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Mile High Musings: My Preview for the 2023 Season

The winter is over, and with it baseball season is on the horizon. For the first time since 2019, we are on the normal calendar, with no pandemics or lockouts looming. We have some new rules, with the pitch clock being introduced, shift limitations, bigger bases, position player pitching restrictions, and the return of the ghost runner in extra innings. Some big names changed their colors and others remained, so if you tuned out from baseball after the Houston Astros defeated the Philadelphia Phillies in the World Series, let this be a refresher for what has happened in baseball. For each team, I will give a five-or-fewer-word summary of their offseason, a brief look at each team, one player I’m excited to watch this year, and a bold prediction.

Arizona Diamondbacks (2022 Finish: 74-88, 4th in NL West)

Quick Offseason Recap: The prospects are almost here

Brief Preview: Hope springs eternal this time of year, and that could not be more true of the D-Backs. Equipped with one of the strongest farm systems, the future looks bright for Arizona. Corbin Carroll is the favorite to win National League Rookie of the Year and just signed a deal that will keep him in the desert until 2031. The Daulton Varsho trade brought back Lourdes Gurriel Jr. and Gabriel Moreno, the latter a former top-ten catching prospect who had an OPS+ of 111 in his brief major league debut last year. Pitching should also be a strength for this team, with an ace in Zac Gallen and young players such as Ryne Nelson, Drey Jameson, and Brandon Pfaadt poised to break out.

Player To Watch: Zac Gallen – Working with an acclaimed pitching coach in Brent Strom, Gallen took a leap last year and became a superstar, finishing in fifth place in NL Cy Young voting, sporting an ERA of 2.54 with 192 punchouts in 184 innings. While he has flashed this upside in previous seasons, 2022 was the first time he had this type of production over a full season. There isn’t a more pivotal person to Arizona’s short-term success than Gallen and his ability to pitch like he did last season.

Bold Prediction: The Snakes take a step forward and finish above .500, good for third place in the NL West.

Atlanta Braves (2022 Finish: 101-61, Lost in NLDS)

Quick Offseason Recap: More controllable young talent

Brief Preview: The Braves traded for Sean Murphy and subsequently signed him to a long-term deal, keeping in line with their tradition of locking up core players (with the exception of Freddie Freeman, Dansby Swanson, and Max Fried). This was a team that won 101 games last year, and despite the loss of Swanson in the offseason, they believe in their internal options of Orlando Arcia and Vaughn Grissom. This team is built to hit for power, and that approach has led them to be the class of the NL East the previous five seasons. The pitching is not as solid, despite the presence of Fried and the breakout of Spencer Strider last season, as Charlie Morton is getting older, and the other guys haven’t been consistent enough. Overall, this should be a strong squad capable of winning it all.

Player To Watch: Ronald Acuna Jr. – Acuna was a flat-out superstar before tearing his ACL in 2021, and was not the same when he returned last year. ACL tears are tricky to rehabilitate from, and with a healthy offseason, Acuna’s primed to rebound and is crucial to the Braves if they want to hold off the Mets and Phillies in the division race.

Bold Prediction: Austin Riley hits 40 home runs and 40 doubles, and becomes the new face of the franchise after the recent departures of Swanson and Freeman.

Baltimore Orioles (2022 Finish: 83-79, 4th in AL East)

Quick Offseason Recap: Slow but steady build

Brief Preview: Last season, the Orioles came out of nowhere to contend for a playoff spot late into the season after years of rebuilding. In the winter, they stuck to the long-term plan and didn’t dole out any big contracts, instead banking on continued development from their prospects and young players. I expect them to take a slight step back, especially competing in a cutthroat division in the AL East. However, this season is going to be a win for Baltimore if guys like Gunnar Henderson, Grayson Rodriguez, and their other top prospects start to become stars.

Player To Watch: Adley Rutschman – I think that, after this season, he will be a consensus top-three catcher in baseball. Enough said.

Bold Prediction: Dean Kremer is an All-Star, with the best ERA among Orioles starters.

