Which Rookie Hitters Should You Draft on Underdog Fantasy?

Feb 7th 2023

Brendan Tuma

Let's start by addressing the elephant in the room. Unfortunately, not every rookie or prospect is able to be drafted on Underdog this year. Jordan Walker, Anthony Volpe, and Matt Mervis, among others, aren't in the player pool.

There's no great explanation for this other than that it's a back-end issue, we're aware of it, and it's something we're hopeful to do better in future seasons. I can assure you it's on my mind moving forward.

Underdog baseball participation has increased by a ton compared to this time last year, which is fantastic. We had a tournament up earlier than ever before, and it filled quickly, which led to our premier contest "The Dinger" also going up earlier than it has in the past. Big days are ahead for UD Baseball. We appreciate your patience on matters like this for now. With all that said let's take a look at which rookie hitters are being taken in early drafts and whether or not their ADPs are deserved. Reach out on Twitter with questions anytime, @toomuchtuma.

Below are the 11 rookie hitters who are currently being drafted on Underdog. Also shown are their ADPs as of Monday, February 6th and their season-long points using ATC projections.

Whenever we're discussing rookie projections it's essential to remember that young players are the toughest to forecast moving forward. This is intuitive as we have less information about their true talent levels. Furthermore, playing time is tougher to predict. In a season-long best ball format like Underdog, correctly projecting playing time is crucial.

Side note, this is why it's very helpful to follow @Underdog__MLB for news. We'll be on top of everything during spring training and (of course) into the regular season as well.

Consider Elly De La Cruz, a universal top-10 prospect in baseball. His season-long projection is low since ATC only pegs him for 46 games in 2023. If we knew he'd be on the Reds' Opening Day roster I'm certain his points total would rival Jung and Tovar.

Since rookies are so tough to project, I like to use their ATC point totals as a blend of predicting talent and opportunity. We still need individualized context, however. So let's talk through some of the most notable names.

Corbin Carroll, OF, Diamondbacks

BACK IN MY DAY you could draft Carroll in the mid-80s. That was in mid-January, over two weeks after The Bullpen tournament first opened. Now he's all the way up to a 62.1 ADP, and it's time to start asking ourselves if he's worth it there?

I love the player, but the price is getting to be too rich for my blood. Carroll is being taken this aggressively because outfield is so shallow and he's the "shiny new thing."

ATC projections have him as the 81st best hitter for Underdog scoring this season. At this cost he's being drafted 44th among hitters. Even when accounting for the dearth of high-end outfielders and his inherent upside as an elite prospect, that math doesn't add up.

Advice: It sucks for anyone who missed out on a month-plus worth of Carroll value, but there's just too much risk at his current price. He's a fade unless the cost comes down.

Miguel Vargas, IF, Dodgers

Vargas' ADP is also moving, climbing 12 spots since The Dinger first opened. This is due to the Underdog community catching on to his opportunity with the Dodgers.

Back in mid-December The Athletic's Ken Rosenthal wrote that Vargas has been working out at 2B this off-season. Then MLB.com's Juan Toribio noted the team views him as capable of playing second base and third base.

The offseason has (mostly) come and gone, and LA didn't exactly block their top prospect. I myself wrote about how the Dodgers are embracing a youth movement in 2023. Whether or not he sticks at one position or is moved around the diamond remains to be seen, but it's clear his bat is needed.

Personally, I view Vargas as having a great feel for contact, though I question his Year 1 power upside due to an all-fields approach and MLB's deadened ball. Luckily for Vargas supporters Underdog is one of the best formats for rewarding doubles, which the 23-year-old could pile up in bunches.

Advice: He's been a steal as a last-round pick for the past couple of weeks. Start targeting late in drafts before the ADP likely rises even more throughout spring training.

Ezequiel Tovar, IF, Rockies

One of the hidden fallouts of the winter meetings in December was Baseball America reporting that Tovar was "tracking" towards opening the season as Colorado's shortstop.

This answers the first part of Tovar's equation for whether or not to draft a rookie hitter on Underdog. He ended the season with the Rockies and should open '23 with the big league club. This means we can move forward to the talent portion of the analysis.

The 21-year-old presently profiles as an aggressive swinger who looks to put the ball in play and do damage. Long term, he could develop into an impact bat by continuing to add strength and refining his approach. As a rookie there could be growing pains, however, as Tovar has played just 71 games above High-A (!) entering this season.

There are still two more paths to upside as well. ATC is projecting Tovar for 118 games. If he stays healthy and hits right away he could wind up playing a full season. More importantly, he'll have Coors Field to call home. This could create spike weeks for Underdog drafters when Colorado has a 7-game home stand.

Advice: This combination of floor (playing time) and upside (top prospect, Coors Field) makes for a perfect late-round pick in Best Ball. Target in every draft until his price rises.

Elly De La Cruz, IF, Reds

So this one I don't understand. De La Cruz is one of the premier prospects in baseball. In 2022 he finished with 28 homers and 47 stolen bases while hitting above .300 at both High-A and Double-A. This was despite striking out over 30% of the time at each level. Simply, he's a freak.

One of these years Elly will likely be great in the majors. It might even happen in the second half of 2023, but that's incredibly risky to bet on in Best Ball.

De La Cruz is a last-round pick for anyone taking him in drafts right now. It's easy to view that final selection as an opportunity to "swing for the fences." The opportunity cost for taking Elly isn't about the ADP, though. It's about the roster spot.

UD drafters only get 20 roster spots to work with. There is no in-season waivers or trades. Every one of those roster spots is important. They're too valuable to risk on a player who isn't guaranteed playing time AND who we have questions about performing in the bigs.

At this time last year I would've said anyone taking Julio Rodriguez was crazy, and that would've turned out to be wrong. But Julio was an outlier who did crack the Opening Day roster and immediately smashed.

Advice: If there starts to be real hype about De La Cruz beginning the season in Cincinnati, then there will still be opportunities to draft him. And I'd support it! So far that isn't the case. He's an easy fade while his teammate Wil Myers could be had at the same cost.

Quick Hits

Some one-liners on the 7 players I didn't cover in detail:

Gunnar Henderson: Unlike Carroll, Gunnar hasn't seen an ADP bump yet. That could change during spring training. At current cost he's a perfectly reasonable value with upside.

Triston Casas: Anyone paying attention has been scooping Casas for weeks now.

Josh Jung: I'm a fan! Similar to Tovar, Jung projects to play in the majors beginning on Day 1. He's another target for me - not someone to take in every draft, but definitely mix in some shares as able.

James Outman, Esteury Ruiz, Garrett Mitchell: I don't see it at all with these 3. I guess they're being propped up due to outfield scarcity? My thoughts are the same for each of them; I'm not confident in the talent or playing time. If you feel that crunched by the outfield end-game I'd 1000% prefer addressing it earlier and taking a great infield option like Myers with your final-round selection.

Oswald Peraza: There's just a littleeee too much risk with the playing time. Between 2B and SS the Yankees need to find time for Volpe, Peraza, IKF, DJ LeMahieu, and Gleyber Torres. The talent level seems okay. I like him for dynasty leagues but I'm passing on Underdog.