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The Highest Upside Players to Target in the First Six Rounds of Your Fantasy Baseball Draft

Being conservative with your first six picks is some very common and wise advice for fantasy baseball drafts. With that in mind, I wrote an article about 11 of the safest players to target this past week. Though I do endorse this strategy, and accumulating as many of these players as you can, I recognize the temptation and the rationale for taking one big swing. So this week, I wanted to make a companion list of highest-upside players to target in the first six rounds of your fantasy baseball draft.

Mind you, I am not advocating for drafting more than one of these names. But, especially in a shallow league where you’re not going much deeper than 250 players into the pool, these would be the targets with whom I’d most be willing to shoot my shot. Please note: this is based on a standard 12-team draft and average draft position is based on NFBC’s last 30-days.

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Highest Upside Players to Target in the 1st Round

Aaron Judge OF Yankees ADP 10

2023: 106 G/79 R/37 HR/75 RBI/3 SB/.267 AVG

Just two seasons ago, Aaron Judge was the absolute top player in all of fantasy baseball. This was his five-category production: 133 Runs/62 HR/131 RBI/16 SB/.311 AVG. If that’s not enough to boggle your mind, also consider that he underperformed his xSLG (.706 vs. actual SLG of .686) and his xwOBA (.463 vs. actual .458). The only thing stopping him from being the 2nd overall pick is durability. The 31-year-old only played 106 games last season. And out of his seven full seasons in the majors, he’s only played more than 112 during three of them. His line from last year (above), however, would be perfectly fine for mere mortals. So he seems worth the risk at his current ADP. If you do go down this road, though, perhaps pair the outfielder with Matt Olson (almost three seasons without missing a game) or Austin Riley (missed just eight games in three years). And not with the two players below.

Highest Upside Players to Target in the 2nd Round

Yordan Alvarez OF Astros ADP 15

2023: 114 G/77 R/31 HR/97 RBI/0 SB/.293 AVG

Possibly the best pure hitter in baseball, Yordan Alvarez absolutely belongs in the early 2nd round of drafts. His underlying metrics give every indication that one day, possibly even this season, he’ll vie for a Triple Crown. In 2022 he literally was the best at every expected statistic (xwOBA .462/xBA .329/xSLG .672). He wasn’t too far off that in 2023, either (3rd, 8th, and 4th, respectively). To win a Triple Crown, though, you probably need to stay on the field (or DH) for at least 150 games. The 26-year-old has yet to accomplish that in his five Major League seasons. Last year, it was a nagging wrist injury that kept him on the IL for most of June and July. He’s healthy now, though, and his outfield eligibility makes him extra tempting in such a top-heavy environment at that position. He makes a great pairing with Freddy Freeman (just four games missed in four years) or perhaps Trea Turner who would offset the slugger’s lack of speed and stolen bases.

Elly De La Cruz 3B/SS Reds ADP 25

2023: 98 G/67 R/13 HR/44 RBI/35 SB/.235 AVG

OK, I know the ADP suggests Elly De La Cruz goes in the 3rd round of the average draft, but I personally have yet to see him remain available past the 2nd. So I’ll include him here because if you really want the future superstar, this is where you’d need to draft him. That is honestly a steep price for a 22-year-old with only 98 Major League games under his belt. Don’t get me wrong, the tools are – and I can’t emphasize this enough – there. Aside from being literally the fastest player in baseball according to Statcast, and having one of the strongest arms (98th percentile arm strength), the shortstop registered the third-highest max exit velocity. Sadly, though, he also registered the 8th worst strikeout rate among qualified hitters, a whopping 33.7%. That helps to explain the lackluster slashline of .235/.300/.410. Do you want my honest opinion? If I’m going to take a leap of faith that the youngster is truly ready to take a step forward, why not target someone with pretty much the same upside (we’re talking top of the first round), but going over forty picks later? More on that below.

Highest Upside Players to Target in the 3rd Round

Corey Seager SS Rangers ADP 29

2023: 119 G/88 R/33 HR/96 RBI/2 SB/.327 AVG

With a career .292 average and .873 OPS over nine seasons, Corey Seager is also among the best pure hitters in baseball. Aside from his lack of stolen base ability (17 in his career), the only thing keeping the 29-year-old’s ADP out of the 2nd round is the fact that he’s averaged just 118 games since becoming a regular (excluding 2020). The veteran was actually closer to the 2nd round before news dropped in January that he had undergone hernia surgery. At the moment, he has yet to play in a Spring Training game and his Opening Day status is still in the air. The slightly lowered ADP sure makes for a tempting offer on draft day. As do the improvements he made to already-really-good batted-ball metrics (his average exit velocity, hard-hit rate, and barrel rate were career-bests in 2023). But you might want to pair the pick with a late-round flyer on someone like Trevor Story or Ezequiel Tovar. That could potentially fill any injury gaps.

