The National League East is loaded with talent. It is also projected to be one of the more competitive, and even best, divisions in the majors this season. The Braves, Mets, and Phillies all made the playoffs a year ago. Each of them made moves to make their rosters even better during the offseason. And even though the Marlins and Nationals don’t figure to be in the playoff race this year, they both have some intriguing players on their respective rosters.
There are a number of superstar players within the NL East who could have been selected for this article, so selecting just one from each team proved to be a little difficult. The first few players featured below are guys who could take the next step as big leaguers this season, while the others could be considered as players looking to get back on track.
Washington Nationals: SS CJ Abrams
CJ Abrams was selected sixth overall in the 2019 draft by the San Diego Padres. As a prospect, he quickly rose to the top of many top 100 prospects lists. During his time in the minor leagues, the left-handed hitting middle infielder slashed .331/.385/.511 with 12 home runs and 33 doubles in 534 plate appearances. The Nationals acquired him last summer from the Padres in the trade that sent Juan Soto to San Diego.
Abrams made his big league debut with the Padres on April 8th. He was up and down between the majors and minors during his time in San Diego. After being traded, he started his Nationals career in Triple-A but was quickly promoted to the big leagues on August 15th, where he spent the rest of the season.
Overall, Abrams made 302 major league plate appearances. He hit .246/.280/.324 with a 76 OPS+. The now-22-year-old did not hit well against left-handed pitching (.202 OPS) but enjoyed moderate success against righties (.702 OPS). The Georgia-born shortstop also stole seven bases.
The young middle infielder created 238 batted ball events last season. His average exit velocity (86.5 MPH), HardHit% (30.7%), and Barrel% (2.1%) would have all been well below league average had he qualified for Statcast’s percentile rankings. As a big leaguer, Abrams was prone to hitting the ball on the ground more than half of the time (50.9%). His average launch angle was 6.8 degrees.
While Abrams didn’t have great offensive numbers, he did finish the year strong. Between the months of September and October, he made 110 plate appearances. In those appearances, Abrams slashed .303/.309/.395.
With his glove, Abrams did not grade out all that well. In 618.2 innings at shortstop, he totaled -5 DRS and -8 OAA. His arm strength was solid, though. Abrams averaged 85.6 MPH on his throws, which was 13th best among shortstops. Even though he didn’t have great fielding numbers, Abrams made a number of outstanding defensive plays.
As a runner, Abrams’ 29 ft/s average sprint speed fell into the 91st percentile among big leaguers.
CJ Abrams will be in his age-22 season this year. This will also be his first full major league season, as he is set to make Washington’s Opening Day Roster as the team’s everyday shortstop. The potential for Abrams to one day be one of the game’s best shortstops is there, but he will have to go out and continue to turn that potential into skill. As he begins his development as an everyday big leaguer, there are two big things for him to focus on.
In the batter’s box, being able to create more quality contact is going to be important. As he physically matures, he should get stronger. That should help him make harder contact. In the meantime, Abrams should attempt to lift the ball more. Hitting more live drives and fewer ground balls would really help his offensive profile.
Defensively, Abrams will probably grade out better when it comes to defensive runs saved and outs above average than he did in 2022. He is also likely going to continue to make impressive plays due to his athleticism and a strong arm.
As he graduates from prospect status, CJ Abrams has plenty of room to grow. This year being his first as a full-time player means he probably won’t put together an All-Star-worthy campaign. He could, however, continue to show signs of becoming one of baseball’s future stars.
Miami Marlins: CF Jazz Chisholm Jr.
In 2015, Jazz Chisholm Jr. was signed as an international free agent for $200,000 by the Diamondbacks. Four years later, he was traded to the Marlins in exchange for Zac Gallen. During his time as a minor leaguer, Chisholm consistently fell into the middle third of most top 100 prospects lists. A little more than a year after being acquired by the Marlins, the left-handed hitter made his big league debut in 2020.
Chisholm’s first full big league season came in 2021. He made 507 plate appearances for Miami and hit .248/.303/.425 with 18 home runs and 20 doubles. His OPS+ was 95. In the field, he played innings at second base (739.1) and shortstop (278.0). He graded out much better at second (2 DRS, 6 OAA) than at short (-4 DRS, -9 OAA), though.
Chisholm was right in the middle of a breakout season before he was placed on the injured list in late June with a lower right back strain. After being placed on the IL, he did not appear in another game.
