Today we’re taking a look at some players to target late in fantasy drafts. Standard 12 team mixed leagues usually have 23 rounds (side note: this is ridiculous. Snake drafts should have an even number of rounds so that the team picking first in round one picks last in the final round.) so I’m looking at players that could be available in the final three rounds. This means the only player I’m looking at has an average draft position (ADP) higher than 240. The ADP data I’m using is from National Fantasy Championships and pulls data from 488 drafts taking place between 01/01/2023 and Valentine’s Day because you just have to be romantic about baseball. Position eligibility is based on Yahoo’s default. Now, let’s choo-choo-choose one player from each infield position, a couple of outfielders, and a couple of pitchers (have to pick two, they’re Twins) to load into our queues so we don’t panic draft Kevin Newman.
Wil Myers moving to Great American Ball Park is a tempting choice, but his ADP currently sits at just 244, and I expect that to rise between now and mid-March when many leagues hold their drafts. So I’m going with a different first baseman who joined the NL Central: Trey Mancini. After whooping cancer in 2020, Mancini returned to the MLB in 2021 and produced a .255/.326/.432 line. Not gaudy numbers but extremely respectable and inspiring. Then the Orioles decided they needed more room and greatly expanded the dimensions of their home park. In fact, Oriole park went from ranking as the top offensive park in baseball in 2021, to the seventh-worst hitter’s park in 2022.
The more spacious park didn’t help Trey as he finished 2022 with a .239/.319/.391 triple slash. However, Mancini still produced well above average exit velocity and barrel rates and, now a Cub, finds himself batting in a more neutral park (Wrigley was smack in the middle as the 14th-best hitter’s park in 2022). He also finds himself playing for a team that had one heck of an off-season. You will almost certainly have selected at least one first baseman before this point in the draft, but Mancini could be the kind of late-round veteran that holds down a Utility spot all season.
Speaking of the new-look-Cubs, Christopher Morel is an intriguing late-round target. Sure, his whiff rate and strikeout percentage were amongst the worst in the league last year, but he hit 23 home runs and stole 13 bases across 487 at-bats between AA and MLB last year. With 16 of those dingers and 10 of those steals coming in his 379 MLB at-bats. That poor strikeout rate is mitigated somewhat by his above-average walk rate. Morel also posted a near-elite barrel rate, finishing in the top ten percent of the league.
Playing time could be an issue since the Cubs added Cody Bellinger, Dansby Swanson, Trey Mancini, Eric Hosmer, and three French Hens over the offseason. Those additions will make appearances at short, second (Nico Hoerner is expected to move from shortstop), centerfield, and designated hitter less likely. Morel’s best shot at cracking a healthy Cubs lineup is probably at third base, where incumbent Patrick Wisdom batted just .207 last season. But in his case, I’m entirely willing to bet on Morel’s talent getting him into the lineup enough to be fantasy relevant. Morel does qualify at shortstop, second base, third base, and outfield in Yahoo leagues, and that kind of versatility is an excellent feature in a late-round pick.
The hot corner is extremely top-heavy this year, with six third basemen being drafted in the first three rounds on average. If you don’t have a third baseman by the time Nolan Arenado is off the board, you might consider waiting for a while. Maybe let someone else pony up for the expected Gunnar Henderson breakout or the Max Muncy redemption tour. Bide your time and wait for Anthony Rendon.
The Angels veteran third basemen has had difficulty staying on the field over the last two seasons due to a series of injuries. However, he’s only 32 years old to enter the season, so not quite dead yet, and recorded a .286/.418/.497 triple slash in 2020, his most recent healthy campaign. He still bats in a lineup that includes Shohei Ohtani and Mike Trout and is currently sporting an ADP of 243. If he can stay healthy and produce as he did just a couple of seasons ago, Rendon could keep pace with some of those big names in terms of run production and batting average.
Shortstop is a position rich in elite talent, solid through the middle, and has surprising depth. For instance, Carlos Correa, the man so nice, teams signed him thrice, is the 15th shortstop by ADP. I wasn’t trying to focus on rookies in this exercise, since short benches can make it difficult to dedicate a roster spot to a player who may not get called up anytime soon. However, 23 shortstop-eligible players have ADPs that place them inside the first 20 rounds, so there isn’t much veteran talent left for us here at the draft nadir. The Yankees will potentially give the starting shortstop position to one of their two highly-rated prospects, Anthony Volpe or Oswald Peraza, and I’m giving the early edge to Peraza since he is a year older and had a brief 18 game, a 49-at-bat cup of coffee to end the season in 2022.
Peraza acquitted himself well over that short span, slashing .306/.404/.429 in his small sample. But Peraza could really bring some category juice as he slugged 19 dingers and swiped 33 bases, while only being caught five times in just 99 AAA games. There are no sure things this late in a draft, but Peraza has the potential to be an impact player.
I recently took part in a Pitcher List mock draft with 15 teams and two catcher spots. I’ve never actually played in a two-catcher league before and my best advice is: Don’t Do It. The 30th-ranked catcher last year was Kyle Higashioka. He did hit 10 dingers over just 229 at-bats, but that came with a .227 batting average. There comes a point when a player can hurt you in one category as much or more than they can help you in another, and it becomes moot to even roster them.
