Van Burnett’s Bold Predictions for 2023

Youth is served. Let's get bold once more before Opening Day.

On the doorstep of Opening Day, these are the final moments for dart throws, crystal balls and bold predictions. So, to level the playing field with my podcast co-host, I’ve assembled 10 hot takes for 2023. I tend to go deep with all my podcast scribble notes, so I’ll keep the preamble brief. But the boilerplate disclaimer is that bold predictions should be just that — bold. Our fearless leader, Nick Pollack, advises that these should have a 10% or 20% chance of coming true. Otherwise, they ain’t bold enough! While some are bolder than others, here are 10 I could see hitting if things fall in place for 2023. Thanks for the read, folks.


1.) Vinnie Pasquantino’s a Top 10 Hitter in OBP Leagues


Gotta start out with some Italian Breakfast, right? Maybe it’s because my friends sometimes call me Vinny, but I can’t get enough of the Pasquantino. And when you pair that with an OBP format? Few takes are bold enough. But this one’s just right. Currently, Vinnie P is projected as the 52nd player on Razzball OBP Player Rater. I believe he’s ready to surge.

Given the format, let’s start with the plate discipline. Pasquantino had the 11th lowest K% rate in the majors last season. And next to his elite 11.4% K rate, was an identical walk rate. On top of his .295 average, that raised his OBP to .383 — 9th in the league for batters with over 250 plate appearances. None of this is abnormal. Take a look at Vinnie’s walk rate and OBP last season versus the minors.

Vinnie Pasquantino’s BB% and OBP 2021-2022

Season Level Games BB% OBP
2022 MLB 72 11.7% .383
2022 AAA 73 12.8% .371
2021 AA 55 13.1% .405
2021 A+ 61 12% .384


This is who he is. He’s selective at the plate. And he makes contact with the best of them. His .308 xAVG last season was second best in all the majors. His PLV Contact metric scores 20th in the league. And that’s after a rare .230 slump in his first month in the bigs. So he’s not just an elite eye, he’s an elite bat. And make no mistake, he’s got pop.


Last season, his 35.7% hard contact rate was 9th overall in the league. His average power (just 10 homers in 72 games) was a bit uncharacteristic. He likely focused on contact, which served him well to break out of his slump. That said, he’s never been a middling power guy. Take a look at his ISO last year versus the minors.

Vinnie Pasquantino’s ISO 2021-2022

Season Level Games ISO
2022 MLB 72 .155
2022 AAA 73 .284
2021 AA 55 .250
2021 A+ 61 .274


At just 25 years old, who’s to say the power’s done growing? With a full season hitting cleanup and the big show jitters behind him, I like Vinnie P to deliver a .380 OBP with 29 homers, 3 steals, 83 runs and 103 RBI — barely cracking the top 10 hitters in OBP leagues. This will be judged by the Razzball Player Rater (OBP 5×5).


2.) Nico Hoerner Finishes a Top-3 Second Baseman


Right now, he’s not even eligible at the position. But slated at the keystone for the Cubs, he will be by Mid-April. If he were eligible in March drafts, he’d be the 9th 2B off the board. He’d have to finish third or better among names like Marcus Semien, Jose Altuve, Jazz Chisholm Jr., Ozzie Albies and Tommy Edman. Here’s why he can.

Last year, Hoerner was quietly excellent, hitting .281 with 10 homers and 20 steals in just 135 games. What held his overall line down was just 60 runs and 55 RBI — but he spent just 9% of his plate appearances in the top third of the order. This season, Nico Hoerner’s batting leadoff with an improved lineup behind him.

Under the hood, the average looks safe. First and foremost, he struck out just 11% of the time. And while he doesn’t take a ton of walks, that means his plus average is helping more often in 5×5 leagues. And it is a plus average. Last year’s .281 had a .300 BABIP behind it, reasonable and actually below his career average. His PitcherList xAVG was .279 and his Ideal Plate Appearance is 73rd percentile. On the new PLV contact leaderboard, Hoerner’s 17th in the majors. All after he hit .302 in 2021. Simply put, the average is legit.

And while his 10 homers looked uncharacteristic, he set career highs in launch angle (10.7o) and max EV (109.7 mph), after making an effort to pull the ball more compared to 2021. I’m not sure he’ll eclipse 15 homers, but I think in a full season he can repeat double digits.

It’s easy to dream about Hoerner on the basepaths. His sprint speed is 92nd percentile. His 20 steals pro-rated to 124 in a full season. Add in bigger bases and the pickoff rules, he’s got a decent shot at 30. Don’t forget, he’s just 25 years old.

