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AL-Only League Deep Dive (2023 Fantasy Baseball)

Feb 5, 2023
Fantasy Baseball Draft Cheat Sheet (2023)

League-specific drafts aren’t for the faint of heart. With such a small draft class, you’ll want to be sure to maximize value at every pick. One wrong move, and your entire draft could become compromised. Today we’ll be looking at a few players to target early and which ones to focus on late. Let’s get right into it.

Average Draft Position (ADP) referenced using FantasyPros consensus

Fantasy Baseball Draft Kit

2023 Fantasy Baseball: American League Only Leagues

Here are early draft picks to consider.

Early Selections

Bo Bichette (SS – TOR): ADP 10

The late start to last season messed with a lot of hitters’ timing, but few struggled more out of the gate than Bo Bichette. After a dismal April that brought down his overall totals, Bichette went on a hitting barrage, especially in the second half. From mid-July onward, the fourth-year shortstop produced an electric .337 batting average, with 10 home runs and 23 doubles. He was also more successful on the base paths swiping six out of eight bags while decreasing his strikeout rate from 24.3% to 19.2%.

The fences were moved in at the Rogers Center, but the walls got slightly higher. Seeing as he hit 16 of his 24 home runs on the road, perhaps the dimensional changes will help him slug some more at home. The new rules in place that help baserunners will also likely help increase his stolen bases total.

Bichette is almost a lock for 25 homers, 15-20 steals, a .285-.300 average, and 90-100 RBIs and runs scored. He rarely misses a game and is as solid as you can get toward the end of round one.

Cristian Javier (SP, RP – HOU): 38

The 25-year-old was finally granted a full-time starters job after April, and he did not disappoint. Throwing close to 150 innings, Javier was lights out with a 33.2 K%, good for second in the league among starters. He also registered a 2.55 ERA, with a 2.43 xERA, and a ridiculous .169 opponent BA. And he was even better in the playoffs. Against the top competition fighting for a championship, Javier produced a 0.71 ERA on two hits, with 16 K’s over 12.2 innings.

Most projections have him reaching 200 strikeouts this season, and as a fly ball pitcher, the shift ban shouldn’t hurt him much. Without an innings limit, a top-five Cy Young bid is in the cards for Javier. He’s that good. He also still qualifies as an RP in some leagues for those of you in points or head-to-head leagues. Select him in the early third round, and don’t look back.

Daulton Varsho (C, OF – TOR): ADP 39

Varsho led all of MLB in the percentage of pulled balls last year at 54.5%. Of those pulled balls, even though he faced the shift nearly every time, Varsho still managed a fantastic .379 average with a .768 SLG. Now without an extra defender roaming his pull side, those numbers should increase even further for the former Horizon League player of the year (NCAA).

He also hit much better on the road than he did in Arizona last year (.221/.293/.406 Hm, .248/.311/.475 Rd). So moving to Toronto, where the power alley for left-handed hitters just decreased from 375 down to 359 feet (the wall height also increased a bit), should work heavily in his favor as well.

So to be clear, a player who qualifies at catcher, who’s going to play nearly every day, who also pulls the most balls in the league, now gets to play on a smaller field with a fantastic surrounding cast and no shift. Sign me up!

I’m all in on Varsho, whose .269 BABIP should increase easily this season. He may feel a bit more pressure to perform replacing clubhouse favorite Lourdes Gurriel. But if he’s up to the challenge, Varsho should easily end up as catcher numero uno by the season’s end. Thirty bombs and 15 steals with great counting stats is a monster at catcher. Grab him in the late third round and watch him help win you a championship.

Joe Ryan (SP – MIN): ADP 73

A few of my fellow pundits aren’t really in on Ryan this year because he’s basically a one-trick pony. His fastball was one of the toughest heaters to square up in baseball, but his three off-speed pitches left a lot to be desired.

He does have some other factors working in his favor, though. Hitters rarely pull the ball against him. Nor do they hit it on the ground very often. So while the shift ban is destroying a lot of other pitchers, Ryan can go about his business as usual. Plus, he works rather quickly, so the pitch clock won’t affect him, either. The San Francisco native also doesn’t walk a lot of batters and creates plenty of soft contact.

The reason Ryan’s fastball is so elite is that he throws it at a low three-quarters arm angle, one of the lowest in the league among starters. With a near-side arm delivery, it appears as if the ball should sink, but it doesn’t. He also works it up in the zone the majority of the time, which absolutely baffles hitters. Thrown over 60% of the time last year, Ryan’s heater resulted in a .174 BA and .300 SLG. He’s said to be working on his off-speed stuff this winter, so if he can get better with at least one of his three other offerings, Ryan could dominate this season in the weak AL Central.

