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Fantasy Baseball Second-Year Player Primer: Hitters (2023)

by Josh Shepardson | @BChad50 | Featured Writer
Jan 18, 2023
2023 Fantasy Baseball Draft Rankings: Outfielders

Investing in the correct young players in fantasy baseball can be the difference between finishing in the middle of the pack and winning a championship. But, of course, younger players have smaller samples of data to investigate and rely upon. So, it’s imperative to make the most of the data available, which isn’t always entirely statistics. Scouting reports can also help identify possible breakout sophomores. The best approach utilizes first-year stats and scouting notes to create a complete player profile, and the following analysis considers each.

Fantasy Baseball Draft Kit

Fantasy Baseball Second-Year Player Primer: Hitters

Early-Round Sophomores

Julio Rodriguez (OF – SEA): 5.0 ADP and 3 ECR

Rodriguez was billed as an elite prospect. And, of course, he immediately lived up to the hype. According to the FantasyPros 2021 rankings, J-Rod was the 12th-ranked hitter last year.

The toolsy outfielder was a genuine five-category contributor. He had 83 runs, 28 homers, 75 RBI, 25 stolen bases, and a .285 batting average. Yet, Rodriguez didn’t truly hit the ground running. According to FanGraphs, Rodriguez hit .136 and had four runs, zero homers, two RBI, four stolen bases, and a ghastly 45.8 K% through his first 48 plate appearances. The 21-year-old outfielder had his first multi-hit performance on April 22, hit his first homer on May 1, and hit .298 with 80 runs, 28 homers, 73 RBI, 21 stolen bases and a 24.0 K% in his final 512 plate appearances of the year.

Rodriguez justifiably has a top-five average draft position (ADP) and an expert consensus ranking (ECR) of three. I’m splitting the difference, ranking J-Rod fourth overall. He’s an excellent first-round pick who can lay the foundation in every hitting category.

Bobby Witt (3B, SS – KC): 15.7 ADP and 16 ECR

Witt was ranked 23rd among hitters last year. So, his ADP and ECR have baked in some improvement in his sophomore campaign. While J-Rod was a five-category helper, Witt moved the needle in four categories but left a bit to be desired with his .254 batting average.

Nevertheless, he had 82 runs, 20 homers, 80 RBI, and 30 stolen bases. The young infielder’s power and speed combination were tantalizing. Moreover, Witt’s batting average will likely improve. First, he hit .290 in 564 plate appearances in Double-A and Triple-A in 2021. Second, Witt had a .326 BABIP and 23.2 K% in the upper minors. As a rookie, he had a .295 BABIP and 21.4 K%. So, a little more BABIP luck or better quality contact as he adjusts to big-league pitching can help enhance his batting average. Regardless, he’s a worthy pick at his ADP, even if he merely repeats his rookie campaign. If Witt improves, he can outperform his ADP.

Michael Harris (OF – ATL): 33.0 ADP and 28 ECR

Harris provides the first example of a discrepancy between the ADP and ECR for a notable sophomore hitter. The experts like Harris more than the drafters. I’m closer to the camp of the experts than the drafters.

Harris is a toolsy outfielder and hit the ground running, despite having fewer than 200 plate appearances in the upper minors. He had 19 homers and 20 stolen bases in only 441 plate appearances.

Harris also had a .297 batting average. At a glance, the batting average might appear lucky since Harris had a .361 BABIP. However, he had a .364 BABIP in Double-A and a .349 BABIP in High-A in 2021. In addition, Harris has the requisite speed to post an above-average BABIP. Per Baseball Savant, he tied for the 28th-fastest sprint speed out of 582 players with at least 10 recorded sprints in 2022.

Harris spent most of the year cutting his teeth near the bottom of the order, depressing his runs and RBI. Fortunately, he climbed the ladder by the end of the year, occasionally hitting second, third, and cleanup. Roster Resource projects him to hit second this year, allowing the Braves to alternate righties and lefties and awarding Harris ample run and RBI chances this season. The upside is immense for Harris, and he should contribute positively to all five standard offensive categories. Thus, he’s an outstanding target in the third round of fantasy drafts.

Adley Rutschman (C – BAL): 63.7 ADP and 88 ECR

Catching is challenging. Catchers have responsibilities that extend beyond competently fielding their position and hitting. They must also be on the same page as their pitcher and call a good game behind the dish. As a result, many highly touted catching prospects have face-planted in their first taste of The Show.

