Late-Round Rookies to Target: Hitters (2023 Fantasy Baseball)
Rookies are always a bit of a gamble, but every once in a while they make a world of difference. Just ask Julio Rodriguez drafters last year or Pete Alonso believers back in 2019. Both players were taken near the end of drafts and both made massive contributions to their fantasy teams. Of course, many prospects don’t pan out and plenty of managers tend to overpay for them, but when taken in the later rounds, it’s hardly a risk.
The following group of youngsters can all be had after 200th overall and are definitely worth a look in the majority of leagues. If they stink, you can always drop them. But you never know — you may just strike gold.
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Fantasy Baseball Rookies to Draft
Jordan Walker (3B – STL)
Walker is knocking the cover off the ball this spring. He’s already hit three monstrous home runs, to go along with three doubles and eight singles over just 32 at-bats. The 20-year-old stud was on plenty of radars coming into the season but is now gaining extra attention. After collecting 56 extra-base hits and 22 steals last year in Double-A, Walker was a strong watch candidate/solid late-round sleeper, but with the exceptional start, the mashing outfielder is shooting up draft boards. He can still be had in the early- to mid-200s, however, where he is still extremely valuable.
Walker may open the season in the minors, but if just one of the starting nine struggles or gets hurt, he should be the first player up. He won’t turn 21 until the end of May and hasn’t played more than a handful of games in the outfield, but the man is just too good to keep down for long. The N.L. Central is going to be a dogfight again and if the Cardinals are serious about winning the division, Walker should be up soon. Wins in April count just as much as those in September, so it’s going to be really difficult for them to leave him off the roster.
Service time shouldn’t be an issue for Walker either. Under the new rules established last year, if a player places in the top three for Rookie of the Year, he earns a full year of service anyway. With Walker’s five-tool skill set, even if he plays only four or five months, he’s still going to have a strong chance at finishing in the top three — rendering any service time manipulation by the Cardinals worthless.
The 6-foot-5 outfielder with an 80 future power rating (the highest projection possible) has all the tools to become the next big star in St. Louis. He should be selected once the 200s hit.
Oscar Colas (OF – CWS)
Colas may not get the Opening Day nod, but even if he’s sent down, it shouldn’t be long until he’s brought back up. The White Sox don’t have a ton of great options for right field and none of them have the skills of Colas. The top candidate would be Gavin Sheets, but after a nice partial season in 2021 (124 wRC+), he regressed to league average last year (100 wRC+). He struggled to reach base with a .295 OBP and his power numbers fell heavily with an ISO (isolated power SLG-BA) that dropped an even 100 points.
Similar to Walker, Colas is off to a hot start. He isn’t hitting tape-measured shots, but he is 11 for 26 (.385 BA) with just one strikeout. The lefty-swinging outfielder said he worked on changing his approach in the offseason, trying to cut down on the Ks. So far it seems to be working after striking out nearly 30% of the time in the high minors.
While Colas did strike out at a high clip last year, his other numbers were exemplary. In his first year playing in the states, the 24-year-old Cuban native hit 23 homers and finished with a .314 average and a .356 OBP (across all three levels). The White Sox’s GM also stated that Colas will be given every opportunity to earn the starting job out of Spring Training. Even if he is sent down, like Walker, it won’t be long until he’s a major leaguer. Target Colas at the end of drafts.
Brett Baty (3B – NYM)
Baty’s another top prospect who has been crushing the ball this spring. It’s a small sample size, but the Mets’ third baseman of the future is batting .409 with a 1.071 OPS while Eduardo Escobar, Baty’s main competition, is hitting .125 with a .347 OPS. Escobar has been passable with near league-average production over the past few years, but with the Mets going all in this season, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see them make an early switch. Escobar will still likely be handed the job outright, but if he doesn’t get off to a hot start, look for New York to turn to their No. 3 prospect.
The former 12th overall pick in 2019 was a menace in the minors last year, finishing the season with a .943 OPS. He earned a mid-August call-up where he slugged two homers over 38 at-bats while only striking out eight times (decent for a power-hitting rookie). His time was cut short, however, by a broken thumb, and although his overall numbers weren’t great, it’s nice to know he has a bit of big-league experience under his belt.
Baty can be left to waivers in shallow leagues, but in deeper ones, he should be drafted in the late 200s.
Anthony Volpe (SS – NYY)
Volpe’s already racked up three steals this spring to go along with a .941 OPS. Unfortunately, the Yankees will likely turn to another top-50 prospect, Oswald Peraza, to fill their need at shortstop. Slightly older than Volpe and with a bit of major league experience, he is the logical choice if he can hit well enough this spring (he’s currently hitting .250 with a stolen base). That said, as the season progresses, Volpe could easily force their hand.
