Welcome to The Ultimate Fantasy Baseball Draft Guide for 2023. It’s my personal draft outline for who to draft and when for your 12-team fantasy baseball leagues.
In this guide, I’ll outline who I’m targeting in each round, which positions I’m focusing on getting early in the draft, and those on which to wait. All my favorite players are here in one place for each position, with a round-by-round cheat sheet at the end.
I’ve done this draft outline for years, and last season I added more to this already bloated article, turning it into a proper guide instead of just an outline, and I’ve kept a lot of it the same – think of this year’s guide as more of this year’s edition than a new piece.
Per usual, before we talk about the specific players, we really need to talk about draft philosophy — specifically 12-team standard league draft philosophy, but much of this applies to other leagues as well. I’ve adapted many approaches and refined my strategy over the years, and I found it’s incredibly important to outline how you should be navigating your draft at a macro level before we determine who should be on our radar at the micro level, round by round.
For additional resources, I want to direct everyone to our Fantasy Baseball Draft Kit For 2023. This is where you’ll get links to all our rankings, research articles, sleepers, busts, player breakdowns, all for free. If you enjoy this and want to support this little company I started in 2014, consider subscribing to PL Pro, granting access to our incredible Discord, an Auction Draft Calculator, our 2023 Projections powered by PLV and ATC, and our Live Draft Assistant Tool.
With that out of the way, let’s get started.
There are many tenets of drafting I want to discuss, but if there is one that you take home with you it’s this:
You Are Not Drafting A Best Ball Team
I’ve hammered this point across articles and podcasts for years now and it’s for good reason. As we prepare for drafts, we’re overwhelmed with different rankings and projections, from a site awarding “most accurate experts” that are determined from their pre-season rankings and how they played through the entire season (Spoiler alert: Those are best ball rankings, not draft rankings!) to a collection of projections that make you feel comfortable grabbing a pitcher because “he’ll give me a 3.80 ERA” or a hitter on your bench that gives you just enough RBI or Runs to make his spot worthwhile.
This is all a lie.
I’m willing to bet that you won’t be rostering at least 30% of the team you drafted by June 1st. Go back and look at your drafts from previous seasons and you’ll quickly see how few picks panned out in the back half of your draft. You should be drafting in a way that not only expects this but plans around it from the start.
Think of yourself, the astute, smart, dashing fantasy manager. Let’s say it’s the 20th round, and you chose to draft Merrill Kelly because the projections say he’s destined for a near 4.00 ERA and 1.25 WHIP this year. But then his first start is against the Dodgers and you can’t start him then. And then he’s holding a 4.00+ ERA in May, are you still holding him? Is it worth it?
The great news for you is that the waiver wire exists. You don’t have to keep rostering Kelly and you should have structured your draft with this in mind. This brings us to our next point:
Draft Preparing To Use The Waiver Wire
The waiver wire is a magical place. It’s where seasons are won, your next favorite player has a cozy abode, and it feels like the most glorious mall in America where you can constantly go shopping. I can hear many of you right now “But Nick, it’s so hard to find someone good on the wire!” and to all of you, I want to show you a pair of charts I’ve already featured this off-season:
2022 SP Drafted Past ADP #260
Easy Waiver Wire Pick Ups
It’s the most important thing I can teach you; take chances, makes mistakes, get messy. In the back half of your drafts, don’t go after boring projection players so you can show your friends that the “draft projects me to win our league.” Those charts expect everyone to have the same players by the end of the year and we all know that isn’t the case.
Nick, how am I supposed to know which pitcher’s to pick up and when? Well, don’t worry about that one, just read my daily SP Roundup articles that will come out early in the AM every single day of the season. It’s why I do it and you will be able to get many of these arms — you’ll only need 2-3 to win your league!
Now that we’ve established that you want to pick up arms off the waiver wire, it’s important that you draft accordingly. What this means, is you have to set yourself up for a sturdy floor, then feel comfortable taking chances.
The raw number of “foundational” pitchers I want to draft changes each year based on the pool of players and with a hefty amount of SP depth this season, I find myself drafting SP like this:
- Draft two inside the Top 22 SP
- Draft one “riskier” guy between 25-35 SP
- Draft two more inside my Top 51 SP
- Draft whoever falls in the final rounds that I’m feeling that day.
Once you have those 3-5 arms, take all the fun picks you like, just make sure that we can collectively decide on them early in April — there’s nothing worse than taking a starter late in your draft and realizing he has poor matchups early that make him sit on your bench. You might as well take something that can give you value in those early weeks.
