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Early Draft Takeaways: Fantasy Baseball 2023

Jose Ramirez - Fantasy Baseball Rankings, Draft Sleepers, MLB Injury News

In the spirit of the holidays, I wanted to give you all a little gift. And the gift I will give you is way too early fantasy baseball ADP analysis.

It is not even Christmas as I write this, so this is strange territory. We are at least two months away from what any normal person would consider draft season, but the early bird gets the worm! I have completed two NFBC drafts already and figured that gave me enough knowledge to shed some light on the lay of the land for 2023 fantasy baseball drafts.

So let's talk about it. A lot of this may change by February/March, and early drafts are quite unique for other reasons as well - but everybody loves fantasy drafts, and there's no reason not to talk about fantasy baseball drafts all year round, so let's get to it! Editor Note: This article was originally published on December 22, 2022.

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First, I should say more about where these drafts are happening. Almost all of the super early draft action goes down on The NFBC. It's a special site developed mostly for medium/high-stakes fantasy players, and it is fantastic.

It turns out that most of the people looking to draft fantasy baseball teams in November and December are pretty sharp. They obviously take the game very, very seriously to be drafting at that point - which takes out almost all the casual players. This establishes at least half-decent early ADP data since players aren't just drafting players randomly.

The other thing to mention is that a lot of the leagues being drafted right now are in the new Gladiator game style. This style has some unique rules:

  • 23-man rosters
  • No adds or drops
  • No trades
  • No bench

So it's like a "best ball" approach, where you draft a team of players and you are completely stuck with them. It is different than best ball because you aren't taking the best outcomes from your team, you're taking all of them – no matter what happens.

These rules lead to drafters avoiding uncertainty and risk – because taking a player that doesn't play the full season will be devastating. Bryce Harper, for example, did not go until the 19th round here despite the fact that he could be back in June. The team with Harper on it will be taking those zeroes from him – which is a really big hindrance.

The other thing these rules result in, at least so early on, is closers going extremely early. There is no position with more uncertainty than closer, so there is a big price tag on the elite guys. Even here in mid-December, you can feel pretty good about Edwin Diaz racking up a bunch of saves next year, and you can't say that with many other names – so he tends to go in the first or second round.

That is not something you will see in normal drafts, and it wouldn't make a ton of sense to do that in a league where you can pick up plenty of those saves that come available during the season. But here, if you don't draft saves – you aren't going to get any, and you can't win a roto league without being competitive in every category. The reliever stuff is really unique to this draft style, so I'm going to take that with a grain of salt and just not write more about it.

Here are some other, more interesting things we see from these early drafts.


Hitters Dominate The Early Picks

In the average draft, the first 15 picks are hitters (not counting Ohtani). It takes until pick #15 to get to Corbin Burnes, and then Gerrit Cole immediately follows him.

The top-three picks are names we are used to seeing there: Trea Turner, Jose Ramirez, and Ronald Acuna Jr. After that, we find a couple of newcomers with Julio Rodriguez and Aaron Judge rounding out the top five after their monster seasons in 2022. The rest of the top 20 or so are usual names besides the likes of Bobby Witt Jr., who has seen a crazy high draft stock early on.

That's pretty surprising to me, as I have some doubts as to whether Witt can really put up this kind of production after a rookie season where he slashed .254/.294/.428. It's true that his early-season struggles have a lot to do with that lackluster slash line, and he did go for 20 homers and 30 steals, but he's being drafted as if he's already Jose Ramirez – and I'm not sure he is!


Starting Pitcher Is Deep

This may be more of an opinion, but I think a lot of people share it given what I've been seeing on Twitter and what these drafts have shown us. Here are all the pitchers I would consider viable aces for your fantasy staff along with their early ADP:

Pitcher ADP
Corbin Burnes 16.3
Gerrit Cole 19.9
Sandy Alcantara 28.5
Shohei Ohtani 10.0
Dylan Cease 34.1
Brandon Woodruff 35.9
Jacob deGrom 35.9
Spencer Strider 36.1
Shane McClanahan 39.1
Aaron Nola 40.7
Justin Verlander 49.3
Julio Urias 53.5
Carlos Rodon 54.5
Zack Wheeler 55.6
Max Scherzer 56.2
Shane Bieber 61.3

I'm not saying I would be completely comfortable with all of those names being my top pitcher, but you can certainly make the case for any of them. There are at least two tiers of pitchers there, which I would probably divide up like this (somewhat ignoring injury risk):

Tier 1: Burnes, Cole, Alcantara, deGrom, Woodruff, McClanahan, Strider

Tier 2: Ohtani, Cease, Nola, Verlander, Urias, Rodon, Wheeler, Scherzer, Bieber

Don't roast me about my ranks or tiers here, I'm just speaking in very general terms. The point is that there are 15 or so SPs that feel like aces. They all have different levels of risk associated with them, but they could all pretty easily put up an SP1-worthy season.

