Every MLB Team's Best Kept Secret for the 2023 SeasonMarch 13, 2023
Every MLB Team's Best Kept Secret for the 2023 Season
Underrated? Underappreciated? Regardless of which you prefer, let's agree that there are players aplenty in Major League Baseball who just don't get enough credit.
But not right here. Not right now.
This particular here-now space is all about properly rating and appreciating players who are easily overlooked next to some of the guys they play with, but who are no mere role players. Some of these guys fall into the "Better Than You Think" category, while others look like burgeoning stars under the right kind of light.
We have one for each team that we're going to hit one at a time, proceeding in alphabetical order by city.
Arizona Diamondbacks: RF Jake McCarthy
2022 Stats: 99 G, 354 PA, 8 HR, 23 SB, .283 AVG, .342 OBP, .427 SLG
There's the young and exciting left-handed-hitting speedster in the Diamondbacks lineup everyone knows about, and then there's the other one.
The first is Corbin Carroll, the blindingly fast center fielder who might be the favorite to win the National League Rookie of the Year. The second is Jake McCarthy, though the key difference with him is that he's already shown he can hack it in the major leagues.
It's true that McCarthy's hitting metrics hint at possible regression in 2023 and that, despite his speed, he wasn't much of a defender last season. But if he can steal 23 bases in 26 tries in only 99 games even without any help from stolen base-friendly rules, his speed alone should sustain him in baseball's new era.
Atlanta: RHP Joe Jiménez
2022 Stats: 62 G, 12 GF, 56.2 IP, 49 H (4 HR), 77 K, 13 BB, 3.49 ERA
Atlanta's bullpen may have lost Kenley Jansen from the closer's role during the winter, but don't worry. Raisel Iglesias was right there to take over and newcomer Joe Jiménez has closer-caliber upside in his own right.
Jiménez had his ups and downs with the Detroit Tigers, even amid a 2018 campaign in which he was an All-Star. But he was legitimately good last year, perhaps even more so than his results ultimately indicated.
Armed with a mid-90s fastball and a slider that drew whiffs at a 42.2 percent clip, the right-hander had the eighth-best strikeout-to-walk ratio among relievers who handled at least 50 innings. He also struck out 47 batters against only six walks and one home run over his last 37 appearances, so "look out" seems an appropriate warning heading into 2023.
Baltimore Orioles: RF Anthony Santander
2022 Stats: 152 G, 647 PA, 33 HR, 0 SB, .240 AVG, .318 OBP, .455 SLG
At the heart of the Orioles lineup are super-youngsters Adley Rutschman and Gunnar Henderson, erstwhile 30-30 guy Cedric Mullins and, oh yeah, the slugger who quietly led the team in home runs last season.
If anything, Santander deserved to hit even more than "just" 33 home runs in 2022. As a switch-hitter, the newly humongous left-field dimensions at Oriole Park at Camden Yards did him no favors when he hit right-handed. Cody Thomas and Tony Kemp are two defenders who can vouch.
But no matter. If Santander is able to carry last year's career-best rate of barrels over to 2023, another 30-homer season should be in the cards anyway.
Boston Red Sox: RHP John Schreiber
2022 Stats: 64 G, 13 GF, 65.0 IP, 45 H (3 HR), 74 K, 19 BB, 2.22 ERA
There wasn't much fanfare when the Red Sox added John Schreiber to their roster back in Feb. 2021. Or really any, as is usually the case when a team claims a guy with a career 6.28 ERA off waivers.
Cut to now, however, and Schreiber is coming off a year in which he was tied for 10th among relief pitchers in rWAR. That'll happen when you take a funky side-arm delivery and nasty sinker-slider combination and add in more velocity.
Though Schreiber will defer to Jansen in closing games for the Red Sox this season, don't be surprised if the former makes the American League All-Star team and the other doesn't.
