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2023 Fantasy MLB Sleepers, Busts: Bader, Whitlock could be big values

Harrison Bader

Harrison Bader

Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

The World Baseball Classic is in full swing, Spring Training rolls along and regular season action is on the horizon. All is right in the baseball world and we’re just as excited as you are! March is the thick of fantasy baseball draft season, which is why we’re continuing to highlight our all-new 2023 Rotoworld Baseball Draft Guide and all that it offers. Earlier this week we looked at fresh first baseman rankings and today we zero in on sleepers and busts. There’s nothing better than securing a late-round impact player, but it’s equally as satisfying to avoid a player and be proven right for it down the line. Whether you’re targeting names who may not be getting enough attention or looking for a list of players to fade, our draft guide has you covered.

This jam-packed edition has all the information and features you need to prepare for every single draft. Equipped with in-depth player profiles, positional rankings for multiple scoring formats, projections, tiers and positional reports, managers can feel confident navigating the 2023 fantasy landscape. Plus, the draft guide features exclusive columns from our experts, in addition to mock drafts, statistics, scoring leaders and more.

The Rotoworld Baseball Draft Guide is online for $19.99. Get the latest Rankings, Projections and more from our baseball experts. Use promo code PENNANT25 to save 25% at checkout. Buy now!

There’s nothing more subjective than what qualifies as a sleeper or a bust, but identifying players to target – or avoid – is essential for success for any fantasy manager in any format. Our experts highlight some names to pursue and some players who could be overvalued this season via an exclusive column in our draft guide, with seven players in each group. Here are a few of the Rotoworld staff’s sleepers and busts picks for 2023.

Sleepers

Harrison Bader, OF, New York Yankees
By D.J. Short
Some Yankees fans were peeved upon Jordan Montgomery‘s early success with the Cardinals last summer while Bader was rehabbing from plantar fasciitis in his right foot, but he proved to be worth the wait with his unexpected power surge during the postseason. The 29-year-old smacked five homers in just 35 plate appearances during the playoffs after hitting just five in 313 plate appearances during the regular season. This might look like “baseball randomness” upon first glance, but Bader has shown some interesting pop in the past and he actually credited his postseason power barrage to his use of a mouthguard which made him more relaxed at the plate. Whatever works, dude. Bader’s defense in center field should give him a long leash for the Yankees and he’s shown a more contact-oriented approach at the plate over the past two years, so he isn’t likely to be a batting average liability either. If the plantar fasciitis issue is truly behind him, a potential 20-20 season is within reach in his new hitter-friendly home.

Garrett Whitlock, SP/RP, Red Sox
By George Bissell
The Red Sox signed veteran relievers Kenley Jansen and Chris Martin to multi-year deals this offseason to take over as their primary high-leverage options, paving a clear path for dynamic youngster Garrett Whitlock to transition to a full-time starting role this upcoming season. The 26-year-old right-hander, who is expected to be ready for spring training after undergoing offseason hip surgery, has spent the majority of the last two years as a multi-inning relief weapon, compiling a spectacular 2.73 ERA, 1.06 WHIP and 163/32 K/BB ratio across 151 2/3 innings (77 appearances, nine starts) during that span. There will be some workload question marks with Whitlock this season, but he’s one of the more promising young arms in the game, and he is poised to excel in a more permanent role after pitching through a lingering hip issue and also oscillating between Boston’s rotation and bullpen last year.

Garrett Mitchell, OF, Milwaukee Brewers
By Matthew Pouliot
I typically wouldn’t go with a rookie here, but Mitchell isn’t getting much hype, in spite of a fine 28-game audition late last season. He also isn’t promised a starting gig at this point. Still, there’s ample fantasy upside if the Brewers commit to him in center. Mitchell’s .311/.373/.459 line in 68 plate appearances for the Brewers was the product of an absurdly fortunate .548 BABIP, but he hit the ball hard, averaging a 93-mph exit velocity that put him in the 97th percentile of big leaguers. He was also 8-for-8 stealing bases in the majors after going 17-for-18 in 69 minor league games. The 41% strikeout rate was nearly as ridiculous as the BABIP, but his contact numbers suggested that he should have finished somewhere around 25%. If that’s about where he comes in this year, he’ll be a fine regular for the Brewers. He’s one of MLB’s fastest players, and the potential is there for 40+ steals with perfectly solid numbers elsewhere.

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Busts

Xander Bogaerts, SS, San Diego Padres
By Matthew Pouliot
One of baseball’s most consistent hitters, Bogaerts has finished with OPS+s between 128 and 139 each of the last five years. Still, there are two new concerns here. One was the decline in his power last year. He was hardly the only player to suffer in the home run department with the deadened baseball, but he just didn’t hit the ball as hard as usual, with his exit velocity numbers down across the board. Statcast gave him an expected slugging percentage of .383, which was 85 points lower than his mark from any of the previous four seasons. The other issue is his move from Boston to San Diego. Bogaerts was a career .312/.375/.497 hitter in Fenway, compared to .271/.338/.420 elsewhere. Petco Park isn’t as much of a numbers killer as it used to be, but it’s still one of the worst parks for right-handed hitters in baseball, while Fenway remains one of the very best. Even if Bogaerts’ power comes back some, he’s likely looking at a significant reduction in average. He’s probably not going to be a top-10 shortstop this year.

Daulton Varsho, C/OF, Toronto Blue Jays
By Drew Silva
On the surface, there’s all the reason in the world to love Varsho. He is 26, he will be catcher-eligible on most fantasy sites and he put up 27 home runs and 16 stolen bases in 151 games last season for a Diamondbacks team that is rapidly improving via largely-internal growth. That’s part of the problem, though, with Varsho’s outlook for 2023. The power looks to be for real, but his speed isn’t as much of an asset as it appears, and his new team might not give him the green light as often as last year. Varsho has a career .234 batting average and .306 on-base percentage through his first 1,022 plate appearances as a major leaguer. Last year, his average was .235 and his OBP finished at .302. His counting-stats upside is intriguing, but this is a buyer-beware situation, especially in dynasty leagues where he’s likely to lose that catcher-eligibility soon.

Nathaniel Lowe, 1B, Texas Rangers
By George Bissell
This isn’t necessarily a knock on Lowe, who deserves a ton of credit for blossoming into a legitimate middle-of-the-order force with the Rangers last season after some prolonged early-career struggles at the highest level. The 27-year-old slugger undoubtedly possesses enough over-the-fence power to repeat last year’s career-high 27 round-trippers, but his sparkling .302 batting average – which was fueled by a preposterous .363 BABIP – seems completely unsustainable moving forward. Lowe isn’t headed for a total offensive collapse, but some looming regression in the batting average department, in addition to his lack of stolen base production, likely means that he won’t repeat as a top-10 fantasy first baseman, which is where he’s likely to be selected, on average, in drafts this spring following last year’s breakout campaign. There simply isn’t enough of a skills gap between Lowe and the remainder of the first base talent pool to justify a borderline top-100 selection in fantasy drafts this spring.

If you want to see the full lists of sleepers and busts, in addition to everything else the Rotoworld Baseball Draft Guide offers, be sure to purchase your copy today for $19.99 here. And don’t forget to take advantage of our special Draft Guide Bundle offer where you can get ALL THREE draft guides -- Baseball, Football and Basketball -- for $44.99. Check it out here!

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