Sean Murphy (C-ATL) will play for a new team in 2023 after Oakland traded him to Atlanta during the offseason; he promptly signed a 6-year extension with the Braves. The backstop has gone 2-10 with a 2B, an RBI, 2 walks, and 2 strikeouts so far in spring training action. Murphy is coming off a career-best MLB campaign in which he logged a .250 average to go with 18 homers, 66 RBI, and 67 runs scored, with a wRC+ of 122 across 612 PA. In doing so, he slashed his strikeout rate 5% down to 20% while maintaining a 9% walk rate, recording hard contact at a healthy 41% clip per Statcast, and posting a career-high contact rate of 78%. Moving from Oakland Coliseum - which ranked dead last in the majors in park factor in 2019-2022 for righty hitters - to Truist Park - which ranked #11 in park factor for righties during that same time period - should help Murphy at the dish. An elite defender, he should see plenty of action during the coming season, especially since Atlanta can utilize the DH spot to give him days off behind the dish. A .250 average and 20 homers is a reasonable expectation for Murphy in 2023, which would have him knocking on the door of the top 5 at the C position.
Anthony Rizzo (1B-NYY) has gone 5-12 with a 2B and 3 strikeouts so far in spring training (entering Saturday's action). He produced a wRC+ of 132 last season as he recorded a .224 average, 32 homers, 75 RBI, and 77 runs scored across 548 PA. The average was his lowest since he logged a .141 clip across 153 PA in his first taste of the majors with San Diego back in 2011, but the total of 32 dingers matches his career high in that category (his 4th time totaling 32). While his average might appear to be simply unlucky given his .216 BABIP (.278 career), it seems that Rizzo sold out for homers last season as he strove to clear Yankee Stadium's short right-field porch with a launch angle of 19.3 (his highest in the Statcast era) and a career-high flyball rate of 49% (39% career); last season was also the first time his pull rate ticked above 48%. Rizzo's contact rate did dip a little to 79% after sitting north of 81% each season since 2015 as his swinging-strike rate rose to 10% (8% career) and his strikeout rate surpassed 18% for the first time since 2014 (16% career). There is certainly the possibility that back stiffness that caused him to miss time in each of the last three months of the season affected his production, but it's worth noting that he recently acknowledged that the issue could surface again in 2023. The good news is that his hard-hit rate stayed steady from 2021 at 41% (per Statcast) while he logged a 11% barrel rate, his highest during the Statcast era. Given what appears to be a conscious shift toward flyballs for the sake of homers, expect 25+ homers, but with a sub-.240 batting average, out of Rizzo in his age-33 season.
Jeff McNeil (2B/OF-NYM) has gone 4-17 with 4 RBI and a walk so far in spring training. In 2022, he rebounded from a disappointing 2021 (.251 average, 7 homers, 35 RBI, 48 runs scored, 92 wRC+ across 426 PA) to record a .326 average, 9 homers, 62 RBI, 73 runs scored, and a wRC+ of 143 over 589 PA. A lot of it was correction to the mean (and then some), as McNeil's BABIP in 2021 came in well below his career norm (.332) at .280 before jumping to .353 in 2022. With a 30% hard-hit rate (per Statcast) that actually represented a decline from 2021 (33%), his pop is lacking, as liners - which he hit at a 24% clip in 2022 after doing so at a 20% rate in 2021 - are a key to his game. With five(ish) big-league seasons now under his belt as he enters his age-31 season, it's increasingly clear that McNeil's 23 homers back in 2019 were an outlier; he hasn't surpassed 10 in a single season. His value therefore lies in his ability to provide a strong average; he's logged an average of .311 or better every year except 2021. His track record indicates that those who draft him should expect a strong average to go with solid runs and RBI totals (expect a combined total of perhaps 130-140 over a full season), with the homers and steals effectively a bonus (expect a combined total of 15 there).
