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Hitters: Strong Septembers to Remember for 2023 Fantasy Baseball Drafts

oneil cruz fantasy baseball rankings draft sleepers MLB prospects

It is typically a bad idea to look at one month of baseball data and draw strong conclusions from it. How do you like that for an opening to a piece that will look at one month of data and draw conclusions from it?

Before you do an irresponsible thing, it is at least good to acknowledge that realize the thing that is about to be done is, indeed, irresponsible. We are setting the mood of skepticism here. We are going to look at September (and five days' worth of October) data here and find the players that stood out the most. A lot of fantasy analysts out there have a bad habit of finding players that really turned it on late in September and then assuming that it wasn't due to randomness. There will be claims that a player made a change or improved late in the season and was then a truly better player just in time for the season to end. This can happen, and certainly does happen. However, what is more common is that this stuff is just the result of randomness. Every player will have a "best month" during a season; should we really give a player more credit if his best month was September instead of say, July? I don't think so!

Look, I have to give the people what they want! Here are a bunch of players that excelled in September along with my overly critical opinion of how to view them for 2023 in light of this.

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Hitters That Finished Strong

#1 Bo Bichette, Toronto Blue Jays

No hitter scored more fantasy points (using the DraftKings scoring system, at least) after August 31st than Bo Bichette. Here's what he did:

Bo Bichette 142 .406 .444 .654 24 7 27 4

It was a welcome sign for Bichette owners, as he had fallen well short of draft day hopes prior to these final weeks. In his first 555 plate appearances prior to September, he slashed just .260/.305/.420 with 17 homers and nine steals. That is a very competent Major League hitter, to be sure, but it was coming up well short of the expectations after Bichette was drafted in the first round in most leagues.

Bichette went for a 10.6% barrel rate and a 14.1% K% in September-October, and to his credit – that is a very tough thing to do even over a small sample. For the season, those numbers were 9.6% and 22.2% K%, and those are very good numbers. Bichette is fast, he makes a lot of contact, he is a key hitter in a very good lineup, and he's very young (24). The floor is really great. He is probably a 20/20 guy with a good batting average but I have some reservations about if he can ever be a 30+ homer guy, which caps his ceiling.

There's no reason to not have high expectations for Bichette next year, but I don't think we should be forgetting how much of his production was crammed in late in the year. His batting average would not have looked very good if not for the last few weeks and the .443 BABIP he benefited from after September began, and I think his ceiling comes up short of the other hitters that will be drafted around him.

Verdict: Bichette made up for his lackluster production from April through August, but I would be hesitant to draft in the first or early-second round next year.

#2 Elvis Andrus, Chicago White Sox (currently a free agent)

Elvis Andrus 145 .277 .317 .496 21 8 22 10

I hesitated to even include him here because I don't think anybody is going to draft Andrus next year even if he does find a new starting job. However, it seems silly to leave him off the list since what he did late in the year was so astounding.

With Andrus, it was more of a tale of two teams rather than different months. He saw 386 PAs with the struggling Athletics and hit just .237/.301/.373 with eight homers and seven steals. Then he was cut, picked up by the White Sox, and went on to hit .271/.309/.464 with nine more homers and 11 more steals in just 191 plate appearances. He scored 1.55 DraftKings points per PA with Oakland and then 2.13 with Chicago.

So what happened? Did Andrus just refocus himself and become reinvigorated after escaping Oakland? Maybe! But what is most important to note is that Andrus has not been fantasy relevant since 2017. From 2018 to the present, he has hit just .254 with 41 homers and 69 stolen bases over 568 games. Over a full season, the pace on that is just 11 home runs and 19 steals with that same .254 batting average – not a good fantasy player, and this guy is now 34 years old.

Verdict: I don't think this even really needs to be said, but Andrus is not fantasy-relevant for 2023. You can cross your fingers and hope that someone in your league wastes a pick on him after being convinced that Andrus found the fountain of youth in Chicago.

