The transformative 2023 MLB season begins in eight days, with pitch clocks and shift bans and pickoff limitations and bigger bases all coming to the sport, a bold course set by Major League Baseball to fundamentally alter the game.
In a nod to that, here is a team-by-team look at the next 162 games that includes four bold names for each team. We’ve got the most vital players, top wagers, fantasy help and prospect insight for all 30 MLB teams, all in the same place. Whether your team is a championship contender or long shot, there is something for everyone.
Jump to a team:
AL East: BAL | BOS | NYY | TB | TOR
AL Central: CHW | CLE | DET | KC | MIN
AL West: HOU | LAA | OAK | SEA | TEX
NL East: ATL | MIA | NYM | PHI | WSH
NL Central: CHC | CIN | MIL | PIT | STL
NL West: ARI | COL | LAD | SD | SF
Why the season hinges on Adley Rutschman: Seeing what Rutschman can do over a full season should be one of the great joys of 2023. He thrust himself into the elite class of catchers with a bravura 113-game rookie showing, and now he gets to illustrate why so many think he’s bound to wind up on a Hall of Fame track.
What’s the best bet: Jorge Mateo to lead MLB in stolen bases +3000. This is a wide-open category with MLB’s new pitch clock and bigger bases. But Mateo led the AL last year and at 30-1 somehow has the 15th-shortest odds.
How to win your fantasy league: Get Gunnar Henderson. Not just because he’s the best prospect in baseball, but because third base is the worst position in baseball right now and Henderson could qualify both there and at shortstop.
Who’s next: The best farm system in baseball has a wealth of choices, and the one here won’t debut in 2023. But could Jackson Holliday arrive by 2024, when he’s still just 20 years old? After seeing the No. 1 overall pick in the draft turn in a 25-to-12 walk-to-strikeout ratio during his pro debut last year, evaluators don’t discount it.
Why the season hinges on Masataka Yoshida: No pressure or anything. The 29-year-old Yoshida signed with the Red Sox for $90 million this winter — far more than other teams anticipated him receiving — and will be thrust into the middle of Boston’s lineup after a tremendous seven-year career with the Orix Buffaloes of Nippon Professional Baseball. He takes walks. He doesn’t strike out. He hits for power. Everything is there for him to succeed, and if he does, the Red Sox are in a far better position to sneak into a playoff spot.
What’s the best bet: The Red Sox win more regular-season games than the Cubs +100. In the battle of two middle-of-the-pack teams, the Red Sox’s combination of established stars and promising youth gives them the slight edge over the favored Cubs.
How to win your fantasy league: Chris Sale hasn’t been Chris Sale since 2018, and accordingly, he’s not even a top 50 starter in ESPN’s rankings. It’s something of a risk, yes, but Sale has always had a thinking-man pitcher’s foundation beneath the elite stuff, so the transition to the back half of his career could look different while finding similar results.
Who’s next: The right answer to this is Marcelo Mayer, the Red Sox’s best prospect since Rafael Devers, but the right-now answer is Triston Casas, whose huge exit velocities should play quite well at Fenway Park.
Why the season hinges on Carlos Rodon: When they signed Rodon to a six-year, $162 million deal this winter, the Yankees expected him to pair with Cole to create the best 1-2 punch in the AL East. Now he’ll start the season on the injured list with a strained forearm, and Rodon’s health will be a storyline all year.
What’s the best bet: Gerrit Cole, over 234.5 strikeouts (-105). In his past four full seasons, Cole’s strikeout totals have been 276, 326, 243 and 257. As long as he remains healthy — the 32-year-old Cole has pitched at least 200 innings five times since his first All-Star season in 2015 — this should cash.
How to win your fantasy league: Steal Ron Marinaccio late in the draft and hope he can vulture a few saves — and maybe even wind up as closer, with Clay Holmes‘ grasp on the job tenuous. If Marinaccio can bring his walk rate closer to minor league levels (3.5 per nine) than where it was last season (4.9), his elite strikeout rate and ERA will play even better in deep leagues.
