As much as fantasy baseball managers would love to have the best player at each position on their rosters, the chance of drafting them all is slim to none.
This list of 10 “must-have” hitters could be filled with the top players at each position, but that is the obvious route.
Instead, these are players that you can and should try to draft from various rounds throughout your drafts.
Top Hitters to Target (2023 Fantasy Baseball)
Here are 10 hitters to target during your 2023 fantasy baseball drafts
Sean Murphy had a career year in 2022, posting career bests in all five roto categories. Additionally, he was sixth in barrel rate and 11th in hard-hit rate among catchers with at least 350 plate appearances. He also earned $8 according to RotoWire’s earned auction value calculator, good for fifth among all catchers.
For a catcher projected by the Bat X to finish sixth in homers, fifth in runs, fourth in RBI and 11th in AVG, a 126 ADP as the 10th catcher in NFBC leagues is a great value.
Murphy has gradually improved each year in the league in K%, and between the 2021 and 2022 seasons saw improvement in BB%, LD%, Contact%, SwStr% and CSW%. If he continues to trend this way, he could easily be a top-five catcher going in the middle of the eighth round in 15-team leagues.
The new Atlanta catcher may face some competition for at-bats in Travis d’Arnaud. However, the lineup around Murphy is so good that he should be able to produce any time he is in the lineup.
Christian Walker is another mid-round target that could outproduce his current 137 NFBC ADP (11th 1B off the board).
The Arizona first baseman finished second in homers at the position and was top-10 in runs, RBI, BB%, SLG, wOBA, xwOBA, ISO, barrel% and chase rate among qualified first basemen. He is projected by the Bat X to be top-10 in HR, R and RBI for the 2023 season. He also finished sixth in dollar value according to RotoWire’s EAV calculator last season.
Walker has shown positive trends over the last two seasons, making adjustments to improve nearly every plate discipline category. He improved both his barrel and hard-hit rates from 2021 to near-elite levels in 2022.
With year-to-year improvements, favorable projections and near-elite contact and hard contact skills, Walker is an undervalued target at first base for fantasy managers looking to wait at the position.
Gleyber Torres had lackluster 2020 and 2021 seasons but bounced back in 2022 with a 24-homer, 10-steal season while batting .257 across 572 plate appearances.
He hit just nine home runs in just 56 fewer PAs in 2021. What changed to bring him success last season? He adjusted his launch angle from 14 degrees (where it was from 2020-2021) to 17 degrees – the same angle that saw him hit 38 homers in 2019 and two degrees lower than his 24-homer season in 2018.
Torres also hit the ball harder than ever last season, posting a career-best 10.7% barrel rate and 44.9% hard-hit rate. The barrel rate was first among qualified second basemen, and his hard-hit rate was second best to Brendan Rodgers by just 1%.
The Yankees’ middle infielder also saw an HR/FB rate increase from his 6.9% mark in 2021 to 13.1% last season. It was still under his career average, which suggests there may have been a few more home runs in the tank for Torres.
Although his plate discipline numbers worsened nearly across the board, he posted elite quality of contact for a second baseman.
In 2022, Torres was the fifth-highest earner at second base, according to RotoWire’s EAV calculator. His current NFBC ADP is 120, and he is the eighth second baseman off the board. Torres is a must-draft player at that price point.
Third base is such a shallow position and has been for the last few seasons. Beyond Alex Bregman, the production from the position begins to decline, making it extra important to target a top third baseman early.
Austin Riley is the third baseman to target heading into the 2023 season. According to the Bat X, he projects for the most home runs, second-most runs and RBI at the position. His .271 projected batting average is fourth. He paced third basemen last season with 38 homers while finishing top five in runs and RBI and top 10 in batting average.
Riley has increased his barrel and hard-hit rates for three straight seasons to elite levels, finishing fifth and eighth, respectively, among all qualified batters. The Atlanta third baseman also has shown three-year trends in improvements to his chase rate and contact rate.
Additionally, many scouts saw Riley as a player who struggled to hit breaking pitches early in his career, but he has been able to make major adjustments. He performed the best against curveballs last season and third best against sliders, according to Fangraphs.
He finished tied for 11th overall in dollar value according to RotoWire’s EAV and is being drafted as a top 20 player in NFBC leagues. Riley is a player to spend early draft capital on, especially with the lack of top-tier third basemen.
In NFBC leagues since Jan. 1, Corey Seager is the sixth shortstop off the board at pick 62. This is excellent value for Seager, who should see a major bump in production without the shift.
According to RotoWire’s EAV calculator, Seager was a top-50 player last year and by all accounts, should improve next season.
He led left-handed batters in balls pulled into the shift with 179 in 2022. 49 of those balls were line drives, and 18 of them (36%) turned into outs. If all of those pulled line-drive outs turned into hits, his batting average would have gone from .245 to .274. Seager also had the eighth-lowest BABIP last season, suggesting that he is due for a major boost to his batting average in 2023.
Despite his batting average suffering due to the shift and a low BABIP, he performed well in other areas, including a career-high 33 homers, which led the position. His HR/FB rate was less than a percentage higher than his average career rate, meaning the outburst was likely not a fluke. He also posted top-five barrel and hard-hit rates among qualified shortstops.
Seager likely will not swipe very many bags, which hurts his value at a position that features players like Bobby Witt Jr., Trea Turner and Fernando Tatis Jr. Though Seager has his faults, he has a significant chance of finishing as a top 50 overall player, so his current draft value is excellent. This makes him a must-have player at the position.
