A lot of what goes into winning your fantasy baseball league, or any fantasy league for that matter, is really nailing those late-round picks. Finding value at the end of a draft goes a lot farther toward a successful lineup than taking Aaron Judge first overall ever will.
When I think of the average, traditional draft, I’m thinking of a 12-team, 25-round draft. So for this article, we are going to focus on guys who I consider as a lottery ticket after the 20th round. A home run pick, if you will. Guys you can take when everyone else has checked out and is just trying to get the draft finished that will give you very favorable results in the end. Guys that will make everyone else say, “Damn, that was a good pick.” Those are the picks we all love to make.
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Jarred Kelenic (OF – SEA)
Current ADP: 270
I promise you I am trying very hard not to be biased with this selection because I am possibly the world’s biggest Mariners fan. I have been screaming Kelenic’s name from the rooftops on my podcast since we started last September, and I have no plans of stopping any time soon. Especially with this new swing he came to spring training with and the success it’s seen. This is essentially the last chance for Kelenic in this Mariners lineup, and they’re doing everything they can to make sure he is as successful as possible.
The joy of drafting players this late is there is really no commitment to keeping them once the season starts. If you draft Kelenic and he struggles, you can cut bait and move on, and it’s no skin off your back. But if September and Spring Training Kelenic show up right out of the gate, you could be in for a treat. His average has always been the issue, as he’s hitting just .168 in 143 career games. Last season, though, he showed the power and speed combo was legit. Between triple-a and the majors, Kelenic hit 37 doubles, four triples, and 25 home runs and stole 14 bases in 140 games. Numbers good enough to catch any fantasy manager’s eye.
Jarred Kelenic in the last 14 games of the regular season:
3 doubles / 3 HR
12.1% BB Rate
24.1% K Rate
19.4% Barrel Rate
44.4% Hard Hit Rate
There's a good hitter in there somewhere, hoping he puts it together for the Mariners in 2023
— Blake Meyer (@Buhhlockaye) December 15, 2022
It’s continued into spring as well. This spring, Kelenic is hitting .438 with two doubles, one triple, four home runs, and an OPS of 1.366 while also stealing three bases in 33 ABs. While history does often repeat itself, and the regular season Kelenic could result back to his old form, there is too much positive going on here to not take a flyer on going into this season.
Esteury Ruiz (OF – OAK)
Current ADP: 287
Esteury is seemingly the lottery ticket of all lottery tickets in my eyes this season. A reasonable comp for him right now would be Billy Hamilton if Billy Hamilton could actually hit for average or power. Essentially just a version of Billy Hamilton that can actually get on base to utilize the crazy speed he has. If he can even get on base. There’s a lot to unpack here, so let’s get into it.
When I say Ruiz is fast, I mean in 2022, he was in the 98th percentile in sprint speed in all of baseball despite only having 36 plate appearances. In total, Ruiz stole 86 bases in 2022 in just 131 games. Something you don’t see often. And now we enter 2023, where he has seemingly locked down an Opening Day roster spot and starting in the outfield. In a league where stealing bases just got infinitely easier. If he can get on base, the sky is literally the limit for him on the base paths.
When it comes to getting on base, Ruiz excelled in the minors in 2022. In 113 minor league games, he hit .332 with a .447 OBP. He had some pop as well, hitting 16 home runs and 33 doubles. Only time will tell if this can transfer to the major league level, as he only hit .171 in 17 games with the Athletics last year. He’s pulling his weight this spring training, though. In 35 ABs, he’s hitting .257 with three doubles, one home run, three stolen bases, and a surprising 11 RBI. If Ruiz can see anywhere near this type of success at the major league level, he is good enough to single-handedly win you the steals category as a last-round pick.
Trayce Thompson (OF – LAD)
Current ADP: 382
Now here’s a real deep-league guy to keep an eye on. Much like his brother, expect Thompson to make a splash out in California this season. It’s a terrible pun. Deal with it. The reason Thompson is on this list, though, is he is currently projected to be a starting outfielder for the Dodgers and should hit seventh, according to roster resource. With opportunity comes production, and with the behind-the-scenes numbers he had last year, there is a lot to be excited about.
Thompson played 80 games in 2022 between the Dodgers and Padres. He was pretty damn bad in his six games with the Padres, but he excelled in Los Angeles. In his 74 games with the Dodgers, he hit .268 with 14 doubles, 13 home runs, and a .364 OBP. He also managed a barrel rate of 15.6% which is exceptional. His average exit velocity matched that same energy by clocking in at 92 MPH. His 44.5% sweet spot rate and 46% hard-hit rate were well above league average as well.
Keep in mind, in points leagues, he’s going to be a handful to tolerate. His career 30% strikeout rate isn’t at all exciting. But for someone you’re getting at the end of the draft, there is too much upside to overlook. If he can keep his batted ball profile somewhere around last season while getting a full season’s worth of at-bats, he could be in line for a 25-home-run season with excellent on-base percentage. Prepare to cash that lottery ticket.
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