Who’s next: The last time a 21-year-old took over at shortstop for the Yankees, Derek Jeter started a two-decadeslong career that ended with his Hall of Fame enshrinement. Nearly 30 years later, Anthony Volpe‘s electric spring — .297/.422/.568 with six of his 11 hits for extra bases — has him on the cusp of the big leagues. The hype is very, very warranted.
Why the season hinges on Tyler Glasnow: An oblique injury will sideline Glasnow for the season’s first month, but when he returns, he can combine with Shane McClanahan, Zach Eflin, Drew Rasmussen and Jeffrey Springs for perhaps the best rotation in MLB. If Glasnow can start 25 games — his career high is 14 — the Rays will make the postseason.
What’s the best bet: Pete Fairbanks to lead MLB in saves +5000. The Rays’ reliance on matchups makes this an understandable long shot, but Fairbanks was unhittable in his 24 innings last year, and with him signed to a multiyear deal, the Rays won’t be worried about his arbitration number spiking if he piles up saves.
How to win your fantasy league: Buy low on Brandon Lowe. In 2021, he hit 39 home runs, and after an injury-plagued 2022, he’s somehow behind Jorge Polanco, Gleyber Torres and Vaughn Grissom in ESPN’s second-base rankings.
Who’s next: While most lists will rightfully point to Curtis Mead, don’t sleep on Kyle Manzardo. He’s got a lot of Vinnie Pasquantino to him.
Why the season hinges on Vladimir Guerrero Jr.: While Vladdy was very good last season, he shed nearly 200 OPS points off his MVP-caliber 2021 season. The Blue Jays are still a playoff team if he repeats that. But if he’s the same guy as two years ago, they might be the favorites in the American League.
What’s the best bet: Kevin Gausman to win the AL Cy Young at +1600. The FIP god is perpetually underappreciated and should not have longer odds than nine other AL starters.
How to win your fantasy league: Yusei Kikuchi was awful in his first season with the Blue Jays, but scouts are marveling at the quality of his stuff this spring and he can be drafted in the late rounds of regular drafts or for $1 in most salary-cap drafts.
Who’s next: One of the great steals in recent MLB drafts, Ricky Tiedemann signed with the Blue Jays for $644,800 as a third-round pick in 2021. He made it to Double-A last year, and he could arrive late in the season with the returning Hyun Jin Ryu and Chad Green to make a deep Toronto pitching staff that much better.
Why the season hinges on Luis Robert Jr.: When he’s healthy, Robert is among baseball’s most dynamic players. The 25-year-old center fielder’s power/speed combination is enviable. Robert also has never played 100 games in a season. If Robert is what he can be, the White Sox can compete with Cleveland and Minnesota in the AL Central. Otherwise, the lineup might not have enough thump.
What’s the best bet: Dylan Cease to lead MLB in strikeouts +1200. While Cease’s strikeout rate dipped last year, he still finished fifth in baseball with 227 punchouts.
How to win your fantasy league: Hope that Andrew Vaughn‘s move from outfield to first base allows him to focus more on the bat that made him the third overall pick in the 2019 draft and take him late, as he’s ESPN’s 20th-ranked player at the position.
Who’s next: The White Sox’s long lineage of Cuban stars could continue with Oscar Colas, the 24-year-old who in his first full domestic season thrived over three levels and has the inside track on Chicago’s right-field job.
Why the season hinges on Andrés Gimenez: A revelation last year, the 24-year-old second baseman made the Francisco Lindor trade look plenty more palatable, as is so often the case a few years after Cleveland deals away its stars. If Gimenez’s offensive game remains stout, the Guardians’ lineup should be more than serviceable. A step back would leave the sort of hole that isn’t easily replaced.
What’s the best bet: Jose Ramirez over 29.5 home runs -115. Cleveland’s franchise player landed on 29 last year after whacking 36 in 2021 and 17 in 58 games in 2020. He’s leaning more and more into his power — and if a few of those league-leading 44 doubles from last year fly, he should reach 30 with relative ease.
How to win your fantasy league: Let everyone else grab the bigger-name starters and instead go with Shane Bieber to top your rotation. He’s in his age-27 season. His slider-curveball-cutter array might be the best three-pitch breaking mix in the game. He doesn’t walk anyone. He generates tons of ground balls. He’s about as solid as it gets.
