These players have the most to prove down the stretch
As the season enters the final month, some players have exceeded expectations and put themselves on the map. Others, however, haven’t found success or have dealt with injuries. These players may have an everyday job or might be waiting in the wings, but one thing is for certain: all of them have something to show during the final few weeks of the 2022 season.
Here’s one player from each team with the most to prove down the stretch.
All stats as of Sept. 10 unless otherwise noted.
Blue Jays: Bo Bichette
Bichette is off to a fine start, catching fire in early September, but he can quickly wipe out a difficult five months with a strong finish and postseason run. An All-Star at just 23 years old in 2021, Bichette didn’t carry that over into the early months of this season, bringing the understandable regression talk along with it, but the Blue Jays have remained confident that Bichette is one of the premiere young players in the American League. He’s starting to show just that, and when Bichette gets on a true hot streak, he’s one of the most exciting players in the game to watch on a nightly basis.
Orioles: Austin Hays
For baseball’s first half, Hays was nearly untouchable. He was throwing out runners at a torrid clip, hitting for both power and average — and hammering one of a few second-deck home runs in Camden Yards’ history. But ever since he accomplished one of baseball’s rare feats — a cycle in just six innings in June — his numbers have fallen off, with just a .575 OPS across his next 59 games. Hays, battling his share of wear and tear, will need to show which version of him is the true one who can possibly be an anchor in the Orioles’ outfield next year and for the ones to come. Plus, his bat is sorely needed for a team trying to remain in a pennant chase.
Rays: Wander Franco
This season hasn’t gone according to plan for Franco and the Rays. Yet here they are with a chance to make everyone forget about the past five months by storming through September and October, with their franchise shortstop leading the way. Aside from rehabbing aces Shane McClanahan and Tyler Glasnow, Franco was Tampa Bay’s last big-time contributor potentially returning from the injured list this season. He hasn’t put up the numbers you’d expect coming off a sensational rookie year and a massive contract extension, as injuries limited his playing time and production. But now, the 21-year-old switch-hitter has a chance to remind the rest of the baseball world why he’s still a future superstar.
Red Sox: J.D. Martinez
While it seems all but inevitable Martinez, a free agent at season’s end, will be playing somewhere else in 2023, he needs to prove to potential suitors that he has something left in his bat. Martinez’s lack of production this season has been stunning. From 2015-21, Martinez was considered one of the top hitters in the game. Through his 456 at-bats this season entering action on Sunday, Martinez, 35, had only 11 homers and 51 RBIs. Is it a case of bad mechanics or decreased bat speed or a combination of both? Martinez still has three weeks to get hot. But it hasn’t happened in months. From June 27-Sept. 10, Martinez had a line of .214/.282/.321 with three homers and 20 RBIs. It’s hard to see him getting more than a one-year deal at this point.
Yankees: Gleyber Torres
Torres was considered for the All-Star team after hitting 14 homers with an .809 OPS in the first half, but his production dipped considerably in August, when he batted .180/.204/.260 with only four extra-base hits. Perhaps not coincidentally, the Yankees were close to moving Torres to the Marlins on Aug. 2, with their potential deal for right-hander Pablo Lopez nixed when New York refused to include young infielder Oswald Peraza. Torres will be only 26 next season, but the final months of 2022 could determine if the front office still sees him as a trade chip.
Guardians: Myles Straw
Cleveland couldn’t have been more excited about acquiring Straw at last year’s deadline. He seamlessly stepped into the leadoff spot, hit .285 and played a flawless center field. The club was so optimistic about his future that it locked him up to a five-year extension before the 2022 season got underway. But this year, Straw hasn’t seen the same level of success offensively. He’s floated around the Mendoza Line all season and owns a .523 OPS (53 OPS+). The biggest thing that he can prove over the next few weeks is that the Guardians made the right choice in inking him to a five-year deal. With guys like George Valera waiting in the Minors and the development of Steven Kwan and Oscar Gonzalez in the big leagues, Straw has to prove he deserves his spot in the lineup. While his defense is never in question, it’ll all come down to showing his bat can find some consistency.
