Every year basically since Pitcher List launched, I’ve been making these bold predictions, and most of them have been wrong. That’s a good thing, though. If most of them were usually right then they were nowhere remotely near bold enough, because to be a BOLD prediction it must have approximately a 10% chance of happening. Last year, I was lucky enough to get two right, predicting a monster year for Aaron Judge and a miserable year for Aroldis Chapman. This year will have fewer Yankees, but let’s get this party started already and hopefully, it won’t leave me with an October hangover.
1. Yordan Alvarez hits .310 with 50 home runs.
On the one hand, this may seem less bold due to the fact that Aaron Judge just accomplished such a Herculean task (and then some) when I predicted he’d hit .300 with 50 homers last year. On the other hand… we don’t really know what’s going on with Yordan’s other hand. Still, despite the uncertainty, I think he’s worth the gamble at his slightly sliding draft cost, because even with Judge’s historic season, Yordan was, in many respects, the superior hitter. Last year was a great season for him as he hit .306/.406/.613 with 37 HR in 470 AB (561 PA), but I think that in 2023, he can blow those numbers out of the water.
For one, he wasn’t just a Statcast God—he was THE Statcast God, the alpha and the omega, yadda yadda yadda. He was 100th percentile in just about every batted ball metric, including HardHit%, Barrel%, average eV, and 99th in MaxEV, and in all of these he was in a league of his own with Judge. While he played second fiddle to Judge on those rate stats, they were essentially tied in expected stats as Yordan had a .462 xwOBA that was better than Judge’s actual 2022 wOBA of .458 (though Judge’s xwOBA was actually .463). How is this possible? Well Yordan actually significantly underperformed an incredible xBA of .329, and the xSLG of .672 wasn’t half bad either (Judge’s SLG% was .686).
But if Judge edges Yordan out in power, why do I think Yordan can outdo him? It all comes down to the Ks. Yordan took a massive step forward last year in improving his K rate, down to just 19% after a 24% mark in 2021. That rate was 61st percentile among hitters, to go with an also-elite 13% walk rate, whereas Judge’s strikeout rate of 26% was just 21st percentile. Yordan achieved this by swinging more at strikes and less at balls, which seems sustainable and explains how his barrel rate jumped to a career-best 21%. Given he’s still just 25 and has improved offensively every year since his sophomore season, I see no reason not to expect continued growth if healthy, with a good park and an excellent surrounding lineup.
Of course, the “if healthy” is where it can all go wrong. Much like Judge, he’s been plagued by injuries and has knees made out of peanut butter brittle. While the hand issue (and the Astros’ lack of transparency regarding what the issue is) concerns many, he did succeed at being the best hitter while dealing with these hand issues last season, and there are still several weeks before game action. The other risk to his health is the Astros’ signing of Michael Brantley, who is guaranteed time at DH, because his legs are made of peppermint bark. I really need to stop writing when I’m hungry. Yordan playing defense with any regularity is scary, but he also could weather a minor injury or two throughout the season and still reach these lofty totals, especially with the shift and pitch clock changes also potentially working towards his benefit. Still, if there’s any hitter who can resemble peak Miguel Cabrera, this is your guy, and that upside is worth the warts.
2. Manny Machado finishes outside the top seven third basemen.
This takedown might seem as savage as Randy, but this year I’m simply not a Machado Man. His profile has been rather unassailable for years, as he’s been one of the most consistent stalwarts of the top 30 picks, which he continued in 2022 by hitting .298/.366/.531 with 32 HR and nine SB in 644 PA, resulting in a career-best 7.4 WAR. And now he’s surrounded by one of the most impressive juggernaut lineups in recent memory. So nobody is second-guessing him—especially the Padres, as they just signed him to a rather ridiculous 11-year, $350 million extension. But given his first-roundish ADP of 15, I see enough red and orange flags that he could disappoint this year.
