It’s finally time to see some real baseball! Spring Training is here and with it comes a bunch of baseball to watch. While we pundits often mention that stats in the Spring mean nothing, there are still plenty of meaningful things you can look for in terms of player performance and usage to prepare for your upcoming fantasy seasons.
I’ll cover a few things I’ll be looking at when watching all 30 teams to help you understand whether players are trending up or down as we head into the season. You’ll notice a focus on health, batting order, and plate discipline instead of actual performance (batting average, home runs, etc.) because health, batting order, and plate discipline are more likely to indicate meaningful changes than the randomness of other stats in the small samples.
- Christian Walker – Walker is at his best when his flyball rate is north of 40%, and I’d be worried if it’s south of 35%. We want those flyballs to be toward the pull field as well.
- Jake McCarthy – The explosion in 2022 stems largely from a dramatically improved strikeout rate (31.6% in the first half, 17.6% in the second half). McCarthy’s profile requires lots of contact, so a strikeout rate of 25% or worse would spell trouble for his 2023 outlook.
- Corbin Carroll – The rookie struggled to get the ball in the air in his small 2022 sample in the majors, and that will need to be corrected to find consistent power.
- Vaughn Grissom – He and Orlando Arcia are competing for the starting shortstop gig, and the more we see Vaughn in that role, the better. Arcia is not interesting in most fantasy formats.
- Ozzie Albies – Is he healthy? A myriad of injuries derailed Albies in 2022, and staying healthy through the spring would go a long way in restoring confidence in his bat.
- Michael Harris II – While many project Harris to bat second, a healthy Albies could put up a fight and claim that role. Harris is still a great fantasy asset batting sixth, but batting second would be better for his counting stats.
- Adley Rutschman – The young backstop walked 16.7% of the time in the second half and had a nearly one-to-one strikeout-to-walk ratio—showing that kind of approach in the Spring would be the first step towards becoming an elite fantasy catcher.
- Gunnar Henderson – Strikeouts steadily rose as the season went on, and he ended the season striking out in one-third of his plate appearances over his last 15 games. That number should be in the low-to-mid 20s if Henderson is going to unlock his potential.
- Austin Hays – There’s potential in Hays, but he’s got to lay off the pitches out of the zone. His strong 2021 came with a chase rate of 29%, while his lesser seasons all have chase rates near 35%.
- Kyle Stowers – The southpaw slugger could be a sneaky fantasy option if he can avoid a platoon, and to do that, Stowers needs to show that he can make contact against lefties this spring.
Boston Red Sox
- Masataka Yoshida – Nearly everyone projects Yoshida to walk more than 10% of the time and to strike out less than 13% of the time, which is his clearest path to success. Let’s see if he can manage something close to that in the spring.
- Adam Duvall – The veteran slugger could hit as many as 30 home runs with a full-time job as the starting centerfielder, but to earn that role he’ll need to prove his wrist is ready for action and that he can keep the strikeout at or near 30%. If we start seeing more of Rob Refsnyder in center field, then we can expect a platoon.
- Triston Casas – Pregame rituals aside, the highly-touted prospect has a chance to be an impact first baseman for Boston if the plate discipline looks anything like the 20% walk rate and 24.2% strikeout rate we saw in 95 plate appearances last season. Casas’s calling card is his ability to walk as much as he strikes out, and to do both around 15-20% of the time. If he continues to show that ability, he could be a breakout star for the Red Sox.
- Seiya Suzuki – Reports suggest he’s added a ton of muscle, which is neat, but I’m more curious about whether he can continue to lower his strikeout rate. Suzuki’s 40-game strikeout rate topped out just north of 30%, but he ended the season at a smooth 21% strikeout rate over those last 40 games. If he can stay near that 20-23% mark, the hype has a chance to be real.
- Christopher Morel – There’s intriguing power and speed here, but Morel needs two things to unlock it—everyday at-bats (which could be a challenge with the crowded roster) and fewer strikeouts (he struck out 34.2% of the time in the second half, which turned him into a role-player as opposed to a starter).