Fortunately, Rutschman doesn’t fall into that camp. He hit .254, clubbed 13 homers, chipped in four stolen bases, and had 70 RBI. The switch-hitting catcher is the rare middle-of-the-order catcher. Unfortunately, that doesn’t mean gamers should pay the premium for an above-average-hitting catcher. Rutschman’s a top-six catcher, but count me in with the experts instead of the drafters spending a top-65 pick on the second-year catcher.

Mid-Round Sophomores

Corbin Carroll (OF – ARI): 83.0 ADP and 95 ECR

Carroll didn’t take the fantasy baseball world by storm last year. Still, he wasn’t completely overmatched, either. He hit a respectable .260, albeit with a 27.0 K%. However, Carroll’s 11.4 SwStr% wasn’t much higher than the league average of 11.1 SwStr%. So, the gap between Carroll’s bloated strikeout rate and the league average of 22.4% was probably a bit unlucky.

Additionally, Carroll’s numbers in the upper minors were titillating. In 442 plate appearances in Double-A and Triple-A in 2022, he hit .307 and had 24 homers, 31 stolen bases, a 15.2 BB%, and 24.2 K%.

Furthermore, Carroll’s scouting grades were great at multiple reputable outlets. And Carroll’s elite speed was measurably off the charts in his big-league debut. In fact, Carroll had the fastest sprint speed of any player, with 10 competitive runs in 2022. The drafters and experts aren’t in alignment, as the former are more enamored with Arizona’s young outfielder than the rankers. In this case, I’m willing to lean into Carroll’s elite numbers in the upper minors, sweet sprint speed, and glowing scouting reports, and siding with the drafters.

Oneil Cruz (SS – PIT): 85.7 ADP and 78 ECR

Technically, Cruz debuted in 2021. He played in two games for the Pirates in 2021. Yet, Cruz fits the spirit of this piece and is included. The concern for his fantasy outlook is apparent. Cruz had a 34.9 K% in 361 plate appearances last year. As a result, he had a .233 batting average. Cruz’s batting average can crater further if he doesn’t make more contact.

Nonetheless, he’s a Statcast darling. First, according to FanGraphs, Cruz’s maximum exit velocity (122.4 mph) was the highest among players, with at least 300 plate appearances last year, easily clearing Giancarlo Stanton‘s max of 119.8 mph. Second, Cruz had the 12th-fastest sprint speed. The freakishly athletic Cruz parlayed his pop and speed into 17 homers and 10 stolen bases in 361 plate appearances.

Cruz has flaws and isn’t a risk-free pick. Still, his upside is worth chasing in the seventh or eighth round for gamers willing to offset Cruz’s risk with other safer picks before and after popping him in drafts. Finally, Cruz has the upper-end tools to be a first-round pick at this time in 2024 if he cuts back on his strikeouts even a wee bit.

Gunnar Henderson (3B, SS – BAL): 93.3 ADP and 104 ECR

Henderson hit his way from Double-A to the majors last year. In 503 plate appearances in the upper minors, Henderson had 101 runs, 19 homers, 76 RBI, 22 stolen bases, a .297 batting average, 15.7 BB%, and 23.1 K%.

The young infielder made a nearly seamless transition to the majors. Perhaps, most encouragingly, Henderson’s plate discipline followed him to the game’s highest level. He had a 12.1 BB% in 132 plate appearances for the Orioles. Henderson’s four homers and one stolen base in 132 plate appearances weren’t jaw-dropping, but his exit velocity and sprint speed aligned with his above-average power and speed scouting grades. Henderson has untapped potential. Will he tap into this year? That remains to be seen. At the cost of a fringe top-100 pick, he’s a worthwhile investment in fantasy drafts this year.

Vinnie Pasquantino (1B – KC): 101.3 ADP and 93 ECR

Pasquantino has plate discipline and contact ability that belies his youth. The young first baseman had a higher walk rate (11.7 BB%) than his strikeout rate (11.4 K%). He wasn’t a punch-and-Judy hitter, either.

Instead, Pasquantino swatted 10 homers and had a .295 batting average in 298 plate appearances for the Royals. Further, he had a .289 xBA, supporting his batting average, and a .476 xSLG, which was higher than his .450 SLG.

Pasquantino’s approach, contact skills, and contact quality should yield a high batting average. He can also clear 20 homers. Finally, he’ll hit in the heart of Kansas City’s order, maximizing his potential for RBI. Gamers should reach ahead of his ADP to lock Pasquantino into their rosters and pop him as early as the top of the eighth round.

