Trends take shape as 2023 fantasy baseball season kicks off with … – USA TODAY

Spring training games are underway and players are getting up to speed in preparation for when the real games begin to count. It’s the same drill we fantasy managers go through early in the spring when mock drafts serve as our spring training.
This year, however, some of the game’s best players will need to speed up their preparation for the World Baseball Classic. And some of the fantasy industry’s best players are jump-starting draft season with the annual Leagues of Alternative Baseball Reality.
The 15-team Mixed LABR draft took place on Feb. 21, while the 12-team AL, NL and Mixed auctions were conducted this past weekend.
These drafts come early in the spring on purpose – to provide a starting point for player values and potential strategies that help make our readers better prepared for their own leagues.
FANTASY BASEBALL: Full position rankings, everything you need to know for 2023
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However, Mixed LABR provided a couple examples of the dangers of drafting this early. Dodgers infielder Gavin Lux suffered a season-ending knee injury running the bases, Rockies second baseman Brendan Rodgers damaged his shoulder diving for a ball, while pitchers Joe Musgrove (toe) and Tyler Glasnow (oblique) could miss a couple months with injuries of their own.
Things like that happen. Unfortunately, the World Baseball Classic could lead to a few more injuries than usual this spring as players push their limits a little earlier than they usually do.
It seems like good advice every year, but perhaps especially in 2023, avoiding risk in fantasy drafts is a smart strategy.
After the Braves’ Ronald Acuña Jr. went No. 1 overall, the first surprise of the draft came quickly, with Tim McLeod of Prospect 361 choosing outfielder Kyle Tucker of the Astros with the second overall pick.
Tucker has the combination of power and speed fantasy managers covet in a top pick, but he generally goes a little later in the first round because he hits for a slightly lower average than the other possible options and often bats fifth in the Astros order.
Otherwise, the first round proceeded without any major surprises.
MIXED LABR RESULTSRonald Acuna Jr. goes first overall in 15-team draft
What’s the optimal draft spot? Most people like to be in the middle so they don’t get left out if (when?) there happens to be a run on say, closers or third basemen. With Tucker included as part of the elite five-category performers, drafting at No. 6 might be the sweet spot this season.
Most of the 15 teams chose a fairly even balance of hitting and pitching with their first few picks – but three teams began constructing their rosters with four consecutive hitters.
Unlike in recent seasons, no starting pitcher is consistently going in the first round. Corbin Burnes and Gerrit Cole are still the first pitchers off the board, but – as was the case in Mixed LABR — they’re going in the early-to-middle second round.
Things really start to get interesting, though, by the middle of the third. At that point in this draft, 13 pitchers were selected in a 23-pick span through the end of Round 4. And by the end of the sixth round, 36 pitchers (27 starters, 9 closers) were off the board.
And if you don’t have your first closer in the top 100 overall selections, you’re likely to be fishing for saves on the waiver wire during the season.
There are also some definite tiers forming among the hitters at several positions.
For example, Matt Olson was the fifth first baseman selected, taken 37th overall. The next one, Jose Abreu, didn’t go until the start of the sixth round, No. 76 overall.
At second base, there was nearly a full two-round gap between Ozzie Albies (44th) and Andres Gimenez (73rd). Meanwhile, Bregman (49th) seems to sit in a tier of his own as the only third baseman between Arenado (27th) and Gunnar Henderson (88th).
In a league with this many teams, no one is going to be completely happy coming out of the draft.
Last season, my USA TODAY team stayed incredibly healthy and I struck gold in the middle rounds with Adolis Garcia, Zac Gallen, Jeff McNeil and M.J. Melendez on the way to a convincing 27.5-point victory.
That strategy wasn’t so easy to follow this time around as I started strong with Trea Turner, Sandy Alcantara and Edwin Diaz. But then things got a little off track. In need of a third baseman and not willing to wait any longer, I snagged Henderson in the sixth, then followed him up with the always-risky Byron Buxton. Looking for another middle-round jolt, I took Bryce Harper in the 12th round – even though he’s expected to be out until July recovering from elbow surgery.
My pathway to a fourth LABR Mixed title is fraught with risk, but sometimes you have to take what the draft gives you.
We’ll close with our annual list of players to remember in the late stages of your draft. I keep these under-the-radar targets in mind when looking for upside beyond the overall top 200 or so.
Last year’s targets included Nathaniel Lowe, Andrew Vaughn and Julio Rodriguez for overall impact; Andres Gimenez for speed; Rowdy Tellez and Adam Duvall for power; and Triston McKenzie and Jesus Luzardo as impact arms.
Speed: Jon Berti, CJ Abrams, Josh Rojas, Ezequiel Tovar, Adalberto Mondesi, Jorge Mateo, Esteury Ruiz, Garrett Mitchell, Bubba Thompson.
Potential impact hitters: Jordan Walker, Miguel Vargas, Anthony Rendon, Wil Myers, Jesse Winker, Oscar Colas, Shea Langeliers.
Late power sources: J.D. Martinez, Luis Urias, Michael Conforto, Joc Pederson, Austin Meadows, Spencer Torkelson, Adam Duvall, Jared Walsh, Brandon Belt, Joey Gallo.
Potential bargain pitchers: Reid Detmers, Edward Cabrera, Jack Flaherty, Hunter Brown, Trevor Rogers, Michael Kopech, Tyler Mahle, Carlos Carrasco, Roansy Contreras, Andrew Painter.


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