“Sleeper” is a term that is dying out, at least by definition alone. But “league-winners” and “must-have players” have entered the conversation. Whatever you call them, the general concept is the same: you want to draft (or purchase, or acquire) players at a value. In standard drafts, the goal is to get players multiple rounds after their projected value warrants. In auctions or salary caps, saving money by identifying targets the rest of your league doesn’t value as much as they should be is how you build a deep and well-rounded team. The key is to identify value beforehand and recognize the potential the rest of your league is missing.
Here are players I have come to call my “must-have” targets throughout the draft season this year.
- Fitz’s Positional Primers
- Mike Maher’s Draft Day Cheat Sheet
- Players the Experts Draft
- Latest Fantasy Baseball Mock Draft
Mike Maher’s Must-Have Players
I’m going to skip the first couple of rounds for the sake of getting to the later rounds, where the real value is found.
Andres Gimenez (2B, SS – CLE)
I didn’t come into the draft season expecting to have a ton of Gimenez shares, but here we are. In a year where stolen bases are difficult to project, Gimenez should steal at least 20 of them. I’ve been targeting players who run this draft season, especially if they have a little bit of pop to go with the wheels. No one really knows what’s going to happen with stolen bases and the new rules, but the general consensus is that players who run are probably going to run even more often. Players who don’t run much (or at all) aren’t likely to see a bump. But guys like Gimenez, who swiped 20 bags in 2022, could be more aggressive in 2023. I don’t know that he’ll bat .297 again, but I’m banking on 15 home runs, 25+ stolen bases, and a batting average of around .275. The 2B/SS eligibility is a nice little bonus, too.
Vinnie Pasquantino (1B – KC) or Nathaniel Lowe (1B – TEX)
Is it cheating to lump two players together here? I vote no. The justification is that they play the same position, are coming off the board at almost the same exact ADP, and have somewhat similar projections. First base is somewhat quietly a very shallow position this season. If you don’t pay up for a Vladimir Guerrero Jr., Freddie Freeman, Pete Alonso, Paul Goldschmidt, or Matt Olson, you’ll notice the 1B landscape changes drastically. And I’d argue there’s another dropoff after Vinnie P and Lowe. These aren’t the sexiest must-haves, but they feel like reliable production at a position that gets pretty gross very quickly.
Lucas Giolito (SP – CWS)
A starting pitcher coming off a year in which he pitched to a 4.90 ERA? Sign me up! Just kidding. Kind of. The point here is that his rough 2022 is leading to a potential value buy in 2023. This is a pitcher who averaged a mid-3.00 ERA and over 200 strikeouts over his previous two full seasons, and you can now get him in the 11th round or later. I’m buying the dip, as the kids say.
Nico Hoerner (SS – CHC)
Hoerner is one of my favorite picks this season, and I have a ton of shares. In auction leagues, I’ve gone the extra couple of bucks to make sure I win the bid, and I’m taking him a round or two early in standard drafts (his ADP is right around the 15th round, so I’ve been trying to grab him in the 13th or 14th). Last year was a mini-breakout for Hoerner, and I think 2023 is going to be even better. He’ll earn 2B eligibility early in April, and I have him projected for 10 HR, 20+ SB, an AVG around .280, 75 R, and about 60 RBI. He’s worth it for the speed, batting average, and 2B eligibility, and the runs could see a bump, too, if he bats atop what should be an improved Cubs lineup this season.
Jonathan India (2B – CIN)
I just can’t quit Jonathan India. I know his 2022 was rough, and I know the Statcast data isn’t great. I’m not going to say I don’t care, but I care very little about his 2022 numbers. He was banged up for much of the season, and the whole year just turned into one big mess. If we can get 140-150 games out of India this season, he could easily bounce back with 20+ HR, 15+ SB, a solid batting average, and 150 combined R and RBI. And he’s going in the 14th or 15th round, right around where Nico Hoerner and Thairo Estrada are going.
Ryan McMahon (3B – COL)
Rockies players who spend half of their games at Coors Field are often overrated by the fantasy community (See: Brendan Rodgers). But McMahon actually looks like an extreme value this season. His ADP has him going in the 16th round this season despite the fact that he could easily swat 20+ HR and swipe 10+ bags while being eligible at the extremely thin 3B position this season. Oh, and he’s going to add 2B eligibility early in the season. He’s good enough to start at 2B or 3B in most standard leagues, and he’s an absolute no-brainer if your league has MI and/or CI slots.
Masataka Yoshida (OF – BOS)
Yoshida isn’t exactly a mystery box, but he’s a relative unknown coming over from Japan. In first-year player dynasty drafts, he’s coming off the board between 1.01 and 1.03 because of his potential. But for whatever reason, he doesn’t seem to have the typical hype that many international players have in their first year in redraft leagues. His ADP has jumped a bit over the last two weeks because of his performance in the World Baseball Classic and the news that the Red Sox plan to bat him cleanup, but he still seems really cheap as someone you can grab in the 14th round of standard leagues. OF is sneaky-thin this season, especially in 5 OF leagues, and Yoshida profiles as someone who should have a good average and solid counting stats. He won’t run much, and the power is a question mark, especially as a left-handed hitter in Fenway Park, but he could still approach 18-20 HR with a .280+ AVG and plenty of RBI. That’s hard to find in the middle rounds.
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.
Lance McCullers (SP – HOU)
This one is pushing the boundaries of the “must-have” definition. Do I really need to have McCullers on my team? No. But the point here is that he’s an extreme value because of his injury. If he bounces back to himself, he’s a league-winner who can help anchor a staff. If the injury ultimately buries him, you’re only out a pick that is currently outside of the top 250.
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