Throughout the off-season it becomes fairly obvious which fantasy analysts like certain players. Through tweets, articles, and other various forms of media each analyst plants their flag on players they believe in for the upcoming season. Last year, I released a My Guys article discussing players I was trying to draft in every league I played in. Some were great calls: Dylan Cease, Aaron Judge, Francisco Lindor, and Triston McKenzie. Some players were not bad but failed to fully live up to the hype: Ian Happ, MJ Melendez, Rhys Hoskins, and Ryan McMahon. One was a total bust: Enrique Hernandez. All in all most of those calls were pretty successful. I am hoping for similar results this year with the players listed below.
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!
Catcher – Adley Rutschman, Baltimore Orioles
After being labeled as a generational talent, the hype seems to be wearing off for Adley Rustschman. This is to no fault of his own though as Rutschman lived up to the hype last season. In 113 games Rutschman hit .254 with 13 home runs, four stolen bases, and a 133 wRC+. Even more impressive are his splits before and after July 6. Before Rutschman was batting .213/.287/.382 thanks in large part to a .248 BABIP. After that point, Rutschman saw his BABIP rise to .317 leading to a .277/.399/.477 slash line. With a smooth swing path, good barrel rates, and the ability to use all fields, a .317 is much more indicative of his true talent level.
Rutschman provides value to all five categories. After July 6 this is how he fared in all five major categories:
- C1 by in runs (by 12)
- C6 in RBIs
- C4 in average
- C3 in steals
- C2 in wRC+
On top of this, Rutschman walked over 16.5% of the time while striking out less than the league average. He posted an 88th percentile whiff rate with an 82nd percentile chase rate. He did all of this while being a rookie. With an improving lineup around him, the sky truly is the limit for Rutschman. Since the start of February Rutschman is going as C5 almost 30 picks after Daulton Varsho and nearly 40 after JT Realmuto. He has quickly become one of my favorite targets in drafts and can be a real difference-maker at the catcher position.
First Base – Tristan Casas, Boston Red Sox
Entering 2022, it was Tristan Casas, not Vinnie Pasquantino, that was the first base prospect to own in dynasty leagues. A slow start followed by an injury, delayed Casas’ debut until September and the surface stats were less than inspiring. A .197/.358/.408 slash has resulted in a discounted draft price for 2023. Despite the mediocre slash line, Casas walked 20% of the time, posted solid barrel rates, ran a .208 BABIP, and most impressively mashed five home runs. The five home runs in 95 plate appearances would have been a 31.6/600 pace.
Looking ahead to this season, Casas is firmly cemented as the Red Sox everyday first baseman. His excellent walk rate fueled by an excellent understanding of the zone provides a stable floor. With the floor comes 35 home run potential hitting in the middle of the lineup. If Spring Training is any indicator, Casas is in for a massive 2023 season. His draft value was one of the best at the position and is somebody I expect big things out of this year.
Second Base- Jorge Polanco*/Jonathan India, Minnesota Twins/Cincinnati Reds
I have had this article planned out for some time now. I have done several drafts where Jorge Polanco is my second baseman. Now, we know Polanco will not be ready for Opening Day and is still dealing with lingering issues with the same knee that gave him issues last season. As a result, I have decided I should not label him as my guy. If you want to read about why I loved Polanco so much this season, you can here.
With Polanco off the list, Jonathan India is my backup choice here. India was the National League Rookie of the Year in 2021 and is primed for a big bounce-back season. Much of 2022 can be chalked up to multiple injuries on a struggling team leading to inconsistent effort and results. India is healthy headed into 2023 and has already demonstrated a small swing change that resulted in excellent results this spring.
After a rough 2022, #Reds Jonathan India is having a nice spring training now that he is healthy.
– 1HR/3SB – 3/3 on attempts
– .903 OPS
– More walks (8) than strikeouts (4)
– Will be leading off for the Reds
– Small change to setup (lowered hands/ less leg kick) pic.twitter.com/Wm1RHkOohJ
— Mike Kurland (@Mike_Kurland) March 22, 2023
India was the second player included in the previously linked article with Polanco. Truth is I loved both players at their value this draft season. Hindsight is 20/20 and I wish I took more shares of India instead of Polanco, but hopefully, Jorge will be back soon. Due to the uncertainty of Polanco’s health I am going with India as my pick at second base although I will be sure to take credit for both if Polanco returns to have a monster season.
Shortstop- Wander Franco, Tampa Bay Rays
Since the start of 2020, there have been a total of 10 batters with at least 250 plate appearances to post a strikeout rate below 10%. Franco’s 2022 season is one of those 10 despite him being just 21 years old last year. Contact skills of that level are rare for veteran hitters let alone a 21-year-old. The hype on Franco seems to have worn off from “once in a lifetime talent” to “we just need to accept him for who he is.” Why though? Why should we not expect a 22-year-old to continue progressing? The biggest struggle for Minor League hitters is making consistent contact against big league pitching. Franco has already proven he is capable of doing that and I expect him to take his game to the next level.
Even if Franco does not experience a massive power breakout, he is one of the safest players at the position. He is going to hit for a good average while batting toward the top of Tampa’s lineup. He has plus speed which should help propel him to double-digit stolen bases. This pick is a bet on prospect pedigree and incredible contact skills that help decrease the bust potential in his profile. I am riding with Franco at shortstop in multiple leagues believing this is the year he puts it all together.