Chicago Cubs: LHP Justin Steele
2022 Stats: 24 G, 24 GS, 119.0 IP, 111 H (8 HR), 126 K, 50 BB, 3.18 ERA
It's going to be very hard to score on the Cubs this year. Their defense looks awesome, and atop their starting rotation are Marcus Stroman, Jameson Taillon and a guy who had a better ERA+ than the likes of Aaron Nola and Yu Darvish last season.
Even if it was only over 119 innings, that was Justin Steele. The southpaw notably boasts one of the best sliders in the game, which he used to hold opposing hitters to a .136 average in 2022.
What Steele lacked was at least one effective fastball, but that's not for lack of being able to spin one. The spin rate on his four-seamer was indeed in the 95th percentile last year. As long as he has that to work with, he may have upside even beyond what he's already shown.
Chicago White Sox: RHP Reynaldo López
2022 Stats: 61 G, 1 GS, 8 GF, 65.1 IP, 51 H (1 HR), 63 K, 11 BB, 2.76 ERA
It's going to take a village for the White Sox's bullpen to keep hitters at bay while ace closer Liam Hendriks is recovering from non-Hodgkin's lymphoma. It's a good thing, then, that said pen features a guy who suppresses power with the best of 'em.
This is apparent enough just from the fact that Reynaldo López allowed one home run in 65.1 innings last season. And it wasn't a mirage. Hitters could get the ball in the air off him well enough, but only four managed to do so to their pull sides.
López thus effectively closed off hitters' best avenue to home runs. If he can do more of that while continuing to strike out roughly a batter per inning with relatively few walks, another dominant season should be in store for him this year.
Cincinnati Reds: RHP Alexis Díaz
2022 Stats: 59 G, 20 GF, 63.2 IP, 28 H (5 HR), 83 K, 33 BB, 1.84 ERA
Edwin Díaz may have struck out half the batters he faced amid a 2022 campaign that helped him earn a $100 million contract, yet he still only barely outperformed his brother, Alexis, in wins above replacement:
- Edwin Díaz: 3.2 rWAR
- Alexis Díaz: 3.1 rWAR
This is indeed a thing that happened last year, and it feels vaguely outrageous that Alexis' contributions to the Year of the Díazes only got him a fifth-place finish in the NL Rookie of the Year voting.
Still, chances are that Alexis Díaz won't go quite as overlooked in 2023. With the Reds' closer job firmly in his pocket, he should eventually find himself with a ticket to the NL All-Star squad if he picks up where he left off.
Cleveland Guardians: RHP Trevor Stephan
2022 Stats: 66 G, 8 GF, 63.2 IP, 57 H (3 HR), 82 K, 18 BB, 2.69 ERA
The Guardians bullpen put up the most fWAR of any in the league after James Karinchak came off the injured list on July 4 last year. That wasn't, however, so much due to him.
It was mostly Emmanuel Clase (no surprise there) and Trevor Stephan, who struck out 52 batters with only nine walks and one home run allowed in that span. To have a run like that, it helps to have a splitter that draws whiffs 54.0 percent of the time.
As Stephan's splitter actually rates as his second-best pitch next to his slider by way of Stuff+, good luck hitting him if he finds ways to get more out of the latter in 2023.
Colorado Rockies: CF Yonathan Daza
2022 Stats: 113 G, 408 PA, 2 HR, 0 SB, .301 AVG, .349 OBP, .384 SLG
When looking through the Rockies' roster in search of someone to talk about, the projections that peg them as the worst team in MLB really started to make sense. There's just not much there in terms of quality.
Still, that has less to do with Yonathan Daza than it does with other Rockies regulars. He hit over .300 last year! And not even in a yeah-well-he-plays-at-Coors kind of way. His .282 expected average was in the top five percent of the league.
Though Daza unfortunately lacks other standout tools, he'll give other Rockies hitters plenty of chances to do damage if he keeps the hits coming out of the leadoff spot.
Detroit Tigers: RHP Alex Lange
2022 Stats: 71 G, 11 GF, 63.1 IP, 47 H (5 HR), 82 K, 31 BB, 3.41 ERA
Alex Lange endured a semi-rough introduction to the majors in 2021, putting up a pedestrian 4.04 ERA, no thanks to a four-seam fastball that got hit for a .312 average.