In the games he did play in, the Bahamian-born infielder slashed .254/.325/.535 in 241 plate appearances. Chisholm looked to be on pace for a 30-plus home run season, as he hit 14 homers in his limited appearances at the plate. He also hit 10 doubles. His OPS+ was 139.
Chisholm clearly made significant strides when it came to his power as a hitter last season. It wasn’t due to higher exit velocities, though. He continued to hit the ball hard － both his average exit velocity (90.4 MPH) and HardHit% (46.7%) were very similar to his average exit velocity (90.2 MPH) and HardHit% (42%) from 2021. Instead, his increased average launch angle and subsequent higher barrel rate resulted in an increase in slugging percentage. He was also much more successful against breaking balls:
|Batted Ball Events||324||150|
|Average Launch Angle||9.0 degrees||15.5 degrees|
|Batting Average Against Breaking Balls||.187||.306|
|Slugging Percentage Against Breaking Balls||.353||.681|
Chisholm also pulled the ball more (48.7%) than he did in 2021 (37.0%).
With his glove, Chisholm continued his success as a second baseman. He only played second and once again graded out above league average (2 DRS, 3 OAA) in his 476.0 defensive innings at the position. His arm, however, was not as good. He averaged 81.0 MPH on his throws, which fell into the 23rd percentile.
Chisholm was one of the faster players in the big leagues. His 29.2 ft/s sprint speed was in the 94th percentile.
Chisholm’s increased offensive production and above-average glove resulted in being selected to his first All-Star team.
As long as he stays healthy, Jazz Chisholm Jr. should continue where he left off last year. If he continues to lift and pull the ball more, he should be able to post good power numbers. One thing that will be different for Chisholm this year is his defensive position. During the offseason, the Marlins traded for Luis Arráez, who is going to play second for Miami. That means Chisholm is going to be moving to center field. How that goes will be an interesting story to follow as the season progress. He is a good athlete, though, which should make the transition a little easier. It does remain a difficult task, however.
A year ago, Chisholm was breaking out as a hitter before he got hurt. There’s no reason to believe that will be any different in 2023, so 30 or more home runs could be on the horizon. If he has a hot start to the year, look for him to be selected to his second All-Star team. Chisholm should surely continue to become one of baseball’s most fun players to watch this year.
Philadelphia Phillies: 3B Alec Bohm
The Phillies selected Alec Bohm third overall in the 2018 draft out of Wichita State University. He quickly became one of Philadelphia’s top prospects and was in the top half of top 100 prospects lists during his brief time as a minor leaguer. Bohm debuted during the shortened 2020 season and hit .338/.400/.481. He finished second in N.L. Rookie of the Year voting that season.
The sophomore slump hit Bohm hard in 2021. He struggled at both the plate and in the field. In 417 plate appearances, the third baseman hit just .247/.305/.342. His strikeout rate increased from 20.0% in 2020 to 26.6% in 2021. He also saw a dip in his barrel rate and batting average against fastballs. In his rookie season, Bohm’s barrel rate was 10.3%; in 2021, it was 6.6%. The third baseman batted .344 against fastballs in 2020 but hit just .193 against them in 2021. At third, Bohm played 833.2 innings (-13 DRS and -2 OAA). His struggles resulted in a late August demotion to Triple-A.
After a forgettable and disappointing 2021, Alec Bohm bounced back last season. He was a league-average hitter (100 OPS+). Overall, he hit .280/.315/.398 with 13 home runs and 24 doubles in 631 plate appearances. Bohm’s increased production as a hitter was a result of lower strikeout totals and better numbers against fastballs.
Bohm’s strikeout rate dropped a little more than nine percentage points to 17.4% last season. His batting average against fastballs increased to .295. The right-handed hitting third baseman also had a much better slugging percentage (.410) against fastballs than he did in 2021 (.267).
While Bohm’s overall production increased, he did see his walk totals decrease. Even though Bohm has never been an above-average hitter in terms of drawing walks during his short major league career, his walk total dipped into dangerous territory a year ago. In 2021, he walked 7.4% of the time (29th percentile). Last season, his walk rate was only 4.9% (11th percentile). The main reason for Bohm’s decreased walk numbers is that he chased more pitches outside the strike zone in 2022 (31.4%) when compared to 2021 (26.0%).
Bohm also continued to struggle with his glove. In his 1,146.2 innings at third base, defensive metrics once again graded him as a below-league-average defender (-17 DRS and -9 OAA). There was a consensus, however, that Bohm’s glove work got much better as the season progressed.
