The 2023 Fantasy Baseball season hasn't even started yet and we've already been blessed with a bunch of talented prospect promotions. You know, of course, about Gunnar Henderson and Corbin Carroll, both of whom retained their rookie eligibility despite holding their own in major-league cups of coffee a year ago, and both are going inside the top 100 in drafts.
But those aren't the only rookies you're going to see taken in the first 10 rounds in your drafts over the final few days of draft season. They'll almost certainly be joined by Cardinals 3B/OF Jordan Walker and Yankees SS Anthony Volpe, who both locked up spots on the Opening Day roster in recent days with their massive springs. Walker went 101st overall in the last mock draft we did last week, while Volpe's ADP jumped to 120.7 in drafts on Sunday at NFC; he went as high as 63rd overall in one!
Those four are just the tip of the iceberg, as we've got a whole bunch of top prospects breaking camp with their major-league squads. Carroll, Henderson, Volpe, and Walker represent the top four in Scott White's top 100 prospects list, but they are by no means alone; five of the top nine are on opening day roster.
It's not all good news, though. Some guys we thought were locks to make their rosters ended up getting sent down, while others remain on the bubble with just a few days left until the start of the season. Let's go through each group of players, focusing on the prospects who did get called up and where you should target them, as well as the ones who didn't, and whether they are still worth stashing at this point.
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Prospects on the opening day roster
Jordan Walker, 3B, Cardinals – Walker won't even be 21 until three weeks into May and he's never played above Double-A, so he's awfully precocious. He has top-end athleticism that manifests itself in extremely hard-hit balls, and he should be good for some steals – he had 22 last season to go along with 19 homers. Walker tailed off a bit after a blistering start, hitting .281/.303/.500 in spring, though with a very manageable 23% strikeout rate; given his size and how hard he hits the ball, there just isn't as much swing-and-miss in his game as you'd expect. Walker has some playing time risk in a crowded Cardinals outfield, but if you want him, you're going to have to plan on a top-90 pick for him at this point.
Anthony Volpe, SS, Yankees – Volpe was a long shot to make the club at the start of spring, but he hit .308/.419/.635 with a bunch of walks and a manageable strikeout rate, while providing the kind of activity on the bases the Yankees have been looking for since they traded for Isiah Kiner-Falefa last offseason. Volpe struggled upon first reaching both Double-A and Triple-A, so he might be a guy who needs some time to adjust to a new level, and the Yankees do have another talented young shortstop to fall back on in Oswald Peraza, so there's some risk of Volpe not sticking if he struggles. However, he could be a huge source of steals – he was 50 for 57 in 132 games last season – and has some pop, so there's no shortage of hype around him, too. Expect him to go inside of the top 100 over the last few days.
Miguel Vargas, 1B, Dodgers – Vargas has been penciled in as the Dodgers' opening day second baseman since well before the spring, but his price has mostly remained pretty reasonable – in NFC drafts Sunday, his ADP was just 179.3. He won't be that cheap in any drafts with the Fantasy Baseball Today crew – he went 162nd overall in our last Roto mock and 133rd in our Podcast Listeners League last week. Vargas is quite fast, but hasn't shown the base stealing upside of Volpe or Walker – he had 16 in 113 games at Triple-A last season – but he should be a good source of batting average, with 20-homer upside in a good lineup. He's a solid starter at second base, which he should get eligibility for after about a week.
Ezequiel Tovar, SS, Rockies – The Rockies have done little over the past half-decade or so to have much faith that they'll get the most out of a talented young player, but I'm still surprised Tovar's price has remained so reasonable – he had a 207.6 ADP in Sunday drafts. Tovar had a decent spring – .286/.352/.429 – and hit .319 with a .927 OPS as a 20-year-old with 14 homers and 17 steals in 71 games between Double-A and Triple-A, and he's going to play half his games in Coors Field. There's risk here, but I'd argue Tovar is way undervalued relative to the hype around the other rookies. I'm taking him around 150 if I need a SS.
Josh Jung, 3B, Rangers – Jung looked overmatched when he got to the majors last season, striking out 39 times in 102 PA, and given his relatively advanced age for a prospect (he's 25 already), most largely wrote him off. However, he's been a favorite late-round target of mine throughout the draft season, and seeing him cut his strikeout rate to 13.5% while raking in the spring has been very encouraging. He's been a spring rankings riser for me, and I'm taking him around 200th overall.
Oscar Colas, OF, White Sox – Colas' carrying tool is power, and he really started to tap into that in the high minors last season, hitting 16 homers in 58 games between Double-A and Triple-A. There's some swing-and-miss there, and not much speed, so there's both some downside risk and perhaps a bit of a limited ceiling, but he's also in a good lineup and home park to maximize what he does well, and he could help fill in the middle of the order hole left by the loss of Jose Abreu. In Roto leagues, with their deeper outfield spots and less of an emphasis on plate discipline, Colas is a value anywhere outside of the top 200, which is typically where he falls.
