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10 Must-Have Players (2023 Fantasy Baseball)

Mar 14, 2023

Spring Training and the World Baseball Classic are both in full swing, marking the true start of fantasy baseball draft season. Each new season brings the hope of a title to every team, the fans and fantasy baseball managers. However, a gigantic first step in achieving that fantasy championship is nailing the draft, and your chances of doing so move up when you take the players you genuinely believe are primed for a breakout season.

Taking “your guys” and honing in on upside as the draft progresses maximizes your chance at getting the high-value studs who push your squad into title contention. Our featured analysts are back today to share who their must-haves are as we enter the season. Read on to see which breakout candidates you shouldn’t pass on.

Fantasy Baseball Must-Have Players for 2023

Q1. Who is the one hitter outside the top 50 in hitter ADP you are targeting as a must-have on all your teams and why?

Byron Buxton (OF – MIN)
“I simply can’t quit Byron Buxton. I know, I know…he’s always hurt. And he’ll get hurt again. But even despite all the injuries, Buxton has developed into a star right before our eyes (when he plays). And in our fantasy game, if you play in a shallow or standard-sized league, you can place him on the IL and find a decent OF replacement for a few weeks while he’s hurt and get by without him (I might shy away in deeper leagues because finding a replacement is more challenging.) When Buxton plays, however, you are likely getting elite-level production. The 29-year-old homered 28 times in only 92 games last season. Even if he played just 140 games, that would be a 43-homer pace. He finished in the top 10% of all of baseball last season in exit velocity, maximum exit velocity, xSLG, xwOBA, xwOBAcon, and hard-hit percentage. He even helped propel the AL All-Star team to victory with his go-ahead home run off of Tony Gonsolin. The strikeouts and dip in batting average are a legitimate concern, but Buxton hit .306 during the 2021 season with a manageable 24.4% strikeout rate suggesting those numbers could improve in 2023. His current ADP is a very-palatable 87.0, so you can roll the dice on Buxton in the middle rounds, which tilts the risk/reward seesaw in his favor. The Twins have playoff aspirations and will do everything they can to keep Buxton on the field, as he will reportedly DH occasionally to lessen the load on his body. He also runs less than he did earlier in his career in an attempt to preserve his body, but he’s more than capable of 10-20 steals as one of the fastest players in the league. Buxton is a bonafide MVP candidate if he ever puts together a full season, and I want him on my teams if and when that happens.”
Lucas Spence (Pitcher List)

William Contreras (C – MIL)
“While I hate drafting catchers, William Contreras remains my focus to fill that position in 1-catcher leagues. Milwaukee is under-the-radar in terms of improved offense, and his only competition for playing time is Victor Caratini. The pop in Contreras’s bat will keep him in the lineup most days, and he is at or above the 90th percentile in maxEV, Barrel%, and xSLG. I have a steadfast rule never to draft a catcher in the first 100 picks, but I love the value of Willson’s younger brother at an ADP of 133 in 2023.”
Kelly Kirby (FantasyPros)

Wander Franco (SS – TB)
“Wander Franco is just 22 years old and is still an elite young talent. He posted a .335/.402/.537 slash over 224 minor league games and sure, injuries derailed his 2022 campaign, but Franco has yet to scratch the surface of his upside. Some will knock the fact he doesn’t offer elite power or speed, but he has 20/25 potential and as the 56th hitter off the board, that’s a tremendous value. He struggled at home last year (.704 OPS) and Tampa has historically not been great for the batter’s eye. But, his incredible finish to 2022 (.322 BA/.853 OPS) was enough to have me targeting him everywhere in 2023.”
Joe Pisapia (FantasyPros)

Brandon Drury (1B,2B,3B – LAA)
“Brandon Drury had a career year in 2022, swatting 28 home runs despite hitting just 20 over the previous four seasons combined. He used that season to get a brand new two-year deal from the Angels, but his ADP is still sitting around the 200 mark this season. Do I expect him to repeat his damn near magical 2022, giving me 28 home runs and over 160 combined runs and RBI? No. Of course not. Don’t be silly. But I keep ending up with Drury shares because I see 20 HR, an AVG around .250, and around 125 runs and RBI from a player who is eligible at 1B, 2B, and 3B. I targeted him in best ball and deeper leagues earlier in the draft season, and I’ve started taking him late in 12-team leagues, as well. He isn’t perfect, but his unique eligibility makes him attractive if he puts up more than half of his 2022 production in 2023.”
Mike Maher (FantasyPros)