The first one we may be overlooking is strikeout rate. His 21% K% is by no means bad, and only slightly above his worst career rates in 2014 and 2019. But in 2022, his Z-contact% declined to a career-worst 86%, although it’s likely a result of him expanding the zone with a career-high swing rate. The .298 AVG was propelled by a career-high .337 BABIP, when his career BABIP not including 2023 was under .300. Even more concerning is how his underlying power metrics sagged, with a career-worst MaxEV of 112 mph, which feels bigger given it’s down a whopping 8 mph from his legendary career-best MaxEV of 120 mph in 2021, and he barreled the ball less with a merely solid 10% rate.
After publishing Statcast Affinity Busts, I looked for other players with bad comps I may have missed, and I was shocked to find Machado’s top batted ball profile comps to be Trey Mancini, Brandon Drury, Gleyber Torres, and David Peralta (in that order), all with relatively high degrees of correlation. Not great! Given that O-Contact% typically drops off around age 31 (Machado turns 31 later this season), and the soft factor of the fact that players often struggle in the first year of a big contract (and Manny isn’t exactly known for his hustle), I think there’s a fair chance he finishes with a batting average below .260, less than 28 homers, and under 10 stolen bases—which would likely take him out of the top seven even with elite run production. I should probably mention I’m rather high on Nolan Arenado and Alex Bregman to have big years, and Gunnar Henderson and Jordan Walker are also candidates to outshine Manny. I know in 2023 at the hot corner, nobody wants to be left with breadcrumbs. I can’t read the tea leaves, but still, I won’t bake with Manny matcha dough.
I think Adley will probably be a star someday, but maybe it’s too soon to Rutsch out to get him. I’d much rather wait and take DanJan at his much later ADP, playing time concerns notwithstanding. Jansen dealt with a broken finger and an oblique injury, both injuries well known to hamper in-season production (okay, moreso the oblique), and yet he still managed to produce a career-best season. It was also generally quietly elite, with a line of .264/.339/.516 and 15 HR in just 248 AB. At the forefront of his improvement was a massive 6% jump in barrel rate, with a 13% barrel/BBE, and his 9% Barrel/PA was 16th-best in baseball and second-best among catchers. The quality of contact improved all around, with an elite career-best 47% HardHit%, which goes well with his career-high 51% flyball%.
That would have been enough… this is catcher, after all! But he also rocked a career-best strikeout rate of just 18%, which is good for any hitter but especially a great slugging catcher. That’s probably how he could maintain excellent rate stats supported by expected stats, with a .264 xBA and .514 xSLG. Statcast Affinity rated his top batted ball profile comp as Pete Alonso (others included Joc Pederson & Anthony Santander), and while regression is expected, he should still be offensively superior to the injury-prone Brandon Belt, and should be able to log at least 400 PA with his elite defense, and 20+ HR likely and 25+ HR well within range. And that would make his current ADP of 183 a fantastic bargain.
As for Adley, I don’t think he’s a bust, I think he’ll be perfectly cromulent… just not at his ADP of 73, a whopping 110 picks ahead of Jansen. Rutschman hit just 13 HR in 470 PA last year and plays half of his games in a park that has become drastically more pitcher-friendly. While I should be lenient because he was a rookie and made in-season adjustments what it’s worth, his top batted ball comp was Jon Berti. That’s gotta hurti. I think rookie catchers generally are a dangerous gamble, as I made that mistake years ago on Jansen, who said in his first year he was mostly focused on working with the pitchers than on hitting. Basically, I think Adley will be great as a real-life catcher, but even with more secure playing time, may fail to crack 20 homers and get one-upped by Jansen’s late-bloomer barrel bat (though at 27, DanJan’s still only two years older than 25-year-old Adley).
4. Drew Rasmussen is a top 20 starter.
He’s gonna give ’em the ol’ Razzle Dazzle! I wrote my outline for my bold prediction months ago, and this felt a lot bolder when Nick’s first offseason Top 100 Pitchers list had Rasmussen at 91. I told Nick he’d be wrong on that one! While he moved him later into the top 50, the hype is already accelerating, as just this week, Alex Fast released his Top 100 that listed Raz at #29, and Eno Sarris listed him at #31. This, if true, makes him quite a value considering his rising but still rather affordable ADP of 161. But I think he can go even further.
