2023 Fantasy Baseball: Will you take a risk with these boom-or-bust draft picks?

Just yesterday, I recommended that managers fill their key roster spots with players who have high floors. But even with a roster that is safe overall, there is room for one or two draft picks to be used on players who carry significant upside but plenty of risks.

Here are some boom-or-bust draft options that deserve your closest attention.

Ronald Acuña Jr. (OF, Atlanta Braves, ADP: 2)

We didn’t see the full version of Acuña in his first season back from ACL surgery, as his .764 OPS was more than a 200-point drop from each of his previous two campaigns. The outfielder admitted that his knee bothered him all season, but there is a great chance that Acuña returns to full health this year and is the No. 1 overall fantasy asset. That’s where I have him ranked for 2023 drafts.

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Jacob deGrom (SP, Texas Rangers, ADP: 32)

DeGrom is the ultimate boom-or-bust player this year, as with 30 starts, he would likely be the No. 1 overall player. But he has thrown just 156.1 innings the past two seasons and is a risky option as a fantasy ace. Still, deGrom has posted absurd ratios the past five years (2.05 ERA, 0.87 WHIP) and is worth the risk at his current Yahoo ADP.

Michael Harris II (OF, Atlanta Braves, ADP: 34)

Harris hit .297 with 19 homers and 20 steals in 114 games as a rookie, which has managers dreaming of 30-30 potential across a full season. But the 22-year-old skipped Triple-A ball and showed poor plate discipline as a rookie (21:107 BB:K ratio), and he could easily fall victim to the dreaded sophomore slump as major-league hurlers become more knowledgeable about his weaknesses.

Justin Verlander (SP, New York Mets, ADP: 36)

Verlander registered one of the most remarkable seasons of all time when he posted a 1.75 ERA and a 0.83 WHIP across 175 innings after returning from Tommy John surgery. There is no real reason to believe the future Hall of Famer will be anything short of awesome on a per-inning basis this year, but he’s also 40 years old and ignored all of the self-preservation rules for returning from TJ surgery. Anything from 180 innings to his arm falling off in April are within Verlander’s wheelhouse of reasonable expectations.

Justin Verlander #35 of the New York Mets has fantasy value
Will Justin Verlander have another elite fantasy season? (Photo by Jasen Vinlove/Miami Marlins/Getty Images)

Jazz Chisholm Jr. (2B, Miami Marlins, ADP: 52)

Heading into last season, Chisholm profiled as a mediocre hitter (.728 OPS in 2021) who could stuff the stat sheet when playing well. He turned the corner by posting an .860 OPS last season, but his campaign was limited to just 60 games due to a stress fracture in his lower back. Managers are left wondering if the 60-game sample is enough to rely on because there is 30-30 potential in this 25-year-old.

Oneil Cruz (SS, Pittsburgh Pirates, ADP: 80)

Speaking of potential, Cruz oozes it. His ability to produce obscene exit velocities on batted balls makes him a Statcast darling. And with 17 homers and 10 steals across 87 games last year, he has already proven that he can make a massive fantasy impact. But one flaw in the left-handed hitter’s game is that he can’t hit same-sided hurlers. To fully blossom, Cruz will need to improve on the .532 OPS he logged against southpaws in his rookie year.

Byron Buxton (OF, Minnesota Twins, APD: 92)

This is the seventh straight year that Buxton deserves a spot in this article. The 29-year-old has undeniable hitting skills, having logged an OPS over .800 each of the past four seasons, and while he doesn’t steal bases as frequently as he once did, Buxton can easily produce a solid steals total. But he has played in 100 games just once in his eight-year career, so there is little reason to predict Buxton for more than 400 at-bats in 2023.

Jake McCarthy (OF, Arizona Diamondbacks, ADP: 108)

Like Chisholm, McCarthy is a small-sample darling from 2022. But unlike Chisholm, the D-backs outfielder had no previous record of major-league success. Still, with a .283 average, 53 runs and 23 steals in 321 at-bats last year, McCarthy showed that he could be a fantasy star across 550 at-bats in 2023. He is a great fit for those who leave the early rounds needing more base stealers.

Taylor Ward (OF, Los Angeles Angels, ADP: 137)

During his breakout 2022 season, Ward posted an OPS over 1.000 in each of April, May and September. He also posted a sub-.700 OPS in May, June and July. Set to start the season as the Angels' leadoff man, Ward could finish the campaign with 30 homers and 100 runs scored by avoiding the summer lull that plagued him last year.

Lucas Giolito (SP, Chicago White Sox, ADP: 143)

I could include several injury-prone pitchers in this article, but instead, I’ll focus on someone who let managers down last year despite making 30 starts. Giolito was drafted as an ace in 2022, only to finish the season with a 4.90 ERA and a 1.44 WHIP. Just three starters logged a worse ERA across as many innings (161.2), and no one posted a higher WHIP. The right-hander lost 1.3 mph on his average fastball velocity last year; regaining that speed could be his key to exceeding the expectations of his modest ADP.

Joey Meneses (1B/OF, Washington Nationals, ADP: 189)

Do you believe in late bloomers? If so, Meneses is your guy. The 30-year-old got his first taste of major-league action last summer and proved to be worth the wait, hitting .324 with 13 homers in 222 at-bats. His performance was aided by a .371 BABIP, however, and many managers can’t shake the memory of Frank Schwindel, who is the same age as Joey Meneses and came out of nowhere to post a .962 OPS across 64 games in 2021 before crashing back to Earth (.635 OPS) last year. That said, Meneses has been one of the stars of the World Baseball Classic, which should create more confidence among drafters that his hitting skills are for real.