- Cody Bellinger – The former NL MVP is hoping to be the full-time centerfielder in Wrigleyville, and has a new batting stance he’s worked on in the offseason. Bellinger hasn’t walked nearly as much as he did in the past, so the first step towards reinvention likely starts with a walk rate closer to 10% than the 6.9% we saw in 2022. I’d also love to see the strikeout rate fall below 25%.
Chicago White Sox
- Tim Anderson – There’s no question that Anderson is a top-12 shortstop when healthy, but after offseason surgery on his hand and a long injury history, “when healthy” is a status we always need to be watching for.
- Luis Robert Jr. – His 98 games in 2023 were a new record, but it’s not enough. LuBob claims he’s as healthy as ever heading into the WBC for Team Cuba, and as long as the strikeout rate in that event is below 25% and he makes it through unscathed, the optimism about what he’s capable of (25+ home runs and 20+ steals with a .285 batting average is a real possibility) can continue.
- Yoan Moncada – 2022 was a lost season for the former top prospect. To be a player I’d consider in drafts for 2023 (I did not rank him in my top 30 third basemen), I’d either need to see a return to double-digit walk rates or a return to more line drives instead of weak flyballs the other way.
- Jake Fraley – Fraley has the potential to be a 20-home run hitter who steals double-digit bases with a decent batting average and strong OBP with a full-time role, though he’s never actually received one. He won the left field job over one-time star Aristedes Aquino at the end of last season, and regular at-bats in the spring would suggest they are willing to let him play more often in the regular season.
- Tyler Stephenson – The former first-rounder was well on his way to a breakout campaign in 2022, hitting .319/.372/.482 in 50 games, though injuries prevented him from playing more. If Stephenson makes it through the spring without injury, he should probably be moved up your draft board.
- Josh Bell – His struggles are almost always from the same issue—too many groundballs. I’ll be looking to see if Cleveland has found a way to help Bell get the ball up in the air more often.
- Steven Kwan – It will be a small sample, but a couple of pulled flyballs from Kwan would help me believe in the possibility of double-digit home runs.
- Josh Naylor – Roster Resource projects him as a platoon player, albeit on the large side of a platoon, and that role would make him dramatically less interesting for fantasy. If Gabriel Arias or Tyler Freeman (or any young Guardian) has a strong spring, Naylor’s role could be in jeopardy. Despite Naylor qualifying in the outfield in fantasy on Yahoo, he’s not an acceptable option in a major league outfield, and with Bell on the roster, Naylor could be the one who gets rotated out for young talent.
- Kris Bryant – He just needs to be healthy.
- Elehuris Montero – His 32.4% strikeout rate and 4.3% walk rate were much worse than his minor league track record, so better plate discipline would go a long way toward winning more starts. Montero has real power and could be an intriguing option when starting in Coors.
- Ezequiel Tovar – I have no faith in Colorado’s management, so I want to make sure he looks like he’ll be the starting shortstop (instead of being randomly benched like many other Rockies rookies in recent memory).
- Austin Meadows – Meadows was a legitimate fantasy contributor in 2021 before a lost season in 2022, and I’m more than willing to blame injuries for the issues. If he’s healthy, he should be able to put up numbers worthy of being rostered in virtually all formats.
- Riley Greene and Spencer Torkelson – Both big-time prospects improved their skills as the season went on, and I’ll be hoping that they can continue to show strong plate discipline during the spring as opposed to pressing and letting their desire to make a big play overcome the skills that got them to the big leagues.
- Akil Baddoo – I hope he walks a lot and strikes out less because I still love him. I can’t help myself. GO BADDOO GO.
- Michael Brantley – You know the drill. A healthy Brantley batting second for Houston needs to be rostered.
- Jose Abreu – It will be hard to see with the small sample, but Abreu just couldn’t pull the ball with any authority last season, leading to a big dropoff in power. I’d love to see just a few hard-hit pulled balls in the air, otherwise, it’s hard to see a path back to 20+ home runs.
- Kyle Tucker – Why do they not want him batting higher in this lineup? Do they not realize he’s amazing? On days Brantley doesn’t hit second, I’d love to see Tucker up in the top-four spots of this batting order.
