Lance Lynn, SP CHW
After a sensational 2021, Lynn injured his knee in Spring Training last season, causing him to miss more than two months of action. It took him a while to get his footing coming back from the injury but then turned it on in the second half of the season. Before the All-Star break, Lynn posted a 7.50 ERA/4.06 xFIP with a 3.89 K/BB ratio. After the break, those numbers were 2.52/3.18 and 8.90, respectively. Lynn was pitching a lot more like the 2021 version of himself once he shook off the injury. His overall xFIP (3.44) last season was actually much better than in 2021 (3.82) yet his ERA was 1.30 higher. Lynn was giving up hits at the wrong times and getting burned for it. His 68.4% LOB% was the lowest of his career and 6.9% off of his career average percentage. Lynn is getting up there in age (35), but as a control pitcher, his age shouldn't be a concern just yet. His ADP is currently at 51 for Pitchers. Considering the misfortune he endured last season and the fact that he should be entering the season with a full bill of health, I think that is a bargain.
Aging New Jays
34-year-old veterans Brandon Belt and Whit Merrifield will attempt to navigate new roles on their new team in 2023. Merrifield got a taste of Toronto last season after he was traded from the Royals mid-season. Belt, on the other hand, joined the team this offseason after spending his entire twelve-year Big League career in the Bay Area with the Giants.
Whit Merrifield, 2B/OF, TOR
With second base occupied by Santiago Espinal and the outfield covered by George Springer and fellow newcomers Kevin Kiermaier and Daulton Varsho, it appears Merrifield will start the season in a reserve role for the Jays. Whit has steadily declined since entering his 30s and hit rock bottom last season. His career-worst 35.0% O-Swing% and 9.1% SwStr% produced career lows in a plethora of categories, such as AVG, OBP, SLG, wOBA, xwOBA, and wRC+. Additionally, his LD% was a career-worst 19.7% compared to his career 25.2% mark, while his FB% was up 3.3%. Merrifield isn't a total lost cause as 34 isn't THAT old; however, speed has been his forte throughout his career, and if the stolen base game is gone (stole 24 fewer bases in '22 than '21) his fantasy value plummets...especially if continues to try to overcompensate by hitting the ball out of the park because that just isn't his game.
Brandon Belt, 1B/DH, TOR
Belt should have the opening-day DH gig for the Blue Jays but is also coming off a disastrous, career-worst season. He slashed .213/.326/.350 and posted a .303 wOBA and 96 wRC+ across 298 plate appearances. It was an injury-plagued campaign that ultimately ended in season-ending knee surgery. Belt appears healthy coming into 2023, he made his spring training debut on Saturday, going 1 for 1 with a double and a walk. It was just in 2021 that Belt hit 29 homers and slashed .274/.378/.597, so there are reasons to be optimistic about the 34-year-old. Belt's Hard% was down 7.9% despite his Plate Discipline metrics being pretty Belt-typical. It is certainly possible that it was more injuries and inconsistent playing time than ineptitude that made 2022 such a disaster for Belt. Still, being a first baseman, he leaves a lot to be desired when it comes to fantasy.
Adam Wainwright, SP, STL
The 41-year-old is coming back for an 18th Major League season. Wainwright has had a renaissance since the start of the 2020 campaign, somehow hurling the second most innings across the majors over the past three seasons. Last season, he went 11-12 with a 3.71/4.10 ERA/xFIP in 191.2 innings. With a 6.71 K/9 and 2.54 BB/9 in 2022, Waino is an inning-eating control pitcher at this stage of his career. So his ceiling is limited, but with one of the league's best defenses behind him and a potent offense, he could easily put together a season worthy of fantasy lineups. On average he is going as the 76th pitcher in fantasy drafts, so not much risk there.
Tristan Gray, INF, TB
Gray continued to tear up spring training on Tuesday, going 2 for 4 with a homer and four RBI. He is now hitting .464 in 28 at-bats this spring. The 26-year-old hasn't proven much in the minors yet (.255/.282/.487 in AAA last season) but has impressed with the big squad this spring. With a line of capable and talented infielders in front of him, he will have to do a lot more to get the call up to the majors. So despite the impressive spring, Gray is probably not a name you will need to concern yourself with in 2023.
Nick Gordon, 2B/OF, MIN
Gordon is working his way back from a high-ankle sprain and is expected to start in the Twins' Grapefruit League game on Thursday. The 27-year-old should be good to go on Opening Day and poised to build on the career year he enjoyed last season. Gordon slashed .272/.316/.427 with nine homers and six stolen bases across 443 plate appearances in 2022. He is a free-swinger, posting a 42.4% O-Swing% and 23.7% K%, but he displayed some pop that was previously dormant. Gordon had a 44.3% HardHit% and posted a .156 ISO with 41 XBH (9 HR). He might not find the starting lineup to start the season for the Twins but he plays a variety of positions and could easily find himself an everyday player, especially if he performs. Gordon won't be drafted in most fantasy formats but players who can hit for some power and swipe some bags are always worth keeping an eye on in free agency.
