Sleeper Draft Targets for Runs (2023 Fantasy Baseball)
When targeting players for runs later in your drafts you want players who can get on base and players who hit toward or at the top of the order. If you find players that check both boxes then that is even better. Here is a list of eight players that do in fact check these boxes. Some of these players either go late or undrafted in shallow leagues. Others definitely go undrafted in shallow formats and are, at best, fallback options for runs in deeper formats.
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Sleepers to Target for Runs in 2023
The following eight players are “sleepers” to consider in the late stages of 2023 fantasy-baseball drafts.
Lars Nootbaar (OF – STL)
You can say Nootbaar is also a sleeper for home runs but the appeal here can arguably be the runs as well. He should be leading off against RHP for the Cardinals. The Cardinals project to be one of the better lineups in baseball again and getting the strong side platoon at the top of the order never hurts.
#Cardinals Lars Nootbaar
– 89th percentile max exit velo
– 80th percentile HH%
– 85th percentile Barrel%
– Limits swing-and-miss
– Above avg. BB% & contact% WHILE be selective
– Clear path to playing time
– Possibly benefits from shift ban: 53% Shift% 66 point difference in wOBA pic.twitter.com/COP36gRyD9
— Mike Kurland (@Mike_Kurland) December 20, 2022
Nootbaar has great plate discipline (a 14.7% walk rate to show for it) and limits his swings-and-misses. This shows in the elite O-Swing% (24.5%) and SwStr% (8.6%) that he put up in 2022. For those unfamiliar with advanced metrics, this shows he does not chase pitches out of the zone and he does not swing and miss in the zone. People often ask “What about Tommy Edman?”. Well, Edman will lead off… but against LHP. Edman and Nootbaar would rotate leading off based on matchups toward the end of the year and this lingered into the playoffs. Nootbaar is just a shallow league sleeper overall but we cannot ignore the runs being a strength here.
Masataka Yoshida (OF – BOS)
Masataka Yoshida is another shallow league sleepers for runs. There is some hype starting to build for him as a report came out that the raw power would grade out at 70 on a 20-80 scale. That is elite raw power. We have seen flashes of the power in Japan but it still remains to be seen how it will translate to the MLB in year one. Yoshida is currently projected to leadoff for the Red Sox. In Japan, he played 119 games and amassed 508 plate appearances. He was able to put up a .336/.449/.559 line in the process. If the on-base skills can carry over then he will score a ton of runs for this Red Sox team.
Jean Segura (2B – MIA)
Sure he signed with a bad team, but Jean Segura has a clear path to the top of the order. It is yet to be determined if the Marlins will be as aggressive on the base paths as last year but Segura will still factor into the top of the order and has players like Jazz Chisholm and company to drive him in. Segura is coming off three straight seasons with at least a .336 OBP. Nothing special but has been above average. If he can keep that up there should be enough juice in the lineup to knock him in plenty. The reason I mentioned the stolen bases as a factor is that Segura has a history of running. Running would equal more opportunities to be in scoring position. The Marlins as a team had the second most stolen bases last season (122). Having a new manager makes it tough to gauge if they will be equally – or even close to – as aggressive on the base paths in 2023.
DJ LeMahieu (1B,2B,3B – NYY)
The big hurdle this offseason was getting healthy for DJ LeMahieu. From the sounds of things, he did and enters Spring Training healthy and ready to play. There is no “clear” path to starting as you look at their roster but between keeping Anthony Rizzo healthy, the potential for Josh Donaldson to continue underperforming and regular days off for their infielders in general, LeMahieu will factor into the lineup most days. The Yankees struggled to find an answer for a leadoff hitter without him in the lineup last season. They tried a few different options. Even in the playoffs they just could not settle on anyone in particular. LeMahieu offers an answer to that issue as, even last season he led off in 89 of the 125 games he played. All he needed was health. Now he should return toward the top of the order and as long as he is himself, let the runs pour in.
Lane Thomas (OF – WAS)
This is now back-to-back seasons where Lane Thomas had a strong finish to the season. In his final 31 starts of the season, he led off in each one. During that span, Thomas hit .244/.333/.390 with a 105 wRC+. He had an 11.3% walk rate. This approach could help him continue to get on base at a decent clip. The Nationals are a bad team but they will score runs. Even the leadoff hitter for them can get his fair share. However, there is a path to losing plate appearances at the top of the order against RHP. We saw him move up and down the order for a large part of the season based on matchups. The leash might be short but at least starting the year he has a clear path to leading off and, with it, a clear path to producing runs. This is why these are sleepers and more relevant in your deeper leagues.
Michael Brantley (OF – HOU)
The big issue is always health with Brantley. He is even entering 2023 not at 100%. He is on schedule from his recovery but behind in terms of being ready for Spring Training games. Brantley has a career .356 OBP and has not had an OBP under .364 since 2018. He continues to have elite plate discipline and projects to bat at the top of one of the best lineups in baseball. They have other options in Houston but Dusty Baker always opts for Michael Brantley. In 2022, Brantley only played 64 games. Yet he managed to bat 2nd in every single start. His on-base skills continue to carry him to the top of the order so if we see the same treatment for Brantley when he enters gameplay he should score plenty of runs while he is in the lineup.
TJ Friedl (OF – CIN)
TJ Friedl is a deeper league option. The upside is limited but it is there. He led off in his final 25 starts of the season. During that span he hit just .209 but was terribly unlucky with a .197 BABIP. He still managed a .315 OBP with a 12% walk rate and 15.7% strikeout rate. Both are very strong outputs, not to mention he still had a 104 wRC+. The limiting factor here is the likely platoon he enters 2023 with and what will likely be a short leash at the top of the order. The good news is he gets the strong side of the platoon as the left-handed hitter and the home park will allow for the power and other numbers to play up.
Tony Kemp (2B,OF – OAK)
Now we are getting to the territory of being desperate. The Oakland Athletics offer little upside as a team in general but one thing they consistently did was let Tony Kemp lead off against RHP in 2022. This should continue leading into the 2023 season and Kemp can be serviceable for runs in your AL-Only or very deep leagues. He also had a little juice in the second half in general. Limiting strikeouts the way he does can only help Kemp. But there is little reason to believe in upside or potential for difference-making numbers. To reiterate, this is more of a desperation target.
Among qualified hitters in the 2nd half, Tony Kemp had the 3rd lowest K%: 7.1%
He also had a 126 wRC+, 5 SBs and a .278 BA. Even sprinkled in 5 HRs
Still projected to leadoff for the #Athletics (should vs RHP again if anything)
I have other players I like more at cost though pic.twitter.com/YJI3HLAneD
— Mike Kurland (@Mike_Kurland) January 4, 2023
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