Gunnar Henderson (3B,SS – BAL)
“It almost feels like cheating because I firmly believe he should not be outside the top 50 hitters, but sitting at 54th as of this moment is Gunnar Henderson. The near-consensus top prospect in baseball and a heavy favorite to win AL Rookie of the Year only has two hits this spring training, which might be keeping his ADP down, but the more important sample size came after his debut last season when the 21-year-old slashed .259/.348/.440 in his first taste of the big leagues. Henderson has tons of pop, a preternatural batting eye, surprising speed for his size, and an already above-average glove at third base, which will keep him on the field even if the bat struggles. Since being drafted out of high school in 2019, he has taken huge leaps in production every season, even as he’s risen through the minor league ranks. Now he’s all but guaranteed a spot in the top half of the Opening Day lineup, and while third base has a deep group of elite fantasy options, it falls off really quickly after you get past the first half-dozen names. Of the remaining 3B pool, Henderson is clearly the one with the best chance of jumping into that upper echelon this season.”
Ryan Wormeli (FantasyPros)

Q2. Who is the one starting pitcher outside the top 30 in starting pitcher ADP you are targeting as a must-have on all your teams and why?

Blake Snell (SP – SDP)
“I’m buying back in on Blake Snell for 2023. The 30-year-old has taunted fantasy managers for years with bouts of inconsistency mixed with enormous potential. While the overall numbers last season look uninspiring (8-10 record, 3.38 ERA, 1.20 WHIP), a look under the hood reveals the potential for much greater things in 2023. For the second consecutive season, Snell struggled in the first half of the season before finishing strong in the second half. In 11 games in August and September last season, Snell struck out 87 batters in just 61 innings while sporting an elite 2.51 ERA, 1.95 FIP, 2.48 xFIP, and 1.07 WHIP while featuring his breaking balls more and reducing the use of his often-ineffective changeup. Snell has won a Cy Young Award in the past, has looked good in spring training thus far, and plays for a team in win-now mode in San Diego. That’s a lot to like for a pitcher being drafted outside the top 30 at his position with an ADP around 112.”
Lucas Spence (Pitcher List)

Justin Steele (SP – CHC)
“Justin Steele is an underrated pitcher going super late in drafts (ADP 291), and I continuously find myself drafting him with my last pick. With only 176 MLB innings under his belt, he strikes out a batter per inning, and he should have a sub-4.00 ERA. Steele showed some improvement in walk rate in 2022, and his Statcast page shows that he limits hard contact. It’s not like the Cubs have a plethora of other starters they’re going to play over him, so health permitting, he will end up on many of my fantasy teams this season.”
Kelly Kirby (FantasyPros)

Lance Lynn (SP – CWS)
“Lance Lynn is going as the 40th SP overall and there are very few arms in that range that have the track record of Lynn. Many are down on Lynn after a dreadful beginning to 2022 that saw his ERA of 7.50 over his first 7 starts. After that abomination, he turned in a sparkling 2.52 ERA over his final 14 starts. His K rate is still strong and he is a #2 starting pitcher going at #4 value.”
Joe Pisapia (FantasyPros)

Lucas Giolito (SP – CWS)
“Lucas Giolito burned me in 2022, but I am allllll the way back in for 2023 because of his price tag. Sure, Giolito’s ERA was close to 5.00 last season, but his xFIP and SIERA were 3.66 and 3.79, respectively. There are some concerning numbers, though. His swinging strike rate was down, his WHIP jumped to 1.44 from 1.10 the year before, and his Statcast page, which was a bright red beacon in 2021, was a concerning shade of blue last year. But he’s in a contract year, reportedly came into camp down 35 pounds, and is, at the very least, due for some regression. Even modest projections have him at 175 innings, 188 strikeouts, and an ERA around 4.00. If he is even slightly better than that, he’s a steal at an ADP of 140 (56th pitcher).”
Mike Maher (FantasyPros)

Joe Ryan (SP – MIN)
“It’s a good thing the limit for pitchers is outside the top 30 instead of the top 50, because the available arms get ugly fast. Going 44th this year is Joe Ryan, a pitcher I’m drafting wherever possible. Ryan had a 3.55 ERA and 1.10 WHIP across 147 innings in 2022, winning 13 games and striking out 151 batters. Those are perfectly fine numbers for a young pitcher, but they may be just the beginning. Ryan spent the offseason working with Driveline, aiming to develop his secondary pitches. and give up fewer home runs. The results have been promising early this spring, with teammates raving about his new slider and upgraded changeup. Twins manager Rocco Baldelli has also discussed letting his starters pitch deeper into games in 2023, which would be in line with an expected leap in Ryan’s workload in his second full season. It all adds up to a potential high-end SP3 (or even an SP2 if everything breaks the right way) who’s only being drafted like a mid-SP4.”
Ryan Wormeli (FantasyPros)

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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