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One Bold Prediction for Each MLB Team in 2023

Opening Day is finally here, and we have made it to the 2023 regular season. This part of the season is among the most optimistic for many fans across baseball as they evaluate their team’s chances of taking home the World Series trophy. This optimism always produces varying degrees of spicy takes, many of which never come to fruition. But it’s always fun to speculate (and hopefully come away with bragging rights), so here’s one bold prediction for every MLB team for the 2023 season:

AL East

Baltimore Orioles: Adley Rutschman is an AL MVP finalist

As Rutschman went, so did the 2022 Orioles. When he debuted on May 21, Baltimore entered the day with a 16-24 record. From then on, they went 63-50 in games in which Rutschman appeared, stunning the baseball world by finishing with a winning record immediately following three consecutive (non-COVID) seasons of at least 110 losses. Rutschman was a five-win player despite his late call-up, thanks to elite defense behind the plate (18 DRS, +4 Framing Runs, 1.93-second pop time), a knack for crushing right-handed pitching (.889 OPS), and plate discipline well beyond his years (13.8% walk rate, 98th percentile). Should Baltimore take another step forward in 2023, Rutschman surely will play a substantial role.

Boston Red Sox: Masataka Yoshida is their lone All-Star

Yoshida’s career-best season in NPB was well timed, and he cashed in in a vast way, securing a $90 million deal from the Red Sox in December. Yoshida’s 2022 campaign was strong, setting career highs in OBP (.449) and SLG (.559), surpassing the 1.000 OPS threshold for the first time. Boston’s lineup could use some of that firepower, having lost the likes of Xander Bogaerts and JD Martinez this winter. While offensive success from NPB to MLB doesn’t always translate, Yoshida’s superb bat-to-ball skills and strike zone control should, and may lead to a nice rookie campaign for the Japanese star.

New York Yankees: Aaron Judge hits fewer than 40 home runs

2022 was obviously a historic season for Judge, who logged just the ninth 60-homer season in MLB history and hit his AL-record 62nd homer in the Yankees’ penultimate regular season contest. Lower the bar to 50 homers, and Judge’s 2022 was the 47th such campaign in MLB history (and already the second of his career). Players who hit 50 homers in a season average just over 42 the following season, so a regression to the mean is already to be expected. Additionally, once Judge’s home run chase was truly realized, pitchers’ approaches changed. He homered twice on September 13 to bring his season total to 57. From then on, he posted a Bondsian .522 OBP and 26.7% walk rate. To some extent, this approach may continue into 2023. While Judge remains one of baseball’s very best players, some of the expectations placed on him – through no fault of his own – should be tempered.

Tampa Bay Rays: Yandy Diaz slashes .300/.400/.500

Diaz is criminally underrated. He’s so close to being a near-perfect hitter. If you play the “red circle good, blue circle bad” game, Diaz is your man. He finished in the 93rd percentile in average exit velocity, the 96th percentile in walk and whiff rates, and the 98th percentile in strikeout and chase rates. Diaz’s 14% walk rate was 3.2% higher than his strikeout rate, a feat topped by only Juan Soto. He consistently blisters the ball and has 80-grade plate discipline; his only flaw is his inability to lift the ball. His 7.7-degree average launch angle in 2022 and his 5.1-degree career average are both well below the league average. Should he find the ability to hit more fly balls and line drives without selling out too much, he will be a force to be reckoned with.

Toronto Blue Jays: Lead AL in wins

Toronto is loaded, no matter how you slice it. Having a lineup that starts with George Springer, Bo Bichette, and Vladimir Guerrero Jr. and is complemented by the likes of Alejandro Kirk, Matt Chapman, and Daulton Varsho gives Toronto a leg-up in nearly every matchup. The pitching staff is similarly star-studded, adding Chris Bassitt to a rotation that already features Alek Manoah, Kevin Gausman, and (hopefully pre-2022) Jose Berrios. The team’s acquisition of Erik Swanson to serve as the set-up man for closer Jordan Romano is another move that looks likely to pay off. The Jays also made a concerted effort to improve their outfield defense, moving Springer out of center field and adding one of MLB’s best defensive outfielders from last year (Varsho) as well as one of the best defensive center fielders of this era, if not all-time (Kevin Kiermaier). With the Yankees and Astros already battling injuries before the season even starts, the door may be cracking open, and the Blue Jays may be ready to pounce.