Boston Red Sox (2022 Finish: 78-84, 5th in AL East)

Quick Offseason Recap: They lost Xander Bogaerts

Brief Preview: Justin Turner, Kenley Jansen, Masataka Yoshida, and Corey Kluber all joined in the offseason and should raise the floor of this team. The major issue is at shortstop. With Bogaerts gone and Trevor Story hurt, they are relying on Enrique Hernandez and Adalberto Mondesi, players who are best suited in super-utility roles and typically struggle to stay healthy. This will be an important season for top executive Chaim Bloom’s future with the team, as they have made the playoffs only once since he took over baseball operations and have allocated their assets in a confusing manner during his tenure despite the Rafael Devers extension.

Player To Watch: Masataka Yoshida – Boston’s big free agent just had an impressive World Baseball Classic, including this homer, and set the expectations high for his first season stateside. In Japan, Yoshida was a contact-driven bat that could get on base, which should play well atop the Red Sox lineup this season and beyond.

Bold Prediction: Adalberto Mondesi plays over 110 games at shortstop and posts an OPS+ over 80.

Chicago Cubs (2022 Finish: 74-88, 3rd in NL Central)

Quick Offseason Recap: Improved up the middle defense

Brief Preview: With the steady improvements that their pitching staff showed last year, the Cubs doubled down on defense with their two biggest (in name only) signings. They sped up their rebuild by adding a long-term piece in Dansby Swanson, someone they hope can be a leader on the next great Cubs team, and took a flier on former NL MVP Cody Bellinger, who at the very least can provide good defense in centerfield and speed on the basepaths, and signed Trey Mancini to a two-year contract to play first base or DH. The Cubbies raised their floor in a weak division in hopes of playing meaningful games in the second half of the season.

Player To Watch: Nico Hoerner – With all the rule changes, a strong defensive shortstop with 92nd percentile speed last year (per Statcast) and high contact rates should fare well in 2023. Hoerner is a throwback player who perfectly fits what these rule changes want to accomplish.

Bold Prediction: The double play duo of Swanson and Hoerner each win Gold Gloves and are rated at least 95th percentile in Outs Above Average.

Chicago White Sox (2022 Finish: 81-81, 2nd in AL Central)

Quick Offseason Recap: Tony la Russa is gone

Brief Preview: It’s easy to call the 2022 season the year of Murphy’s Law for the Pale Hose, as almost everything that could’ve gone wrong did. However, with a fresh voice in the manager’s chair and (hopefully) much better health, this White Sox team has the potential to win the division. It’s easy to overlook what they did in 2020 and 2021, as many of the same players are still on the South Side. Losing Jose Abreu is tough, but Andrew Vaughn should have a better season than in past years playing his natural position. This is still a good team, with Tim Anderson, Eloy Jimenez, Luis Robert, Lucas Giolito, Lance Lynn, Dylan Cease, and Andrew Benintendi serving as their core.

Player To Watch: Luis Robert – The tools are present for a Luis Robert breakout; it’s just a matter of him putting it all together at this point. He’s shown flashes of tantalizing talent but, in three seasons, has either struggled to stay healthy or underachieved. This is an important season on the South Side, and a superstar breakout can propel Chicago into the playoffs.

Bold Prediction: The White Sox win their division and are the only AL Central team to make it to the postseason.

Cincinnati Reds (2022 Finish: 62-100, 5th in NL Central)

Quick Offseason Recap: Ownership is still cheap

Brief Preview: The Reds did very little to add to their team after losing 100 games. Wil Myers is a fine addition, but if he performs well, he’s gone in July. The way that Cincinnati is built this season, they are incredibly dependent on Jonathan India rediscovering what made him the Rookie of the Year two years ago and the continued development of Graham Ashcraft, Nick Lodolo, and Hunter Greene.

Player To Watch: Hunter Greene – Last year, Greene debuted and struggled to keep the ball in the park, posting the second-highest HR/9 among pitchers with at least 120 innings pitched and having a BB/9 of 3.44. The arsenal is good enough to strike out just about anyone, this season will be a test to see if Greene can improve his control and his command.

Bold Prediction: I can’t use Joey Votto’s prediction, unfortunately, but instead, let’s say he hits a home run on August 21st at Angel Stadium to give the Reds the lead.

