Around this point in the draft, you should probably be checking the free agent pool. You never know who can slide through the cracks created by transaction freezes, roster limitations, football season and the general malaise that sometimes accompanies late-summer rotisserie baseball.
Cole Young looks like the early win of last summer’s draft. He wasn’t especially late at 21st overall, but he might go inside the top ten if the draft happened tomorrow. A 6’0” 180 lb left-handed hitter, Young features plus bat-to-ball skills and an all-fields approach that plays beyond his years. He graduated the complex league in seven games and got even better in Low A, slashing .385/.422/.538 with two home runs and a stolen base in ten games. In the cold light of dawn between publications, this ranking feels a little low.
After having his best season in 2022, Fujinami was posted by the Hanshin Tigers and signed with Oakland for $3.25 million. His contract includes another million in incentives for starts made, and it sounds like he’s going to open the season in the rotation. I’m eager to see how it goes. I’m not likely to draft Kodai Senga anywhere but suspect I’ll have some Fujinami in 2023. He’ll be under the radar for us, but Fuji was the 1.1 pick in the NPB out of high school and dominated in the big leagues there as a 19-year-old. His career hasn’t been as easy since then, but this season represents his best opportunity as a professional, and I think he can make the most of it.
A 6’4” 206 lb left-handed hitter who went 33rd overall in this year’s draft, Beavers could be a nice value in First-Year-Player-Drafts despite a five-tool profile and loud, if brief, debut season. It was just 23 games, but Beavers slashed .322/.438/.460 with six stolen bases across three levels. Dam.
Fell from a likely top five pick to 15th overall due to an elbow injury that led to Tommy John surgery in April. Lesko is the only high school junior to win the Gatorade player of the year award thanks to three plus pitches (fastball, change up, curveball) and excellent control from a 6’2” 195 lb frame. When he was there for Preller at 15, it felt like a done deal. No sense passing on a unicorn type talent in that spot.
Miami’s drafting of Jacob Berry represented a pivot from swinging for the fences with all their prospects, opting instead to target a few guys who make regular contact. As their reward, Berry ripened nicely during 33 games in Low-A, slashing .264/.358/.392 with three homers and a steal. Not the sweetest fruit you’ll ever find on the vine, but you can squeeze a little juice from the 118 wRC+ those numbers netted. If he doesn’t deliver a lot more thump in 2023, he’ll go the way of JJ Bleday.
The 12th overall pick in 2022, Jung has never really struggled to hit, which is good because that’s kind of his only calling card. Unlike his brother, Jace has the platoon advantage of being a left-handed hitter. He’s also a little smaller at 6’0” 205 lbs to Josh’s 6’2” 214. His ultimate impact will be determined by how much power he can access in games, although the plate skills (18.7 percent walk rate in 30 games) should float the profile through some dry spells. On one hand, it’s nice that he’s in Detroit where the paths to playing time are fairly wide open. On the other hand, he’s in Detroit, and they’ve struggled to string together enough decent hitters to build a big league quality lineup.
Carlos Estevez was brought in to be the club’s closer, or part of the Jimmy Herget committee anyway, and I like him a lot. Running some rough, back-of-the-envelope math, his 1.18 WHIP in Coors equates to a 0.08 WHIP in Anaheim. I only mention the back of that major league bullpen because Joyce went straight to Double-A and dominated (2.08 ERA, 20 K, 0 HR in 13 IP) after being drafted 89th overall in 2022. He tops out well above 100 mph and sits triple digits with his heater. Slider’s solid, too. Might not be a ton his guy can learn in the minors. Looks likely to open 2023 in Triple-A and could be the team’s best closing option by June. You don’t draft a guy like Joyce to watch him waste a bunch of bullets in the minors.
Gilbert can barrel up a variety of pitches in a variety of places, runs with attentiveness, aggression and speed, and he controls the strike zone. He was the best player on the best team in college baseball for most of 2022.
24. Mariners SS Felnin Celestin | 17 | NA | 2027
A switch hitter at 6’1” 175 lbs, Celestin signed for $4.7 million in January. International classes the past few seasons haven’t produced the best return on investment for even patient dynasty players, but Celestin is well positioned to buck that trend. His tools are good, but it’s his hit tool and well-rounded game that makes him a good bet.
25. Rays 1B Xavier Isaac | 19 | CPX | 2027
Pure upside play here as a bet on the Rays developmental team that liked Isaac enough to take him 29th overall this year. He’s already 6’4” 240 lbs and will have surpassed expectations if he can become an average defender at first base. What he can do is find the barrel and smash the baseball. Tampa has been on a roll for a long time. If they see enough in a bat-only prospect to take him in the first round, that’s good enough for me.
The club’s first-round pick in 2022, Crawford played well enough in 11 games on the complex to spend a week in Low-A, where he didn’t hit, but that doesn’t matter yet. Crawford’s calling cards will be the same as his father Carl’s: a contact-heavy approach with plus defense and double-plus speed. The mechanics are not ideal, and I’ll probably be avoiding him in my own leagues, but the 6’3” 175 lb Crawford possesses unique upside and deserves a spot on everyone’s radar.
Listed at 6’3” 185 lbs, Graham looks skinnier than that partly because I think he’s built from rebar like a young Byron Buxton, delivering strength well beyond what your eyes would guess from afar. He even moves a little differently than most players, jolting around the field with a twitchy-fast smoothness of controlled movements that look like they might spill out of control at any given moment. He’s played third, shortstop, second and outfield, and I think he could hang just about anywhere on the diamond. On offense, Graham became the first D1 player in almost 20 years (2004) to hit 20 homers and steal 30 bases.
I liked the Hjerpe pick on draft night. Cards got him a 22 overall after he dominated during his Junior season at Oregon state, striking out 161 batters in 103.1 innings on the strength of his plus command and deceptive delivery. Can sort of trace a path from Liberatore to Hjerpe, who tops out in the low-90’s. Liberatore checks every 1990’s box, but the release point and pitch shapes make him hittable. Hjerpe hasn’t debuted yet, but I’m expecting him to dominate the lower levels.
Horton heard his name called early on draft night when the Cubs took him seventh overall. At 6’1” 212 lbs, Horton was a two-way player but settled into a weekend starter role as a Sophomore after recovering from Tommy John surgery. He got better and better the further he got from the surgery, leading Oklahoma to the College World Series Final on the strength of a mid-90’s fastball he can locate up in the zone and a double-plus slider he loves to throw. It’s not necessarily a negative, as throwing it a lot has led to impressive command of the pitch. He’s got a curveball in a third velocity band as well but hasn’t used it as much.
There’s a name-value component to this ranking, I admit, but if Rocker can stay healthy long enough to get in rhythm, he might rip right through the minor leagues. I have a little fear that the club might send him straight to Double-A like they did Jack Leiter, but that seems unlikely given how Leiter’s career has gone so far. When they were at Vanderbilt, getting both Rocker and Leiter would’ve been an unthinkable windfall for a major league organization. Feels like we’ve got more questions than answers about each at the moment. Rocker went 42nd in the Razz30 draft that’s halfway through round five. Not much risk at that price.
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