Predictions For MLB’s Top Stars for 2023 Season
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What’s in store for MLB’s only two-way star?AP Photo/Ashley Landis, File
So you want to know what the 2023 season has in store for the biggest stars in Major League Baseball. And you don’t want to simply wait to find out.
Lucky for you, we have predictions.
We don’t have a crystal ball or any kind of crystal ball-ish device, so you’ll have to take these for what they’re worth. But even in the face of eventual humiliation of having gotten not a single thing right, we offer them nonetheless. Some are very specific, while others are more general. And not all of them are positive.
As far as what went into making these predictions, it was part consultation of various tea leaves and part wild guess-ery. We’ll leave it to you to guess which part was bigger.
In total, we have predictions for 61 players. One is reserved for MLB’s only two-way star. The other 60 are broken up by position, with separate slides for right- and left-handed starting pitchers.
Predictions for 5 Catchers
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Adley RutschmanG Fiume/Getty Images
J.T. Realmuto, Philadelphia Phillies
The Prediction: He’ll be a top-five MVP finisher for the first time.
Seriously, how weird is it that Realmuto has never finished in the top-five of the MVP voting? It’s surely an overdue honor for the best catcher in baseball. And after he became only the second catcher to ever go 20-20 for home runs and stolen bases last year, a 25-25 season seems a reasonable ask for 2023.
Adley Rutschman, Baltimore Orioles
The Prediction: He, also, will be a top-five MVP finisher.
Per fWAR, Rutschman was the third-best position player in MLB after he collected his first home run on June 15 of last season. He therefore must only pick up where he left off, though he also figures to be a beneficiary of the shift ban when batting left-handed.
Will Smith, Los Angeles Dodgers
The Prediction: Bigger bases won’t mean more stolen bases on him.
Smith was only 10-for-56 throwing out runners last year, so the new pizza-box-looking bases would seem not to bode well for him. But knowing that his pop time to second base actually got better in 2022, we’re going to zag and forecast improvement in that arena instead.
Salvador Perez, Kansas City Royals
The Prediction: He, on the other hand, will struggle to police the running game.
This obviously cuts against the fact that Perez has caught 36 percent of would-be base stealers throughout his career, but his arm isn’t what it once was. His throws to second base have fallen from an average of 84 mph in 2015 to a more modest 82.9 mph in 2023.
Willson Contreras, St. Louis Cardinals
The Prediction: He’ll fall short of 20 home runs.
Contreras is one of only three catchers with four seasons of 20-plus home runs since 2017, so this is probably a reach. Yet the former Chicago Cub historically hasn’t hit well at his new home stadium, which isn’t a great place for right-handed sluggers anyway.
Predictions for 5 First Basemen
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Paul GoldschmidtBrandon Sloter/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images
Paul Goldschmidt, St. Louis Cardinals
The Prediction: Regression will not spare him.
Apologies to any Goldschmidt stans out there, but down seems like the only way to go for the reigning National League MVP. He will be 36 before the year is out, after all, and his metrics from last season suggest he has some outstanding bad luck about to come due.
Freddie Freeman, Los Angeles Dodgers
The Prediction: He’ll win the National League batting title.
It’s just plain weird that Freeman, who’s hit .300 more often than not in his 13 seasons, has yet to win a batting title, so this is partly (pardon the pun) a law-of-averages thing. And while the shift ban will close off his previously oft-used avenues to cheap hits, he’s nonetheless been a .328 hitter with the shift off and only a .289 hitter with the shift on.
Pete Alonso, New York Mets
The Prediction: He’ll win the National League home run title.
Anyone else just get the sense that Alonso is also about to have a big year? His power has already been mighty enough to produce a 162-game average of 45 home runs in his four seasons with the Mets, and now he has the benefit of smaller dimensions at Citi Field.
💥 PETE ALONSO WALK-OFF HOME RUN 💥
METS WIN!!!! pic.twitter.com/0RWLubhjqF
Matt Olson, Atlanta
The Prediction: He’ll notch his first 40-homer season.