Cleveland Guardians (2022 Finish: 92-70, Lost in ALDS)

Quick Offseason Recap: Added some more, cheap power

Brief Preview: If the rule changes were made to benefit one team, it would be the Guardians, as they are strong defensively, fast, and hit for contact. However, they needed more players who could hit homers and added Mike Zunino and Josh Bell in hopes of adding some pop to their contact-heavy lineup. Shane Bieber fronts a strong rotation and is a part of Cleveland’s pitching development factory. This should be a strong team in 2023.

Player To Watch: Jose Ramirez – Ramirez has been one of the best all-around players in baseball for years, and it still feels like he is underrated. Since 2016, only Mookie Betts and Mike Trout have posted a higher fWAR, and is the only player to steal 150 bases and hit 150 home runs in that span. Simply put, he’s the straw that stirs the drink for this Guardians team.

Bold Prediction: Andres Gimenez has at least 20 home runs and 20 stolen bases and starts for the American League in the All-Star Game in Seattle.

Colorado Rockies (2022 Finish: 68-94, 5th in NL West)

Quick Offseason Recap: They did absolutely nothing

Brief Preview: The Rockies had a bold strategy this offseason, choosing not to add any major pieces to a roster that won a mere 68 games last year. The biggest names they added were a stopgap outfielder in Jurickson Profar and a way-past-his-prime Mike Moustakas. In a division with big spenders in Los Angeles and San Diego, along with an up-and-coming team in Arizona, and a competent team in San Francisco, that just isn’t going to cut it. At least Coors Field is beautiful in the summertime.

Player To Watch: Kris Bryant – The last time Bryant hit a home run at Coors Field was in May of 2017, well before he joined the Rockies. The Cubs were defending champions when that happened, and the Rockies were on their way to being a playoff team that year. All of which is just wild to think about.

Bold Prediction: They go .500 in March and April before sputtering and finishing last in their division.

Detroit Tigers (2022 Finish: 66-96, 4th in AL Central)

Quick Offseason Recap: Time to rebuild (again)

Brief Preview: The 2022 season was an unmitigated disaster for Detroit, and it cost their GM his job. New GM Scott Harris is coming in to fix a rebuild that so far has gone off the rails. The Tigers have some young players that can break out, like Spencer Torkelson and Riley Greene, but they were relying on pitching to carry them to contention, and that is looking precarious with Casey Mize and Jackson Jobe hurt. Matt Manning showed some upside in 63 innings but has yet to throw 90 innings in a major league season. The cupboard isn’t bare, so to speak, but it wasn’t as bountiful as it was two years ago.

Player To Watch: Javier Baez – When Baez is playing well, he can be one of the most exciting players in baseball. The problem is that he believes he can hit every pitch out of the park and strikes out a ton without walking much. How the rule changes impact a hitter like Baez, who is so reliant on his power, is an intriguing story for this Tigers team.

Bold Prediction: Tarik Skubal has an ERA and FIP below 3.40 and is the Tigers’ only All-Star.

Houston Astros (2022 Finish: 106-56, Won World Series)

Quick Offseason Recap: Ready to run it back

Brief Preview: They won a World Series, lost the reigning AL Cy Young winner, and somehow the rotation still is top-tier. The depth that the Astros have built on their pitching staff is nothing short of spectacular, even if they don’t have that capital A Ace that Verlander was. First base was an issue, so they bring in Jose Abreu, a hitter with a career 134 OPS+. For a lineup that was already stacked, that’s a scary addition for 2023. Unfortunately, they did lose Jose Altuve for the first few weeks of the season, but this lineup shouldn’t miss a beat without him.

Player To Watch: Yordan Alvarez – I would use this space to compare Alvarez to David Ortiz, as they are both left-handed DH types with elite power. The main difference between the two is that Ortiz never had a season with a wRC+ of 185; Alvarez did it last year.

Bold Prediction: They make it to the World Series for the third straight year, becoming the first team since the Yankees from 1998-2001 to win three straight AL pennants.

