Keibert Ruiz (C-WSH) has scuffled through spring training so far, logging a .182 average, no homers, 2 2B, 2 RBI, 1 BB, and 5 strikeouts across 34 PA entering Saturday's action. The slow start is a bit concerning after he did not impress in 2022 - his first extended stretch of big-league action - with a .251 average with 7 homers, 36 RBI, 33 runs scored, and 6 steals over 433 PA, with a below-average wRC+ of 90. His season ended early thanks to a groin injury but should be a full go for Opening Day. Although none of his statistics were impressive, Ruiz was just 23 for the bulk of the campaign and only logged 96 PA in the majors before last season. He showed command of the dish with a 7% walk rate and 12% strikeout rate while recording a robust 86% contact rate and ripping liners at a solid 23% clip. However, he didn't make a ton of hard contact (32% per Statcast) while pulling the ball 50% of the time. And Ruiz did chase pitches outside of the zone at a worse-than-average 37% clip, which certainly contributed to the low hard contact rate. With the scouting grades on his power rated as below-average, fantasy owners will have to count on Ruiz capitalizing on his plus contact skills in a post-shift world to post a solid average. He'll get plenty of PAs as Washington's starting backstop, but the weak lineup context around him will limit RBI and runs totals. It's tough to be optimistic about Ruiz's production for 2023, with a .260ish average and about 12 homers his likely output.
Rhys Hoskins (1B-PHI) had a late start to spring training as he returned from offseason knee surgery, but appears to be just fine as he owns a .320 average with 2 homers, a 2B, 4 RBI, 4 walks, and 8 strikeouts over 31 PA entering Saturday's action. In many ways, he replicated his 2021 production (.247 average, 27 homers, 71 RBI, 64 runs scored, 11% walk rate, 24% strikeout rate, and 127 wRC+ over 433 PA) over a larger sample size in 2022, hitting .246 with 30 dingers, 79 RBI, 81 runs scored, 11% walk rate, 25% strikeout rate, and a wRC+ of 122 over 672 PA. The power production did tick downward in 2022, with his ISO dipping from .283 to a still healthy (but low for Hoskins) .216. But Hoskins' hard-hit rate remained robust at 44% per Statcast (42% career) while he traded some flyballs (42% in 2022, 48% career) for liners (23% in 2022, 21% career) and grounders (41% in 2022, 36% career). Meanwhile, he trimmed his swinging-strike rate to 10% (was 11% in 2021) and raised his contact rate slightly (up to 76% from 75% in 2021), especially making more contact inside the zone (86% z-contact%, up from 83% in 2021). Overall, we have a good idea of who Hoskins is as he enters his age-30 season, and that is a .240ish hitter who should hit about 30 dingers while piling up about 160-170 combined RBI and runs scored. Draft accordingly, expecting above-average production that is not at a superstar level.
Gleyber Torres (2B-NYY) logged a .308 average, a 2B, and a solo homer across 13 PA in spring training before joining Team Venezuela for the WBC. He followed up a disappointing 2021 campaign (.259 average, 9 homers, 51 RBI, 50 runs scored, 14 steals, and a 94 wRC+ over 516 PA) with a more productive 2022 season in which he hit .257 with 24 dingers, 76 RBI, 73 runs scored, 10 steals, and a 115 wRC+ across 572 PA. While a far cry from his monster 2019 season (.278 average, 38 homers, 90 RBI, 96 runs scored, and a wRC+ of 125 over 604 PA), his 2022 effort moved him back into fantasy relevance. Torres posted a career-low 7% walk rate and fanned at a 23% clip that was his highest since his rookie campaign back in 2018 (25%), but he posted a career-best 45% hard-hit rate per Statcast to go with a career-high 46% flyball rate to boost his power output. His contact rate actually dipped slightly from 2021, from 76% to 75%, while his swinging-strike rate climbed for the second straight season, to over 12%. The strikeouts and flyball-oriented approach will limit his average, but the increased hard-hit rate is encouraging from a power standpoint. Expect an average about .260 to go with 20-25 homers and 10-12 steals in 2023.
