Whether you had a great fantasy baseball season or a miserable one, you are likely ready to turn the page to 2023. Looking ahead is one of the best parts of playing this great game, and there are few things that are more exciting than planning out the players who will anchor your future squads.
With that in mind, here are my picks for the first round of 2023 drafts.
No. 1: Aaron Judge (OF, New York Yankees)
I’ll admit I was dead wrong about Judge this year, as I faded him in drafts due to his lengthy injury history. Concern over future ailments would be the only reason to avoid the slugger with the first pick of 2023 drafts, as he leads the Majors in homers and runs scored while also ranking second in RBIs and fourth in batting average.
No. 2: Trea Turner (SS, Los Angeles Dodgers)
Those who drafted Turner first overall this year were happy with the return on their investment, as they will receive at least 20 homers, 25 steals and 200 R+RBI. Hitting among the top-three spots in a loaded Dodgers lineup makes the career .302 hitter the safest source of five-category production.
No. 3: Ronald Acuna (OF, Atlanta Braves)
Acuna may have the best chance of anyone on this list to push past Judge and rank as the best fantasy asset next season. After all, the outfielder was nearly a 40-40 player in 2019 and was on pace to flirt with that lofty designation once again in 2021 before suffering a torn ACL at midseason. But Acuna is dinged a couple spots on these rankings due to having been less dominant than usual (.772 OPS) since returning from his knee injury. I see Acuna is the biggest boom-or-bust option on this list.
No. 4: Jose Ramirez (3B, Cleveland Guardians)
With 18 steals, Ramirez has been a slight disappointment to those who were expecting a repeat of his 27 swipes from last year. But the 30-year-old has been rock-solid in all categories, including having already produced a career-best RBI total. The hot corner remains the weakest of all non-catcher positions, which makes me happy to start my 2023 teams with an elite third baseman.
No. 5 Kyle Tucker (OF, Houston Astros)
Tucker has been a bit underwhelming overall this year (.822 OPS) but has the perfect skill set for roto managers, as he will finish the year with roughly 30 homers, 25 steals and 105 RBIs. The 25-year-old has dealt with a low BABIP in 2022, which fuels hope that we have not yet seen his best campaign.
No. 6 Freddie Freeman (1B, Los Angeles Dodgers)
I will always be happy to secure shares of the Dodgers offense in my 2023 drafts, as thus far in 2022 the club has outscored the next closest team by 31 runs. Freeman has been less powerful than expected (20 homers), but he ranks first in batting average, third in runs scored and 11th in RBIs. And like Judge, he has contributed more steals than expected, with a career-high 12 swipes.
No. 7 Julio Rodriguez (OF, Seattle Mariners)
At midseason, Rodriguez seemed primed to compete for the top spot on this list. But a nagging wrist injury has contributed to diminished hitting stats in the second half, and the rookie has also been less aggressive on the base paths. Still, the 21-year-old could one day produce a 40-40 season and seems like a good bet for a 30-30 campaign in his sophomore year.
No. 8 Vladimir Guerrero Jr. (1B, Toronto Blue Jays)
Guerrero Jr. has been a disappointment this year, but even an unimpressive campaign from the 23-year-old will include at least 30 homers, 180 R+RBI and a helpful batting average. Guerrero’s decline is connected to an increase in ground balls, which was an issue for him in 2020 and must be corrected for him to take the next step.
The guess here is that he and the Blue Jays coaches work together to return his launch angle to 2021 levels.
No. 9 Yordan Alvarez (OF, Houston Astros)
After a dominant first half and a massive dip in August, Alvarez has come roaring back this month (1.158 OPS). If steals were not a factor, the slugger could make a strong case to be selected second overall next year. But alas, Alvarez’s lack of speed relegates him to the latter half of the first round in roto leagues.
No. 10 Bobby Witt Jr. (SS, Kansas City Royals)
After looking overmatched while posting a .558 OPS in April, Witt found his footing as a Major Leaguer and now ranks as a top-30 fantasy asset on the season. He and Rodriguez give this list a pair of players who could post 30-30 campaigns in their sophomore seasons, and any manager would be within their rights to prefer Witt over Rodriguez next year.
No. 11 Juan Soto (OF, San Diego Padres)
Soto is finishing up a down year that will include a career-low batting average, a disappointing RBI total (61 so far) and fewer than 30 home runs. But he remains arguably the most talented young hitter in baseball, who has compiled a career .952 OPS across over 2,600 plate appearances before reaching his 24th birthday. You don't have to squint to envision the Padres posting outstanding 2023 offensive totals with Soto, Manny Machado and (eventually) Fernando Tatis Jr. atop their lineup.
No. 12 Mookie Betts (OF, Los Angeles Dodgers)
Betts started slowly this year (.731 OPS in April) before warming up with the weather and ranking among the best fantasy options. The 29-year-old sits second in runs scored, eighth in home runs and has been a solid contributor in the three other standard categories. Like his teammates Freeman and Turner, Betts gets a draft-day bump because of the high floor that results from hitting near the top of the Dodgers' productive lineup.
Shohei Ohtani (UT, Los Angeles Angels)
In leagues where Ohtani can be used as both a hitter and pitcher, he should be drafted first overall. But our format uses two versions of Ohtani, which keeps him out of the first round.
I am usually a strong proponent of drafting starters early and often in fantasy drafts, but I believe that the 2023 player group doesn't lend itself to selecting a pitcher in the opening round. Gerrit Cole and Corbin Burnes were good but not special this year. Jacob deGrom carries significant injury risk. Sandy Alcantara lacks an eye-popping strikeout rate. Shane McClanahan doesn't have enough of a resume and spent time on the IL in September. Max Scherzer and Justin Verlander carry plenty of age-related risks.
My 2023 plan will be to start with a pair of hitters before attacking pitching in the subsequent two rounds.