With only a couple of weeks left in the regular season, now is a good time to look back on some of the fantasy baseball predictions made before the start of the year. Each season I declare a list of “my guys” for the upcoming season. These are players from each position that I make every effort to walk away from drafts with. Although it would be great if every draft pick each season was a slam dunk, there are inevitably going to be some misses. This article looks back at my off-season article and discusses which picks were great and why some picks missed the mark.
2023 Fantasy Baseball My Guys: Review
Catcher: Adley Rutschman – Baltimore Orioles
We do not typically see draft day values on players labeled as generational prospects. Typically, these players are pushed a round or two ahead of where they should be going based on name value alone. While evaluating the catcher position this past offseason, Adley Rutschman stood out as one of the best value picks there was. There has been no sophomore slump for Rutschman. Playing for one of the most exciting teams in baseball, Rutschman has hit 19 home runs, eclipsed 75 in both runs and RBIs, and is hitting for a strong average. Still only 25 years old, Rutschman has lowered his strikeout rate below 15% while maintaining a walk rate north of 13%.
Scoring varies from league to league but regardless of settings, picking Rutschman at his ADP has been an excellent decision. According to FanGraphs auction calculator, Rutschman grades out as the third-best catcher in fantasy this season. He is within a $1.20 evaluation of the top catcher William Contreras and just behind Will Smith. In a year where two of the top catchers off the board (JT Realmuto and Daulton Varsho) have been major disappointments, Rutschman has been a model of consistency. If you made him your catcher in 2023, you should have no complaints. This pick was definitely a success.
First Base: Triston Casas – Boston Red Sox
Through the first month of the season, this pick could not look much worse. At the end of April, Triston Casas was batting .133/.283/.293 with just three home runs. Casas was not providing much of anything outside of a strong walk rate. Things got a little bit better for Casas in May as he hit .257, but with a 105 wRC+ that month was still disappointing. Despite the poor results, there was plenty to be encouraged by in Casas’ profile. Through the first two months of the season, his BABIP sat down at .239 despite a barrel rate north of 13% and an average exit velocity of 91.6 mph. If you kept reading through my lineup articles, you know that I continued to preach patience.
That patience started to pay off in June when Casas hit .286, but really paid dividends in July. Coming out of the All-Star Break, Casas crushed seven home runs in the remainder of July and would up batting .348 on the month as a whole. Casas has continued his success throughout the remainder of the second half looking like one of the best offensive first basemen in baseball. He hits the ball extremely hard, and his on-base numbers give him a big boost in leagues where that is prioritized. Looking ahead to 2024, Casas ranks as a top-five first baseman for me. Despite the slow start, this pick was a big success.
Second Base: Jonathan India – Cincinnati Reds
The season got off to a strong start for Jonathan India (who was my default pick due to injuries suffered by Jorge Polanco). He had five home runs, eight stolen bases, and a 116 wRC+ at the end of May. India added four more stolen bases through the first three games of June, but little did fantasy managers realize those would be his last stolen bases of the season. The wheels really fell off for India after his fast start as he batted just .200 with one stolen base from June 4 forward. India eventually landed on the IL on July 28 with plantar fasciitis although it is unknown how long he was playing injured.
Overall, the pick was a disappointment. He was a useful fantasy asset for most of the first half but wound up hurting most fantasy teams for most of June and July before missing a significant portion at the end of the year. While it is easy to chalk a lot of his struggles up to injuries, his 2024 value hinges heavily on whether or not he returns to Cincinnati. With the plethora of young infield talent already on the roster, the Reds could look to trade India in exchange for some pitching. Moving away from Great American Ballpark would hurt his fantasy value and is something to monitor during the off-season.
Shortstop: Wander Franco – Tampa Bay Rays
Well, there is not a whole lot to say on this one. Picking Wander Franco was a bet on his immense talent and young age developing into one of the game’s superstars. The crazy thing is that this actually happened. Through 112 games, Franco was at 17 home runs and 30 stolen bases. Prorating for 600 plate appearances, Franco was on pace for 21 home runs and 37 stolen bases with a shot to go 25/40. Through August 12, this pick looked like a slam dunk success.
Now though, that has completely changed. As the investigation continues into sexual misconduct allegations against Franco, he remains off the field and useless to fantasy teams. Due to unforeseen circumstances, this pick wound up being a two-sided coin. Franco helped fantasy teams for much of the year but has since abandoned them during the stretch run. There is a strong chance his Major League career is over and that he will not touch the field in 2024.
Third Base: Matt Chapman – Toronto Blue Jays
The Matt Chapman selection seemed like a slam-dunk pick early on this season. For the first month of the season, Chapman was looking like the Matt Chapman of 2018. At the end of April, Chapman was slashing .384/.465/.687 with a 214 wRC+. He had all the looks of an MVP candidate on a very good Blue Jays Team. Sure, the BABIP was never going to be sustainable (.485 at the end of April), but Chapman had an average exit velocity of over 96 mph with five home runs. Even if his average returned to earth, he still looked like an elite fantasy asset.
This is a perfect example of why you do not victory lap at the end of one month. Since his hot start, Chapman has been atrocious offensively. Since the start of May, Chapman is batting .204/.299/.354 with just 10 home runs over 442 plate appearances.
