Every year, I get new fantasy baseball managers who DM me, asking me for advice. I give them the standard answers about knowing their league settings, digging into the stats, and having fun with it, of course. But I also tell them one of the most important things they can do is follow beat writers on social media.
No one is in touch with the team like beat writers are, as they have their fingers on the pulse of every lineup decision, roster change, signing, swing change and everything else surrounding the team.
Knowing the value that the beat writers have, we decided to tap into our indispensable MLB crew at The Athletic, asking them questions that will be valuable for you for this upcoming season.
Injuries limited Josh Jung to just 49 games across Triple A and MLB. During that stretch, we saw his K% spike (33%) and BB% dip (3.8%) from his minor-league numbers. What numbers would you project from a fully healthy Jung in 2023?
Close your eyes and imagine this with me. OK, don’t actually close your eyes, because you won’t be able to read. But proverbially close your eyes and imagine this. A deck of cards, all 52 of ’em, plus the two jokers, and we’re leaving the rules card in there, too. Now shuffle in a deck of Uno cards. Now a half-deck of Phase 10 cards. Dig that shoebox of mid-1980s baseball cards out of the attic and shuffle them in (don’t worry about fuzzing up the corners, that era of cards is basically worthless now). What’s that? A grubby Desert Storm card I found on the floor of my uncle’s 1996 Dodge Ram? Yep, mix that in. Shuffle them a few more times.
Now throw them against the wall as hard as you can and tell me which card is going to bounce back and land in your front pocket.
That’s what it feels like trying to project numbers for a player with under 100 big-league at-bats and a history of injuries. There is an entire industry of in-demand professionals hired for their ability to project the future success of prospects, and even they don’t have a sparkling record of getting it right.
Jung has a great mindset, and his work ethic is unquestionable. But he’s a rookie, and he’s had a bad run of luck avoiding injuries so far. So, uh, sure, let’s go with, .265/.320/.450 (.770 OPS), 19 HR, 21 doubles, 1 triple, 72 RBIs, 5 steals, 145 Ks. That’s probably the right card.
Miguel Vargas seems primed to step into a larger role for the Dodgers this season. What can we expect from him offensively?
The Dodgers love the bat, enough that they carried him on their postseason roster this past fall (they didn’t wind up using him, which is a different story); some of the club’s veterans noted Vargas’ feel for the game and the quality of the questions he was asking as he was adjusting to the big leagues. He’s probably more doubles than homers in terms of his power output, but his strong approach and his bat-to-ball skills seem to suggest a higher floor for what he could be. With Justin Turner signing with Boston and Miguel Rojas joining via trade, one can expect the trio of Max Muncy, Miguel Vargas and Rojas to break up most of the time at second and third base.
Kyle Wright was a big surprise for Atlanta last year. Is there anyone under the radar you can see surprising in a similar fashion in 2023?
Vaughn Grissom isn’t entirely under the radar, since he was brought up in August and thrust into the lineup at second base after injuries to Ozzie Albies and backup Orlando Arcia. Despite playing out of position — he’s a natural shortstop — and having only 22 games above Single A when he debuted, Grissom, MLB’s youngest player at that time, hit .420 with three homers in his first 14 games. He slumped and eventually was displaced by Arcia down the stretch, but Grissom showed enough to make the Braves and infield coach Ron Washington believe he could be ready to replace Dansby Swanson, who signed with the Cubs in free agency. Grissom hit .291 with five homers and a .792 OPS in 156 plate appearances, and he’s a sharp kid who Washington believes can make adjustments, after pitchers adjusted to him in his first MLB stint.
Fans got a taste of Adley Rutschman and Gunnar Henderson last year, and in 2023, they’re looking forward to seeing Grayson Rodriguez. What are realistic expectations — and a timeline — for Rodriguez in 2023?
