Five Biggest First Year Player Surprises

Martin Sekulski looks at post-Draft performances of the FYPD class

The Pitcher List team is working to bring you year-round dynasty coverage. This month, the team is putting a specific focus on First Year Player Drafts. This year more than ever, it feels as though we are seeing recently drafted players reach the high levels of the minor meagues. This article looks at some of the biggest surprises we saw from the 2023 draft class.


From Draft Day to Triple-A: Wyatt Langford


The post-2023 draft hype surrounding Wyatt Langford has reached epic proportions, and rightfully so. Wyatt Langford has come out swinging, starting with his first at-bat in the minor leagues (a first-pitch groundout to the pitcher). The 4th overall pick has been sensational since day one, ascending to a consensus Top 10 prospect in baseball.

Langford climbed four levels across 44 games this summer, finishing his season at Triple-A Round Rock. In those 44 games, Langford walked (36) more than he struck out (34), slugged ten home runs, and stole 12 bases. His 1.157 OPS is absurd, especially for a kid who completed his collegiate career three months ago. As we assess Langford and his ETA, it’s difficult to find comparable paths to the majors. Zach Neto is the most recent example but lacks the ability of Langford. Neto was a first-round pick in 2022 and debuted on April 15th, 2023, playing 44 total games in the minors.

So, what’s next for Langford? The jury is out, but the baseball fan in me says Langford will be in Arlington on March 28th, when the Rangers open their season against the Cubs. As I write, the Rangers are in the ALCS, and Evan Carter is the talk of baseball. His postseason performance has sparked the Rangers to an early 2-0 series lead over the division-rival Astros. It’s hard to imagine the Rangers’ starting outfield with anyone other than Carter, Adolis García, and Langford when camp breaks next spring.

As a fantasy asset, Langford is a top-75 value despite having made zero major league plate appearances. His patient plate approach, advanced hit tool, and elite power/speed combination make him an immediate impact player in all formats. As a rookie in that lineup, Langford has a 30/30 upside, with a clear path to a 20/20 floor. With his hit tool, he should hit .270, which makes Langford a top-25 outfielder in fantasy. It’s early to project what Langford will do, but his early ADP is 152.5 (OF40) on the NFBC and will rise as we approach Opening Day. Langford is a slam dunk #1 overall pick in FYPD drafts.


Welcome to the Show….. ALREADY? Angels 1B Nolan Schanuel


It’s safe to say that nobody believed Nolan Schanuel would make his MLB debut in 2023. But, on August 18th, 2023, Schanuel did just that. After 22 games in the minor leagues, the 11th overall pick in the 2023 Draft was summoned from Double-A Rocket City to Anaheim, becoming the Angels’ everyday first baseman. Schanuel was a standout at Florida Atlantic, leading all Division I players in batting average (.447), on-base percentage (.615), and walks (71) in 2023. Schanuel was considered among the top collegiate bats in the draft but lacked the upside of eventual top picks Dylan Crews and Langford. Even with his massive collegiate numbers, did the Angels truly feel Schanuel was ready?

In his first MLB game, Schanuel went 1-4 with two runs scored and drew a walk. That effort set the tone for what his debut would become. Schanuel reached base in all 29 games with the Angels, finishing with a .275 batting average, .402 OBP, and walked more than he struck out (20 to 19). Schanuel shows an advanced approach and can drive the ball to all fields. His power remains in question, but he can hit for a high average in addition to his propensity to get on base.

The Angels are once again in a rebuild, and Schanuel will see regular at-bats at first base. My only concern with Schanuel is that he had just 23 at-bats against left-handed pitching, hitting .217. This indicates Schanuel could be a candidate for a strong side platoon, but we should have a better idea as Opening Day approaches. For your fantasy rosters, Schanuel is a 1B option in AL-only leagues and has a solid floor as a corner infielder in roto leagues. Schanuel should be a mid-to-late 2nd round pick in FYPD, and his draft position will vary by roster needs.



Workload Wasteland: Aces On Hold


In the July draft, four pitchers heard their names called in the first ten picks. Three of them were collegiate arms. LSU stud Paul Skenes was selected first overall by the Pirates, followed by Rhett Lowder at pick seven by the Reds, and Chase Dollander at pick nine by the Rockies. All three pitchers completed their collegiate campaigns with high workloads, specifically Skenes, who pitched LSU to the CWS Title. With that in mind, only Skenes made his professional debut following the draft.

Paul Skenes is one half of a dynamic duo at the top of the FYPD pitching class, joined by Japanese star Yoshinobu Yamamoto. Skenes started his collegiate career at Air Force before joining LSU in 2023. In his lone season in Baton Rouge, Skenes was dominant. His 209 strikeouts, 0.75 WHIP, and 15.33 K/9 led the nation, earning Skenes multiple Player of the Year and SEC Pitcher of the Year honors. Skenes was surprisingly assigned to pitch in the minors, but the Pirates limited his innings to 6 2/3 innings. As 2024 approaches, Skenes appears poised to make the Pirates’ Opening Day roster, although his workload should hover around 100 innings. In FYPD drafts, I’d lean Yamamoto over Skenes for immediate impact. For teams planning to rebuild, Skenes should be the first pitcher off the board, most likely inside of the top-5 picks.

