With the regular season opening up this week, we look at the biggest question facing each American League club early in 2023. Diamond Images / Getty ImagesBaltimore Orioles: Are they ready to take the next step?The young Orioles didn't make too many big moves after nearly crashing October last season, meaning that the kids - including Adley Rutschman, Gunnar Henderson, and Grayson Rodriguez - will again determine this team's success in 2023. A full season of Rutschman will help immensely, and the likes of Cedric Mullins, Anthony Santander, and Dean Kremer add even more solid homegrown pieces to an already talented group. But young teams also have to take their lumps. Last year, the Orioles had zero pressure and nothing to lose during their surprising run. While nobody's forecasting 100 wins, fans in Baltimore should be expecting a winning record and contention for a wild-card spot right to the end at minimum. That's a lot to ask of this very young squad, even if the talent is capable of getting there.Boston Red Sox: How will all the new faces gel?There was a lot of turnover in Beantown during the winter. Out went Red Sox mainstays Xander Bogaerts, J.D. Martinez, Matt Barnes, and Nathan Eovaldi. Their replacements include veterans Justin Turner, Adam Duvall, Kenley Jansen, and Corey Kluber, plus Japanese star Masataka Yoshida. Top prospect Triston Casas is also set to play a prominent role in the big club, taking over at first base. Rafael Devers, armed with a rich new extension, is the unquestioned clubhouse leader, but that's about the only sure thing.Chicago White Sox: Who gets the ninth inning?With Liam Hendriks sidelined indefinitely, the White Sox closer role is open, although nobody's run away with the job just yet. It's a major conundrum for rookie manager Pedro Grifol. Kendall Graveman and Joe Kelly both have plenty of big-league experience in the bullpen, but they've combined for just 22 saves in the majors. Aaron Bummer's become a staple of the White Sox 'pen, but his extreme splits could pose problems against right-handed hitters in the ninth. Reynaldo Lopez revitalized his career as a reliever and owns a powerful arm, but he has even less experience closing than Graveman and Kelly. If the White Sox go with the closer-by-committee approach, someone is going to have to eventually step up and cement themselves as the ninth-inning guy for Grifol until Hendriks returns.Cleveland Guardians: Can the offense do its part?There's zero questions as to whether the Guardians can pitch. Cleveland's rotation, fronted by former Cy Young winner Shane Bieber and rising star Triston McKenzie, is as formidable of a quintet as any in baseball, while Emmanuel Clase leads a powerful bullpen that can shut down most lineups. But the Guardians can't win every game by a score of 2-1. Cleveland won the AL Central last year in spite of some serious offensive struggles. While the Guardians were the toughest team to strike out in 2022, they hit the second-fewest homers in the league, and their 99 wRC+ was the lowest among all playoff teams. Jose Ramirez is a perennial MVP candidate, but he can't do all the work himself. If the entire Guardians lineup can pull their weight consistently, there's no reason why this team can't waltz to a second straight division title.Detroit Tigers: How much will the kids contribute?It's another rebuilding year in Detroit, and that means even more focus on the many youngsters poised to carry this franchise forward. So much is riding on how this inexperienced group does when it's thrown into the fire. For former first overall pick Spencer Torkelson, it's a particularly big year, as he needs to finally make good on the potential the Tigers saw in him three years ago. Riley Greene and Kerry Carpenter are also going to be counted on for production on a daily basis. On the pitching side, Matt Manning and Spencer Turnbull will get chances to show that they can carry the rotation long term. The 2023 Tigers will only go as far as their young stars will carry them.Houston Astros: How much does Abreu have left in the tank?Fresh off another World Series, the Astros kept the pedal to the metal, inking former AL MVP Jose Abreu to a three-year, $58.5-million contract. Abreu should be a huge boost at first base after the Astros struggled to get much production from the position in 2022. Abreu was still productive last season, but at the age of 36, it's always fair to wonder when an age-related drop off might occur. If he can be productive and help the Astros win in 2023, fans