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How To Hack Your Early Fantasy Baseball Draft

OMG, the long wait is over! Spring Training games have just started. We made it through the winter. OK, fine, it’s still 20 degrees out in New York this morning. But the return of actual games means fantasy baseball is definitely back. If you’re reading this article, chances are your for-real draft is sooner rather than later. If so, this article is definitely for you. I want to help you hack your early draft.

How do you do that? Well, in many of the same ways you would hack a draft a month from now. Know the rules of your specific league, go very conservative with the first four to six picks, build a balanced roster, and familiarize yourself with the player pool — usually with a few mock drafts. A couple of our great writers already covered this ground. Our elder statesman Doug Anderson wrote his 9 Fantasy Baseball Tips. And Taylor Tarter posted his 10 Commandments of Fantasy Baseball. Both articles are worth a read, especially if you’re new to this.

Ready to make the 2024 MLB season the best yet? Fantrax offers a fantasy baseball league for everyone. Want to get started right away? Then jump into a Best Ball League or a Draft and Hold. Maybe you have an existing league but want the most customizable fantasy baseball platform in existence? Then you definitely need to check out the Fantrax Commissioner! And of course, whether you play roto or points, you can head to the Fantrax Mock Draft Lobby to start your draft prep for the 2024 fantasy baseball season.

How to Hack Your Early Fantasy Baseball Draft

The one exception to drafting this time of year, though: average draft positions (APDs) have been mostly stagnant for the past couple of months. There haven’t been any games and so there’s been little information to change perceptions of value. In just a few weeks, as the new data starts to roll in, and injuries happen, and position battles are won, and veterans look like their old selves, and new faces become recognizable names, ADPs will change the draft-room landscape.

So, to hack your early draft you need to anticipate as many of these upcoming changes as you can. And once you identify them, you capitalize on the value the changes will create.

With that being said, I have composed a list of ten players whose average draft position is likely to change for the better based on Spring Training performance. That means they should have more value by the time Opening Day rolls around. Which means they can outperform their current draft position. Which means you make a big profit in points or categories. And which ultimately means you have a better chance to win your league.

Hack Your Early Fantasy Baseball Draft By Targeting These Early-to-Mid-Round Players

Oneil Cruz SS Pirates ADP 72

2023: 9 G/7 R/1 HR/4 RBI/3 SB/.250 AVG

I’m having a bit of deja vu here. Just a year ago I was writing about how Oneil Cruz was poised to fly up draft boards with a strong spring showing. That was based on a rookie season that included 17 home runs and 54 RBI in just 87 games. And 98th percentile sprint speed. And breaking a Statcast record for max exit velocity (which still stands, by the way). Sadly, though, the dynamic 25-year-old broke his fibula just nine games into the regular season. It required surgery and ended his campaign.

But now he’s healthy again and playing with no restrictions. Interestingly, his ADP is just about the same as it was before Spring Training games started in 2023. Will the draft price move up a couple of rounds if he can prove he’s not any worse for wear? It sure did last year. For what it’s worth, in our most recent Fantrax writer’s mock draft he went off the board at pick 56. If the youngster can just keep the K rate down to his career 25% in the minor leagues, he has the potential to deliver value much higher than even that.

Cole Ragans SP Royals ADP 110

2023: 96 IP, 7-5 W-L,  113 K, 3.47 ERA, 1.16 WHIP

I wrote about Cole Ragans last month in my Starting Pitcher Sleepers article. To sum that up: in 2023 he got traded, started 12 games, and was thoroughly dominant (2.64 ERA/1.07 WHIP/11.18 K/9). The fact that this was his first big-league stretch of dominance and that his injury history includes two Tommy John surgeries, is holding back the 26-year-old to the 10th round of standard drafts. For now, anyway. I’m thinking a few spring starts of showing off his health and something approaching the impressive K/9 rate should catapult the lefty toward other promising peers like Grayson Rodriguez (ADP 72), Bobby Miller (ADP 80), and Eury Perez (ADP 85). I’m comfortable drafting him even in that range. Take the amazing value while it’s still there.

