MJ Melendez (C-KC) produced an almost average 99 wRC+ in his first taste of big-league action last season at age 23, recording a .217 average to go with 18 homers, 62 RBI, and 57 runs scored across 534 plate appearances. In doing so, he largely replicated his minor-league track record in the walk (12%) and strikeout (25%) departments while recording hard contact at a healthy 44% rate per Statcast. With that in mind, a combined liner and flyball rate of 61% bodes well for power output, although Melendez will need to improve on his below-average contact rate (75%) to be less of a liability in the average department. It's worth noting that the Royals seem to value his keen eye at the dish, as he batted near the top of the lineup - including out of the leadoff spot - by the end of the season; the club also kept him in the lineup by giving him starts at DH and in the OF. With catcher still fairly shallow in fantasy beyond the top 5ish guys at the position, Melendez can easily finish in the top 10 at the position by hitting about .240 with 20-25 homers, which he is certainly capable of. He projects to serve as the club's primary DH this season, so that should keep him fresh and in the lineup regularly.
Andrew Vaughn (1B/OF-CHW) did not exactly impress in his sophomore campaign, as he hit .271 with 17 homers, and 76 RBI across 555 plate appearances. A closer look, however, shows improvement from his rookie season, as his wRC+ jumped from a below-average 93 to above-average 113 while he made more hard contact (up slightly from an already-solid 46% to 48%), trimmed his strikeout rate from 22% to 17%, and elevated his contact rate from a below-average 78% to a just above-average 81%. Bear in mind that the 24 year-old - who was drafted #3 overall in 2019 - never logged a single plate appearance above high-A ball before reaching the majors in 2021. With scouting grades that included a plus-plus potential contact tool and above-average power, one can't help but think that Vaughn has yet to show his true potential as a big-leaguer. He could be a nice value pick in 2023 drafts, as he has demonstrated an ability to hit .270 over a full season and should add more power to his game.
Vinnie Pasquantino (1B-KC) made an impression as a rookie last season, batting .295 with 10 homers, 26 RBI, and 25 runs scored across 298 PAs; his 137 wRC+ attests to his productivity. Perhaps most impressively, the then-24 year-old walked slightly more often than he fanned (11.7% BB% vs. an 11.4% BB%), showing strong command of the plate for a guy seeing his first taste of MLB action. Although he stands at 6'4" and 245 pounds, Pasquintano is known more for his plus hit tool than his power (which grades as average to slightly above average). But he did hit 24 homers across High-A and Double-A in 2021 (513 combined PA) before clubbing 18 more across 313 PA in Triple-A last season before his call to the majors. He did log a robust 47% hard-hit rate in the big leagues (per Statcast) last season, with a combined liner and flyball rate of 59% suggesting that he could produce more homers than his scouting grades suggest. Pasquantino's refined approach at the plate, tendency to make contact (86%), and ability to make loud contact make him a fairly safe bet in the average department while the early returns indicate that fantasy owners can reasonably expect 20-25 homers out of him to go with a solid average (.270+).
Brendan Rodgers (2B-COL) sustained a serious shoulder injury during a spring training game on February 28th and may miss much - if not all - of the upcoming season as a result. He might not have overwhelmed fantasy owners in 2022 with a .266 average, 13 homers, 63 RBI, and 72 runs scored over 581 PAs with a below-average wRC+ of 92, but he did show improvement in key areas from 2021, when he hit .285 with 15 dingers, 51 RBI, and 49 runs scored across 415 PA. He, for one, showed better command of the plate, as his strikeout rate dipped 3% to 17% while his walk rate climbed from just under 5% to 8%. He chased fewer pitches outside of the zone (down to 31% from 36%) while making more contact on pitches offered at inside the zone (up to 88% from just under 87%). Rodgers also hit the ball with more authority, elevating his hard-hit rate per Statcast from 40% in 2021 to 46% last season. He still hits too many grounders (52%) and too few flyballs (27%) to capitalize on the thin Colorado air, but a slightly improved liner rate (up 1% to 21%) is encouraging. So, the recent major injury is a disappointing development, as Rodgers was poised to be a solid contributor at 2B during the coming season, with a step forward in the power department possible as he enters his age-27 season. Instead, the club may end up moving 3B Ryan McMahon to 2B or have Harold Castro and/or Alan Trejo fill the position; McMahon is the most interesting of the bunch for fantasy.