Thairo Estrada will not blow anyone away with his hard-contact metrics (they are not very good), but he still managed to be very productive in 2022.
His NFBC ADP since January 1 is 173; this is a great spot to take him to fill the middle infield slot. Among qualified second basemen, only Tommy Edman and Marcus Semien stole more bases than Estrada in 2022. Estrada also finished eighth in homers and ninth in average at the position and is being overlooked in early drafts.
Here is a blind resume of 2022 stats:
- Player A: 557 PAs, 17 HR, 66 R, 69 RBI, 20 SB, .297 AVG
- Player B: 541 PAs, 14 HR, 71 R, 62 RBI, 21 SB, .261 AVG
Here are the same players’ Bat X projections for 2023:
- Player A: 613 PAs, 16 HR, 23 RBI, .259 AVG
- Player B: 574 PAs, 12 HR, 16 SB, .261 AVG
Player A is Andres Gimenez, and player B is Estrada. Giminez’s NFBC ADP is 82, nearly 100 picks ahead of Estrada. This is excellent value for the Giants’ middle infielder and is a must-have for 2023.
Joey Meneses was shot out of a cannon last season when he got the call from Washington. He mashed 13 home runs in 240 PAs, batting .324 with 33 runs and 34 RBI.
Before his major league stint with the Nats, Meneses had spent time in the minors for Atlanta, Philly, and Boston. His surprise burst of offense late in the season was reminiscent of Brandon Drury from earlier in the same season. As many predicted, Drury’s production started declining, and many expect Meneses to do the same heading into 2023.
RotoWire projects him to earn $14, tied for the eighth highest according to their auction values calculator. The Bat X projects Meneses for the same amount of home runs and RBI as Lowe, with Meneses projected for 10 fewer points in batting average. Despite these similarities, Lowe’s NFBC ADP is 103, and Meneses’ is 191.
Meneses presents great value for a corner infield slot and can be drafted in the 12th or 13th round in 15-team leagues.
In NFBC leagues since Jan. 1, Aaron Judge has not dropped below the eighth pick in the draft. Anyone with an early or middle first-round draft slot has to consider taking Judge, especially after his performance in 2022.
According to RotoWire’s EAV calculator, he was the highest earner, with a $60 valuation. The next closest was Goldschmidt at $40. This is not a one-year fluke for the Yankees’ outfielder, as much as some may think.
Since 2021, Judge is first in home runs by 21 and first in barrel rate, hard-hit rate, wRC+, wOBA and fWAR. He is tied with Jose Ramirez for first in RBI since then, is eighth in batting average, second in runs and 26th in RBI. He was also the only qualified batter with a higher hard-contact rate than medium-contact rate last season, which five players did in 2021 and 47 players did in 2019.
His home run rate was also not a fluke. In 2022, he had a 35.6% HR/FB rate compared to a 32.3% rate for his career. Playing in the AL East certainly helps his case for being able to put up gaudy home run numbers, but he also has the hard contact and bat-to-ball skills to back it up.
Judge is clearly worth the early pick, especially with new rules likely making steals available throughout the rest of the draft and putting less pressure on drafters to snag someone like Turner or Kyle Tucker early.
Taylor Ward is a great target for fantasy managers looking for a must-have type of outfielder later in the draft. He is the 29th outfielder drafted in NFBC leagues, with an ADP of 122.
Ward missed some time last season for the Angels due to injury but still put up 23 homers and five steals with a .281 AVG in 564 PAs. Most projections have him achieving similar marks in fewer PAs, with a batting average between .259-.264 (depending on the projection system).
One reason to believe that if he can see more PAs he will increase the output of his counting stats is that he posted a 14% HR/FB rate, just .6% higher than his career average.
Between 2021 and 2022, Ward improved his discipline numbers across the board, including his chase rate, contact rate, swinging strike rate, and CSW%. These trends reflect in his walk and strikeout rates, which improved each of the last three seasons.
10 qualified players in 2022 were league average or better in K%, BB%, GB%, LD%, AVG, OBP, wOBA, avgEV, barrel%, hard-hit% and hard contact%. Those players were Manny Machado, Nolan Arenado, Freddie Freeman, Yordan Alvarez, Murphy, Seager, Pete Alonso, Will Smith, Justin Turner and Ward. If ISO and SLG were added as qualifiers, only Alvarez and Ward would make the cut.
Ward is a great hitter going relatively under the radar and is a must-have mid-round outfielder.
One final outfielder to target a little later in drafts is Oakland’s Seth Brown. Brown was tied for 10th with Josh Naylor and Charlie Blackmon for lefties with the most pulled balls into the shift in 2022. With the rules banning the shift, Brown should benefit similarly to Seager.
Of his 32 pulled line drives into the shift, 14 (44%) turned into outs for Brown. If those all had turned into hits, his .230 batting average last season could have been .258. Early projections do not seem to reflect this rule change in his batting average. The Bat X projects Brown for an 8.4% walk rate, 26.3% strikeout rate and a .225 AVG, all of which would reverse his improvements to those stats between 2021 and 2022.
Brown may be undervalued simply because he plays for the Athletics, a team that is likely to be a basement dweller. His impressive hard contact skills are being overlooked, including a 13% barrel rate and a 40.8% hard-hit rate from last season. His barrel rate was seventh among outfielders in 2022, and his hard-hit rate was 24th. He is currently the 49th outfielder off the board in NFBC leagues.
With an ADP of 204 in NFBC leagues, Brown is a late-round must-have outfielder that everyone should look to draft this season.
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