So in 2022, he just stopped throwing the four-seamer. And it worked, as his sinker was saddled with a reasonable .257 average while he otherwise dominated with a curveball that racked up a stellar 57.8 whiff percentage. Even Edwin Díaz's slider didn't miss bats at that rate.
With Lange seemingly positioned to close games for the Tigers this season, it should just be a matter of time before his name is more widely known.
Houston Astros: RHP Bryan Abreu
2022 Stats: 55 G, 18 GF, 45 H (2 HR), 88 K, 26 BB, 1.94 ERA
When you win 106 games and then go 11-2 in the playoffs to win the World Series, not many of your guys are going to be left languishing in obscurity.
It is nonetheless absurd that Bryan Abreu is probably Astros manager Dusty Baker's No. 3 reliever underneath Ryan Pressly and Rafael Montero. He'd be No. 1 on most other teams and he sure looked the part as he pitched 11.1 scoreless innings in the postseason last year.
Given that Abreu preceded that run by allowing all of two earned runs over the last 28.1 innings he pitched in the regular season, he's coming into 2023 as hot as any reliever in the game.
Kansas City Royals: RHP Brady Singer
2022 Stats: 27 G, 24 GS, 153.1 IP, 140 H (18 HR), 150 K, 35 BB, 3.23 ERA
Zack Greinke is probably going to be the Royals' Opening Day starter, and he's probably going to be about as thrilled about it as he was last year.
But if we were in manager Matt Quatraro's shoes, we'd be tempted to hand the ball to Brady Singer. Though he got nary an accolade of any kind, he beat out guys like Nestor Cortes and Shane McClanahan as the sixth-most valuable hurler in the American League last season.
This was with the same sinker-slider mix that Singer featured in 2021, only this time the average against the former was down from .325 to .255. If he can keep that up, his rise as one of the best young starters around should continue in 2023.
Los Angeles Angels: LHP Patrick Sandoval
2022 Stats: 27 G, 27 GS, 148.2 IP, 139 H (8 HR), 151 K, 60 BB, 2.91 ERA
The obvious Cy Young Award contender in the Angels rotation is Shohei Ohtani, otherwise known as that guy who also hits a ton of homers in his spare time.
Just don't make the mistake of thinking that Patrick Sandoval doesn't have a shot at the award in his own right. If nothing else, in his arsenal is a dastardly deceptive changeup that got hitters to swing and miss 44.5 percent of the time in 2022.
The lefty is also coming into 2023 hot after finishing last season with a 1.95 ERA over his last 11 starts. If not Cy Young votes, more of that should at least earn him his first All-Star nod this year.
Los Angeles Dodgers: RHP Evan Phillips
2022 Stats: 64 G, 9 GF, 63.0 IP, 33 H (2 HR), 77 K, 15 BB, 1.14 ERA
Evan Phillips played for three different organizations in 2021, as he started with the Baltimore Orioles and then went to the Tampa Bay Rays before the Dodgers claimed him on waivers. In other words, he wasn't exactly a hot commodity.
Which is to say that nobody could have expected Phillips to lead all relievers with a 367 ERA+ in 2022. He owed that to a sweeper that drew whiffs at a 42.5 percent clip and which generally paired well with a new cutter. Both pitches held hitters to averages in the .160s.
Phillips frankly should have been closing games long before Craig Kimbrel lost the job late last year. With the job now seemingly his to lose, it's that much easier to imagine him on the National League All-Star team.
Miami Marlins: LHP Jesús Luzardo
2022 Stats: 18 G, 18 GS, 100.1 IP, 69 H (10 HR), 120 K, 35 BB, 3.32 ERA
Jesús Luzardo isn't exactly an unknown, but at this point he might be better known more for things he'd rather not be known for. He's that former top prospect who fell out of favor with the Oakland Athletics and who's generally had trouble staying healthy.
Yet last season offered the best proof of concept that Luzardo can succeed in the majors. Especially if the focus is narrowed to the 12 starts he made after a lengthy absence with a forearm strain, wherein he limited hitters to a .198 average and posted a 3.03 ERA.