will probably be willing to stomach any decline in the second and third years of his contract. The Astros will need Abreu to hit the ground running in his first season to help pick up the slack in the absence of Jose Altuve. Bob Levey / Getty Images Sport / GettyKansas City Royals: Will Witt take the next step towards stardom?Bobby Witt Jr. showed plenty of promise in his highly anticipated rookie campaign, posting a 20-20 season while playing solid defense at two positions. He did enough to show that he can be the face of the Royals for years to come. In 2023, it's time for him to take that next step on an otherwise dismal Kansas City club. Witt should be able to take advantage of the new bigger bases to up his stolen-base totals, while also improving both his OBP and defense. Yes, this is a lot to put on a 22-year-old, but there's no reason to think he can't get there. Witt's one of the few reasons to watch the Royals this season, and he should continue to show fans why that is.Los Angeles Angels: Can they keep Ohtani?This is the biggest question in baseball this season. Angels general manager Perry Minasian aggressively upgraded the roster with proven veterans to provide Shohei Ohtani and Mike Trout with more support than they've been afforded over the past few seasons. It seems like a foregone conclusion that Ohtani will test free agency following the season. If the Angels can get to the postseason for the first time since 2014 and make some noise, it could give Ohtani something to think about when making his decision about where to play the remainder of his career.Minnesota Twins: Can they stay healthy?The Twins were a trendy pick to win the AL Central last year before injuries helped derail their season. Health remains the main obstacle for this group in 2023. The injury bug has already reared its head during spring training: Jorge Polanco, Alex Kirilloff, Royce Lewis, and Gilberto Celestino will all start their seasons on the IL. Players who remain had better stay healthy. Byron Buxton, for all of his incredible natural talent, has only played 100 games in a season once during his career and has got to play a full season for the Twins to have any hope of taking the division back. There will also be a microscope on Carlos Correa's ankle all year after his offseason adventure. Pitchers Tyler Mahle and Kenta Maeda will also have to avoid setbacks after injury-plagued 2022 campaigns. If Minnesota's staff has to work overtime to keep these guys healthy, then they have to do it.New York Yankees: How much will Volpe contribute?Yankees top prospect Anthony Volpe opened plenty of eyes with his stellar spring performance. Though he's only played 22 games above Double-A, he did enough to earn his spot on the big-league roster, officially making the team Sunday. Volpe will start at shortstop on Opening Day, which will no doubt please many in the Bronx. But how much can be expected of the 21-year-old out of the gate, despite his talent? The Yankees need Volpe to solidify shortstop in a way that Isiah Kiner-Falefa couldn't last year. There will almost certainly be some struggles as he adjusts to life in New York, which is a far cry from Scranton, Pennsylvania. If Volpe can play up to his potential out of the gate, the Yankees will be in a very good spot.Oakland Athletics: How long will this rebuild last?It's been a tough year or so for Athletics fans. The club has seen franchise pillars Matt Olson, Matt Chapman, Sean Murphy, and Frankie Montas shipped out. The A's have some intriguing prospects in the pipeline but are right in the middle of what could be yet another extended rebuilding period. This might be the reality for the club until there is some clarity about a new stadium. Whether that's in Oakland or another city like Las Vegas, A's fans need to accept the fact that they are going to be watching a lot of losses over the next few years. Steph Chambers / Getty Images Sport / GettySeattle Mariners: Is the offense good enough?After snapping baseball's longest postseason drought last year, expectations are high in Seattle entering 2023. The club acquired two-time Silver Slugger Teoscar Hernandez from the Blue Jays to help bolster an offense that finished 17th in slugging percentage and 18th in runs scored in 2022. The Mariners will need Hernandez and reigning AL Rookie of the Year Julio Rodriguez to anchor the lineup this season. One intriguing wild card to keep an eye on this year is outfielder Jarred Kelenic. The 23-year-old struggled mightily last season and was sent