The soon-to-be 22-year-old has speed to burn and legitimate power. Although Volpe’s numbers don’t exactly jump off the page, most of that can be attributed to a rough start to the season. From May 18 to Sept. 1, Volpe crushed 27 doubles, three triples, and 14 home runs over 81 games — equivalent to half a major league season. He also stole 29 bases and walked 38 times over that span.
It may be a month or two until Volpe experiences the Bronx firsthand, but his upside makes him a worthwhile selection in deeper leagues. His speed alone makes him an intriguing prospect, but if he eventually earns the job, you’re going to want him on your team.
James Outman (OF – LAD)
The Dodgers don’t have an opening for Outman just yet. With Mookie Betts, David Peralta, Trayce Thompson, Chris Taylor, and possibly Jason Heyward taking turns roaming the outfield, Outman is likely bound to Oklahoma City to begin. However, that list, outside of Mookie Betts, is hardly an impenetrable group.
Off to an impressive start, the 25-year-old outfielder has registered a 1.145 OPS over his first 21 plate appearances this spring. He’s already hit a home run and a triple to go along with nearly an even strikeout-to-walk ratio. He got off to a similarly hot start last season (minus the Ks) in his major league debut. In just four games, Outman totaled six hits, including two doubles and a home run. Despite the impressive start, the Dodgers sent him back down after striking out six times over his final two games. He continued to rake in the minors where he finished with 31 home runs, 13 steals, and an OPS close to 1.000.
The strikeouts will likely cap his production and he probably won’t start against southpaws, but with the Dodgers’ aging lineup, I doubt Outman is absent for much time. 20 home runs are attainable if given the chance, along with a decent amount of RBIs. He’ll probably see half a season’s worth of action, but his ceiling is worth a selection at the end of drafts in deep leagues.
Matt Mervis (1B – CHC)
Mervis was a candidate to be the Opening Day first baseman or even designated hitter this year until the Cubs signed Eric Hosmer and Trey Mancini. Both veterans will be given the first crack to fill those roles given their contracts and history. Neither was great last year, but they’re almost a lock to start early on. If they continue to struggle, however, it may not be long until Chicago turns to their former 39th-round draft pick.
Mervis came out of nowhere last year, mashing an impressive 36 home runs across three levels in the minor leagues. The majority of his season was spent in Triple-A where he not only continued to hit taters but registered a .297 batting average as well. He also walked (10.4%) nearly as much as he struck out (14.6%).
To slug nearly .600 while striking out less than 15% of the time is nearly unheard of in today’s game. If he can come anywhere near that level of production in the major leagues, he’ll be a monster. The 6-foot-4 lefty hit .300 in Double-A as well and continued his onslaught of opposing pitchers in the Arizona Fall League. In the AZL, Mervis crushed six more longballs over 61 at-bats with just eight strikeouts.
Mervis is slated to start for Team Israel this weekend in the first round of the WBC. It’ll be the biggest stage he’s played on and if he’s successful, his production could impact how the Cubs view him. If he does do well and continues to crush in the minors (where he’s likely to start), it’ll be impossible for management to keep him on the farm. Plus, there’s a chance Mancini ends up platooning with Hosmer, which could open up a spot for the mashing 24-year-old. If given an opportunity, Mervis is my dark horse to win Rookie of the Year and is worth a late-round dart throw in most fantasy leagues.
Endy Rodriguez (C – PIT)
Barring a miracle, Rodriguez won’t make the Opening Day roster. Pittsburgh signed pitch-framing specialist Austin Hedges in the offseason and recently added clubhouse favorite Kevin Plawecki. But as likable as those two veterans are, neither can touch what Rodriguez brings to the table offensively.
Baseball America’s 23rd-ranked prospect produced a cumulative .323/.407/.590 triple slash line across three stops in the minor leagues last year. As impressive as that was, he actually did his best work in the upper minors. Against the tougher competition, Rodriguez registered an eye-popping .371/.441/.693 line across 41 games in Double and Triple-A. He also limited his strikeouts to one in every 6.7 plate appearances and has already produced a .928 OPS this spring.
Perhaps his most intriguing calling card is his ability to play multiple positions. Rodriguez is not only decent behind the plate but also plays 1B, 2B, and OF. If the Pirates decide to stick with Hedges behind the plate to help progress their young pitchers, Rodriguez could find himself playing all over the diamond. If he goes undrafted in your league, keep an eye on his development and stash him if you’ve got the room.
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Austin Lowell is a featured writer at FantasyPros. For more from Austin, check out his archive.