Kansas City Royals (2022 Finish: 65-97, 5th in AL Central)

Quick Offseason Recap: Changing the process up

Brief Preview: Dayton Moore was fired and replaced by J.J. Picollo. Mike Matheny was fired and replaced by Matt Quatraro. This season will mostly be about how the young players can perform, with Bobby Witt Jr., Vinnie Pasquantino, MJ Melendez, and Nick Pratto showing promise in 2022. Brady Singer should continue to be the best pitcher for this team, but the rest of the rotation is full of questions. Can Daniel Lynch or Kris Bubic live up to expectations from when they were prospects? Will Brad Keller be able to reach his heights of 2018 and 2020? Can Zack Greinke still throw quality innings? What will veteran imports Jordan Lyles and Ryan Yarbrough be able to do?

Player To Watch: Vinnie Pasquantino – He’s a really good hitter and easily the best player on the Royals in my eyes. His underlying numbers are comparable to Freddie Freeman, who is also a really good hitter.

Bold Prediction: Bobby Witt Jr. has 25 home runs and 25 stolen bases, at least.

Los Angeles Angels (2022 Finish: 73-89, 3rd in AL West)

Quick Offseason Recap: Improved depth around superstars

Brief Preview: The Angels were busy this offseason, adding quality pieces in Tyler Anderson, Brandon Drury, Gio Urshela, and Hunter Renfroe. Quietly, the Angels had a quality rotation last season and could easily do so again this season, with Shohei Ohtani, Patrick Sandoval, Anderson, and Reid Detmers forming two-thirds of their staff this season. Offensively, Ohtani, Mike Trout, and Anthony Rendon can be as good as any trio this season. The main concern for the Halos in years past was the lack of depth, especially offensively, but with Taylor Ward, Jared Walsh, Urshela, Drury, Renfroe, and David Fletcher those concerns should be assuaged. The floor for this team has been raised significantly, and could easily make the playoffs.

Player To Watch: Shohei Ohtani – This one feels self-explanatory.

Bold Prediction: Anthony Rendon gets some down-ballot MVP votes and performs to his pre-injury standards of 2019 and 2020.

Los Angeles Dodgers (2022 Finish: 111-61, Lost in NLDS)

Quick Offseason Recap: Tried to duck luxury tax

Brief Preview: The Dodgers lost Trea Turner, Justin Turner, Cody Bellinger, Tyler Anderson, Andrew Heaney, and Chris Martin over the winter. They supplemented the roster by adding Noah Syndergaard, J.D. Martinez, Miguel Rojas, Alex Reyes, and David Peralta. Gavin Lux tore his ACL in spring training, which means Rojas will have a larger role on this team. Miguel Vargas is likely to replace Justin Turner at third base, and Peralta, James Outman, and Mookie Betts will likely man the outfield. This team is quite different from the one that won 111 games last season, but they should still be good. They are the Dodgers, after all.

Player To Watch: Noah Syndergaard – Instead of taking a bigger payday, Syndergaard accepted the Dodgers’ one-year deal, betting on both himself and the Dodgers’ track record of maximizing the talents of pitchers, a la Tyler Anderson last year.

Bold Prediction: Mookie Betts steals 30 bags for the first time since 2018.

Miami Marlins (2022 Finish: 69-93, 4th in NL East)

Quick Offseason Recap: We need more contact hitters

Brief Preview: The Marlins had a problem last season, and that was a lack of quality hitters. They added Luis Arraez and Jean Segura while trading away Pablo Lopez and Miguel Rojas. Skip Schumaker takes over as manager from Don Mattingly, bringing in some much-needed youth in the process. His biggest issue will be the defensive alignments, with Arraez and Jazz Chisholm Jr. being pigeonholed into playing second base and center field, respectively. The rotation will be good, with Cy Young winner Sandy Alcantara as their ace and young guys such as Jesus Luzardo, Edward Cabrera, and Trevor Rogers likely to make an impact.

Player To Watch: Jazz Chisholm Jr. – Being the cover athlete for MLB: The Show is a big deal, but Chisholm has struggled to stay healthy, playing in only 60 games last season. The upside is tantalizing, but he needs to stay on the field, which became tougher with his transition to center field.

Bold Prediction: Luis Arraez becomes the first player to win back-to-back batting titles in different leagues.

