Regardless of the league you play in, one of the most critical parts of draft prep is identifying top fantasy sleepers to target.
On the other hand, it is also important to identify which players are overvalued in order to avoid falling into a trap and wasting draft capital.
There are certain players coming off a monster season or driven by offseason helium, that are being valued at (or above) their likely return on investment. This leaves little to no room for profit.
With that in mind, here are The Game Day’s best fantasy baseball sleepers for the 2023 season.
In addition to choosing our top bust at every position, we’ve also highlighted some of our picks below by position.
Fantasy Baseball Draft Busts 2023
Our staff’s favorite fantasy baseball preseason busts for 2023 leagues:
|Frank Ammirante||Sean Murphy||C.J. Cron||Marcus Semien||Bobby Witt Jr.||Xander Bogaerts||Michael Harris II||Alexis Diaz||Dylan Cease|
|Pat Pickens||Sean Murphy||Rowdy Tellez||Jeff McNeil||Brandon Drury||Xander Bogaerts||Aaron Judge||Kenley Jansen||Jacob deGrom|
|Matt Williams||MJ Melendez||Vinnie Pasquantino||Luis Arráez||Bobby Witt Jr.||Fernando Tatís Jr.||Aaron Judge||Alexis Diaz||Dylan Cease|
|Michael Waterloo||MJ Melendez||Christian Walker||Jeff McNeil||Alec Bohm||Bobby Witt Jr.||Harrison Bader||Alexis Diaz||Spencer Strider|
|Scott Engel||Sean Murphy||Vinnie Pasquantino||Andrés Giménez||Gunnar Henderson||Corey Seager||Michael Harris II||Daniel Bard||Nestor Cortes|
Fantasy Draft Bust Picks: Hitters
MJ Melendez, C, Kansas City Royals
Look, I don’t want to knock a player who put together a really good rookie season - especially with big power at the catcher position. But it feels like we aren’t taking into account the dramatic batting average hit he will bring to your team.
It’s hard to get upset about any productive catcher, but investing a top-100 pick in Melendez - especially in a one-catcher league - screams shiny toy syndrome.
Sean Murphy, C, Atlanta Braves
On the surface, Murphy gets a better park and hits in a better lineup with the move to Atlanta. But his ISO, HR/FB, and Hard Hit Rates have all slipped over the past three seasons. Expectations may be a bit too high on Murphy because he is joining a better team.
His .250 batting average was a career-high last year. Murphy’s ceiling may be a respectable stat line instead of expecting improved production.
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Vinnie Pasquantino, 1B, Kansas City Royals
He did post some impressive stats in a small sample last season, but I am hesitant to draft Pasquantino inside the top 100. His home park could suppress some potential power, and he may get exposed in a weak lineup while his RBI opportunities are limited.
Pasquantino is ranked as a top 10 first baseman, but he is not in my top 15. I do not want to overpay for a possible .265, less than 20 HR season.
Jeff McNeil, 2B, New York Mets
If you need someone to give you a high batting average, then sure, go ahead and draft McNeil. But outside of average, what is he really giving you? He won’t hit more than a handful of home runs; the same can be said with his stolen bases.
McNeil is close to empty average - he’ll get his share of RBIs if he hits fifth or sixth - but even with that, all projection models have him between .273-.290 in the category. I want more from my second baseman.
Luis Arráez, 2B, Miami Marlins
My argument for fading Arráez is the same for someone fading McNeil. This is a truly empty batting average, and by that, I mean mostly singles.
Do not pay a premium because “AL Batting Champion" is listed next to his name.
Bobby Witt Jr., 3B, Kansas City Royals
Witt has the power-speed upside that you want in an early pick, but his current first-round ADP is too rich for me. This is a second-year player who put up a 99 wRC+ in his rookie season. That was tied for 99th among qualifying hitters.
Witt also hits in a mediocre lineup in a pitcher’s park.
While we can certainly see growth in Year 2, you’re paying a premium price to acquire Witt. The prudent play would be to take a hitter with a safer profile at this cost.
Gunnar Henderson, 3B, Baltimore Orioles
The potential power and speed skills of Henderson are undeniable. But I tend not to expect too much from young players too soon, and I am not willing to rank Henderson as a top 10 guy, which many others have for this season.
I want to sit back and see what he can accomplish over a full season first. Henderson is a candidate to strike out a lot and disappoint in batting average and home runs.
Fernando Tatís Jr, SS, San Diego Padres
Tatís Jr. is a superstar talent capable of winning the NL MVP Award.
Now that we got that out of the way, let’s talk about a few other things about Tatís that are true…
- Tatís has been away from the game for over a year
- Coming off shoulder surgery (not to mention two previous wrist surgeries)
- Returning from a PED suspension
There are simply too many question marks to justify an early-round selection in fantasy.