Who’s next: There’s a wealth of options in a deep Cleveland farm system, from shortstop Brayan Rocchio and outfielder George Valera to starters Gavin Williams and Logan Allen, but right-hander Tanner Bibee is the archetypal Cleveland pitcher: great command in college, stuff ticks up when he joins the organization and from there a top prospect is born.
Why the season hinges on Javier Baez: The first season of Baez’s six-year, $140 million contract was suboptimal, though saying he was a bust looks past his defensive and baserunning value. Still, the ugliness of his batting line — .238/.278/.393 with 17 home runs, his fewest in a full season since 2016 — needs remedying if the Tigers want to speed up a turnaround that’s already six years deep.
What’s the best bet: The Tigers won’t make the playoffs -3500. Look, you probably can make more money by putting $3,500 in a six-month CD. But this is just as safe.
How to win your fantasy league: Take the best post-hype sleeper around: outfielder Riley Greene, who’s still just 22 and primed for a big year.
Who’s next: Kerry Carpenter might not crack the Opening Day roster, but after a 30-homer season between Double-A and Triple-A, followed by six homers in 113 big league plate appearances, the 24-year-old outfielder is the closest legitimate big-league-ready prospect — with an honorable mention to right-handed pitcher Wilmer Flores, brother of San Francisco utilityman Wilmer Flores.
Why the season hinges on Brady Singer: Early last season, Singer was relegated to a mop-up role, then spent three weeks in the minor leagues. He returned by throwing seven scoreless innings in back-to-back outings and was consistently excellent for the remainder of the season. The Royals need to have homegrown starting pitching to win, and Singer is their best since the late Yordano Ventura.
What’s the best bet: Vinnie Pasquantino to win AL MVP +25000. On a better team, Pasquantino’s odds are a fifth of this. Perhaps the best ultra-long shot on the board.
How to win your fantasy league: Even though MJ Melendez is good enough to be an everyday catcher for at least 20 teams, he’ll spend most of his time in the outfield. He’s got the power to be very good there — and elite in a catcher slot.
Who’s next: He’s unlikely to be a star, but Maikel Garcia‘s acumen at shortstop — not to mention his premium bat-to-ball skills — could at least prompt a conversation about moving Bobby Witt Jr. to third base.
Why the season hinges on Byron Buxton: The season always hinges on Buxton, does it not? He is among the game’s most talented players and he just … can’t … stay … healthy. Buxton played in 92 games last year, and it was the most since 2017. One full year of Buxton would be a gift not only to fans everywhere who love excellence, but a Twins team that needs it.
What’s the best bet: Twins to win the American League Central +220. After consecutive sub-.500 seasons, they brought back Carlos Correa, upgraded their rotation depth and boast a deep, hard-throwing bullpen.
How to win your fantasy league: Jhoan Duran is the 24th-ranked reliever at ESPN. He will be a top-five closer by the end of the season. Get him.
Who’s next: There’s no obvious spot for Edouard Julien at the moment, but he can really, really, really hit. And when the bat is as good as his, that sort of thing tends to work itself out. Correa spent time with him this spring urging him to work on his second-base defense, and Julien’s willingness to work gives the Twins hope he’ll be ready sooner than later.
Why the season hinges on Cristian Javier: The frontman for a pair of no-hitters last year — including one in the World Series — Javier will be a full-time starter for the first time this season. He’s getting plenty of AL Cy Young buzz, and if he can remain as difficult to hit over 180 innings as he was last year in 148⅔ — opponents slashed .170/.252/.305 against him — the Astros will have good reason to be eyeing a World Series repeat.
What’s the best bet: Yordan Alvarez under 35.5 home runs -115. Alvarez still hasn’t swung a bat this spring. In his best season, he hit 37 homers. Hand issues often sap power. Alvarez might be the most talented hitter in baseball, but the confluence of all those factors makes the under appealing.
How to win your fantasy league: Take Jose Altuve late, stash him on your bench or injured list, and celebrate in May when he’s back from his broken thumb and you get four-plus months of top-end production.