Milwaukee Brewers (2022 Finish: 86-76, 2nd in NL Central)

Quick Offseason Recap: Pissed off Corbin Burnes

Brief Preview: After missing the postseason largely due to an anemic offense, Milwaukee went out and added some hitters. They traded Kolten Wong to Seattle for Jesse Winker and traded Hunter Renfroe for prospects, but added William Contreras in the Sean Murphy trade. Corbin Burnes and Brandon Woodruff are still a formidable one-two punch, but last season Josh Hader was traded away at the trade deadline, and that will be the main narrative around those two as they grow closer to free agency. The pressure is definitely on to prove to the front office that they shouldn’t maximize the value of those two pitchers, especially since I don’t think Burnes is too keen on giving the Brew Crew a hometown discount.

Player To Watch: Jesse Winker – Winker struggled to adjust from a hitter-friendly park in Cincinnati to a pitcher-friendly park in Seattle, with career-low numbers across the board. The Brew Crew are betting that playing in a better hitting environment and better health could unlock what we saw from Winker with the Reds.

Bold Prediction: The Brewers make it into the playoffs as NL Central champions but lose the wild card series 2-0.

Minnesota Twins (2022 Finish: 78-84, 3rd in AL Central)

Quick Offseason Recap: Resigned Correa against all odds

Brief Preview: Carlos Correa came back to Minnesota after failing two physicals, signing a six-year, $200 million deal, which can be worth up to $270 million over ten years with vesting options. They traded the batting champ for Pablo Lopez, who should bolster their rotation along with Kenta Maeda, who will return from Tommy John surgery this season. Injuries down the stretch cost the Twins the division, but with a stronger pitching staff and better health, they are right in contention for the AL Central crown.

Player To Watch: Tyler Mahle – The peripherals around Mahle were good with Cincy last year, but he struggled down the stretch as the Twins collapsed and missed the playoffs. Carlos Correa is a boost to the offense, but he can’t pitch, and Mahle needs to be the player he was for the Reds if Minnesota wants to be playing in October.

Bold Prediction: Over the last four years, Byron Buxton has an OPS+ of 137, albeit with 279 games played. He’s gonna play 100 games at least and post an OPS+ of at least 140.

New York Mets (2022 Finish: 101-61, Lost in NLWC)

Quick Offseason Recap: Spent a whole lotta money

Brief Preview: How do you replace a two-time Cy Young winner? Get a three-time Cy Young winner, of course. The Mets made splash after splash in free agency, adding Justin Verlander and Kodai Senga, attempting to snag Carlos Correa, and resigning Brandon Nimmo and Edwin Diaz. New York was good enough to win 101 games last year, but Atlanta went on a mad dash and caught up to them. This past winter was spent trying to make sure that wouldn’t happen again. The lineup and pitching will be strong again, even if Diaz will miss the entire season with a patellar tendon tear. It’s World Series or bust in Queens.

Player To Watch: Kodai Senga – The ghost fork is not an actual ghost, according to the Mets’ Super Bowl ad. As the new number three in the rotation behind future Hall of Famers Max Scherzer and Justin Verlander, the success of the ghost fork could make the Mets’ staff that much more formidable.

Bold Prediction: Pete Alonso leads the majors in home runs with 55.

New York Yankees (2022 Finish: 99-63, Lost in ALCS)

Quick Offseason Recap: All rise for Captain Judge

Brief Preview: Despite flirting with the Giants and Padres, Aaron Judge returned to the Bronx, equipped with a nine-year, $360 million deal and the role of captain of the New York Yankees. Carlos Rodon was also lured away from San Francisco to strengthen their rotation and should debut at the end of April. The rotation should be strong like it was last year, but I have concerns about the lineup. After the All-Star break last year, they became too reliant on Judge’s heroics as he was the only qualified hitter on the team to post a wRC+ over 100. Keeping Anthony Rizzo was good, but I think that DJ LeMahieu, Giancarlo Stanton, and Josh Donaldson are trending downward. The trio of Oswald Peraza, Oswaldo Cabrera, and Anthony Volpe is crucial to how this lineup as a whole performs this year.

Player To Watch: Anthony Rizzo – The shift being eliminated should be huge for a hitter like Rizzo, who pulls nearly half of his batted balls. While Rizzo is a bit older, I wouldn’t be surprised if there is a slight uptick in production for him because of the new rules.

Bold Prediction: They lose in the ALCS to the Astros in five games, and an entire borough of New York City loses their minds.