In the postseason, Bohm slashed .224/.292/.362 in 65 plate appearances.
A year after Alec Bohm’s spot on the Phillies’ Opening Day roster was in question, he will undoubtedly be on the club’s roster to start the season as their everyday third baseman. Bohm’s defense will never be Gold Glove-caliber, but if he continues to improve at the hot corner, he could easily become a slightly below-league-average fielder.
Where Bohm could really take the next step as a big leaguer will be at the plate. Laying off more pitches outside of the strike zone will be the first thing he will have to improve upon. If he can do that, pitchers will have no choice but to throw him more pitches inside the zone. Lifting the ball more will also benefit the now 26-year-old. Bohm saw an increase in his average launch angle last season when compared to 2021, and if that trend continues into this season, his power numbers will surely go up as he already consistently hits the ball harder than the average big league hitter.
Again, Bohm is never going to win a Gold Glove, so the only real way to improve his overall value will be with his bat. Drawing more walks and lifting the ball more should result in a much better stat line for Bohm in the upcoming season. While an All-Star bid as a third baseman is going to be difficult to achieve, it would not be a surprise if Bohm breaks out in a big way this season and hits 25 home runs.
New York Mets: SS Francisco Lindor
In 2011, Francisco Lindor was taken with the eighth overall pick by the Cleveland Indians (now Guardians) in the draft. After making his big league debut in 2015, the switch-hitting shortstop quickly became one of the best at his position. Lindor was an All-Star in each season from 2016 through 2019. However, his best stretch of offensive production came during the 2017 through 2019 seasons. During that time span, Lindor slashed .278/.342/.514. He hit 32 or more home runs in each of those years.
Like many others, the Puerto Rican-born middle infielder struggled during the shortened 2020 season. The following offseason, Lindor was traded to the Mets due to Cleveland’s unwillingness to meet the asking price of an extension for the shortstop. Before making his regular season debut with New York, Lindor signed a massive ten-year, $341 million contract that would keep him a member of the Mets until his late thirties. At the time, that deal was the largest ever given to a shortstop and the third-largest contract in Major League Baseball history. Lindor’s 2020 struggles continued into his first season as a Met. In 2021, he hit .230/.322/.412 with 20 home runs, 16 doubles, and a 100 OPS+.
Lindor had a much better second season in New York. He slashed .270/.339/.449 with 26 home runs and 25 doubles. His OPS+ was 125. While he did have more success at the plate than in the previous two seasons, there were some not-so-good trends that continued for the switch-hitter.
As previously mentioned, Lindor’s best offensive seasons at the plate from a power perspective were from 2017 through 2019. He slugged .514 and averaged 34.33 home runs per year during that stretch. During his short time with the Mets, he has slugged .433 while hitting 20 home runs in 2021 and 26 last season. Lindor also averaged 42 doubles a year from 2017 to 2019 and hasn’t hit more than 30 as a Met. His power numbers did rebound last season when compared to 2021, though.
It is important to point out that Lindor’s OPS+ (125) was the second-best of his career. So even though he isn’t hitting for as much power as he used to, Lindor’s overall offensive production was still very good in 2022.
There are, however, some trends that could explain Lindor’s recent dip in power production. According to FanGraphs, from the start of 2017 through the end of 2019, Lindor’s HardHit% was 39.5%. From 2021 through 2022, it was 31.4%. Another downward trend in Lindor’s offensive profile is his contact numbers. According to Statcast, he hasn’t been making as much contact as he used to:
While Lindor has always chased pitches outside of the zone more than he should have, he was always able to make contact with those pitches. That meant he did not strike out as much. However, with a decrease in his Chase-Contact% (the percentage of pitches outside of the strike zone that a hitter makes contact with), his strikeout numbers have increased over the last several seasons.
Lindor’s average exit velocities, launch angles, and barrel rates from 2021 and 2022 are relatively the same when compared to his time in Cleveland. And, even though his contact numbers have dipped, they still fall above league average. His lower contact rates do, however, give some explanation as to why his home run and double totals haven’t been what they once were. Less contact means fewer balls in play, and in return, that results in fewer hits.
When it comes to his glove, Francisco Lindor is still one of the best defensive players in baseball. Last season, though, defensive metrics couldn’t quite agree on whether or not he was above league average (-2 DRS, 13 OAA) in his 1,378.2 innings at short. His OAA was in the 98th percentile.