Corey Seager (SS-TEX) has enjoyed a strong spring, going 10-21 with 3 homers and 8 RBI entering Saturday's action. He put together an interesting first season with the Rangers, as he hit a career-low .245 to go with a career-high 33 homers, 83 RBI, and 91 runs scored with a wRC+ of 117 across 663 PA. His 15.5% strikeout rate was his lowest since 2018 (18% career) and his walk rate came in at his career rate of 9% while his hard-hit rate (per Statcast) remained healthy at 46% (44% career). Seager did become a little more pull-happy than usual (42% in 2022, 38% career), shifting his batted-ball profile toward flyballs (39% in 2022, 35% career) and slightly away from grounders (40% in 2022, 43% career) and liners (21% in 2022, 23% career). So, some combination of the shift (which he faced in 93% of PAs) and hitting more flyballs likely contributed to the lower average. It's also worth noting that Seager chased pitches outside of the zone at the highest rate of his career (35% o-swing%), making contact on 53% of the occasions which he did so; that may have also been a factor in the career-low batting average. Regardless, his .242 BABIP was by far a career low in that department, and that should correct a bit in 2023 with the shift legislated out of existence. It remains to be seen whether Seager was actively chasing homers last year, but he is arguably a top-5 SS who should offer a better average (I would be surprised if it was below .270 again) to go with 25+ homers.
Gunnar Henderson (3B-BAL) has started slow in spring training, going 2-17 with 2 walks and 7 strikeouts entering Saturday's action. He reached the majors last season after handling Double-A (.312 average, 8 homers, 35 RBI, 41 runs scored, 12 steals, 20% walk rate, 18% strikeout rate, 176 wRC+ over 208 PA) and Triple-A (.288 average, 11 dingers, 41 RBI, 60 runs scored, 13% walk rate, 26% strikeout rate, 137 wRC+ over 295 PA). As a 21 year-old rookie, he was not exactly overmatched in the majors, compiling a .259 average with 4 homers, 18 RBI, 12 runs scored, and a steal as he walked 12% of the time, fanned 26% of the time, and recorded a wRC+ of 125 in 132 PA. He slugged 23 homers and swiped 23 bags across a total of 635 PA last year. Importantly, he hit the ball with authority (54% hard-hit rate per Statcast) in his big-league debut while not swinging and missing a ton (10%) and chasing pitches outside of the zone at only a 23% rate. However, he ripped lots of worm-burners (60%) while making contact at a below-average 75% rate. Overall, there is plenty of reason to be excited about Henderson as he enters his age-22 season primed to start for the Orioles on opening day and has the ability to contribute in multiple areas. While his track record and scouting grades indicate that his average might not be great based on contact (set your baseline at .250), Henderson's combination of plus power and plus speed makes a 20-20 campaign a real possibility while his elite eye and patience at the dish should add to his stolen base and runs scored totals.
Nick Castellanos (OF-PHI) has gone just 2-20 with a homer, 3 RBI, 5 walks, and 10 K in spring training entering Saturday's action. He worked to simplify his swing during the offseason following a disappointing first campaign in Philadelphia, recording a .263 average to go with 13 homers, 62 RBI, and a career-high 7 stolen bases across 558 PA. While his 23% strikeout rate matched his career-long average in that department, he appeared to be a bit less patient at the dish, walking a career-low 5% of the time as his swing rate came in at 57% (53% career). Castellanos' swinging-strike rate reached 17% for the first time in his career while his contact rate came in at just 70% (72% career). Although he typically makes plenty of hard contact (46% in 2020 and 47% in 2021 per Statcast), Castellanos logged just a 35% hard-hit rate in 2022, his lowest since 2015. He also hit an unusually high percentage of groundballs (42% in 2022, 37% career), which further suggests that something was off. It hasn't officially been offered as an explanation for his poor performance, but Castellanos did sustain a HBP on his wrist in early May that might have lingered. Although it might be risky to bank on his 2022 struggles resulting from a possible injury, it was only in 2021 that he enjoyed his career year (.309 average, 34 homers, 100 RBI over 585 PA) and so a rebound is possible.
Byron Buxton (OF-MIN) had not participated in Grapefruit League games entering Saturday, but that has not been related to any injury issue as the Twins reportedly don't see spring training games as more useful than back-field work. He enjoyed something of a career year in 2022, blasting a career-high 28 homers while drawing walks at a career-best 9% clip. But in other ways it was yet another disappointing campaign for the now-29 year-old, who hit just .224 while fanning at over a 30% clip - his highest rate in that department since 2016 - and swiped just 6 bags as he logged just 382 plate appearances because of a knee injury that ultimately required season-ending surgery. Playing through the injury - which he sustained early in the season - may account for his woes at the dish and his low stolen base total, but the bottom line is that Buxton is almost 30 now and remains a classic case of "if only he could stay healthy..." The hard-hit rate remained robust at 50%, but his 69% contact rate was his lowest since 2016 and his swinging-strike rate remains rough at 15%. Given his extensive injury history - he hasn't recorded more than 400 PA since 2017 - it's tough to view Buxton as anything more than a lottery ticket in fantasy.
