Predicting 1 Unlikely Big Contributor For Every MLB Team in 2023
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Hint: the guy on the right could be a secret weapon for the Yankees.Elsa/Getty Images
You just never know when somebody like a Nestor Cortes, a Jorge López, a Santiago Espinal or a Jake Cronenworth is going to make the leap from relative obscurity to sudden stardom.
It was with this in mind that we scanned through every roster in Major League Baseball in search of lesser-known players who could do just that in 2023.
We made things interesting by shifting our sights away from household names, be they established major leaguers or prospects who made the cut for B/R’s latest top 100. We used many of our picks on guys who have been around, but who haven’t yet reached their full potential. In other cases, we dug deeper into each team’s depth chart for buried treasure.
We’ll proceed in alphabetical order by city.
Arizona Diamondbacks: RHP Kevin Ginkel
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Zac BonDurant/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images
2022 Stats: 30 G, 3 GF, 29.1 IP, 27 H (1 HR), 30 K, 11 BB, 3.38 ERA
Veteran right-hander Mark Melancon would like to close games again after losing the job last seaspon, but the Diamondbacks haven’t yet decided on who will be working the ninth inning.
This is where Kevin Ginkel could come in, if for no other reason than his slider is a closer-caliber out pitch. It’s frequently stood out when he has been able to pitch for the D-backs, including last year as he used it to rack up a 44.3 whiff percentage.
Alex Fast @AlexFast8
Today’s #TheFastPitch features a small but incredibly impressive sample size (178 thrown).
Kevin Ginkel’s – @ginks_sd – SL:
41.4% O-Swing pic.twitter.com/e3T5kEZCUv
As he got his fastball as high as 99 mph last season, Ginkel also has velocity worthy of closing duties. He thus might only need to avoid further trouble with his elbow to realize breakout potential that’s been there for several years at this point.
Atlanta: OF Sam Hilliard
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2022 Stats: 70 G, 200 PA, 2 HR, 5 SB, .184 AVG, .280 OBP, .264 SLG
Sam Hilliard looked like he could become a star for the Colorado Rockies when he broke through with a 1.006 OPS and seven home runs late in the 2019 season, but it just didn’t happen for him in Denver.
Still, Atlanta had the right idea in making a low-risk trade for Hilliard in early November. His results obviously didn’t benefit, but last year saw him lower his strikeout rate while simultaneously raising his walk rate and his average exit velocity, all while maintaining sprint speed in the 85th percentile.
With plenty of at-bats seemingly available in left field and at designated hitter, Hilliard may well become a key part of Atlanta’s lineup if he’s able to carry over those improvements to this season.
Baltimore Orioles: RHP Kyle Bradish
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Omar Rawlings/Getty Images
2022 Stats: 23 G, 23 GS, 117.2 IP, 119 H (17 HR), 111 K, 46 BB, 4.90 ERA
Kyle Bradish is projected to be smack in the middle of the Orioles rotation to start 2023, so casting him as a hidden gem is arguably a reach.
Still, we’re high on the guy after he salvaged his 2022 season by putting up a 3.28 ERA over his last 13 starts. That was mostly a case of Bradish brandishing a slider that held hitters to a .167 average.
Rob Friedman @PitchingNinja
Kyle Bradish, Wicked 89mph Slider. 🤢 pic.twitter.com/R7hZJnYMMI
Bradish was also experimenting with a sinker come September, as well he needed to be given that his four-seam fastball was a downright disastrous pitch for him. If he fully commits to becoming a sinker-slider guy in 2023, he’ll easily stick in the middle of the O’s rotation.
Boston Red Sox: 2B Christian Arroyo
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Maddie Malhotra/Boston Red Sox/Getty Images
2022 Stats: 87 G, 300 PA, 6 HR, 5 SB, .286 AVG, .322 OBP, .414 SLG
Feeling less than enthusiastic about the middle of the Red Sox’s infield? Well, that’s perfectly justifiable with Xander Bogaerts gone and Trevor Story recovering from elbow surgery.
It’s not the worst thing in the world, though, that these circumstances have Christian Arroyo lined up to see regular action at second base. He’s mostly been a solid hitter for Boston when he’s been healthy, and never more so than when he was going off for a .329 average in his last 45 games of 2022.