The shift ban has big ramifications for Olson, who saw more shifts than any other hitter between 2020 and 2022. Those may not have cost him many hits, but they did seem to make him more reluctant to pull the ball. If that switch goes back on, the homers should fly.
Vladimir Guerrero Jr., Toronto Blue Jays
The Prediction: He won’t return to his 2021 form.
Who is the real Guerrero? The guy who hit .311 and slugged 48 home runs in 2021? Or the guy who hit .274 with 32 homers last year? We’re going to pessimistically come down on the side of the latter on account of his ground-ball habit and recent troubles with sliders.
Predictions for 5 Second Basemen
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Marcus SemienCooper Neill/MLB Photos via Getty Images
Jose Altuve, Houston Astros
The Prediction: He’s going to have a very bad year on defense.
Defense has always been Altuve’s biggest weakness, and now the Astros can no longer cover that up by shifting him wherever they want. And that, for the record, is something they did with Altuve more than any other team did with any other second baseman in 2022.
Marcus Semien, Texas Rangers
The Prediction: He’ll finish third in the American League MVP voting. Again.
Semien was mostly excellent last year, shrugging off a brutal start to post an .816 OPS, 26 home runs and 20 stolen bases over his last 118 games. The bigger bases should help his speed game in 2023, and he’s a good enough defender to thrive despite the shift ban.
Andrés Giménez, Cleveland Guardians
The Prediction: He’ll hit .300 and steal 30 bases.
Because if Giménez could hit .297 and go 20-for-23 on stolen bases even without bigger bases and in the face of semifrequent shifts, it just plain stands to reason that he’s due for improvements in both departments.
Jeff McNeil, New York Mets
The Prediction: He’ll win a Gold Glove.
Yeah, yeah. Brendan Rodgers is still out there somewhere. But last year’s other two finalists for the National League Gold Glove at second base are now playing positions other than the keystone, which has generally rated as the best spot for McNeil.
Luis Arraez, Miami Marlins
The Prediction: He’ll hit double-digit home runs.
Arraez isn’t known for his power, and he still won’t be come the end of 2023. But we’ll say that he’ll be known more for it. His exit velocity is trending nowhere but up, and it showed as he more than doubled his career home run total last year. Another step up is in the cards.
Predictions for 5 Third Basemen
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José RamírezElsa/Getty Images
Manny Machado, San Diego Padres
The Prediction: He’ll be the World Series MVP.
The Padres have put precisely that kind of team together, and Machado himself looked more October-ready than ever as he was racking up a .910 OPS and four home runs in last year’s playoffs. That he’ll be in salary-drive mode throughout 2023 can’t hurt either.
Nolan Arenado, St. Louis Cardinals
The Prediction: His Gold Glove streak will finally end.
Sure, Arenado has won 10 in a row at third base. But, hey, the streak has to end sometime. And nobody is better positioned to end it than Pittsburgh Pirates third baseman Ke’Bryan Hayes, who led the majors in defensive runs saved last year.
José Ramírez, Cleveland Guardians
The Prediction: He’ll hit .300 and go 30-30.
Ramírez does have a 30-30 season on his record, but not one in which he also hit over .300. Lucky for him, the shift ban should result in more hits—he was shifted on 93.3 percent of the time when batting lefty last season—and the bigger bases should result in more green lights.
Austin Riley, Atlanta
The Prediction: He’ll finish second to Pete Alonso in home runs.
Riley clubbed a career-high 38 homers last season, and the general upward trend of his batted-ball metrics (i.e., exit velocity, hard-hit rate and barrel percentage) hints at more to come in 2023. He should go north of 40 and maybe even close to 50.
Rafael Devers, Boston Red Sox
The Prediction: He’ll set a career high for walks.
Devers has been more willing to take free passes in the last two seasons than he was earlier in his career. And while the evidence for whether lineup protection is a real thing is murky, not having to worry about facing Xander Bogaerts and J.D. Martinez afterward would seem to be a good excuse for pitchers to be cautious with Devers.
