The fantasy baseball world moves at a rapid pace, and many skilled youngsters do not get a fair shake if they fail to find immediate success in the majors. Fortunately, the what-have-you-done-for-me-lately nature of this industry can benefit fantasy managers who take a more patient approach by giving players second chances after their careers get off to mediocre starts.
Here is a handful of players who qualify as post-hype sleepers for the 2023 season.
Keibert Ruiz (C, Washington Nationals)
Arguably the centerpiece of the trade return for Max Scherzer and Trea Turner in 2021, Ruiz has been respectable but underwhelming (.685 OPS) in the 135 games he has played as a member of the Nats. Suffice it to say that much more was expected of someone projected to be an offensive difference-maker by now. But Ruiz is still just 24, and he would not be the first catcher prospect who took a bit of time to find his groove in the majors. His lifetime .301 average in the minors is a reminder that his ceiling resembles that of Blue Jays catcher Alejandro Kirk, which is pretty valuable for fantasy managers.
Andrew Vaughn (1B/OF, Chicago White Sox)
A Vaughn breakout seemed to be happening last year, when he posted an .819 OPS in the first half, but he slumped after the All-Star break (.666 OPS), which leaves 2023 drafters undecided as to which version of Vaughn is the one to believe in. Vaughn could take a step forward this year simply by repeating his .271 batting average from a year ago and pushing his homer total (17 in 2022) to the mid-20s. At age 25, that type of projected leap for a former top prospect is certainly a reasonable one.
Spencer Torkelson (1B, Detroit Tigers)
Despite having not yet played a major-league game, Torkelson was a coveted option in the second half of 2022 fantasy drafts. He fell flat on his face (.604 OPS) and is an afterthought this year (current Yahoo ADP: 241.6), but he is also a former No. 1 overall pick who is just 23 years old and swatted 35 homers and 562 career minor-league at-bats. At his current ADP, Torkelson is worth the investment.
Wander Franco (SS, Tampa Bay Rays)
Of all the players in this article, Franco is the one I am most likely to draft this season, even when factoring in his current Yahoo ADP (pick 98.0). Having recently turned 22 years old, he already has 652 plate appearances and a solid .776 OPS under his belt. The youngster has not yet shown much pop (13 career homers), but that skill often improves in young players as they add muscle in their early 20s. And after stealing eight bases in 83 games last year, Franco is someone who could swipe 15-20 bags this time around. I expect his ADP to make a major leap next year and not return to its current level for roughly a decade.
Ke’Bryan Hayes (3B, Pittsburgh Pirates)
I’ll be honest: I’m not sure Hayes is going to be a great hitter. He has logged a .671 OPS the past two years, and while some minor injuries might have contributed to his struggles, he still has a long way to go before he reaches the expectations that were thrust upon him when he posted a 1.124 OPS across 24 games in 2020. And unfortunately, the Bucs' pitcher-friendly home park and unremarkable lineup will create an uphill battle for Hayes to achieve fantasy relevance. But there is one silver lining that keeps me interested in the 26-year-old: his plus speed. Hayes swiped 20 bases last year and could become an intriguing power-speed asset by pushing his homer total to the 15-20 range.
Riley Greene (OF, Detroit Tigers)
Greene was all set to join the Tigers' 2022 Opening Day roster before he fractured a bone in his foot April 2, which delayed his major-league debut to June 18 and might've limited his ability to put his best foot forward (no pun intended) at any point last season. Although his .682 OPS as a rookie was not completely abysmal, he stole just one base in 93 games, which was a shockingly low total for someone who could someday be a stat-stuffing leadoff man. I’m giving Greene a mulligan on his injury-impacted rookie year, and I expect to soon see a better version of the player who hit .291 with 30 homers and 25 steals in 774 career minor-league at-bats.
Josiah Gray (SP, Washington Nationals)
Gray and the previously mentioned Ruiz were the key pieces of the Nats' memorable 2021 trade, and their combined inclusion on this list is a big reason the organization is in the midst of a deep rebuild. The 25-year-old has control over the strike zone but has had major problems with the long ball, including allowing five more homers than any other other pitcher last season. Still, the next two names on the round-tripper rankings were Gerrit Cole and Robbie Ray, which is a good reminder that with small improvements at limiting home runs, Gray could take a major leap forward.
Mackenzie Gore (SP, Washington Nationals)
The third Washington player in this article, Gore was once in the discussion as the best pitching prospect in baseball, but he showed poor plate dominance (72:37 K:BB ratio) across 70 innings with the Padres last season before being shipped to Washington in the Juan Soto trade and missing the final two months of the season due to an elbow injury. Gore was the No. 3 pick in the 2017 MLB Draft, recorded 320 punchouts in 250.1 career minor-league innings and has looked good thus far in spring training. He is going undrafted in most Yahoo leagues and is someone to target with a late-round pick in deeper formats.