2023 Fantasy Baseball Super Sophomores

Michael Harris II | Oneil Cruz | Spencer Strider

by Josh Stevens
2023 Fantasy Baseball Super Sophomores

Every year, so much emphasis is placed on the incoming rookies.  Everyone wants to see if the top prospects can make an immediate impact in the MLB. Instead in this article, we are going to be looking at some of the 2023 Fantasy Baseball Super Sophomores.

Because of the attention on this year's rookie class, the players in the Sophomore class of the MLB loose that shine. A player's second year is a year where lots struggle, earning the term "Sophomore Slump", or they grow into superstars.

We are going to look at last year's class in groups: The Studs, The Surprises and The Disappointments.

2023 Fantasy Baseball Super Sophomores

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These second-year players can be placed into three categories: the "studs", the "surprises", and the "disappointments." Today, we will discuss all three.

Disclaimer: I will not be including Adley Rutschman or Julio Rodriguez into the "studs" section, as they were already extremely highly touted prospects before the season.

The Studs

Michael Harris II, OF, Atlanta Braves

As the 65th-ranked prospect before the 2022 season, lots of people were expecting Harris to be a good player. However, you'd be hard-pressed to find anyone who thought that Michael Harris would be this good.

Getting the call-up in May, Harris only played 114 games. In less than a full season, Harris came up one long ball short of a 20/20 season, finishing with 19 homers and 20 steals. In a true five-tool performance, Harris was one of the few rookies to post a solid batting average, hovering around .300 all year. Additionally, Harris provided a DRS of eight.

Throughout this article (and my other dynasty and redraft articles), the two things I look for first when evaluating players for fantasy is power and speed. Not only are these tools exhilarating to watch, but they are the most valuable assets in fantasy.

Baseball Savant has Harris at the 95th percentile for sprint speed and the 83rd percentile for Expected Slugging Percentage (xSLG). What does this tell us? Not only did Harris produce last year, but these numbers weren't flukes, as Harris earned these prolific stats.

What is next for the reigning NL ROTY? Fantasy managers can expect Harris to provide great numbers once again in his Sophomore year. Starting the year in the MLB and a full-time slot at the top of the order, Harris should have a ton of opportunities both at the plate and on the bases and could contend for a 25/25 or even 30/30 year.

Oneil Cruz, SS, Pittsburgh Pirates

When evaluating young players, potential is arguably the biggest factor in determining the success of a player. If you are looking for potential, Oneil Cruz is that guy. Towering at 6"7, Cruz is one of the fastest players in baseball, and also possesses incredible power that should make waves in 2023.

Steals are still a vital part of many fantasy leagues, and Cruz possesses the speed to pace middle infielders in this category.  Cruz isn't just fast, he actually recorded a higher Feet Per Second mark than Tyreek Hill.

While the Pirates may hold off on Cruz's running due to his size for injury concerns, the potential for steals is still sky-high. Cruz swiped double-digit bags in a half-season of 2022 and could hit the 30 steals mark in a full season in 2023.

Cruz's power is also an exciting Dynasty Fantasy Baseball boon. We already know that Cruz can crush a baseball, but it is the potential for consistent power production that should have fantasy managers salivating.

Cruz belted 17 homers in just 330 at-bats, good for a 162-game average of 33 homers. 33 bombs will get you places anywhere, but from a middle infielder? Cruz's 30+ homer potential will place him among the league leaders at shortstop.

This provides Cruz with the potential to be a top five to ten player at a deep position as early as next year, with a good chance that he stays in this range for the foreseeable future.

Could a 30/30 season be on the horizon? Only 43 players have ever done it, but Cruz has all of the tools to make it happen. If Cruz even sniffs this mark in 2023, he will be an incredible draft pick at his current 75-80 ADP.

Find a full write-up on Cruz here

The Surprises

Spencer Strider, SP, Atlanta Braves

In 2021, Spencer Strider was rated as the 24th-best prospect in the Braves system.

You read that right, The NL ROTY runner-up wasn't even in discussion among the top or second-tier prospects in his own organization. When called up, Strider was just expected to provide some innings in long or middle relief.

What did he do? Only turned in one of the most impressive rookie seasons in MLB history. Sporting an unbelievably high 13.8 K/9, Strider set a record for the fewest innings to reach 200 strikeouts in a season, at just 130 innings.

With a fastball that can reach the triple digits coupled with a wipeout slider, Strider is a threat to give fantasy managers double-digit strikeouts every time he goes on the mound. While many young pitchers who throw hard struggle with accuracy, Strider's 3.9 BB/9 is right around league average.

If this wasn't enough, Strider's Baseball Savant page is also a marvel to look at.  The percentiles just pop out at you, as his advanced metrics like K%, whiff rate, xBA and xSLG are all at the 95th percentile or above.