Overall, I think Hoerner’s skills and circumstance have him in a great position to finish top 3 at a top-heavy position with question marks surrounding Altuve, Chisholm and Albies. Give me a .285 season with 10 homers, 25 steals, 100 runs and 60 RBI — and this is a top three 2nd baseman. This will be judged by the Razzball Player Rater.


3.) Max Muncy Finishes Top 3 in Homers in the National League


For context, ATC Projections have him finishing 15th in the NL in homers, with 28. That’s not a bad number in 137 games. But I think he’s got more in him. After battling an injured elbow, it was pretty clear that Muncy was not himself in the first half of the season. After some IL stints to get healthy and get his mind right, he bounced back in a big way.

Max Muncy’s 2022 1st Half/2nd Half Splits

Games Home Runs Hard Hit % OPS
1st Half 73 9 36.1 .639
2nd Half 63 12 46.3% .791


And that second half includes a July hitting .147 with a .597 OPS. Then he tweaked his stance, and hit 12 homers in his last 52 games. I’ve learned not to overreact to end of season breakouts. But it was just 2021 when Muncy hit 36 bombs in 144 games. Under the hood, despite the rough season-ending line, Muncy’s numbers looked like Muncy.

He finished 30 in PLV’s power metric and his 13.4% barrel rate was 91st percentile. With a full offseason to recover, and a stint to Driveline which increased his bat speed by 10% — Muncy’s ready. And the Dodgers should have him cemented into cleanup all season. Give me a return to tanktown with 37 bombs, finishing top 3 in the NL behind only Pete Alonso and Kyle Schwarber.


4.) Kevin Gausman Outpitches Gerrit Cole


 This is a two-part bold prediction. On one hand, I’m a huge believer in Gausman. And the other, not so much in Gerrit Cole. We’ll measure this by the Razzball Player Rater end of year.

It’s a new a tradition for me to fade Gerrit Cole. He was the one bold prediction I hit last year (finishing outside of the top 10 SPs). To be honest, I’m just not a big fan. Some of it’s his grumpy attitude, some of it’s that he’s always the de facto SP1 overall, and I don’t think he should be. Sure he’s durable and great for strikeouts, but there are concerns.

Since “spin gate” in 2021, he never really got back to the spin rates he had in 2019 and 2020 – his most elite seasons.

No mistake, Cole’s strikeout 32% K rate is deserved and elite. The problem is (and has been) the home run issues. Despite topping most “stuff” leaderboards, he was 41st in the league in HR/9 — by names like Germán Márquez and Marco Gonzales. That contributed to him finishing 30th in ERA. Listen, a 3.50 ERA with a 1.02 WHIP and 257 Ks is terrific. It’s just not SP1-1. So that’s the big “fade” debate. Not a ton in it. But the second part is the love for Kevin Gausman.

Last year, Gausman posted a 2.81 ERA with 228 strikeouts in 192 innings. Compared to Cole’s 1.48 HR/9, Gausman’s was .77, 14th in the majors. Gausman’s 1.24 WHIP was not great (especially compared to Cole’s). But seeing the high WHIP next to his 3.9% walk rate is almost unbelievable.

That’s where his bad luck comes in. The league average BABIP is around .300. Last year, Gausman’s BABIP was .363! His PLV “hit luck” was +34. That means 34 hits dropped that typically should not be hits. That alone would drop his WHIP to 1.04 — almost right where Cole’s was.

In terms of his actual stuff, it was elite as always. His workhorse four-seamer had a 21.1% CSW (86th percentile). His trademark splitter had a 27% SwStr% (almost double the league average). Across all pitches, his PLV metrics ranked fourth in the majors. His PLA (pitch-level ERA) was 2.69 — 97th percentile and even better than his 2.81 ERA. Simply put, this guy’s an ace. Compared to Cole, I think Gausman closes the gap on WHIP, and the lower ERA outweighs the 30 less strikeouts. If nothing else, I’ll take the 40-pick discount.


5.) Taylor Ward Finishes a Top 10 Outfielder


In an October industry mock, I grabbed Ward at 158. Gone are the days! Currently, Ward’s being drafted as the 29th outfielder off the board with an ADP around 100. There’s reason to believe that’s still too late. Last season, he broke out to the tune of a .281 average with 23 bombs, 5 steals and 138 runs plus RBIs. The underlying numbers backed this up. Ward’s 11.9% barrel rate (steadily climbing year over year) was 87th percentile in the league. His Ideal Plate Appearance ranked 38th among all hitters. His hard contact and flyball rate are both well-above league average. His production was legit.

And it was all in 135 games, due to a notable hamstring injury. It’s notable because the injury occurred in June, which happens to be right before a 7-week production drought. His splits before and after that IL stint are staggering.