Arroyo was the most abundant line-drive machine in MLB during that span, so he may only need to stay healthy—which, based on his history, is admittedly not a small ask—to break all the way out in 2023.
Chicago Cubs: RHP Julian Merryweather
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Chris Coduto/Getty Images
2022 Stats: 26 G, 6 GF, 26.2 IP, 31 H (4 HR), 23 K, 7 BB, 6.75 ERA
Julian Merryweather only has three major league seasons under his belt despite being 31 years old, and with just 47 appearances and a 5.64 ERA to show for them. His stuff, though, remains worth dreaming on.
He’s averaged just north of 97 mph on his fastball in the majors, also featuring a very good slider and an even better changeup. Against the latter, hitters are just 2-for-20 for his career.
Rob Friedman @PitchingNinja
Julian Merryweather, 97mph Fastball & 79mph Changeup, Individual Pitches + Overlay. pic.twitter.com/vPXKABfaga
Injuries all too frequently got in Merryweather’s way while he was with the Toronto Blue Jays, which is presumably why they were comfortable putting him on waivers. But should he stay healthy in 2023, he may well pitch himself into doing high-leverage work for the Cubs.
Chicago White Sox: C Carlos Pérez
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AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin
2022 Stats: 7 G, 18 PA, 0 HR, 0 SB, .222 AVG, .222 OBP, .333 SLG
Though the White Sox are positioned to use Yasmani Grandal as their everyday catcher, two concerns hang over his head: a recent history of injuries and what figures to be even more trouble policing the running game in the league’s more speed-friendly environment.
If such things eventually create an opening at catcher, Carlos Pérez will be there if the White Sox want to give him a shot.
It’s good enough that Pérez hit 21 home runs in 109 games for Triple-A Charlotte, but what really stands out is that he also walked (34 times) nearly as often as he struck out (40). The catch is that he isn’t much for policing base stealers in his own right, but the White Sox could live with that if the hits are there.
Cincinnati Reds: RHP Ian Gibaut
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G Fiume/Getty Images
2022 Stats: 34 G, 3 GF, 36.0 IP, 39 H (3 HR), 48 K, 18 BB, 4.50 ERA
Ian Gibaut went on quite the journey in 2022, initially signing with the Cleveland Guardians in March before he was selected off waivers by the Los Angeles Dodgers in June and then the Reds a few days later.
It might not seem like Gibaut did much with the shot the Reds gave him, but look closer. It surely takes some talent to rack up 30 more strikeouts than walks over just 34.2 innings, and the righty’s expected ERA was second-best on the team after breakout closer Alexis Díaz.
Gibaut’s fastball, against which hitters had a .180 average and a 29.5 whiff percentage, is a weapon. So, too, is a slider that features exceptional horizontal movement. If maximized, these things may yet make him a high-leverage reliever.
Cleveland Guardians: RHP Cody Morris
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Ron Jenkins/Getty Images
2022 Stats: 7 G, 5 GS, 23.2 IP, 21 H (3 HR), 23 K, 12 BB, 2.28 ERA
The only way Cody Morris is ever going to realize his full potential is if his persistent issues with his lat ever take a break. It’s not the best omen that this is already not the case in 2023.
Nevertheless, Morris’ stuff is chef’s kiss-level delectable. He struck out darn near half (39 of 80) the batters he faced in the minors last year, and he marked his brief time in the majors with a mid-90s fastball and a changeup that drew whiffs at a 47.6 percent clip.
MLB Pipeline @MLBPipeline
Cody Morris fans 3 over 2 scoreless frames for the @CleGuardians! pic.twitter.com/AzWDESFF6y
Whether it’s as a starter underneath Shane Bieber and Triston McKenzie or a late-inning reliever alongside Emmanuel Clase and James Karinchak, a healthy version of Morris would stand to become the Guardians’ latest in-house pitching success story.
Colorado Rockies: DH Sean Bouchard
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AP Photo/David Zalubowski
2022 Stats: 27 G, 97 PA, 3 HR, 0 SB, .297 AVG, .454 OBP, .500 SLG
The Rockies set a new franchise low for runs per game in 2022, which isn’t great considering that Coors Field still exists and is still, well, Coors Field.
