Offseason is not only the time for shocking player movements and trades. It could be you waiting on the edges of your seat for days until a Twitter notification pops on your phone from Jeff Passan, Ken Rosenthal, or the old reliable Jon Heyman, informing you that your franchise’s third baseman is shipped to your division rival, or your favorite star outfielder that made a tremendous amount of noise last season re-signs with your team. The last one is a sigh of relief, isn’t it, Yankees fans?
The hot stove season is also the time for everyone in the baseball community, whether baseball analysts or even those fans on the streets, to give out their hottest takes, predictions, and projections for a new season. Some are even published, and others are scattered in all forms online. It doesn’t matter if you place bets on Gerrit Cole winning the AL Cy Young or the Pirates winning it all (who knows, right); it definitely counts.
And, of course, I shall join in on the fun.
Okay, I know. I could be headlining either the Flaming Hot Takes or Freezing Cold Takes Twitter accounts sooner or later with all my expectations in here, depending on how it will fare.
But on this one, I would like to pick one player from all 30 MLB teams that I expect to make the biggest splash for their respective squads as we near Opening Day. Just one. Either he’ll lead the team in statistical categories, become their main man this season, or simply a guy that will make their names well-known for their club.
Let’s play ball, then!
Atlanta Braves: Ronald Acuña
The former Rookie of the Year had quite a bounceback 2022 season, a year after a gruesome leg injury in Miami prevented him from playing further with the Braves squad that rode it all the way to its first World Series trophy since Ronald was… yet to be born. But he knows he’s got a lot more to prove before he can fully regain his old self.
In 2022, the fully-healthy 25-year-old CF suited up for 119 games and, from his .266 batting average, produced 15 homers and 50 RBIs. Great numbers but never at par with his usual productions that had everyone talking. To put into perspective, in the pandemic-shortened 2020 season, he mashed 14 homers and 29 RBIs through 46 games played. To conclude, the ACL injury might have affected his overall performance last year, which he wants to leave behind—plus hitting a ton of groundballs. His groundball rate, per FanGraphs, climbed 16 points up to 47.7% in 2022. Not really going to help your cause if you continuously hit balls to the infielder’s glove for an out.
Just a few bat swing tweaks and prepare to hear a ton of Ronald Acuña back in NL MVP talks. Or a Comeback Player of the Year, at least.
Miami Marlins: Luis Arraez
To begin, it’s just sad that the Marlins, in dire need of offense, had to give away one of their treasured rotation pieces to get one. That’s my entire viewpoint on the recent Pablo López-Luis Arraez trade. Well, it’s got to be the move you make when your bats are in the bottom four of team batting averages (27th), and 28th in RBIs in 2022, two stats that often hurt the quality starts of their prized starters, especially Sandy Alcantara. And Arraez has more than that in his bag on his way to South Beach.
The former infielder from Minnesota enjoyed quite a career year as a Twin, being named AL batting champ, besting the AL MVP Aaron Judge, among others, in the process. Add an All-Star appearance to cap it off.
His meaty .314 batting avg. Fit for a leadoff hitter might have enticed Marlins GM Kim Ng to make the hard but necessary call. And, with former Phillie Jean Segura in the mix, plus hopefully renewed bats from the mainstays like (outfielder, yes, he’s one now) Jazz Chisholm and power hitter Jorge Soler, this Marlins team is bound for decent contention not only now, but for years to come.
New York Mets: Pete Alonso
This is a safe bet. The Mets have money, thanks to its competitive owner Steve Cohen. The Mets also have the 2022 AL Cy Young Justin Verlander. The Mets still have Pete Alonso and have just paid Jeff McNeil to stay with them.
“Polar Pete” is incredibly one of the most durable players for the Mets since his outrageous rookie season in 2019. Having played almost all their games for the team, he also has the production to show for it. Last year, he batted a career-best 131 RBIs and 40 dingers. And he has all the Mets fans swooning every time he’s up to bat.
But all that fizzled at the postseason, with his bat almost nowhere to be found against a tough Padres pitching in the NL Wild Card. But amid that, in Pete, I trust. He has been the Mets’ moneyman and will remain one in 2023.
Washington Nationals: Joey Meneses
There’s not much to expect from Washington this season. Still, I’m also practicing caution while saying this because the last time we heard this very same statement, the 2019 Washington Nationals happened.
Anyway, I liked how Joey Meneses had a blast upon getting called up from Triple A-Rochester back in August 2022. Thirteen homers, 34 RBIs, and a franchise record of 72 hits thru the first 56 games, attributed to his plate approach and ability to handle offspeed and breaking pitches. And he did all that as a 30-year-old rookie, by the way.
Juan Soto leaving the city he is supposed to lead for a long time seemed a bummer, but the future is once again bright for D.C., with one of the reasons being this guy.
Philadelphia Phillies: Whoever their starter #5 will be
The 2022 Phillies gave an all-new perspective to the usually-tight division races on the NL East between the Mets and Braves – “Nah, you actually don’t need to win the division to book a ticket to the Fall Classic.” But it wasn’t an easy road, yet, they came close. Pitching paired with Rob Thomson’s managerial prowess was an integral part of their unlikely run – despite ranking only 13th in team ERA (3.98), each arm was so reliable from the starter to the bullpen guys it combined for baseball’s 4th-best team WAR in 2022 (22.7), tied with division nemesis Atlanta.
And this offseason, they are intent on repeating as the National League champs – signing reliable starter Taijuan Walker to a 4-year deal and ultimately winning the Trea Turner sweepstakes. But the question remains, who will fill in the 5th spot in their menacing rotation?
Will it be their prized top prospect Andrew Painter? Or will it be the battle-tested guys in Bailey Falter and Cristopher Sánchez who already threw some innings for the Fightins last year? Whoever that is, I have high hopes for him as he completes a loaded rotation and complements an offense that already has Kyle Schwarber and postseason hero Bryce Harper who will remain impressive despite recovering from torn UCL.
(stats collected from MLB.com, FanGraphs, Baseball Reference)