It's up for interpretation from this point, but to me - that drives me to use at least my first two picks on hitters, and probably my first three. In my first draft, I somehow lucked in Alcantara in the early-third round (pick #32), and in my second draft, I waited until Round Four and then went with Bieber+Scherzer back to back. That's a pretty strong start to a rotation for starting it at pick #57.

The consequence of this is that SP thins out pretty quickly. After pick 100, you're in the Logan Gilbert & George Kirby range – lots of talent there but plenty of uncertainty and risk associated with the picks as well. It seems fine to wait for a few rounds on SP, but it's probably wise to load up on 3-4 SPs before you get to pick 125 or so.


An Improving Catcher Position

Last year, we were all talking about how top-heavy catcher was. Salvador Perez was getting pushed up draft boards because of how high above the rest of the field he was. That didn't turn out so well, and J.T. Realmuto once again won the position – but nonetheless, there were only two or three catchers you felt really good about last year. This year, things have improved. Here's a look at the top 10:

Pitcher ADP
J.T. Realmuto 28.7
Daulton Varsho 43.5
Will Smith 52.0
Adley Rutschman 62.6
Salvador Perez 63.3
Alejandro Kirk 96.3
Willson Contreras 96.7
MJ Melendez 101.0
Tyler Stephenson 131.0
William Contreras 132.1

We still have this problem where after a few catchers are gone, you're really lacking in something with the guy you select (whether it be steals, power, or batting average), but if you nab Willson Contreras in the seventh or eighth round as your starting catcher, I think you're going to be feeling pretty good. The whole top-10 feels pretty strong to me, each for its own reasons, and in past years, it has felt like the position is completely dry after a handful of catcher picks. Even past #10 here, we have players like Sean Murphy and Travis d'Arnaud that should put up nice production in the Braves lineup.

This ADP is inflated by the fact that all NFBC drafts are two-catcher leagues, so that makes a big difference here. In standard one-catcher leagues, there's really no reason to go to any of those top guys THAT early, and you likely won't have to. I will still want to get one of these top-eight catchers, I think, but it won't cost much to do so - so that's exciting.


Third Base Disaster Area

We have a clear top third baseman in Jose Ramirez. After that, a strong second tier:

And just like that, poof – gone! You're into the Alex Bregman range there, and Gunnar Henderson actually lines up at #8, followed by Eugenio Suarez and Max Muncy. You can certainly get by without one of those top-five third basemen, but the drop-off is massive, and you always want to be ahead of those big drop-offs in roto leagues. Partly because of this, my top overall pick would be Jose Ramirez, and I'd be thrilled to get him at picks 3-5. If I don't, I would try to get my hands on Machado, Devers, or Riley in the first four rounds.


Shortstop is Strong Once Again

Conversely, we have another strong crop at the SS position. The top 12:

  1. Trea Turner
  2. Bobby Witt Jr.
  3. Bo Bichette
  4. Fernando Tatis Jr.
  5. Francisco Lindor
  6. Corey Seager
  7. Oneil Cruz
  8. Dansby Swanson
  9. Tommy Edman
  10. Xander Bogaerts
  11. Tim Anderson
  12. Wander Franco

Few players can provide what Trea Turner can, and he'll be great in Philadelphia – but when you can get someone like Tim Anderson almost 90 picks later, it seems like a good position to wait on. I also absolutely love Corey Seager and Xander Bogaerts at their costs this year, so I don't think SS is a position I'll be worried about in the first few rounds.


The Outfield is a Bit Thin

There are plenty of players here, so in a league where you start three outfielders, you can always find a way to make it work. This is also the position where most of the in-season pickups pop up, just by virtue of there being more of these players. But in a five-outfielder league, you probably want to be aggressive on the outfield. Here are some names that are top-50 outfielders right now based on ADP:

There are some names here that are just not good fantasy players. There are a lot of later-round OF picks to love, but you can see how quickly this position gets pretty shaky. I don't think you really want to have an outfield with Suzuki and Bellinger as your top-two options, so that is something to keep in mind.

Of course, you can't fill every need on a fantasy team – it's inevitable that you'll be weak somewhere, but I think just having position depths in mind right from the start is helpful.

Below is a sortable, searchable table with the current (December 21st) top-300 in ADP. If nothing else, it's fun to take a look at as we slowly get excited about the 2023 fantasy baseball draft season! Thanks for humoring me with this!


ADP Table

Here's the top 300 of ADP right from NFBC after 132 drafts.

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