AL Central

Chicago White Sox: Dylan Cease, Lucas Giolito, and Lance Lynn each record 200+ strikeouts

This may be setting the bar too low for Cease, the reigning AL Cy Young runner-up coming off seasons of 227 and 226 strikeouts. Not much to discuss there. The other two, however, have some work to do. Giolito has topped the 200-strikeout mark twice, including as recently as 2021, but needs to bounce back after a down 2022 season. He reportedly lost 35 pounds over the winter after pitching last season weighing in the ballpark of 280 pounds. Shedding some of that extra poundage should go a long way toward helping him get back to his old form. As for Lynn, he too has surpassed the 200-strikeout threshold before, having struck out a career-high 246 (!!!) batters in 2019 with Texas. Unfortunately, he started slowly after missing the first nine weeks of the season following knee surgery. He finished strong, however, sporting a 2.52 ERA and striking out better than a batter per inning over his final 14 starts. Health-permitting, all three men appear poised to have strong 2023 campaigns.

Cleveland Guardians: Emmanuel Clase sets the franchise single-season saves record

Very few human beings can manipulate a baseball like Clase can. His ability to throw pitches over 100 MPH with multiple inches of cut makes him one of the most uniquely talented pitchers in the league. His cutter was one of the ten best pitches in baseball in 2022 by RV/100. Over 44% of Clase’s pitches in 2022 clocked in at 99 MPH or faster, a rate topped only by Twins phenom Jhoan Duran. The talent is undisputable, and with Cleveland’s classic old-school, fundamentally-sound style of play, the save opportunities should be plentiful. The current franchise save record is 46, set by Jose Mesa in 1995. And just for fun, let’s say that Clase breaks that record while also topping Mesa’s ERA from that season (1.13). Note: my initial prediction was that Triston McKenzie would win AL Cy Young. I am still fully confident in his ability to reach that potential and wish him a speedy recovery and rehab.

Detroit Tigers: Riley Greene is a 5+ WAR player

Greene was a popular AL Rookie of the Year pick heading into the 2022 season before a foot injury delayed his debut until June. He slashed a mediocre .253/.321/.362 but flashed many of the tools that made him the fifth overall selection in the 2019 draft. He has more power than his slugging percentage would indicate. His expected slugging percentage was 26 points higher than his actual mark, and he was one of the league’s unluckiest hitters in terms of expected home runs, thanks to the colossal dimensions of his home ballpark. Both DRS and OAA approve of Greene’s work in center field, which helps his value tremendously. Detroit’s offense needs a lot of help, and Greene feels primed to be a key contributor.

Kansas City Royals: Vinnie Pasquantino wins a Silver Slugger

Like Yandy Diaz, Vinnie Pasquantino is a name baseball fans need to know. He posted a 137 wRC+ as a rookie and possessed multiple key traits typical of a successful major league hitter. His 46.9% hard-hit rate was on par with the likes of Juan Soto, Freddie Freeman, and Oneil Cruz. And like Riley Greene (and many other AL Central sluggers), Pasquantino hit markedly fewer home runs (10) than his expected total (14.8). But perhaps his most impressive accomplishment from last season was that he walked more times than he struck out, which is practically unheard of from a 24-year-old rookie. Of course, he has some fierce competition for the AL Silver Slugger at first base (Vladimir Guerrero Jr., Nathaniel Lowe, Anthony Rizzo, and Jose Abreu among them). Still, Pasquantino has shown enough talent to be firmly in that conversation.

Minnesota Twins: Carlos Correa sets a career-high in games played

Now this would just be funny. After Correa had two separate $300+ million deals fall through due to what one doctor reportedly called “the worst ankle he’s ever seen,” he wound up back in Minnesota, where he somewhat quietly had an excellent 2022 season. His 140 wRC+ and 4.4 fWAR were both the third-best marks of his career, and he still plays an above-average shortstop. To set a new career high in games played, he would need to top the 153 games in which he appeared in 2016 as a 21-year-old. Doing so would allow Correa to stick it to the Giants and Mets and put the Twins in position to re-claim the AL Central.

