confidence in his elbow going forward.

Quick snapshots​

Chris Sale, SP, Boston Red Sox: The last three seasons can't be what Sale envisioned when he signed a contract extension with the Red Sox in 2019. The pandemic-shortened 2020 season coincided with Sale undergoing Tommy John surgery and he didn't return to big-league action until late 2021. In 2022, a trifecta of injuries derailed virtually his entire season (a rib cage stress fracture, a fractured left pinkie via a comebacker, and a right wrist injury sustained in a bicycle accident). As a result, it's hard to fully assess what his post-Tommy John profile looks like.

A now-healthy Sale has been solid early this spring, hitting the mid-90s on his fastball and striking out opponents, suggesting an encouraging return to form. His recent injury history looms large however and at a soon-to-be 34 years old with over 1,600 MLB innings under his belt, Sale's risk of missing time is elevated.

Walker Buehler, SP, Los Angeles Dodgers: Buehler's 2022 season began to fall apart early as elbow soreness turned into a flexor strain, then surgery to remove a bone spur, ultimately ending in his second Tommy John (revision) surgery in August. Recovery from revision surgery is often a hard road back so, while it's not impossible Buehler could appear for some innings late in the year, a true return is not likely until 2024.

Trevor Story, 2B, Boston Red Sox: Story underwent a right elbow UCL repair with InternalBrace augmentation in January of this year and recently initiated baseball activity in the form of light fielding. The recovery timeline typically runs around six months, although it's always important to note that individual timelines will vary. The Red Sox have placed him on the 60-day IL and have promised to bring him along gradually. Expectations should be guarded until the back half of the season.

Byron Buxton, OF, Minnesota Twins: Buxton has played over 100 games just once in his major league career -- and that was back in 2017. The latest culprits keeping him off the field were last year's knee and hip soft tissue injuries, one of which required a minor arthroscopic procedure in the offseason. The Twins have indicated they will take it slowly with Buxton this spring (is there any other choice?), but his talent can't outrun his injury history and subsequent risk.

Kris Bryant, OF, Colorado Rockies: Bryant's plantar fasciitis got so bad in the middle of last season that he could barely put weight on his foot and, ultimately, it led to an early shutdown. While the extended rest along with an altered offseason training program appear to have helped Bryant to be without limitations this spring, there lurks a risk of the discomfort returning. Only time will tell whether the issue merely went into temporary hibernation while baseball was on hold for Bryant or whether it has fully resolved.

Nothing Can Stop What is Coming!!!
Jan 4, 2005

SP Rankings​

1Corbin BurnesMIL
2Sandy AlcantaraMIA
3Aaron NolaPHI
4Gerrit ColeNYY
5Spencer StriderATL
6Max ScherzerNYM
7Jacob deGromTEX
8Shane McClanahanTB
9Justin VerlanderNYM
10Brandon WoodruffMIL
11Luis CastilloSEA
12Dylan CeaseCWS
13Zack WheelerPHI
14Shane BieberCLE
15Carlos RodonNYY
16Cristian JavierHOU
17Alek ManoahTOR
18Kevin GausmanTOR
19Julio UriasLAD
20Robbie RaySEA
21Max FriedATL
22Yu DarvishSD
23Zac GallenARI
24Triston McKenzieCLE
25Framber ValdezHOU
26Joe MusgroveSD
27Luis SeverinoNYY
28Kyle WrightATL
29Nestor CortesNYY
30Nick LodoloCIN

1. Corbin Burnes, Milwaukee Brewers

I went with Burnes in my top spot, though the top four are all extremely close. The Brewers let the righty pile up a career-high 202 innings and he went a solid 12-8 in his 33 starts with a 2.85 xFIP, 10.83 K/9 and 0.97 WHIP. His strikeout rate was a little down and his home run was a little up, but he still managed an impressive all-around season.

After losing his arbitration hearing this offseason, he should be fired up to prove his value to the team, as he continues to feast on the NL Central and stack up plenty of strikeouts. He is projected for another dominant season and should not disappoint if you take him as the first pitcher off the board.

