Tuesday, February 28, 2023

2023 Pre-Season Profile: Cincinnati Reds

The Cincinnati Reds have been selling off big league talent over the last few years and building up a strong farm system in the process.  Will 2023 be the year the big league roster starts to see some impact from all this young talent?

#26 - 4th in NL Central
MIH - Jonathan India
MIP - Luis Castillo
PTW - Hunter Greene

2022 Results
#27 - 62-100 - 4th in NL Central
Highest WAR (Position) - Brandon Drury
Highest WAR (Pitcher) - Luis Castillo
The Reds went from over .500 in 2021 to a 100 loss season in 2022.  They saw their ace traded mid-season (Luis Castillo), as well as their best hitter (Brandon Drury).  The offense struggled to score, but their young pitching showed some real bright spots, with phenom starters Hunter Greene and Nick Lodolo having strong rookie seasons.  Also, rookie Alexis Diaz emerged as their closer of the future.  So amid a disappointing season, there was some hope.

Additions / Subtractions
As with many teams in rebuild mode, the offseason was about seeing if any of their veterans had value on the trade market while bringing in other veterans to be placeholders until the kids are ready.  Much of the Reds' work was done mid-season in shedding big league talent, but the offseason also saw the departure of Mike Moustakas, Kyle Farmer, Donovan Solano, and Mike Minor.  The new crop of veterans include starter Luke Weaver, shortstop Kevin Newman, and corner outfielder / first baseman Wil Myers.

Most Important Hitter
Nick Senzel
Not every prospect works out, and so far in his big league career, Nick Senzel is one of those prospects that just hasn't.  The former #2 overall pick is now entering his age 28 season and 5th full season in the big leagues.  So far, his rookie season (2019) was the most successful, where he posted a measly 87 OPS+ with 12 home runs.  In 2022, he had a 64 OPS+ with only 5 home runs and 25 RBI's in 110 games.  The good part about being on a rebuilding team is you are given more opportunities for playing time and development.  Senzel is once again slated to be the Reds' everyday centerfielder, but with the youth movement moving through the minors, Senzel needs to start showing some progress, or he will no longer have a job in Cincinnati.

Most Important Pitcher
Hunter Greene
No one meant more to the future success of the Reds in 2022 than Hunter Greene.  The flame-throwing phenom had a solid rookie campaign in his age 22 season, showing why everyone had been waiting for his debut since he was picked 2nd overall in the 2017 draft.  Now it's his time to take the next step and show he is ready to be the new ace of the Reds.  If Greene can solidify himself at the top of the Reds' rotation, then the Reds will be ready to contend sooner than anticipated.  It would also mean they have a true superstar on their hands too.

Prospect to Watch
Elly De La Cruz
The Reds have a strong farm system, boasting 4 players in the Top 100 Prospects.  Their system has a unique makeup though, with 7 of their top 8 prospects playing either shortstop or third base.  However, the class of the group, and the player most ready to make a splash in 2023, is Elly De La Cruz.  This 21 year old shortstop is ranked as the 10th prospect in baseball, and it's easy to see why.  At 6'5", he's a towering presence with special speed and some real pop in his bat.  In 2022, between Single-A and Double-A, De La Cruz hit 28 home runs and had 47 steals.  I don't think the Reds can keep him out of Cincinnati much longer, and he has an outside shot at making the Opening Day roster.

2023 Prediction
5th in NL Central
The Reds are definitely headed in the right direction, but they are not ready to turn that corner yet.  As some of these top prospects like Elly De La Cruz, Noelvi Marte, and Brandon Williamson join the big leagues throughout the year, the team will improve and become more and more fun to watch.  Look for next year to be a big jump year in Cincinnati, but for now, the record won't be great.

Fearless Prediction
This will be Joey Votto's last season.
It feels like it is time.  Joey Votto has been the face of the Reds almost since the moment he arrived in 2007.  He's a 6 time All Star, won a Gold Glove and an MVP.  He has a chance at being a Hall of Famer.  He's also entering his age 39 season, last year was the worst year of his career, and he's in the last year of his 10 year megadeal (which is the only reason he hasn't been traded like the rest of the team's veteran assets).  He has a team option for next year, but there's no way it gets picked up.  The production doesn't warrant a $20mil+ contract for his age 40 season.  I could see Votto opting to retire than wear another jersey besides the Reds.