Regardless, the Rockies will clearly need more from their lineup in 2023. And lest anyone think that a healthy Kris Bryant is the club’s best hope, we’d advise you not to underestimate Sean Bouchard’s potential as a breakout slugger.
He went off for a 1.030 OPS after he settled into regular playing time on Aug. 30, racking up nearly as many walks (19) as strikeouts (23) and punishing fastballs to the tune of a .421 average. The latter hints at a skill that’s particularly useful at Coors Field, where pitchers tend to resort to the hard stuff rather than test their bendy pitches against the thin air.
Detroit Tigers: DH/OF Kerry Carpenter
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Jamie Sabau/Getty Images
2022 Stats: 31 G, 113 PA, 6 HR, 0 SB, .252 AVG, .310 OBP, .485 SLG
Speaking of teams that had lousy times on offense in 2022, nobody had a lousier time than the Tigers. They finished dead-last in the league in home runs and runs.
Former top prospects Riley Greene and Spencer Torkelson are candidates to move the needle in a better direction in 2023, but it’s Kerry Carpenter who looms as the club’s secret weapon. Prior to his debut with the Tigers last year, he had previously gone off for a 1.025 OPS and 30 home runs in just 98 games across the Double-A and Triple-A levels.
Detroit Tigers @tigers
Kerry Carpenter hammered that one. pic.twitter.com/wIKqJmTb94
In years past, Carpenter’s up-the-middle power alley would have spelled his doom at Comerica Park. But not this year, as the park’s new dimensions figure to be a lot more generous to long fly balls to center field.
Houston Astros: RHP Seth Martinez
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AP Photo/Ron Schwane
2022 Stats: 29 G, 7 GF, 38.2 IP, 26 H (3 HR), 38 K, 14 BB, 2.09 ERA
Those who would attempt to take down the reigning World Series champions in 2023 don’t want to hear it, but here it is anyway: the Astros have another talented pitcher on the rise in the person of Seth Martinez.
He’s not a hard thrower, having averaged only 91.9 mph on his four-seam fastball last season. It’s a good thing, then, that his sinker was his best pitch and that both his slider and his changeup held hitters to sub-.200 batting averages.
Seth Martinez strikes out Jonathan Villar. Yikes. 😬 pic.twitter.com/HMGHVrs1d9
Martinez is currently in position to work his way up the pecking order in the bullpen, where he may be able to challenge Rafael Montero and Bryan Abreu for high-leverage innings if he keeps the good stuff flowing.
Kansas City Royals: RF Nate Eaton
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Photo By Winslow Townson/Getty Images
2022 Stats: 44 G, 122 PA, 1 HR, 11 SB, .264 AVG, .331 OBP, .387 SLG
Remember the Royals of the mid-2010s? You know, the ones who rode such things as unmatched aggression on the basepaths and superb outfield defense to back-to-back World Series appearances?
The spirit of those teams is alive and well in Nate Eaton, who showcased 97th-percentile sprint speed and racked up six defensive runs saved in only 116 innings in right field while playing with the Royals last season.
Kansas City Royals @Royals
Nate Eaton can fly.#TogetherRoyal pic.twitter.com/eL8BAYhXp0
Eaton’s role on the 2023 Royals was unclear as of a couple days ago, but now he’s slated for starts in right field in the wake of Drew Waters’ oblique injury. If he’s able to make the most of his speed and defensive gifts, he could make it hard for the Royals to take those starts away.
Los Angeles Angels: LHP José Quijada
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Katharine Lotze/Getty Images
2022 Stats: 42 G, 11 GF, 40.2 IP, 25 H (5 HR), 52 K, 21 BB, 3.98 ERA
The Angels did well to load up on depth during the offseason, but their bullpen remains a source of concern. To wit, it’s projected by FanGraphs to be the worst in the league.
José Quijada might have something to say about that. There’s something about his fastball—it does, as Max Stassi eloquently put it, “different stuff”—that bothers hitters. They managed just a .179 average against it in 2022 even though they knew it was coming. He threw 84.9 percent of the time.
Talkin’ Baseball @TalkinBaseball_
José Quijada is PUMPED pic.twitter.com/dTaUD4s7ii
As his average velocity has gone from 93.3 to 94.6 mph in a span of just three years, it’s reasonable to think that Quijada may be able to add still more zip on his heater in 2023. If so, he’ll have more high-leverage assignments headed his way.
