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NL-Only League Draft Deep Dive (2023 Fantasy Baseball)

NL-Only League Draft Deep Dive (2023 Fantasy Baseball)

With the universal DH here to stay, the days of National League-style baseball are all but over. While there are still glimpses here and there, small ball is a thing of the past. Launch angle and the home run ball now reign king, and guys who are heavy ground ball hitters are regulated to bench duty. The general consensus over the last few years has been if you hit the ball in the air, you’re more likely to score runs.

However, that could all be changing with the new rules in place. With baserunners encouraged to steal and ground balls no longer having to sneak by three defenders in one small area, the game could be morphing back a bit. The long ball will still be the gold standard, but now some of the other guys could have increased value as well. If nothing else, power hitters with low batting averages who suffered from extremely low BABIPs should see their number increase this year with the much-debated shift ban.

Whether it’s good for baseball or not is another matter, but with the way the game will be played now, fantasy managers must adjust. The shift ban will not only help boost batting averages across the league, but runs and RBI totals should be up as well. Steals will also increase under the new rule changes making base swipers slightly less valuable early on. Quality pitching will be a bit more scarce this season, which is something else to keep in mind. Ideally, you’ll grab as many 5 category or power guys early on and then search for batting average and pitching in the middle rounds. Saves are extremely limited in single-league types, so be sure to grab at least one sure-fire closer earlier than you normally would too. The same goes for catchers.

Alright! Enough of all that. NL-only leagues offer plenty of excitement and are a blast to play in. There are countless players to target, including some fine bounce-back candidates and sleepers, so let’s get into it.

Fantasy Baseball Draft Kit

2023 Fantasy Baseball: National League Only Leagues

Early Selections to Target

Manny Machado (3B – SD)

Manny Machado can opt out after this season, and if the Padres don’t work out a contract extension, then Manny will hit the open market. Insiders expect the two sides to come to some sort of agreement, but until that happens, you have to believe it’ll be a heavily motivating factor for the mashing 30-year-old.

Contracts aside, the Padres’ top half of the lineup (especially once Tatis returns) should be the best in baseball. With Manny likely hitting third, most projections have him producing an MVP-type season. With the new rules in place, he could even improve upon last year’s numbers and even add to the nine steals he racked up (12 the year before).

After watching his fellow All-Stars signing for record-breaking dollar amounts, you know Machado will be gunning for his, going all out for what could be his best season to date. Target him no later than sixth overall, and watch him outproduce Juan Soto if he doesn’t get his contract.

Matt Olson (1B – ATL)

Combining FanGraphs and Statcast data, we can approximate that over the last three seasons (one of them being 2020’s shortened season), Olsen has lost nearly 50 hits to the shift. That is the third most in all of baseball. With those 50 balls getting through, his batting average over that span jumps from .246 to .282. His runs and RBIs would also increase, given he’s safely reaching base more.

Going a little deeper, we find that nobody has grounded out with hard contact more often than Olsen. He ranks number one over the last three years of pulled hard ground balls hit into the shift with over 150 of them.

With these numbers in mind, it doesn’t take a genius to figure out that the Braves’ first baseman could be in for a massive uptick in production following the shift ban. He was already one of the league’s top first baseman, and now his stock should only go up. He also rarely, if ever, misses a game. Target him at the end of round two.

Ozzie Albies (2B – ATL)

Albies was not good last year. Going in the early second round in some drafts, the Braves second baseman was a huge disappointment, likely because of an injury he never seemed to recover from fully. His substandard season has led to a consensus ADP rating of 25 in NL Only leagues (44th standard).

If – and it’s a big if – but if Albies can return to the player he once was now at full strength again, he could finish the year as the top second baseman in the National League. His strikeouts rightfully should give you pause, but after such a down year, Albies has fallen to a more affordable draft price. He’s still relatively young at just 26 years old and could produce a fine 25/15+ season. If he’s available at the end of the third, he could be quite valuable.

Josh Hader (RP – SD)

Hader should come at a discount because of his awful first few games as a Padre. His overall numbers don’t look as impressive because of it, but after that, Hader was better than ever. He even reached triple digits in the playoffs. He averaged nearly two strikeouts an inning and allowed just five hits and no earned runs from September 7th through the end of the playoffs (14.2 IP).

The Padres could pace the NL West with over 100 victories this year, and if Hader can stay healthy, the 28-year-old could easily lead the league in saves. With only a few sure-fire closers in the game and with Hader’s draft stock falling, the Padres’ electric closer is someone to aim for in all NL-Only leagues. I like him at the end of round three.

Max Muncy (2B, 3B – LAD)

Muncy is another example of the true three-outcome player the league is trying so desperately to get rid of. His walk rate was sky-high at nearly 16%, while he struck out 25% of the time. He also hit the ball in the air 49.5% when making contact and was massively shifted on in nearly every at-bat. As a dead pull hitter at 49.2%, good for second highest in the National League, Muncy’s average was dismal mainly because of a horrendous .227 BABIP. His average on ground balls was laughable at .175, roughly 66 points below the league average.

The good news is the shift is ancient history. So now Muncy can go back to being the .250, 30+ homer, 100 RBI guy he is meant to be. He’ll also score nearly 100 runs because of the amount he gets on base. The Dodgers lost the pair of Turners, but the surrounding cast is still excellent, highlighted by the two future hall-of-famers hitting at the top of the lineup.