Taylor Ward’s 2022 Monthly Splits

April/May .347 10 29 26
June/July .222 3 19 9
August/Sept-Oct .287 10 25 30


If we make the not-so-crazy assumption that the true Taylor Ward is an average of his beginning and end of the season? That’s a .300, 25 homer, 5 steal guy, with 160 runs and RBI. And with the new baserunning environment, he could hit double digits as well. All while hitting lead-off for the Angels in his age 29 season — I could see Ward to building on his breakout and cracking the top 10 in outfield, ahead of names like Cedric Mullins and Michael Harris II. This will be judged by the Razzball Player Rater.


6.) Cristian Javier is a Top 5 Starting Pitcher


 I’ll tip a hat to my Wins Above Fantasy podcast partner Steve Gesuele on this one. He was documented early this offseason saying Cristian Javier is basically Spencer Strider four rounds later. That said, he’s been widely viewed as a wide-awake sleeper value throughout the offseason. And no surprise, his ADP has risen from roughly 80 to 65.

Even so, he’s the 20th starting pitcher off the board. That’s too late, in my opinion. It’s easy to forget Javier was a reliever early last season. But he did start 25 games and amass a respectable 148.2 innings, with an absurd 2.54 ERA and .95 WHIP. Best of all, of course, his 11.74 K/9 which trailed only Shohei Ohtani and Carlos Rodón. Some regression is inevitable, but no one would debate his breakout was legit.

His 19% hard contact against was 4th in all the league. His four-seamer gets exceptional whiffs and his slider’s proven impossible to square up. He’s got a better shot at 170 innings than Spencer Strider (drafted as the 5th SP), and that could lead to 220+ Ks. Not to mention, the wins should come easy with the Astros. I’ll project Javier going 13-6 in 172 innings, with 224 Ks, a 2.97 ERA and a 1.05 WHIP. That line should crack the top 5 SPs in 2023. Friendly reminder, he’s just 26 years old. This will be judged by the Razzball Player Rater. 


7.) Randy Arozarena Bags 20 Homers and 40 Steals


After fading Arozarena in recent seasons, I’ve come to accept he defies the poor plate discipline and middling Statcast numbers. And while I still wouldn’t be shocked if his average regresses to .250 — I’m convinced the solid pop and especially the speed are real.

In his past two seasons, Arozarena hit 20 home runs in each, despite missing 31 games in that time. In the shortened 2020, he launched 7 bombs in just 23 games (a 49-homer pace if you’re into that stuff). What was encouraging last year, is that 8 of his 20 came against breaking balls. Till then, only 4 of his 28 homers were from breaking balls.

In his second full season, he showed real signs of evolving as a hitter — even if not plate discipline related. He also set a career high in max exit velocity at 114 mph, which was 95th percentile in the league. So not all bad signs under the hood.

Then comes the speed. We’ve heard about the bases and pickoff rules ad nauseum. One aspect I’m watching closely are high-speed players who were caught stealing often. That shows intention, and in my eyes — a likeliness to soar with the new baserunning environment. Here are the caught stealing leaders in the past two seasons.

Caught Stealing “Leaders” in 2021 & 2022

2021 2022
Player Rank Caught Stealing Steals Player Rank Caught Stealing Steals
1. Randy Arozarena 10 20 1. Randy Arozarena 12 32
2. Shohei Ohtani 10 26 2. Ronald Acuña Jr. 11 29
3. Andrew Benintendi 9 8 3. Cedric Mullins II 10 34
4. Cedric Mullins II 8 30 4. Starling Marte 9 18
5. Jazz Chisholm Jr. 8 23 5. Shohei Ohtani 9 11


So not only did Arozarena swipe 32 bases last year, he ran 44 times. He’s attempted 74 steals the past two years. How many more will he attempt and succeed at this year? He loves the big play and the spotlight. I wouldn’t be surprised if he attempts 50 and steals 40 this year.


8.) Lars Nootbaar & Brendan Donovan Combine for 50 Bombs


Couldn’t hype up Hoerner without giving my St. Louis Cardinals some love. I’m not alone either. The whole industry seems to love Lars Nootbaar. And for good reason. From 2021 to 2022, his barrel rate jumped from 4% to 12%. He was 14th in the majors in hard hit per swing percentage. And in one of the most telling stats for power — exit velocity on flyballs and line drives — Noot was 26th in the league, ahead of names like Bryce Harper, Paul Goldschmidt and Ronald Acuña Jr..

These were the ingredients for his .846 OPS post all-star break. The biggest threat to his breakout is the Cardinals spreading the love to their ~13 big-league-ready bats. But with the rise of the 25-year-old’s fame in the WBC, combined with the buzz of his relentless swing development, it’s going to be hard keeping him off the field. And if he stays on, he has every chance for 25 homers, if not more.