There have been two primary issues for Chapman this season. The first is one that has plagued Chapman for the last several years of his career; a high whiff percentage. Chapman has been unable to consistently make contact on pitches leading to high strikeout rates. Early on, it seemed like Chapman had made strides to correct this issue, but that did not last very long.
The second is an extremely low HR/FB%. While it is easy to chalk this up to luck, especially considering Chapman’s 17%-barrel rate, it is important to dive a little bit deeper. Chapman hits tons of barrels and plenty of fly balls. Both of these are important factors in posting high home run totals. However, not all fly balls are created equal. Chapman’s pull percentage this season is down from 47.7% last year to 39.3% this year. His fly ball pull rate is down from 33.7% to 16.7%. The odds of hitting a home run, on a barrel or not, on a ball to the opposite field are way lower than if you pull the ball. Chapman’s lower home run rates might not be bad luck after all.
While the first month of the season was great, the rest of the season has been filled with injuries and poor production. This pick was not a total miss, but it is difficult to measure this as a successful prediction when he has been a below-average hitter for the majority of 2023.
OF1- Taylor Ward- Los Angeles Angels
This was a weird season for Taylor Ward. He started the year extremely cold at the plate batting just .208 with three home runs through his first 29 games. May was streaky as Ward got hot at the beginning, cooled off in the middle, and then started to pick things back up heading into June. From May 30 to June 25, Ward hit .310/.361/.552 with five home runs and two stolen bases. His run of streakiness continued though as he hit just .188 in the remaining 11 games before the All-Star Break.
Ward’s season peaked in his 63 plate appearances after the break. He hit .314/.429/.686 with five homers during that span and had fantasy managers referring to him as somebody with the potential to be a league-winner in the second half. Unfortunately, Ward was hit in the face by a pitch on July 29 and did not appear in another game.
Overall, this pick was a bust. Ward was a useful fantasy asset if you played him during his hot streaks and sat him during the slumps, but his season was too inconsistent to be a successful “my guy”. Overall, Ward was on pace for 21 home runs, 88 runs, and 69 RBIs. His strikeout rate dropped for the fourth consecutive season and he was still averaging an exit velocity of over 90 mph. There is a lot to like from Ward as a back-end fantasy asset moving forward although he is unlikely to ever replicate his 2022 season.
OF2- Brandon Marsh- Philadelphia Phillies
There was plenty to like about Brandon Marsh entering 2023. Marsh had never fully put it all together as a prospect in the Angels’ system. A full off-season to work with hitting coach Kevin Long seemed like the perfect thing for Marsh. Turns out, this is exactly what has happened. Marsh has a 122 wRC+ well above his career high of 88 entering the season.
That being said if there has ever been a season that has been better for real life than fantasy, Marsh is having it. Marsh has a fWAR of over three while being 22% better than the league average offensively. Despite that, Mash ranks just 63rd amongst all outfielders according to FanGraphs’ auction calculator. He has just 10 home runs and 10 stolen bases. On top of that, Marsh is primarily being used on the strong side of a platoon.
While it has been nice to watch Marsh continue developing into a Major League regular, this season has not been successful from a fantasy perspective. He has the speed and raw power to be a viable fantasy asset one day, but it has not translated this season. Overall, this breakout pick was unsuccessful.
SP1- Zac Gallen- Arizona Diamondbacks
No pitcher had a second half of 2022 quite like Zac Gallen. Gallen continued to rely on his curveball more this season and the results can speak for themselves. After a rough two starts to begin the season, Gallen really settled in for the majority of the year. From April 10 to August 22, Gallen started 25 games going 14-4 with a 2.80 ERA and a 2.90 FIP. During that span, Gallen walked less than five percent of the batters he faced and looked like the front runner for NL Cy Young. Some fatigue has appeared to set in lately as he has reached a new career high in innings pitched. Over his last five starts, he has an ERA north of 6.00.
Despite his recent struggles to end the year, Gallen was one of the most dominant pitchers for the majority of the fantasy season. He grades out on FanGraphs calculator as the seventh-best pitcher in fantasy this season. Being able to draft him at his draft-day price was a huge steal and making him one of “my guys” was a great idea.
SP2- Zach Eflin- Tampa Bay Rays
If the Rays are spending money, it is best to assume that they know what they are doing. This off-season the Rays made Zach Eflin their highest-paid free agent ever and he has delivered in a huge way. In a season filled with injuries across Tampa Bay’s staff, Eflin has set a new career-high in innings pitched. His increased reliance on his cutter and curveball has paid massive dividends as he is on pace to set the lowest ERA and walk rate of his career. The only time his strikeout rate has been higher than it is right now was during the shortened 2020 season. His “baseball card” numbers do not even paint the full picture as his FIP sits at a sparkling 2.98. The only two pitchers in baseball with a lower FIP are Sonny Gray and Spencer Strider.
Eflin has been one of the biggest draft day steals from the 2023 season. Eflin was going outside of the top 20 rounds in drafts but grades out as a top ten pitcher in fantasy this season. There is not a pick on this list that hit as much as Eflin did. Hopefully, you grabbed him on as many teams as possible.
This list will return in 2024!