So take your Kenta Maeda, Matthew Boyd, Kodai Senga, Alex Cobb, etc. Don’t feel like you need a ratio “rock” with your sixth starter — you already have five others! — and you’ll be able to find one of them on the wire if you really want one during the season.
This Is For Hitters, Too
This plan doesn’t apply just to pitchers. During the season, the two easiest positions to fill in your daily lineups are Outfield (especially in a standard 3 OF league!) and UTIL. That means as you traverse your draft, plan to leave at least one UTIL and one OF spot for the later rounds of the draft. Take a flier on each and plan to search the wire for that one batter who made the changes you like.
Lastly, I want to mention here to play to your personal strength. If you don’t have one, we have all the articles and AMAs to help through the year (come hang out when I’m live on Twitch!), but if you’re better at finding hitting in-season, great! Draft accordingly to give yourself the ability to fill those holes.
Other Minor Things To Consider
I’ll just bullet point now, and it mostly stems from that expectation that you’re going to be changing your team through the season.
- Who cares which team is projected to win the season — Yep, I’m saying it again. You’re not in a best ball league!
- Drafting is about a floor you’re comfortable with early, then taking chances late — you can replace the weak spots on the wire if you fall in the back half of the draft
- Know yourself as a manager — I already mentioned this before, but I want to say it again. Are you better at finding hitting on the wire? Are you willing to make the changes each day for platoon bats? Will you have the time to make constant waiver wire swaps through the season? Draft to cover your weaknesses and open yourself up to take advantage of your strengths: For me, that’s a lot of hitting early (my weakness) and relying on the waiver wire for SP (my strength, shocking, I know).
- When in doubt, draft a closer — Many people say “I’ll just get a closer on the wire” and I like to think I’m the same, but man, it’s annoying. When you’re going through your draft and don’t love any options, drafting a closer always helps. I’ve called closers “the currency of fantasy baseball” as every team can use one more guy for saves. You’ll always improve by grabbing a closer.
- Team construction is huge, especially for roto leagues. Look I don’t like punting categories as it puts too much pressure on winning the other categories. Go for “average” in saves and steals if you want, and reach on ADP if you need that one guy for steals at 2B. Who cares about ADP values, winning your league is way better.
Y’all should know what league you’re playing in. This draft outline will speak to Yahoo’s settings as it is the most lenient of them all (i.e. the broadest of audiences). Here’s a quick table to cover each league’s eligibility settings:
Don’t know if a player I’ve mentioned is eligible in your CBS or ESPN league? My good friend Grey Albright over at Razzball went over every multi-positional player and outlined their games played at each position. It rocks.
Alright, I think that’s enough ranting before the draft outline. I needed to let all of that out as, without the understanding of how I’m playing the regular season, this draft outline doesn’t make sense. You need to be doing both in tandem to win your leagues. You got this.
…fine. One more time
You are not drafting a best ball team.
Okay okay, let’s actually move on now.
Who I’m Drafting Round By Round
Draft Outline Primer
H’ok, the real meat of this article. Let’s go over the details of these picks and why I’m choosing who I am:
- This outline is meant for a redraft, 12-teamer 5×5 Roto or H2H league with 23 rounds. It still applies to most variants, but obviously, it’s not a one-size-fits-all.
- In general, the positional eligibility is from Yahoo. Know your league’s settings and adjust accordingly.
- I have purposefully left some holes because drafts are fluid creatures that need affection and constant attention to nail down just right.
- Also this year I elected to not repeat names for multiple rounds, instead just listing them for the first round I look for them. It makes for a cleaner sheet
- Don’t follow this so rigidly that when Wander Franco falls to the ninth round you ignore him, nor do you ignore that you may have to reach an extra round from these targets at times.
- Round targets are based on Fantasy Pros’ ADP, which merges NFBC, Yahoo, and CBS data. They are a rough estimation and should give you a general idea of when you should be looking to grab them.
- There are certain players who have round labels well before or after their ADP. Either I want to reach or I’ve seen them fall consistently and will watch their stock mid-draft.
- These aren’t the only players I’m looking to draft, but they are the ones that I’m hoping fall to the right place.
- I can’t list every player at every position for obvious reasons. You should 100% be reading the player ranking articles from Scott Chu, Rick Graham, and myself that provide detailed reasoning for our affection or skepticism. I’m sorry I can’t answer all comments that ask “Why aren’t you considering [Player]?” or “You forgot [This Player]. He wasn’t forgotten, just not someone I found myself taking either because I liked others at that spot or thought he was going too early.