For one, Rasmussen managed to, in one year, start using a brand new pitch, the cutter, and it became the best pitch in his three-pitch repertoire. It managed a 38% O-Swing%, 57% Zone%, and 16% Zone% making it essentially a Money Pitch, especially given the high Zone%. Considering how good his fastball and slider already were, how impressive is that? But on top of that, he did throw a small amount of two other pitches: a curveball and a sinker. Both were under 100 pitches, but both performed rather well in their limited usage. The sinker had a 24% O-Swing% and 2.2 pVAL and .154 AVG against, and the curveball had a 12% SwStr%, a 54% GB%, and .176 AVG against. If he sticks with them, would provide him with an additional velocity band and another way to force strikes.
As if that wasn’t enough, he reportedly is also working on the hot new pitch on the block, “the sweeper,” and given his success in implementing the cutter, I’m optimistic he can find a way to work this in as well, provided it improves his arsenal. He showed in the season’s final month that he can go deeper into games and also focus on getting strikeouts, which could really elevate him given he already gives up few walks. If he can throw 170 innings, he can provide massive value, and he has a relatively safe floor. So while everyone else is oohing and aahing over shiny new toys like Hunter Greene, Grayson Rodriguez, and Nick Lodolo, remember that Drew already had his development year, and now in 2023, he’s not ‘mussen around.
They may be the dumbest prediction I’ve made, but I kind of love it just because of how mad it will make Dodgers fans. Obviously, despite talent leaving and recent injuries, the Dodgers lineup is still star-studded and fearsome, and that’s not to speak of their impressive minor league system. Still, I see a path—if things break right—for the Marlins to be as good, and not just by the Dodgers’ season ending early due to California breaking off from the continent and floating away like Bill Hicks always wanted.
Let’s start with how the Marlins can be good, because that’s the more fun part. I like both Avisaíl García and Jorge Soler as bounce-back candidates, as Avisaíl tends to yo-yo from bad seasons Alex Ríos-style and seems in better game shape than last season, with Soler having looked good before the injury. I am also a big fan of the acquisitions of Jean Segura and Luis Arraez (even if it’s a bad trade for them long-term) and they have a very interesting bench/platoon of Berti, Fortes, Iglesias and Sanchez. Of course, the hitting just needs to be good enough to keep them in the game, since the rotation is talented as it is deep. Behind their young ace Sandy, I expect big years from Rogers, Luzardo, and I think that playing around .500 will be incentive enough to call upon secret weapon Eury Perez, which should make a big impact.
While we know some of the issues with the Dodgers, the fact remains that compared to the Marlins, beyond the lineup’s top three of Betts, Freeman, and Smith, there are a lot of question marks. There’s a chance even the Dodgers can’t find J.D.’s power mojo, and Muncy remains an injury risk… and after that, it’s all unproven prospects (I do like Vargas though) and scrubby types. As for the rotation, Julio Urías is the only low injury-risk pitcher, and while I don’t like trying to predict injury, I’d expect under 140 innings from just about everyone else in the rotation. It’s long odds, but unlike last year, now there’s at least a possibility, though I suppose not much less than the possibility Miami wins fewer games due to Florida sinking.
6. Harold Castro is one of the top five best Rockies hitters.
I’ve been clamoring nonstop since the Rockies’ signing happened that this was the best move of the 2023 offseason, and all anyone has to say is “Who is Harold Castro?” and “How did you get into my house?” Castro has earned a rep as one of baseball’s emptiest batting averages, with multi-position ability but no power. But last year, he changed that somewhat, enough to make me giddy during these circumstances, since I’m bullish and his ADP is just completely off the map at 608.
For one, he improved his strikeout rate to a career-best 18%, which was backed by a career-best jump in contact% to 82%, up significantly from 76% in 2021. On top of that, he also improved his batted ball outcomes somewhat, with a 6% Barrel% that, while still below average, was double his previous best. With slightly above-average contact and a hint of power, it’s no wonder his top Statcast batted ball profile comp was Alec Bohm. Not shabby for a 28-year-old journeyman on a Non-Roster-Invite.