Kansas City Royals
- Franmil Reyes – Reyes needs to walk close to 10% of the time to offset that high strikeout rate, and he also needs to play. If he’s doing both, I’m in, but if either one doesn’t happen, I’m out.
- Edward Olivares – The Royals sent him up and down, like, 100 times in 2022 (give or take), and if he has an everyday role in the middle of that lineup behind Vinnie Pasquantino and Salvador Perez, Olivares could be a producer worthy of consideration in 12-team formats.
Los Angeles Angels
- Taylor Ward – Ward was excellent when healthy in 2022, and if he’s healthy through the spring of 2023, I expect a breakout for Ward.
- Anthony Rendon – Health is also an issue for Rendon, who has missed tons of time in each of the last two seasons.
- Jared Walsh, Gio Urshela, and Luis Rengifo – I’m just curious if any of these guys get regular playing time in 2023. None are terribly relevant to me without it.
Los Angeles Dodgers
- Miguel Vargas – If he’s walking and striking out at even league-average rates, the top 50 prospect should take a big step forward in 2023.
- Trayce Thompson – I don’t see a path to regular playing time if the strikeout rate is 36.5% like it was last season.
- Chris Taylor – To earn playing time worth rostering in 15-team formats, he’ll need to poach time from David Peralta or Trayce Thompson. If they struggle or if he plays well, he could be a sneaky add in those deeper formats.
- Joey Wendle and Jon Berti – While they make a pretty natural platoon with Wendle being a lefty and Berti being a righty, either one getting hurt or having a fantastic spring could upset that balance. If either gets a full-time job, they should be on your radar in 12-teamers.
- Bryan De La Cruz – The middle-third of the Marlins’ lineup is ripe for the taking, as Avisail Garcia and Jorge Soler have each dealt with poor performance and injuries over the last few seasons. If De La Cruz can steal one of their spots in the batting order, his upside would increase significantly.
- Jesse Winker – Now that he’s presumably healthy, Winker has a shot to be an everyday player in the heart of a rather potent offense. Weak contact plagued him in 2022 (his plate discipline remained excellent, though), so as long as he isn’t hitting a ton of infield flies like he did last season, he’ll be on my bounce-back list.
- Garrett Mitchell – He struck out a whopping 41.2% of the time in 68 plate appearances in the majors, but it was a far more palatable 21.2% in 85 plate appearances in Triple-A. If that strikeout rate stays south of 30%, Mitchel could hit 15 home runs and steal as many as 20-25 bases. A lot of things have to go right to get there, but it’s not impossible.
- Christian Yelich – Yelich played a full season for the first time since 2018, and while he’s unlikely to ever hit 30 home runs again, he can be a top-20 outfielder with another healthy season. That starts, of course, with a healthy spring where we don’t hear about his back.
- Joey Gallo – We’re all rooting for him to be something. Anything, really. For starters, let’s see how often the Twins are willing to roll him out there over the spring.
- Alex Kirilloff – His skills improved during the 2022 season before he suffered yet another injury. A healthy spring should lead to a shot at a full-time gig.
- Byron Buxton – Just don’t get hurt.
New York Mets
- Brandon Nimmo – Nimmo could get to 100 runs scored as part of this offense if he stays healthy, so hopefully, he emerges from Spring Training unscathed.
- Starling Marte – Spring Training is a hard time to gauge stolen bases, but at the very least I’d love to see Marte steal at least a base or two once he’s over this groin injury that’s popped up early on.
- Brett Baty – It’s hard to see a spot for him in this lineup on Opening Day, but the top-25 prospect could accelerate his timeline with a strong spring—especially if he shows the plate discipline he’s achieved in the minors. I mean, do they plan to start Eduardo Escobar and Daniel Vogelbach all season?
New York Yankees
- Harrison Bader – He could hit 20 home runs and steal 20 bases with a full season of plate appearances, and he even swiped 17 bases in just 86 games last season. Bader hasn’t come close to playing 140 games in either of the last two seasons, though, so we’ll need to see him stay healthy this spring before boosting his projections.