As that was even without much help from a slider that can be nasty when he has it working, getting to that point with it more consistently may be the only thing standing between Luzardo and a breakout.
Milwaukee Brewers: LHP Eric Lauer
2022 Stats: 29 G, 29 GS, 158.2 IP, 135 H (27 HR), 157 HR, 59 K, 3.69 ERA
The Brewers have a legitimate duo of aces in Corbin Burnes and Brandon Woodruff, plus another All-Star in Freddy Peralta who's nearly unhittable when he's healthy.
It's easy to lose sight of Eric Lauer amid a trio like that, but not because he himself is doing anything wrong. There's indeed nothing wrong with the 3.47 ERA he's put up over the last two years, nor with a fastball that's secretly among the best in the league.
After experiencing elbow tightness last September, the trick for Lauer will be to stay healthy in 2023. If he does, he's a guy who could sneak onto the NL All-Star team.
Minnesota Twins: RHP Griffin Jax
2022 Stats: 65 G, 10 GF, 72.1 IP, 56 H (7 HR), 78 K, 20 BB, 3.36 ERA
Because Jorge López and Jhoan Duran also exist, it would be a reach to call Griffin Jax the best reliever in the Twins bullpen heading into 2023.
He was, however, arguably the best they had during the stretch run of last season. Jax pitched to a 1.71 ERA with 21 strikeouts against four walks and 13 hits after Aug. 12, during which he basically went all-in on his slider.
Though he's yet to crack even 98 mph in the majors, Jax says his next goal is to throw 100. Should he achieve it, he'll make facing the back end of the Twins bullpen that much more unpleasant for opposing hitters.
New York Mets: LF Mark Canha
2022 Stats: 140 G, 542 PA, 13 HR, 3 SB, .266 AVG, .367 OBP, .403 SLG
It's about time Mark Canha got some respect, and not just because he's worn a league-high 55 hit-by-pitches over the last two seasons.
He's quietly one of the most consistent hitters of the last five seasons, as he's indeed one of only 11 to take as many as 200 plate appearances and top a 110 OPS+ annually. You'd be surprised at who's not on that list, including Mike Trout, Aaron Judge and Trea Turner.
The righty-swinging Canha was largely reliant on the platoon advantage during the first of these years in 2018, but since then he has a 134 wRC+ against righties and a 119 wRC+ against lefties. The guy can hit, plain and simple.
New York Yankees: RHP Michael King
2022 Stats: 34 G, 10 GF, 51.0 IP, 35 H (3 HR), 66 K, 16 BB, 2.29 ERA
There was more than just one injury that contributed to the Yankees' descent from the 61-23 pinnacle they reached on July 8 of last year, but perhaps none was as crucial as the gnarly elbow injury that Michael King suffered on July 22.
At that point, he was the best reliever in the American League's best bullpen. The latter ceased to be the case sans King the rest of the way, as Yankees relievers slipped to 12th in fWAR.
It's a new year now, and King says he's fully healthy for it. That's bad news for hitters, who surely aren't looking forward to once again seeing a sweeper that held them to a .130 average last season.
Oakland Athletics: RHP Shintaro Fujinami
2022 Stats (NPB): 25 G, 107.1 IP, 84 H (8 HR), 115 K, 36 BB, 2.77 ERA
The A's were hard to watch as they were losing 102 games last season, but—and we really do mean this—that shouldn't be the case again after they went out and found a bunch of interesting players during the winter.
None fits the bill like Shintaro Fujinami, who landed with Oakland via a one-year deal that slipped under the radar in January. His control can get away from him, but he's already made an impression in A's camp with high-90s heat and devastating splitters.
Even if walks get in the way of Fujinami achieving steady success as a starter, one can at least imagine him blowing hitters away if he needs to be shifted into a relief role.