down to Triple-A for the second straight year. Kelenic made some mechanical adjustments to his swing, helping him to an impressive performance during spring training. Kelenic coming closer to reaching his potential could help Seattle's lineup reach another level this season. Tampa Bay Rays: Can they score enough runs to compete?Pitching carried the Rays into the playoffs as the AL's No. 6 seed in 2022. That's because their offense averaged just 4.11 runs per game, ahead of only the lowly Royals, Angels, A's, and Tigers in the American League. Kevin Cash is going to need a lot more from his bats this year in order to guide the Rays back to October inside the rough-and-tumble AL East. Certainly, good health for Wander Franco and Brandon Lowe, who both struggled to stay healthy in 2022, will go a long way towards revitalizing Tampa Bay's offense. Franco and Lowe are offensive lynchpins for this lineup, and their ability to stay off the IL could make or break the team's season.Texas Rangers: Can the rotation stay healthy?Rangers general manager Chris Young entered the offseason knowing his club needed an infusion of talent in the starting rotation. He proceeded to go out and add two-time Cy Young winner Jacob deGrom as well as proven commodities in Nathan Eovaldi, Andrew Heaney, and Jake Odorizzi. The elephant in the room is the fact that all of these hurlers come with extensive injury histories. Odorizzi is already on the shelf, and deGrom dealt with some side soreness at the outset of spring training. If Young's stable of new pitchers can stay healthy, it could go a long way to helping Texas to its first winning season since 2016.Toronto Blue Jays: Will the back end of the rotation do its part?Toronto's top three of Alek Manoah, Kevin Gausman, and Chris Bassitt can match up with the best of any staff in the AL. It's the final two rotation spots that might make Canadians sweat this summer. Yusei Kikuchi has looked like a new man at times this spring, but while he's given up just two runs, he's also walked nine during 13 innings. And then there's Jose Berrios, who led the AL in both hits and earned runs allowed during his dismal 2022 and has had a very rocky spring training. Berrios has also been hit hard in March despite his low ERA, and added to the question marks by getting shelled for six runs (five earned) in a one-inning WBC start for Puerto Rico. The Blue Jays don't need Kikuchi and Berrios to be All-Stars, but with depth at a premium, getting solid back-end production from both is a must in order for this team to reach its potential.Copyright © 2023 Score Media Ventures Inc. All rights reserved. Certain content reproduced under license.
Sometime around the end of February, I contacted my Cards' connection and they said Jordan Walker would break camp, and from that moment I donned my train conductor cap on the Jordan Walker hype train, grabbed the wheel (do trains have steering wheels?), put my foot on the gas (again, pedals?) and started screaming choo-choo-choo out the window (is it up to the conductor to say 'choo-choo-choo?') and went full speed ahead. Topping off the hype train sundae (clearly, I know a lot about trains), I drafted him this past weekend in Vegas at the Main Event with the minimal pick at 97. And it felt effin' glorious! Right after drafting Jordan Walker pic.twitter.com/CequiunMNm Razzball (@Razzball) March 25, 2023 Or as Kenny from Rotowear aptly captured: pic.twitter.com/vuBWPStBWY Kenneth Cashman (@kenneth_cashman) March 26, 2023 This weekend we found out Jordan Walker did, indeed, make the Cards' Opening Day lineup. You want this year's Julio Rodriguez? It's prolly Corbin Carroll. You want this year's Bobby Witt Jr.? It's maybe Corbin Carroll too. So, who is Jordan Walker? I've haven't seen a guy like Jordan Walker since rookie Giancarlo Stanton. Wouldn't be surprised if he's on the Struggle Bus with inside pitches, and there's some chance here that he's nothing more than 25/10/.240, but the upside is, brucely, as big as he is.