Oneil Cruz (SS-PIT) enters the 2023 campaign as an exciting option at SS after he hit .233 with 17 homers, 10 steals, 54 RBI, and 45 runs scored across 361 PA in his rookie season, with an above-average 106 wRC+. He suffered a minor ankle injury while playing in the Dominican Winter League, but is a "full go" as spring training unfolds. Cruz's power-speed combo is enticing as he offers 20-20 potential, with more in the power department, especially, possible. His track record of contact issues in the minors manifested in the majors as he fanned at a 35% clip and recorded a contact rate of just 66%. Cruz swung and missed a good bit (14%), with a league-average chase rate (32%) pointing to contact issues inside the zone (below-average 82%) being a problem. There is no denying, however, that Cruz often puts a charge into the ball when he does make contact, as his hard-hit rate per Statcast came in at 46% last season. On the other hand, he does have a track record of hitting lots of grounders, even if his 49% in the majors last season was not super high, and so that will be something to watch, as lots of worm-burners means fewer homers. There's a possibility that Cruz tempers the strikeouts, as he did over 247 Triple-A PA before his promotion last season (down to 23%), but that he nevertheless logged a .232 average despite a reasonable strikeout rate should caution fantasy owners that he'll likely be a liability in the average department; it's up to them if they want to take that risk for a possible 20-20 season.
Josh Jung (3B-TEX) was seemingly set to open the 2022 campaign as the Rangers' starting 3B, but a torn labrum delayed his arrival in the majors and he never quite looked right in the minors or the majors. Across 106 PA before getting the call to the bigs, he hit .273 with 6 homers and 24 RBI in Triple-A, logging an uncharacteristically low walk rate (4%) and high strikeout rate (28%). That trend continued into his MLB debut, as he hit .204 with 5 dingers and 14 RBI over 102 PA, with an identical walk rate and a 38% strikeout rate. In his first taste of big-league action, Jung chased some pitches (35% o-swing%) and logged a below-average contact rate (73%) while whiffing a fair amount (13% swinging-strike rate). His hard-hit rate further suggests that he was struggling to adjust to MLB pitching; Statcast shows a hard-hit rate of just 31%. He did, however, rip liners at a 25% clip (similar to his minor-league track record) while lofting flyballs at a productive-but-not-ridiculous 34% rate. Based on his pedigree (he was the 8th overall pick in 2019) and demonstrated ability to hit for both a solid average and some pop in the minors (he never posted a wRC+ south of 104 at any stop as a minor leaguer), there's reason to think that Jung can be a solid fantasy contributor in 2023 as he will have a shot to lock down the starting 3B job in Texas. I am expecting an average of .250 or better to go along with an easy 20+ dingers, although he has the potential to do more.
Franmil Reyes (OF-KC) signed a minor-league contract with the Royals and will be competing for a big-league roster spot during spring training. Once viewed as an exciting source of power in fantasy, the now-27 year-old's stock has plummeted after a 2022 campaign in which he hit just .221 with 14 homers and 47 RBI across 473 plate appearances with Cleveland and Chicago (NL). His wRC+ was a career low at 80 as his strikeout rate came in at a career-worst 33% after steadily creeping upward from 28% in his rookie season back in 2018 while his contact rate was deplorable (66%), as was his swinging-strike rate (16%). Reyes' hard-hit rate per Statcast remained robust at 46% (48% career), but he simply struggled to make contact (he only connected 79% of pitches offered at inside the zone) and logged a 48% groundball rate when he did, with the balance being 18% liners and 35% flyballs. He also showed his highest pull rate to date (43%) while performing below average against every pitch type. Maybe a new start in Kansas City could help to rejuvenate his career, but it's tough to be optimistic since Reyes has not shown improvement in key areas (especially contact) over his five big-league seasons.
Corbin Carroll (OF-ARI) could be the next fantasy baseball star after a 2022 campaign hints at further improvement to his game, especially in the power department. A 2019 first-round pick, Carroll tore up Double-A (.313 average, .430 OBP, 16 homers, 20 steals, 166 wRC+ over 277 PA) before performing well in Triple-A (.287 average, .408 OBP, 7 dingers, 11 steals, 135 wRC+ across 157 PA) and getting a cup of coffee in the majors (.260 average, .330 OBP, 4 homers, 2 steals, 120 wRC+ across 115 PA). While his plus-plus potential hit tool, top-notch speed, and plus-plus fielding were his calling cards entering the campaign, it was exciting to see him unlock some of his plus-potential power as he ripped 27 homers across those three levels. The strikeout rate (25%, 23%, and 27%, respectively) is a bit concerning, but Carroll has a strong track record of showing a refined batting eye and patience at the dish (he walked at a 15% clip in both Double-A and Triple-A last season). His 33% hard-hit rate (per Statcast) in his big-league debut last year won't jump off the page, but he did rip liners at a robust 25% clip, with a 48% groundball rate not exactly bad for a guy with his kind of wheels. With all that in mind, there's reason to think Carroll could be a 20-20 guy in 2023, with a decent average and a nice walk rate. The homer upside may be limited by the liner-grounder tendency, but with steals at a premium in today's fantasy game, he's an intriguing player.