Royals: Hunter Dozier
The Royals signed Dozier to a four-year, $25 million extension before the 2021 season, and the results have been suboptimal. The 31-year-old has been below league-average, posting an 86 OPS+ across 2021 and ‘22 while slashing .225/..289/.389. During that time, he’s seen his playing time diminish, and while he’s a versatile fielder, the metrics don’t favor him. According to FanGraphs, Dozier has negative defensive runs saved at first base (-2), third base (-4) and outfield (-5). With two guaranteed years remaining on Dozier’s contract, he’s part of the future as the rookies the Royals are playing now, too. But Dozier must prove that he still can be a part of what Kansas City is building, and a strong finish with the remaining opportunities to 2022 is one way to do that.
Tigers: Spencer Torkelson
The Tigers brought back Torkelson this month not as a finished, repaired product, but with the idea of having him bring his plate adjustments to the big league level with help from Mud Hens hitting coach Adam Melhuse, who joined Detroit’s staff as an extra coach. How Torkelson looks down the stretch — not just results-wise, but swingwise — will impact how Tigers approach their offseason search for more offense. They’d much rather pencil in Torkelson at first base next season rather than find an insurance signing or have Jonathan Schoop prepare at first.
Twins: Carlos Correa
This kind of stretch run is precisely where the Twins hoped their blockbuster offseason signing of Correa would be most impactful. One of the clutchest performers in recent postseason history, Correa has had a penchant for the big moments, and that’s something the Twins cited back in March as they introduced him. Well, with 17 players currently on the injured list for a brutally depleted Minnesota team trying to make a push for the division, the Twins are having to make do without the likes of Byron Buxton, Jorge Polanco, Alex Kirilloff and Trevor Larnach. If there’s any hope left for them to close the gap in the AL Central, it’ll have to come with clutch hits and big efforts from Correa, who may also be playing to establish his offseason market if he does, indeed, choose to opt out after this season.
White Sox: Yoán Moncada
There’s no question Moncada has standout capabilities offensively, as he produced on the field during the 2019 and 2021 seasons. But the third baseman has dealt with a self-admitted rough 2022 campaign to date, due to injuries, including a strained right oblique to start the season, and overall underperformance with the bat. Moncada has shown recent signs of breaking loose, with three multi-hit efforts in a five-game stretch and a five-hit game in Oakland on Sept. 8. The White Sox have done the same as a team as they move closer to the top of the American League Central, and while Moncada’s starting position isn’t remotely in question for ‘23, the White Sox need his resurgent offense to reach the playoffs presently and reinforce their belief of the switch-hitter as an on-base force.
Angels: Mickey Moniak
The No. 1 overall Draft pick in 2016 and a one time top 100 prospect, Moniak has yet to put up numbers in line with the expectations for him. In 47 games with the Phillies from 2020-22, the outfielder slashed .129/.214/.172 with just one home run before being sent to the Angels in the Trade Deadline deal for Noah Syndergaard. In his first five games with L.A., he went 4-for-14 with two homers before fracturing his left middle finger on a bunt attempt. Now back and healthy, a strong September could help Moniak establish his place in the Halos’ ‘23 lineup.
Astros: Yordan Alvarez
The AL Player of the Month for June, Alvarez’s march towards a second-half MVP battle with Aaron Judge and Shohei Ohtani was derailed by a hand injury that landed him on the injured list and continued to plague him even after he came back. After posting a 1.356 OPS in June and 1.146 in July, Alvarez is slashing .235/.347/.353 with two homers and 13 RBIs in 30 games since Aug. 1. He crushed a homer to center field in Sunday’s win over the Angels, which is a sign he might be getting his stroke right. The Astros’ offense doesn’t function well if Alvarez isn’t producing runs.
Athletics: James Kaprielian
Following a breakout rookie campaign in which he seemed destined to lock down a rotation spot for the foreseeable with the A’s, Kaprielian has battled through a major sophomore slump. Holding a 4.79 ERA over 22 starts, the right-hander was temporarily moved to the bullpen last week until an injury to Adam Oller led to him moving back to a starting role. Over this final month, Kaprielian is in search of regaining his 2021 form and looking to pitch deeper into games. Over his last 32 starts, he’s gone six innings or fewer, which is the longest such streak by a starting pitcher in A’s history.
Mariners: Mitch Haniger
It’s not just that he’s a huge catalyst behind Seattle’s offense, but also that he’s going to be a free agent for the first time in his career at 31 years old. At his best, Haniger is an All-Star-caliber player who has 30-plus-homer potential, but fluke injuries have sidelined him for much of the past four seasons. He’s in a bit of a cold spell lately, slashing .172/.234/.241 (.476 OPS) in 14 games since his most recent homer entering Sunday, and the Mariners will surely need his bat down the stretch.