Who’s next: Lose Justin Verlander, replace him with a Justin Verlander clone. That’s how the Astros have rolled for the better part of a decade now, and while comparing Hunter Brown to a future Hall of Famer isn’t entirely fair to the 24-year-old, his stuff is elite and the fifth rotation spot is his to lose.
Why the season hinges on Anthony Rendon: If Rendon is healthy, he changes the specter of their lineup. The Angels did yeoman’s work in adding depth this winter — their infield and outfield are now full of better-than-replacement-level players — but Rendon possesses the highest ceiling and can be the separator as the Angels chase their first playoff appearance since 2014.
What’s the best bet: Shohei Ohtani to win AL MVP +200. It took an all-time-great season from Aaron Judge to beat Ohtani — and even that wasn’t a runaway race. It’s quite simple: Ohtani is the human parlay, two players in one, and he’s worthy of this bet every year.
How to win your fantasy league: Los Angeles’ bullpen situation is eternally in flux, and if Carlos Estevez stumbles, Ben Joyce — he of the 105 mph fastball — could find himself in closing situations.
Who’s next: With David Fletcher and Luis Rengifo their main shortstop options, the Angels could pivot to Zach Neto, their 2022 first-round pick who thrived at Double-A in his first pro season. He has impressed this spring.
Why the season hinges on Seth Brown: Hinges may be a little strong. But the 30-year-old Brown is Oakland’s best player, and a win added here or there could keep the A’s from losing 100-plus.
What’s the best bet: Oakland under 59.5 wins. The A’s won 60 games last year. They traded their best player, Sean Murphy, over the winter. The AL West is much improved. It all lines up.
How to win your fantasy league: If Esteury Ruiz can get even semiregular at-bats, he’s going to steal 50-plus bases, and for how late he’s going in drafts — if at all — him single-handedly keeping you afloat in a category is incredible value.
Who’s next: Plenty of the prospects Oakland has dealt for in recent years — Ruiz, Ken Waldichuk, Shea Langeliers, Kyle Muller — could play a role this season. But its best rookie is 21-year-old Tyler Soderstrom, who’s likely to end up at first base — he catches, too — and has done nothing but rake in the minor leagues.
Why the season hinges on Jarred Kelenic: Perhaps the right answer to this is Luis Castillo, whose acquisition at the trade deadline last year propelled the Mariners to their first postseason berth in two decades. But if Kelenic is anything close to the guy he’s been this spring — .421/.450/.895 with four home runs and a retooled swing — the Mariners, already good, could be an even greater threat to the World Series champion Astros.
What’s the best bet: Julio Rodriguez over 28 home runs -115. In 132 games as a rookie last year, Rodriguez hit 28 home runs. This one is a no-brainer.
How to win your fantasy league: Appreciate the fact that George Kirby is criminally underrated — the 41st-ranked starter on ESPN — snag him in the middle rounds and thank me later.
Who’s next: A Tiedemann-level steal, Bryce Miller dropped to the fourth round of the 2021 draft, where Seattle plucked him and watched Miller climb to Double-A by the end of 2022. Armed with a 100-mph fastball and three other pitches, he’s bound to help, whether in the rotation or as a bullpen weapon, at some point in 2023.
Why the season hinges on Jacob deGrom: If deGrom stays healthy, the Rangers’ path to the playoffs, even in the meat grinder that is the AL West, is clear. Nobody in MLB has better stuff, and after signing a five-year, $185 million contract, he’s the centerpiece of Texas’ hopeful renaissance.
What’s the best bet: Corey Seager scores more runs than Kyle Tucker -115. Seager outscored Tucker by 20 while sporting a career-low OBP. As long as Tucker hits where he has in Houston’s lineup, Seager should take this easily.
How to win your fantasy league: Grab left-hander Brock Burke, he of the 1.97 ERA and 90-to-24 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 82⅓ innings, and hope that Texas’ southpaw relief depth allows manager Bruce Bochy to use Burke as closer.
Who’s next: Josh Jung‘s debut was hit-or-miss — emphasis on the miss, with 39 strikeouts in 98 at-bats — but he’s not striking out nearly as much this spring, and his power could make him a top-12 third baseman.