The other element is rather obvious, but he went from the league’s worst hitter’s park (Comerica Park) to the best one (Coors Field), and he wasn’t even half bad in the bad one. If he can continue making more contact and add some more flyballs to compliment his high line drive rate, he could easily have a batting average over .300 with home runs in the double digits, sort of like the Wish.com version of Luis Arraez. With Rodgers’ injury, Castro is essentially already guaranteed a spot in the lineup, and with his multi-position eligibility, he should be able to bounce around the lineup, and probably also block a talented prospect. It is the Rockies, after all.
Yes, I know this is the third straight season with Santana line dancing on the Mendoza line, and last year hit just .202 with 19 homers. And it might sound crazy since Hoskins had a 45% HardHit%, a .253 xBA and a .438 xSLG, and most importantly, a strong 18% K% and a 13% BB%. Just kidding, that was Santana. Hoskins was close though, with a 44% HardHit% .239 xBA, .445 xSLG, a 25% K%, and 12% BB%.
I think Santana’s draft stock has plummeted this year to an ADP of just #449, mostly due to ageism combined with not wanting to look further into awful 2022 surface numbers. Okay, I mean, he is also 36 and while he had a Mendoza-Line BABIP, does have an unusually low career BABIP of .259. But his underlying stats actually improved in 2022, at least in terms of boosted Barrel (9%) and HardHit% (45%). Sure, Santana will always underperform his expected metrics because he’s slow as a three-toed sloth on quaaludes, but it doesn’t change the fact that Santana was an above-average hitter in every metric, and Hoskins wasn’t. Also, Hoskins and his 19th percentile sprint speed are also quite slow, maybe more like a tortoise who ate a strawberry-shaped CBD gummy.
Santana really struggled with the Royals, but they also have a terrible hitters’ park, not to mention terrible lineup. Now being signed by the Pirates isn’t exactly going to help with that, but it’s still a mild upgrade in terms of park factors, and more importantly, he has security hitting cleanup in a somewhat interesting top half of the lineup. Lastly, he may be one of the bigger beneficiaries of the new shift rules, as he is frequently shifted on and hasn’t been able to beat the shift. Hoskins’ home ballpark, as well as his team are far better, but he’s declined in various respects the past couple of years, most notably in barrel rate. With Hoskins’ ADP in prime territory at #134, there’s significant downside that he doesn’t deter his downslide, so I’d much rather Oye Como Va and stick to Santana, especially in OBP formats.
8. Isaac Paredes hits .250 with 30 homers.
Fun Fact: Rage Against the Machine had a hit called Bulls on Parade, but it was a mistake—they meant to title it Bullish on Paredes. Their original band name was also Rage Against the Pitching Machine. I’ve sung Paredes’s praises all offseason, perhaps because I’m a self-hating Tigers fan, but moreso because I think he’s being massively underrated this draft season with an ADP outside the top 300 picks. Shockingly, my arguing in his favor on Twitter didn’t help much.
Although Paredes’ final line last year of .210/.304/.405 with 20 homers in 381 PA may not have been that great, especially in the batting average department, there are a few things to consider:
- He did this in his age-23 season
- He completely overhauled his approach, focusing on pulled flyballs
- Despite that, he still maintained an excellent 18% K% and 12% BB%
- He’s triple-eligible at 1B, 2B, and 3B
- Did I mention he did all that in his age 23 season?
Yeah. Given he also plays excellent defense, I don’t share experts like Paul Sporer’s concerns that his playing time will again be limited, as competitors like Jonathan Aranda are lousy defenders and not better with the bat. Although Paredes’ all-or-nothing flyball approach was a bit extreme, I expect him to refine that approach, and with an excellent 85% Contact% and 6% Swinging Strike%, I think he may still be able to trade off contact for even more power. Given his great K rate, I think he could even return to being a batting average asset, something of an Alex Bregman-lite.
Jon Berti gets no respect! I mean, sure, he was dead weight upon his return in September, but he stole 41 bases in just 102 games like it was nothing… and he’s being drafted at #287? I get it, it was a career speed year and injuries gave him the opportunity, and while he literally ran with it, he’s slated for the bench in a deeper lineup this time around. But I still hold out hope that he’ll find a way to repeat the magic.
