2023 Fantasy Baseball: Which young players are poised to break out this season?
Fantasy managers are notoriously impatient across all sports. You might think the fantasy baseball community would have learned that a single day's box score tells us nothing and that even the best prospects can take years to develop, but well ... no. Baseball managers are, generally speaking, just as impatient as everyone else. Most of us are ready to kick pretty much any player to the curb after back-to-back 0-for-4s.
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But that's obviously a disastrous way to approach the game. Player development takes time and, for most, requires a certain amount of failure, too. If your expectation for every young prospect is for him to have immediate and overwhelming success, then almost everyone is going to disappoint you. Today, we're highlighting seven ascending players, each with a clear chance to make a major value leap in 2023.
Oneil Cruz, SS, Pittsburgh Pirates
What would be the point of a list of breakout candidates that doesn't include Cruz? He struck out at an outrageous rate as a 23-year-old rookie (34.9 K%), but he also flashed his equally outrageous 30/30 upside. Cruz is a shortstop built like a power forward (6-foot-7, 220), and when he makes contact, he hits missiles:
Oneil just doing Oneil things. pic.twitter.com/7HsvhinsNW
— Pittsburgh Pirates (@Pirates) March 1, 2023
He slashed .233/.294/.450 with 17 bombs and 10 steals over 87 games for the Bucs last year, driving in 54 runs. Over a full season, Cruz is certainly capable of feasting in four of the standard hitting categories. If he can simply keep his average in the .245-.255 range, he can deliver second-round fantasy value.
Dustin May, SP, Los Angeles Dodgers
When May is rolling, his stuff is simply the filthiest:
Dustin May, Unfair 86mph Breaking Ball.
3390 RPMs. 😲 pic.twitter.com/6yzhU3H7oX
— Rob Friedman (@PitchingNinja) September 22, 2022
He's now almost two full years removed from Tommy John surgery and no longer in rehab mode. His spring has been excellent, and he sure seems ready to pick up where he left off in 2021, when he opened the season brilliantly (23 IP, 35 Ks, 0.96 WHIP). It's not difficult to see ace potential in May, so he's worth a small (or large) draft reach.
Hunter Greene, SP, Cincinnati Reds
Greene's arsenal is almost unfair. He can top 102 mph with his fastball, and he features a wicked slider, a pitch he threw 40.9% of the time last season:
Hunter Greene, Wicked 87mph Slider...and Sword. ⚔️ pic.twitter.com/7HDjMelKeo
— Rob Friedman (@PitchingNinja) September 27, 2022
Perhaps the most promising note we can give you on Greene is this: He was nearly flawless in his six starts after the break last season, allowing just four earned runs, one homer and eight walks while striking out 51 batters over 35.1 innings. If we get 150 innings from Greene this year, he might very well strike out 200-plus.
CJ Abrams, SS, Washington Nationals
Why, yes, in fact we do intend to continue to push Abrams whenever we can. At 22, he certainly isn't a finished product, but he has elite speed, and he's likely to bat atop the Nationals lineup to begin the season. Abrams stole 42 bags in 114 minor-league games while maintaining an outstanding OBP (.385 career) and occasional pop. If he can simply develop as a league-average hitter, he can definitely swipe 50-plus bases in his best years. Consider him a category specialist worth stashing late in your draft.
Edward Cabrera, SP, Miami Marlins
If Cabrera can stay healthy (which is not a small if), he can be a star. His arsenal is outstanding, and he has already tasted big-league success, going 6-4 last year with a 3.01 ERA and 9.4 K/9. Cabrera is a priority target for anyone who passes on starting pitching in the early rounds. He's a potential difference-maker at a low-risk draft price. You won't find many pitchers with higher ceilings available in his ADP neighborhood (225-245).
Edward Cabrera, Disgusting 94mph Changeup. 🤮 pic.twitter.com/SJjnOJbPLk
— Rob Friedman (@PitchingNinja) October 2, 2022
Spencer Torkelson and Riley Greene, 1B and OF, Detroit Tigers
We won't try to convince you that Torkelson was secretly good last year, because, um ... he was a mess. But he had only minimal luck on balls-in-play (.255 BABIP), and he displayed serious power in the minors (35 HR, .514 SLG in 156 games). There's a reason he was a consensus top-five prospect entering 2022. Also, for what it's worth, he was a legendary collegiate hitter at Arizona State, slashing a ridiculous .337/.463/.729 over his three seasons. He's a good bet to get right.
Both he and Greene (and various other Tigers) should benefit from the new park dimensions in Detroit. Like Torkelson, Greene was widely considered an elite prospect entering 2022, a player with excellent on-base skills (.372 career OBP in the minors) and clear 20/20 upside. He isn't the type we should be giving up on after a relatively quiet debut season at age 21.