Oakland Athletics (2022 Finish: 60-102, 5th in AL West)

Quick Offseason Recap: Bye bye, Sean Murphy

Brief Preview: They traded Sean Murphy away for an underwhelming return, continuing their tear-it-down-to-the-studs rebuild. There aren’t many recognizable players on the roster, and they will likely be the worst team in the American League by a mile, perhaps even the worst in the majors. There’s not much to look forward to for A’s fans this year.

Player To Watch: Shea Langeliers – He’s a solid young catcher, and he’s one of the few players on this team that I know.

Bold Prediction: The Athletics will win against the Tampa Bay Rays once this year, on Flag Day.

Philadelphia Phillies (2022 Finish: 87-75, Lost in World Series)

Quick Offseason Recap: Not satisfied with last season

Brief Preview: The Phillies approached the winter as a team that won 87 games, not as one that won the National League pennant. Getting Trea Turner is a huge boost to this lineup, as he is one of the best players in baseball and adds more balance. He slots in at leadoff and will likely produce in place of Bryce Harper while Harper is recovering from Tommy John surgery. Aaron Nola and Zack Wheeler are still aces, and the bullpen might not be a weakness this year for once. This is going to be a really fun team to watch this season.

Player To Watch: Trea Turner – Did you see him in the World Baseball Classic? How about in the last three seasons with the Nationals or Dodgers? His speed and skill makes him one of the most exciting players in baseball.

Bold Prediction: The Phillies will win over 92 games, and are rewarded with third place in the NL East, and have to play in the Wild Card Series.

Pittsburgh Pirates (2022 Finish: 62-100, 4th in NL Central)

Quick Offseason Recap: Cutch is back!

Brief Preview: The Pirates spent the offseason bringing in high-floor but low-ceiling hitters like franchise legend Andrew McCutchen, Ji Man Choi, and Carlos Santana, adding to a team that has under-the-radar stars in Bryan Reynolds and Ke’Bryan Hayes. With a strong farm system, Pittsburgh has decided that bringing these players would help mentor the young guys and usher in the next era of Pirates baseball. Mitch Keller figured it out in the second half of last season and is likely the best pitcher for this team. The season will be a success if more young players like Oneil Cruz and company take a step forward.

Player To Watch: Oneil Cruz – I don’t think he’ll be a shortstop for long, but he hits the ball like Giancarlo Stanton. If he gets a little more consistent at the plate, the rest of the league will soon be on notice.

Bold Prediction: Their lineup will be in the top half of wRC+ in August and September when the younger players have their footing in the major leagues.

San Diego Padres (2022 Finish: 89-73, Lost in NLCS)

Quick Offseason Recap: New kings of the West?

Brief Preview: They went after any free agent who would take their money, and Xander Bogaerts took it, signing for 11 years at $280 million. Manny Machado also got a new deal, signing an 11-year, $350 million extension. The core four of Machado, Bogaerts, Juan Soto, and Fernando Tatis Jr. is one of, if not the best, collection of four hitters a team could have. They also have a strong rotation with Yu Darvish, Joe Musgrove (when he’s healthy), and Blake Snell, and I think there’s another one coming at the deadline. Who thought Bogaerts or Soto would be in San Diego a year ago? The Friars are determined to win a World Series and will be aggressive in doing so.

Player To Watch: Fernando Tatis Jr. – This isn’t a question about whether he can be a franchise pillar or not. In his short career, Tatis has proven that he can be among the best of the best, with top-five MVP finishes in 2020 and 2021. However, he did just miss an entire season due to injuries and suspensions, so he needs to prove that his year away from the game hasn’t affected his immense talent negatively.

Bold Prediction: For the first time in their 54-year history, the San Diego Padres will hoist the Commissioner’s Trophy as World Series champions, defeating the Houston Astros in six games.

San Francisco Giants (2022 Finish: 81-81, 3rd in NL West)

Quick Offseason Recap: No Judge, no Correa

Brief Preview: It’s easy to focus on what the Giants didn’t do in the winter, but they did add quality pieces to their lineup with Mitch Haniger and Michael Conforto. Health permitting, those two with Joc Pederson will be a top-ten outfield trio. The problem is that in a division that features the Dodgers and Padres, fine additions aren’t going to push San Francisco over them. The pitching development remains strong, but most of their pitchers are old or injury prone. A lot needs to go right for the Giants to reach the postseason, but we’ve seen it happen in recent seasons from this team.

