We’ve spent the last several weeks going from position to position and discussing specific players, but after five months of drafting for me (!), and with draft season finally in full swing for the rest of the world, I’m feeling like it’s time to take a break and reflect on a few general trends. Back in early October, I received an email from NFBC announcing that they’d be starting drafts earlier than ever this year – like, as the playoffs were just starting. Most people who received the same message likely glanced at it and moved on with their lives, but I of course immediately joined the first NFBC Draft Champions slow draft that was available to me. It wasn’t just that I missed fantasy baseball after 48 or so hours without it; I also was extremely curious to do a draft with no ADP or rankings whatsoever. In the emailed announcement, NFBC made it clear that we who signed up for these ultra-early drafts would be choosing our teams not only without current ADP listed (since of course there was no ADP yet; we’d literally be creating it with these first drafts) but with 2022’s rankings and even 2022 position eligibility. I was both trepidatious and somewhat excited to draft with absolutely zero outside noise about who I should draft or when, and knowing that every other manager would be in the same bubble. I know many folks who claim they draft with zero regards to ADP, but I find it hard to believe, since having that box containing lists of players in a prescribed order staring at you as you are making draft decisions gets into your head, at least a little I think. Whether you want it to or not, that imaginary pink elephant that someone tells you not to think about is pretty skilled at popping into your head no matter how much effort you make to avoid it.

Anyway, I bring all of this up mostly to point out that I’ve been watching trends from the get-go this offseason. It’s been a combination of fascinating, encouraging, and often frustrating, to see how both the fantasy community as a whole (and I as an individual) have reacted to free agent signings and trades, team news and injuries, new expert opinions, and now finally actually getting to watch the baseball players we may be drafting play some baseball. Here are a few random takeaways of what I’ve noticed about the overall 2023 fantasy baseball landscape, and the patterns my drafts have ended up following more often than not.

I’m suddenly kind of seriously into catchers. I’ve drafted a lot of teams. Overall — regardless of league size or format — I’m realizing that, on paper at least, I’m liking my teams where I’m more heavily invested at catcher. I have more shares of J.T. Realmuto than I would have ever predicted, particularly given that I do think an offensive drop-off is to be expected from him this year after what was likely a career year in 2022. I’ve drafted Daulton Varsho, Will Smith, Willson Contreras, and both Adley Rutcshman and Sean Murphy each more than once, and I’m currently mildly obsessed with Austin Kirk. (I think the Kirk obsession reached its high point when Grey and I actually got into a bidding war for him in the CBS Sports Analysts AL-only League auction; when Grey won, it may have been the moment I realized that the fantasy world as a whole is taking catchers more seriously than ever this year.) It hasn’t always felt right taking a catcher, let alone two, in the early stages of a draft. For me, though, it turns out it’s feeling a lot more right than getting towards the end of a draft and needing to stick two truly inferior players into an active lineup (especially in 2-catcher, medium-depth leagues when there are still some very interesting options available at other positions even at the end of a draft).

It’s just about impossible for me to not react to “best shape of his life” reports, no matter how hard I try. For instance, I just realized that I have Ke’Bryan Hayes rostered exactly twice, and both times in leagues that I drafted after players reported to spring training. I point this out because the report on Hayes is that he put on 10 – 15 pounds of muscle during the off-season, a note that clearly was enough for me to subconsciously, at least, move him up my draft board a bit. Some of the reports will turn into good drafting info, but it’s awfully hard to distinguish which ones. I’m going to try to keep track of these types of notes and then refer back in October to see if there was ultimately any correlation between packing on muscle and a more successful season at the plate. One thing I already find interesting, though, is that two of the players who came into camp with big offseason news in terms of theoretical hitting improvements are already hurt. (The first is Gavin Lux, who spent much of the offseason at Driveline reportedly picking up 6 MPH in bat speed, and as we all know is out for the season with a torn ACL. The second is Seiya Suzuki, who reportedly added 20 pounds of muscle that he said he thought would help improve his swing speed, and who as we also all know is likely out for at least the beginning of the season with an oblique injury).

Closers are generally very expensive this year, but the closer market has been all over the place. I’ve had a couple of deep leagues where I feel like I got closer bargains, like the AL-only league with Grey I mentioned earlier. But in most of my 15 and even 12-team mixed drafts the price has been sky high. I am attributing this, at least in part, to the 15-team “Gladiator” draft NFBC ran in November and December. It’s a new format for them, simple but ideal for those of us who love drafting, don’t love the Best Ball format, but don’t have as much time for in-season management as we’d like: you draft a standard 23-man team of 14 hitters and 9 pitchers, and that’s it. No bench, no waivers, no lineup moves at all, just 23 players who are locked into your active lineup at the draft and will be there accumulating stats (or not) until the season is over. It likely won’t surprise you to hear that presumed full-time, top closers went earlier than ever in this format (I participated in one where I was drafting 14th and both Edwin Diaz and Emmanuel Clase were off the board before my first pick). Clearly the myriad of “closer-by-committee” Rays-style bullpen situations, as well as the possibility of more and more teams following their lead this year, have impacted our fantasy values. I have an additional theory as well: that once the Gladiator drafts were lumped into the overall NFBC ADP data, top closer ADPs rose, more people started reaching, and closer panic ensued more often, leading to a vicious cycle of their values continuing to skyrocket. Just something to be aware of, regardless of how you plan to attack the closer position this year, especially if you are drafting at or near the turn as I’ve seen some pretty over-the-top closer runs already this year.

Okay, like I said, just some random thoughts about my 2023 draft season so far! Hope all of your drafts are going swimmingly, and now that Truss has provided us all with some Razzball-centric RCL ADP data, I can’t wait for my RCL drafts to see how everything plays out on my home turf!