As spring training camps have opened for all 30 Major League clubs and we're inching closer to Opening Day, fantasy draft season is now in full swing. Countless players around the league are reporting to camp in the best shape of their lives – many for different reasons. Some are looking to reach new heights in their respective careers while others are hoping to earn a spot on a big league roster.
There's another group of players though – who have had success in the big leagues before and are looking to rebound from miserable 2022 seasons – that we're going to focus on today. Potential bounceback candidates that could have a major impact for fantasy managers during the 2023 campaign.
Austin Meadows - ADP 265
Austin Meadows represents one of my personal favorite bounceback candidates for the 2023 season. The 27-year-old had a brutal season in his first year with the Tigers – both on and off the field – slashing .250/.347/.328 with zero home runs, 11 RBI and zero stolen bases in only 147 plate appearances across 36 games. He battled injuries to both Achilles, a bout of Vertigo and then issues with his own anxiety and mental health – issues that were exacerbated when he was traded from the Rays to the Tigers just days before Opening Day. Meadows was forced to abandon the mental health team that he had been working with in Tampa Bay and search for a new care team – all while dealing with adjusting to life in a new city and a new organization. With the injury issues thrown in on top of that, it's easy to see why Meadows should be given a mulligan for the 2022 season. He recently told Evan Petzold of the Detroit Free Press that he's right where he wants to be – both mentally and physically – and is ready for the 2023 season. Remember, heading into 2022 drafts, Meadows sported an average draft position of 150 in NFBC Main Event leagues. The year prior, Meadows' Main Event ADP was pick 60. He's entering his age-27 season and is just a few years removed from a monstrous 2019 effort with the Rays where he slashed .291/.364/.558 with 33 long balls, 89 RBI and 12 stolen bases. Sure, the Tigers' offense as a whole is going to be terrible in 2023 and that's going to hurt Meadows' counting stats. He's simply too talented though to not return a massive profit from his current draft spot as long as he stays on the field.
Lucas Giolito - ADP 146
What if I told you that there was a player who was being drafted inside the top-25 picks overall in NFBC Main Event leagues last season – going as the 6th starting pitcher off the board on average, behind only Gerrit Cole, Corbin Burnes, Walker Buehler, Brandon Woodruff and Max Scherzer – who now sits in the 13th round in 12-team formats. That's exactly the situation that we have here with White Sox' right-hander Lucas Giolito. After performing as an elite starting pitcher for three seasons from 2019-2021, the 28-year-old hurler came crashing down in 2022 – registering a disappointing 4.90 ERA, 1.44 WHIP and a 177/61 K/BB ratio over 161 2/3 innings. One of the big drivers for that decline was a dip in his velocity – from 93.9 mph on average in 2021 to 92.6 last year. That contributed to opponents hitting the ball harder than ever off of him – setting career-worst marks in hard-hit percentage allowed (39.0%) and exit velocity (88.8). Even so, some advance metrics pointed to Giolito actually outperforming his ERA, as his xERA sat at 4.23, SIERA at 3.79 and xFIP at 3.66. Having Tim Anderson at shortstop for an entire season should help his cause defensively – so should the news that the White Sox are bringing back Elvis Andrus to play second base. Keep in mind that Giolito also finished the 2022 season on a high note – posting a 3.48 ERA, 1.19 WHIP and a 35/13 K/BB ratio over 33 2/3 innings during his six starts in September. He also told reporters on Saturday that he's 35 pounds lighter than he was at this point last spring. I'm not suggesting that Giolito is necessarily going to recapture his magic from 2019-2021 (though it's still possible). What I am suggesting, is that even in his current form, he looks like a terrific buy around pick 146 with upside for much much more.