The good news is the timeline. Rodriguez is recovered from the lat strain that cost him three months of the season and an impending promotion last year. He says he is fully healthy and is focused on winning a roster spot on opening day, and Orioles general manager Mike Elias said Rodriguez will have that opportunity to head north with the club. Now, the bad news. The Orioles have been extremely careful with their young pitchers who do not have a lot of professional innings. Rodriguez, 23, threw just 75.2 innings in 2022. So, though he’ll likely occupy a rotation spot at some point early in the season, his innings will be watched carefully. The Orioles prefer managing innings in-season versus shutting down a starter in August or September. So, expect shorter outings early in Rodriguez’s big-league career, meaning he may not help much in the fantasy wins category in 2023, because he may not be allowed to get through the fifth initially.
Eloy Jiménez and Luis Robert have struggled to stay healthy. Which player are you expecting to have the bigger bounce-back season?
Robert is a phenomenal athlete, and a lot of the missed time early in his career could be boiled down to freak occurrences of things colliding with his hands. Even last year’s mix of COVID-19 (despite being vaccinated), a strange bout of blurred vision and spraining his wrist by sliding into Jonathan Schoop’s cleat doesn’t seem to project issues. He’s a top-of-the-scale all-around talent, which becomes clear whenever he’s allowed to play unencumbered for long stretches.
Though Robert should be healthier, the White Sox are making a more concrete adjustment to accept that Jiménez should DH more and be allowed to risk injury in the outfield less. He should be in left field enough to maintain eligibility, but from a fantasy perspective, he’s in the sturdier position to be healthy and raking in 2023.
What are your expectations from Austin Meadows this season after a lost campaign in 2022?
The obvious hope is for Meadows to return to form. This is a player who was an All-Star in 2019 and hit 27 homers in 2021. In his 36 games last year, Meadows showed he’s a tough at-bat who can add quality to the Tigers lineup. It remains to be seen whether Meadows will show up to spring training physically and mentally healthy, but the Tigers certainly hope he will, and it will be like adding an impact bat all over again. I’d expect him to hit in the top or middle of the Tigers order and get every chance to be a run producer for an offense badly in need of help.
Which Mariners reliever is the best bet to lead the team in saves this year?
Chances are it’s Andrés Muñoz, who was fabulous last season (96 strikeouts in 65 innings) and might have the filthiest pitch in baseball. That said, the Mariners like to mix and match their late-game relievers so they face the best pocket of hitters. More often than not, Muñoz got that tough pocket, even if it came in the seventh or eighth innings. Don’t expect the Mariners to veer from this way of handling their late-inning options. It’s served them well the past two seasons.
With general manager Bill Schmidt saying Kris Bryant should open up the season as the left fielder, that leaves an opening in the Rockies infield. Does Ezequiel Tovar have the inside track for that opening?
The plan all along was for Bryant, 31 next season, to take hold of the Rockies’ everyday left-field job. He wasn’t that last season because a pair of injuries held him to just 42 games, only underscoring what a weird idea it was to sign him to a seven-year, $182 million contract in the first place.
On the other end of the age spectrum, Tovar, 21, will become the Rockies’ everyday shortstop. He’s replacing José Iglesias, who played last year as a bridge to Tovar’s arrival. The Rockies are prepared to let Tovar work through any growing pains. In 2007, rookie Troy Tulowitzki was hitting below the Mendoza line after more than three weeks to start the season and striking out like he was swinging at a piñata. Eventually, Tulowitzki worked through his issues and hit 24 homers to finish second in Rookie of the Year voting.
Tovar doesn’t profile as the same kind of slugger that Tulowitzki was, but he seems to have a feel to hit and a plate approach that could take advantage of Coors Field’s doubles-hungry alleys. He’s light on experience, but basically it’s Tovar or bust for the Rockies.
Nate Pearson seems to be a forgotten man in Toronto. After a nice Dominican Winter League showing, what’s his most-likely role on this team for this year and beyond?
After two straight seasons largely lost to injury, the priority for Pearson is simple — stay healthy and pitch innings. As for his most-likely role this season, the scales have tipped in favor of Pearson’s pitching out of the bullpen for Toronto versus being a traditional starter. That’s not to say the team has completely closed the book on the 26-year-old’s starting, but with so few innings over the past two seasons, his clearest path to the majors will be through the bullpen.