Predictions for 5 Shortstops
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Trea TurnerMitchell Leff/Getty Images
Trea Turner, Philadelphia Phillies
The Prediction: He’ll go .300, 30-30 and 100-100.
In other words, he’ll hit .300, hit 30 home runs and steal 30 bases and both drive in and score 100 runs. The 30-30 part is the only thing he hasn’t already done before, but that’s where the new rules and Citizens Bank Park’s itty-bitty dimensions can only help.
Carlos Correa, Minnesota Twins
The Prediction: He’ll hit 30 home runs.
Correa has weirdly never actually done this despite landing north of 20 home runs on five separate occasions. This should be the year he finally gets over the hump, if for no other reason than he’s likely to be playing angry after a bizarrely tumultuous offseason.
Francisco Lindor, New York Mets
The Prediction: He’ll also hit 30 home runs.
Lindor, on the other hand, has hit 30 home runs in a season before. But not since 2019, though he came reasonable close in cranking out 26 last year. Having a shorter right-field fence at which to take aim at Citi Field can only help him close the gap in 2023.
Corey Seager, Texas Rangers
The Prediction: He’ll win the American League batting title.
Seager is just that talented of a hitter in a general way, as he hit over .300 in 2020 and 2021 and landed in the 96th percentile for expected batting average in 2022. In 2023, he figures to be the single biggest beneficiary of the shift ban.
Think Corey Seager is okay with these shift limitations? pic.twitter.com/F89kSxBJ0w
Xander Bogaerts, San Diego Padres
The Prediction: He won’t hit .300 for a change.
A bold take, given that Bogaerts has hit .300 in three of the last four seasons. But his career splits—i.e., the ones that show he hit .312 at Fenway Park and .271 elsewhere—from his days with the Red Sox suggest that he’s going to miss taking regular aim at the Green Monster.
Predictions for 5 Left Fielders
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Juan SotoDaniel Shirey/MLB Photos via Getty Images
Juan Soto, San Diego Padres
The Prediction: He’ll post a .450 OBP with 30-plus home runs.
Nobody elicits that particular “dude’s gonna have a huge year” feeling more than Soto. He’s obviously better than he showed last season—not that a .242/.401/.452 slash line and 27 home runs are bad numbers, mind you—and now he doesn’t have to worry about getting traded or being shifted on.
Kyle Schwarber, Philadelphia Phillies
The Prediction: He’ll set a career high for batting average.
The shift ban is key here, and not simply because Schwarber was shifted on 88.7 percent of the time in 2022. He hinted on The Athletic’s Jayson Stark’s Starkville podcast that he’s going to change his approach to be more “aggressive” in pursuit of balls in play.
Randy Arozarena, Tampa Bay Rays
The Prediction: He won’t lead the league in caught-stealings.
Arozarena has had at least a share of the league lead for caught stealings in each of the last two seasons. That should change this year. If not because he’ll stop trying to steal bases, then surely because the bigger bags will mercifully help him find more success.
Steven Kwan, Cleveland Guardians
The Prediction: He’ll hit double-digit home runs.
Power isn’t a big part of Kwan’s game, which is more about never swinging and missing and playing superb defense. But it was indeed a bigger part in the latter half of 2022. That’s when a drop in his ground-ball rate helped him club five of the six homers he had all year.
Kris Bryant, Colorado Rockies
The Prediction: He’ll finally hit a home run at Coors Field.
This is something Bryant didn’t actually do in his first season as a Rockie last year, as he hit all five of his home runs on the road even though he played only 16 games there compared to 26 on the road. Beyond that, his 2023 season feels like a “no promises” sort of deal.
Predictions for 5 Center Fielders
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Mike TroutJason Miller/Getty Images
Mike Trout, Los Angeles Angels
The Prediction: He’ll win the American League home run title.
Only Nelson Cruz has gone deep more than Trout since 2012, but the latter has yet to lead his league in long balls. Him changing that this year is certainly contingent on his health, specifically as it relates to his back. But, hey, maybe it was a tease of things to come when he was more dominant after he returned from a monthlong stay on the injured list last season.