Noot’s teammate Brendan Donovan is the newer, cooler breakout pick — simply because it’s not mainstream yet. It’s like knowing the awesome opening band at a concert. Last season, Donovan played super-utility for the Cardinals, ultimately settling in at second base.

He hit .281 and showed good plate discipline (15% K rate, 12.8% walk rate) — but was a classic case of a better real-life player than fantasy. This offseason, he put on some muscle and went to Marucci Clubhouse Sports (akin to Driveline) where he changed his stance and bat. His spring training’s shown promising signs of a power breakout for the 26-year-old.


This bold prediction could go any number of ways, but I think the most likely path to 50 combined homers is Noot hits 28 and Donovan hits 22. Here’s to the Cardinals trading some competing bats for pitching so they both get 140 games!


9.) Oscar Colas Wins AL ROY


For the gamblers out there, Vegas has Colas +2000 odds (9th best) to win AL Rookie of the Year. That’s behind plenty of likely candidates like Anthony Volpe, Grayson Rodriguez and Triston Casas. I think the 24-year-old Colas can take it.

This spring, he was in a dead-heat position battle for the White Sox right fielder spot. He won it outright thanks to a red-hot start. And while he’s cooled off recently, he’s still hitting .267 with an impressive 14.7% K rate (compared to his 26% projected K rate). Let’s look at the rest of his ATC projections.

Oscar Colas’s 2023 ATC Projections vs. 2022 Minor League Stats

Games Average Slugging OPS
2023 ATC 109 .246 .410 .703
2022 AAA 7 .387 .645 1.026
2022 AA 51 .306 .563 .928
2022 A+ 59 .311 .475 .845


If Colas and his glimpses of better plate discipline lead to everyday playing time, and it’s possible, this could wind up looking far better than his projected 15 homers and 3 steals in 109 games. I think he’s got every shot to play 130 games which could lead to a statline in the realm of a .260 average, with 23 homers, 5 steals and decent counting in a great White Sox lineup. And that may be enough to take home the honors.


10.) Kyle Tucker Finishes #1 Overall


In 2022, Tucker hit .257 with 30 homers, 25 steals, 71 runs and 107 RBI. Somehow, last year like several before — Tucker “disappoints” us with these excellent seasons. It’s a sign of flattery that we’ve all believed he can be even better. I believe this year’s the year.

Looking at that 5×5 statline, the two weaknesses that jump out are obvious: average and runs. So let’s start with the average. First and foremost, his BABIP beneath the .257 average was just .261 — the previous seasons it’s been .300 or higher. So right away, I’d expect some “positive regression.” Perhaps more importantly is the shift limit this year. Feast your eyes on this tweet.

Because he’s been streaky at times, it’s easy to forget we’ve seen Kyle Tucker be the very best in baseball. If you dropped his slow April in 2021, he hit .320 the rest of the season. With better luck and less shifting, he’s already projected to hit .277 — and I’ll take the over. Tucker’s contact skills are solid, he hits the ball hard, and above all else, his PLV Strikezone Judgement is 2nd in the majors. He sees pitches better than almost anyone and he’s just 26 years old.

A .280+ Kyle Tucker would most likely be a top 5 hitter; he’s already said 30 homer 30 steals is possible (and probably so with the new steals landscape). What’s left is counting stats and runs in particular. This challenge just saw a huge opportunity with the unfortunate injury to Jose Altuve. After years of unimaginably hitting in the 6th spot in the lineup, Tucker is now slated to hit 2nd. Sure, Altuve will come back in June, and Michael Brantley even sooner. But my gut says Jeremy Peña (and not a top five bat in baseball) will be more likely to move down. We’re merely guessing at what Dusty Baker will do, but I could see the July batting order looking like this:

  1. Jose Altuve
  2. Kyle Tucker
  3. Alex Bregman
  4. Yordan Alvarez
  5. José Abreu
  6. Michael Brantley
  7. Jake Meyers
  8. Martín Maldonado
  9. Jeremy Peña

That lineup, or anything similar, would launch Tucker’s runs/RBI into the 210-225 range. While Tucker finally finishing 1.1 seems bold — the projection to get there (in my opinion) isn’t bold: .285, 30 homer, 31 steals, 101 runs, 105 RBI.

Van Burnett

Van Burnett is a marketing creative director, Staff Writer at Pitcher List and co-host of the Wins Above Fantasy podcast. For his takes on baseball, the Avett Brothers or Chelsea Football Club, follow @van_verified on Twitter.

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