Based on ADP, 18 catchers will be off the board before we pass our 240th pick criteria. The 19th-ranked catcher at the end of 2022 was Christian Bethancourt. He logged 318 at-bats last year and belted 11 home runs while compiling 39 Runs and 34 RBI and producing a respectable, not category-killing .252 average (MLB as a whole hit .243 in 2022). That’s the kind of production you’re hoping to get if you end up waiting till the waning rounds of your draft to nab a starting catcher.
It’s tempting to suggest Bethancourt at this spot right now, but upside is the name of the game at the end of the draft. With that in mind, I think there is a higher potential upside play betting on a Yasmani Grandal bounce back. The Yasmanian Devil had a rough 2022, batting just .202 with a paltry five long balls. However, he is a career .237 hitter and has batted at least .240 in four of the previous five seasons with the short and weird 2020 season as the only campaign where he missed that mark. He also managed at least 22 homers in each of those non-pandemic seasons. The White Sox dealt with an absolute ton of injuries in 2022. A lineup that features a healthy Eloy Jiménez, Tim Anderson, and Luis Robert could be very dangerous. Grandal has a great chance to bounce back and provide serviceable production all the way from his current ADP of 268.
Since mixed leagues typically use three outfield spots and two utility spots, there is room to start five of these guys and nearly 60 of them are likely to be off the board before round 21 begins. With 36 outfielders starting in standard leagues every day, that’s enough to fill each starting spot and both Utility spots on every team. Lots of those guys are eligible at other positions and will likely be employed there instead since outfield tends to be so deep. Three of the players already mentioned at infield spots in this very article (Mancini, Morel, and Myers) are also eligible at outfield.
The player I want to recommend here had a disappointing and injury-plagued year with his new team in 2021 but could benefit from good health, some helpful stadium changes, and a familiar presence in camp. In his most recent, mostly healthy season, the 2021 campaign, Austin Meadows hit .234/.315/.458 across 142 games and 518 at-bats.
That .234 average leaves something to be desired, but the 27 homers, 106 RBI, and 79 Runs scored were pretty great. In his only full season before 2021, Meadows hit .291 and cranked 33 home runs. Still just 27 years old, Meadows is still smack in the middle of his prime and is one player being picked late in drafts that could provide top-100 level production.
If, however, you find yourself with a need for speed late in the draft, consider Oakland outfielder Esteury Ruiz. Acquired by the Brewers in the Josh Hader deal, and then shipped off to Oakland in the three-team trade that brought Sean Murphy to Atlanta, Ruiz finds himself with a clear path to MLB at-bats. Ruiz does not hit the ball especially hard, but you’re drafting him for his wheels, not his pop.
Over 119 MiLB games last year, Ruiz stole 85 bases! He managed just one steal and was caught twice in his brief MLB appearance, but with the new rule changes increasing base sizes and limiting pick-off attempts, Ruiz could run wild. And while he may not hit for much power (Ruiz did manage 16 homers in the minors in 2022), his .332 average and .447 on-base percentage strongly suggest a player who can get himself to first.
If you want a late-round closer, I will direct to you Rick Graham’s top 30 Closers for 2023. But, since we’re friends and all, I will make up for it by recommending two starting pitchers. They’re twins, but I have no trouble telling them apart.
Tyler Mahle is coming off a down year. After a successful 2021 which saw him pitch to a 3.75 ERA, notch 13 wins, and strikeout 210 batters in 180 innings, Mahle fought through injuries to post a 4.40 ERA over just 120 innings this past season. He managed only four starts for Minnesota after being dealt by the Reds in August. This was a shame since it would have been illuminating to see how he managed without having to deal with Great American Ballpark, one of the most friendly hitters’ parks in baseball.
Having played almost his entire career for Cincinnati has led Mahle to possess extreme home/road splits. Including his brief time with the Twins, Mahle has a respectable 3.76 road ERA, but an atrocious 5.00 ERA at home. Much like Trey Mancini, Tyler Mahle is a great “change of scenery” pick late in drafts.
Kenta Maeda did not pitch at all in 2022 as he made his way back from Tommy John surgery. He was not at full health and struggled to a 4.66 ERA over just 21 starts in 2021. But in his last “full” season, 2020, Maeda cruised to a sparkling 2.70 ERA and an eye-popping .75 WHIP. During that elite season, Maeda ranked in the top ten percent of MLB pitchers’ average exit velocity, hard-hit rate, and walk rate. He was barely outside that range in strikeout rate and was tops in the whole league in chase rate. Even during his less successful 2021 season, he maintained ranks in the top third of MLB pitchers in all of those metrics except for his strikeout rate, which still remained well above the league average. A healthy Maeda could be an absolute steal at the back end of your draft.
So we’ve got a couple of rookies who could bust out if they get full-time gigs, a couple of veterans looking to rebound from an injury-plagued season, and a few classic “change of scenery” guys to hang our late-round hats on. Just make sure these names and any other sleepers you have identified as late targets are queued up. That minute or minute and a half can disappear real quick if you’re trying to search for players. Have fun, and good luck with your drafts this year!
Photo by Mark Goldman/Icon Sportswire | Featured Image by Ethan Kaplan (@DJFreddie10 on Twitter and @EthanMKaplanImages on Instagram)
Great advice, Sam. Hopefully, none of my league-mates see this!