5. Spencer Strider, Atlanta Braves

Strider is the fifth option on my board, but I definitely think he could emerge as the clear No. 1 SP by the time we make this list next year. The Mustache Man arrived in the Majors last year as a 23-year-old and made 20 starts and 31 appearances while compiling a ridiculous 13.81 K/9 to go with his 1.83 FIP and 0.99 WHIP.

While his strikeout rate is projected to dip slightly in a full season as a starter, he is still expected to be among the league leaders in that stat, which is critical for Best Ball production. He did deal with an oblique injury at the end of last season, but when he was healthy there were not many better options. Strider was edged out for the Rookie of the Year award by his teammate Michael Harris II, but don’t be surprised if he sets his sights on a Cy Young this year. His supporting cast is exceptional, and the Braves have shown a willingness to let their starting pitchers pile up innings. After a sharp spring, Strider is definitely worth targeting early in drafts as soon as the biggest SP names are off the board. If he builds on his breakthrough, he could end up being a great pick if you get him in the second-round or even at the end of the first-round depending on your league size.

11. Luis Castillo, Seattle Mariners

Castillo was shipped to the Mariners at the trade deadline last season, and he immediately benefited from the change in scenery. Not only did the roster around him improve dramatically, but he also got a massive park upgrade, moving from Great American Ballpark to T-Mobile Park, which is vastly more pitcher-friendly.

In his 11 starts for Seattle, Castillo posted a 10.61 K/9 rate, 2.91 FIP and 1.10 WHIP. The Mariners liked what they saw so much that they locked him up with a five-year, $108 million contract extension before the end of the season. Castillo helped Seattle to the playoffs and pitches well against the Astros and Blue Jays. He doesn’t quite crack my top ten, but he’s definitely a great option I like from the second-tier of pitchers.

30. Nick Lodolo, Cincinnati Reds

Despite the fact that the Reds are a mess and play in a very hitter-friendly park, I’m still extremely high on Lodolo coming into this season. He squeaks into my top 30 based on the sky-high upside brought by his strikeout potential.

Last season, Lodolo made his MLB debut and went just 4-7 with a 3.90 FIP and 1.25 WHIP. However, he did showcase good stuff with an 11.41 K/9 rate. Throughout his rise to the Majors, the lefty has piled up punchouts at a prolific rate. He had a 13.5 K/9 in Triple-A over 2021-22 before his promotion and a 13.91 K/9 rate in Double-A in 2021.

Lodolo has the stuff to improve on his strong rookie season and should hit his incredible ceiling often enough to be a regular in your starters throughout the season. He is a little risky since he’s unproven, so if you reach on Lodolo, be sure to build in some reliable options into your depth later in the draft.
Staff member
Jan 2, 2002

Fantasy baseball: Impact of Jose Altuve injury and other weekend happenings​


The emotion-filled World Baseball Classic has been exhilarating to watch, combining well-played baseball by some of the greatest athletes in the sport with much pride in country, and featuring late-inning heroics from Philadelphia Phillies SS Trea Turner and others. However, a second major injury removed a significant player from competition, greatly affecting fantasy baseball drafts as well.

On Wednesday, New York Mets RP Edwin Diaz tore a tendon in his right knee celebrating Puerto Rico's big win. Diaz was the top relief pitcher off the board in ESPN average live drafts, and he is likely to miss the entire 2023 regular season. The Mets have yet to clarify their new closer situation, though many presume veteran David Robertson will handle the saves.

This weekend, Jose Altuve, leadoff hitter for Venezuela and the Houston Astros, fractured his right thumb when a wayward Daniel Bard pitch (many of them were wayward, actually) struck him on Saturday night. Altuve seemed to know right away something was amiss. It was. Surgery is pending and Altuve, a top-25 fantasy pick, may not play again until June, missing roughly a third of the upcoming season.

These situations are mildly different, as Altuve remains worthy of a selection in all drafts, though investors will need to be patient. Thumb injuries are notorious for sapping power, too, and a big part of Altuve's appeal is that he hit 59 home runs over the last two seasons. He finished last season as the No. 11 hitter on the Player Rater, and he tied for 13th in points formats. I moved him outside the top 100 in roto rankings, but he remains ahead of Phillies OF Bryce Harper (elbow), who is expected to miss more time.