Julio Rodríguez, Seattle Mariners
The Prediction: He’ll make the leap to 30-30.
This is probably a lay-up after Rodríguez hit 28 homers and stole 25 bases as a rookie in 2022, but we’re going for it anyway. It was even tempting to go 40-40, but we’d like to see a little more zone discipline from him before going there.
Michael Harris II, Atlanta
The Prediction: Regression will find him.
Speaking of discipline, Harris ended last season with a chase rate in the 7th percentile and five times as many strikeouts as walks. Unless he makes strides there, the only way he’s going to avoid regressing is if he’s able to carry over last year’s .361 average on balls in play.
Brandon Nimmo, New York Mets
The Prediction: His OBP will go back over .400.
Even though he still netted himself a $162 million contract, Nimmo fell short of making it three straight years with an OBP north of .400 in 2022. If he can get his walk rate (78th percentile) more in line with his chase rate (91st percentile), that should get fixed this year.
Byron Buxton, Minnesota Twins
The Prediction: He’ll play in over 100 games.
Buxton has only done this once before in his eight major league seasons, so we’re going out on a limb. But while he wasn’t forthcoming with details, he did allude to making “a lot of changes” for 2023 that he hopes will keep him on the field more frequently.
Predictions for 5 Right Fielders
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Aaron JudgeBailey Orr/Texas Rangers/Getty Images
Aaron Judge, New York Yankees
The Prediction: He’ll land in the 40-homer range.
His optimism is admirable, but Judge is almost certainly not going to hit 60 home runs again. The Yankees would be wise not to ask their $360 million slugger to play in as many as 157 games again and, let’s face it, anyone who’s ever hit 60 homers in a year promptly hit fewer long balls the following season.
Mookie Betts, Los Angeles Dodgers
The Prediction: He won’t lead the league in runs scored.
Betts has led his league in runs in three of the last five seasons, but don’t expect a repeat in 2023. The Dodgers lineup will be thinner underneath him, and he’ll otherwise have stiff competition in the runs scored race in people like Soto and especially Turner.
Ronald Acuña Jr., Atlanta
The Prediction: He’ll win the National League MVP.
Not only that, but he’ll become the fifth member of baseball’s 40-40 club in doing so. Every indication is that Acuña is fully healthy for the first time in two years, and he’s different from Rodríguez in that his zone discipline doesn’t need tightening. Something like his 2019 season, in which he slammed 41 home runs and stole 37 bases, is very much in store.
Kyle Tucker, Houston Astros
The Prediction: He’ll hit .300 and go 30-30.
We’re probably sounding like a broken record in continuing to throw “.300 and 30-30” out there, but Tucker is yet another candidate for such a season. The bigger bags should help him add to his stolen base count, while shiftless infields should be a welcome sight after he saw shifts 91.3 percent of the time in 2022.
George Springer, Toronto Blue Jays
The Prediction: He’ll play in over 150 games.
Springer is indeed set to make the move from center field to right field in 2023. Assuming this helps keep his legs healthy and fresh, the 33-year-old may well be able to play in over 150 games for the first time since all the way back in 2016.
Predictions for 5 Designated Hitters
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Yordan ÁlvarezDaniel Shirey/MLB Photos via Getty Images
Yordan Álvarez, Houston Astros
The Prediction: He’ll hit over .330 with 40-plus home runs.
Did you know that 33 players have ever gone here before? Well, now you do. The latter should be easily attainable, while the former is about what Álvarez should have hit in 2022. If he does everything the same, the shift ban should help him achieve that average this year.
Bryce Harper, Philadelphia Phillies
The Prediction: He’ll set a career low for home runs.
This bar is currently set at 13. Knowing that Harper may not be back from Tommy John surgery until the All-Star break and that he struggled to get hot after he returned from last year’s thumb injury, him coming in under it unfortunately seems only too feasible.
Giancarlo Stanton, New York Yankees
The Prediction: He’ll hit under .200.
