There were plenty of strong rookies in 2022. What should we expect from some those players in the upcoming season?
Brendan Donovan, OF, STL
Donovan displayed excellent contact skills as a rookie last season, recording a 15.0% K% and 5.4% SwStr% across 468 PA's, en route to a strong .281 BA. He also produced a 12.8% BB%, boosting his OBP to an impressive .394. Even so, Donovan had limited fantasy value as he managed just 5 HR's and 2 SB's across 126 games. He hit the ball in the air just 23.6% of the time, which obviously didn't allow for much power. Things have been different this spring however, as he has already smacked 4 HR's in 34 AB's in spring training. We'll see if it carries over into the regular season, but this is certainly a promising sign for what Donovan is capable of. He may be worth targeting at the ends of drafts in the hopes that at least some of that power sticks.
Spencer Strider, SP, ATL
Strider produced an eye-popping 202 K's in 131.2 IP in 2022, en route to a 2.67 ERA and 0.99 WHIP in a masterful rookie season. He boasted a league-leading 13.81 K/9 (min. 100 IP), while tying for a league best 15.5% SwStr%. His fastball velocity ranked 2nd in MLB behind only Hunter Greene. Strider's 2.30 xFIP suggests that he may have actually been unlucky last year, although I doubt too many people are complaining. He'll cost you a high draft pick, but there aren't many better pitching options out there.
Riley Greene, OF, DET
Greene didn't make the same impact that some of his fellow rookies did in 2022, as he finished the season with an uneventful .253/.321/.362 slash line and just 5 HR's and 1 SB (in 5 attempts) in 93 games. The lack of power and speed was somewhat surprising after he totaled 24 HR's and 16 SB's across 124 MiLB games between AA and AAA in 2021. Greene hit the ball hard last year with a 45.2% HardHit%, and his 8.1% HR/FB is probably due for positive regression, but what really held him back was an elevated 56.0% GB%. He has always been more of a groundball hitter, but if he could just get that number down into the 40's, a respectable HR total should follow. Greene also has a strong chance to improve on last year's 28.7% K%, considering that his SwStr% was a very solid 9.8%. He may not become a superstar in 2023, but improvement across the board seems reasonable.
Steven Kwan, OF, CLE
Kwan was a strong three category contributor in 2022, hitting .298 with 19 SB's and 89 runs scored across 147 games. He was an elite contact hitter, posting a 9.4% K% and 3.1% SwStr%, both 2nd best in MLB behind Luis Arraez. Even so, a repeat of last year's BA shouldn't be assumed; he managed a meager 20.8% HardHit% and 1.4% Barrel%, while his xBA was .268. He should still be an asset in fantasy leagues, although right now his ADP is hovering around 100, which seems a bit high for someone who lacks power upside and isn't exactly elite in the other categories.
Seiya Suzuki, OF, CHC
Suzuki is currently recovering from an oblique injury and has reportedly started playing catch and taking some swings. He still may not be ready to play for the Cubs until late April. Suzuki missed some time due to injuries last year as well, but he still managed to collect 14 HR's and 9 SB's in 111 games while posting a .262/.336/.433 slash line. In addition to his power and speed, he also had solid plate discipline with an 8.0% SwStr% and 25.6% O-Swing%, so he may see improvement to his 24.7% K% from a year ago. He may end up going undrafted or getting dropped in some leagues due to his injury, so he's someone to look out for when he's nearing his return.
George Kirby, SP, SEA
Kirby had a strong rookie season in 2022, finishing with a 3.39 ERA, 3.33 xFIP, and a remarkable 133:22 K:BB across 130 IP (25 starts). He was probably even a bit unlucky last season as he had a .331 BABIP despite limiting line drives (16.4% LD%). As long as he continues to display excellent control, he should continue to produce strong results, and should provide value in the middle rounds of fantasy drafts.
Nick Lodolo, SP, CIN
Lodolo had a rough first half of 2022, posting a 5.81 ERA, 1.78 WHIP, and 4.10 BB/9 in 26.1 IP across 6 starts. His 2nd half was fantastic though,as he compiled a 2.92 ERA, 1.06 WHIP, and 93:27 K:BB across 77 IP (13 starts). He was even better in September, posting a 2.48 ERA and 49:10 K:BB across 36.1 IP in his 6 starts. The truth is, many of Lodolo's peripherals were similar in the first and second half; his K% went from 29.0% to 30.0%, his BB% moved from 9.2% to 8.7%, and his xFIP went from 3.68 to 3.43, so perhaps those numbers should give us an idea of what to expect from him this season. He should continue to rack up the strikeouts, while the walks are likely not going away. Lodolo should be a strong play this season, and if you believe extra weight should be placed on his 2nd half, or final month of 2022 in particular, then he can be excellent value with a current ADP around 130.