AL West

Houston Astros: Yordan Alvarez wins AL MVP

I’m going to keep predicting this until it finally happens. Alvarez is closer to what people think Juan Soto is than Soto actually is. After another ludicrous season where Alvarez slashed .306/.406/.613, he now owns a career .973 OPS. That figure is higher than many Hall-of-Famers, notably Willie Mays, Ty Cobb, Mel Ott, Larry Walker, and Jim Thome. He continued to take a step forward in 2022, setting career highs with 37 homers and a 60% hard-hit rate, as well as seeing a 5.4% improvement in his strikeout rate and a 5.5% improvement in his walk rate. 2022 also saw Alvarez spend more time in the outfield, and (according to DRS) he actually did a pretty good job. With the Astros essentially guaranteed to be title contenders, Alvarez is in position to garner serious MVP consideration.

Los Angeles Angels: Finally reach .500 but still finish in 4th place

The Angels’ struggles to surround Mike Trout and Shohei Ohtani with talent are well-documented (and for the record, yes, I’m the one who made that meme). Long plagued by an inability to find adequate pitching, the Angels appear to have turned that corner. In addition to Ohtani’s typical dominance, they received 72 starts of 3.49 ERA ball from Patrick Sandoval, Reid Detmers, and Jose Suarez in 2022. Instead, it was the offense that didn’t do its part, and with Hunter Renfroe, Brandon Drury, and Gio Urshela now in the fold, the Angels now look like a possible playoff contender. Unfortunately for them, the Astros and Mariners are still excellent, and the Rangers also went to drastic lengths to improve their roster this winter. When it’s all said and done, an 81-81 record will represent significant improvement, but all they’ll have to show for it is a 4th place finish.

Oakland Athletics: Trade Seth Brown to the Braves in the offseason

History repeats itself. The A’s are in the midst of a painful (and largely unnecessary) rebuild, and they’ve parted with significant MLB talent numerous times throughout the past few years. Two such players are Matt Olson and Sean Murphy, who were traded at separate times (Olson after the 2021 season, Murphy after the 2022 season), but both wound up in Atlanta. Both players were arguably Oakland’s top players at the time of their respective trades, and the case can be made that Seth Brown is in that position now. With a strong 2023 campaign, the left-handed slugger could also be on his way out, and he could fill one of Atlanta’s few remaining holes as either a left fielder or DH.

Seattle Mariners: 4 pitchers receive Cy Young votes

Would you believe that Luis Castillo has never received a Cy Young vote? Since he entered the league in 2017, only 13 pitchers have started at least 100 games with both ERA and strikeout rates better than those of Castillo (3.59 and 26.3%, respectively). All 13 of those pitchers have received Cy Young votes, including eight winners. Castillo is due. Seattle’s staff also features Logan Gilbert (3.20 ERA, 3.46 FIP in 32 starts), George Kirby (3.39 ERA, 2.99 FIP, 4.1% walk rate as a rookie), 2021 AL Cy Young winner Robbie Ray, and breakout relief ace Andres Munoz (last 49 appearances: 1.57 ERA, 1.41 FIP, 40.1% strikeout rate, 4.8% walk rate). There is a ton of talent on this pitching staff worthy of – at the very least – some down-ballot Cy Young votes. (Shout-out to James Darschewski, who, completely independent from myself, came to the same conclusion.)

Texas Rangers: Adolis Garcia goes 35/35

Most talk surrounding the Rangers has been centered around the club’s additions over the last two offseasons, both on offense (Marcus Semien, Corey Seager) and to the pitching staff (Jacob deGrom, Nathan Eovaldi, Jon Gray, Martin Perez). Not to be forgotten is Garcia, one of a select few players who strikes out as much as he does, walks as infrequently as he does, and is still a valuable Major League regular. While much of his value comes from excellent outfield defense, he is still a worthwhile offensive contributor. Garcia posted superior batted-ball numbers in 2022, with a 92nd-percentile average exit velocity and 86th-percentile hard-hit rate. Only 20 players have hit more home runs over the last two seasons than Garcia (58), and of that group, only one player (Jose Ramirez) has more stolen bases. Going 35-35 would represent career highs for Garcia in both categories (current career highs are 31-25), but he clearly has enough power to get to 35, and with the new rule changes, he should be able to add to his stolen base total as well.