Stanton came dangerously close to doing so in hitting just .211 last year, and it’s hard to imagine any scenario in which his average is elevated by the new rules. He doesn’t figure to be a shift ban beneficiary, and by now he’s too slow to beat out any infield hits.
Eloy Jiménez, Chicago White Sox
The Prediction: He’ll set career highs for games played and home runs.
Honestly, it’s about time that Jiménez was relegated strictly to designated hitter duty. The position is just what he needs to stay healthy for a change, in which case he can reset bars that are presently set at 122 games and 31 home runs.
Chicago White Sox @whitesox
Eloy Jiménez launched that baseball. 🚀 pic.twitter.com/jHMlOt61G3
J.D. Martinez, Los Angeles Dodgers
The Prediction: He’ll hit fewer than 20 home runs again.
If there’s one reason to believe that Martinez can turn the clock back to better times in 2023, it’s that he’s been reunited with swing wizard Robert Van Scoyoc in Los Angeles. But unless he’s in possession of de-aging technology, Martinez may not improve much on the 16 homers he hit last year.
Predictions for 5 LH Starters
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Julip UríasWally Skalij / Los Angeles Times via Getty Images
Carlos Rodón, New York Yankees
The Prediction: He’ll lead the majors in strikeouts.
As evidenced by the fact that he led the league with a rate of 12.0 strikeouts per nine innings last year, Rodón has the ability to do this. The big question is if he can handle the necessary workload, though less so after he set career highs for starts, innings and pitches in 2022.
Max Fried, Atlanta
The Prediction: He’ll record double-digit pickoffs.
Fried’s pickoff move is Pettitte-ian in its excellence, and it figures to be of great use in an environment where the bigger bases and pitch timer will constantly be tempting runners to take off. He picked off six runners back in 2021, so why not 10 or more this season?
Julio Urías, Los Angeles Dodgers
The Prediction: Regression will find him.
Urías did slightly overachieve last season, but bigger points of concern include his velocity drop and the fact that the Dodgers won’t be able to use the shift anymore. He could even end up with (gasp!) an ERA in the 3.00s.
Shane McClanahan, Tampa Bay Rays
The Prediction: He’ll win the American League Cy Young Award.
We’d call McClanahan a sleeper for this honor, but this is the same guy who had a 1.71 ERA through his first 18 outings of last season before he ran out of gas. That should be the Rays’ cue to keep his pitch count on a short leash, as they tend to do with their other starters. If that keeps him fresh, he should sustain last year’s early dominance.
Framber Valdez, Houston Astros
The Prediction: He’ll log 200-plus innings and a sub-3.00 ERA again.
Because the Astros had the third-highest shift rate in the league last year, there’s arguably at least one excuse to forecast trouble for Valdez. But they generally shifted a lot less (i.e., 23 percent) when he was on the mound, so the 2.82 ERA and 201.1 innings he put up last year seem more or less sustainable.
Predictions for 5 RH Starters
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Corbin BurnesJohn Fisher/Getty Images
Corbin Burnes, Milwaukee Brewers
The Prediction: He’ll win the National League Cy Young Award.
Following his uncomfortable arbitration hearing with the Brewers, Burnes might be pitching with a chip on his shoulder this season. That’s just what the opposition needs. Even sans chip, he was a good bet to claim the NL Cy Young Award for the second time in three years.
Sandy Alcantara, Miami Marlins
The Prediction: He won’t record six complete games again.
That this is even a question is a testament to Alcantara’s remarkable durability, not to mention the Marlins’ willingness to exploit it to its fullest. But, well, that’s just a lot of complete games in this day and age. Nobody has had back-to-back seasons with at least six complete games since Roy Halladay and Cliff Lee both did it between 2010 and 2011.
Gerrit Cole, New York Yankees
The Prediction: He won’t lead the American League in home runs again.
Since it’s when MLB got serious about policing sticky stuff, it’s not exactly coincidental that Cole ranks third among all pitchers in home runs surrendered since June 2021. But we’ll throw him a bone anyway and guess that he’ll at least give up fewer than 30 this year. And no, the bone won’t have any Spider Tack residue on it.
