Karabell’s way-too-early top-25 players for 2023

The Los Angeles Dodgers won the most games in baseball in 2022. They did so, in part, by scoring the most runs in the sport — more than five runs per game. The top of their lineup was arguably the best in baseball, with three hitters finishing among the most valuable in all of fantasy baseball. While New York Yankees OF Aaron Judge delivered an incredible season and finished atop the ESPN Player Rater the Dodgers started most of their games with some combination of SS Trea Turner, 1B Freddie Freeman and OF Mookie Betts in their lineup.

Turner, a potential free agent but likely to remain a Dodger, has been among the top fantasy selections for several years due to his rare combination of annual contribution across the five main roto categories. His statistics weren’t quite as awesome as during his 2022 season, but he still finished second among all options on the Player Rater. Perhaps stolen bases make a league-wide comeback in 2023, but even if they don’t, we still know we can count on Turner to provide them.

Freeman and Betts deserve much credit and first-round consideration as well. Freeman’s stats really weren’t so far off from Turner, as he hit for a high average, scored a ton of runs and provided power and double-digit stolen bases — and it really matters that he does this every season and with no end in sight. Freeman finished third on the Rater. Betts was 17th. He no longer bats .300 and he doesn’t attempt many stolen bases, but he offers power, runs, consistency and (in some leagues) 2B-eligibility as well. The Dodgers’ Big Three is tremendously valuable!

There are no starting pitchers among my top-10 roto choices for 2023 drafts, not because pitchers aren’t incredibly valuable, but because building rosters with hitters remains the safest course of action. Although it’s an opinion that is sure to change often in the offseason, here is one analyst’s (very) early top-25 for 2023. We thank you for reading and watching at ESPN Fantasy this 2022 season!

1. Trea Turner, 2B/SS, Los Angeles Dodgers: He had another fantastic season of reliable production, and perhaps he returns to the days of 40-plus steals next season. Note that Turner loses the 2B-eligibility, but we don’t mind. If he leaves Los Angeles, though, we may reevaluate.

2. Aaron Judge, OF, New York Yankees: There are no real concerns here, though it would be better for his fantasy value if he were to remain a member of the Yankees. (Can they really let him leave?) What an amazing, record-breaking season — one of the best we have seen this century!

3. Jose Ramirez, 3B, Cleveland Guardians: He finished sixth on the 2022 Rater. Ramirez recorded his fourth 20-HR, 20-SB season and remains durable. He’s very much in his prime.

4. Ronald Acuna Jr., OF, Atlanta Braves: Some may be disappointed in his age-24 season, but he was returning from an ACL tear and certainly wasn’t scared to steal bases. He has power. His upside remains tantalizing.

5. Julio Rodriguez, OF, Seattle Mariners: A 25-25 season as a rookie and a No. 11 finish on the Rater reminds us of a younger Acuna. Stolen bases matter in roto formats and Rodriguez is only 21. The best is yet to come.

6. Kyle Tucker, OF, Houston Astros: His batting average and runs scored aren’t great, but we love players who can combine power with speed, and Tucker is a building block. He finished 13th on the Rater.

7. Freddie Freeman, 1B, Los Angeles Dodgers: So, he didn’t hit the most home runs this year, but reliability and consistency matter. Freeman provides every season. We thank him for the career-best in steals, too.

8. Manny Machado, 3B, San Diego Padres: We’ve been counting on him for years, and he rarely disappoints. Machado quietly ended up finishing at No. 8 on the Rater.

9. Mookie Betts, OF, Los Angeles Dodgers: We enjoyed his career-best HR mark, while yearning for more stolen bases. Still, it is tough to beat his five-category reliability.

10. Shohei Ohtani, DH/P, Los Angeles Angels: Ohtani is an amazing player. His hitting numbers fell a bit from 2021, but his pitching numbers greatly improved. Depending on your league rules, if fantasy managers are allowed to utilize Ohtani as both a hitter and pitcher concurrently, he may be the obvious No. 1 pick. In ESPN leagues, he finished 20th among hitters on the Rater and fourth among pitchers.

11. Juan Soto, OF, San Diego Padres: This was certainly not the age-23 season anyone expected, mainly in batting average and RBI, but there’s also no reason for panic. We know he can bounce back.

12. Vladimir Guerrero Jr., 1B, Toronto Blue Jays: There was also a significant drop here from what was a breakout 2021 campaign, but he’s certainly young enough to return to MVP level. And, he’s stealing a few bases, too!

13. Yordan Alvarez, OF, Houston Astros: One of the most feared hitters in the sport provides elite four-category production.

14. Bryce Harper, OF, Philadelphia Phillies: He missed considerable playing time after a Blake Snell pitch broke his thumb, but otherwise delivered elite numbers again.

15. Paul Goldschmidt, 1B, St. Louis Cardinals: It was another five-category fantasy season and he may well end up winning NL MVP honors.

16. Rafael Devers, 3B, Boston Red Sox: He had yet another solid season with four-category production, despite what was a rough season for his team’s offense.

17. Gerrit Cole, SP, New York Yankees: OK, we’d better put a pitcher on here. A bloated ERA for the second consecutive season hardly excites, and he finished only 15th among starting pitchers on the Rater. Nevertheless, Cole is durable, piles on the strikeouts and posts an elite WHIP annually.

18. Bobby Witt Jr., SS/3B, Kansas City Royals: He may not win a batting title anytime soon, but he is a big provider of both power and speed. Plus, the multi-eligibility is a nice touch.

19. Bo Bichette, SS, Toronto Blue Jays: A strong second half returned major value to frustrated investors, as he hit for a better batting average, more power, and even stole bases at a higher rate. He’s only 24.

20. Mike Trout, OF, Los Angeles Angels: Trout did not finish 2022 among the top 50 either on the Player Rater or in points formats due to his having to miss 40-plus games for the third time in the last five full seasons. Still, he mashed 40 homers and hit .283. He’s an elite four-category provider — he had only one more stolen base than you and me –but you can’t assume durability.

21. Jacob deGrom, SP, New York Mets: Speaking of durability, there are even fewer guarantees here. It feels like we’re not getting 32 starts in a season again from deGrom anytime soon, but we must acknowledge his greatness, too.

22. Justin Verlander, SP, Houston Astros: He’ll be 40 by Opening Day next season, but the top pitcher from this year — he led the Rater by a considerable amount — comes off one of his best seasons.

23. Max Scherzer, SP, New York Mets: He’s also not exactly a young man for the sport, but these are serious numbers. Plus, unlike his notable rotation colleague, he does have a strong record of durability.

24. Austin Riley, 3B, Atlanta Braves: There’s little difference between Riley and Cardinals 3B Nolan Arenado, but Riley is younger and has a big edge in runs scored.

25. Pete Alonso, 1B, New York Mets: He’s not Judge, of course, but we can always count on high-end power annually and roughly a .260 batting average. Reliability matters.

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