- I highlighted my favorite players for each position in yellow inside their tables. Keep in mind this isn’t included in the master chart at the bottom as it would complicate things too much
- “What’s your ideal amount of SPs and Bench bats?” Generally: 8x SP, 2x RP, 3x Hitters in a standard daily league with 4 bench spots. Why? Getting PAs each day is more important than an extra start. Just how it works out.
- That last point emphasizes multi-positional eligibility. It’s for Mondays and Thursdays when teams have days off — you want as many PAs as possible and multi-positional players can do wonders. Even a 1-for-4 with a Run and RBI helps.
I’ve done a ton of mocks this pre-season, testing strategies from different positions, and I’m going to bring in more bullet points to go over the general approach I have in drafts:
- The trend you’ll see is that I elect to wait on grabbing starting pitchers. This isn’t for everyone and I understand if you want to be a little more aggressive than I am.
- I’m a huge believer that you should be drafting with the mindset of three to four SPs that you trust through the year, then your final four SPs are options that you’re okay dropping if they don’t pan out.
- Also, hitting is far more valuable in the first two rounds than SP as the value gap between the top vs. middling hitters and top vs. middling pitchers is monstrous.
- Draft position matters a lot this year, and it outlines what you’re going to do specifically at 1B and 3B. Have a plan for these positions and how it affects 2B, SS, and OF.
- Closers are dumb, and I hate them. You’re better off solidifying your offense than feeling OK with a stat that makes up only 10% of your week-to-week and isn’t even a guarantee. Check out Alex Fast’s We’ve Drafted Saves Wrong Again and you’ll understand.
- The final eight rounds or so will be shooting for upside starters and bats. There are so many to choose from. I have specific guys I like. You probably have different ones, and that’s cool. Get your guys.
Alright, I think you understand the flow. Get tons of offense early, shift a focus to SP somewhere between rounds 5-9, and find the flow after round 10 for your needs.
Now let’s focus on the specific players to target during your drafts by position and later round-by-round.
I’ve highlighted my favorite targets in Green in the tables below.
Are you in a Daily Moves league where Shohei Ohtani is one player?
If yes, Shohei Ohtani should be the first pick in your draft. His bat + an elite SP for one pick is unreal (and another roster spot!). It’s why I don’t like Ohtani as one player for fantasy purposes.
If Shohei Ohtani is one player but it’s a weekly league, treat him like a DH.
If he’s two players then…treat him like two players.
Why Don’t You Have [Player] Listed?!
I’m addressing this a second time because I’m wagering you skipped a lot of this article. This is my personal outline of players who I’m targeting. It means there are many I skipped over because they aren’t a good value in my personal view (I’m not a fan of Wander Franco, for example) or is not the position I want to target at that time (early SP and RP, for example).
First Basemen / Utility
First basemen have premier options the first two rounds (and one in the third) and I find myself grabbing one of Vladimir Guerrero Jr., Freddie Freeman, or Pete Alonso if I’m at the back half of the draft (normally in the second round), or hoping I can snag Paul Goldschmidt or Matt Olson in the late 2nd round or early 3rd if I’m in the front half of the draft. As for Shohei Ohtani, he’s normally a 2nd round guy for me if he falls there but not a focus.
If I miss out one of those, I’m shifting my focus to rounds 7-8, where José Abreu, Vinnie Pasquantino, and Nathaniel Lowe can fall. After that, there are some undervalued power options in Christian Walker, Ryan Mountcastle, Anthony Rizzo, and Rowdy Tellez, with upside plays in Andrew Vaughn, Joey Meneses, Triston Casas, Miguel Vargas, Spencer Torkelson, and Jared Walsh.
I generally don’t let myself leave the 12th round without 1B filled – offense first before SP, y’all – but even high floor options like Josh Bell, Ty France, and JD Martinez (DH) could be used as UTIL guys and go for cheaper than other positions.
First Baseman Targets And Rounds
If you’re in a Yahoo league, Mookie Betts should be heavily considered at the top half of your draft as a second basemen – his value at 2B is massive compared to the rest of the pool.
Otherwise, your draft position matters massively. If you’re in the back-half of the draft, you won’t get Jose Altuve and will be hoping for Marcus Semien to come back to you in the third. If that fails, I’m all for grabbing your favorite of Ozzie Albies or Jazz Chisholm Jr. in the fourth.