Justin Verlander and Max Scherzer, New York Mets
The Prediction: Scherzer will end the year with more career strikeouts than Verlander.
As these two Cooperstown-bound aces are separated by just five strikeouts for their careers, this is nothing if not a fun question to ask. Because he’s younger and better at missing bats than Verlander at this stage, we lean Scherzer.
Jacob deGrom, Texas Rangers
The Prediction: He’ll make fewer than 15 starts.
In light of how he’s made only 26 over the last two seasons, 15 seems a logical number for the over/under on how many starts deGrom makes this year. Given that his 34-year-old body has already given him trouble again, we’ll put on our pessimist hat and take the under.
Predictions for 5 Relief Pitchers
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Edwin DíazElsa/Getty Images
Edwin Díaz, New York Mets
The Prediction: He’ll strike out fewer than 100 batters.
Díaz indeed has not one, but two 100-strikeout seasons on his record. But he’s probably not going to get there again the same way he did in 2022, wherein he averaged 17.1 strikeouts per nine innings. That’s not sustainable, though we say that more so out of a lack of historical precedent than a lack of confidence in his stuff.
Emmanuel Clase, Cleveland Guardians
The Prediction: He’ll post a sub-1.00 ERA.
As he preceded last year’s 1.36 ERA with a 1.29 ERA in 2021, Clase knows what it’s like to come this close to an ERA under 1.00. Because of his capacities for inducing strikeouts and ground balls without walking too many batters, there are three seasons to conclude he’ll get there in 2023.
Josh Hader, San Diego Padres
The Prediction: He’ll shave four runs off his ERA from 2022.
He may have ended up with a 5.22 ERA, but Hader’s bad year turned out to be a fluke before it was even over. His final 15 appearances (postseason included) yielded 23 strikeouts against five hits and two walks, with zero earned runs. That was much more like him.
Rob Friedman @PitchingNinja
Josh Hader, Annihilating the Side. 😤 pic.twitter.com/6tTY4JKUyY
Devin Williams, Milwaukee Brewers
The Prediction: He’ll lead the majors in saves.
It helps that Williams is really good at his job, having posted a 1.84 ERA with 236 strikeouts against only 67 walks since 2020. It also helps that he’s going to be closing games for a Brewers club that’s heavy on pitching but light on offense.
Ryan Helsley, St. Louis Cardinals
The Prediction: He’ll lead relievers in strikeouts.
Helsley was the only other reliever besides Díaz to get Cy Young votes last year, so it seems fair to include him in this discussion on those grounds. And also because he throws a downright unhittable fastball, and one that was coming in at higher velocities as 2022 went along.
Predictions for 1 Two-Way Star
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Ronald Martinez/Getty Images
The Prediction: He’ll win the American League MVP.
DraftKings Sportsbook has Shohei Ohtani favored to win the American League MVP in 2023 and, honestly, who are we to argue?
The one thing that does engender some concern is that Ohtani does face more of an adjustment than most to the pitch timer. Among all hurlers who threw at least 1,000 pitches in 2022, he was the slowest worker with the bases empty.
We wonder, though, if the looming threat of the pitch timer played in to how Ohtani downplayed velocity as part of his pitching style in 2022. He shifted more toward movement, turning his slider into his go-to pitch and even favoring his newfound sinker over his four-seamer by the end of the year.
David Adler @_dadler
Sinker: 16 inches of break ➡️
Slider: 17 inches of break ⬅️ pic.twitter.com/uxkMduupaT
Otherwise, there’s little to worry about on the offensive side for Ohtani. If anything, it’s worth being excited about whether the shift ban and bigger bases could allow him to supplement his 40-homer power with a higher average and more stolen bases.
Ultimately, it took a historic season from Aaron Judge in 2022 to deny Ohtani the league lead in WAR for a second straight season. It’s doubtful that will happen again under any circumstances, much less a set in which it will be Ohtani’s turn to be in salary-drive mode ahead of free agency.
Stats courtesy of Baseball Reference, FanGraphs and Baseball Savant.