Willy Adames (SS-MIL) has rejoined the Brewers in spring training after playing for Team Dominican Republic in the WBC. Across 18 spring training PA, he's hitting just .222 with a homer, 3 RBI, 0 BB, and 6 strikeouts. He put together another productive season in 2022 as he finished the campaign with a .238 average, 31 homers, 98 RBI, 83 runs scored, 8 steals, and a wRC+ of 109 across 617 PA. The average did dip as Adames continued to fan at a high rate (27%) while posting career-high figures in both launch angle (18.9) and flyball rate (46%). The result was increased power production - especially since he maintained a healthy 43% hard-hit rate per Statcast - at the expense of batting average points, as both his line-drive (20%) and groundball (34%) rates were below his career marks in those departments. The good news is that Adames raised his contact rate to 74% last year after it came in below 70% in 2020 and 2021 while trimming his swinging-strike rate to 13% (was 15% in 2021). Given those developments, it does seem that his average was a bit unlucky - expect a .240-.250 average to go with 25-30 dingers during the upcoming campaign, with healthy RBI and runs scored totals.
Jordan Walker (3B-STL) has enjoyed a strong spring as he battles to make the Cardinals' Opening Day roster. The 20 year-old recently missed a spring training game because of a minor shoulder strain, but quickly returned to action and is now batting a robust .378 with 3 HR, 4 2B, a steal, 1 BB, and 8 strikeouts across 46 PA. Walker was taken in the first round of the 2020 draft out of high school, and he has quickly ascended the minor-league ranks. Most recently, in 2022, he hit .306 with 19 homers, 68 RBI, 100 runs scored, and 22 steals, with a wRC+ of 128, across 536 PA in Double-A. His strikeout rate - which came in at 22% - hints at his below-average prospect grade in the contact department - but he showed patience at the dish (11% walk rate) and flashed his trademark power as he ripped 31 doubles and 3 triples in addition to logging the 19 big flies. Standing at 6'5" and 220 pounds, Walker projects to bring big power to the majors, although it seems unlikely that he will hit for a strong average given his subpar contact ability. Blocked by Nolan Arenado at the hot corner, Walker has transitioned to the outfield, but the Cardinals currently have a logjam there. Regardless, it's just a matter of time before his bat gets him to the majors.
Juan Soto (OF-SD) has dealt with some calf tightness this spring, but that appears to now be behind him as he participates in the WBC as part of Team Dominican Republic. He had a down year by his standards in 2022, as he hit just .242 with 27 homers, 62 RBI, 93 runs scored, and 6 stolen bases, with a wRC+ of 145 across 664 PA. The then-23 year-old maintained a ridiculous walk rate (20%) and kept his strikeout rate below 15%, with a career-best 83% contact rate and a career-low swinging-strike rate of exactly 6%. After logging a BABIP of .312 or higher in each of his first four seasons in the majors, Soto logged just a .249 in that department in 2022, and that was partly a result of poor luck. His hard-hit rate did dip a little from 2021's 52% (per Statcast) to "just" 47% while he did hit liners at the lowest rate of his career (16%), with a 37% flyball rate significantly higher than the 29% that he logged in both 2020 and 2021. Overall, fantasy owners should continue to view Soto as a top-5 fantasy player as his underlying metrics did not support the huge BABIP drop. He should rebound in 2023, although it's worth noting that his home park in San Diego is not hitter friendly.
Riley Greene (OF-DET) has enjoyed a strong spring training, hitting .314 with 3 homers, 2 2B, 9 RBI, 1 BB, and 8 strikeouts over 36 PA. He did not exactly impress in his big-league debut as a 21-year old last season, as he hit .253 with 5 homers, 42 RBI, 46 runs scored, and a steal across 418 PA. Unsurprisingly, he fanned at a lofty 29% clip after striking out often in both Double-A and Triple-A, although he did also show some patience at the dish by drawing walks at a 9% clip. While Greene recorded a robust 45% hard-hit rate per Statcast, his launch angle came in at just 2.8, and so it is hardly surprising that his groundball rate was 56%. He showed signs of a guy who could high for a solid average with a bit more lift, though, as he sprayed the ball to all fields (35% pull, 37% center, 28% opposite) while making lots of quality contact and not swinging and missing often (10% swinging-strike rate). The contact rate was a little below average at 78%, but overall, it was a solid showing for a 21 year-old. His 24-homer campaign across Double-A and Triple-A in 2021 hints that there is more pop in his bat than his 2022 stat line in the majors suggested. But that may take some time to unlock, especially since his launch angle in 2022 indicates that an adjustment may be necessary. He's a nice lottery ticket in the later rounds for fantasy in 2023, but one should not bank on a breakout and overpay on draft day.