Why the season hinges on Ronald Acuna Jr.: The dynamic Acuna simply didn’t look like his typical self last year, which is understandable coming off a torn ACL. Fully healed and swaggy as ever, Acuna is primed for a monster age-25 season — and a 40-40 campaign is not out of the realm of possibility.
What’s the best bet: Spencer Strider to lead MLB in strikeouts at +1200. His 13.8 strikeouts per nine last year were the second most for a starter with at least 130 innings. If he comes close to replicating that with more bulk, he’ll win in a landslide.
How to win your fantasy league: Austin Riley is ESPN’s seventh-ranked third baseman a year after putting up the highest expected wOBA at the position. Let everyone else take Manny Machado, Jose Ramirez, Nolan Arenado and Rafael Devers first then grab Riley, the same sort of offensive star, at a discount.
Who’s next: Even if Jared Shuster doesn’t start the season in the major leagues, he is Atlanta’s closest big league-ready prospect and has pitched himself past Ian Anderson and Mike Soroka and into the mix for the fifth spot with another command-first left-hander, Dylan Dodd.
Why the season hinges on Jazz Chisholm Jr.: One of the most talented players in the game, Chisholm is moving to center field as the Marlins try to retool one of baseball’s most flaccid offenses. In the 60 games he played last season, he was dynamic, almost Buxtonian in his value output: 2.6 fWAR over 241 plate appearances. At 25, now is the time for Chisholm to become the star he’d love to be and carry the Marlins with him out of their eternal doldrums.
What’s the best bet: Luis Arraez to lead MLB in hits +1100. The formula for choosing a hit king: low strikeout rate, low walk rate, high batting average, plays every day. If Arraez plays 155 games, he’s got a great shot.
How to win your fantasy league: Hope that what Jesus Luzardo did over 100⅓ innings last year — 120 strikeouts, 35 walks, 69 hits allowed — can be replicated over 150 or more.
Who’s next: The last 20-year-old starting pitcher to throw more than 80 innings was Jose Fernandez, the late, great Marlins right-hander. A few things need to go wrong ahead of him in the rotation for Eury Perez to do the same for these Marlins, but make no mistake: The 6-foot-8 right-hander is undoubtedly the future and may well be the present, too.
Why the season hinges on Justin Verlander and Max Scherzer: This is the one of two teams with a pair of hinges, and yet it’s impossible to talk about one without referencing the other. Verlander is 40, Scherzer 38. No team ever has so relied on two starting pitchers so old. They’re defiance of Father Time has defined their careers, and if they can continue to in 2023, it’s going to be an awfully fun summer in Queens, even without Edwin Diaz.
What’s the best bet: Jeff McNeil to lead MLB in hits +4000. He might be the favorite if he played more. At 40-1, this is tremendous value.
How to win your fantasy league: Grab rookie third baseman Brett Baty late in the draft and hope that the Mets recognize their general excellence provides a buffer for him to go through growing pains at the big league level.
Who’s next: The Mets have Tomas Nido and signed Omar Narvaez, but Francisco Alvarez is their most talented catcher and provides the highest ceiling in a division where every marginal win counts.
Why the season hinges on Bryce Harper: The Phillies are going to be fine without Harper until his expected midseason return from Tommy John surgery. With him, though, they are a frightening unit, featuring the best Nos. 1-5 hitters in baseball outside of San Diego (and maybe including the Padres). If Philadelphia wants to finish what it couldn’t last October, Harper needs to be back in the middle of the lineup doing what he does so well.
What’s the best bet: Trea Turner +1200 to win NL MVP. He’s hitting in front of Kyle Schwarber, J.T. Realmuto, Rhys Hoskins and, eventually, Harper. Turner is going to feast at Citizens Bank Park and could easily put up a 30-50 season.
How to win your fantasy league: Whether Craig Kimbrel keeps Philadelphia’s closer job or not, Seranthony Dominguez is worthy of rostering. And if Kimbrel happens to do what he did with the Dodgers last year and melt down too often for them to rely upon him, Dominguez is the likeliest candidate to benefit.