NL East

Atlanta Braves: Max Fried and Spencer Strider finish 1-2 in NL Cy Young

Few pitchers are as productive and get as little credit as Max Fried. He quietly finished second in NL Cy Young voting in 2022, his second career top-five finish. Since 2020, Fried’s 159 ERA+ tops all starting pitchers, while his ERA and FIP are both top-five and his innings pitched rank 16th. He really doesn’t have to get better to garner serious Cy Young consideration. The same goes for Strider. In the Live Ball Era, he joined Doc Gooden as the only rookies to record a season of at least 200 strikeouts and a FIP below 2.00. Last year, his FIP was more than 40 points better and his strikeout rate was five percent higher than the next-closest pitcher (Carlos Rodon in both cases). Strider’s 2022 season was also the first in MLB history in which a pitcher faced fewer than 600 batters and struck out more than 200 of them. He did all of that as a rookie. The sky’s the limit for both of these pitchers.

Miami Marlins: Jazz Chisholm Jr. sets franchise non-Giancarlo Stanton home run record

2023 looks to be a heck of a year for Jazz Chisholm. Between moving to a brand new position in center field and landing on the cover of this year’s edition of MLB The Show, plenty of eyes will be focused on the Bahamian star. Despite being one of the toolsiest young stars in the game and sporting a 139 wRC+ last season, projection systems aren’t forecasting much of a power surge from Chisholm in 2023 (26 homers from Steamer, 19 from ZiPS). A highly-motivated Chisholm could easily surpass those numbers and break Gary Sheffield’s franchise record for home runs hit by a player not named Giancarlo Stanton (42).

New York Mets: Don’t clinch a playoff spot until the final series of the regular season

Mets gonna Met. That’s usually how it goes. Whether it be blowing a seven-game division lead in September of 2007 and missing the playoffs or unsuccessfully checking Joe Musgrove’s ear for illegal substances en route to getting bounced in the first round of the 2022 playoffs, there’s always something that leaves baseball fans saying, “lol Mets.” Their roster is still solid, but they may not be able to duplicate last season’s 101-win total. Justin Verlander is coming off a Cy Young season, but he’s 40. Kodai Senga was guaranteed $75 million despite not having thrown a pitch in an MLB game yet. Superstar closer Edwin Diaz is now slated to miss the entire season following a heart-crushing injury in the WBC. So the prediction here is that – with a playoff berth at stake – the Mets lose two of three to the Phillies in the final regular season series, but both clubs clinch playoff spots after the Diamondbacks are swept by Houston.

Philadelphia Phillies: Nick Castellanos is DFA’d during the season

On the surface, Castellanos’ 2022 numbers don’t look that bad (.263/.305/.389 slash, 94 wRC+). However, that was quite an underwhelming performance for someone who had just signed a five-year contract worth $100 million. Castellanos was coming off an excellent 139 wRC+ season and had averaged a mark of 122 over the previous six seasons. For someone who qualifies somewhere between “bad” and “absolutely dreadful” defensively, more offensive output is a must. Even with Rhys Hoskins now out for the entire season, with Bryce Harper set to return at some point (soon enough that the club declined the option to place him on the 60-day injured list), Castellanos may be considered expendable if he doesn’t rebound at the plate. That could be an option despite his contract, as has been shown recently (Eric Hosmer, Mike Moustakas, and Justin Upton, among others).

Washington Nationals: CJ Abrams steals 50 bases

One of the key members of the Juan Soto trade package and a former consensus top-ten prospect, Abrams enters the 2023 season with plenty to prove and an opportunity to do so as Washington’s starting shortstop. Abrams’ scouting report as a prospect included a potential 70-grade hit tool and 80-grade speed. He backed up the latter with his 91st-percentile sprint speed during his time in the majors last year. Abrams is still quite raw, having only played in 204 professional games. Of those 204 games, 114 took place in the minor leagues, and he stole 42 bases in those 114 games. So, with a developed hit tool (and some help from the new rules), 50 steals might not be out of reach.