Would it surprise me if I was wrong? No. But I’m not paying to find out.
Xander Bogaerts, SS, San Diego Padres
Bogaerts is an elite offensive shortstop. He’s a five-time Silver Slugger who has had an above-.800 OPS in six of the past seven seasons.
But Petco Park should be a challenge to Bogaerts. Going from Fenway Park, which Statcast lists as MLB’s third-most hitter-friendly park, to San Diego, the fourth-least friendly park for right-handed hitters, should bring an adjustment.
Plus, it will likely take Bogaerts some time to get acclimated to his new city and play games there. Juan Soto had just a .778 post-trade OPS with the Padres in 2022, so tread lightly before going all-in on Bogaerts this season.
- See how many of these names are in our 2023 Fantasy Baseball Rankings Top 350.
Aaron Judge, OF, New York Yankees
Judge is coming off not only a career season but a historic one. Regression seems all but guaranteed.
From 2018-2021, Judge posted a wRC+ of 150, 141, 140, and 149 before launching a 207 in 2022. I am willing to bet we see him fall much closer to his career average this season.
Some have argued in the past that the Yankees slugger is injury prone, but I think that was unfair given the unrelated nature of his ailments. However, I still think his early first-round ADP is likely to disappoint.
Michael Harris II, OF, Atlanta Braves
Harris surprised many observers with a 19-homer, 20-steal season in only 441 plate appearances. This performance has yielded a second-round ADP for the 21-year-old this season.
The dynamic outfielder hits in a great lineup, but this is a rich cost for a Year 2 player.
Ozzie Albies is healthy, which can bump Harris down in the batting order, hurting his counting stats. There are also some issues with plate discipline (4.8% walk rate), highlighting a volatile profile.
Fantasy Draft Bust Picks: Pitchers
Dylan Cease, SP, Chicago White Sox
Cease turned in a dominant season, which has made him a top 5-7 pitcher off the board in 2023 drafts. While he put up a 2.20 ERA, his 3.48 SIERA was tied for 16th among qualifying starters.
The other concern is the 10.4% walk rate, which could have an impact on his WHIP going forward.
While Cease is definitely capable of providing another top 15-20 finish, it’s hard to trust him over more proven pitchers like Aaron Nola and Brandon Woodruff, two of whom can be grabbed a bit later in your drafts.
Jacob deGrom, SP, Texas Rangers
The Rangers doled out huge bucks to land the two-time Cy Young Award winner to be their ace and pitch them out of the wilderness. When healthy, deGrom is still exceptional, proven by his 12.75 K/BB, 14.3 K/9 rate, and 0.74 WHIP in 64 1/3 innings in 2022.
But can we trust the Rangers to have nice things? And can deGrom actually pitch?
He’s only made 38 starts over the past three seasons and hasn’t topped even 100 innings since 2019.
Plus, he will be 35 on June 19 and will be making the bulk of his starts at Globe Life Field, which is slightly more hitter-friendly than Citi Field.
Alexis Díaz, RP, Cincinnati Reds
It seems like the Reds finally have a closer after years of fooling us into buying into one player or another. But I’m sorry if I’m not ready to fully buy in on David Bell committing to one player after having the track record of using a committee that he has.
Let’s pretend that Bell is telling the truth and will use Díaz - how many saves are we expecting from the closer of the Reds? If all goes right, I’ll say 22. But I’m not expecting all to go right, making Díaz a player who is easy to fade for me.
I’d much rather watch him go off on someone else’s team than use a top-60 pick on him and watch him flounder.
Kenley Jansen, RP, Boston Red Sox
Jansen has long been one of the most reliable closers in baseball, and he led the National League in saves (41) and games finished (54) in 2022.
But there’s a lot of mileage on his right arm, and closing in Boston is a lot different than closing in LA or Atlanta, for that matter — particularly with that big wall in left field. Plus, the Red Sox expect to compete for the cellar in the AL East, which should limit Jansen’s save opportunities.
There are likely to be more favorable saves options elsewhere.
What is a Bust?
The true definition of a bust has to do with perceived value.
“Busts" are undervalued. They are good targets to underperform their average draft position and auction value.
Busts can be found at any point during the draft but are usually early-to-mid-round players.
How to Identify a Bust
There are several ways to identify a bust for the upcoming season.
- Second-half struggles that are masked by an otherwise impressive season-long stat line. For example: The league may have “figured out" a pitcher, or a hitter is being pitched to differently (higher strikeout rate).
- Players coming off an injury that may impact their ceiling for the upcoming season.
- Targets that have a threat to their playing time, such as platoon issues.
- Luck. Look for outliers from career norms in BABIP, HR/FB%, LOB%, or other various statistics. This is also a great way to identify “sleepers."