Tyler O'Neill (OF-STL) has performed well for Team Canada in the WBC, going 8-13 with 2 2B, 4 RBI, 5 BB, and 4 strikeouts. He again missed considerable time because of injuries in 2022, this time finishing with 383 PA in which he hit just .228 with 14 homers, 58 RBI, 56 runs scored, and 14 stolen bases, with a slightly above-average wRC+ of 101. His hard-hit rate fell from over 52% (per Statcast) in 2021 to a still-solid 43% last season, while his linter rate (20%) and flyball rate (38%) both declined in favor of grounders (42%). Regardless, O'Neill's .277 BABIP (.320 career) appears to be more a result of poor luck than anything else. Encouraging developments include a 10% walk rate (8% career) and a trimmed strikeout rate (27% in 2022, 31%) career, thanks in large part to a career-low 13% swinging-strike rate and a career-best contact rate of 73%. His 46% swing rate (49% career) indicates that he was a little more patient at the dish, with an 82% z-contact rate (77% career) suggesting that his greater selectivity was paying off. Overall, health is the main concern here as the underlying numbers indicate that O'Neil should hit at least .250 with 25-30 bombs to go with 15ish stolen bases if he can record 500+ PA.
Luis Castillo (SP-SEA) has scuffled a bit in spring training, allowing 5 ER on 8 hits and 3 walks while fanning 10 over 7.2 IP. He put together one of his strongest big-league seasons in 2022, recording a career-low 2.99 ERA to go with a 10 K/9, 2.7 BB/9, and 3.23 xFIP across 150.1 IP as he split the season between Cincinnati and Seattle. The change in venue from a hitter-friendly park to a pitcher-friendly one can only benefit Castillo in his upcoming age-30 season; Cincinnati ranked #2 in the MLB in Park Factor runs in 2022 while Seattle Ranked #28. Overall, the biggest changes in Castillo's game in 2022 included A reduced walk rate (down from 3+ BB/9 each year 2019-2021) and his lowest HR/9 (0.78) and HR/FB (10%) of his MLB league career. The lower HR/FB is especially interesting since Castillo surrendered flyballs at a career-high 34% rate, with his 47% groundball rate below his career clip in that department (53%). But, as always, he kept his hard hit rate modest (37% per Statcast) while the move to Seattle's spacious park likely helped suppress the homers. There are some concerns as Castillo's swinging-strike rate came in at under 13%, which represented the third straight year it declined from a high of 16% in 2019 while opposing hitters posted a career-high 75% contact rate against him (72% career). Overall, one should expect roughly the same production in 2023 that he offered in 2022, although one can fairly wonder if he can replicate the reduced walk rate and if the swinging-strike rate will continue to dip and, with it, his K/9.
Triston McKenzie (SP-CLE) has struggled in spring training, allowing 9 runs on 14 hits and 9 walks while fanning 11 over 10 IP. The young righty turned in a strong age-24 campaign in 2022 as he rebounded from a rough 2021 season (4.95 ERA, 10.2 K/9, 4.4 BB/9, 4.53 xFIP over 120 IP) to log a 2.96 ERA, 8.9 K/9, 2.1 BB/9, and 3.77 xFIP across 191. IP. Although his 80% strand rate is a bit high and a significant contributor to the gap between his ERA and xFIP, McKenzie showed much improved control while continuing to get most of his batted-ball outs via the flyball (49%). Opposing batters continued to hit him fairly hard, as Statcast shows a 40% hard-hit rate for him in 2022 (was 42% in 2021), but the reduced walk rate and his typically low BABIP (.237 in 2022) helped to minimize the damage. It's especially encouraging that McKenzie pitched his best baseball down the stretch in 2022, as he logged a stellar 2.70 ERA, 9.4 K/9, 1.7 BB/9, and 3.35 xFIP across 90 IP after the All-Star break following a more pedestrian 3.20 ERA, 8.5 K/9, 2.4 BB/9, and 4.14 xFIP over 110 IP during the second half. Overall, McKenzie is a solid #2-3 SP for fantasy because the modest K/9 limits his upside, but a step forward in that department could elevate his game, and a slowly rising swinging-strike rate (12.4% in 2020, 12.6% in 2021, 13% in 2022) suggests that more strikeouts are possible.