Los Angeles Dodgers: OF James Outman
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AP Photo/Jeff Chiu
2022 Stats: 4 G, 16 PA, 1 HR, 0 SB, .462 AVG, .563 OBP, .846 SLG
There’s a lot about the Dodgers offense that just doesn’t look right following the departures of Trea Turner, Justin Turner and Cody Bellinger, but there’s hope to be found in all the talented young hitters the club has lying around.
James Outman is one of them, and perhaps the best bet to eventually join fellow prospect Miguel Vargas as a regular in the Dodgers lineup. He’s an athletic 6’3″, 215-pounder who put up a .978 OPS and 31 home runs in 125 games at Double-A and Triple-A in 2022.
Outman is on the outside looking in at the major league roster for now. But with David Peralta and Trayce Thompson holding seemingly tenuous grips on left and center field, he has at least two avenues to an everyday gig.
Miami Marlins: LF Bryan De La Cruz
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2022 Stats: 115 G, 355 PA, 13 HR, 4 SB, .252 AVG, .294 OBP, .432 SLG
The Marlins ranked 24th in the majors with 144 home runs last season, but you’d never know it from how they prioritized contact in adding Luis Arraez and Jean Segura over the winter.
If the hope is to simply get more power from incumbent players, well, Bryan De La Cruz should be able to help. He was a merely decent slugger last season, but he deserved better on account of a .498 expected slugging percentage that ranked in the 94th percentile.
Bally Sports Florida & Bally Sports Sun @BallySportsFL
BRYAN DE LA 𝘽𝙊𝙊𝙈 💥
You cannot stop Bryan De La Cruz, you can only hope to contain him
2-run HR gives Miami a 4-0 lead!@Marlins | #MakeItMiami pic.twitter.com/e5mJJIM7cE
After spending last year roaming all over the outfield, De La Cruz seems to have a home in left field for 2023. As his metrics rate left field as his best defensive position, this year may well see him turn into a multi-dimensional star.
Milwaukee Brewers: 2B Brice Turang
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AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin
2022 Stats (MiLB): 131 G, 603 PA, 13 HR, 34 SB, .286 AVG, .360 OBP, .412 SLG
As a former first-round draft pick who’s occasionally appeared in top-100 prospect rankings, Brice Turang arguably has too much of a profile to appear in a list like this.
We’ve included him partially on the grounds that he’s not in B/R’s top 100, but more so out of excitement over the new trick he showed in the minors last season. Those 13 home runs he hit were more than twice as many as he’d managed in any previous season, so he would seem to have another tool to go with his bat-to-ball skill and his defensive acumen.
Milwaukee Brewers @Brewers
What can’t Brice Turang do?@BRiCEcTuRANG | #ThisIsMyCrew pic.twitter.com/ZVgJsCZLsz
In other words, Turang is indeed deserving of the shot he’s poised to get as the Brewers’ everyday second baseman. He can ensure that Kolten Wong won’t be missed at the keystone.
Minnesota Twins: LHP Jovani Moran
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Ed Zurga/Getty Images
2022 Stats: 31 G, 16 GF, 40.2 IP, 25 H (0 HR), 54 K, 18 BB, 2.21 ERA
The Twins know they have a capable relief trio in Jorge López, Jhoan Duran and Griffin Jax, yet they still only project to have a middling bullpen.
Keep an eye on Jovani Moran as a guy who could change that equation. The lefty did good work in 2022, often working multiple innings and holding his own against right-handed batters to boot. They hit .144 against him, and specifically just .100 against his changeup.
Nash Walker @Nashwalker9
Jovani Moran’s changeup is producing a 50.8% whiff rate. Wiffleball. pic.twitter.com/9fOJzVKx3g
The .346 average that lefties had against Moran’s fastball would be hard to explain…if it weren’t for a .197 expected average that hints at some bad luck. As such, he may not have any more strides to make before he’s ready for high-leverage duty.
New York Mets: RHP Zach Greene
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AP Photo/Jeff Roberson
2022 Stats (MiLB): 48 G, 13 GF, 68.1 IP, 51 H (11 HR), 96 K, 32 BB, 3.42 ERA
It’s possible that Zach Greene won’t be a Met for long. As a Rule 5 pick, he’ll have to stay on the club’s 26-man roster, lest he be offered back to the New York Yankees.
