Fantasy Baseball Values to Target in ESPN League Drafts (2023)
ESPN has switched its standard roto format to a smaller-sized roster this year. A roster they are calling “a reflection that more accurately represents an MLB Lineup.” Starting lineups are now 16 players constructed of nine position players and seven pitchers. The league also allows for just three bench spots, and holds are now in play for relievers.
It should be noted that ESPN leagues are flexible, but any new league format will take on these new parameters if not tinkered with. The new changes shouldn’t affect your draft rankings too much other than giving high-risk players more of a green light. With such a wide array of talent left available on the waiver wire, fantasy managers can now take an earlier stab at high-risk/high-reward players. If they don’t pan out or get injured, there will still be plenty of great options to replace them with. Streaming starting pitchers will also now be easier than ever.
Focusing more on the stars of baseball and having to go less deep into drafts will probably attract more casual fans. This will likely lead to plenty of questionable decisions on draft day and throughout the season. However, their mistakes are your gains. So if they’re letting players recklessly fall to you in drafts, then just sit back, relax and soak up all the talent that comes your way.
There is a plethora of under-ranked talent in ESPN leagues, but for this assignment, we’ll be sticking to those in the top 100 ADP. After all, in a 10-team league with only 19 roster spots, there won’t even be a 200th pick.
- Fitz’s Positional Primers
- Justin Mason’s Draft Day Cheat Sheet
- Players the Experts Draft
- Latest Fantasy Baseball Mock Draft
Players to Target in ESPN Drafts
ESPN ADP: 20
Consensus ADP: 15 (including ESPN)
It all starts with Julio Rodriguez. Going first overall in a handful of drafts elsewhere, Seattle’s brightest star is surprisingly being left until the end of the second round in ESPN Leagues. With 30/30 potential and an improved roster around him, there’s a chance Rodriguez finishes as the top overall player at the season’s close.
He had a few minor bumps and bruises throughout his rookie campaign, and he barely ran in the second half (only four steals on six attempts), but those are hardly strong enough reasons to let him fall past the first round. The sky is the limit for the recently turned 22-year-old. Since he’s going around 20th overall, there’s a good chance you can snag him at the end of round one.
ESPN ADP: 21
Consensus ADP: 19
Mike Trout isn’t as much of a shocker as Rodriguez is, but for the best hitter of the past decade to fall to 21st overall is a bit drastic. Injury risk is high for Trout, especially after last season’s scare, where a few rumors claimed he might not play again. Trout returned with his usual production though, laughing off the neigh-sayers by finishing with a 1.133 OPS in September over a full 28 games.
It’s understandable wanting more of a sure thing in the first two rounds. But when Trout is on the field, he is a monster in four of the five categories. Without the steals and the annual risk of missed time, Trout is no longer a first-rounder, but falling to the end of the second is too late. Especially under the new format, if he gets hurt, plenty of quality players on the waiver wire will be available to replace him. Target the still-only 31-year-old early in the second round, and if he falls to you in the late teens, don’t hesitate to grab him.
ESPN ADP: 22
Consensus ADP: 4
This one is a shocker. The No. 1 overall player for ECR and the fourth selected player across multiple platforms is going 22nd in ESPN leagues. Fully healthy, Rondal Acuna Jr. could actually flirt with 40/40 this season while batting atop one of the best lineups in baseball. A near lock for 100 runs, 25 homers, 30 steals, 80 RBI and a decent batting average, the Braves catalyst absolutely deserves to be going in the first round.
If he stays healthy all year, there is a very good chance Acuna Jr. finishes as the top offensive weapon in fantasy leagues. He attempted 40 steals in less than 120 games last year, wiping out any concerns about his surgically repaired knee. Plus, he’s already swiped one this Spring. He’s also produced a 1.000 OPS so far and let’s not forget the new rules this season that favor baserunners. Target Acuna Jr. in the top five picks, and if you have a later selection and he falls to you, send thank-you cards to your opposition.
ESPN ADP: 34
Consensus ADP: 20
Are you sending a trend here? ESPN leagues covet pitching over everything else, allowing some of these five-tool studs to fall. Fernando Tatis Jr. is a bit of a wildcard and will miss the season’s first few weeks. But once he returns, he too could be the top offensive producer in fantasy baseball. There is injury risk on top of the rust he’ll have to shake off, but Tatis Jr. is a phenomenal hitter with the dark red Statcast numbers to back it up. He’s also lightning-quick on the base paths and will likely return to the top of the Padres lineup that now boasts a plethora of All-Stars.
There is some risk involved, but to allow a player of Tatis Jr.’s caliber to fall past 30th overall is a travesty. His upside alone makes him worth a mid-second-round selection where he could reward drafters with first-round production. Target Tatis Jr. in the mid to late teens or early 20s at the very latest.
ESPN ADP: 66
Consensus ADP: 31
Sticking with the theme of undervalued five-tool players, I present to you Michael Harris. Harris is going a whopping 35 picks later than he should be. Maybe ESPN players aren’t fond of talented outfielders or the Braves in general. But for whatever reason, Harris is being massively overlooked. I understand many ESPN leagues are moving towards smaller starting lineups, including just three outfielders instead of five, but that shouldn’t devalue the kind of production these players will get you.
Last season’s Rookie of the Year had incredible output finishing with 75 runs, 19 homers, 64 RBIs, 20 steals and a .297 batting average over just 114 games. He did all that while regularly batting in the bottom of the lineup and is now a candidate to bat second this season. Harris is going in the early 30s in Yahoo and CBS leagues and is someone you should absolutely target by the fourth round.
ESPN ADP: 77
Consensus ADP: 46
ESPN ADP: 98
Consensus ADP: 69
The White Sox add two more outfielders to the mix of undervalued players at ESPN. You’ll be hard-pressed to find any value on pitching in ESPN leagues, but the low cost of stud outfielders is overwhelming.
Luis Robert has third-round potential and is being selected in the fourth or early-fifth round elsewhere, but is going 77th overall here. And Eloy Jimenez is laughably falling to nearly 100 while he is being drafted at least three rounds earlier everywhere else.
Robert suffered through another injury-laden season limiting his production, but the 25-year-old is said to be fully healthy this spring. He is a five-tool star, and if he can put together a 140-game season, he should offer a massive return across all five major batting categories.
Jimenez is said to have lost 25 to 30 pounds this offseason, likely leading to a more spry and agile outfielder. The lighter load could help him stay on the field more, where he could easily produce a 35/100/.300 season. He cranked out 16 jacks in half a season last year, with 54 RBIs and a batting average of .295.
Both of these players are worth a look well before where they’re being drafted and will likely pay hefty dividends to those that do. Ignore the site’s trends and pre-draft rankings and target these outfielders much earlier.
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Austin Lowell is a featured writer at FantasyPros. For more from Austin, check out his archive.