These numbers show the true dominance of Strider last season. Having a full season as a high-end starter should only help these numbers improve. I've been getting Strider in mocks in the fourth-fifth round of 12-team leagues, which is an absolute steal.

Strider's surprisingly dominant season makes him one of our top 2023 Dynasty Baseball Super Sophomores.

Alexis Diaz, RHP, Cincinnati Reds

Bursting onto the scene in 2022, Alexis Diaz accomplished something very few rookies ever get the chance to do: become the primary closer in their first year. While his brother Edwin swept the world with dominant outings and a great entrance song, younger brother Alexis quietly posted a great stat line in his debut campaign.

The rookie closer soared to the tune of a 244 ERA+ in 2022, while striking out 81 batters in 63 innings (good for a 11.7 K/9). While Diaz was a little wild, walking 4.7 batters per nine, that is to be expected out of relievers, especially younger ones.

Diaz's Baseball Savant page jumps out as someone who has the underlying stats to be a special reliever.  Diaz's electrifying stuff earned him a 100th-percentile fastball spin, 99th-percentile xBA, 97th-percentile whiff rate, and 93rd-percentile K rate. In addition to these, he had a few more advanced metrics at or above the 90th percentile.

What does this tell us? Diaz is almost impossible to hit, as his fastball and slider both have insane amounts of velocity and spin.

Diaz's one big issue is the walks. In 2022, his BB percentile was a paltry 2%. With a pitcher of Diaz's potential and talent, I fully expect this percentile to rise, with Diaz walking fewer batters in 2023 and beyond. If this happens, Diaz will surely surpass his 158 ADP and cement his place among the 2023 Dynasty Baseball Super Sophomores.

The Disappointments

MacKenzie Gore, LHP, Washington Nationals

It seems like we've been waiting forever for MacKenzie Gore to make his mark in the majors.

Gore was a top 15 prospect for three full years, ranging from the beginning of 2019 to the end of 2021. For reference, Gore was a top 15 prospect when Vlad Guerrero Jr, Fernando Tatis Jr. and Kyle Tucker were still on the prospect list.

While the aforementioned players have made their marks in the MLB, already becoming superstars, Gore has lagged behind the rest. Before being dealt to Washington as the centerpiece of the Juan Soto trade, Gore slogged through a very mediocre 2022 with San Diego.

In 16 appearances (13 starts), Gore posted an ERA of 4.50, good for an ERA+ of 83. Additionally, Gore couldn't seem to find the strike zone, walking nearly five batters per nine innings. This could be excused if Gore posted Spencer Strider-type strikeout numbers, but Gore's 9.3 K/9 is average at best.

Furthermore, Gore's Baseball Savant page is a page full of cold zones. Gore's fourth percentile whiff rate meant that he had to get the ball over the middle, where he suffered a 12th percentile barrel rate.

While these struggles can lead to a lot of pessimism around Gore, he still has loads of potential. He was a top prospect for a reason, sporting a mid 90's fastball with multiple solid offspeed pitches. Many pitchers go through a rough patch, and this stretch could just be Gore's rough patch. Gore's ADP of 329 seems a little rich right now given his inconsistencies, but keep an eye on him for a potential trade if he starts to live up to his lofty expectations.

Brayan Bello, SP, Boston Red Sox

When you draw comparisons to Pedro Martinez, something is going right. Like Pedro, Brayan Bello is a Dominican firecracker of a pitcher who sports an electric fastball and a devastating change-up. Pitching for the Red Sox just fuels these comparisons, and Pedro has even begun to take Bello under his wing.  

When the expectations are this lofty, any stumble is seen as a massive disappointment. Bello wasn't at the top of his game, pitching to an 8.8 ERA in his first full month in the MLB, posting a WHIP of 2.275. A big reason for this slow start was control problems, as Bello would routinely walk a couple of guys right before giving up a big hit, ruining an otherwise decent outing.

However, he was able to settle in as the season went along, posting an ERA of under three down the stretch in September.

While ERA is a great stat, it doesn't tell the whole story for pitchers. Bello's Baseball Savant page shows him with elite velocity (89th percentile) with an ability to miss barrels, leading to a lot of soft contact.

While you would think that this tandem of a high 90's fastball and wipeout change would provide tons of swings and misses, this hasn't happened yet for Bello, as he's right around league average for strikeouts. However, the K's are bound to happen with Bello's stuff, as he posted a strikeout percentage of about 30% in the minor leagues.

If Bello can add to his strikeout numbers, he should build upon a promising September and easily provide a stellar return on his 300+ ADP (via fantasypros)


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3 comments

James Eaton March 2, 2023 - 9:40 pm

Alexis Diaz plays for the Reds, not the Cards

Reply
Joe March 2, 2023 - 9:52 pm

Good catch, just fixed it. Thanks!

Reply

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