Fantasy Baseball 2023: Favorite draft steals outside the top-250 picks in Tout Wars
Look, this is not going to be one of those uncertain, self-indulgent, navel-gazing examinations of a fantasy industry draft. I am not seeking your approval of my Tout Wars roster; I already know it was a triumph of game theory and modern drafting principles. In fact, many are saying it's the greatest collection of human talent ever assembled for a virtual purpose (in a 5X5 OBP format).
If this team eventually fails, it will be because the actual MLB players conspired against me. My process was impeccable.
I opened with a classic Shandler's Gambit — Julio Rodriguez, Pete Alonso, Jose Altuve, Corey Seager— before pivoting to a Modified Erickson-Zola Defense — Gunnar Henderson, Yu Darvish, Cristian Javier, Max Muncy — at which point the room simply could not recover. It was over. Several participants respectfully conceded. The draft became a coronation.
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But again, I didn't come here for positive reinforcement. Don't need it. Clearly, I have constructed a badass fantasy team. An aspirational roster, truly.
Let's not slog through a pick-by-pick analysis when nothing about the squad can be reasonably criticized. Instead, we're here to focus on the endgame, beyond the top-250-or-so selections. I'd like to highlight five late-round Tout selections (all mine, naturally) who deserve attention in deep mixed leagues ...
Yoan Moncada, 3B, Chicago White Sox
Moncada is, for a variety of reasons, one of the game's more obvious bounce-back candidates. For starters, he played through injury early last season after straining an oblique late in spring training, an issue that contributed in no small way to his disappointing performance. The switch-hitter was absolutely brutal from the left side last year (.204/.257/.325) — unusual by his career standards — and he was particularly ineffective when shifted against (.233 wOBA), as happened on 78.3 percent of his lefty plate appearances. So he's a clear beneficiary of the new rules related to defensive shifting. Moncada also happens to be a 27-year-old player who already has a 25-homer, .915 OPS season to his credit.
Just two years ago, he reached base at a .375 clip. This is not a guy we should be writing off just yet.
Eric Lauer, SP, Milwaukee Brewers
I'll allow for the possibility that I may have happened to stream Lauer at all the right times last season, inflating his true talent level in my mind. He's outproduced his expected ERA in each of the past two years, which is reason enough for the people who panic about regression to toss his name on the do-not-draft list. Let's just keep in mind that when Lauer is rolling, he's outstanding:
Eric Lauer, Wicked 87mph Slider...and Sword. ⚔️
9th K thru 5. pic.twitter.com/UHgQQ4zo7N
— Rob Friedman (@PitchingNinja) September 30, 2022
He finished up 2022 with back-to-back scoreless starts in which he allowed just one hit over 11.0 innings, striking out 16. Back in April, he had a 13-K performance against the Phillies followed by an 11-K effort against the Cubs. Lauer's K/9 over the past two seasons is 8.9, which is exactly what you should be looking for if you play in a league with an innings max (which Tout does not have, but any Yahoo public league does).
CJ Abrams, SS, Washington Nationals
It sounds as if Abrams might just be a member of the Best Shape of His Life club this spring, coming off a mostly (but not entirely) disappointing debut season at age 21. He basically lived on base in the minors (career .331/.385/.511) and he went 42-for-54 on stolen base attempts in 114 lower-level games. Abrams is definitely going to run in this year's much friendlier base-stealing environment. If he's leading off for the Nationals this season (which seems likely), he can be an elite contributor in one category and a respectable source for runs, too.
Charlie Blackmon, OF, Colorado Rockies
You might never make a draft pick as unsexy as Blackmon in 2023, the season in which he'll turn 37. No one is gonna fight you for an ancient outfielder with only modest power. Just please note that Blackmon was one of the game's most shift-robbed hitters last season according to Sports Info Solutions. Blackmon's slugging and average can both climb in the year ahead. Also, we still like players who do their home-hitting at Coors, at or near the top of the lineup.
Brett Baty, 3B, New York Mets
Baty absolutely wore out pitchers in the high minors last season, slashing .315/.410/.533 with 19 bombs in 95 games. He's raced out to a scorching start this spring as well, forcing his way into the Opening-Day roster conversation. At 23, he ranks among baseball's best hitting prospects and he doesn't have a whole lot left to prove in the minors. Even if Eduardo Escobar begins the season at third for the Mets, he can only hold off the rookie for so long.
As of this writing, Baty is +1500 to win NL Rookie of the Year at BetMGM, just for the record. He's a highly stash-worthy prospect with significant upside.