Why? Because after that, it gets rough. Sure, there are options, but not nearly as stellar as those above, and in most cases instead of going after Tommy Edman, Andrés Giménez, or Gleyber Torres, I’d love to grab Max Muncy in the 12th – keep in mind, this completely depends on the flow of the draft and there’s no guarantee you’ll get Muncy at that spot. Monitor other teams filling their 2B slot and plan accordingly.
After that, Jorge Polanco, Brandon Lowe, and Jake Cronenworth are backup options if you want a floor. You may want to also get an upside option if you grab your first second basemen late, which would have me grab guys like Vaughn Grissom, Jonathan India, Ketel Marte, Miguel Vargas, and Brendan Donovan.
And hey, Kolten Wong could be hitting leadoff, so that’s pretty cool.
Second Baseman Targets And Rounds
Like second base, the early options are strong, followed by a massive drop-off to the decent options in the middle rounds. José Ramírez goes in the first handful of picks for good reason, and those in the back half of the draft should aim for Manny Machado or Austin Riley. I’m fine with Rafael Devers or Bobby Witt Jr. if Machado/Riley are gone, while Nolan Arenado is a focus in the third for drafts where I miss out on JoRam and have an early pick.
Once the heavy hitters are out of the way, Alex Bregman and Gunnar Henderson are where my sights go, hoping to navigate the 5th through 7th rounds to grab them while also finding my first starting pitcher. It can be tough to do, but it happens so keep an eye for it.
The backups after that lie after the 10th round with Max Muncy, Eugenio Suárez, Matt Chapman, and Jorge Polanco. You should be okay with one of them, though I’d pair them with an upside play like Jordan Walker in the latter part of the draft. Other options are Brandon Drury, Anthony Rendon, and Josh Jung, who could pop off this year and impress early in the season.
Trea Turner is sure to go in the front half of the first round and while I’ll likely focus on an OF or Betts or JoRam, I can see scenarios where I spring for Turner’s all-around game. Be cautious favoring stolen bases and average too much in 5×5 H2H leagues, though – HR/RBI/Runs are more important to secure week to week as they come with less variability.
I’ve been able to pair Bo Bichette with a solid 3B or 1B at times, though I find myself favoring the other two positions instead as I adore the targets in the 7th/8th rounds. Bobby Witt Jr. can be a good option in the middle/late of the second if he falls behind other hitters I like, while Francisco Lindor isn’t a bad play around the turn, though I generally don’t chase it (Marcus Semien is better suited for 2B than SS given the depth at SS later in the draft).
If I’m in the fourth round without a shortstop and the hitters are drying up, Corey Seager is a strong get to ensure a focus on SP moving forward. Think of it this way: your 4th and 8th rounds could be SP and SS. Would you rather Seager + Yu Darvish or Castillo + Adames? It’s a tough call, but I’m leaning Seager personally as SP help is easier to find than hitting help deeper in the draft.
I’m a fan of Gunnar Henderson, but he falls in a spot where I’m usually searching elsewhere. However, the 8th round is a wonderful place to find a shortstop and if you’re without one, just take the one you like most out of Oneil Cruz, Tim Anderson, Willy Adames, and Dansby Swanson. If that fails, Carlos Correa and Jeremy Peña should be heavily pursued as the last “okay, I’m cool with this” SS options.
There really isn’t a whole lot after that. Jake Cronenworth, Javier Báez, and Nico Hoerner are not the worst, while the upside plays at the end are limited with Ha-Seong Kim, Ezequiel Tovar, and the longshot at an opening day job with Anthony Volpe. Monitor the Volpe situation as you get closer to your draft.
Shortstops Targets And Rounds
You have your standard first round outfielders and while I personally think Aaron Judge‘s overall production is 1.1 overall, you go with your favorite guy.
I like Mookie Betts‘ floor over Julio Rodríguez‘s one year of production & Yordan Alvarez‘s hand injury, but again, that’s just me.
In the second round, I’d be tempted to jump on Mike Trout if he falls – especially if I already had an infield position at a premium spot.
The third round may have Michael Harris II and it could line up with your drafts well. Kyle Schwarber is a big bopper who could have a better average with the new shift rules, while Randy Arozarena is a solid all-around outfielder if you’re out of other options in the fourth.
The fifth comes with one of my favorite targets in Teoscar Hernández, as well as possible drops in Luis Robert Jr. and Cedric Mullins. I also adore Eloy Jiménez and Corbin Carroll in the sixth round, with the ideal situation being at least one outfielder (if not two) grabbed by the end of the sixth.