Ahead of Opening Day, we rank the top 20 players in MLB this season. Just missed: Ronald Acuna Jr., Jose Altuve*, Xander Bogaerts, Corbin Burnes, Gerrit Cole, Bryce Harper*, Austin Riley, Fernando Tatis Jr.**Player is injured/suspended to start the season20. Vladimir Guerrero Jr., Blue Jays Vaughn Ridley / Getty Images Sport / Getty GP HR RBI OPS fWAR 160 32 97 .818 2.8 It speaks to Guerrero's prodigious pedigree and talent that a season in which he hit more than 30 home runs and posted an OPS above .800 is considered somewhat of a disappointment. However, after a transcendent 48-home run performance in 2021, Guerrero struggled to find the same level of consistency last campaign. The 24-year-old had a hard time getting the ball in the air as he had a ground ball rate of 52.1%, up from 44.8% in 2021. Guerrero said earlier in the offseason that he put too much pressure on himself at times last season and is entering the 2023 campaign with a renewed focus and approach. Betting on a big bounce-back season from Guerrero is probably a wise decision.19. J.T. Realmuto, Phillies Mitchell Leff / Getty Images Sport / Getty GP HR RBI OPS fWAR 139 22 84 .820 6.5 A true force on both sides of the ball, Realmuto's coming off a 2022 campaign in which he threw out a league-best 44% of would-be base-stealers. He also became the second catcher ever with a 20-homer, 20-steal season en route to winning a Gold Glove and Silver Slugger. The 32-year-old is incredibly durable for a catcher, appearing in over 130 games for the second straight season in 2022. When it comes to catchers, Realmuto is in a class unto himself as the best in the business.18. Rafael Devers, Red Sox Billie Weiss/Boston Red Sox / Getty Images Sport / Getty GP HR RBI OPS fWAR 141 27 88 .879 4.9 It's easy to forget that Devers is just 26 years old and still at the beginning of his prime. That's a scary thought when you consider he already owns a World Series ring, two All-Star berths, a 50-double season, and a Silver Slugger. Devers is arguably the best third baseman in the AL and one of the Junior Circuit's best lefty sluggers. The Red Sox made him the face of their franchise over the winter with a $313.5-million extension, and it's easy to see why. He should have no trouble continuing his ascent in 2023.17. Justin Verlander, Mets Jasen Vinlove/Miami Marlins / Getty Images Sport / Getty IP ERA FIP fWAR 175 1.75 2.49 6.1 Age is but a number for the 40-year-old Verlander, who remains firmly in the conversation for the title of baseball's best pitcher. Fresh off winning his third Cy Young Award during a historic comeback season with the Astros, Verlander is now the co-ace of a Mets squad with legitimate World Series aspirations. MLB's active strikeouts leader should still be good for 170-200 innings and around 200 strikeouts a season while limiting the long ball in a homer-heavy environment. Verlander's more than just an ace: he's an all-time great.16. Yordan Alvarez, Astros Michael Reaves / Getty Images Sport / Getty GP HR RBI OPS fWAR 135 37 97 1.019 6.6 Since landing Alvarez in a lopsided trade with the Dodgers in 2016, the Astros have seen him develop into one of baseball's most fearsome power hitters. Alvarez trails only Mike Trout and Aaron Judge in wRC+ (164) and OPS (.973) since debuting in 2019. The 25-year-old signed a long-term extension last year, keeping him in Houston into his prime years. With the Astros firmly in a win-now mode, Alvarez has plenty of opportunity to author more memorable moments and climb the franchise's all-time leaderboard in a number of offensive categories.15. Max Scherzer, Mets Newsday LLC / Newsday / Getty IP ERA FIP fWAR 145.1 2.29 2.62 4.4 Scherzer was as exceptional last year as he's ever been. However, his 2022 was treated as a disappointment because he didn't throw 170-plus innings for what would've been the 13th consecutive full-length season (omitting the pandemic-shortened 2020 campaign). He's getting older, there's no avoiding that. But among pitchers with at least 140 innings thrown, the righty still ranked sixth by ERA, sixth by strikeout rate, sixth by FIP, and second by K-BB%. It seems like Scherzer will be the elite of the elite until he literally can't throw anymore. And with the pitch clock as an added weapon? Look out.14. Francisco Lindor, Mets Sarah Stier / Getty Images Sport / Getty GP HR RBI OPS fWAR 161 26 107 .788 6.8 After struggling in his first season with the Mets, Lindor rebounded in 2022. The star shortstop set a new career high with 107 RBIs and was extremely durable, appearing in 161 games. Lindor is a magnetic personality and has taken to the bright lights of New York City seamlessly. The Mets enter 2023 with high expectations and a lot of pressure to win the franchise's first championship since 1986. Lindor will be counted on to lead the charge as one of the league's best shortstops. 