Still, Greene wouldn’t be on the Mets right now if there wasn’t something about him that the club liked. Call it a hunch, but it’s probably related to how he’s been a capable strikeout pitcher in the minors even without the benefit of top-tier velocity. Deception is more the name of his game, as outlined nicely by River Ave. Blues last March:
River Ave. Blues @RiverAveBlues
I’m a sucker for guys with low-90s heat who get swings that make it look like they’re throwing 100. This pitch was 92.4 mph, but Zach Greene is a big spin efficiency/vertical approach angle guy and the low-90s plays way up. pic.twitter.com/iqNpGQ30QH
Provided that Greene’s stuff continues to play in spring training, he can snag one of three openings in the Mets bullpen and then hope to earn high-leverage innings.
New York Yankees: RHP Ron Marinaccio
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Sarah Stier/Getty Images
2022 Stats: 40 G, 8 GF, 44.0 IP, 22 H (2 HR), 56 K, 24 BB, 2.05 ERA
Ron Marinaccio was plenty good for the Yankees last season, but he also had a problem that you don’t often see with right-handed relievers: reverse splits.
This would, however, seem to be fixable. Instead of continuing to feed right-handed batters a slider against which they hit a solid .208, Marinaccio might simply scrap it in favor of a changeup against which they went just 1-for-25 with 14 strikeouts.
Rob Friedman @PitchingNinja
Ron Marinaccio, Nasty 82mph Changeup. 👌 pic.twitter.com/R9uhCsLjS9
That simple change (pun very much intended) could be what gives Marinaccio a bridge from middle relief to late relief, where the Yankees frankly need another option to go with Clay Holmes and Michael King.
Oakland Athletics: 2B Jordan Diaz
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Steph Chambers/Getty Images
2022 Stats: 15 G, 51 PA, 0 HR, 0 SB, .265 AVG, .294 OBP, .327 SLG
The obvious pick here would be speedy center fielder Esteury Ruiz, who stole 85 bases in the minors last year. But since we’ve already given him the floor elsewhere, we thought we’d sing Jordan Diaz’s praises instead.
He may not have done much with the cup of coffee that he fot last year, but Diaz is one of the most gifted young hitters around. He hit .326 at Double-A and Triple-A in 2022 and was more recently seen batting .339 in the Colombian Winter League.
Diaz has mostly played third base in the minors, but he probably doesn’t have the arm to stick there. It therefore makes sense that the A’s broke him in at second base, where they could once again make room for him by shifting Tony Kemp into a utility role.
Philadelphia Phillies: DH Darick Hall
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Mitchell Leff/Getty Images
2022 Stats: 41 G, 142 PA, 9 HR, 0 SB, .250 AVG, .282 OBP, .522 SLG
With Bryce Harper’s recovery from Tommy John surgery likely to last until at least June, the Phillies will have some at-bats at designated hitter to spread around for the time being.
Darick Hall figures to get the lion’s share of those as things stand now, and his capacity to make the most of the chance is not to be underestimated. Though he did finish his time in the majors last year with 44 strikeouts against only five walks, his 33.7 ground-ball percentage and 91.4 mph exit velocity tease a legitimate feel for slugging.
Philadelphia Phillies @Phillies
First hit, first home run for Darick Hall!!#RingTheBell pic.twitter.com/slAWzFJ0jz
The more Hall hits, the more awkward he can make things for the Phillies in the run-up to Harper’s return. Though, to clarify, this would be the good kind of awkward.
Pittsburgh Pirates: RHP Luis Ortiz
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Daniel Shirey/MLB Photos via Getty Images
2022 Stats: 4 G, 4 GS, 16.0 IP, 8 H (1 HR), 17 K, 10 BB, 4.50 ERA
The best slider among prospects is possessed not by Daniel Espino, Bobby Miller or DL Hall, but by Luis Ortiz.
This is according to Geoff Peontes of Baseball America, anyway, though Ortiz himself presented a strong enough case for his slider in the four starts he made for the Pirates in 2022. He averaged 87.7 mph on it and got batters to swing and miss at a 47.3 percent clip.