Whit Merrifield - ADP 195
Perennially entrenched in the first few rounds of fantasy drafts, speedster Whit Merrifield went off the board as the 34th player on average in 2022 NFBC Main Event drafts. The 34-year-old saw a major dip in his overall production – hitting a career-worst .250 with just 70 runs scored and 16 stolen bases after leading the league with 40 thefts in 2021. Even more concerning, he stole just one base in three attempts in 44 games after a deadline deal to the Blue Jays. It seems as though fantasy managers as a whole are overreacting to his down season though, as Merrifield has fallen all the way down to pick 195 on average heading into the 2023 season. There hasn't been a peep from the Blue Jays all winter about his role for the upcoming year though it looks like he's on track to function as the club's regular second baseman. He's not going to hit leadoff for the Jays, like he did every year in Kansas City, unless (until) George Springer lands on the injured list – but he still gets an upgrade from the surrounding cast that he has been used to. His profile doesn't typically age well, but Merrifield did still register a sprint speed in the 84th percentile during the 2022 season, so the stolen base upside remains intact – especially with the larger bases coming into play. He maintains dual-position eligibility with second base and outfield in tow, and actually looks like a nice mid-round target for fantasy managers that are still a bit light in the speed department.
Kris Bryant - ADP 127
Kris Bryant's first season in Colorado didn't go according to plan. Rather than mashing baseballs all season in the high altitude at Coors Field, the 31-year-old slugger struggled to stay on the field – logging just 181 plate appearances over 42 games due to back issues and plantar fasciitis. Rockies skipper Bud Black recently told reporters that Bryant will enter spring training fully healthy this season and won't have any restrictions placed on him. He was also a full participant in his regular off-season workout routine. When Bryant was on the field in 2022 he produced just fine – slashing .306/.376/.475 with five homers and 14 RBI. Heading into last season, Bryant's average draft position in NFBC Main Event drafts was pick 53 overall. The only difference between this season and then is the perceived risk surrounding his health. If you're optimistic and believe that Bryant's injury issues are behind him and he's going to be the player that everyone thinks he could be in Coors, then there's plenty of profit to be mined here based on his current draft position. Keep in mind though, that if he looks terrific and is crushing the ball during Cactus League play, Bryant is the type of player who will see his draft stock soar as we get deeper into March. Even if he does ascend though, I'd venture a guess that it will only be to pick-75 or so on the high end – which still leaves him a few rounds behind where he was going by the end of March in 2022.
Nick Castellanos - ADP 126
By all accounts, Nick Castellanos had a brutal season at the plate in his first year with the Phillies. After signing a five-year, $100 million deal over the winter, the 30-year-old slashed an unsatisfying .263/.305/.389 with only 13 home runs and 62 RBI over 558 plate appearances. He salvaged his fantasy value slightly by stealing a career-high seven bases (in eight attempts), but he was still a tremendous disappointment from a real-life and fantasy perspective. So why should the 2023 season be any different? For starters, Castellanos has worked with hitting coach Kevin Long extensively over the off-season to simplify his swing and remove unnecessary movements that were giving him less time to see the ball. Castellanos himself admitted that he was trying to do too much at the plate in his first year with the Phillies and it caused him to make bad swing decisions. He's certainly saying all of the right things as it pertains to a bounceback effort in 2023 and by all accounts he has put in serious work with Long over the winter to get him back to his former self. Remember, Castellanos had an ADP of 62 in March of 2022 – after a monster year with the Reds in which he hit .309 with 34 homers, 95 runs scored and 100 RBI. If he can get that form back – and keep the gains in the stolen base department that we saw in 2022 with a Phillies team that has been extremely aggressive on the bases – then there could be a five-category monster here that's going at least a few rounds too late.
Aroldis Chapman - ADP 298
For years, Aroldis Chapman has been drafted among the elite closers in baseball and has responded by putting up gaudy totals in the strikeout and save departments. He started to show some cracks in the armor during the 2021 season – as he registered a career-worst 1.31 WHIP and a 3.36 ERA – but he still collected 30 saves and piled up 97 strikeouts across 56 1/3 innings. For all his warts in 2021, Chapman still sported an ADP of 64 heading into the 2022 season which placed him ninth among all closers. Those WHIP issues continued into the 2022 season though, and Chapman battled injuries, ineffectiveness and off-field issues that ultimately had him walking away from the Yankees after being left off of their postseason roster. So is there any reason that we should expect anything different from the 34-year-old southpaw heading into 2023? I believe there is. For one, he has an opportunity once more. Chapman inked a one-year, $3.75 million deal with the Royals this winter and he noted that one of the main reasons that he chose the Royals was because they planned to give him a chance to work in the ninth inning once again. On a one-year prove-it deal, the Royals are likely to give him every chance to succeed in the role so that they can flip him at the trade deadline in the event that they aren't in the playoff picture. Chapman has logged 315 saves during his illustrious career which ranks 24th all-time in MLB history. Another year or two in the closer's role and he could potentially vault into the top-10 all-time. He sounds especially motivated to prove that he's still one of the game's best and it wouldn't be surprising to see him dominate once again in 2023. It's not an all-or-nothing bet though. He doesn't have to revert to his old form in order to return a profit from this late in the draft. If he posts an ERA in the mid-3.00's, strikes out more than a batter-per-inning and piles up 20 saves before the trade deadline, that's more than you need at his current cost.