For one, his multi-position eligibility gives him a lot more chances to plug himself into the lineup, qualifying at 2B and 3B but also able to play SS as well as every OF position. Talk about a supersonic utilityman. But I think his bat is more playable than it’s given credit for, as his exit velocities, while below average leaguewide are quite good for a speedster, with an 88 mph EV and 92 FB/LD eV that’s superior to Starling Marte, Marcus Semien, and Cedric Mullins, to name a few. In addition, his 88% Z-Contact% is solid, and he’s the rare speedster who can draw a walk with a disciplined 26% O-Swing%. Even with some expected regression in stolen bases and overall production, as he is 33, he still has the tools to a passable regular and a fantasy diet, and on a team with a few injury-risk hitters. With the new bases and rules, I expect Berti to terrorize the opposition and manage another 40 SB even if he fails to reach 400 AB.
As for Bubba, my logic is a bit simpler. Bubba go fast (second-fastest sprint speed & time to first base in MLB in 2022). Bubba has job (for now anyway, until or if Taveras returns). Bubba field good (only healthy capable CF on the roster now). Bubba can bunt. I actually think this last part is overlooked when gasping at his ugly .172 xBA and .234 xSLG… throw it in the trash, because Bubba’s a bunt machine. Despite just 181 PA, he was eighth in the MLB with bunt attempts (16) and also 8th in bunt hits (7). In 500 PA, that would be 20 bunt hits, which is double the total of the bunt hit leader and cautionary tale himself, Victor Robles. Bubba stole 49 bases in just 80 Triple-A games (with 13 homers and a .303 AVG too, mind you) and I think the rule changes made a big impact for elite speedsters like him and Esteury to rack up unusually high totals, and with his 86% SB success rate, I think that will continue. I actually didn’t put Ruiz in the prediction despite him having the most role security, as he hasn’t yet demonstrated that he can transfer his skills to the majors. With ADPs for Berti at #287 and Bubba at
10. Luis Arraez finally hits a dozen (12) homers, the first time reaching double digits in his career.
I love how this prediction is actually very bold although it sounds laughably un-bold. In 2022, Arraez hit .316 with eight HR, which was a home run total greater than all the home runs he had hit previously in his career combined (six HR from 2019-2021). After career years, regression is expected, and perhaps this is why every projection system but Steamer predicts he’ll hit six HR next year (Steamer predicts seven). So I am essentially saying that he’ll hit double his projected homer total. But why?
Well, first of all, he’s been around seemingly forever but believe it or not, Arraez is still just 25 (though he’ll turn 26 in a few weeks, and that is in the range hitters typically peak). But on top of that, Arraez has made quiet and slight improvements to his power every year, raising his eV about 0.5 mph every year, and it’s now a surprisingly cromulent 89 mph, which is tied with Willy Adames, Alex Bregman, Trea Turner, and Josh Bell, to name a few. While it’s admittedly not the most useful stat, and his flyball/line drive eV of 91 is considerably worse (tied with Wilmer Flores and Whit Merrifield), it does reflect some change that you wouldn’t notice from looking at his HardHit% which has remained at 30% three years in a row. But what’s most interesting to me is how he quietly set a new MaxEV of 107 mph (tied with Harold Castro and Cody Bellinger), and a big jump from his previous best MaxEV of 104 mph. While you can argue it could have been a fluke, I don’t think it’s a fluke that his MaxEV has also gone up every year, and it’s encouraging that he also crushed his previous best in Barrel rate.
He’s also gradually been increasing his flyball rate as well as decreasing his Oppo%, increasing the odds he’ll hit pulled flyballs that are basically his only way to get a homer. Target Field did him no favors, and even though most outlets report the trade as hurting his offense, he actually had 11 expected homers if he had played last year’s games at Miami. With his extremely high contact rate, combined with the fact he’s expected to bat leadoff, even just a little nudge to his power can make a big difference. At an ADP of 213, he is absolutely a sleeper, and we just need to open Arraez to it.
Featured Image by Ethan Kaplan (@DJFreddie10 on Twitter and @EthanMKaplanImages on Instagram)