Wyatt Langford OF Rangers ADP 153

2023 (minors): 44 G/46 R/10 HR/30 RBI/12 SB/.360

If you haven’t heard of Wyatt Langford yet, don’t panic. He was just drafted by the Rangers (4th overall) in June. If you have heard of him, though, that sure makes sense. The Rangers couldn’t stop promoting the 22-year-old to higher levels because he pretty much broke the minor leagues. In his 44 games (across four levels!) all he did was slash .360/.480/.677 and was just about on pace to go 40/40 over a full season. Really, there’s only one thing keeping his ADP out of the top 100. Will the Rangers seriously consider promoting a player with just 44 professional games on his resume? Though the Rangers haven’t answered that specifically, they have recently stated he’ll get “a lot of reps in the outfield.” Reps mean lots of exposure. And if the righty’s reps go anything like they did last season, he could force the Rangers’ hand. If and when that news drops, fantasy managers will surely be paying up for the hype. You might want to get in on the ground floor and hack your early draft if you can.

Carlos Rodon SP Yankees ADP 155

2023: 64.1 IP/3-8 W-L/64 K/6.85 ERA/1.45 WHIP

As indicated in his ADP, we’ve all lost trust in Carlos Rodon after his 2023 performance. That’s because anyone who drafted him was burned with an unsightly 6.85 ERA in an injury-shortened 64.1 innings pitched. The thing is, in the two years prior to this, the 31-year-old was a true ace. Over those 310 innings, he compiled a 2.67 ERA, an even 1.00 WHIP, and a dominant 12.23 K/9 rate. And yes, the underlying metrics and expected stats back it up. His xERA during both seasons was in the top five among starters. With the high level of success in the recent past, how many healthy and dominant spring starts will it take to jog our collective memories? I’m thinking not many. There are already reports out of camp that the lefty is “noticeably trimmer,” is topping out at 97 miles per hour with his fastball, and was so eager to put last season behind him that he showed up to camp in early January. The stock is likely to rise. Buy in now if you can.

Hack Your Early Fantasy Baseball Draft By Targeting These Late-Round Players

JD Martinez UTIL Free Agent ADP 235

2023: 113 G/61 R/33 HR/103 RBI/1 SB/.271 AVG

We seem to have this tendency to devalue players who aren’t on an actual team yet. J.D. Martinez demonstrated last season with the Dodgers that he’s still capable of being a prolific hitter. His 33 home runs and 103 RBI were accomplished in just 113 games in 2023. And if those stats don’t stand out enough for you, just head to the 36-year-old’s Statcast page. His average exit velocity, barrel rate, hard-hit rate, and sweet-spot percentage were all among the top of the league. OK, fine, he’s not going to get half his at-bats at Dodger Stadium (ranked 2nd in baseball for home runs according to park Factors) anymore. But the power he displayed would play anywhere. Especially across town in Angel Stadium which is ranked 5th. That seems like the most logical fit for him at the moment. But when he does finally sign, the 14-year veteran will likely rise up draft boards quickly. His track record is just too good for this range of the draft. Doubly so if the team he does sign with says they’re OK with sticking him in the outfield every now and then. Great buying opportunity here.

Robert Stephenson RP Angels ADP 243

2023: 52.1 IP/77 K/1 SV/15 H/3.10 ERA/0.88 WHIP

The Angels signed Robert Stephenson to a three-year contract last month. The 30-year-old earned his $33 Million by dominating the league from early June onward. It coincided with a trade to the Rays. Big surprise, they tweaked his pitch mix and his final four months (38.1 innings) produced some mighty wicked results (2.35 ERA/0.68 WHIP/14.09 K/9). The righty was a real team player when asked about the possibility of closing for his new team. He humbly said Carlos Estevez is the closer, and he would be glad to play any role.

But about Estevez: he went in an entirely different direction in the second half of his season. While surrendering multiple runs in eight of his last 27 appearances, he produced a very lame 6.59 ERA/1.76 WHIP. With a new stud in town, the leash has got to be mighty tight. If and when Stephenson usurps the role, his ADP would soar. Given the level of dominance, no reason to think he wouldn’t be near names like Tanner Scott (ADP 127), Ryan Helsley (ADP 121), and Evan Phillips (ADP 119). This is how you hack your early draft.

