Arguably the hardest part of fantasy drafts is deciding where to make sacrifices. It’s impossible to draft an elite player at every position and picking the best spots for trade-offs is imperative. At each position, there are players that go later than their peers that could end up producing at a similar level. Nailing down those later-round ADP jackpots can be the driving force behind a league-winning roster.
Of course, there is a reason why players that could provide value better than their draft position have fallen to where they are. There may be injury or playing time risks, or the players could be coming off of down 2022 campaigns. Most of the time, they simply haven’t performed as consistently as the top names at their position. Despite the red flags, these outfielders have the ability to outproduce their ADPs and allow earlier picks to be put to better use.
The season is not here yet, but why not get a head start and jump in a Fantrax Classic Draft contest? Get a jump on the season with a Best Ball league or maybe a Draft and Hold. Or put some green on the line with a new season-long league to try and conquer. There’s no better time than now to get your baseball on!
Exploiting Outfield ADP in 2023
Note: The NFBC ADPs listed are from March 1st through the publish date.
For obvious reasons, the outfield is the deepest offensive position in fantasy baseball. Among the top 100 overall by ADP, 25 are outfielders, including nine in the top 20. As deep as the position is, it’s important to get at least one star player to build around. The top group features some of the most consistent producers in the game and nearly all of them provide strong power/speed upside. Rounding out the top-10 outfielders is Michael Harris, reigning NL Rookie of the Year winner. While he also fits the description of the rest of his peers, he could be in for a sophomore slump.
Harris was terrific in 2022, slashing .297/.339/.515 with 19 homers, 27 doubles, and 20 steals through 441 plate appearances. His elite glove in centerfield will keep him in the lineup every day, even after posting a .649 OPS against lefties. He struck out in 24.3% of his plate appearances while posting a sub-5% walk rate. His OBP will remain limited if he doesn’t improve his walk rate, causing him to rely more on his batting average. Last season’s .297 average doesn’t feel completely sustainable due to the .361 BABIP he registered.
The 22-year-old is a great long-term fantasy asset, but his current ADP of 29.7 doesn’t factor in his regression risk. Harris’ speed is real; he stole 27 bags in 2021 and totaled 31 last season with Atlanta and Double-A Mississippi. His sprint speed also finished in the 95th percentile. He totaled 14 home runs in 848 career minor-league plate appearances before ripping 19 at the MLB level last season. All of Harris’ batted-ball data was solid, though he had high chase and whiff rates. If the power stays consistent and the BABIP doesn’t regress much, he can still provide strong value early in the draft. However, there are other outfielders going later that should have higher floors.
Byron Buxton – ADP: 84.4
Nearly every fantasy baseball manager has been burned by Byron Buxton at some point but it’s hard to give up on him. He’s one of the riskiest buys in the top 100 but he’s also one of the most talented players in the league. Even though he missed 60 games last season, he hit a career-high 28 homers with six steals and a .224/.306/.526 slash line through 382 plate appearances. Buxton’s batted-ball numbers were terrific, led by a 50.2% hard-hit rate and 16.4% barrel rate. He’s consistently been an elite hitter with top-tier speed throughout his MLB career.
Of course, Buxton can only produce these numbers when he’s on the field, which he rarely is. He hasn’t played 100 games in a season since 2017 and has only reached that mark once in his career. He underwent minor knee surgery this offseason and dealt with various lower-body injuries in 2022. On top of that, Buxton posted a brutal 30.4% strikeout rate and he whiffed on 34.1% of his swings. A decent walk rate kept his OBP afloat despite the poor average, partially due to a .244 BABIP, which was over 60 points lower than his .305 career mark.
The 29-year-old is expected to begin the season as the primary DH and the acquisition of Michael A. Taylor should allow him to play more corner outfield rather than center. Ideally, this will allow Buxton to stay healthy and provide a full season of fantasy production. He was shifted over 78% of the time last season and posted a .312 wOBA against it compared to a ridiculous .517 wOBA with no shift. His high fly-ball and pull rates likely won’t allow for a drastic batting average increase but some improvement mixed with better luck could turn him into a five-category contributor. Buxton still has elite sprint speed and could get more active on the bases if he’s playing less defense in 2023.