13. Sandy Alcantara, Marlins Eric Espada / Getty Images Sport / Getty IP ERA FIP fWAR 228.2 2.28 2.99 5.7 Alcantara was a workhorse en route to winning his first career Cy Young last season. The big right-hander led the league in innings pitched and complete games, emerging as a throwback type of pitcher in an era where hurlers aren't pitching as deep into games. Alcantara's durability and ability to pile up quality starts should allow him to contend for another Cy Young in 2023.12. Freddie Freeman, Dodgers Denis Poroy / Getty Images Sport / Getty GP HR RBI OPS fWAR 159 21 100 .918 7.1 Freeman is quietly one of baseball's most consistent, durable and productive players. The 2020 NL MVP could have easily been a finalist for, or even won, last year's honor after leading his league in a slew of offensive categories. He should be in that conversation again in 2023 as the Dodgers' offensive anchor. Barring injury, Freeman will cross several important career milestones this summer. It's a bit strange he often gets overlooked, but that might just be the result of a glut of talented first basemen in the NL. Few in the majors are better or have a sweeter swing.11. Paul Goldschmidt, Cardinals Rob Tringali / MLB / Getty Images GP HR RBI OPS fWAR 151 35 115 .981 7.1 It always felt like a tragedy that Goldschmidt hadn't added an MVP award to his mantle, but last season finally put that to bed. The seven-time All-Star had previously been runner-up twice and finished as a finalist one other time. This past year, he led the Senior Circuit in slugging percentage and OPS with a career-best 180 OPS+. Still, somehow, the five-time Silver Slugger feels underappreciated even though he could easily threaten back-to-back MVPs in an incredibly deep Cardinals lineup.10. Trea Turner, Phillies Icon Sportswire / Icon Sportswire / Getty GP HR RBI OPS fWAR 160 21 100 .809 6.3 Turner showed off at the World Baseball Classic, crushing five homers for Team USA and boasting a 1.483 OPS over six games. It was a great reminder heading into the upcoming campaign that Turner is so much more than just speed. His aggressiveness on the bases should obviously be noted entering a season in which MLB added rules to try to entice more base-stealing. But Turner is also an all-fields hitter with elite pop and the ability to play a demanding defensive position. He's the entire package.9. Julio Rodriguez, Mariners Steph Chambers / Getty Images Sport / Getty GP HR RBI OPS fWAR 132 28 75 .853 5.3 It only took one year for J-Rod to crack the top 10. Rodriguez announced his presence in the majors with a historic rookie season that rocketed him to superstardom and helped end the Mariners' long playoff drought. What can he do for an encore in his age-22 season? How about a 30-30 campaign? A Gold Glove? A .900 OPS? Nothing seems out of bounds for Rodriguez - and the scary thing is, he's yet to enter his prime. This might be the last year that J-Rod sits outside the top five players for a long time.8. Juan Soto, Padres Steph Chambers / Getty Images Sport / Getty GP HR RBI OPS fWAR 153 27 62 .853 3.8 It's a testament to how good Soto is that a season with an .853 OPS and a 145 wRC+ is considered disappointing. The slugger acknowledged that he battled some mechanical issues with his swing in 2022 and feels much more locked in heading into the new season. Soto's performance at the World Baseball Classic could be an indicator of what's in store for 2023. He's still only 24 years old and looks poised to return to the form he showcased in 2021 with the Nationals when he posted a staggering 7.0 fWAR with a .999 OPS. It wouldn't be shocking if Soto moves up into the top five on the list at this time next year.7. Nolan Arenado, Cardinals Dustin Bradford / Getty Images Sport / Getty GP HR RBI OPS fWAR 148 30 103 .891 7.3 Arenado can stake a claim to being the greatest defensive third baseman of all time. The 31-year-old added a staggering 10th Gold Glove and sixth consecutive Platinum Glove last season. Despite being on the wrong side of 30, Arenado has shown no signs of slowing down, ranking in the 99th percentile in Baseball Savant's outs above average in 2022. He also put together his best offensive season since 2019, posting an .891 OPS with 30 home runs and finishing third in NL MVP voting. It's fair to expect another strong year in 2023 from one of the game's most complete players.6. Jose Ramirez, Guardians Icon Sportswire / Icon Sportswire / Getty GP HR RBI OPS fWAR 157 29 126 .869 6.2 Ramirez remains one of baseball's most underrated and underappreciated stars. The 30-year-old is fourth behind Judge, Betts, and Trout in FanGraphs' WAR since the 2017 season. Ramirez's ability to hit for power, use his legs, and