Bryan Reynolds is an overall decent play as well if you’re searching for another in the seventh round, while I find myself returning to OF focus in the 10th for Giancarlo Stanton and Taylor Ward. There are occasions I’ll consider Christian Yelich or Steven Kwan instead if I felt the power numbers were in a good place.
In 3 OF leagues, I encourage you to not overspend on your third outfielder as it is the easiest position to fill in-season. So much so, that I encourage getting Bryce Harper a little earlier than others to secure a fantastic bat for the second half of the season.
But hey, if you need the help, then Nick Castellanos and Seiya Suzuki are solid plays, with the latter likely not missing a whole lot of time with his oblique injury.
It gets a bit rough after that. Hunter Renfroe, Brandon Nimmo, and Ian Happ are a group of “this is alright but not great” options, while the rest of those listed below are fun upside plays. Andrew Vaughn could get unlocked in Chicago this year, Masataka Yoshida will get his chances in Boston, Lars Nootbaar and Joey Meneses are gaining a lot of helium as of late, Michael Conforto could excel in the middle of the Giants lineup, Jesse Winker is a great bounce-back candidate, Oscar Colas could score a whole lot of runs in Chicago, Riley Greene may finally have his moment, Ramón Laureano is a legit 20/20 candidate, and Garrett Mitchell is turning heads in Milwaukee (injury setback aside).
Outfielders Targets And Rounds
I’m not one to overpay for catchers and if I had my way, I’d be getting Sean Murphy in the 10th of every draft as I think he’ll dominate for Atlanta. However, you can’t predict how the draft will flow, and if you’re able to get a value on J.T. Realmuto in the fourth, wonderful.
I do think Daulton Varsho and Adley Rutschman are solid gets in the 5th/6th rounds, but I find myself chasing SP or OF at that time often.
If I miss out on Sean Murphy but MJ Melendez is still there, he’s a worthy grab as well with skills that look legit for the year ahead.
If you miss out on a catcher early, I’d take a shot on Cal Raleigh or Danny Jansen late, or just relax until the final round of your draft and work the waiver wire after.
Catchers Targets And Rounds
Now for my favorite part – Starting Pitchers. I’ve shared my thoughts aplenty across the last six months and when it comes to my evaluations vs. the ADP, here are the major takeaways:
- I will rarely draft a pitcher in the first three rounds as hitters are just too valuable
- I call the Top 22 SP in my rankings “The Aces of Dubs” – my goal is to target at least two of them in drafts, starting in round five.
- Target about 3-4 starters between rounds 5-10, one more before round 14, then go ham chasing upside. There is more value to gain with starting pitchers than hitters in the back half of the draft and it’s wise to chase all the upside guys late with pitching instead of hitting.
Look, if it’s your game to get SP early, then go ahead. Do your thing. This is the way I recommend doing 12-team drafts that gives you the most value leaving your draft and opens the door for the most possibilities in-season.
I’ve written so many words about these pitchers over the last six months and if you’re curious as to why these pitchers have been selected, here are two links to help:
Top 100 Starting Pitchers – Updated March 15th
46,000 on the Top 300 Starting Pitchers – Updated February 6th
The very small updates from the March 15th edition of The List are Jared Shuster becoming a fun late dart throw & my love for Reid Detmers rising due to his increased velocity as of late.
Starting Pitchers Targets And Rounds
I’m not too keen on relievers, and I feel there are too many other positions to focus on instead of closers early in the draft.
That said, if you want to take one before the 10th, Ryan Pressly and Félix Bautista are my two favorites. I generally find myself going for a closer around the 10-12th rounds, which means Camilo Doval, Clay Holmes, and David Bednar. Then I pair them with Pete Fairbanks or Paul Sewald in the 16th, and throw in an upside reliever or two to chase the first week of the season.
The last line could mean a whole lot of guys, like Alex Lange, José Leclerc, Jorge López, Craig Kimbrel, Evan Phillips, Carlos Estévez, Dylan Floro, Brandon Hughes, and Reynaldo López. Good luck picking the right one, just make sure you have at least one if not two of them on your squads – you can drop them early in the year, don’t worry.
In most situations, grab one that you like, and take some outside chances late, then follow Rick Graham’s weekly Closer rankings + the staff’s daily Reliever Ranks articles to follow who you should be picking up in-season. That’s the true path to victory.
Relief Pitchers Targets And Rounds
All Targets Round By Round Cheat Sheet
I made this handy chart for you to reference through your draft:
And here is one giant table of all players by round and position listed.
Every Player by Round/Position
Good luck! Here’s to a fun 2023 season ahead.
Adapted by: Chris Corr (@Chris_Studios on Twitter)