Player To Watch: Logan Webb – He’s the best pitcher nobody talks about, with an ERA of 2.96 in the previous two seasons. I think this will be the year he breaks out on the main stage and becomes a household name.

Bold Prediction: Their final record is 78-84, and they finish fourth in the NL West.

Seattle Mariners (2022 Finish: 90-72, Lost in ALDS)

Quick Offseason Recap: Playoff run ready

Brief Preview: Last year was a magical season for the Mariners, as they made the playoffs for the first time since 2001 and won a playoff series as well. They subtracted Jesse Winker and Erik Swanson but added Teoscar Hernandez and Kolten Wong. Luis Castillo was extended after an excellent performance down the stretch and in the playoffs and heads what I believe to be the best rotation in the majors (or at least top-three). The lineup will need more consistency outside of megastar Julio Rodriguez, but I have a feeling that last year was just an appetizer for what’s to come in the Pacific Northwest.

Player To Watch: George Kirby – Kirby has the most consecutive strikes to start a game in MLB history, showing off his elite control and command. Among pitchers with 130 innings pitched last year, he had the fifth-lowest walk rate as a rookie and is my pick for breakout pitcher of the year.

Bold Prediction: The Mariners have three starting pitchers and one reliever receive Cy Young votes in Luis Castillo, Logan Gilbert, George Kirby, and Andres Munoz.

St. Louis Cardinals (2022 Finish: 93-69, Lost in NLWC)

Quick Offseason Recap: Filled hole at catcher

Brief Preview: Yadier Molina retired, and they replaced him with Willson Contreras. While Contreras doesn’t have the defensive prowess Molina did, his bat should more than make up for it, lengthening a lineup that already features Nolan Arenado and Paul Goldschmidt. As a team that is strong defensively, and fast, the new rules should serve them well, especially Tommy Edman. If you watched spring training, then you will be pleased to hear that young stud Jordan Walker made the roster and could easily be their best outfielder this season. What I don’t like with the Cardinals this year is their starting pitching, as they have a collection of fine pitchers but no true ace or guy you would want starting in a do-or-die situation, and will need to fill a rotation next year as only Steven Matz and Miles Mikolas are under team control.

Player To Watch: Jordan Walker – The Cardinals are an organization that is usually patient with player development, so seeing them promote the 20-year-old Walker before he sees a pitch at AAA tells me that they believe in his ability to play outfield at a major league level. I think he may need some time to get acclimated to the major leagues, but in the second half of the season, we will see why the Cardinals were so hasty to get him to the show.

Bold Prediction: Willson Contreras hits a career-high 25 home runs.

Tampa Bay Rays (2022 Finish: 86-76, Lost in ALWC)

Quick Offseason Recap: Biggest Free Agent Contract Ever!

Brief Preview: The Rays signed Zach Eflin to a three-year, $40 million deal which is shockingly the largest deal the team has given out in free agency. Shane McClanahan and Tyler Glasnow are strong starters, and they usually have good depth at the back of the rotation and bullpen, which I expect to continue this year. The offense should be above average, with Brandon Lowe, Wander Franco, and Randy Arozarena serving as the pillars. The Rays could definitely sneak up on some people this season and be better than projected with ease.

Player To Watch: Tyler Glasnow – If not for the Tommy John surgery in 2021, the Rays could have repeated as American League champions with Glasnow as the ace. Now that he is almost two years removed from the procedure, he has to reclaim his spot at the top of the rotation, especially with McClanahan staking his claim for the same position.

Bold Prediction: Wander Franco hits above .300 for the first time in his career.

Texas Rangers (2022 Finish: 68-94, 4th in AL West)

Quick Offseason Recap: Here’s our new starting rotation

Brief Preview: The Rangers continued to be aggressive in free agency and added Jacob deGrom on a five-year, $185 million deal. They also brought in Nathan Eovaldi, Andrew Heaney, and Jake Odorizzi to join Martin Perez, Dane Dunning, and Jon Gray. While this rotation has some upside, there is plenty of variance associated with many of these players, so it’s hard to say that pitching is a strength, but it’s definitely not a weakness. Corey Seager and Marcus Semien are still an elite double-play combo, and with the breakout of Josh Jung and continued excellence from Nathaniel Lowe, Texas could have the best all-around infield. A playoff appearance is the ceiling for this emerging squad.