Rob Friedman @PitchingNinja
Luis Ortiz, Dirty Sliders. 😨 pic.twitter.com/Tp6SLR1jkA
Ortiz also got his fastball up over 100 mph on multiple occasions. So even if his control is presently lacking, the Pirates may not be able to keep him out of their plans for their starting rotation for very long.
San Diego Padres: LHP Jose Lopez
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Christian Petersen/Getty Images
2022 Stats (MiLB): 42 G, 30 GF, 59.1 IP, 35 H (1 HR), 95 K, 38 BB, 2.43 ERA
Here’s another from the “Might Not Be Around for Long” file. Jose Lopez was a Rule 5 pick by the Padres from the Tampa Bay Rays, so he’ll have to earn a roster spot to stick with the organization.
There’s nonetheless little question that Lopez has the stuff to dominate out of the bullpen. He boasts a mid-90s fastball and a low-to-mid 80s slider, and he was about equally effective against righties (.522 OPS) and lefties (.507 OPS) in the minors last season.
As noted by AJ Cassavell of MLB.com, the Padres only have one opening to fill in their bullpen. With a good enough spring, Lopez can take that and look to leapfrog Tim Hill and Drew Pomeranz as Bob Melvin’s favorite lefty not named Josh Hader.
San Francisco Giants: C/OF Blake Sabol
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Christian Petersen/Getty Images
2022 Stats (MiLB): 123 G, 513 PA, 19 HR, 10 SB, .284 AVG, .363 OBP, .497 SLG
This feels like a make-or-break year for Joey Bart, who didn’t exactly cement his status behind the plate in the first year of the Giants’ post-Buster Posey era in 2022.
It therefore doesn’t seem like a coincidence that the Giants sought a trade for Blake Sabol after the Reds took him from the Pirates in the Rule 5 draft. Though he was originally drafted as an outfielder, he’s since become precisely what the Giants want Bart to be: a catcher who can hit.
Given his defensive versatility and particular knack for crushing right-handed pitchers—he hit .290 with an .878 OPS against them in the minors last year—the left-handed-hitting Sabol could at least serve the Giants in a time share with the right-handed-hitting Bart. Either way, he should be heard from in 2023.
Seattle Mariners: OF Cade Marlowe
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Chris Bernacchi/Diamond Images via Getty Images
2022 Stats (MiLB): 133 G, 578 PA, 23 HR, 42 SB, .287 AVG, .377 OBP, .487 SLG
Elsewhere on the topic of former top prospects who may be facing make-or-break years, there’s also Jarred Kelenic in Seattle. If he continues to struggle against major league pitching, the Mariners will need to look elsewhere for a left fielder.
To this end, Cade Marlowe will be standing by. Though the swing-and-miss in his game can’t be denied, neither can the power and speed that gave the opposition headaches aplenty in the minors last season.
Minor League Baseball @MiLB
No. 16 @Mariners prospect Cade Marlowe notches two homers for the @ARTravs pic.twitter.com/g95ruher5v
Marlowe was surely better against right-handers in 2022, but a .752 OPS and seven home runs against left-handers were nothing for him to be ashamed of. If he does force himself into the Mariners’ outfield, it may not necessarily be on a strictly part-time capacity.
St. Louis Cardinals: LHP Connor Thomas
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Chris Bernacchi/Diamond Images via Getty Images
2022 Stats (MiLB): 28 G, 25 GS, 135.0 IP, 172 H (16 HR), 110 K, 40 BB, 5.47 ERA
As it features one 40-something, three 30-somethings and one injury-prone 20-something, the Cardinals rotation looks…shaky, to put it lightly.
The club’s young hurlers can see the situation as a potential opportunity, and Connor Thomas might be the most interesting of the bunch. A weird thing to say in context of those MiLB numbers, to be sure, but not in relation to his performance in the Arizona Fall League. In six starts, he pitched to a 1.75 ERA with a 32.3 strikeout percentage.
For this, Thomas credited a brand new cutter that he learned from former Cardinals great Jason Isringhausen. As he also throws a four-seamer, a sinker, a slider and a changeup, the lefty now has five pitches with which to pursue big league success.