Max Kepler (OF-MIN) has enjoyed a solid spring training, going 5-15 with 2 2B, a homer, 2 walks, and just 1 strikeout entering Saturday's action. He underwhelmed yet again in 2022, as the then-29 year-old hit just .227 with 9 homers, 43 RBI, and 54 runs scored across 446 PA (95 wRC+) as he missed time because of foot, leg, and wrist issues. While Kepler continued to show patience at the dish (11% walk rate) and reduced his strikeout rate to under 15% for the first time in his big-league career while maintaining a solid 40% hard-hit rate per Statcast, he hit too many grounders (46% in 2022, 40% career) and pulled many of those into the shift (45% pull rate, 33% center rate, 22% push rate). Given his solid contact rate (82%) and the end of the shift, Kepler's production should improve a bit in 2023, although he'll need to hit fewer grounders to again contribute significantly in the power department (his groundball rate was 36% when he hit 36 dingers back in 2019) as well as stay on the field. Kepler could be drafted in deeper leagues as a bench bat, but in shallower leagues he can be left on the waiver wire unless one wants to bank on a rebound toward what he did in 2019 (.252 average, 36 dingers, 90 RBI, 98 runs scored over 596 PA), although that is far from guaranteed based on his recent durability and performance issues.
Shane McClanahan (SP-TB) has enjoyed a fine start to spring training, firing 4.2 scoreless IP in which he's allowed just 2 hits, walked 1, and fanned 4 (entering Saturday's action). The southpaw established himself as a top-12 fantasy arm with a stellar 2022 campaign in which he recorded a 2.54 ERA, 10.5 K/9, 2.1 BB/9, and 2.60 xFIP across 166.1 IP (28 starts). The only blemish on his stellar season was a left (throwing) shoulder impingement that cost him some time and affected his production down the stretch; his velocity slumped after the All-Star break as he logged a 4.20 ERA, 7.6 K/9, 3.1 BB/9, and 3.81 xFIP across 55.2 IP. The good news is that the issue appears to be behind him as the southpaw has been clocked in the upper-90s during spring training. Even with the struggles that followed the shoulder issue, McClanahan's stat line for the 2022 season improved across the board from his rookie campaign in 2021 (3.43 ERA, 10.3 K/9, 2.7 BB/9, 3.23 xFIP over 123.1 IP. He simply misses bats (16% swinging-strike rate), limits contact (69%), does not surrender much hard contact (33% per Statcast), and has improved his control. With a 97-mph average four-seam heater (36% usage), 89-mph slider (16%), 82-mph curve (24%), and 88-mph splitter (25%), McClanahan can simply be dominant on the mound. Some tweaks to his pitch usage - which included shifting away from his slider (was 35% in 2021) and to his curve (up from 16%) and splitter (up from just 8%), may have helped him take that step forward last season. Draft McClanahan as a lower-end ace (about #10-12 overall among SP) and you should be satisfied.
Zac Gallen (SP-ARI) most recently threw 62 pitches in a spring training game in which he allowed 4 runs on 3 hits and 4 walks while fanning just 1 over 2 IP. He labored a bit as his control wasn't up to par, but the good news is that he worked up a nice pitch count. Gallen cemented himself as a top 30 SP for fantasy with a strong 2022 campaign in which he recorded a 2.54 ERA, 9.4 K/9, and 2.3 BB/9 across 184 innings of work. A 3.31 xFIP does point to a .237 BABIP suppressing his ERA a bit, but the campaign represented a step forward for Gallen, who especially improved in the control department while adding a half-tick to his average fastball velocity (up to 94mph) and deploying his plus curve more often (up to a career-high 22% usage rate). His K/9 declined even though his swinging-strike rate ticked upward to 10% (was only 9% in 2021) as he got more hitters to chase (35% o-swing%, up from 29% in 2021). Although opposing hitters made contact against him at a slightly below-average 79% clip, Gallen reduced the amount of hard contact (per Statcast) from 42% in 2021 to 36% this past season. The righty also logged a career-high 46% groundball rate, which helped him to keep the ball in the yard (that was a problem in 2020 and 2021 alike). He can make a push into the top 20 or even top 15 for fantasy SP by elevating his strikeout rate to the 10.3-10.8 range at which it sat in 2019-2021, but one should draft him expecting #2-3 production based on his solid all-around profile, especially his significantly improved control.