Player To Watch: Corey Seager – No one was more impacted by the shift than Seager, losing 20 hits and 30 points in his batting average. I expect, with the shift banned, for him to reach the heights that he did in Los Angeles this year.

Bold Prediction: deGrom is healthy and becomes the first Texas Ranger to win the Cy Young in his first season with the team.

Toronto Blue Jays (2022 Finish: 92-70, Lost in ALWC)

Quick Offseason Recap: Improved outfield defense

Brief Preview: The Jays traded for Daulton Varsho, signed Kevin Kiermaier, and sent Teoscar Hernandez and Lourdes Gurriel Jr. away to improve their outfield defense and add more athleticism. They still have a talented group of hitters containing Vladimir Guerrero Jr., Bo Bichette, George Springer, Alejandro Kirk, and Matt Chapman. The pitching staff should be improved with the addition of Chris Bassitt, though it remains to be seen how he pitches half his games in a hitter-friendly park. All in all, Toronto should be a strong team in 2023 and will likely be battling the Yankees down the stretch for the AL East crown.

Player To Watch: Vladimir Guerrero Jr. – The Guerrero that we saw in 2021 was otherworldly, and the 2022 version of Guerrero was more down to Earth, even though he was still 32% above league average by OPS+. I imagine we will see which version of Vladdy he truly is this year, whether that is a top-ten player in all of baseball or just a really good first baseman.

Bold Prediction: Alek Manoah is named the starting pitcher for the American League at the All-Star Game in Seattle.

Washington Nationals (2022 Finish: 55-107, 5th in NL East)

Quick Offseason Recap: The rebuild continues on

Brief Preview: The Nats’ offseason was like many teams in their position; buying low on reclamation projects to see if they perform well enough to fetch a low-level prospect at the trade deadline or buying low on players who may have been given up on too early. This methodology brought in Dominic Smith, Jeimer Candelario, and Jeter Downs. Cade Cavalli is out for the season with Tommy John surgery, which stings for fans who want to see the kids from the farm system take over. The two main pieces in the Soto trade in MacKenzie Gore and C.J. Abrams will have a spotlight this year, as well as the two pieces from the Trea Turner/Max Scherzer trade in Keibert Ruiz and Josiah Gray. How those four develop will determine how long the Nationals are rebuilding.

Player To Watch: MacKenzie Gore – There’s not much talent on this team, and he was a top prospect before debuting last season in San Diego. If he cuts down the walk rate, he will be a tough outing for any hitter facing him this year.

Bold Prediction: Smith hits 20 doubles for the Nats this season and sticks around beyond the trade deadline.

Season Predictions:

AL East Division Champion: New York Yankees

AL Central Division Champion: Chicago White Sox

AL West winner: Houston Astros

AL Wild Cards: Seattle Mariners, Toronto Blue Jays, Texas Rangers

NL East Division Champion: Atlanta Braves

NL Central Division Champion: Milwaukee Brewers

NL West Division Champion: San Diego Padres

NL Wild Cards: Los Angeles Dodgers, New York Mets, Philadelphia Phillies

AL Champion: Houston Astros

NL Champion: San Diego Padres

World Series Champion: San Diego Padres

AL MVP: Shohei Ohtani, Los Angeles Angels

NL MVP: Manny Machado, San Diego Padres

AL Cy Young: Jacob deGrom, Texas Rangers

NL Cy Young: Logan Webb, San Francisco Giants

AL Rookie of the Year: Gunnar Henderson, Baltimore Orioles

NL Rookie of the Year: Corbin Carroll, Arizona Diamondbacks

Image courtesy of the Los Angeles Times

Statistics courtesy of Baseball-Reference, FanGraphs, and BaseballSavant

James Darschewski

James Darschewski is an undergraduate student at Purdue University who is the self-appointed "Power Rankings Czar". You can find him on Twitter and Instagram @jwdblue42.

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