Jesse Winker (OF-MIL) is back in the NL Central (now with the Brewers) after a disappointing 2022 campaign in Seattle in which he hit just .219 with 14 homers, 53 RBI, and 51 runs scored across a career-high 547 plate appearances. Although the average was easily a career low, it's worth noting that his wRC+ still came in above-average at 108 while his 19% strikeout rate wasn't far from his career clip (17%) and his walk rate (over 15%) was a career best. Knee and neck injuries likely hampered his production last season, as his 34% hard-hit rate (per Statcast) was his lowest since 2017 while his batted ball profile shifted toward flyballs (career-high 41% flyball rate, 33% career); those developments were not good for a guy who called T-Mobile Park his home stadium. But now with the Brewers, he will call the more hitter-friendly American Family Field his home and, if fully healthy, there's reason to think that the 29 year-old can rebound after injuries likely played a significant role in last season's struggles although key peripherals remained intact. If you can get him at a discount as your #3 OF for fantasy (he's ranked outside of the top 40 by many outlets), you could see him perform closer to a #2 OF.
Hunter Greene (SP-CIN) showed his tantalizing potential as a power arm as a rookie in 2022, logging a 4.44 ERA, 11.8 K/9, 3.4 BB/9, and 3.64 xFIP across 125.2 innings of work as a 22 year-old. The 132.2 total innings that he logged between Triple-A and the majors were the most he's thrown as a professional, so fantasy owners should expect him to pile up more innings this season, barring injury. Greene deployed his 99-mph average heater 54% of the time while he utilized his 88-mph slider 41% of the time and deployed his 90-mph changeup just 5% of the time. He was, in essence, a two-pitch starter, and will likely need to more frequently utilize at least a serviceable third offering to keep hitters guessing. His control was certainly spotty - as should have been expected based on his minor-league track record - but there's no denying his pure ability to limit contact (70%) and miss bats (15%). As was also the case in Triple-A, however, the longball was a problem (16% HR/FB and 1.7 HR/9) as he surrendered plenty of hard contact (40% per Statcast) while opposing hitters lifted plenty of flyballs (49%) and liners (22%). Especially since he calls the Great American Ballpark his home field, those tendencies may be problematic going forward. Ultimately, Green has the potential to be a top 20 or better SP for fantasy, but the control and homer issues make him a boom-bust player at the moment who will pile up strikeouts while likely not being an asset in the ERA and WHIP departments.
Nick Lodolo (SP-CIN) impressed in 2022 despite arriving in the majors with much less fanfare than his teammate Hunter Greene. Across 103.1 big-league starts, the southpaw compiled a 3.66 ERA, 11.4 K/9, and 3.4 BB/9, with a 3.49 xFIP. There was perhaps some poor luck in the homer department (15% HR/FB) but an 80% strand rate was on the lucky side. Although not equipped with the same raw stuff as Greene, Lodolo is no slouch as he possesses a 95-mph heater to go with a 94-mph sinker, 82-mph curve, and 88-mph change; he deployed those offerings 36%, 23%, 31%, and 10% of the time, respectively. In addition to possessing a deeper repertoire of solid offerings, Lodolo arrived in the majors with a higher scouting grade than Greene in the command department, even if his control was up and down as a rookie. Lodolo induced grounders at a decent 46% clip while the hard contact came in just under 39% and he missed bats at a solid but not eye-popping 12% clip. Overall, the upside is probably a bit lower with Lodolo than it is with Greene, but Lodolo probably has a higher floor because of his less volatile profile (better command, more diverse repertoire, and a greater tendency to induce grounders). Go with Greene for upside, but pick Lodolo if you want more reliability.
Trevor Rogers (SP-MIA) disappointed those who invested in him in fantasy last season, as the southpaw compiled a 5.47 ERA, 8.9 K/9, and 3.8 BB/9 across 107 innings of work as a 24 year-old sophomore; this came after he logged a stellar 2.64 ERA, 10.6 K/9, and 3.1 BB/9 over 133 IP in 2021. While his 3.54 xFIP did warn fantasy owners that some correction could occur in 2022, there was little reason to expect the clunker that he delivered. In many ways, Rogers did not deserve it, as a 4.11 xFIP especially points to a 67% strand rate inflating his ERA last year. While the average fastball velocity remained steady at about 95mph and Statcast shows that he barely gave up much more hard contact (up to 37% from 36%), Rogers' swinging-strike rate dipped from 14% to just under 11% while opposing hitters made significantly more contact (up to 78% from 71%). Batters seemed to figure out and key in on his heater, which went from being a plus pitch for Rogers in 2022 to a negative offering even though he used it a bit less (down to 53% from 58%). Rogers seems to be healthy as the new campaign approaches after a lat injury cost him playing time down the stretch last season, and he should come at a significant discount on draft day if you are willing to bank on a rebound. The disparity between ERA and xFIP alone suggests that there should be some positive correction, but after last year's disaster it would be folly for fantasy owners to expect a return to his 2021 form.