Philadelphia Phillies: CF Brandon Marsh
2022 Stats: 134 G, 461 PA, 11 HR, 10 SB, .245 AVG, .295 OBP, .384 SLG
This may sound hard to believe, but 100 percent of the 0.9 fWAR that the Phillies got out of center field last year came after Aug. 3.
Coincidence? Not at all. It was after that date that Brandon Marsh made his debut for the Phillies after coming over from the Angels in a trade. He made his presence felt on both sides of the ball, hitting to a squarely above-average 116 OPS+ and also playing solid defense.
By way of a lower strikeout rate and a 3.1 mph increase in average exit velocity, Marsh improved both the frequency and the quality of his contact with the Phillies. With more of that and continued good work in the field, he can make his presence felt even more in 2023.
Pittsburgh Pirates: RHP Mitch Keller
2022 Stats: 31 G, 29 GS, 159.0 IP, 162 H (14 HR), 138 K, 60 BB, 3.91 ERA
Mitch Keller climbed as high as No. 19 in MLB.com's prospect rankings, so it was disappointing to watch him get knocked around for a 6.02 ERA in his first 39 starts for the Pirates between 2019 and 2021.
But for anyone who tuned out, now is a good time to tune back in. The righty found something in sticking the landing to last season via a 2.71 ERA over his final 15 starts. Specifically, a new sweeper breaking ball that held hitters to a .157 average.
Keller's latest experiment is with a "gyro" cutter that he hopes will give him another weapon against left-handed batters. If it works, this year could see him finally break all the way out.
San Diego Padres: RHP Nabil Crismatt
2022 Stats: 50 G, 1 GS, 14 GF, 67.1 IP, 57 H (5 HR), 65 K, 22 BB, 2.94 ERA
With Yu Darvish, Joe Musgrove and Blake Snell at the top of the rotation and Robert Suárez and Josh Hader at the back end of the bullpen, "star-studded" seems an appropriate description of the Padres' pitching staff.
Yet if there's a potential unsung hero in the mix, it's Nabil Crismatt. Especially if he's able to recapture the form with which he posted a 1.83 ERA through his first 28 outings of last season, during which his changeup was among the league's best offspeed offerings.
If Crismatt gets back on that track while still generally being good for more than just three outs when he takes the ball, he'll be a huge asset for a Padres club that has every reason to have World Series aspirations.
San Francisco Giants: RHP Ross Stripling
2022 Stats: 32 G, 24 GS, 134.1 IP, 117 H (12 HR), 111 K, 20 BB, 3.01 ERA
As disappointing as it was that the Giants didn't end up with Aaron Judge or Carlos Correa, they nonetheless salvaged their offseason with $174 million worth of investments in generally interesting free agents.
Ross Stripling wasn't exactly the headliner of the bunch, but, well, what's not to like about a two-year, $25 million deal for a former All-Star coming off a career-best 129 ERA+?
Though some of Stripling's metrics hint at a return to earth this year, he should be fine if he keeps his walk rate near the 98th percentile and his chase rate in the 93rd percentile—in other words, if he keeps throwing strikes and tricking hitters into give him extra ones.
Seattle Mariners: RHP Matt Brash
2022 Stats: 39 G, 5 GS, 3 GF, 50.2 IP, 46 H (13 HR), 62 K, 33 BB, 4.44 ERA
Rob "Pitching Ninja" Friedman helped make Matt Brash a sensation early last season, but it didn't last. Once his ERA stood at 7.65 after five starts, the Mariners banished him to the minors.
It was on July 9 that Brash reemerged as a reliever. And a filthy one, at that. With a fastball that touched 100 mph and a slider that led MLB in horizontal action, the righty pitched to a 2.35 ERA with 43 strikeouts in 30.2 innings down the stretch.
To be sure, the problem with free passes that plagued Brash earlier in the year was still there late in the season. But even with that, he has as much upside as anyone in a Mariners pen that's among the best in the business.
St. Louis Cardinals: 2B Brendan Donovan
2022 Stats: 126 G, 468 PA, 5 HR, 2 SB, .281 AVG, .394 OBP, .379 SLG
At no point was Brendan Donovan a hot prospect. That's at least according to Baseball America, which never ranked him higher than No. 13 in the Cardinals system.