NL Central

Chicago Cubs: Justin Steele leads team in innings pitched and WAR

Far from the highest-profile name in a rotation that added Jameson Taillon to a group headlined by Marcus Stroman and Kyle Hendricks, Steele is also a name to watch. He posted an excellent 3.18 ERA in 24 starts in 2022 (a figure backed up by a 3.20 FIP). He walks more batters than he should, but he excels in two areas – he strikes guys out (almost 25% last year) and induces ground balls (52%), the latter of which is beneficial at Wrigley. Despite being a left-handed pitcher, he doesn’t have terribly strong platoon splits (sub-.700 OPS against batters from both sides). Should he be able to log a full season, he could very well prove to be the Cubs’ most valuable starter.

Cincinnati Reds: Nick Lodolo receives Cy Young votes

Much like Steele, Lodolo isn’t the most popular pitcher on his own staff. There are few pitchers as talented and electric as Hunter Greene. But Lodolo is exciting in his own right. He was a first-round draft selection twice (2016 by the Pirates and 2019 by the Reds) and dazzled in his first test against MLB hitters. Among Lodolo’s notable 2022 numbers are a 3.66 ERA, a .235 opponent batting average, and a 29.7% strikeout rate. Here’s the list of every qualified starter who topped all of those figures last year: Corbin Burnes, Dylan Cease, Gerrit Cole, Shane McClanahan, Shohei Ohtani, and Carlos Rodon. He also sported a fly ball rate 16% lower than that of Hunter Greene, which should help alleviate potential home run problems that come from pitching in Great American Smallpark half the time. Lodolo is a serious talent who could make a name for himself in 2023.

Milwaukee Brewers: Become the most in-demand trade deadline sellers

Things could go sideways for the Brewers pretty quickly. There are legitimate health concerns surrounding starters like Freddy Peralta, Aaron Ashby, and Adrian Houser. There is hardly any reliable bullpen depth after Devin Williams. The offense is banking on bounce-back seasons from Christian Yelich, Jesse Winker, Luke Voit, and Brian Anderson. All of that should make Brewers fans uncomfortable. And should they get off to a slow start, some huge names could become available come July, notably Corbin Burnes, Brandon Woodruff, and Willy Adames. Heck, they might not even need a first-half collapse – they had a three-game division lead when they traded Josh Hader to the Padres. If Milwaukee is sub-.500 or a few games out of playoff position entering July, Matt Arnold’s phone line will be busy.

Pittsburgh Pirates: Oneil Cruz puts it all together

There is nobody in Major League Baseball quite like Oneil Cruz. Nobody hits the ball harder than he does. No infielder throws the ball harder than he does. Very few players run faster than he does. And nobody else his size (6’7”) has ever gotten regular reps at shortstop. Early in Spring Training, he vocalized his goal to go 30-30 (or maybe even 40-40) in 2023. Cruz significantly cut down on his strikeouts after a permanent switch to the leadoff spot in September (38.2% before, 30.2% after) and only struck out at a 24% clip this spring. He also has elite tools defensively, with an extraordinary arm and well-above-average range. He needs to cut down on throwing errors, but the Pirates helped in that regard by giving him an actual first baseman (Carlos Santana) and a new infield coach (Mendy Lopez), both of whom are also Dominican and should prove to be great mentors for Cruz. Cruz will fulfill his goal of a 30-30 season while also being a Gold Glove finalist in 2023.

St. Louis Cardinals: Tommy Edman sets MLB record for most stolen bases without being caught multiple times

This one is fun. I’ve made mention of some players who could become good base stealers thanks to the newly implemented rule changes. But Tommy Edman is already an excellent base stealer and hardly gets any credit for it. He went 30-for-35 in steals in 2021 and 32-for-35 in 2022. In the Integration Era, he’s one of only five players with at least 75 career stolen bases while being caught fewer than 15 times. The record I’m predicting he’ll break currently belongs to Brady Anderson, who stole 31 bases in 32 attempts in 1994. Edman might have had a chance to get there even without the benefit of the new rules.