- DJ LeMahieu – The 34-year-old infielder could be a sneaky play in points and OBP leagues, but he’ll need to play at least 80% of the time to make that work. He currently looks like a bench bat for the Yankees right now, but if he has secured a more permanent position by the end of Spring Training, he’s worth a last-round look in 12-team points and OBP leagues.
- Oswald Peraza, Oswaldo Cabrera, and Anthony Volpe – All three young players have power and speed, and all three are more interesting than vets like LeMahieu, Hicks, or Kiner-Falefa. If any have a full-time role by the end of spring, they should be drafted. Volpe is the star prospect, though he’s also the least likely to break camp with the big club (it’d be a HUGE surprise).
- Ramon Laureano – He hasn’t appeared in 100 games in a season since 2019, but he’s also the only Athletics hitter who could hit 20 home runs and steal 20 bases. If he’s healthy and batting near the top of the order, he should be on your radar.
- Esteury Ruiz – Ruiz has incredible speed, but he’s got to take a few walks to make it work. I’d love to see him lead off for this team, but first, he likely needs to show a league-average walk rate this spring.
- Nick Castellanos – Castellanos worked on his swing this offseason, and while Spring Training stats don’t matter, I’d sure love to see him put up some stats. His 2022 was downright baffling to me.
- Kyle Schwarber – They won’t lead him off, right? I mean, they have Trea Turner now. There’s no reason to keep doing what Joe Maddon did back in Chicago anymore. Schwarber’s best fantasy upside is batting second, third, or fourth—not first.
- Alec Bohm – Bohm was once a power prospect, but has now pivoted to more of a contact hitter. That can still be useful for fantasy, but not if he’s going to bat seventh. Even a move to sixth would make me feel better about Bohm’s upside.
- Oneil Cruz – Cruz’s plate discipline improved dramatically by the end of the season, and if he shows off a 25% strikeout rate and a double-digit walk rate this spring, watch out. This guy could set the world on fire.
- Ke’Bryan Hayes – Again, Spring Training stats don’t matter, but a couple of pulled balls in the air and/or a couple of home runs in the spring could show us a path to 15 home runs to go with the 20+ stolen bases he could rack up in Pittsburgh.
- Ji Hwan Bae – I could see close to 10 home runs and more than 20 stolen bases from Bae in a full-time role thanks to his impressive hit tool and speed, but first he needs to take over a full-time job. While he has primarily operated as a middle infielder, Bae could also win time in this outfield, as Carlos Santana could easily head to the bench to open up the DH spot, allowing Suwinski or McCutchen to DH and giving Bae a shot in the outfield. It’s not super likely, but it’s still plausible.
San Diego Padres
- Trent Grisham – It was a pretty terrible 2022 campaign by all accounts, but if Grisham gets that strikeout rate back under control (as in below 25%), his chance at 17-20 home runs and 10-15 steals increases significantly.
- Matt Carpenter – Somehow, Carpenter hit .305/.412/.727 in 154 plate appearances last season for the Yankees, and also had a 22.7% strikeout rate—a dramatic improvement over the 30.9% in 249 plate appearances he had in 2021. A sub-25% strikeout rate and regular plate appearances could make him a bit of a sleeper in deeper formats.
- Nelson Cruz – This was a surprising signing, but if the 42-year-old slugger has any pop left, he could be worth adding to your watch list.
San Francisco Giants
- Michael Conforto – After a very disappointing 2021 and then missing all of 2022, Conforto is back and should appear in Spring Training games. If he still can walk more than 10% of the time and strike out less than 25% of the time, Conforto is worth rostering—especially in OBP formats. Of course, what’s most important is that he plays at all.
- Mitch Haniger – Haniger played in just 57 games in 2022 after his monster 2021 when he hit 39 home runs with 210 combined runs and RBI. In the two seasons where he’s played 150 games, he’s hit 26 and 39 home runs (2018 and 2021). Should Haniger stay healthy this spring and beyond, we should pencil in another 26 home runs.
St. Louis Cardinals
- Lars Nootbaar – He’s a popular breakout candidate this season for a plethora of reasons, but for that hype to pan out, we’ll need to see Nootbaar show off that 14.7% walk rate along with a low strikeout rate (around 20% or so). If he also gets some run at the top of the lineup, that’d be pretty great too.