play solid defense at a premium position allows him to provide tremendous value for the Guardians. He took a below-market extension to remain in Cleveland for the long haul and could end up as the greatest player in franchise history whenever he finishes his career.5. Manny Machado, Padres Matt Thomas/San Diego Padres / Getty Images Sport / Getty GP HR RBI OPS fWAR 150 32 102 .898 7.4 Machado is the only third baseman who can keep Arenado from claiming the title of best at the hot corner, and it's easy to see why. The 30-year-old is a perennial MVP candidate with light-tower power, a solid glove, and consistency that rivals any of the best hitters in the sport. When it's all said and done, Machado has a good chance to go down as one of the greatest all-around players of his generation - and he's not even close to being done. That's a treat for baseball fans everywhere.4. Mookie Betts, Dodgers Icon Sportswire / Icon Sportswire / Getty GP HR RBI OPS fWAR 142 35 82 .873 6.6 As if Betts wasn't satisfied with being the best right fielder in baseball, he's now adding the infield to his repertoire. Betts will play games at second base on a semi-regular basis this season, a level of versatility that makes him even more dangerous. Even if he stayed in right all year, we're still talking about a generational talent who covers right field with the effortless grace of a dancer and owns a cannon for an arm that baserunners would be fools to test. Oh, and lest we forget, Betts remains one of the most dangerous hitters in the sport and a virtual lock for an annual top-five MVP finish. It's hard to imagine how a player gets better than him.3. Aaron Judge, Yankees Julio Aguilar / Getty Images Sport / Getty GP HR RBI OPS fWAR 157 62 131 1.111 11.4 We might never see a season as special as Judge's 2022 again. With 62 homers, the Yankees' newest captain set the AL record for dingers in a single season, and he's the first player in any league to reach the 60-dinger plateau since Barry Bonds and Sammy Sosa in 2001. If we omit players implicated with steroid use, he really is the home run king, surpassing Roger Maris (61 in 1961) and Babe Ruth (60 in 1927). Expecting the four-time All-Star to repeat would be ridiculous, but he's also more than just a slugger. Judge ranked in the 85th percentile in outs above average and 93rd percentile in arm strength, and he obviously possesses an incredibly keen eye with a walk rate in the 96th percentile.2. Mike Trout, Angels Brace Hemmelgarn / Getty Images Sport / Getty GP HR RBI OPS fWAR 119 40 80 .999 6.0 Trout's bona fides are unimpeachable. As a three-time MVP, 10-time All-Star, nine-time Silver Slugger, and two-time All-Star Game MVP, Trout would go down as one of the best to ever play if he retired today. And while he was held to 119 games last year, he still hit 40 homers and finished eighth in AL MVP voting ahead of Xander Bogaerts, Verlander, and Bo Bichette, to name a few. He took a step back defensively in center field and isn't trying to steal many bases anymore, but this next version of Trout seems to be a truly prolific slugger, boasting a .630 SLG. Pro-rated over a full season, his homer pace last year would equate to roughly 54 dingers. He's still the hitter everyone envies.1. Shohei Ohtani, Angels Jayne Kamin-Oncea / Getty Images Sport / Getty GP HR RBI OPS fWAR 157 34 95 .875 3.8 IP ERA FIP fWAR 166 2.33 2.40 5.6 The fact Ohtani needs two different charts illustrates the entire point. The two-way phenom followed up his 2021 AL MVP season by getting even better and was only deprived of back-to-back honors because of a different historic achievement from Judge. So, the two-time All-Star had to settle for finishing runner-up in MVP voting and fourth in Cy Young voting. If Ohtani decided to only hit or pitch, it seems quite clear he'd be top of the league in whichever he chose. Instead, he's, at worst, the fourth best at both. Ohtani is beyond comprehension. It seems like his health is the only thing that could prevent him from winning his next MVP.Copyright © 2023 Score Media Ventures Inc. All rights reserved. Certain content reproduced under license.
Want a quicker, more athletic, way more entertaining game? Let the J-Rod Show roll.
There are pros and cons to drafting early. The biggest pro, of course, is the ability to snag rookies before their price goes sky-high. This was Julio Rodriguez last year. Several teams who were able to secure him in round 20 or later last year went on to win their leagues. Please, blog, may I have some more?