MLB Season Final Preview – By Joshua Hertz
We are now just over a day away from Opening Day 2023. In the 30 matchups, 21 starters have made an All-Star game, and 8 are winners of the prestigious Cy Young Award. In previous articles here on the WBRS blog, we have featured previews for all 30 MLB teams, with full rundowns on predicted finish. Just before the season begins, let’s take a look at these predictions, as well as take a stab at predicting some league wide trends, players to watch, and predict who will take home silverware in the offseason.
NL: 1. San Diego Padres(NL West Champs), 2. St Louis Cardinals(NL Central Champs), 3. Atlanta Braves(NL East Champs), 4. Los Angeles Dodgers(Wildcard), 5. New York Mets(Wildcard), 6. Philadelphia Phillies(Wildcard)
AL: 1. Houston Astros(AL West Champs), 2. New York Yankees(AL East Champs), 3. Cleveland Guardians(AL Central Champs), 4. Toronto Blue Jays(Wildcard), 5. Tampa Bay Rays(Wildcard), 6. Seattle Mariners(Wildcard)
World Series Prediction: Yankees defeat Braves in 6 games.
Trends to Watch:
With the MLB’s 3 big rule changes, being larger bases, a pitch clock, and ban of infield shift, along with the changes that naturally occur from season, there are bound to be changes on the field. While it is impossible to predict for sure, here are a few trends that fans can keep an eye out for during the 2023 season.
Trend #1– Stolen bases will trend upward.
Don’t be surprised if someone breaks the 50 steals barrier this season, thanks to the larger bases and limit to how often pitchers can attempt a pickoff. Last season, Marlin’s utilityman Jon Berti stole 41 bases, and although he is not expected to play everyday, there are plenty of other speedsters who will have a realistic shot at reaching the 50 mark. One player I will be watching, not to steal 50 bases, but rather get his first career stolen base, is veteran Mets designated hitter Daniel Vogelbach. Vogelbach has already appeared in MLB’s ad campaign for the new rules, in a fictionalized attempt for him to steal his first career base. While it is likely that he may not actually steal a base this year, eyes will be on the fan-favorite slugger should he try.
Trend #2– Balk and walk rates will increase.
With the new pitch clock, pitchers who do not get a pitch off in time will be docked with a ball added to the current count. While this encourages pitchers to get set faster, expect some to try to test the limits of this, and others to struggle to adjust. With the decreased time to get set, as well as a ball penalty after a certain amount of pickoff attempts, the chance of balls and balks should increase, and while it shouldn’t reach an absurdly high level, I would predict that it will increase compared to last season.
Trend # 3– League-wide batting average will increase, especially for left-handed hitters.
With the ban of the infield shift, many pull hitters should see their batting averages rise. Many big-time lefty sluggers, such as Carlos Santana, who was shifted against in 98.1% of his left-handed at-bats last year, should see a jump in production as they can more effectively smash balls through the right-side infield gap, which should bump up the league-wide batting average by at least a few points.
Players to Watch:
While impossible to predict which players will have career years and which will falter, here is a list of players who I predict will take a step forward this season.
One player I think will continue to improve is Orioles first baseman Ryan Mountcastle. Entering his age 26 season, Mountcastle is amongst the hardest-hitting batters, boasting excellent average exit-velocity and is in the 94th percentile of the MLB in barreling the baseball(a barrel is a ball with an exit velocity above 98mph). If Mountcastle can become more patient at the plate to decrease strikeouts, and gets a bit more lucky on his hard-hit balls, he should be able to elevate his game to an All-Star level.
On the pitching side, a player who I think may continue to develop at the major league level is Logan Gilbert. Gilbert lives and dies by his fastball, which averages 96 mph. While Gibert has shown he has great control, his strikeout rates have been only about average. Entering his age 26 season, Gilbert should continue to develop his secondary pitches, as they will be key to his development into a potential future ace in Seattle.