Anthony Rizzo (1B – NYY): ADP 74

Rizzo is going to benefit greatly from the shift ban this year. He’s a dead pull hitter whose BABIP sank to a career-low .216 in 2022. He did sell out for more home runs but still only struck out 18.4% of the time. The league average for ground balls hit is roughly .240; Rizzo’s was .174. Likely batting third in the Yankees lineup, Rizzo could be in for his best season since 2019. He could easily reach 30 home runs again while raising his average back up above .250. The 33-year-old is a steal in the seventh round and is absolutely someone you should target.

Oscar Gonzalez (OF – CLE): ADP 90

I really like Gonzalez entering his sophomore campaign. He ranked in the top 9% of max exit velocity and top 7% of xBA last year. He also clubbed 11 home runs in a little over half of a season but came extremely close to many more. He probably led the league in wall balls last year that came within mere feet of going out. According to Statcast’s Expected Home Runs by Park, Gonzalez would have had 22 taters had he played all his games in Houston, 20 in Colorado or Cincinnati, and 18 in Seattle, Texas, New York (AL), or Chicago (AL).

With a solid amount of experience under his belt and another year for his body to mature, expect some of those 27 doubles (on 362 at-bats) to turn into home runs this year. Cleveland’s lineup has improved, and the 6-foot-4, 240-pound Gonzalez should be smack dab in the middle of it. I wouldn’t wait until the eighth round to select him.

Late-Round Targets

Let’s look at some later-round players to consider.

Aaron Civale (SP – CLE): ADP 152

Civale was as solid as they come after he returned from injury. He got blasted his first few times out but was battling injury and got unlucky with a .350 BABIP and 59% LOB rate. After returning in July, however, Civale enjoyed the best second half of his career. The 27-year-old held hitters to just a .186 batting average with a 27.5 K%.

He has a ton of pitches at his disposal, and even though he doesn’t throw his fastball with high velocity, it ranks near the top in spin rate causing it to appear faster than it is. He doesn’t throw it often, though, as he relies more heavily on his cutter and sinker with his curveball as his out pitch. His bender looked extremely polished last year and was basically unhittable, resulting in a .124 BA and 58 K’s.

Civale won 12 games in 2021 in just 21 games started. Fully healthy entering this season, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see the Northeastern alum repeat that number along with the impressive ratios he produced in last year’s second half. Target him in round 13 or 14 in 12-team leagues.

Oswald Peraza (SS – NYY): ADP 213

The 50th-ranked overall prospect in baseball got his feet wet last year by playing in 18 games for the Yankees. He registered an impressive 146 wRC+ (46% better than average) with nearly as many walks as strikeouts in the very small sample size. He never looked overmatched at the plate and even stole two bags (he swiped 33 in Triple-A).

The Bombers seem content to roll out one of their youngsters this season at shortstop, and my money’s on Peraza getting the first crack at it. If he does earn the starting job, getting him after 200 in an AL-Only League is highway robbery.

Ken Waldichuk (SP – OAK): ADP 218

Waldichuk’s ADP is laughable, with some of the names going before him. The only explanation is that many leagues drafted early, and back in December, he was going much later. Expectations in the early Winter were that Waldichuk was going to start the year off in the Minor Leagues, but with Cole Irvin recently shipped out of town, that is no longer the case.

The 6-foot-4 former Yankee is the A’s best starter in the entire organization. He’s a 25-year-old southpaw with a solid four-pitch mix. His best offering is his slider which moved an impressive three and a half inches above league average last year. He threw it 21% of the time, and it rendered just a .121 BA with a .273 SLG, good for a +6 run value. His curveball is also nasty. He threw his hook 8% of the time, which didn’t allow a hit.

Waldichuk was a little shaky to start his Major League career, which led to a bloated 4.93 ERA. However, he did strike out nearly a batter per inning and kept his WHIP down to a paltry 1.21. Wins will be tough to come by pitching for the hapless A’s, but at 218th, you cannot go wrong. Now that he’s not blocked, he’s worthy of a late-round pick.

Kerry Carpenter (OF – DET): ADP 233

No one’s paying attention to Carpenter because he’s on the offensively-challenged Tigers. Also, by the time he came up, Detroit was an afterthought. A 19th-round pick in 2019, Carpenter burst onto the scene last year with 36 combined home runs (six at the Major League level). With the shift no longer in play and Comerica Park’s fences moved in, expect the left-handed hitting Carpenter to build on last year’s numbers. (.252/.310/.485 in 114 PA).

Unlike a lot of the prospects going before him in drafts, Carpenter’s pretty much assured a roster spot. He’ll likely be hitting somewhere near the middle of the order from day one and could be a solid four-category contributor. He could easily outperform Josh Jung and Triston Casas but is going 80 picks later.

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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Austin Lowell is a featured writer at FantasyPros. For more from Austin, check out his archive.

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