With the major league and minor league seasons getting closer and closer to returning to our lives, it felt like as good a time as any to come out with some bold predictions that could give you another angle to look at your dynasty team for this year. Following rankings season, it is easy to feel locked into consensus. But every year brings surprises and developments that didn’t seem possible or likely a few months ago before. Time to be bold and claim victory if I get something right, but never mention the ones I get wrong ever again.
An Oriole Will Win AL ROY, But It Will Be Grayson Rodriguez
Henderson catapulted his way to being the near-unanimous number-one prospect in baseball for the 2023 season by hitting .297 with a .946 OPS and 153 wRC+ combined between AA and AAA over 503 plate appearances in 2022. He hit 19 home runs, stole 22 bases, and wasn’t overwhelmed when he made his major league debut late in the season. He was worth 0.8 fWAR over 34 MLB games thanks to a bat that was 25% better than league average and a glove that proved to be capable on the left side of the infield.
The biggest reason for his breakout was his buy-in with the Orioles’ player development focus on improving swing decisions. He has always hit the ball hard, but chasing pitches less led to a notable increase in walk rate and a decrease in strikeout rate simultaneously and it has allowed him to do so with more frequency.
That said, he is still just 21 years old and entering his first full season in the majors with some big expectations on his shoulders. There are sure to be growing pains and adjustments that need to be made throughout the year. He is deservedly the odds-on favorite to win the American League’s rookie of the year award, but he has some real competition in teammate Grayson Rodriguez.
Rodriguez is only eligible for this year’s award thanks to a back injury he sustained in what looked to be his last minor league start last June. To that point, he was 5-1 with a 2.09 ERA over 56 innings with 80 strikeouts and only 14 walks, but the grade 2 lat strain kept him out until September. He had a 4.12 ERA over 19.2 innings that month, with the same 14 walks he had over the first two months and 29 strikeouts. His velocity was down but he got those extra innings in to give him a chance to pitch all year in 2023 without being shut down.
This spring, his velocity and stuff in general has been back in full force and he is all but guaranteed to start the season as the Orioles’ fifth starter. There have been troubles during his second time through the lineup in his last two outings but he is still being built up and scouts do not seem concerned. He will have bumps along the way but I’m not sure a rookie pitcher can be more ready to dominate at the major league level. Innings will keep him from competing for the AL Cy Young but he should get enough to at least be under heavy consideration for the RoY.
A Diamondback Will Win NL ROY, But It Will Be Gabriel Moreno
Oh, the symmetry! Corbin Carroll followed in a similar path to Gunnar Henderson by starting in AA and hitting his way straight through AAA and into a month of major league playing time in September while playing a premium defensive position. The center fielder hit .307 with a 1.036 OPS and 157 wRC+ between AA and AAA over 442 plate appearances with 24 home runs and 31 stolen bases. He played in a more hitter-friendly environment than Henderson but both give you power and speed from a hard-to-fill defensive position at a very young age. Like with Henderson, this prediction isn’t meant as a knock on Carroll as much as a shout-out to Moreno who provides plus offense and defense from a premium position at catcher.
Look no further than Gunnar’s teammate and former top prospect Adley Rutschman as to how much value a catcher can provide. He had a 5.3 fWAR despite missing six weeks at the start of the season and needing a few more to adjust to major-league pitching. Moreno is a pure hitter who maxed out at 109.2 mph with his exit velocity during his brief major league debut with Toronto. He doesn’t have the plate discipline of Rutschman, but he doesn’t strike out very often and has consistently hit over .300 during his professional career.
A trade to a more hitter-friendly Arizona will help his power numbers and his elite pop times behind the plate will keep him in the lineup more often than not. It should be another fun race for RoY in this new trend of two players from the same team fighting it out for the honors.