Taylor Ward – ADP: 102.6
Taylor Ward’s 2022 campaign was a rollercoaster but it resulted in a breakout year. He slashed .281/.360/.473 with 23 home runs and 22 doubles. He also chipped in five steals and 138 runs + RBI. Ward began and finished the year on hot streaks but went cold during the middle months, putting a damper on what could’ve been an elite final stat line. If Ward struck out a bit less he’d be in the elusive “All Red” Savant club. His underlying numbers were terrific, including a 12.4% barrel rate and a .361 xwOBA.
While he stole just five bases, he had an identical sprint speed to Cedric Mullins, suggesting that a double-digit steal season isn’t out of the question. Consistency will be key for Ward this season, as well as better numbers against breaking pitches. He posted an xBA of just .236 with a 29.2% whiff rate against those pitches in 2022. He performed much better against righties (.864 OPS) than lefties (.755 OPS), which is actually preferred in the big picture. However, prior to last season, Ward had done more damage against left-handed pitching. He’ll need to maintain that success against righties for his 2023 slash line to mimic last season’s.
The 29-year-old also had a sizable home/away split, slashing .305/.394/.507 in 62 home games. His splits aren’t dramatic enough to sink his value in weekly lineup leagues but it will be something to monitor throughout the season. Ward has ridden his late-season momentum into spring training. He’s slashing .359/.405/.590 with two homers through 42 spring plate appearances. After putting his name on the map last season, he enters 2023 as a pivotal piece of the Angels’ lineup. He’ll hit in the top half of the lineup and could flirt with the 100-run milestone.
Giancarlo Stanton – ADP: 129.2
Since entering the league Giancarlo Stanton has absolutely hammered the ball. He consistently finishes at or near the top of the league in most batted-ball categories, including exit velocities and hard-hit rate. Last season was no different when he knocked 31 home runs despite missing 52 games. However, Stanton’s slash line finished at a disappointing .211/.297/.462, resulting in a career-low .759 OPS. Much of that can be attributed to his awful .227 BABIP. Prior to last season, he’d never finished with a BABIP under .288, so a serious bounceback isn’t out of the question.
Like Buxton, Stanton’s two main areas of concern are his injuries and strikeouts. He’s played over 100 games in each of the last two seasons but missed a combined 181 games from 2019-20. When he’s in the lineup he’s a lock for plus power but it’s a matter of how often he can be counted on. As for the strikeouts, they’re simply part of his game. He has a lifetime 28.2% strikeout rate and his 30.3% mark in 2022 was the third-worst of his career. Stanton’s double-digit walk rate keeps the OPS respectable but another sub-.250 might be the likely outcome.
Stanton will primarily serve as the DH but is expected to see a chunk of playing time in the outfield. He’ll be in the lineup every day even after he was uncharacteristically bad against lefties last season. He posted a .652 OPS with a .200 BABIP against left-handed pitching. The same goes for fastballs, against which he hit just .202 with a 31.2% whiff rate. There’s a chance that the 2022 season was the start of a downfall for Stanton, but the underlying data suggests that he suffered from some bad luck. At his current draft price, the 33-year-old provides a stable floor for power and should rebound in the other categories.
Some additional outfielders that could outperform their ADPs include Hunter Renfroe, Lars Nootbaar, and Masataka Yoshida. Renfroe, like Stanton, provides a high floor for power. He has 60 homers with an .812 OPS over the last two seasons. Nootbaar is a popular breakout pick due to his elite underlying numbers. If the tools click, he could become an extra-base hit machine. Yoshida is coming off a record-breaking World Baseball Classic performance and looks ready to make an impact right out of the gate. The projection systems are very high on him and it seems like he has a fairly safe floor.
Which later-round outfielders do you have your eye on? Drop some names in the comments below. For more great analysis check out the 2023 FantraxHQ Fantasy Baseball Draft Kit!