Who’s next: This was among the easiest choices of all 120 until Andrew Painter’s right elbow started barking. Instead, we’ll swivel to Griff McGarry, the high-risk, high-reward right-hander whose control issues are the only thing keeping him from elite prospect status. Philadelphia will keep McGarry in the rotation at Triple-A for the time being, but if his walks remain at troubling levels, he can immediately slot in as a high-leverage reliever with three well-above-average pitches for the big league club.
Why the season hinges on Keibert Ruiz: The Nationals’ hinge, for the record, is broken. It’s just a matter of how bad they’re going to be. (Note: really bad.) But after signing an eight-year, $50 million contract extension, the 24-year-old switch-hitting catcher became the first Nationals position player signed past 2023. The three pitchers locked up beyond this year: Stephen Strasburg (who’s hurt), Patrick Corbin (who was the worst pitcher in MLB last year) and Trevor Williams (who’s Trevor Williams).
What’s the best bet: Joey Meneses over 23.5 home runs at -115. In 56 games last year, Meneses hit 13 home runs. If he remains healthy, 24-plus is a lock.
How to win your fantasy league: C.J. Abrams is only 22, so growing pains come with the territory. But he’s got the highest ceiling of any current National — and his four stolen bases without being caught in 10 spring games could give him sneaky value as ESPN’s 20th-ranked shortstop.
Who’s next: With Cade Cavalli needing Tommy John surgery, most of the Nationals’ best prospects are more than a year away. Left-hander MacKenzie Gore, acquired in the Juan Soto megadeal, should crack Washington’s rotation, and while he’s been beaten up this spring, Gore showed elite flashes last year.
Why the season hinges on Cody Bellinger: The one-year, $17.5 million contract Bellinger signed this winter reflected how good the center fielder can be (NL MVP in 2019) and how far he has fallen since (nontendered by the Dodgers after two wretched offensive years). If Bellinger recaptures his glory days, the Cubs could surprise. And if he doesn’t, it’s another hole in a lineup that, for now, has too many.
What’s the best bet: Seiya Suzuki under 21.5 home runs -140. The price is relatively hefty, but with Suzuki just now beginning baseball activities after a strained oblique, the games lost could leave him just shy of 22.
How to win your fantasy league: With second base and shortstop eligibility, Nico Hoerner is the sort of Swiss Army knife that helps secure fantasy championships. A 15-homer, 30-steal season isn’t out of the question, nor is a .300 batting average.
Who’s next: Hayden Wesneski is here already and looked dominant in six outings after the Cubs acquired him at the trade deadline for reliever Scott Effross, who almost immediately needed Tommy John surgery. With a low- to mid-90s fastball and above-average slider, he’s not going to be a No. 1 or even a No. 2 starter. But solid, middle-of-the-rotation innings eaters are extraordinarily valuable, and the 25-year-old Wesneski looks the part.
Why the season hinges on Hunter Greene and Nick Lodolo: The Reds’ chances not just this year but going forward revolve around at least one of Greene (No. 2 overall pick in 2017) and Lodolo (No. 7 overall pick in 2019) turning into a true front-of-the-rotation type. Greene is 23 and Lodolo 25, and each struck out more than 11 batters per nine innings last year.
What’s the best bet: Reds over 66 wins -110. Look, they’re not going to be great by any means. But with their young talent in a relatively weak division, they need to add only five wins. After a disastrous 3-22 start last year, Cincinnati played at a 70-win pace.
How to win your fantasy league: Wait until everyone else has chosen a catcher and nab Tyler Stephenson. Before a season-ending right clavicle fracture last year, he was hitting .319/.372/.482. At 26, he’s in the middle of his prime.
Who’s next: Among the many fawn-worthy prospects in Cincinnati’s system, none tantalizes quite like Elly De La Cruz, who will be compared to Oneil Cruz because of their similar power from long, lanky frames. De La Cruz looked fantastic in spring training, and it shouldn’t be long before his much-anticipated arrival in Cincinnati.
Why the season hinges on Freddy Peralta: With Corbin Burnes and Brandon Woodruff, the Brewers have as solid a top two starters as any team. When Peralta was at his best in 2021, they won 95 games and the NL Central. These hinge picks can be tough, but for a team with up-in-the-air playoff aspirations, Peralta is among the most obvious.