Third Base- Matt Chapman, Toronto Blue Jays
Matt Chapman is not the flashiest pick here, but you know exactly what you are going to get out of him. Chapman has hit 27 home runs each of the past two seasons, was on a 39/600 pace in 2020, and hit 36 home runs in 2019. He has posted at least 75 runs in each of the past two seasons while hitting in at least 70. He is a consistent three-category contributor which is valuable with where he is going in drafts. Chapman’s company in ADP are guys like Jose Miranda, Eugenio Suarez, Alec Bohm, and Ke’Bryan Hayes. Most of these guys are relatively unproven and Eugenio Suarez is basically the same hitter as Chapman with more red flags.
Part of the reason I particularly like Chapman this year is the shift ban. Since the start of his career, Chapman has a .294 batting average when he is not shifted. This is much higher than his career batting average of .240. The sample size is relatively large and Chapman sees a drastic increase in his BABIP and counting stats. No shift in 2023 should lead to significant average improvements which is the category he has struggled with the most. There is significant unrealized upside to Chapman in 2023 making him my favorite third-base target.
OF1- Taylor Ward, Los Angeles Angels
Taylor Ward went from a fantasy baseball community joke to one of the fastest-rising stars in the game last year. Ward was viewed as the guy old man Joe Maddon was foolishly playing over Jo Adell. He responded by batting .347/.459/.686 through his first 146 plate appearances. On June 3, Ward injured his hamstring and neck leading to a stint on the IL. Even after coming back, Ward was not the same as his leg injury continued to bother him. From June 14 to July 31 Ward hit .225/.302/.311 which is contributing to his fall down draft boards entering 2023. Ward finally seemed to be healthy again to start August and hit .288/.346/.481 the rest of the way.
When thinking of Ward, many people view his early season stats as a fluke. He was unbelievable before struggling for the middle two months of the season. However, his final two months were the perfect middle ground. A 133 wRC+ batting ahead of guys by the name of Trout and Ohtani sounds pretty great to me. He only stole five bases last year, but he has 79th-percentile sprint speed and could see his steals increase with the new rules in 2023.
One look at his Baseball Savant profile tells you all you need to know. A lot of red across the board and going as OF26 right next to Jake McCarthy in drafts is an incredible value. I am drafting Taylor Ward everywhere and so should you.
OF2- Brandon Marsh, Philadelphia Phillies
This would not be a my guys piece for me if I did not work at least one Phillies player into it. Marsh was acquired by Philadelphia at the trade deadline last year and was a key part of the World Series run the team went on. The former top prospect never seemed to put it all together in Los Angeles, but a change in scenery seems to have been exactly what Marsh needed. In 41 games with the Phillies, Marsh slashed .288./.319/.455 while reducing his strikeout rate below 30% for the first time in his Major League career. Now that the Phillies traded away Matt Vierling, the center field job belongs solely to Marsh. He could be in for a monster 2023.
The exciting part about Marsh’s profile is that he transformed his swing after joining Philadelphia. Hitting coach Kyle Long has been praised for his ability to help left-handed batters develop, most notably teammate Kyle Schwarber. Marsh saw the improvements last season and has stuck with these adjustments this spring.
Now with a full off-season of adjustments under his belt, Marsh should be even more comfortable at the plate. Quality of contact has always been a plus in Marsh’s profile, but his plate discipline has been a serious concern. This pick is a bet on Kevin Long getting Marsh to improve his contact skills and the breakout following. Plus speed and plus power at pick 309 is a bet I am very happy to take.
SP1- Zac Gallen, Arizona Diamond Backs
After battling durability for the first few seasons of his professional career, Gallen finally put it all together. He pitched 184 innings with a 2.54 ERA, 3.05 FIP, while posting a 4.3 fWAR. The spectacular overall stat line does not even tell the full story. During the second half of the season, Gallen posted a 1.49 ERA and was virtually unhittable. The strikeouts were up, the walks were down, and the results were fantastic.
These results were fueled by an increased reliance on his curveball. The curve is Gallen’s best strikeout pitch, generating a whiff percentage over 33% and accounting for a run value of -13. Gallen also completely ditched his slider which he felt he did not have good control over. This is likely the biggest reason we saw his walk rate decrease. Although the 1.49 ERA from the second half is unsustainable, the overall results are still encouraging. Gallen is just 27 years old and after dealing with a trade and injuries he finally seems to be comfortable on the mound. An adjustment to his pitch mix unlocked a new level of success and there is no reason to believe this cannot continue in 2023. His draft price indicated people were skeptical to buy in, but I was more than happy to for 2023.
SP2- Zach Eflin, Tampa Bay Rays
The Rays always seem to know more than other organizations. This year they went out and handed Zach Eflin the largest contract in franchise history just days after the start of free agency. The Rays clearly saw something they felt to be obvious in Eflin’s profile that could unlock a new level. Since the start of 2020, Eflin has a FIP of 3.57, but he has never seemed to translate good peripherals into on-field results.
Eflin relies heavily on his sinker although his best pitch is the curveball. He only threw the pitch 20.1% of the time, but limited opponents to a .155 batting average and generated a 43.5% whiff rate on the pitch. This spring it is obvious the Rays keyed in on his curveball’s potential. You can see below how they have adjusted the pitch to maximize its potential:
Zach Eflin’s Curveball so far in Spring
78.3 MPH -> 76.8 MPH 🧐
-5.3 IVB -> -9.8 IVB 👌
12.9 HB -> 15.9 HB
🚨🚨100.7 stuff + -> 130.2 stuff + 🚨🚨
The Rays unlocked something. Shocking development lol
— Cameron Levy (@levy_cameron) March 21, 2023
The Rays are an organization I have blind trust in when it comes to pitchers. Drew Rasmussen and Jeffrey Springs are just two of the most recent examples of pitchers coming out of nowhere to be major fantasy assets. The Rays have already improved Eflin’s best pitch and there is no reason to believe the improvements will stop there. Eflin is going outside the top 275 picks in drafts and is somebody I am all in on for 2023.