Rangers: Nathaniel Lowe
The Texas first baseman has been in a recent hot streak, but until recently there were question about if Lowe could be the club’s long-term solution at the position. Over his last 30 games, Lowe is slashing .393/.454/.658 with 22 RBIs and eight home runs. Keeping up that pace — or something similar — can prove that it’s more than a hot streak and a sign of the player Lowe have become in two seasons with the organization.
Braves: Kenley Jansen
Jansen surrendered a pair of ninth-inning homers in Sunday’s loss to the Mariners and has now blown three of his past seven save opportunities. The veteran closer has tallied a MLB-high 33 saves, but his inconsistency over the past month has created reason to wonder if he should stay in the same role. Raisel Iglesias has been effective since being acquired on Aug. 2. While Iglesias could be an effective closer, the Braves would be at their best with both Iglesias and Jansen heading into the postseason feeling confident in their respective roles.
Marlins: Lewin Díaz
Miami recalled Díaz in late July, and he has been starting against right-handed pitching ever since. Known for his Gold Glove-worthy fielding at first, the issue has been his bat (55 OPS+) in 90 MLB games. How the Marlins proceed over the offseason at first base depends on whether they can rely on Díaz, who turns 26 in November. The position of first base traditionally requires above-average offensive production, so Díaz’s future with the organization could be sealed in the coming weeks.
Mets: Joely Rodríguez
The Mets did not acquire any lefty relief help at the Trade Deadline, preferring to roll with Rodríguez, whose underlying numbers have outpaced his actual performance for much of the season. If that doesn’t change in a hurry, the Mets will have little choice but to try out David Peterson, Joey Lucchesi or others in lefty relief roles down the stretch. The Mets need someone other than Edwin Díaz to prove trustworthy against the types of lefty sluggers they will see regularly in October.
Nationals: MacKenzie Gore
The Nationals’ goal is for Gore to start a game before the end of the season so he feels good about his recovery heading into the winter. The rookie southpaw has been sidelined by left elbow inflammation since July 26 when he was a member of the Padres. Gore, the third overall pick in the 2017 Draft, was a headliner in Washington’s trade with San Diego. The Nats view him as a key piece of their starting rotation for the future.
Phillies: Zack Wheeler
Wheeler has not pitched since Aug. 20 because of tendinitis in his right elbow. He said at the time that he could have kept pitching, despite the discomfort in his elbow, but the Phillies decided to pause his season to get him healthy for the stretch run. But the pause has been longer than expected. Wheeler was supposed to miss only two starts. He has missed three so far, and he will miss at least another. The good news is that Wheeler said the discomfort is out of his elbow, so he expects to start ramping up his return. Wheeler needs to prove he is healthy and his typical Cy Young-worthy self upon his return. The Phillies need their ace down the stretch.
Brewers: Garrett Mitchell
The Brewers’ first-round Draft pick in 2020 made a splash when he arrived in the Majors on Aug. 27, sparking a comeback with his first big-league hit the next day while his mom kept score, then bringing his dad to tears a day after that when Mitchell belted his first big-league home run. Since then, Mitchell has had his moments but also has endured the usual struggles that face a hitter seeing MLB pitching for the first time, including a fair amount of swing and miss. It’s important he leaves a good impression, since center field figures to be up for grabs this offseason between holdover Tyrone Taylor, Mitchell, and perhaps another young outfielder at the upper levels of the Minor League system like second-ranked Brewers prospect Sal Frelick. Joey Wiemer and Esteury Ruiz are also outfield prospects ready to make the jump to MLB if needed, though Mitchell has the edge there as far as center field defense is concerned.
Cardinals: Jack Flaherty
The tall and talented right hander is back again, but the Cardinals are still curious to see if Flaherty can get back to the form that he had in 2019 when he performed like an ace. The Cardinals Opening Day starter in 2020 and ’21, Flaherty has won just once since starting last season 8-0 – and that one victory came last August in Kansas City. This season, Flaherty missed the first 2 ½ months of the season with shoulder pain and then made a less-than-impressive three-start stint that ended with more shoulder pain. He’s pitched twice since making a second return because he has gotten little-to-no run support. Flaherty’s velocity isn’t what it once was before the shoulder injury and his control has been lacking. However, the Cardinals remain confident that if Flaherty can put it all together and return to the form that he had in 2019 and early last season, he could be the kind of difference-maker that could make them World Series champions for a 12th time in franchise history.