Nick Pivetta (SP-BOS) has gotten knocked around a bit in spring training, as he's allowed 6 runs on 12 hits and 5 walks while striking out 11 over 7.2 IP. The veteran put together another season in which he flashed his fantasy potential before things fell apart, finishing the campaign with a 4.56 ERA, 8.8 K/9, 3.7 BB/9, and 4.26 xFIP over 179.2. IP. After a slow start to the season, he was effective in May (2.11 ERA, 8.2 K/9, 1.4 BB/9, 3.49 xFIP across 38.1 IP) and June (2.25 ERA, 9 K/9, 2.9 BB/9, 4.05 xFIP in 40 IP) before his walk rate spiked and opposing hitters began hitting him hard (45% hard-hit rate on the season per Statcast). Any fantasy owners still clinging to the potential that Pivetta showed in 2018 when he logged a 10.3 K/9, 2.8 BB/9, and 3.42 xFIP (his 4.77 ERA was ugly, but the peripherals were so good) need to move on, as Pivetta's career BB/9 now sits at 3.5 and he surrenders way too much hard contact. Consider picking him up if he appears to be going on a heater that might last a month or two, but otherwise leave him on the waiver wire and don't hesitate to drop him when things start to go south, and they will.
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Jose Berrios (SP-TOR) has not looked good in his run with Team Puerto Rico in the WBC, as he recently allowed 6 runs (5 earned) on 5 hits, a walk, and 2 punchouts over 1 IP against Team Venezuela. He underwhelmed - to say the least - in his first full season in Toronto, recording a 5.23 ERA, 7.8 K/9, and 2.4 BB/9 across 172 IP in 2022. His 4.21 xFIP does compare favorably with his career mark in that department (4.18), so it appears that luck played some role in his struggles; a 71% strand rate was a touch low for him (was 72-78% in each of the 4 previous seasons) while the .328 BABIP that opposing hitters logged against him was on the high side (.297 career) and the 14% HR/FB that he posted was his highest since his first taste of the majors back in 2016. A 9% swinging-strike rate that represents his lowest since 2016 was part of the problem as opponents made contact at a slightly above-average 81% clip. And they did some damage when they made contact, as Berrios' hard-hit rate (per Statcast) came in at a career-high 43% after never coming in north of 40% before last year. So, while poor luck seems to have contributed to last season's clunker, there are some red flags. Expect an ERA around his career xFIP to go with a K/9 of about 8 or so and a decent walk rate. Berrios should therefore be viewed as a #3-4 SP for fantasy.
Jordan Montgomery (SP-STL) pitched a simulated game on a back field on Thursday after struggling out of the gate in spring training, allowing 6 ER on 8 hits and a walk with 6 unchouts over 7 IP. He is not in danger of losing a spot in the Cardinals' rotation. The lefty enjoyed a quietly productive 2022 campaign as he split the season between the Yankees and Cardinals, logging a 3.48 ERA, 8 K/9, 1.8 BB/9, and 3.43 xFIP across 178.1 innings of work. In his second consecutive season making at least 30 starts, the southpaw recorded a career-high 48% groundball rate as he deployed his sinker the most often that he has in his career (35%) while mixing it up with his change (22%), curve (22%), fastball (17%), and cutter (4%) to keep hitters off-balance. While his strikeout rate was unimpressive, he did record a solid 13% swinging-strike rate to go with a below-average 74% contact rate while opposing hitters logged a modest 37% hard-hit rate against him per Statcast. So, he's not exactly a pitch-to-contact sort of guy, and the K/9 should move toward the 9.3 that he posted in 2021. Pair that with plus control and a solid groundball rate, and Montomery might be a value pick in 2023 fantasy drafts. It certainly doesn't hurt that he now calls the NL Central - rather than the AL East - his home, and his old home park in the Bronx ranked #14 in park factor last season compared to his new home in St. Louis ranking #26.