Henry Davis OF Pirates ADP 253

2023: 62 G/27 R/7 HR/24 RBI/.213 AVG

If it’s the later rounds of your draft and you search for the remaining catchers — heads up — you won’t find Henry Davis. The Pirates used the 24-year-old almost exclusively in right field last season because they thought they had their catcher of the future in Endy Rodriguez. Well, Rodriguez just had Tommy John surgery in December and is now out for the season. And so the first-overall pick in 2021 will have every chance to win the job on Opening Day. Given his not-good numbers during 62 big-league games in 2023 (a slash line of just .213/.302/.351), the hype train is definitely parked in the depot. Can he take a step forward in his second campaign and hit closer to the pace we saw just last year in the minors (12 home runs and 10 steals with a 1.015 OPS in 55 games)?  That remains to be seen, but he sure can in Spring Training. That ought to get the train back on the tracks. Fantasy managers will take notice. And then they’ll learn about his upcoming catcher eligibility. Can his ADP choo-choo its way to the Bo Naylor (ADP 162.07), Jonah Heim (ADP 162.39), and Keibert Ruiz (ADP 166) territory? Based on pedigree, I don’t see why not.

Emmet Sheehan SP Dodgers ADP 272

2023: 4-1 W-L 60.1IP 64K 4.92 ERA 1.19 WHIP

It’s easy to forget about Emmet Sheehan with all the big splashes the Dodgers made in the offseason. You’d think a team that acquires Yoshinobu Yamamoto, Tyler Glasnow, and James Paxton in a single offseason, and re-signs Clayton Kershaw, wouldn’t have room in the rotation for a 24-year-old with only 60.1 Major League innings. But the Dodgers are in the unique situation of having an entire staff worth of potential all-stars on the IL to start the season.

I wrote about Sheehan in my Late-Round Pitchers to Target in a Standard -League Draft article. To sum that up: he put up some ridiculous numbers in Double-A, got promoted all the way to the majors, did OK, got sent back down when other players were healthy, then came back for five starts in September and struck out 34 over 22 innings. I think once people realize the righty has a job, and if he’s the September version of himself, that current ADP is going to look silly. Take the bargain.

DL Hall RP Brewers ADP 399

2023: 19.1 IP/23 K/2 H/3.26 ERA/1.19 WHIP

Once a highly touted starting pitcher prospect, DL Hall has been relegated to bullpen work by the Orioles in his first two tastes of the major leagues. The former 1st-round pick (21st overall in 2017), didn’t do poorly in that role last season. He compiled a 3.26 ERA and a 1.19 WHIP across 18 appearances. More promising, the 25-year-old was traded to the Brewers during the offseason. This gives him a renewed opportunity to cut it as a starter and perhaps capitalize on the improvements he made in control (2.3 BB/9 in 2023 vs. 5.2 career rate in the minors). The left-hander’s ADP is buried just inside the top 400 right now. Can his career 12.6 K/9 rate seal the deal this Spring Training? It sure has the potential. And that would quickly catch the attention of fantasy managers once announced. Don’t let him get to the waiver wire in your early drafts, especially in a deeper format.

Erick Fedde SP White Sox ADP 420

2023 (KBO): 180.1 IP/20-6 W-L/209 K/2.00 ERA/0.95 WHIP

No, Erick Fedde didn’t retire last year. But with a career 5.41 ERA and 1.52 WHIP over six seasons, I can understand why you’d think that. Instead, the soon-to-be 31-year-old went to pitch in Korea. His numbers are above. I know, right? I had to double-check that myself. He was actually the MVP of the entire league, too. Whether that success and that new sweeper and split change, will translate in America is anyone’s guess. But my gosh, if he’s even half as good as those numbers, you’re dealing with an entirely different pitcher. I posted his ADP up there too. Very few fantasy managers have noticed this yet. They will soon if the 10.4 K/9 rate holds up in Spring Training. Look for him to slip into the range of veteran pitchers who had bad seasons like Luis Severino (ADP 297), Nestor Cortes (ADP 256), or possibly even north of Lucas Giolito (ADP 222). That would especially be some amazing value late in a deep league.

For more of the great fantasy baseball rankings and analysis you’ve come to expect from FantraxHQ, check out our full 2024 Fantasy Baseball Draft Kit! We’re here for you all the way up until Opening Day and then on into your championship run.

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