Cubs: Franmil Reyes
The Cubs claimed the 27-year-old Reyes off waivers from Cleveland in August, following a rough four months with the Guardians that led to a demotion to Triple-A, followed by being designated for assignment. In his first nine games with the Cubs, the big slugger and personality hit .368 with seven extra-base hits and a 1.079 OPS. Reyes’ production has tapered off some in recent weeks and Chicago will have a decision to make this offseason. Reyes, who earned $4.55 million this year, will be eligible for arbitration. Chicago has a clear need for power, and he fits that mold, but the Cubs will have to examine the last two months of offense to determine if he should be part of the 2023 picture.
Pirates: Zach Thompson
Thompson had been a mainstay in the Pirates’ rotation for most of the season, but that’s changed in recent weeks. On July 14, Thompson’s ERA stood at 4.09. On July 28, his ERA inflated to 5.09 and hasn’t dipped below five since. Since mid-August, Thompson has transitioned into a hybrid role, splitting his time between starting and relieving. The fifth spot in the Pirates’ rotation hasn’t been truly filled since Thompson’s departure. Should Thompson finish strong, he’ll certainly have an opportunity to reclaim that spot in the coming weeks.
Reds: Jose Barrero
A strong fielding shortstop, Barrero did not hit well in Triple-A this season but was called up anyway in August so he could keep developing as a hitter in the big leagues. The struggles have largely continued, especially with a high strikeout rate. Hitting coaches had Barrero change his batting stance and approach and there have been some positive blips but he has not been able to show sustained progress. Barrero is only 24 so it’s too early to write him off but he will have to show he can hit to stay in the big leagues in 2023. Meanwhile, the organization’s No. 1 prospect (No. 15 overall), Elly De La Cruz, is among a number of young shortstops that should be coming through the Reds’ system quickly.
D-backs: Ketel Marte
The D-backs signed Marte to a contract extension this spring, the second one they’ve given him in since acquiring him prior to the 2017 season. Marte got off to a slow start this year, but by the All-Star Break he had rebounded to post a better than .800 OPS. Since then, though, it’s been a struggle for Marte, who has been limited at times by hamstring issues. When he’s going good, Marte can carry a team offensively and he plays with great confidence. The D-backs would love to see him finish the season hot so that he can carry some of those good feelings into his offseason preparation for 2023.
Dodgers: Dustin May
Los Angeles is a powerhouse, but it has questions about its rotation for October because of injuries. A strong finish by May would make him a certainty for postseason starts. He has only four 2022 starts under his belt after returning from Tommy John surgery and has been inconsistent with his command, issuing 4.7 walks per nine innings – well above his career norm of 2.5. With a 100 mph sinker, he can dominate. He’ll likely get four more outings to show top form down the stretch.
Giants: Mike Yastrzemski
San Francisco has regressed to the mean following last year’s 107-win campaign, but Yastrzemski has especially taken a dip in 2022. Yastrzemski has been one of the Giants’ most valuable players in the last couple of years, leading Giants batters with 7.7 bWAR from 2019-21, but he’s been a below league-average hitter this year after slashing .154/.246/.304 from June through August. He’s batting about .300 so far in September, but Yastrzemski will need to finish the season strong in order to secure his future as a regular in San Francisco’s outfield.
Padres: Josh Bell
Bell is an impending free agent playing in his first true pennant race. And the Padres sure could use a big-time power threat in the middle of their lineup. After a slow start following last month’s trade, Bell’s at-bats have been much better lately. The Padres can currently run out Juan Soto and Manny Machado at 2-3 and feel very good about the heart of their lineup. But they’ve often found themselves relying too heavily on those two. If Bell can return to the .900 OPS-type player that he was in Washington for much of the season, there might not be a scarier 2-3-4 in baseball.
Rockies: Michael Toglia
Through his first 12 Major League games, the switch-hitting Toglia has homered twice – once from each side of the plate – and posted a solid .821 OPS. Toglia has shown natural ability at first base, and his athletic tools have been useful in right field, which he took up in the Minors to forge another avenue to playing time. Strikeouts (13) were an issue in the Minors, but he adjusted his mindset and trimmed those to earn the promotion. Can he learn enough in the final weeks of this season to be counted on to win a job out of Spring Training in ‘23?