One of the best parts of creating baseball content is seeing my narratives thrive. This season, something new that I’ll be starting is labeling “my guys” for the 2023 MLB season.
So what makes someone “my guy?” Well, it’s a player I’m confident will have a big season, but he must not have received any major awards in his Major League career. It would be easy to label Shohei Ohtani as “my guy,” but he’s everyone around the world’s guy, too.
That said, here are my five “guys” for the 2023 season
Catcher: Adley Rutschman
If you follow me on Twitter or Instagram, you know that I’ve been all over Adley Rutschman this offseason. Heck, I even placed an MVP wager on him. So why am I so confident in Rutschman?
It’s because he does everything you’d possibly want from a catcher and he does it all at an elite level. Even with a struggling first couple of months at the plate after getting called up midseason, Rutschman hit .254/.362/.445 (133 wRC+). Among catchers with at least 400 PAs, Rutschman led them all in wRC+ as a rookie.
Beyond his performance at the plate, he was elite behind the plate. Rutschman led all catchers in Baseball Savant’s new Blocks Above Average metric while ranking third in FanGraphs’ framing (FRM) metric.
Additionally, Rutschman is an outstanding baserunner. Among all players with at least 400 PAs in 2022, Rutschman’s 5.0 BsR ranked in the 91st percentile and led and ranked second among catchers behind JT Realmuto.
Had Rutschman played in 150 games last season, he was on pace for 7.0 fWAR. As a rookie. In 2023, I think Rutschman has a great chance of surpassing that number, and even approaching double digits.
Additionally, with the new rule changes, Rutschman has a chance to show out even more. At the plate, Rutschman was shifted in 80.3% of his plate appearances last season. Now, with shifts restricted, look out for Rutschman to spray the ball all over the field. With the new pick-off rules, Rutschman will have a chance to steal even more bases and show more value behind the plate by throwing runners out and limiting the run game.
Shortstop: Bobby Witt Jr.
Bobby Witt Jr. had an intriguing rookie season in 2022. On the surface, Witt had an impressive season with 20 home runs and 30 stolen bases.
However, he struggled with his plate discipline and consistently hitting the ball hard which led to a below average offensive season (99 wRC+). Witt certainly had his ups and downs, but I believe he’s one of those players that will be a big beneficiary of having a year of experience behind him.
For example, Vladimir Guerrero struggled through his first 180 Major League games, but his talent came through in 2021 leading to an MVP-caliber season. I don’t think something like this is out of the question for Witt in 2023.
Although he struggled consistently hitting the ball hard and barreling the ball, Witt has some of the best raw power in MLB; his 113.7 Max EV ranked in the 93rd percentile. And even with his inconsistency, Witt still hit 20 homers.
What will help take Witt to the next level is improving his plate discipline. Across 744 Minor League plate appearances, Witt had an 8.6 BB%, but he only walked at a 4.7% clip last season. If Witt can improve his plate discipline even 20 points above his .294 clip from 2022, it would do wonders for him in 2023.
In 2023, with a year of experience behind him, I think Witt could easily be a 120-130 wRC+ player.
Additionally, what I think takes Witt to the next level is his base running and he should be a huge beneficiary of the rule changes. With his 100th percentile sprint speed, I don’t think it would be entirely shocking to see Witt steal 50 bases.
The biggest if, however, is if Witt can be a competent defensive shortstop. Last season, Witt accumulated -11 OAA which ranked in the first percentile. If he can become closer to league average defensively, I think Witt can be a 5-6 WAR player in 2023.
Starting Pitcher: Nick Lodolo
Nick Lodolo had a bumpy rookie season filled with ups and downs, but overall, he had a productive season. Across 103.1 innings pitched, Lodolo finished with a 3.66 ERA leading to a sixth-place finish in the NL Rookie of the Year voting.
What stood out most to me about Lodolo’s rookie season was his ability to miss bats and his raw stuff. Lodolo’s 29.1 K%, 29.8 CSW%, 30.2 Whiff% and 106 Stuff+ (Eno Sarris model) were all above average, which was a major part of his success.