Triston Casas, 1B, Red Sox – The scouting reports for Cases typically start with discussions about power, even though he's never posted a slugging percentage above .500 at any level in the minors where he played more than four games. Add in that he's a lefty in Fenway, a very tough place for left-handed power, and Casas might have a bit of a hard time living up to the highest level of his upside. On the other hand, he has excellent plate discipline and a swing geared toward generating a lot of line drives, which could play very well in a BABIP-inflating environment like Fenway. Casas may not be a 30-homer guy, especially right away, but he might be able to do a decent early-career Freddie Freeman impersonation. If I'm waiting at first base, he's one of my key targets around 200th overall.
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Hayden Wesneski, SP, Cubs – Wesneski is another late rankings riser for me this spring. He was very good in his first taste of the majors last year, with a sweeper that already looks like a legitimate out pitch, and now this spring he's been working consistently in the high-90s with his fastball – he maxed out at 95.9 mph last year. Wesneski is still likely to go outside of the top 200 in most drafts, even with some helium, and I love targeting him there.
Jared Shuster and Dylan Dodd, SP, Braves – Shuster is the more well regarded of the two, but neither was really considered a candidate for the Braves rotation at the start of spring. They forced the issue, with Shuster sporting a 1.45 ERA and 0.59 WHIP with 18 strikeouts in 18.2 innings, while Dodd had a 2.00 ERA and 1.06 WHIP with 20 strikeouts in 18 innings. Neither may end up a long-term fixture with Kyle Wright expected to be back after just a few turns in the rotation and Michael Soroka looms, but with pitching, roles are always hard to predict because the attrition rate at the position generally means an opportunity will end up being there for players who earn them. I'm not quite sure either Shuster or Dodd has the stuff to be a must-start Fantasy option – they tend to throw in the low-to-mid-90s with their fastballs, and have more of a command profile than a swing-and-miss one – but they're both worth a late-round flier at least.
Ryan Pepiot, SP, Dodgers – I tend to be more skeptical than most about the, "Boy, if he could only throw strikes …" profile of young starters, and that's Pepiot to a T. He has rotation-quality stuff, but walked 17% of batters faced in the majors last season. He did have 156 strikeouts in 137.2 innings across all levels last year, so if he does keep the walks somewhat in check, Pepiot could be very good. But there are so many late-round pitchers on my radar, that he usually doesn't make it for me.
Who is waiting?
Grayson Rodriguez, SP, Orioles – Rodriguez making the Orioles rotation seemed like a foregone conclusion, but he struggled in spring and ended up not making the roster. He'll likely go down to Triple-A to start the season, but could be a few good starts from getting the call at basically any point -- Orioles GM Mike Elias said as much Monday. I'm still stashing him with a late-round pick if I can afford it.
Andrew Painter, SP, Phillies – I would've bet on Painter making the rotation in early March, but he suffered a UCL sprain and has been shut down from throwing since. He might begin playing catch in a few days, but he'll still need to be built back up while avoiding a setback. At this point, I think there's a decent chance this ends up with Painter undergoing Tommy John surgery.
Francisco Alvarez, C, Mets – The Mets didn't rule out Alvarez making the opening day roster until a few days ago, but it always seemed like a true long shot. They have Omar Narvaez and Tomas Nido behind the plate, so it wouldn't be tough for him to be an upgrade, but they seem to really want Alvarez to force the issue. He didn't do that in the spring, and I'm dropping him where I did have him stashed.
Brett Baty, 3B, Mets – I thought Baty might be forcing his way up this spring, but the Mets are going to give Eduardo Escobar another shot. I'd bet Baty is going to get some reps in the corner outfield in Triple-A to give him a bit more flexibility, but I wouldn't be surprised if he was playing third in Queens by May. He's a decent stash. Mark Vientos is also in play for a call-up at some point, though he's a slightly less exciting option than Baty.
Elly De La Cruz, SS, Reds – De La Cruz was a long shot to make the team this spring, but a hamstring injury will also now delay the start of his Triple-A season. He's one of the most exciting prospects in the game, coming off a 28-homer, 47-steal showing in 121 games between High A and Double-A, and De La Cruz could be an impact bat in the majors as soon as this summer if he gets healthy. He's tougher to stash because the timeline is probably more like June or July at the earliest, but he needs to be on your radar.
Christian Encarnacion-Strand, 3B, Reds – Encarnacion-Strand started to get some hype a few weeks back, but he was ultimately sent back to Triple-A camp, where he apparently suffered a back injury that will also delay the start of his season in the minors. Encarnacion-Strand hit .304/.368/.587 between two minor-league levels after joining the Reds from the Twins, and he could get a shot at either infield corner spot, depending on Joey Votto's health and Spencer Steer's production.
Ben Joyce, RP, Angels – Joyce was a spring riser for me, and on Monday's Fantasy Baseball Today podcast, I dropped a bold prediction: He's going to end up leading the Angels in saves this season. He had six walks in 6.2 innings in the spring, so he has work to do for sure. But given how mediocre the Angels other closer options are – Jimmy Herget and Carlos Estevez seem like the best bets right now – I think Joyce will get an opportunity sooner rather than later. He's probably not worth stashing, but I'll be watching him closely.