Saturday, February 25, 2023

2023 MLB Pre-Season Profile: Washington Nationals

The Washington Nationals may have won the World Series just 4 short years ago, but only a select few players are even left from that championship run.  Is the rebuild just starting, or can the Nats compete in 2023?

#24 - 5th in NL East
MIH - Josh Bell
MIP - Josiah Gray
PTW - Cade Cavalli

2022 Results
#30 - 55-107 - 5th in NL East
Highest WAR (Position) - Juan Soto
Highest WAR (Pitching) - Erasmo Ramirez
In just 3 years, the Nationals went from the top of the mountain to the bottom, earning the worst record in baseball.  They aren't even getting rewarded with the top draft pick thanks to the new draft lottery.  They also watched their once-in-a-generation superstar, Juan Soto, be traded mid-season to San Diego.  To show how bad they were last year, their top two players in WAR, Soto and Josh Bell, didn't even play for the Nats the last two months of the season.  Their top pitcher in terms of WAR was a swingman reliever.  The season went wrong in pretty much every way possible.

Additions / Subtractions
When the season goes that badly the year before, there is only one place left to go, and that's up.  There were not a ton of moves this offseason for the Nationals.  The main thing we saw is several veterans leave in free agency, like Nelson Cruz, Luke Voit, Cesar Hernandez, Anibal Sanchez, and Steve Cishek.  Basically, all the placeholders for younger players were sent out.  Brought in were a couple veterans looking for playing time and a fresh start in first baseman Dominic Smith, third baseman Jeimer Candelario, and outfielder Corey Dickerson.

Most Important Hitter
Joey Meneses
The Nationals have fully committed to the youth movement, with loads of highly-touted talent all over the field (much of which has been acquired recently in their blockbuster trades of Soto, Bell, Scherzer, and Turner).  However, every team needs surprises, and one of the few bright spots for the 2021 Nationals was Joey Meneses.  This 30 year old rookie seized an opportunity when the club cleaned house around the trade deadline and finished the season hitting .324 with 13 home runs and a 165 OPS+ in just 56 games.  Now, was this a fluke or a true diamond in the rough?  If Meneses can produce like this again in 2023, it will take a lot of pressure off the phenoms like Keibert Ruiz, C.J. Abrams, and Luis Garcia.

Most Important Pitcher
MacKenzie Gore
The Nationals still have some stars in their rotation like Patrick Corbin and Stephen Strasburg, who only pitched one game in 2022.  However, possibly the most important pitcher to the future of the Nationals is MacKenzie Gore.  Gore was one of the many gems brought back in the Juan Soto / Josh Bell deal.  This former top prospect had trouble getting opportunities in San Diego while also battling injuries.  Now, Gore finds himself with a fresh start and a team committed to giving guys like him every chance to thrive.  If he takes off this year, the Nats are a lot closer to making their way back to contending than originally thought.

Prospect to Watch
Cade Cavalli
The Nationals boast a strong farm system, with 4 prospects in the top 100 with Cade Cavalli the most big league ready at #58.  I try not to highlight the same prospect multiple years in a row, but the Nats have very few top prospects that have a chance to impact the big league club this season.  Cavalli is a 6'4" righty that made his big league debut in 2022, but an injury shut him down after just the one start.  He should make the Opening Day roster in the rotation and might be the next big ace for the Nats.

2023 Prediction
5th in NL East
Yes, the Nationals are in full rebuild mode.  They also play in possibly the toughest division in all of baseball.  The balanced schedule will help them out this season so they don't get beat up so much by the likes of the Mets, Braves, and Phillies.  It's still not going to be good though.  With that said, they have enough exciting talent that they will be a fun watch win or lose.

Fearless Prediction
The last of the remaining players from the 2019 World Series run will play their last games in a Nationals jersey in 2023.
This is a bit of a stretch, but not insane.  Strasburg and Corbin need to show they have the value to trade for them and their contracts.  The most unlikely to move is centerfielder Victor Robles, who is entering his age 26 season, however with only a few years left before free agency, a trade to make way for the next wave of kids isn't out of the question.  It could happen!