Blue Jays general manager Ross Atkins has suggested they view Pearson as a bulk option with something close to 100 innings pitched in 2023 looking like a fair benchmark. Pearson can be used as a traditional one-inning reliever — and at his best, his stuff would give Toronto the swing-and-miss it needs from its bullpen — or as a long-relief option, who can throw three or four innings. If he’s healthy, it’s possible Pearson could be used for short spot starts, too.
The Guardians have one of the best farm systems in baseball. Who is the one player whom fantasy managers should know about who can be a potential difference-maker in 2023?
Bo Naylor is the easy answer because of the dearth of valuable catchers in the league (and, therefore, in fantasy). After a dismal 2021 season at Double-A Akron, he blossomed in 2022, racking up 21 home runs, 26 doubles, 20 stolen bases and a jarring 82 walks in 118 games. That performance earned him a brief call-up at the end of the season, which the club hopes serves as a springboard into a more prominent role in 2023. Don’t sleep on Cody Morris, either. Whether he winds up as a starter or pitching in a multi-inning relief role, he demonstrated in September and October he can record big-league outs.
Catcher is always a tough position to fill for fantasy managers. Logan O’Hoppe is making early noise in fantasy circles. What can we expect from him in 2023?
The Angels’ catching situation is pretty fascinating. There’s a world where O’Hoppe doesn’t face a single batter in 2023. Then there’s also a scenario where he’s starting from Day 1. There are a couple of factors to consider. One is the Angels have Max Stassi locked up for the next three years at $17.5 million. But he also hit .180 and regressed defensively a bit last year. He still figures to be the starter going into 2023. O’Hoppe got a small cup of coffee at the end of last season. The Angels will need to decide whether they want him on the MLB roster to start the year, or whether Matt Thaiss or Chad Wallach is better in a backup role.
The most likely scenario is that O’Hoppe grows into a regular major league role in 2023, but it might take a little while for that to manifest.
The batted-ball data continues to be really good for Ke’Bryan Hayes, but it hasn’t resulted in more in-game power. Is there another level to Hayes offensively, or is this who he is?
Hayes’ defensive skills have always been Gold Glove-caliber, but he hit well enough to avoid a glove-only reputation. The question was about how much power he’ll produce in the majors. When he hit five homers in just 24 games in the truncated 2020 season, some fans believed he’d untapped some big-number potential.
It hasn’t worked out that way. Hayes has hit 13 home runs over the past two seasons. Some of that is due to injuries. Wrist injuries checked him to 96 games in 2021. Last season, he was bothered by a sore hip and back. “More than anything, I feel like it affected me swinging sometimes, just because of this whole left side being tight,” Hayes said.
Many scouts say Hayes still projects as a 15-to-20-homer-a-year batter — if he can stay healthy. The Pirates might not necessarily want him to try to become a slugger if it hurts his batting average and on-base percentage. Last season, Hayes led the team with 20 stolen bases. The Pirates have a small-ball offense and will rely on Hayes to be a savvy and productive base runner.
As the Pirates’ lineup continues to morph, Hayes’ role also could change. For now, he needs to get on base a lot and create some havoc. It might be another two or three years before we see what kind of offensive player Hayes turns out to be.
The Reds have done a great job acquiring and developing young talent, led by Nick Lodolo and Hunter Greene. If you could only have one young pitcher, which one would it be?
It’s such a tough choice and comes down to your personal preference: floor or ceiling? At this point, both are pretty high for either Lodolo or Greene. I don’t know whether there’s a right choice or a wrong one, but you’re making me choose, right? Today I’m going to take Lodolo because he’s left-handed and definitely a starter. There’s a non-zero chance Greene becomes a reliever (see former Red Aroldis Chapman), but I expect him to stay in the rotation. Ask me tomorrow and I may go the other way.
(Top photo: Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports)
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