That none of this stopped Donovan from breaking in as a Gold Glover and Rookie of the Year contender in 2022 speaks to how driven he is, and he seems to have yet another trick up his sleeve for 2023. Courtesy of a new bat and a new batting stance, he's teasing a power outbreak with four home runs this spring.
As power was about the only thing missing from Donovan's offensive profile last season, he could loom large even in a lineup that also features Paul Goldschmidt, Nolan Arenado and Willson Contreras if he makes good on his tease.
Tampa Bay Rays: CF Jose Siri
2022 Stats: 104 G, 325 PA, 7 HR, 14 SB, .213 AVG, .268 OBP, .339 SLG
The Rays clearly can't live without an elite defender in center field, as they only waited a week to trade for Jose Siri after they lost Kevin Kiermaier to hip surgery last summer.
Siri already had seven outs above average when he joined the Rays, and he proceeded to post seven more OAA for them. He can go get it in the outfield with the best of 'em, and not just because he boasts 100th-percentile sprint speed.
Mike Petriello @mike_petriello
This is why the Rays got Jose Siri. Doesn't look *that* hard, because he got an insanely good jump on it, +12 ft better than avg in the right direction in first three seconds.<br><br>It's a 5% catch prob, and most guys don't even get close enough to try the dive. <a href="https://t.co/7CYSxfR9d8">pic.twitter.com/7CYSxfR9d8</a>
Speed and defense alone can make Siri a valuable everyday player for the Rays in 2023, and he'll be All-Star material if he also makes good on his offensive potential. He got his exit velocity as high as 112 mph last year, and then went to the Dominican Winter League and put up a .315/.398/.507 slash line.
Texas Rangers: LHP Brock Burke
2022 Stats: 52 G, 5 GF, 82.1 IP, 63 H (9 HR), 90 K, 24 BB, 1.97 ERA
If there are two reasons to doubt the Rangers' capacity for contention in 2023, one is the extreme volatility of their starting rotation and the other is the general weakness of their bullpen.
The latter, however, doesn't so much concern Brock Burke. It's impressive enough that he posted a sub-2.00 ERA last season, and that much more so considering he got four or more outs 34 times. That led all relievers.
Though the club hasn't committed to him in the role, closing duty would seem to be the next step up for Burke. His fastball-slider combination is good enough for the job, and it further helps his case that he was almost exactly as effective against righties as lefties last tear.
Toronto Blue Jays: C Danny Jansen
2022 Stats: 72 G, 248 PA, 15 HR, 1 SB, .260 AVG, .339 OBP, .516 SLG
You know you have a deep offense when a catcher who's fresh off posting a 141 OPS+ isn't even expected to be the primary guy behind the plate in 2023.
This is the position Danny Jansen is in with the Blue Jays, albeit not unfairly so given that fellow backstop Alejandro Kirk was an All-Star last season. Yet it's perhaps not out of the question that Jansen will force more playing time for himself, especially if he picks up where he left off last season.
Suffice it to say that his slugging prowess was the real deal. At .514, his expected slugging percentage was only two points below his actual mark and just behind Bryce Harper for ninth among hitters who put at least 150 balls in play.
Washington Nationals: RHP Carl Edwards Jr.
2022 Stats: 57 G, 8 GF, 51 H (8 HR), 56 K, 25 BB, 2.76 ERA
Nobody can be blamed for losing track of Carl Edwards Jr. between 2019 and 2021, across which he made 34 appearances for five different teams and pitched to a 7.90 ERA.
Last season, however, saw Edwards become a bright spot on a Nationals club that otherwise lost 107 games. Especially in the latter half of the year, as he ended with 32 appearances for which he had a 1.91 ERA.
Not all of Edwards' peripherals checked out, but Nats fans can nonetheless appreciate his high-spin fastball and penchant for stifling hard contact. That is, of course, until the team invariably cashes him in at the trade deadline.
Stats courtesy of Baseball Reference, FanGraphs and Baseball Savant.