What’s the best bet: Devin Williams to lead MLB in saves +2000. Milwaukee’s 51 one-run games were the sixth most in baseball last year. They tend to play close games. And the closer job is now unequivocally Williams’.
How to win your fantasy league: For cheap power, consider Rowdy Tellez, whose 35 home runs tied for third among first basemen last year. He is ranked 15th on ESPN’s first-base-eligible list.
Who’s next: The Brewers love Sal Frelick, their 2021 first-round pick who leapt from High-A to Triple-A last season, and if the Brett Gardner comparison holds true, a future outfield with him, the tooled-up Garrett Mitchell and uber prospect Jackson Chourio is as good as homegrown gets.
Why the season hinges on Oneil Cruz: Baseball’s version of Giannis Antetokounmpo, Cruz is a physical anomaly: a 6-foot-7 shortstop who hit a baseball 122.4 mph last year, harder than anyone since Statcast tracking started in 2008, joining Shohei Ohtani, Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton on the exit-velocity Mount Rushmore. The Pirates desperately need a star, and Cruz can be that guy.
What’s the best bet: David Bednar to lead MLB in saves +2000. When in doubt, go with the top-end closer who plays on a team that will be in tight games and could be traded to a winning club before the deadline.
How to win your fantasy league: Roansy Contreras is the 97th-ranked starting pitcher by ESPN — and it wouldn’t be altogether shocking if he winds up in the vicinity of the top 50 by season’s end.
Who’s next: On Jan. 19, 2021, the Mets inserted themselves into a trade between the San Diego Padres and Pittsburgh Pirates. They wanted left-hander Joey Lucchesi, and to get him, they gave up a 20-year-old utilityman named Endy Rodriguez. Two years later, Rodriguez is the Pirates’ best prospect in a system full of good ones, and whether he winds up at catcher, second base or in the outfield, he’ll be in the big leagues at some point this year.
Why the season hinges on Jack Flaherty: One of the most talented pitchers in baseball, the 27-year-old has thrown only 114⅓ innings the past two years. He’s set to hit free agency after this year and could not only pitch himself into a nine-figure deal but could make the Cardinals an extremely dangerous team come October.
What’s the best bet: Nolan Arenado over 27.5 home runs -115. The last time Arenado didn’t hit at least 30 home runs in a season was 2014. Take the money and thank me later.
How to win your fantasy league: Brendan Donovan qualifies at first base, second base, third base and outfield, and he posted close to a .400 on-base percentage last year. Between the versatility and the numbers, he’s the sort of player everyone could use.
Who’s next: Jordan Walker is among baseball’s best hitting prospects, and the Cardinals’ depth shouldn’t preclude them from finding an everyday spot for him in their outfield/DH rotation.
Why the season hinges on Ketel Marte: If the Marte of 2019 and 2021 returns, the Diamondbacks could be wild card contenders. He can be the anchor of a lineup loaded with young talent. A close second: Rookie right-hander Brandon Pfaadt, who has front-of-the-rotation potential and will be up from Triple-A soon.
What’s the best bet: Over 76.5 at -110. Arizona is trending up, and this is a bet that the evolution toward contention happens a year earlier than some believe.
How to win your fantasy league: Draft Corbin Carroll high. He’s the fastest player in baseball. He hits the ball hard. In dynasty leagues, he might be worthy of a first-round pick.
Who’s next: Don’t be surprised if Jordan Lawlar, the 20-year-old taken sixth overall in the 2021 draft, debuts this season. Arizona won’t hesitate to push its best prospects, and in Kiley McDaniel’s No. 2-ranked system, Lawlar will be the best upon Carroll’s graduation.
Why the season hinges on Kris Bryant: This hinge needs some WD-40. After signing a seven-year, $182 million deal, Bryant proceeded to hit only five home runs in an injury-filled first season with the Rockies — including, improbably, none at Coors Field. Bryant’s back and foot are healthy, and if he can play at least 144 games as he did in five of his first six full seasons, the Rockies won’t be good, but they certainly won’t be as bad.