Christian Vazquez joined the Twins in the offseason to be their regular backstop, making off-and-on starter Ryan Jeffers a clear backup once again. Neither catcher has asserted themselves as a true offensive presence, but Vazquez is certainly the more likely of the two to contribute to your fantasy team in 2023. After decent seasons in 2019 and 2020, Vazquez has taken a step back in the past two campaigns. He slashed .274/.315/.399 last season, which is respectable for a catcher but with a less friendly home park this season, it's hard to get too optimistic about Vazquez's fantasy outlook. He did post an impressive 36.4% HardHit% and 15.7% Soft% last season, which is intriguing. However, if he is hitting 45.2% of his batted balls on the ground and 11.2% of them popped up on the infield like he did last season, it's going to be very hard for him to be productive. At 25 years old, Jeffers may yet prove a fantasy asset down the road. He has displayed some offensive ability in short spurts but hasn't done enough to warrant a chance as a true starting catcher in the league just yet. All in all, there isn't much to salivate over with either of these players this season, but catcher is a THIN position so you never know what you're going to be dealing with in a few months.
The Cards' number one prospect Jordan Walker is looking to break into the Bigs this season and it's making it a bit crowded in the St. Louis outfield at the moment. The 20-year-old mainly played third base in the minors the past two seasons, but with Nolan Arenado manning the hot corner it looks like the Cards will look to get him playing time in the outfield. That will make the playing time for the more experienced (but still young) Cardinals' outfielders harder to come by.
Tyler O'Neill is the most seasoned and accomplished of the bunch but he struggled with injury and performance last season. This came on the heels of O'Neill's breakout campaign in 2021 when he hit 34 dingers and posted a .286/.352/.560 triple-slash line. The free-swinging slugger improved his bat control last season but saw his HardHit% take a dive (down 8.9%) and his GB% spike (up 6.2%), causing his overall numbers to plummet. O'Neill posted a .384 wOBA in 2021 but saw that number just reach .307 last season. For the season he hit 14 homers and slashed .228/.308/.392 across 383 plate appearances. The 27-year-old is a plus defensive outfielder and should get the opportunity to start most of the games at the beginning of the season even if he starts slow. Though, health will be a concern after how many issues he had last season.
24-year-old Dylan Carlson also broke out two seasons ago, which was his first season of extended MLB play, but he too struggled to repeat the success in 2022. Carlson also didn't lose his approach at the plate as far as the Plate Discipline metrics, he just wasn't hitting the ball as well in 2022 as he did in 2021. He saw his HardHit% (-3.4%) and Barrel% (-2.6%) drop and finished the season with a triple-slash of .236/.316/.380 to go along with just eight homers (10 less than '21). Carlson doesn't hit the ball with the authority that O'Neill does, but he is also a solid defender and has potential on offense. If it's a battle between him and O'Neill for centerfield, I don't think he is going to come out on top for the 2023 season.
As far as prior statistics go, Lars Nootbar is the least accomplished of the three more veteran outfielders the Cardinals have. However, he has shown potential in both the minors and big leagues and management seems to love him (as do the fans). Nootbar got his first extended chance with the big club last season and slashed .228/.340/.448 with 14 homers. Nootbar is a lot more controlled at the plate than O'Neill and Carlson, toting a 24.5% O-Swing% and 8.6% SwStr% resulting in a solid 14.7% BB% last season. His 12.1% Barrel% and 43.3% HardHit% were also impressive and his .342 wOBA and 125 wRC+ were much better than both O'Neill's and Carlson's last season.
Ultra utility man Brendan Donovan will also be in the mix in the Cardinals outfield, but it seems like if all goes right they would like him to play second base and spot start around the diamond when needed. So if the Cardinals commit to getting their young prospect Jordan Walker in the lineup this season, it seems like the true battle for playing time will be between Carlson and Nootbar. They are both capable defensively but haven't truly proven themselves offensively, so it will likely be whoever is hot will get the majority of starts until they are not. Which isn't exactly an exciting prospect for fantasy owners.
Trea Turner, SS, PHI
Turner has been one of the most consistent and well-rounded fantasy assets over the past few years and his move to Philly shouldn't do much to change that. He has already proven he can move teams and produce. His first full season in LA was last season; he slashed .289/.343/.466 with 21 homers, 101 RBI, 100 R, and 27 SB. His new home park isn't a bad hitters park, it's actually very similar to Washington's home park, so nothing to worry about there. The cast of players around him isn't so different in Philly as it was in LA, so he should have plenty of production in the counting stats department. Of course, if he leads off, his chances of logging another 100 RBI campaign will be unlikely. Turner will turn 30 this year, so the stolen base numbers will start to decline soon, but there is no reason to think he won't swipe at least 25 again. He is a rare player that is a plus in basically every category that fantasy has, the only real risk with him (like most first-rounders), is injury, and he has played in 367 of the 384 games the past three seasons.