Luis Robert OF White Sox ADP 31

2023: 145 G/90 R/38 HR/80 RBI/20 SB/.264 AVG

For a few years, we’ve been wondering what a full season from Luis Robert might look like. Well, in 2023 we finally found out. His numbers (above) were pretty darn impressive. The truth is, there are very few players who have recently hit close to 40 home runs, stolen at least 20 bases, and didn’t kill you in average. Usually, they’re first-round picks or close to it. There are two things keeping the 26-year-old out of that range. One, the White Sox are lousy and their lineup limits run and RBI potential. And two, before last year he pretty much missed half his team’s games due to injury. Even last season, his first ever playing more than 122 games (including minors), he finished on the IL with an MCL sprain which would have cost him over a month. Due to the timing, it only cost six games. This makes Robert a risky high-upside target. Perhaps pair him with the ever-steady Manny Machado two rounds later.

Highest Upside Players to Target in the 4th Round

Yoshinobu Yamamoto SP Dodgers ADP 41

2023 (Japan): 24 GS/171 IP/17-6 W-L/176 K/1.16 ERA/0.86 WHIP

If you’ve never heard of Yoshinobu Yamamoto, it’s OK. He’s never thrown an inning in the Major Leagues. He’s sure thrown a bunch in Japan, though. And really, they were some fantastic innings. Over seven seasons, in fact, he pitched to a stunning 1.72 ERA, an 0.92 WHIP, and had a pretty solid 9.2 K/9 rate. He’s thrown a few innings this spring also. The first outing went pretty well (one baserunner and three strikeouts over two innings). The second was far less successful (5 ERs in 3 IPs). But five of the six hits he allowed were not hit hard and on the ground. Given his track record in Japan, his teammates raving about his secondary pitches, and his sustained 95 to 96 mile-per-hour fastball this spring, it seems like a pretty safe bet the 25-year-old will at least be effective. Whether he’s dominant or not is still the big question. His 4th-round ADP seems to assume some level of dominance. Don’t think I’m ready to pay this price just yet. I’d rather have the proven commodity of Pablo Lopez (APD 40).

Tyler Glasnow SP Dodgers ADP 45

2023: 21 GS/120 IP/10-7 W-L/162 K/3.53 ERA/1.08 WHIP

On a per-inning basis, there are very few pitchers better than Tyler Glasnow over the last few years. Since 2019, he’s complied a 3.03 ERA, a 1.01 WHIP and struck out batters at a 12.5 K/9 rate. The expected stats largely back up this effort, too. His FIP (2.89) and xFIP (2.77), especially, rank him behind only Jacob DeGrom and Spenser Strider during those years. Though the former likely won’t pitch this season, the latter is going off draft boards in the middle of the first round. That’s likely the upside value for the 30-year-old, who will now have the high-octane Dodgers offense backing up his starts. There’s lots of downside here, though. I wrote all about it in my Starting Pitcher Busts column. To sum that up: the right-handed pitcher set a career-high in innings pitched last season with just 120. His injury history is vast and varied and he’ll turn 31 during the 2024 season. That’s not usually when players, pitchers especially, get healthier. I’ve got another pitcher for you in the next round. If you’re dead set on upside arms, I’d rather go with him.

Highest Upside Players to Target in the 5th Round

Royce Lewis 3B Twins ADP 48

2023: 58 G/36 R/15 HR/52 RBI/6 SB/.309 AVG

After 70 games in the majors, Royce Lewis has a slash line of .307/.364/.549. That’s an OPS of .913. And if you do some extrapolating, over a full season he’d be on pace for about 35 home runs, over a dozen steals, and due to five grand slams already, a ton of RBI. Last year the power was particularly impressive with 15 home runs in just 58 games. But about that: that’s the most games the former 1st-overall pick has played in a season, minors or majors, since 2019. Headlining a parade of injuries are two ACL surgeries. But as recently as last season the 24-year-old was limited by both an oblique strain that cost him six weeks and a hamstring strain that kept him out for the last 10 games. It’s an injury history that turns me off, to be honest. I’d rather take my risk elsewhere and go safe in the same round with Manny Machado (ADP 56). I wrote about him earlier in the week here. He might not theoretically get you a dozen steals or a very high average, but I reasonably believe he’ll stay on the field and give you about the same power.