Additionally, when batters did make contact against him, Lodolo did a good job of assuring that balls would be hit into the ground accumulating an above average 46.0 GB%.
However, the biggest problem Lodolo had was his command. Lodolo’s 8.8 BB% ranked in the 36th percentile and his 9.1 Barrel% ranked in the 18th percentile.
At times, Lodolo had tendencies to either completely miss the strike zone or leave pitches too far into the strike zone.
8.3% of Lodolo’s pitches last season were labeled as “meatballs,” which is exactly what it sounds like.
Lodolo showed flashes of dominance in 2022, but if he cleans up his command, he could become one of the best pitchers in the National League. I’m a big believer that this will happen as long as Lodolo can stay healthy – unlike his rookie season.
Outfielder: Daulton Varsho
Daulton Varsho technically had his breakout season with the Diamondbacks last season, but 2023 is the year he becomes an All Star. Among all qualified outfielders in 2022, Varsho’s 4.7 fWAR was the ninth best, slotting in between Kyle Tucker and Steven Kwan.
At the plate, Varsho was solid, but I think there are plenty of reasons to believe there’s room for improvement. In 2022, Varsho hit a respectable .235/.302/.443 (106 wRC+) and popped 27 homers.
However, Varsho played half of his games at Chase Field, one of the more difficult parks to hit home runs. Last season, Varsho had a 93 wRC+ in home games, but a 119 wRC+ in away games.
Following an offseason trade, Varsho’s new home ballpark, the Roger Centre, is an immediate upgrade for him. Over the offseason, the Blue Jays opted to move the walls in right center field and the right center field power alley in, becoming one of the more hitter-friendly parks for pull-happy lefties – exactly what Varsho is.
Varsho’s 54.5 Pull% in 2022 was the highest among all qualified players. Combining his new home ballpark factor with the new shift restriction rules, I think it’s a safe bet that Varsho’s BABIP will be a good amount higher than his .269 clip from last season. I think 30 homers and a 120 wRC+ are well within reach for Varsho in 2023.
If Varsho can become a more dangerous threat at the plate, he’ll become one of the most well-rounded players in baseball. This is because Varsho’s best attributes, at least for now, are his defense and base running.
Last season, Varsho’s 18 OAA ranked in the 99th percentile and led all outfielders. Additionally, Varsho’s 3.4 BsR was well above average. If he can produce a little bit more at the plate, Varsho becomes one of just a few five-tool players in Major League Baseball.
Relief pitcher: Matt Brash
In his rookie campaign, Matt Brash had a 4.44 ERA in 50.2 innings pitched – nothing impressive on the surface. However, what excites me most about Brash is his electric stuff.
Per Eno Sarris’ pitching model, Brash’s 123 Stuff+ ranked in the 93rd percentile among all pitchers with at least 50 inning pitched in 2022. All four of Brash’s pitches are above average by Stuff+ with his slider being one of the nastiest pitches in baseball (143 Stuff+).
Now you may be wondering, how could someone with such good stuff only manage to have a 4.44 ERA. Well, there are two answers. The first is that Brash struggled as a starter.
In his first 20.0 MLB innings, Brash was used as a starter and he didn’t fair well. With a 7.65 ERA to his name, the Mariners sent Brash to Triple-A where he began transitioning into a reliever.
Two months later, Brash was recalled by the Mariners and dominated out of the bullpen. In 30.2 innings as a reliever, Brash pitched to an impressive 2.35 ERA.
A big reason why Brash was much more successful as a reliever is because of his command improvement. Although still not impressive by any means, Brash’s 4.70 BB/9 out of the bullpen was much better than his 7.65 BB/9 as a starter.
Brash certainly has the stuff and proved he can be a reliable reliever, but the next step would be to improve his command. Even if it’s minuscule, a full season out of the bullpen with improved command can make Brash one of the best bullpen weapons in baseball.