Fantasy Baseball 2023: Scott Pianowski reveals the players who will define his season
Call this piece What’s In My Wallet, call it My Guys — I’m not hung up on labels and titles. The goal is to tell you the players I have rostered most commonly this spring, the players who will define my fantasy season.
This is not a strict Tout Wars recap (I was in the 15-team mixed-league salary-cap auction; my ranks provided the direction, while friend and proxy Ron Shandler procured the roster when I couldn’t go to New York), but the first nine players are on my Tout Wars club. I’m usually not quite this target-driven with my teams, but you go where the music pushes you.
Tyler Stephenson, C, Reds
We love catchers who aren’t full-time catchers. Injury muted Stephenson's likely breakout 2022 season; this year, it figures to come. Great American Ball Park is an offensive cheat code.
Pete Alonso, 1B, Mets
I insist my early picks are tied to strong offenses, which is why I would take Alonso over someone such as Rafael Devers. Alonso has already led the NL in homers and RBIs in different seasons, but he’s merely entering an age-28 year — perhaps we haven’t seen his best yet. And anything resembling 2019, 2021 or 2022 makes for a sturdy floor.
Marcus Semien, 2B/SS, Rangers
Perhaps he was pressing when he first joined the Rangers because he didn’t hit a lick for about six weeks. The rest of the season, he was a top-five fantasy producer. The Rangers probably have a plus offense now; Semien has been a round too cheap all spring.
Elvis Andrus, SS, White Sox
His career looked all but over in Oakland last year, but then came a magic-carpet ride in Chicago: 43 games, nine homers, 11-for-11 on steals, .271/.309/.464. Andrus will play second this year — and scoop up the extra positional tag quickly — and even if his true value is a median between what he did in Oakland and what he did in Chicago, we’re set up to profit at his giveaway ADP.
Thairo Estrada, 2B/SS/OF, Giants
He’s coming off a five-category season, and the Giants feel comfortable with him batting leadoff. Estrada also rates as a decent defender, and the Giants will take advantage of his versatility. Sometimes the fantasy market underrates players who are late bloomers; this is one of those instances.
Andrew Vaughn, 1B/OF, White Sox
He’s always had the pedigree — Vaughn was the No. 3 pick in his draft class — and the offensive spike could finally be coming in Year 3, in part because he finally can settle in at first base, his natural position.
Eugenio Suarez, 3B, Mariners
He’s often talked about like he’s Mario Mendoza, but his career average is .250, and last year’s .236 return is fine when paired with 31 homers and 87 RBIs. One of his messy Cincinnati years is easily explained: The Reds tried to make him a shortstop, for some reason. You don’t have to target Suarez in your draft; scoop up the value if and when your opponents shrug and avoid him. They often do.
David Peterson, SP, Mets
Here’s a case where we bet on skills (10.7 K/9 last year) and don’t worry about roles; Peterson isn’t guaranteed a rotation spot yet. But the Mets have an older staff, and Peterson did give us 19 useful starts next year. If he matches the 2022 return, we make our investment back at minimum. But if he gets up to 150 innings or so, we could make a handsome profit. And when in doubt, bet on the contending teams — that’s where the wins are.
Evan Phillips, RP, Dodgers
I’d prefer he get the closing gig in Los Angeles and not necessarily a fireman role, in which he might pitch away from the ninth inning, going where the game situation calls for. But mostly I want Phillips to be something resembling the fire-breathing dragon he was last year (1.14/0.76), knowing that he’ll get some wins and some saves simply by being a trusted reliever on one of the National League’s most consistent contending programs.
Matt Olson, 1B, Braves
Last year he probably hit the low end of his range and still gave us a strong return (86 runs, 34 homers, 103 RBIs). Now comfortable in his new city and league and no longer dogged by the pesky shift, Olson can easily get back to being neutral in average (at least) while continuing to be an elite power hitter and run-producer.
Kyle Schwarber, OF, Phillies
Credit the Phillies for realizing Schwarber’s OBP skills made for a strong front-lineup presence, no matter the strikeout count. And credit Schwarber for realizing 10 bags were out there to be taken, no matter his sprint speed and body type. Schwarber is another obvious beneficiary of non-shifting life, and he’s going to dominate three categories (runs, homers, RBIs) and perhaps chip in some steals. Count me in.
Lucas Giolito, SP, White Sox
Give him a pass for last year; he had COVID-19 early in the season and was never the same. He’s still in his 20s and came to camp in excellent shape. The White Sox as a team could easily be a bounce-back club, given reasonable injury luck and a new voice after Tony La Russa mercifully retired again.