Tarik Skubal SP Tigers ADP 52

2023: 15 GS/80.1 IP/7-3 W-L/102 K/2.80 ERA/0.90 WHIP

Tarik Skubal made a big impression in a short amount of time in 2023. After flexor tendon surgery pushed the start of his season to July, the 27-year-old was nothing short of dominant over 80 innings. By dominant, I mean the numbers above plus a 2.30 xERA, a .236 xwOBA, and a .290 xSLG that led all starting pitchers. His K rate (32.9%) and BB rate (4.5%) were not far behind either (3rd and 12th overall, respectively). Can he remain dominant over an entire season? That question is the reason why you’re able to draft the lefty in the 5th round. His upside is 1st-round value. All he’d have to do is stay healthy and pitch at the same, or even near the same, level. Considering he’s right back at it in a small sample size over his first two spring starts (two baserunners allowed over five innings with eight strikeouts), and considering his injury history is really just the one that kept him out for eleven months, this risk seems worthy of your one shot in the first six rounds. I personally like to pair him with Pablo Lopez, or Zack Wheeler, both safe picks that I wrote about last time.

Mike Trout OF Angels ADP 57

2023: 82 G/54 R/18 HR/44 RBI/2 SB/.263 AVG

If you’ve been playing fantasy baseball for any length of time, you know exactly what Mike Trout is capable of. Granted, now that he’s older (32) he seems done with the stolen base scene. But looking at his sprint speed on Statcast, you realize it’s completely by choice (still 96th percentile). In fact, all of his abilities are still borderline elite. His batted-ball metrics range from the 89th percentile (average exit velocity) to the 95th (both barrel and hard-hit rate). Not to play the broken record, but aside from his plate-discipline decline, the only thing holding back the 11-time All-Star’s ADP is injury risk. He’s averaged just 79 games played over the last three years. Does he have another full season left in the tank? Given the position scarcity of the outfield this year, the 5th round of drafts seems like a reasonable place to find out. Doubly so if you can pair him with a first-round outfielder.

Highest Upside Players to Target in the 6th Round

Jazz Chisholm OF Marlins ADP 64

2023: 97 G/50 R/19 HR/51 RBI/22 SB/.250 AVG

I mentioned earlier that we were waiting for years to see what a full season from Luis Robert would look like. That is currently just as true for Jazz Chisholm. Though a lot of his contact metrics won’t wow you (whiff rate 4th percentile, K rate 10th), it’s easy enough to see the fantasy appeal. Over the last two seasons, the 26-year-old has combined for what would be one full season. This is his five-category production during that time: 157 Games/89 R/33 HR/96 RBI/34 SB/.251 AVG. That looks very 2nd-round value to me. He was on a similar pace during his 124 games in 2021 also. The ability is certainly there. This risk simply comes down to your level of optimism. Will the talented four-year veteran finally find health after missing more than half his team’s games over the last two seasons and coming off toe surgery in October? Personally, despite position scarcity, I’d go with the player below instead.

Oneil Cruz SS Pirates ADP 65

2023: 9 G/7 R/1 HR/4 RBI/3 SB/.250 AVG

Before Elly De La Cruz was the shiny new thing, there was Oneil Cruz. It was just last year, in fact, that we were enamored with this gigantic (6’7”), dynamic young shortstop who was one of the fastest players in the game (98th percentile speed), had one of the best arms (97th percentile arm strength), and punished baseballs with eye-popping max exit velocities (122.4 MPH, the fastest ever recorded!). He had displayed these amazing skills for about a half season. And quickly became pretty much the most exciting player to watch. And though his strikeout rate was a bit high (33.7%), we bet that he would get closer to his more reasonable minor league rate (of 27.4%). If he could that, we reasoned, there’s nothing stopping this young superstar from taking the next step and becoming a high first-round pick for years to come. Any of this sound familiar?

Fast forward to 2024 and now we pretty much have two of them. The two Cruzes have played an identical amount of Major League games (98) and take a look at their slash lines:

Oneil Cruz: .237/.302/.449/ with 19 HR/13 SB/33.7% K%/8.5% BB%

Elly De La Cruz: .235/.300/.410/ with 13 HR/35 SB/33.7% K%/8.2% BB%

OK, they’re not exactly the same. But very close. Oneil Cruz has registered higher exit velocities, and Elly De La Cruz has registered higher sprint speeds. The latter plays half his games in one of the best hitting environments in baseball (3rd according to Park Factors), while the former’s stadium plays about even (a 101 Park Factor ties with five other teams for 8th). Oneil, of course, had surgery last season to repair a badly broken bone and he’s three years older (25).

But really, the biggest difference between the two is their ADP. One is being drafted in the 2nd round of drafts. The other is in a much more risk-friendly round-six. The choice seems like a no-brainer to me. Save the 2nd-round pick for the high floor. Take the chance when there are fewer sure things. And if you get the chance, actually watch these guys play. It’s a true pleasure.

For more of the great fantasy baseball rankings and analysis you’ve come to expect from FantraxHQ, check out our full 2024 Fantasy Baseball Draft Kit! We’re here for you all the way up until Opening Day and then on into your championship run.

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