- Tyler O’Neill – Health is the main thing to hope for, along with a sub-30% strikeout rate. Both of those together should help him win the centerfield gig, or at the very least a regular role, and with a regular role O’Neill should pile up the home runs and stolen bases.
- Brendan Donovan – The slap-hitting super-utilityman has no power to speak of (his slugging percentage was 15 points lower than his OBP), and his skill set is best suited for top-of-the-order work. He’s currently projected to bat fifth, though, which would be rather interesting based on the makeup of this roster. I’m very curious as to where he ends up.
- Jordan Walker – The highly-touted prospect has a real chance to break camp with the Cardinals, but whether he does and what role he plays is a question mark. Pay close attention to how the Cardinals deploy him this spring and how he fares against a mix of major and minor league pitching. If Walker is a Cardinal in April, he could have a huge impact. I expect something more like half a season from him, which makes him difficult to target in drafts, but if the Cardinals like what they see then he could easily exceed my expectations.
- Jarred Kelenic – Any semblance of decent plate discipline would be a big step in the right direction for the once-top prospect.
- Cal Raleigh – The Big Dumper improved his decision-making (especially with two strikes) by the end of 2022, and if he can show a decent strikeout rate this spring, he’ll be a candidate to jump a tier in my rankings.
Tampa Bay Rays
- Isaac Paredes – Paredes has a real chance to win the third base job in Tampa, and with it, a chance to hit 25 home runs with a decent OBP. He needs to play well enough defensively, though (which is not a strength) to hold off prospect Jonathan Aranda.
- Wander Franco and Brandon Lowe – Neither quite had the season we hoped for in 2022, and while both are very different players, their issue was the same—health. If both can stay healthy this spring, the middle of this lineup will be a whole lot more potent.
- Curtis Mead – The Aussie has jumped up many prospects lists over the last two seasons thanks to his excellent hit tool and ability to play many positions. He’s exactly what the Rays look for in a player, and a strong spring should accelerate his timeline to the Show. Look for tons of contact and a double-digit walk rate. If he has both, I’d expect a call to the big leagues earlier than what we currently anticipate.
- Josh Jung – The strikeout rate was unmanageable in the majors last season, and while I still think he has significant potential, he can’t unlock it with a strikeout rate north of 30%.
- Adolis Garcia – Many expect the batting average to bottom out at some point due to his aggressive approach, but as long as the strikeout rate is below 30%, I’m not worried.
- Nathaniel Lowe – His power was capped in 2021 by his 54.5% groundball rate, and as long as it’s under 50% or so this spring, he should be able to safely clear 20 home runs for a second consecutive season.
Toronto Blue Jays
- George Springer – Springer got into 133 games in 2022—more than enough to have a big fantasy impact. To do it again, he’ll need a clean bill of health this spring.
- Matt Chapman – Chapman lowered his strikeout rate in 2022 to 27.4% after back-to-back seasons well above 30%. I’d like to see a lower strikeout rate this spring as well, as his batting average is already suspect even with the lower strikeout totals.
- CJ Abrams – Abrams has elite contact ability and speed, but I can’t think of any major leaguer who is successful walking just 1.7% of the time. Something closer to 5% would be helpful, and a bit of selectiveness at the dish should help him get to the .265 or better batting average he’s capable of, which in turn would also help him hit a few more home runs and steal a few more bases.
- Keibert Ruiz – There are precious few catchers outside the top two tiers who can hit better than .260, and Ruiz is one of them. As long as he stays healthy and bats near the middle of the order, he could be a surprisingly strong catcher who you can draft with your final pick in 12-teamers.
- Luis Garcia – Garcia has been excellent in the minors, though he’s been considerably less impressive against major league pitching. If he can just take a few more walks (even 5% would be an improvement) and win a starting role, he’ll be an interesting middle infield bat to consider late in drafts.
Unsplash | Megan Ellis
Unspalsh | Josh Hemsley
Adapted by Kurt Wasemiller (@KUWasemiller on Twitter / @kurt_player02 on Instagram)