What’s the best bet: C.J. Cron under 26.5 home runs -115. After hitting nine home runs in his first 23 games last year, Cron hit 20 in his final 127. He has exceeded 27 in three of his past four seasons, but an uptick in strikeouts and cratering of walks from 2021 doesn’t bode well.
How to win your fantasy league: Take third baseman Elehuris Montero with your final pick and hope he inhales a little bit of that Coors Field pixie dust as Ryan McMahon moves to second base to fill in after Brendan Rodgers‘ season-ending shoulder injury.
Who’s next: Only 21, Ezequiel Tovar was handed the Rockies starting shortstop job and looks to have a hold on it despite a middling spring. He zoomed through Colorado’s system, spending only 66 games at Double-A and five at Triple-A, and the Rockies are happy to wait for his bat to catch up with his glove and arm, both of which they expect to play above-average.
Why the season hinges on Julio Urias: Among the most underappreciated players in baseball, the 26-year-old Urias has thrown 415⅔ innings of 2.66 ERA ball since joining the Dodgers’ rotation full-time in the pandemic season. With Clayton Kershaw nearing the end of his career, Dustin May coming back for his first full season post-Tommy John surgery, Tony Gonsolin starting the season on the IL and Noah Syndergaard hoping to recapture his past quality, the Dodgers’ rotation is a question mark. Urias’ import comes with added pressure: If he performs up to his standard, he could land a $250 million-plus contract as a 27-year-old free agent this winter.
What’s the best bet: Dodgers over 94.5 wins at -110. Are they worse than last season? Absolutely. Are they more than 16 games worse? Unlikely.
How to win your fantasy league: Depending on your league’s qualification structure, Miguel Vargas could be eligible at second base, third base and outfield. Regardless of whether he’s a super utility player, the bat is going to play.
Who’s next: Bobby Miller may be the better-known pitching prospect, but plenty of evaluators believe right-hander Gavin Stone is better. Stone isn’t a leviathan like Miller, and he doesn’t have a 100-mph fastball, either, but his changeup is one of the best pitches at any level, and after leading the minor leagues in ERA (1.48) and strikeouts per nine (12.4), he’s big league-ready.
San Diego Padres
Why the season hinges on Fernando Tatis Jr.: Nobody knows what Tatis will do this season. He missed all of 2022, first recovering from a broken wrist suffered in a motorcycle accident and then due to an 80-game performance-enhancing drug suspension that will keep him out until April 20. The talent to be the best player in the world, however, hasn’t gone anywhere. And if he’s that, the Padres may find themselves as World Series favorites.
What’s the best bet: Padres to win the NL West +130. They’re still the underdog behind the Dodgers at -125, and if ever there was a year San Diego was going to take the West for the first time since 2006, this is it.
How to win your fantasy league: Do whatever you can to get Juan Soto. You come here for analysis like this.
Who’s next: Seeing as the Padres’ top five prospects are all teenagers, pardon us for cheating here, but it’s Xander Bogaerts, who’s at least new to the Padres uniform. Anyway, talking about San Diego without mentioning Bogaerts (and Manny Machado for that matter) would be wrong. The four-time All-Star will push Tatis to right field and load up a nightmare lineup for opposing pictures. Slam Diego 2.0 is even better than the original.
Why the season hinges on Mitch Haniger: There’s no clear-cut candidate here, but Haniger may have the highest ceiling of the Giants’ everyday players after signing a three-year deal this winter. In his last healthy season, he hit 39 home runs. Starting the year on the injured list with an oblique strain doesn’t exactly portend well, however, as the Giants need all the offense they can get to complement a deep pitching staff.
What’s the best bet: Logan Webb to win the NL Cy Young +2500. This is purely an odds play. But at 26 years old, with 25-1 odds, Webb is great value.
How to win your fantasy league: Hope that everyone forgot about Michael Conforto, who missed all of 2022, and pilfer him in the late rounds. Conforto’s four home runs lead the Cactus League.
Who’s next: Few players have impressed as much as third baseman Casey Schmitt this spring, and with the job wide open, he could arrive sooner than later. The lone drawback: He has yet to draw a walk in 34 plate appearances in 11 spring training games.