Tampa Bay Rays: RHP Kevin Kelly
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AP Photo/Phelan M. Ebenhack
2022 Stats (MiLB): 48 G, 13 GF, 57.1 IP, 42 H (1 HR), 75 K, 22 BB, 2.04 ERA
Not unlike how Blake Sabol ended up with the Giants, Kevin Kelly is a Rule 5 guy who the Rays got via a trade with the Rockies after they took him from the Guardians.
Kelly seems like a very, well, Rays kind of pitcher in that he doesn’t have eye-popping stuff, yet is dominant nonetheless. That funky delivery of his makes it hard to track the ball and his pitches tend to induce soft ground balls.
Guardians Prospective @CleGuardPro
#Guardians 24yr old RHP relief prospect Kevin Kelly struckout 4 over 3.0 scoreless innings for Columbus Tuesday. Kelly has not allowed an ER over his last 16 appearances.
Line – 3.0(IP) 0H 0R 0ER 0BB 4SO
Last 16 – 19.2(IP) 5H 1R 0ER 4BB 29SO 0.00 ERA@KevinKelly252 #ForTheLand pic.twitter.com/BSn2iBaXbN
The catch with Kelly is that he’s far more effective against right-handed batters than those of left-handed vintage. But as evidenced by the very existence of Adam Ottavino, it is possible for a reliever to find great success despite such limitations.
Texas Rangers: RHP Yerry Rodriguez
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AP Photo/LM Otero
2022 Stats: 1 G, 0 GF, 1.0 IP, 1 H (0 HR), 1 K, 0 BB, 0.00 ERA
The Rangers have a star-studded rotation and at least three great hitters, but that may not be enough for them to contend if their bullpen doesn’t outplay expectations.
If it’s a question of who can help, well, Yerry Rodriguez is right there. He got a chance to show off his high 90s fastball when he made his major league debut last October. Also in his repertoire is a slider that could be made into a dandy sweeper.
kennedi landry @kennlandry
Yerry Rodriguez facing his first MLB batter: K pic.twitter.com/qgfXhIRDBb
Like with Kevin Kelly, the caveat with Rodriguez is that he needs to be kept far away from left-handed batters, who got to him for a 1.011 OPS in the minors last season. Also like Kelly, however, he can go far even if all he’s doing is sitting down righty batters.
Toronto Blue Jays: C/OF Zach Britton
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Chris Bernacchi/Diamond Images via Getty Images
2022 Stats: 76 G, 312 PA, 10 HR, 10 SB, .238 AVG, .381 OBP, .444 SLG
This is the actual Zach Britton we’re talking about here. Not Zack Britton, who used to be a Zach Britton before he swapped out the H for a K back in 2019.
In any case, the thing to know about this Britton is that he capped his 2022 journey by being an absolute terror in the Arizona Fall League. In 14 games, he hit .404 with as many walks as strikeouts (7) and five extra-base hits.
Britton will obviously be hard-pressed to carry that performance over to 2023, where he’s presumably ticketed for Double-A after playing only 19 games there last season. But should he continue to rise, he could find himself seeing action as both a catcher and an outfielder for the Blue Jays this year.
Washington Nationals: RHP Thad Ward
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Jill Weisleder/MLB Photos via Getty Images
2022 Stats (MiLB): 13 G, 13 GS, 51.1 IP, 40 H (3 HR), 66 K, 19 BB, 2.28 ERA
Let’s end with a guy who was a No. 1 as recently as December, when the Nationals made Thad Ward the first pick of the Rule 5 draft.
Ward wasn’t able to pitch that much over the last three seasons, as the pandemic wiped out the 2020 campaign and he then had Tommy John surgery in 2021. Yet his return to minor league action last summer was a resounding success, and he promptly carried on with a 2.84 ERA in the Arizona Fall League.
MLB Pipeline @MLBPipeline
No. 16 @RedSox prospect Thad Ward tied his career high with 10 strikeouts for the @PortlandSeaDogs: https://t.co/WPx2q9JDfI pic.twitter.com/qLKYB4sBpy
Ward’s funky delivery and sinker-slider combination give him a floor as an effective reliever, but Baseball America notes that the Nationals believe him to have “another gear to reach” as he gets further away from surgery. If they’re right, he could soon be in their rotation.
Stats courtesy of Baseball Reference, FanGraphs and Baseball Savant.