With early-round picks, there’s an onus on getting said picks right. That obviously applies to the latter rounds as well. But it’s in the earlier rounds of the draft where you’ll find the established fantasy stars and players who have seen their ADP skyrocket due to performance or a more fantasy-friendly environment. Players you want to see find success and hit their respective fantasy ceilings.
And while there could be hesitancy from some of your league mates to draft certain players early for a variety of reasons, there are a number of players in the earlier rounds of drafts this year who certainly look like they’ll live up to the billing where their ADP is concerned.
*All ADP data per NFBC.
Michael Harris II 29.00 ADP
Michael Harris II was one of the 2022 season’s breakout players, appearing in 114 games and hitting .297 with a .339 on-base percentage, 19 home runs, and 20 stolen bases in his debut season in the Majors.
After making his debut with Atlanta on May 28 last year, the 2022 National League Rookie of the Year winner will get a full season in the Majors this time around. More plate appearances for Harris in 2023 can only be a good thing for the 22-year-old considering the type of contact he made as a rookie.
Looking past the .297 average and the .339 on-base percentage, Harris logged a .368 wOBA, and while his actual xwOBA (.335) wasn’t quite as high, he also turned in a 45.1% hard-hit rate, a 10.1% barrel rate, and a .460 xSLG.
Admittedly, there was some swing and miss in Harris’ numbers — he finished in the 30th percentile or worse in strikeout rate, whiff rate, and chase rate — and he didn’t walk all that much. Still, he routinely posted strikeout rates below 20% in the minors and logged reasonable walk rates along the way, so neither is tremendously concerning for the time being.
From a purely counting stat perspective, Harris should also see more RBI and run-scoring opportunities with Dansby Swanson now a member of the Chicago Cubs. The outfielder has been hitting fifth lately in Spring Training games. If that trend continues, his counting stats should increase significantly across the board considering 392 of his 441 plate appearances last season came hitting sixth or lower in Atlanta’s lineup. Of those 392 plate appearances, 344 came in the bottom third of Brian Snitker’s lineup.
All of this is to say he’s well worth taking in the first three rounds of fantasy drafts, or rather right at his ADP. If anything, with new rules and changes potentially increasing stolen base attempts and totals around the league, Harris could have an even better season and outperform said ADP if he continues to make the type of contact he did as a rookie.
Lars Nootbaar 180.13 ADP
Like Harris, Lars Nootbaar thrived in 2022 in what was a breakout campaign.
Nootbaar only hit .228, but he logged a .340 on-base percentage, 14 home runs, and four stolen bases in 347 plate appearances for the St. Louis Cardinals, establishing himself as a key player for the National League Central club.
Oftentimes, batting averages can be misleading with hitters, especially where their overall ability and production are concerned at the plate.
That’s especially true of Nootbaar. In fact, you can make the argument that it’s more true of Nootbaar than just about any hitter in the league. Which is to say Nootbaar is much better and should be much better moving forward than his 2022 batting average would indicate.
The 25-year-old was anywhere from above average to elite in terms of plate discipline, not offering at the wrong pitches and making loud contact when he did find pitches to hit.
Nootbaar has done nothing to slow down the positive momentum from last season, hitting .269 with a .424 on-base percentage, and a pair of stolen bases in 33 plate appearances for Japan at the World Baseball Classic this spring.
With a regular role in St. Louis’ lineup this season, Nootbaar should absolutely be taken at his current ADP, if not sooner. If anything, the current ADP could make him a potential draft-day steal.
Daulton Varsho 38.00 ADP
Varsho could very well be in his last year of fantasy eligibility at catcher. Of course, no one knows what the future holds, and it’s possible that the 24-year-old plays just enough games behind the plate for Toronto to qualify as a catcher for the 2024 campaign.
But it doesn’t look likely right now, especially with Danny Jansen and Alejandro Kirk on the Blue Jays roster and Varsho expected to replace Teoscar Hernández in Toronto’s outfield mix. There’s also the fact that he’s a decidedly very good fielder in the outfield grass, with a +19 DRS and a +18 OAA.