With my final pick for players to watch, I opted to pick the international free agent who has received the least amount of attention, A’s 29-year old rookie Fujinami. Unlike Kodai Senga and Masataka Yoshida, Fujinami will not have to contend with high expectations in major baseball markets. For the right-handed starting pitcher, expect a lack of familiarity with his style from major league hitters to allow him to start the season strong, and don’t be surprised if the relatively talent-void A’s All-Star selection is Fujinami. While I don’t expect him to contend for the likes of the Cy Young Award, it’s not too outlandish to expect good things from Fujinami when he debuts for the A’s on April 1st.
At the end of each season, the best of the best in the MLB win various awards, whether it is Gold Gloves for defensive, Silver Slugging for hitting, as well as the Cy Young and Reliever of the Year awards for pitchers and the MVP awards for best overall players. While it is hard to project who will stay healthy and who will slump or break-out, here are some educated guesses on the winners of MVP, Cy Young and Rookie of the Year in each league.
AL Rookie of the Year: Masataka Yoshida
While Orioles rookie third baseman Gunnar Henderson or Rangers third baseman Josh Jung are younger, sexier picks, the safest pick is the Red Sox biggest offseason signing. Debuting in the MLB after a successful NPB career, the Japanese left fielder projects to be an elite contact-hitter in the leadoff spot, and may compete for the batting title in the AL. Unlike the younger rookies, Yoshida has years of experience at the professional level in Japan that should give him an edge in the award race.
NL Rookie of the Year: Jordan Walker
Joining an already stacked lineup in St. Louis, it should be interesting to see how Walker breaks into the starting lineup. The top prospect proved he belonged in the Show during spring training, earning a roster spot on a team featuring reigning NL MVP Paul Goldschmidt, NL MVP runner-up Nolan Arenado, and a World Baseball Classic hero for team Japan, Lars Nootbaar. Despite the loaded lineup, I expect Walker to sneak into the lineup, either due to an injury or slumping by a teammate, and once in the lineup not give up his spot thanks to a great bat.
AL Cy Young: Shane McClanahan
After reigning Cy Young winner Justin Verlander left for the New York Mets of the NL, Rays lefty McClanahan seems to be the pitcher to beat. The southpaw was untouchable for much of last season, with an injury late in the season derailing his lead in the Cy Young race. Although former Cy Young winner Jacob DeGrom has joined the AL, DeGrom has struggled to stay healthy in recent season, opening a window for the younger McClanahan to nab the award should he be able to stay healthy himself
NL Cy Young: Sandy Alcantara
As tough as the NL is, featuring the likes of Max Fried, Corbin Burnes, Max Scherzer, Justin Verlander and Aaron Nola, it is really tough to count out the reigning award winner for the NL, the Marlins ace nicknamed “Sandman”. Alcantara pitches unlike most pitchers today, boasting the stamina to go deep into games that defined the old-school legendary pitchers of the 20th century. Dominating batters with an electric fastball and nasty breaking balls, Alcantara should cruise to another historic season and Cy Young award should he continue to stay healthy.
AL MVP: Yordan Álvarez
Who is more appropriate to pick to win MVP than the best hitter on the reigning World Series champions? Although two-way star Shohei Ohtani, record-breaking slugger Aaron Judge, and multi-time MVP Mike Trout may be more traditional picks, they all put up unsustainable numbers, and are at higher risks to injury due to playing the field. Álvarez does not have this issue, spending much of his time as the Astros designated hitter. While his lack of time on defense hurts his MVP case, Álvarez is due for a big year as he turns 26 this year and is entering his prime years.
NL MVP: Juan Soto
Coming off a down year in which he was still better than most major leaguers, Padres star Juan Soto is poised to make an MVP push. Entering what is only his age 24 season, Soto possesses one of the best bats in MLB, and will be on a superteam in San Diego that features fellow MVP candidate Manny Machado. While he will face tough competition with the likes of his former division rival Ronald Acuña JrCardinals infielders Paul Goldschmidt and Nolan Arenado, former MVP Mookie Betts and new Phillies superstar Trea Turner, a healthy, complete season from Soto should be enough to take home the trophy.
All in all, this MLB season projects to be the most exciting season in years. Thank you so much for reading this article and any other MLB coverage I have written leading up to Opening Day, and enjoy watching baseball when it returns on March 30th!