While many will eagerly watch who the Astros employ at second base in spring games this week, we should be more interested in who assumes leadoff duties. Altuve led off in 137 of the 162 games last season, scoring 103 runs. Second-year SS Jeremy Pena and platoon OF Chas McCormick were next, leading off eight times each. Pena, who was 4-for-31 in the role, seems more likely to get the chance, leaving the rest of the stacked lineup in their typical spots -- and this should interest fantasy managers quite a bit. Pena moves up in my updated roto rankings.

David Hensley, 26, hit .345 over 34 plate appearances for the Astros last season, and .298 with a .420 OBP, 10 home runs and 20 stolen bases for Triple-A Sugar Land. He seems most likely to play second base in Altuve's absence, though slick fielding Mauricio Dubon remains an option for a team not concerned about sacrificing offense for defense (see catcher with Martin Maldonado). Take a chance on the inexperienced Hensley in deeper formats with a middle infield spot.

Other weekend thoughts​

Jurickson Profar, one of the last remaining intriguing free agents, landed with the Colorado Rockies, and he figures to handle both left field and leadoff duties. Profar's main contribution for fantasy managers last season was his 82 runs scored for the San Diego Padres, as he led off for 90 games. He finished as the No. 42 outfielder on the Player Rater. Consider him as a borderline top-50 outfielder in deep formats. It seems to be an odd signing by the noncontending Rockies, but then again, it is the Rockies, and when prospect Zac Veen is ready, he will play. Kris Bryant moves to right field. Elehuris Montero and Mike Moustakas remain entrenched in a critical position battle at third base.

Speaking of spring battles, those investing in Atlanta Braves 2B Vaughn Grissom may need to reconsider. Grissom seemed likely to handle shortstop duties with Dansby Swanson fleeing for the Chicago Cubs, but his defense has been an issue. Defense is not a problem for Braden Shewmake, however. The Braves may realize, as with the Astros, that not everyone in their lineup needs to be awesome at the plate. Grissom is hitting well this spring, and perhaps he makes the team and sees time at DH, but he could also end up at Triple-A Gwinnett. I have moved him outside the top 200 in my roto rankings.

Texas Rangers RHP Jacob deGrom twirled three dominant shutout innings on Sunday in his much-anticipated spring debut, and it may alter the narrative for fantasy managers, but it really should not. Few doubt that deGrom will pitch well, when he pitches. The Rangers are handling him cautiously because of his most recent side injury, and he may be on a pitch count in early April. Knowing his injury history and expected volume, he remains outside my top-10 starters, still.

Mets OF Brandon Nimmo hurt his right ankle and knee on a weekend slide and, since this is the final full week of spring training, he may not be ready for Opening Day. Nimmo is coming off his best season, with perhaps the notable number on his stat line being the 151 games. Staying healthy has been a problem for years. The Mets feature veteran Tommy Pham as their fourth outfielder, although he is only 5-for-33 this spring.

Minnesota Twins 2B Jorge Polanco may start the season on the IL because of knee woes but, as he was coming off a rough 2022 season in which he hit .235 with only 16 home runs in 104 games, some may prefer Nick Gordon anyway. Gordon hit .272. Veteran Donovan Solano may also figure into this situation, for those in really deep formats.

Washington Nationals RHP Cade Cavalli tore the UCL in his throwing elbow and will miss this season because of Tommy John surgery. Few in ESPN leagues were investing here, but this is yet another reminder how young elbows falter. Ignore the likes of reliable veterans Charlie Morton and Adam Wainwright in deep formats at your own peril.

Cycling back to Colorado's Bard, a 21st-round selection in ESPN ADP, he has pitched twice in the WBC and each outing has been rough to watch, as the veteran struggles to throw strikes. This hardly means Bard will struggle once the regular season starts, but I was fading him in drafts anyway for a reason. He has less room for error, pitching half his games at Coors Field, and control problems are hardly new for him. Bard is no longer among my top-20 relief pitchers. There's too much risk, and he is unlikely to deliver 2022-style rewards in 2023.

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