All that being said, Francisco Lindor is still a really good hitter and one of the best shortstops in baseball.
Francisco Lindor is going to continue to provide above-league-average offense and defense for the Mets this season. The biggest area Lindor could look to improve upon is how much contact he makes. As players get older, they do sometimes see a decrease in bat speed and contact, but Lindor is still only 29 years old. If he can make more contact, that would help him out at the plate and could even increase his power totals. If not, laying off more pitches outside the zone and trying to draw more walks would be a good improvement.
Getting back to hitting more home runs and continuing to be a great defensive player could result in Francisco Lindor making his first All-Star appearance as a member of the Mets. Either way, he is going to remain one of the best shortstops in baseball for one of the best teams in the game.
Atlanta Braves: RF Ronald Acuña Jr.
Ronald Acuña Jr. signed with the Atlanta Braves as an international free agent in 2014 for $100,000. He made his major league debut in 2018 at the age of 20. That season, Acuña slashed .293/.366/.552 with 26 home runs and 26 doubles. He also won NL Rookie of the Year honors. Acuña quickly became one of baseball’s best players over the next few seasons.
Acuña would suffer a torn ACL in the summer of 2021 that kept him out of action for the remainder of the season. He appeared in 82 games that year and was in the midst of arguably the best season of his short career. In 360 plate appearances, the Venezuelan-born outfielder slashed .283/.394/.596 with 24 home runs and 19 doubles.
After missing the entire second half of the 2021 regular season and the postseason, Acuña returned to action in late April of last year. It is safe to say the time he did miss due to his injury had an effect on the now 25-year-old. Even though Acuña was selected to his third All-Star team, his offensive production was not what we have been accustomed to seeing. He made 533 trips to the plate, hitting .266/.351/.413 with 15 home runs, 24 doubles, and a 114 OPS+. The three-time All-Star also stole 29 bases.
Despite his struggles, Acuña still excelled at hitting the ball hard. His average exit velocity (91.2 MPH) fell into the 86th percentile, while his HardHit% (49.7%) and xSLG (.486) both ranked in the 92nd percentile.
The largest differences for Acuña between 2021 and last season were his average launch angle, Barrel%, and production against fastballs:
|Average Launch Angle||18.2 degrees||10.8 degrees|
|Batting Average Against Fastballs||.288||.243|
|Slugging Percentage Against Fastballs||.614||.402|
Even though Acuña’s Barrel% decreased a sizable amount, it still fell into the 88th percentile among big league hitters last year.
Outside of those rather drastic changes, Acuña also swung the bat more in 2022 than he did in 2021. His first pitch swing percentage increased from 32.9% in 2021 to 38.1% last year. Also, his overall swing rate increased from 42.8% two years ago to 47.9% in 2022.
With Acuña not looking like himself at the plate, the same can be said for his speed on the base paths. His average sprint speed in 2021 was 29.4 ft/s (97th percentile). Last year, it was 28.5 ft/s (82nd percentile). Obviously, Acuña’s speed likely dipped some due to his return from an ACL injury.
Defensively, Acuña played 792.0 innings in right field (0 DRS, -7 OAA). His average arm strength on throws from the outfield (97.9 MPH) was in the 100th percentile.
With Ronald Acuña Jr. back to being 100% percent this season, he will likely return to being the player he was prior to his ACL injury. If he wants to get back to being a serious power threat, he’ll have to get back to lifting the ball more and catching up to fastballs. From a speed perspective, Acuña could get back to being one of the game’s fastest runners now that he is more than a year removed from tearing his ACL.
Some people are predicting that Acuña will become a member of baseball’s 40-40 club this year. That is, hitting 40 home runs and stealing 40 bases in the same season. There’s no doubt Acuña has the potential to join the exclusive 40-40 club, but it is a very difficult thing to accomplish. Only four players – José Canseco (1988), Barry Bonds (1996), Alex Rodríguez (1998), and Alfonso Soriano (2006) – have ever hit 40 home runs and stolen 40 bases in the same season.
Again, the potential is there, but Acuña becoming the fifth member of the 40-40 club does not seem likely. His home run total this year could surpass 40, but whether or not he is the same threat on the base paths that he was before injuring his ACL is still unknown. Either way, look for Acuña to bounce back in a big way this year. It wouldn’t be a reach to say he could be right in the middle of the N.L. MVP discussion by the middle of the summer.
Follow us @Diamond_Digest for more throughout the season!