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Lottery Tickets for AL & NL Only Leagues (2023 Fantasy Baseball)

Mar 4, 2023
MacKenzie Gore

MacKenzie Gore’s floor has disappeared, but his potential is still there.

By nature, one-league formats are generally thin in talent. Of course, there are the players who transcend all league styles and would be worthy of a roster spot under any condition, but we are effectively slicing the player pool in half by restricting options to either the American or National League and not both.

This is, however, one of the reasons why AL and NL-only leagues have taken on such popularity over the years. Many fantasy managers enjoy the idea of trying to dig deeper and find the overlooked bench player who might earn a starting role. These are the sleepers that help win leagues.

In this particular column, we aren’t necessarily looking at the traditional sleepers. Here, we want the highest reward possible, even if the risk is extreme. In fact, the risk should be extreme. The players’ floors should be at zero — or negative if we consider the possibility of a demotion to the Minor Leagues. As long as the potential for a massive payoff is there, we want to consider them.

We want to grab a lottery ticket that has a chance to hit the jackpot.

Fantasy Baseball Draft Kit

Lottery Tickets for AL/NL-Only Leagues

American League

Adalberto Mondesi (SS – BOS)

Let’s start with arguably the biggest risk-reward player in Major League Baseball, not just the American League. Adalberto Mondesi could legitimately lead all other players in one category, and it is one of the most difficult to fill regularly: stolen bases. That, alone, gives him extreme upside, where he would vault up the player rankings if he can deliver on the speed promised long ago.

Of course, injuries and inconsistency have derailed him, and he doesn’t even have a starting position on his new team. Still, we have seen stolen base specialists deliver value for fantasy baseball teams in the past. Mondesi is a player that can convert from “specialist” to starter simply by returning to his prior form. Let’s not forget that when he swiped 43 bags, he also hit a respectable .263.

Jarred Kelenic (OF – SEA)

The start of Jarred Kelenic’s Major League Baseball career has been nothing short of frightening. He has hit a combined .168 through 147 games and would need to collect hits in 20 consecutive at-bats just to move his career average to .200.

The good news for Kelenic is that the Mariners are not giving up on him yet. Despite being demoted in each of the last two years, he is still competing for a role with the team and remains young enough to blossom into a full-time contributor. In addition to an expected increase in batting average — simply out of positive correction — Kelenic also boasts some speed that would help carry his value if he can get on base more regularly. If not, then there is likely no future for him in Seattle.

Shintaro Fujinami (SP – OAK)

It won’t take much — i.e., a solid Spring Training — for fantasy players to start to notice Shintaro Fujinami and at that point, it might be too late. Fujinami is on this list simply because of his wide range of outcomes. Could he be a complete bust? Definitely. Could he be a superstar? Absolutely. That is what makes him a lottery ticket.

Even among Major League circles, Fujinami is viewed as a high-risk/reward option, but he had an overpowering fastball that hits 101 mph. He was once considered a future superstar in Japan, as he was selected first overall in the 2012 draft. Perhaps the best value he can serve fantasy managers is opportunity, as he threw 107.1 innings last year and should not be held back by extreme innings limits.

National League

Ezequiel Tovar (SS – COL)

If I wrote about speed leading the way for Adalberto Mondesi, then it would be disingenuous to leave Ezequiel Tovar off this list as well. The reality is that Tovar is not necessarily going to dominate with stolen bases but has even more overall potential than the aforementioned Mondesi, thanks to his home ballpark in the hitter haven of Colorado.

There is a catch, however. Tovar is soaring through the rankings and is already on the verge of being too hyped to perform. For that reason, I wouldn’t list him as a sleeper — fantasy managers are no longer “sleeping” on him as they have in the past — but he does fit as a lottery ticket. If he really can step in and deliver speed with solid numbers everywhere else as a Rockies hitter, then he can be the key to a winning team. Otherwise, he was a wasted addition.

MacKenzie Gore (SP – WSH)

I’ve written about MacKenzie Gore so many times over the past few years that he is basically a mainstay in my columns. That’s largely because his potential has never wavered. His floor, however, has crumbled. This is the nature of a lottery ticket and why Gore fits the description so well.

The obvious concerns with Gore are his health and longevity, and the two are actually independent of one another. First, Gore needs to fully get back to the form we saw when he finally debuted for the Padres last year. Then, we would have to deal with innings limits that would cut his season short. These are the reasons why Gore can be added so late in drafts. Why would we do it? Because he struck out more than one batter per inning last year and had his ERA as low as 1.50 through 48 innings before ultimately regressing and then getting hurt.

Cody Bellinger (OF – CHC)

Like the aforementioned Tovar, Cody Bellinger has now ascended beyond the qualification of sleeper, and the hype he carries puts him into a potential bust state. Still, imagine if he can recapture some of the power that we saw earlier in his career. How much would that boost his fantasy value?

Cody Bellinger is a former league MVP, but it wasn’t his 47-home run campaign that should capture our attention. It’s that he did that just two years after hitting 39 home runs. Neither season was a fluke, although he has clearly hit a steep decline since 2019. Said decline has been most noticeable in his batting average, where he has hit a combined .203 over the last three seasons compared to .278 through his first three years. Once again, we are looking at a player that either loses his role with his new team or surges to carry the Cubs and fantasy managers to a big year.

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Mario Mergola is a featured writer at FantasyPros and BettingPros and the creator and content editor of Sporfolio. For more from Mario, check out his archive and follow him @MarioMergola.

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