Steven Kwan (OF – CLE): 114.7 ADP and 102 ECR

Kwan is the perfect draft target for games needing help in runs, batting average, and a dash of speed. He’s the idea table setter for the Guardians. Kwan had a .298 batting average, .373 OBP, 9.7 BB% and 9.4 K%. So, Kwan also gets a value boost in leagues using OBP.

The leadoff hitter’s approach should allow him to continue hitting for a high average. And his ability to get on base at a high rate will give him many chances to cash in runs. Sadly, Kwan won’t contribute many homers or RBI. He mashed only six taters in 638 plate appearances and won’t have many ducks on the pond as Cleveland’s leadoff hitter. Kwan did rip 12 homers in 341 plate appearances in Double-A and Triple-A in 2021. So, double-digit homers aren’t a total pipe dream.

Unfortunately, 11 stolen bases in High-A in 2019 was his highest total in the minors. Kwan stole 19 bases last year and had an above-average sprint speed. Still, he’s not guaranteed to repeat his career-high 19 stolen bases last year. So, again, Kwan is a great bet to help fantasy squads boost their runs and batting average, but his stolen bases are less certain, and his power won’t move the needle.

Late-Round Sophomores

Jose Miranda (1B, 3B – MIN): 168.3 ADP and 154 ECR

Miranda is essentially a carbon copy of Ty France. Neither Miranda nor France are exciting players who will carry fantasy squads to championships, but they’re both fantastic glue players with multi-position eligibility.

Miranda stumbled out of the blocks, hitting .094, and had one homer in his first 56 plate appearances. Then, his bat woke up. In his final 427 plate appearances, Miranda smashed 14 homers and had a .292 batting average. He’s an adequate corner infielder, utility option, or bench bat in 12-team mixed formats or larger.

Josh Jung (3B – TEX): 219.3 ADP and 229 ECR

Which is larger, 208 or 342? Obviously, the latter is larger than the former. Jung struck out in a staggering 33.2% of his 208 plate appearances in Triple-A and the majors last season. However, the eighth pick in the 2019 MLB Amateur Draft had a significantly more palatable 22.2 K% in 342 plate appearances in Double-A and Triple-A in 2021.

Jung didn’t make his season debut until July 28. Gamers shouldn’t throw the baby out with the bathwater and overreact to Jung’s high strikeout in 2022. He’s only a year removed from tallying a .326 batting average and 152 wRC+ with 19 homers in 342 plate appearances in the upper minors in 2021. Jung is the rare high-upside young lotto ticket gamers can select for cheap. He’s an excellent target after pick 200.

Juan Yepez (1B, 3B, OF – STL): 321.5 ADP and 301 ECR

Yepez has competition for playing time on the Cardinals. Thankfully, that’s more than accounted for by his dirt-cheap ADP. Yepez was a bat-first prospect and plied his craft at a high level in Triple-A. In 565 plate appearances at that level spread across 2021 and 2022, Yepez hit 38 bombs and had a .285 batting average, 148 wRC+, 10.4 BB%, and 20.4 K%.

Yepez wasn’t as impressive for the Red Birds, but his 12 bombs, .253 batting average, 109 wRC+, and 22.3 K% weren’t bad. Sadly, Yepez’s 86.5 mph exit velocity and 114.4 mph maximum exit velocity were underwhelming. As a result, he had only a .216 xBA and .394 xSLG. Yepez’s Statcast data were reasons for pause.

They’re in stark contrast to his scouting reports, though. First, MLB Pipeline graded his power tool as a 55 on the 20-to-80 scale. Second, FanGraphs’ final scouting report for Yepez gave him a 50 present game power, 55 future game power, and 60 present and future raw power. Third, Baseball Prospectus referred to his raw power as plus-plus in their 2022 scouting report for Yepez.

Can Yepez tap into more of his batting-practice power in games this year? Maybe. At the cost of a pick outside the top 300 selections, he’s worth the risk, with the bonus of eligibility at multiple positions.

Beyond our fantasy baseball content, be sure to check out our award-winning slate of Fantasy Baseball Tools as you prepare for your draft this season. From our free mock Draft Simulator – which allows you to mock draft against realistic opponents – to our Draft Assistant – which optimizes your picks with expert advice – we’ve got you covered this fantasy baseball draft season.

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Beyond our fantasy baseball content, be sure to check out our award-winning slate of Fantasy Baseball Tools as you prepare for your draft this season. From our free mock Draft Simulator – which allows you to mock draft against realistic opponents – to our Draft Assistant – which optimizes your picks with expert advice – we’ve got you covered this fantasy baseball draft season.

Josh Shepardson is a featured writer at FantasyPros. For more from Josh, check out his archive and follow him @BChad50.

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