Brady Singer (SP-KC) was a pleasant surprise in 2022 as the righty put together an age-25 season in which he recorded a 3.23 ERA, 8.8 K/9, 2.1 BB/9, and 3.30 xFIP Across 153.1 innings of work. Although Singer's swinging-strike rate (9%), contact rate (79%), and hard-hit rate per Statcast (41%) were nothing impressive, he simply improved as a strike-thrower after his BB/9 came in at 3.2 in 2020 and 3.7 in 2021. His pitch usage rates changed only slightly from the past, as he deployed his 94-mph sinker 54% of the time (down slightly from 57% in 2020-2021), his 86-mph slider 38% of the time (same as 2020-2021), and his change-up a career-high 8% of the time (was 4% in 2020-2021). While Singer's K/9 is likely to stay at about 9 or lower given his repertoire and stuff, he does induce grounders at a healthy rate (49% in 2022, 50% career) and has, again, shown improved control. So while he's certainly not a #1 or even a #2 SP for fantasy as a result, he should be a solid mid-rotation arm.
Pablo Lopez (SP-MIN) has a new home for 2023 as the Marlins traded him to the Twins for infielder Luis Arraez during the offseason. The righty disappointed in his age-26 season in Miami, as he recorded a 3.75 ERA, 8.7 K/9, and 2.7 BB/9 across a career-high 180 innings. His 3.56 xFIP compares favorably with those of seasons past, but given his 2020 and 2021 stat lines (in 2021, he recorded a 3.07 ERA, 10.1 K/9, 2.3 BB/9, and 3.32 xFIP over 102.2 IP), his 2022 performance wasn't quite up to what those who drafted him in fantasy had hoped for. Although his control took a step back, Lopez maintained a modest hard contact rate per Statcast (35% in 2022, 34% career), recorded a career-best 13% swinging-strike rate, and limited opposing hitters to a career-low 74% contact rate. Especially since his average fastball velocity remained stable at 94mph, there's little reason to think that there was anything wrong with him, especially since there are no obvious red flags in the peripherals. Odds are that Lopez simply pitched a little bit over his head in 2021 and, in his first full season of big-league action (he never pitched more than 111.1 IP in an MLB season before 2022), he proved to be merely good rather than excellent. While one can't safely expect him to return to 2021 productivity, one can probably draft him expecting 2022 stats and be satisfied.
Camilo Doval (RP-SF) will reportedly serve as the Giants' primary closer to open the 2023 campaign. The hard-throwing righty impressed as a 24 year-old in 2022 as he emerged as the top option in a closer committee by recording a 2.53 ERA, 10.6 K/9, and 4 BB/9 across 67.2 IP. A 3.04 xFIP does indicate that he benefited from some good fortune along the way and his walk rate is concerning, but there's no denying that his combination of a 99-mph average cutter (30.5% usage), 98-mph sinker (26% usage), and 88-mph slider (43.5%) is devastating. While his K/9 dipped from q12.3 in 2021 (it regularly sat above 12 in the minors, too), Doval missed bats at a healthy 14% clip while allowing a 70% contact rate. The opposition, moreover, did not make a lot of hard contact against him (36% per Statcast) while he induced grounders at a 56% rate. The poor control will likely lead to an occasional meltdown, but Doval misses lots of bats and doesn't usually get hit hard. He therefore profiles as a solid closer option in fantasy in 2023.
Alexis Diaz (RP-CIN) capitalized on Cincinnati's rocky closer situation in 2022 to become a top option down the stretch and is reportedly expected to serve as the team's closer to open the new campaign. Manager David Bell did concede that Diaz may sometimes enter a game earlier in critical situations because of his talent. Overall, he impressed as a 25 year-old rookie last year, recording a 1.84 ERA, 11.7 K/9, and 4.7 BB/9 across 63.2 IP. The walk rate does suggest some potential volatility and that - along with a .178 BABIP, 81% strand rate, and 7% HR/FB - contributed to an xFIP of 3.97. So, some correction to the mean almost certainly lies ahead for Diaz, as he allows a lot of flyballs (55%) for a pitcher who has a hitter-friendly home park. But he did a great job of limiting hard contact (33% per Statcast) while missing tons of bats (16% swinging-strike rate) and allowing relatively little contact in general (67%). So, while there will undoubtedly be some rough outings owing to his wildness, Diaz is the best closer option on the Reds' roster and will have an opportunity to secure the role.