Jackson Chourio Is A Tremendous Prospect, But Will Make His MLB Debut In 2024
Chourio sure seems like the next international superstar who sprints through the minor leagues on their way to making their major league debut by the time they’re 20 years old in the vein of Julio Rodríguez, Ronald Acuña Jr., Juan Soto, Fernando Tatis Jr., etc. At just 18 years old in 2022, he absolutely owned Low-A to the tune of a .973 OPS and 160 wRC+ over 271 plate appearances with 40 extra-base hits, 12 home runs, and 10 stolen bases.
A promotion to High-A saw a dip in production (.805 OPS, 8 HR, 4 SB) over 142 plate appearances but he was still above average for the level (119 wRC+) especially considering his age. Six games at AA to end the season was a little overwhelming but was surely used as a tool to show him what he needed to work on heading into the 2023 campaign. A 19-year-old starting in AA is very rare and considering the raw hitting talent he possesses it could lead one to think he will be following in Henderson and Carroll’s footsteps by reaching the majors in September. But I wouldn’t bank on that for a few reasons.
First, Milwaukee should be a competitive team and they have a few other notable outfield prospects who will be in AAA to start the year in Sal Frelick and Joey Wiemer. The other reason is that the level of pitching in Low-A has been noticeably diminished since the elimination of short-season ball. It’s hard to take stat lines very seriously until High-A these days, and there are still things Chourio needs to improve before proving he is ready for the majors. I would bet on him making those adjustments, I just think it will take a little bit longer than some might expect.
Colson Montgomery Will Be This Year’s Gunnar Henderson
A big left-handed hitting shortstop with comparisons to Corey Seager, entering his age-21 season at AA after getting a brief taste of the level the previous season is ready to break out in a big way. That is how you could’ve described Gunnar Henderson entering 2022 and how I would describe Colson Montgomery entering 2023.
Montgomery actually had a better walk rate and a much better strikeout rate last season than Henderson did in 2021 so he doesn’t have to make as big of a leap as Gunnar did to fully break out in a big way. He really just needs to tap into his raw power in games more often and continue to button up the defense at short. He may be better off sacrificing some of his bat-to-ball skills to sell out a little more and get those barrels up, but he is in a really good position to build off of the solid base he has already shown to possess.
He doesn’t have the speed or stolen base ability that Henderson has displayed, but with Tim Anderson only being under team control through the 2024 season it is easy to see a scenario where Montgomery takes over in 2024 and gets plenty of major league experience in 2023 to prepare for it.
Next Year’s Top Pitching Prospect Will Be A Surprise Name
No, sorry, I don’t know who it will be. But with the way pitching development works in this day and age, a pitcher can add multiple ticks to a fastball over the course of an offseason and modify and/or add a pitch that makes their whole arsenal play differently. There may be no such thing as a pitching prospect thanks to injuries, but it’s also starting to look like every pitcher is a prospect with the right development. We’ve seen pitchers adding the sweeper slider more and more, there is a focus on IVB (induced vertical break) on fastballs, and if you’re having trouble finding the feel for a changeup – try a splitter.
Speaking of injuries, they’re still rampant. Andrew Painter has recently been anointed the best pitching prospect in baseball, and then suffered an elbow injury that will keep him out for at least a few months if it doesn’t end up requiring surgery. A lot of the top pitchers on prospect lists will graduate during the 2023 season, and I’m betting there will be numerous pop-up guys that capture the prospect world by storm over the course of the year.
Keep an eye out for arms in the Dodgers, Guardians, Yankees, Rays systems — all the typical organizations that have been good at pitching development — for guys that take the next step in missing bats or prove that their gains in 2022 were just the beginning. Names like Tanner Bibee for Cleveland and Gavin Stone with the Dodgers come to mind, but if it was that easy to predict this wouldn’t be very bold now would it?
Moreno is not Rookie eligible, so that may be bolder than you imagined
Ha! I was about to comment the same thing. Unfortunately, even though this is a bold prediction article, the authors credibility takes a hit as well as the attention to detail for any of the editors. This is a pretty well known fact.