Friday, February 24, 2023

2023 MLB Pre-Season Profile: Oakland Athletics

It's that magical time of year!  As I look out my window and see a foot of snow on the ground, it's hard to believe that today is also the first day of Spring Training games.  Baseball season is just around the corner, and I can't wait!  Every year as we lead up to the season starting, I preview each team and how I think they will do over the next 8 months of baseball.  We start at the bottom and work our way to my World Series prediction.  So let's get at it!

First up, the Oakland Athletics.  This organization is constantly reinventing itself out of necessity due to a horrible ballpark and a need for an extremely low budget.  They peaked a few years ago and started the tear down before last season.  Are they ready to start taking steps forward again, or will the downward spiral continue?

#30 - 5th in AL West
MIH - Sean Murphy
MIP - Frankie Montas
PTW - Cristian Pache

2022 Results
#29 - 60-102, 5th in AL West
Highest WAR (Position) - Sean Murphy
Highest WAR (Pitching) - Cole Irvin
The Oakland A's made the predictable tumble to the bottom of the league in 2022 after trading away many of their best players before they were going to need to pay them.  They even let their manager walk away instead of rebuilding the roster again.  Their most interesting players last year were the only established veterans that hadn't been traded yet.  The important word there is ... yet.

Additions / Subtractions
The offseason spoke loud and clear that the A's were not done tearing down their roster.  Of their top 12 players last year in terms of WAR, 5 of them are no longer on the roster.  Frankie Montas and Elvis Andrus were traded mid-season last year, Sean Murphy became the second A's star in as many offseasons to be traded to Atlanta, Cole Irvin was traded to Baltimore, and A.J. Puk was traded to Miami.  Very little big league talent was brought in through the offseason.  The most notable addition might be J.J. Bleday, a young outfielder with huge promise still trying to figure out how to be a big leaguer.  He was acquired from Miami in the A.J. Puk trade.  The rest of the additions were established veterans on one-year deals trying to have a strong first half so they can be a trade target for contenders.  These include catcher Manny Piña, first baseman Jesús Aguilar, utility man Aledmys Díaz, and reliever Trevor May.

Most Important Hitter
Shea Langeliers
Along with Cristian Pache, Shea Langeliers was the other centerpiece of the Matt Olson trade last offseason.  Now, with catcher Sean Murphy also getting traded to Atlanta, it is time for Langeliers to take a big step forward and become the everyday catcher for the A's.  Having veteran Manny Piña to learn from will help him learn for sure.  This is one of many opportunities around the diamond in Oakland for once highly-touted prospects to prove they can be the new nucleus of the A's.  What makes Langeliers so intriguing, the A's top prospect is Tyler Soderstrom, another catcher that should be ready to make his big league debut this season.  If Langeliers doesn't seize this opportunity early, he could lose his job to the next prospect coming up.

Most Important Pitcher
Shintaro Fujinami
None, I repeat NONE, of the A's projected starting rotation were above average in 2022 according to ERA+.  Although some up-and-coming prospects might have some top-of-the-rotation potential, the likes of Paul Blackburn and James Kaprielian are probably not going to wow you.  The only new arm in the rotation mix is the Japanese import Shintaro Fujinami.  The 28 year old comes over as a relative unknown as most Japanese players do, but he is one of the few in the rotation that has some intrigue and could become a fun watch every five days.

Prospect to Watch
Ken Waldichuk
The A's have two top 100 prospects: the first being the aforementioned Soderstrom, and the second is starting pitcher Ken Waldichuk at 76.  Waldichuk got 7 starts at the big league level last season with little success, but he has a lot of promise, and the A's are hoping a guy like him will emerge as their new ace moving forward.

2023 Prediction
5th in AL West
The Oakland A's have now accomplished what they sought out to accomplish a year ago.  They have reached rock bottom.  A successful season in Oakland will be seeing progress from names like Pache, Bleday, Langeliers, and Waldichuk that shows they can be part of the next contending version of the A's.

Fearless Prediction
In the next 12 months, it will be announced that the A's are moving to Las Vegas.
It has been rumored for awhile.  Their stadium is a mess, and the city of Oakland refuses to cooperate in any efforts to get a new stadium and keep them in town.  It seems inevitable that they move at this point, and it seems most likely they follow the NFL's Raiders to the bright lights of Las Vegas.  If they move to Vegas, maybe they can finally compete consistently instead of trading away all their best players before they have to pay them significant money.