Still, if this is Varsho’s last year having catcher eligibility, he’s well worth the early-round draft pick considering what he brings to the table.
On top of the versatility of being able to slot in behind the plate or in the outfield on a fantasy roster, Varsho brings an ideal blend of power and speed production.
He’s not likely to log gaudy hard-hit rates as some of the other hitters on this list, but the former Diamondback collects enough barrels (10.2% barrel rate last year) to rack up home runs.
Elsewhere, Varsho turned in 16 stolen bases, setting a new career-high in the process. He ranked in the 70th percentile league-wide in Statcast’s sprint speed metric and should continue to pose a threat on the base paths and stand to benefit from the league’s new rules which could help increase stolen base totals.
Overall, Varsho connected on 27 home runs to go along with the 16 stolen bases in 592 plate appearances last season, hitting .235 with a .302 on-base percentage in the process.
It’s worth noting that only three catchers this century have topped 20 stolen bases in a season. Varsho has a real chance not only to top 20 stolen bases but potentially reach 30 on the season. A 30-home run, 30-stolen base campaign certainly isn’t outside of the realm of possibility.
Plus, with a move to Toronto, he should be able to increase his counting stats considerably given that the Blue Jays scored the fourth-most runs in the league last season and finished with the fifth-most plate appearances with runners in scoring position.
Cristian Javier 65.56 ADP
If you’re waiting to select your first starting pitcher until the fifth or sixth round of the draft, Cristian Javier is an ideal option. In fact, he ticks just about every box in terms of what you’d want out of a fantasy ace.
Elite bat-missing ability? Yep, he’s got that. Javier struck out 11.74 batters per nine innings. The Astros starter also finished in the 94th percentile in strikeout rate and the 82nd percentile in whiff rate. In fact, among starters with at least 130 innings last season, only 10 had a higher swinging strike percentage than Javier (13.0%) when he was a starter.
**As a starting pitcher.
What about low run-prevention metrics? Javier has a history of that as well. He owns a lifetime 3.05 ERA and a 3.90 FIP in the Majors. In 148.2 innings of work for the Astros this past season, he registered a 2.54 ERA and a 3.16 FIP, both career-bests.
Does he limit loud contact? He does that as well, holding batters to just a .244 xwOBA, a 33.6% hard-hit rate, 1.03 home runs per nine innings, and a .286 xSLG.
And finally, how about win potential? Javier has plenty of that as well. The right-hander won 11 of his 25 starts last season and will continue to maintain a spot in a Houston rotation that featured five starters with double-digit wins and three with at least 15 pitcher wins.
All told, Javier might have as much fantasy upside as just about any pitcher in the league, especially if he can build off his 2022 breakout season.
Gunnar Henderson 88.70 ADP
Henderson, much like Harris, did a bunch of encouraging things at the plate in his first taste of Major League action. Admittedly, the sample size is much smaller with Henderson not debuting until August 31 and only logging 131 plate appearances down the stretch.
Still, there were plenty of positives in those 131 plate appearances.
Among the positives was a 9.8% barrel rate and a 53.7% hard-hit rate. The 21-year-old also walked at an 11.5% rate while posting a strikeout rate (26.0%) that wasn’t too high.
All in all, it was an extremely encouraging debut for Henderson, who on the whole hit .259 with a .348 on-base percentage, four home runs, and a stolen base in his first 132 Major League plate appearances.
The only real blemish statistically was a 53.7% ground ball rate, though considering the aforementioned small sample size, that shouldn’t be something to worry about too much this season and behind.
A much larger sample size awaits the young infielder in 2023, as does eligibility at both shortstop and third base, making him a more than a quality option for fantasy managers with the 88th or 89th pick in the draft.
Photos by Leslie Plaza Johnson/Icon Sportswire, Frank Jansky/Icon Sportswire, and Keith Gillett/Icon Sportswire | Featured Image by Ethan Kaplan (@DJFreddie10 on Twitter and @EthanMKaplanImages on Instagram)