Muncy also has the luxury of entering this season fully healthy, whereas last year, he was hampered by a nasty elbow injury. The inflammation brought about a rough .150/.327/.263 slash line (with just three homers) over his first 41 games. That extremely slow start led to an overall down year for Muncy, which could keep other managers away. The Dodgers infielder made massive strides in the second half, however, including 12 doubles and 12 homers over the final two months of the season. He also drove in 37 runs and hit nearly .250 over that time. If you prorate those accomplishments over a full season, you get 36 home runs with 111 runs batted in. And now he gets to hit without the shift!

Muncy’s not going to steal any bags, but 32 bombs, a .255 average, and 200 RBIs + runs are very attainable.

Mid to Late Round Sleepers

Kodai Senga (2B, 3B – LAD)

Senga’s ADP is all over the place because no one ever really knows what to expect from defected players. The results vary, but if history has taught us anything, it’s that pitchers tend to fare better than hitters do. And Senga has a 100-mile-per-hour fastball. Bank on 150 K’s, plus 10-12 wins with decent ERA and WHIP. He won’t lead your staff, but he’s a solid addition in the mid-rounds.

Ezequiel Tovar (SS – COL)

Tovar is the front-runner to start from day one at shortstop. The Rockies’ top prospect has the potential to have a 20/15 season with a .270 to .280 average. Everything would have to go his way for that to happen, but Tovar has the ability and opportunity to do it.

He hit .319, launched 14 home runs, and stole 17 bases over half a season in the Minor Leagues last year. He earned his call-up late in September, and although he struggled over nine games, he did hit a home run.

Tovar is near the top of all fantasy projections for rookies, and he should be in store for a solid year. Don’t reach for him, but he could be a star taken in the mid to late rounds.

Charlie Blackmon (OF – COL)

Blackmon’s production has taken a hit over the last two seasons, with Father Time starting to catch up with him. Nevertheless, I’m still banking on a productive year. According to Baseball Savant, Blackmon has lost nearly 50 hits since 2020 because of the shift alone. That’s just behind Olsen, coming in at fifth overall. Since the beginning of the shortened season, Blackmon has pulled 156 ground balls which led to a lousy .183 batting average. The league average is around .240 on grounders (including against the shift) so you have to think the Rockies’ longest-tenured player will improve his overall numbers this year.

Blackmon will turn 37 in July, but he’ll mostly DH, which should help him stay healthy and fresh for the year. He also still plays half of his games in Coors, where he’s a must-start at home (.804 OPS). The lineup around him has also slightly improved, helping Blackmon’s case for a solid year. A healthy (as of now) Kris Bryant and Cj Cron is a nice one-two punch sandwiching him in the lineup.

With the shift being a thing of the past, expect Blackmon to more than deliver on his 134 NL Only ADP. He should have at least one more good year in him.

Justin Steele (SP – CHC)

Wait for it. You know it’s coming… Justin Steele is an absolute steal at his current ADP. Wasn’t that glorious? With one of the most devastating sliders in the league, Steele could crack the top 30 (NL starting pitchers) by season’s end. With 3.3 inches above average vertical movement and 5.5 inches above average horizontal movement, the southpaw’s slide piece rendered a .136 batting average with 75 strikeouts.

Overall the Cubs’ young lefty placed in the top five percent of the league in barrels surrendered and fastball spin rate. He struck out 126 batters in 119 innings and only allowed eight home runs over 24 starts. Steele should easily crack the starting five to begin the year and will undoubtedly outperform his late draft slot. Target him no later than 140th.

Wil Myers (1B, OF – CIN)

Will Myers? That’s right. Even though Mr. Myers hasn’t been relevant in fantasy leagues for a few seasons, his move to the Great American Small Park changes that. Not only do the Reds not have anyone to challenge him for playing time, but the tiny confines of Cincinnati’s field will play to his strengths.

In NL-Only leagues, Myers has plenty of value at 150th overall. If he can stay healthy, 20 bombs with 10 steals are in range for the ex-catcher. He should bat near the middle of the lineup and could easily outperform his draft slot. Myers is worth a pick in the 15th round.

Drey Jameson (SP – ARI)

Arizona has a solid trio of youngsters likely to crack the starting rotation this year. FanGraphs has Ryne Nelson earning the fifth rotation spot out of Spring, but it’s Jameson who is the more talented of the two (and Brandon Pfaadt who’s the best.) The freshly turned 25-year-old has a much higher ground-ball rate than Nelson and throws with higher velocity. His slider also has a sharper break. All three pitchers could be valuable this season, but I’d be wary of Nelson, whose BABIP was .156 over his three starts with a LOB rate of 90.2%. Target Jameson in round 16.

Endy Rodriguez (C – PIT)

Rodriguez’s numbers in the Minors were optimal, and he performed well at every level. He also plays multiple positions, including 1B, 2B, and OF. Suppose the Pirates decide to stick with Austin Hedges throughout the season because of his defense and his ability to help young pitchers. In that case, Rodriguez could find himself playing all over the diamond. If he lasts beyond 200, put in an early bid for him.

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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