Justin Steele (SP-CHC) missed some time early in spring training with arm fatigue, but that issue appears behind him as he's back in action (allowing 3 runs on 5 hits and a walk while striking out 4 over 4.2 IP). He was solid in 2022 as he posted a 3.18 ERA, 9.5 K/9, 3.8 BB/9, and 3.48 xFIP across 119 innings of work. The walk rate is certainly concerning and does reflect a long track record of control issues in the minors, so fantasy owners should expect that to be a part of his game. Steele also didn't miss a ton of bats, as his swinging-strike rate came in at a lackluster 10%. Meanwhile, opposing hitters recorded a slightly below-average 79% contact rate against him, but perhaps most importantly they made hard contact against him on only 33% of batted balls, per Statcast. And most of those batted balls (51%) were of the grounder variety even though Steele deployed his sinker just 7% of the time, with his fastball (57%) and slider (31%) making up most of his offerings (his curve and change combined to make up about 5% of what he showed hitters). So, expect continued control issues to go with what will likely be a lower strikeout rate (a 9.5 K/9 seems tough to repeat given his lack of swing-and-miss stuff), although he'll help to minimize damage with his groundball tendency. He's a back-end option for fantasy rotations.
Felix Bautista (RP-BAL) impressed as a rookie in 2022, recording a 2.19 ERA, 12.1 K/9, and 3.1 BB/9 across 65.2 innings of work. A 2.77 xFIP indicated that he benefited from an 84% strand rate and .231 BABIP, but he performed well nonetheless. Bautista threw well enough that he claimed the closer role after the club dealt Jorge Lopez to Minnesota before the trade deadline, racking up 15 saves and 13 holds while blowing only 2 save chances. Armed with a 99-mph average sinker (48% usage), 99-mph heater (14%), 89-mph splitter (26%), and 85-mph curve (12%), Bautista missed lots of bats (15% swinging-strike rate), allowed well below-average contact (70%), and induced more grounders (43%) than flyballs (39%) as opposing hitters generated hard contact at a modest 36% rate per Statcast. As with many hard-throwing relievers, Bautista's Achilles heel is his control, but it's worth noting that his walk rate in the majors last year was a significant improvement on what he posted throughout most of his minor-league career. He's a top-10 closer in fantasy, but be sure to watch his progress as he got a late start to spring training because of shoulder and knee soreness. For what it's worth, he has pitched a pair of cleaning innings in spring training in which he's fanned 4.
Kenley Jansen (RP-BOS) missed some time earlier in spring training because of an illness, but now appears healthy; he's allowed 1 run on 2 hits (including a homer) while walking none and fanning 3 over 3.1 IP. The veteran has a new home in Boston after a productive campaign with Atlanta in 2022, recording a 3.38 ERA, 12 K/9, 3.1 BB/9, and 3.45 xFIP across 64 innings of work. He earned 41 saves in 48 opportunities. It was encouraging to see Jansen slash his walk rate from 4.7 in 2021 while simultaneously elevating his K/9 a bit from 11.2. Even though opposing hitters made hard contact against him at a 33% clip - his highest in the Statcast era - that's still a pretty modest figure that highlights how his cutter-dominated approach (64% usage) keeps hitters off-balance. At the same time, things get a bit more eye-opening when one sees that his swinging-strike rate tumbled from 15% in 2021 to a career-low 11% in 2022 while opposing hitters recorded what was easily a career-high contact rate of 77% against him. So while Jansen is still an effective closer, the peripherals do raise some red flags and he should be viewed as a #8-12 closing option in fantasy, especially given the possibility that he may miss time in 2023 - as he did in 2022 - because of his recurring irregular heartbeat issue.