The Baltimore Orioles were one of baseball's more surprising teams in 2022. After falling over 20 games behind, they battled back in the second half and just missed a wild card spot. The Orioles will look to build on that in 2023; primarily on the backs of their young hotshots.
Starter Grayson Rodriguez is hoping to make his overdue MLB debut. Catcher Adley Rutschman exploded in 2022 and looks like he could be the face of the franchise. Then there is Gunnar Henderson. The electric third baseman had one of the best coming-out parties in recent memory.
Fantasy managers don't have to worry if he is good, but it is a debate worth having discussing his true value based on where you will have to select him in Fantasy Baseball drafts.
2023 Fantasy Baseball: Should You Draft Gunnar Henderson?
Gunnar Henderson is one of the more exciting prospects in the MLB in 2023. As we approach the draft season, that carries over to his fantasy stock. The twenty-one-year-old looks to break camp with the team for the first time after a successful cup of coffee to end last year, and hopes to cement himself as the third baseman of the present as well as the future in Baltimore
Henderson is currently being drafted inside the top 100 overall in fantasy. Is his brief display of success enough to warrant his steep price tag?
Gunnar Henderson in 2022
With the promotion of Rutschman all but inevitable, all eyes in the Orioles farm system were on Gunnar Henderson in 2022. Boy oh boy, did he give them something to watch. He set double-A on fire to the tune of eight home runs, 10 steals, and an OPS in the nine hundreds over 47 games. Upon his promotion to Triple-A, Gunnar kept the heat turned up, hitting 11 home runs, 10 steals, and a .894 OPS over 65 games.
Henderson's run of success in Triple-A coincided with the Orioles' wildcard push, and he left them with no choice but to promote him. He made his MLB debut on August 31st, and he wasted no time showing that he belonged, hitting a home run for his first big league hit. The Alabama native would then slash .259/.348/.440 for the rest of the year, with four home runs and one steal. That was good enough for a 126 WRC+ over 34 games, which places him as the 6th best third baseman by that metric during the time he was in the bigs. So far, he has lived up to the hype at every level.
Gunnar Henderson's Fantasy Value in 2023
Based on what he did, it's pretty plain to see why Henderson is ranked as a top-ten third baseman. FantasyPros has him as the ninth-ranked third basemen based on their expert consensus rankings, and as the 112th player overall. As of this article, Henderson's ADP is 90. That's not that crazy by hotshot callup standards, and he does play a premium position to justify a reach. The writing is on the wall though, and he will probably be going closer to 70 than 90 by draft season.
If there is any world or draft where Henderson falls outside the top 100, he is more than worthy of being selected. If he plays the full year he will likely be a top-100 player by accumulation alone. Outside the top 100 is a great area of the draft to take a shot on a breakout.
Only four hitters in baseball with 50 BBE last season recorded a 50+% Hard-Hit rate while ranking in the 90th percentile or better for sprint speed.
Add in a 12% walk rate threshold and it's just Gunnar. pic.twitter.com/JyXWMS6qV5
— Eric Cross (@EricCross04) January 18, 2023
Not So Good Value
Henderson's value seems to be perfectly draftable, but you have to consider the players around him. We won't compare across position groups. That gets convoluted pretty quickly depending on a myriad of variables. Instead, let's keep it simple and focus on the price and production of players in the same position group. We'll compare him to the eighth and tenth-ranked third basemen.
So, close your eyes and imagine a place in the not-too-distant future where it is roughly pick 90. You're on the clock. Do you want to reach for Henderson there, or would you rather take Wander Franco, whose current ADP is 88. Franco provides a comparable number of home runs, steals and RBI, and increases average and runs by a nice little margin. (20-30 points of average and roughly 10-15 runs).
Is it better for a manager to reach for Henderson, or let the draft come to them? Kris Bryant, the next third basemen ranked is going three rounds later. Bryant had the same WRC+ as Henderson last year and expects to bounce back in a big way. There are obvious injury concerns that explain why Bryant is going where he is. If he is healthy, however, he should contribute more than Henderson in every category but steals. If you can get that production three rounds later, what's the value in taking Gunnar Henderson earlier than you should? And make no mistake, he will have to go earlier than he should if managers expect to own him.
Author's Note: Kris Bryant does not have third base eligibility for 2023. Luckily Max Muncy, the next actual third baseman ranked, is also hoping to return from a lost injury year. Muncy should also outpace Henderson in home runs, RBI's and runs, with a comprable average. Throw in the 2B/3B eligibility and cheap price tag, and I'll take him over Henderson too.
So, Should You Draft Gunnar Henderson or not?
Yes! If you want to. Henderson is an undeniable talent. He will likely be a fantasy stalwart for years to come and may never be cheaper. He has shown good discipline at the plate and is above all, exciting. If someone wants to reach for him because their heart says so, by all means, do it. On the off-chance it's a keeper or dynasty league, do everything you can to own this kid yesterday.
However, if the goal is to maximize draft value, there will be better avenues while he is available. The hype is only going to keep outpricing the value. If you want to take advantage of the draft, then drafting Gunnar Henderson is almost certainly the wrong move.
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