Framber Valdez (SP-HOU) has had a solid start to spring training, allowing 1 run on 7 hits and no walks while fanning 4 over 5 IP entering Saturday's action. The lefty followed up his solid 2021 campaign (3.14 ERA, 8.4 K/9, 3.9 BB/9, and 3.58 xFIP over 134.2 IP) with an even better 2022 season in which he recorded a 2.82 ERA, 8.7 K/9, 3 BB/9, and 2.99 xFIP across 201.1 innings of work. It's worth noting that Valdez slashed his walk rate significantly while adding more than a full tick to his average sinker velocity (up to 94mph). The results included an increase in his swinging-strike rate to a career-high 11% (up from 10% in 2021) while maintaining a high groundball rate (67%). The combination of a slightly higher strikeout rate, a significantly reduced walk rate, and a continued healthy groundball rate make Valdez a reliable - if unexciting - SP for fantasy. Indeed, the lack of an impressive strikeout ratio limits his fantasy upside, but the lefty should make for an effective #2-3 type who should help both the ERA and WHIP categories while piling up strikeouts based on sheer volume. There was reason to be suspicious about his ability to replicate the success that he found in the abbreviated 2020 campaign (3.57 ERA, 9.7 K/9, 2 BB/9, 2.94 xFIP over 70.2 IP) and his injury-shortened 2021 left some questions about how he would perform over a full season, but now we know. Draft Valdez with more confidence in 2023 as your #2 or #3 SP.
Hunter Brown (SP-HOU) appears likely to open the season as part of Houston's rotation since McCullers (forearm) will not be ready for Opening Day. He's had a rough start to spring training, though, as he's allowed 5 runs (4 earned) on 2 hits and 5 walks while fanning 3 over 2 IP (2 appearances) entering Saturday's action. The righty made his big-league debut last season at age 23, and was effective across 20.1 innings (mostly in relief), recording a 0.89 ERA, 9.7 K/9, and 3.1 BB/9, with a 2.78 xFIP. Although he's armed with nice velocity (average fastball velocity was 97mph in the MLB last season), a 93-mph cutter, an 83-mph curve, and an 89-mph change, Brown induced swinging strikes at only a 10% clip while allowing contact at a slightly below-average 78% rate. Opposing hitters did make lots of hard contact against him (47% per Statcast) in that small sample size, although many batted balls (68%) were grounders. Brown's track record in the minors indicates both upside but also concerns, as, for instance, he recorded a 2.55 ERA, 11.4 K/9, 3.8 BB/9, and a 3.59 xFIP cover 106 IP in Triple-A before his promotion last season. The K/9 and BB/9 both illustrate his professional trends as a guy who has big strikeout upside to go with lackluster control. Given that as well as that his spot in the rotation seems to hinge upon McCullers' health (which could certainly be a persistent issue), Brown makes for a nice speculative add in fantasy drafts in case he can harness his pure stuff, but there is too much risk here to reach or overpay if the preseason hype train gets going.
Andrew Painter (SP-PHI) will be shut down for 4 weeks after being diagnosed with a UCL sprain in his right (throwing) elbow; the 19 year-old's injury is reportedly mild and he's hopeful that he can resume throwing after those 4 weeks. Painter was drafted out of high school in 2021, but is not far from his big-league debut after rising quickly through the minors last season. MLB Pipeline ranks the 6'7" 215-pound righty as the #6 overall prospect in baseball and the #1 pitcher, just ahead of Grayson Rodriguez. In his age-19 season, Painter tore up Low-A lineups (1.40 ERA, 16.1 K/9, 3.7 BB/9, 1.83 xFIP across 38.2 IP) before shredding High-A offenses (0.8 ERA, 12 K/9, 1.7 BB/9, 3.22 xFIP over 36.2 IP) and performing well against Double-A hitters (2.54 ERA, 11.8 K/9, 0.6 BB/9, 2.98 xFIP across 28.1 IP). Although his K/9 declined at each stop, it remained robust at the Double-A level and, importantly, his BB/9 tumbled as he climbed the levels. Armed with a plus-plus heater that sits in the mid-upper 90s (it was averaging 96 mph late last season), a plus slider, a plus change, and an average curve, Painter also possesses strong control that became increasingly evident as the season unfolded. Depending on how this UCL issue unfolds, he could reach the majors this season and could make an impact as a 20 year-old rookie, so make sure he's on your watchlist.