#3 Steven Kwan, Cleveland Guardians

Steven Kwan 153 .309 .382 .434 22 3 15 7

Kwan was a fantasy hero in many leagues, as he had his best weeks of the year right when most leagues were in their championship match. Three home runs and seven steals in a month is quite good and would extrapolate to about a 16-homer, 40-steal year. Nobody expects anything close to that for Kwan in the future, and nobody should – he will almost surely never get to that level. However, it's definitely possible that people will over-project Kwan for 2023 because of that hot finish to the year.

Kwan saw 24% of his plate appearances for the year come in this September-October sample. In that time, he hit 50% of his season home runs, accumulated 29% of his season RBI, and stole 37% of his season total. That is a lot of production packed into a quarter of the season.

The better question to ask here is what kind of power production we can expect from Kwan in 2023. That is really the only question because we know this guy is going to hit for an elite batting average (his 91% contact rate was second only to Luis Arraez) and we know he will steal double-digit bases (given that he's healthy). Those two things are great, but they still don't make for a positive fantasy impact if no power numbers come with it.

Kwan hit those three homers in his final 153 PA, but over that time his barrel rate was just 2.4%. Only Jose Iglesias, Myles Straw, and Isiah Kiner-Falefa posted lower barrel rates than Kwan for the year. There is no reason to project Kwan for double-digit homers next year, and with that comes a very low RBI projection as well.

Verdict: I believe Kwan's late-season surge will inflate his draft cost far too much to justify the lack of HR and RBI; I do not expect to have any interest in drafting Kwan in 2023.

#4 Oneil Cruz, Pittsburgh Pirates

Oneil Cruz 131 .288 .359 .525 19 6 9 5

Now we are talking!

Cruz is the most fascinating player in the league to me, and he is one of the most interesting and difficult players to get a handle on for 2023. Here are some numbers on Cruz's season along with each stat's league rank:

Stat Value Rank
K% 35.0% 3rd worst
Contact% 64.6% 12th worst
Brl% 15.5% 11th best
Max Exit Velo 122.4 1st

It was boom-or-bust with Cruz; that's almost an understatement. He is right there with the best in the league in terms of how hard he can hit the ball; in fact, he might actually be the top dog, taking the crown away from Giancarlo Stanton.

What we saw in September from Cruz was awesome, as you can see in the first table above. More good news is that his strikeout rate was 29.8% and the contact rate was 68.8% in those final 131 PAs. The 68.8% contact rate is the most exciting number of the bunch, as that is a stat that stabilizes much quicker and therefore can be looked at more seriously over a small sample. Cruz truly seems to have improved as he saw more and more PAs in the Majors, and that's not very hard to believe either given that this was his rookie year and he didn't debut until June.

Verdict: I am prone to believe that the late-season surge was the cause of actual improvement, and I think Cruz is worth the risk in 2023 with his nearly unmatched upside at the plate and on the bases.

#5 Joey Meneses, Washington Nationals

Joey Meneses 142 .318 .366 .543 17 7 23 1

One of the biggest surprises of the 2022 season is what the Nationals got from Meneses. They shipped off Juan Soto and Josh Bell at the deadline and called on Menesus to fill in, and he did not disappoint. If the Nats had held on to Soto and gotten that same production from him down the stretch, they would've been perfectly pleased even from a solidified stud like Soto. Instead, it came from a 30-year-old career journeyman. Meneses has been playing professional baseball since 2011, and this was his trip to the Majors.

For his professional career, Meneses is now a .282/.340/.434 hitter who homers at a pace of about 15 homers per 162 games. That is to say that his Major League production made absolutely no sense last year.

It is possible that Meneses has truly just been overlooked for the last 10 years and re-discovered himself in 2022 to become a truly good hitter, but it's overwhelming more likely that his 240 Major League PAs in 2022 were a fluke and he will not provide above-average production in the bigs ever again. Harsh, but I think true.

Verdict: Meneses certainly earned himself a spot on the 2023 Nationals roster (which is not going to be a good one), and I hope he can keep the feel-good story going, but I have zero interest in investing in him for fantasy next year.

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