MLB Quick Hits: Jeff Passan of ESPN reported on Sunday that the White Sox have agreed to a one-year, $3 million contract with Elvis Andrus. The 34-year-old will slide over and play second base this time around after having a career resurgence after a mid-season trade to the White Sox in 2022. … Joey Votto (shoulder) is likely to miss the first few exhibition games as he continues to ramp up following surgery. … Nick Senzel (toe) will miss the first few exhibition games as well. … Jacob deGrom (side) played catch without issue on Sunday and is scheduled to resume his throwing program on Monday. Still, he'll miss the first week of Cactus League games out of an abundance of caution. … Tyler Glasnow (illness) threw a bullpen session on Sunday without issue. … Kenta Maeda (elbow) threw live batting practice on Sunday for the first time since undergoing Tommy John surgery. … Starling Marte has been a “slow go” this spring after undergoing offseason surgery to repair two tendons on both sides of his groin. … Robert Stephenson is dealing with discomfort in his right arm after throwing a bullpen session on Saturday. … Germán Márquez (hamstring) threw his first bullpen session of the spring on Sunday. … Jhoan Duran (hamstring) threw a session of live batting practice without issue on Sunday. … John Means (elbow) will begin throwing off of a half-mound during the upcoming week. He's on track to return at some point in July. … Byron Buxton (knee) doesn't have any limitations this spring after undergoing surgery in September. … The Brewers signed lefty Justin Wilson to a one-year, $1 million contract with a $2.5 million club option for the 2024 season. Wilson is still working his way back from Tommy John surgery and is expected to miss most of the 2023 campaign… Liam Hendriks threw a bullpen session on Friday, though there's still no timetable for a potential return to the White Sox as he continues to receive treatment for non-Hodgkin's lymphoma. … Cubs' skipper David Ross told reporters Saturday that Keegan Thompson will begin the year in a multi-inning relief role. … Twins' prospect Jordan Balazovic underwent surgery to repair a broken jaw that he suffered during an off-site altercation. … There's still no timetable for Adalberto Mondesi (knee) to return to action as he continues to rehab following surgery to repair a torn ACL in his left knee. … Michael Soroka (hamstring) played catch on Saturday and should throw his first bullpen session during the upcoming week. … The Reds re-signed Chase Anderson to a minor league deal with an invitation to big league camp. … The Rangers added Dominic Leone on a minor league pact with an invitation to spring training… Kyle Hendricks (shoulder) threw off a mound for the first time on Friday. He's about a month behind his regular schedule and expected to begin the season on the injured list. … Chris Sale (wrist) threw a successful bullpen session on Saturday and will progress to facing live hitters during the upcoming week. … Lance McCullers Jr. (arm) has been “temporarily” shut down from throwing after experiencing soreness in his arm following Thursday's bullpen. … Stephen Strasburg (shoulder) is dealing with a nerve issue related to his recovery from thoracic outlet syndrome surgery. … Brayan Bello (forearm) is on track to resume throwing on Monday. … Felix Bautista (knee, shoulder) believes that he'll be ready for Opening Day. … The Rangers added veteran outfielder Robbie Grossman on a one-year, $2 million deal. … Dodgers' skipper Dave Roberts told reporters on Friday that Dustin May is likely to have workload limitations during the 2023 season. … Mike Zunino (shoulder) is on track to play in the Guardians' spring opener. … The Cubs signed Edwin Rios to a one-year, $1 million pact.