Jeremy Pena, SS, HOU
Pena had a strong first half for the Astros last season, hitting .263 with a .764 OPS, and hitting 13 HR's in 70 games. His 2nd half was not quite as good, as he hit .243 with a .664 OPS and 9 HR's across 66 games. Overall, he demonstrated decent power and speed with 22 HR's and 11 SB's, but he had a lot of swing and miss in his game with a 15.7% SwStr%, and his 24.2% K% is at risk of rising. He'll probably be useful fantasy player in 2023, but his current ADP just outside the top-100 seems a bit high. He's especially risky in OBP leagues, as he walked just 3.9% of the time lasts season and finished with a weak .289 OBP.
Edwin Diaz expected to miss 2023 season; who will replace him?
David Robertson, RP, NYM
With star closer Edwin Diaz now expected to miss the 2023, the veteran Robertson may be a favorite to open the season as the Mets closer. Robertson had a strong bounceback season with the Cubs and Phillies in 2022, recording a 2.40 ERA, 11.45 K/9, and a total of 20 saves across 63.2 IP. There were struggles as well, as he posted a 4.95 BB/9, and his 3.71 xFIP indicates that there was some luck involved. Don't expect Robertson to post elite ratios, but considering his experience, he may very well be picking up saves once again in 2023.
Brooks Raley, RP, NYM
Raley could also be an option for saves for the Mets now that Diaz is out with the injury. Raley had a strong season for the Rays last season, posting a 2.68 ERA, 3.28 xFIP, and 61:15 K:BB across 53.2 IP. He also recorded 6 saves for the Rays. Raley had struggled to a 4.83 ERA over his previous two seasons (2021-22), but he owned a 3.11 xFIP during that time, so the 2022 results are likely a better representation of his skills. Raley is probably a better bet for strong ratios than fellow reliever David Robertson, but Robertson may have the advantage for the closing position due to significantly more closing experience.
Adam Ottavino, NYM
Ottavino had a superb season for the Mets in 2022, finishing with a 2.06 ERA, 2.79 xFIP, and 79:16 K:BB in 65.2 IP. With Diaz' injury, he could become a closing option for the Mets considering his success last season. It should be noted though that while Ottavino had a tremendous 2022, he recorded a combined 4.59 ERA from 2021-2022, and until last year hadn't posted a BB/9 below 4.00 since 2016. While he limited the free passes this past season, it may not be safe to assume a repeat of that given his prior performance. He may still be behind David Robertson and Brooks Raley in terms of the closing competition.
Ronel Blanco, SP, HOU
Blanco struck out 5 in 3.1 IP shutout innings against the Cardinals on Thursday, allowing 3 hits without a walk. The Astros have been stretching out Blanco to potentially be a starter from them this season, and his results in spring training have so far been very promising. Through 11.0 IP, he has recorded an 0.82 ERA while striking out 14 and walking 2. It's unclear if Blanco will stretched out enough to open the season in the Astros rotation, but don't sleep on him if he does end up as a starter.
Trent Grisham, OF, SD
Grisham went 2-3 with his 2nd HR of the spring against the Rockies on Thursday. Grisham had an awful 2022 in which he slashed .184/.284/.341 across 152 contests, although he still managed 17 HR's and 7 SB's. His K% rose to a career high 28.6% last season, but he also suffered from a .231 BABIP after that number was above .280 in each of his previous 3 seasons. His EV was roughly the same as his career norm, but his LD% plummeted to 13.5%. If he can hit a few more line drives, a return to a .240ish BA is a reasonable possibility, and that could be enough to give him value along with his power/speed combo.
Zack Wheeler, SP, PHI
Wheeler struck out 5 and allowed 1 ER in 4.1 IP against the Tigers on Thursday. He still owns a 9.28 ERA this spring, but that is nothing to worry about. He has posted a sub-3.00 ERA in each of his 3 seasons with the Phillies and owns a 3.07 xFIP, 9.53 K/9, and 1.98 BB/9 during that time. Wheeler remains a reliable ace heading into the 2023 season.
Jasson Dominguez, OF, NYY
Dominguez hit a double in his only AB against the Pirates on Thursday, and is now hitting .455 with 4 HR's in 22 AB's this spring. Dominguez hit 16 HR's and stole 37 bases in 120 MiLB games last season, and it looks like the 20 year old has more power where that came from. He has a chance to be very good whenever he does make his Yankees debut.
Evan Phillips, RP, LAD
Phillips struck out the side against the Rangers on Thursday, and hasn't allowed an ER yet this spring. With Daniel Hudson not looking likely to be ready for the start of the season, Phillips has a chance to pick up some saves for the Dodgers. He posted a sensational 1.14 ERA and 77:15 K:BB in 63.0 IP last year and could be a top reliever if he ends up being LA's primary closer.