Eury Perez (SP-MIA) has had mixed results in spring training, allowing 5 runs on 10 hits (including 2 homers) and 1 walk while fanning 7 over 7.2 innings of work entering Saturday's action. He could make his big-league debut in 2023, and that's exciting because the 19 year-old has electric stuff to go with plus control. His fastball has been clocked at 98-99 mph in spring training, which is good news since he was sidelined in August 2022 with "arm fatigue" that was later described as a shoulder issue. The big righty impressed before the injury, though, as he compiled a 4.08 ERA, 12.7 K/9, and 3 BB/9 across 75 innings of work, with a 3.52 xFIP indicating that his ERA was a little inflated; he was stellar before three rougher outings in late July and early August that preceded his IL stint. Scouts rave about Perez's plus command as he deploys a big fastball to go with multiple plus secondary offerings - a slider, change, and curve. Ranked as the #13 prospect in baseball per MLB Pipeline - including the #3 pitching prospect - the 6'8", 220-lb Perez possesses tremendous fantasy potential and should be firmly on fantasy owners' radars for the 2023 season. Although he's likely to receive further seasoning in the minors before he gets the call to the majors, he's worth sashing in deeper leagues.
Kendall Graveman (RP-CHW) is perhaps the strongest candidate in a closing committee for the White Sox after Liam Hendriks was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin's lymphoma in January. The now-32 year-old was solid if unspectacular in his first full campaign in Chicago in 2022, as he recorded a 3.18 ERA, 9.1 K.9, and 3.6 BB/9 over 65 IP in which he earned 6 saves and 27 holds. Despite his 97-mph average heater, Graveman doesn't fit the typical closer profile as he induces swinging-strikes at an 11% clip while inducing lots of grounders (54%). Rather, he deploys a variety of offerings, including the four-seamer (12%), 97-mph sinker (43%), 91-mph change (14%), 89-mph slider (28%), and 83-mph curve (3%) to keep hitters off-balance and limit hard contact (35% per Statcast). The modest strikeout ability (expect a K/9 around 9) and below-average control may be concerning, but his ability to induce grounders should help to offset those shortcomings. Keep an eye out for updates on Graveman's possible role as spring training wraps up, but so far the club has so far insisted that there will not be a set closer. One can't put too much stock in spring training stats, but he's scuffled so far: 4 runs on 5 hits and 2 walks with 2 strikeouts over 2.2 IP entering Saturday's action.
Scott Barlow (RP-KC) is expected to close for the Royals during the coming season, although the club's addition of Aroldis Chapman during offseason could complicate things. The now-30 year-old should have the opportunity to maintain the closer's role after a productive 2022 season in which he logged a 2.18 ERA, 9.3 K/9, and 2.7 BB/9 across 74.1 IP during which he recorded a career-high 23 saves. Although it's worth noting that his xFIP came in at 3.42, he did significantly outperform his xFIP in 2021 as well (2.42 ERA, 3.59 xFIP). While Barlow lacks prototypical overpowering closer stuff (94-mph average heater), he deploys a varied repertoire that includes the four-seam fastball (24% usage), 84-mph slider (45% usage), and 79-mph curve (31% usage), and is reportedly developing a two-seam heater that is drawing positive reviews in spring training. Barlow induces plenty of swinging strikes (14%), partly because he gets hitters to chase (38% o-swing%), while also surrendering little hard contact (30% per Statcast) to go along with a fair amount of grounders (48%). In short, don't be deterred by the modest strikeout rate for a closer - he's a solid one. And it's been business as usual for him so far in spring training: 1 run on 5 hits and no walks with 4 strikeouts over 5 IP entering Saturday.