Rhett Lowder was terrific at Wake Forest, finishing his career with a 30-5 record, 3.29 ERA, and 1.16 WHIP over three seasons. The 6’2″ right-hander was named ACC Pitcher of the Year, a First Team All-American, and a National Pitcher of the Year finalist. Lowder did not pitch in the minor leagues following the July draft but figures to start the 2024 season at an upper-level Reds affiliate. His landing spot in Cincinnati is not ideal, but with Lowder’s ability to generate ground balls and limit home runs, he appears up for the challenge of Great American Ball Park. In FYPD drafts, Lowder is a late-1st or possibly early-2nd round pick.

Chase Dollander was the name to watch entering 2023, and many felt he was the best college arm available in the class. A stellar sophomore campaign (2022) landed Dollander squarely in the focus of top evaluators. That season, Dollander was 10-0 with a 2.39 ERA and 108 strikeouts over 79 innings. His 8.3:1 strikeout to walk rate was among the nation’s best, and Dollander showed elite command and poise. Dollander struggled during an up-and-down 2023 season in Knoxville, finishing 7-6 with a 4.75 ERA. His walk rate jumped to 7.8%, and his WHIP rose nearly half a point. The command and control that Dollander displayed in 2022 fell off, and Dollander became an afterthought.

After being selected ninth overall by the Rockies, Dollander’s value sank even lower, with Coors Field looming as his home ballpark. Dollander did not pitch in the minors following his selection, and his 2024 remains unclear. In FYPD Drafts, Dollander is likely to fall outside the top 30 but possesses a high upside if he can regain his 2022 form.


He did what?: Struggling FYPD players 


When the Tigers selected Franklin HS (IN) outfield Max Clark with the third overall pick, the team received praise for landing the top prep bat in the class. Clark, a Vanderbilt recruit, signed with the Tigers for $7.7M, bypassing his commitment to the Commodores baseball program. Clark was assigned to the Florida Complex League in July, where he got off to a fast start, hitting two home runs in his first four games. After his quick start, the struggles began for the 18-year-old. In total, Clark hit .224 with a 29.4% strikeout rate. He looked overmatched against high velocity and made several poor swing decisions on off-speed pitching.

On a positive note, Clark walked at a 24.7% rate and played tremendous defense in centerfield, showing off his double-plus speed and range many times. Clark’s perceived value in FYPD drafts has dipped, and he’s likely to provide an improved return on your investment. Clark is likely a late first or early second-round selection.

Chase Davis has seen a similar value dip following his selection by the Cardinals at pick 21. Davis, an outfielder from the University of Arizona, was Pac-12 Tournament MVP and an All-Conference performer for the Wildcats last season. As a junior in 2023, Davis hit .362 with 21 homers and 74 RBIs, producing a 1.231 OPS. While Davis had minor swing-and-miss concerns, scouts loved his power potential and athleticism. Davis struggled through his professional debut, batting .212 with a 32.7% strikeout rate and no homers. The talent is present for Davis, but his early struggles became a cause for concern entering FYPD drafts. Davis was considered a top-10 FYPD pick after the Draft, but is now seeing his value plummet and may fall outside the top-25. Davis has a wide range of potential outcomes. He could easily be a top 5 player in the class or fade into the masses.


Head of the Class: Shaw and Teel shine bright


The 2023 draft class had a litany of elite hitters, specifically collegiate bats. Beyond Langford and Crews, another pair of college stars are ready to jumpstart your fantasy teams. Two players, Matt Shaw and Kyle Teel, selected 13th and 14th respectively, are on the fast track to the big leagues.

Matt Shaw is a STUD. The more I see the Cubs’ first-round pick, the more I love him. Shaw can flat-out hit. Over his final two seasons at Maryland, Shaw hit .316 with 46 homers and 136 RBIs, capped by posting a .495 OBP and 1.064 OPS. He consistently puts together quality at-bats, makes hard contact, and rarely chases outside the zone. As a pro, Shaw played 38 games, eventually reaching Double-A. He generated a .357 batting average with eight home runs and 15 steals. Shaw did not walk much as a pro but did achieve a .400 OBP thanks to 56 hits, 21 of which went for extra bases. As your FYPD draft approaches, Shaw is a sneaky value and should be in consideration as a top-5 pick. The profile isn’t as sexy as Walker Jenkins or Dylan Crews, but his floor may be just as high.

Kyle Teel has the IT factor. The Red Sox grabbed Teel with their first-round pick, bringing in a franchise catcher of the future. Teel is a defense-first catcher, but his bat offers upside as a backstop. At the University of Virginia, Teel batted .343 with 28 homers and 155 RBIs over three seasons. His successful career culminated as the ACC Player of the Year, Buster Posey Award Winner (top collegiate catcher), and several First Team All-American honors. Teel ascended three levels following the Draft, reaching Double-A Portland at season’s end. Teel hit .363 with two homers and a .482 on-base percentage in his minor league debut. In addition, Teel showed an improved plate approach, walking 21 times compared to 22 strikeouts.

For fantasy purposes, Teel isn’t a star. But, he provides a solid bat at a premium position, and Teel may reach the big leagues this season. The Red Sox have Connor Wong as their primary catcher, with Teel waiting in the wings. When he’s ready, Teel is the guy. In your FYPD drafts, Teel is a top-20, possibly top-15 pick, and should be considered a solid addition for teams who are in their competitive windows.

Featured Image courtesy of Justin Redler (@reldernitsuj on Twitter)

Martin Sekulski

Martin is a Dynasty writer for PitcherList. He is a lifelong member of Red Sox Nation and attributes his love of baseball to his father, Marty. As a father and a husband, Martin now loves sharing his love of America's pastime with his family. You can find his work on Twitter and SubStack

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