NL West

Arizona Diamondbacks: Corbin Carroll wins NL Rookie of the Year unanimously

Corbin Carroll is so good that the D-backs signed him to an eight-year, $111 million contract after just 32 MLB games. He impressed in his debut last season, slashing .260/.330/.500 while displaying elite outfield defense and literally the highest sprint speed in baseball (30.7 ft/sec). Carroll has locked up Arizona’s left field job and leadoff spot and is firmly in the NL Rookie of the Year conversation. Of course, there is some tough competition (namely Jordan Walker, Kodai Senga, Miguel Vargas, and Ezequiel Tovar). Still, I believe Carroll is good enough to run away with the award, something none of the last five winners (Michael Harris II, Jonathan India, Devin Williams, Pete Alonso, Ronald Acuna Jr.) could accomplish.

Colorado Rockies: Win 2023 MLB Draft Lottery

The inaugural MLB Draft Lottery took place following the 2022 season. The lottery rules give the “top” three teams equal odds at landing the #1 pick. Despite both losing more than 100 games, neither Washington nor Oakland received the honor. Instead, it was the Pirates, who earned that third top spot via a tiebreaker with the Reds. The Nationals and A’s could very well be the two worst teams again in 2023, but that may not matter in the end. The Rockies – projected to lose 95 games by FanGraphs and 97 by PECOTA – are also right in the mix, and that just might be enough to net them the top pick in 2024.

Los Angeles Dodgers: Max Muncy is an NL MVP finalist

Muncy burst onto the scene in 2018 and has been on an early-2010’s Giants run ever since, alternating between elite, top-15 NL MVP seasons (2019, 2021) and middling disappointments (2020, 2022). By that logic, Muncy will be all the way back in 2023, but there’s further reason to believe that. He never properly fully recovered from a torn UCL he suffered at the end of the 2021 season, and thus played through extreme discomfort and altered his swing and approach to combat that. As a result, Muncy got off to a terribly slow start, entering play on August 1 with a .161/.310/.303 slash, but from that point on, slashed a much more Muncy-like .247/.358/.500. With Justin Turner no longer in the picture, Muncy projects to get the bulk of the playing time at third base, where he claims to be most comfortable defensively. Now fully healthy, all the tools appear to be in place for Muncy to be back on everyone’s radar in 2023.

San Diego Padres: Cole Hamels pitches in the World Series

Since the turn of the century, only six pitchers have been named World Series MVP (including co-winners Randy Johnson and Curt Schilling in 2001). Also among that group was Hamels, who had a 1.80 ERA and .525 OPS against across five starts in the 2008 playoffs. He averaged seven innings in those starts, and the Phillies won all five of those games, including the opening and closing games of the World Series. Hamels is in San Diego on a minor league deal, so this prediction is two-fold: the Padres will make it to the World Series, and Hamels, who has been there and played the part before, will come through when called upon.

San Francisco Giants: Snap 18-season streak without a 30-homer hitter…with two such players

Somehow, the Giants still have not had a 30-homer hitter since ’04 Barry Bonds. Here’s a list of some players who have had a 30-homer season since then: Russell Branyan, Kole Calhoun, Tony Clark (yes, 50-year-old and current MLBPA executive director Tony Clark), Jack Cust, Paul DeJong, Bill Hall, Brad Miller, Renato Nunez, Scott Schebler, Steven Souza Jr., and Yasmany Tomas. Sure, the Giants would have had a better chance of adding a slugger to that group had they actually signed either Aaron Judge or Carlos Correa this winter. However, two of the league’s top ten hitters in hard-hit rate play in San Francisco. Joc Pederson’s 52.1% hard-hit rate was the seventh-highest, while JD Davis’ 56.1% clip ranked third. The other players in the top ten averaged 35 homers last year. With enough playing time, if they keep crushing the ball, both players could reach the 30-homer plateau and end the drought.

Ethan Fisher

Jesus paid it all. Forever hoping Bob Nutting will just pay anyone. Ke'Bryan Hayes is the best 3B in the NL Central. Always talking Pirates/baseball in general on Twitter @efisher330

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