Teams that are absolutely loaded at each position

January 16th, 2023

With just about a month to go before pitchers and catchers begin reporting for Spring Training, it’s time we have a look at which teams are projected to have the best group of players at each position. With a hat tip to our friends at FanGraphs, we can do just that.

Here’s a breakdown of which teams have the strongest projected performances at each spot on the diamond in 2023, by FanGraphs Depth Chart WAR:

Catcher: Blue Jays (5.9 WAR)
Key player(s): Alejandro Kirk, Danny Jansen

This is obviously a position of strength for Toronto, which is probably why it dealt Gabriel Moreno, the Jays’ No. 1 prospect per MLB Pipeline, along with Lourdes Gurriel Jr. to the D-backs for catcher/outfielder Daulton Varsho. Even without Moreno, though, Kirk and Jansen should be a formidable tandem behind the plate in 2023.

Kirk had a breakout campaign at the plate last season, posting a .786 OPS with 14 home runs and 3.8 WAR. Jansen, meanwhile, launched 15 homers and had an .855 OPS. His WAR was 2.6. If they produce anything close to that in ’23, given the firepower up and down Toronto’s lineup, watch out for the Jays.

Closest challengers: Orioles (5.5), Dodgers (5.1), Braves (4.9), Phillies (4.6), Yankees (4.6)

First base: Dodgers and Blue Jays (4.8 WAR)
Key player(s) -- LAD: Freddie Freeman
Key player(s) -- TOR: Vladimir Guerrero Jr., Brandon Belt

Freeman’s first season with the Dodgers began slowly, but when he got going, he took off and never looked back, finishing with a .918 OPS and the most hits (199) and doubles (47) in the Majors. He also led the National League in runs scored (117) and on-base percentage (.407). His FanGraphs WAR was a career-high 7.1.

Meanwhile, Guerrero didn’t replicate his outstanding 2021 campaign, for which he finished second only to Shohei Ohtani for the American League MVP Award, but he still posted an .818 OPS with 32 homers and, as we sometimes forget, he’s still only 23. We may not have seen the best of Guerrero yet. 

It’s tough to project Belt’s performance because he’s coming off surgery to deal with chronic knee issues that derailed his ’22 campaign, but he’s only a year removed from the best offensive stretch of his career -- from 2020-21, he posted a .988 OPS with 38 homers in 148 games.

Closest challengers: Cardinals (4.4), Mets (4.4), Braves (3.6), Rangers (3.1), Rays (3.0)

Second base: Astros (4.5 WAR)
Key player(s): Jose Altuve

Altuve had a subpar season in 2020, when he hit .219/.286/.344 over 48 games in the pandemic-shortened campaign. But he bounced back in 2021, and in ’22, he enjoyed his best performance since he won the AL MVP Award five years earlier. He posted a .921 OPS with 28 homers to help lead the Astros to a World Series championship, and there’s nothing to indicate he won’t be just as good in ’23. The conservative FanGraphs projections have him putting up 4.2 WAR this year after 6.6 last season.

Closest challengers: Guardians (4.2), Rays (4.1), Yankees (4.0), Rangers (3.9), Padres (3.8)

Shortstop: Rays (5.6 WAR)
Key player(s): Wander Franco

We’ve only gotten to see Franco for 153 games since he made his MLB debut in 2021, with injuries (a right quad strain and a fractured right wrist) sidelining him for about half the ’22 campaign. Still not even 22 years old, the sky's the limit for Franco, whom FanGraphs projects to produce 5.2 WAR in ’23. And why not? Despite the injuries, in about a season’s worth of Major League experience, he’s hit .282/.337/.439 and has produced 4.7 WAR.

Closest challengers: Twins (5.3), Padres (5.0), Rangers (5.0), Mets (4.7), Phillies (4.7)

Third base: Cardinals (5.5 WAR)
Key player(s): Nolan Arenado

In what shouldn’t come as a surprise, the Cards top the list at the hot corner thanks to 2022 NL MVP Award finalist Arenado, who finished behind teammate Paul Goldschmidt and fellow third baseman Manny Machado. Arenado is a tremendous offensive player, of course, as evidenced by another great year at the plate in ’22, when he had an .891 OPS with 30 homers. But much of the value FanGraphs projects for ’23 (5.3 WAR) comes from his incredible defense, which netted him a 10th consecutive Gold Glove Award last year.

Closest challengers: Guardians (5.3), Astros (5.2), Padres (5.0), Rays (4.8), Red Sox (4.6)

Left field: Astros (4.7 WAR)
Key player(s): Yordan Alvarez

Alvarez is coming off a spectacular season in which he finished third in AL MVP Award voting thanks to a .306/.406/.613 slash line with 37 home runs -- that’s an MVP performance in most seasons, but when you’re up against a guy who hit 62 homers and a two-way superstar who is achieving feats we’ve never seen, third place is certainly an honorable finish. The 6-foot-5, 225-pound Alvarez is only getting better every year, and he’s still just 25 years old. 

Closest challengers: Red Sox (4.0), Padres (3.7), Guardians (3.4), Cardinals (3.3), Brewers (3.1)

Center field: Mariners (5.8 WAR)
Key player(s): Julio Rodríguez

Rodríguez had about as good of a rookie year in the Major Leagues as they come -- he became the fastest player in AL/NL history to reach 25 homers and 25 steals, put on a show in the Home Run Derby at Dodger Stadium, led his club to its first postseason appearance in 21 years, and took home AL Rookie of the Year honors. 

J-Rod posted an .853 OPS with 28 homers and 25 steals, finishing seventh in AL MVP Award voting and generating 5.3 WAR. FanGraphs’ projection of 5.6 in 2023 is remarkable, in that it, along with other popular projections, has him higher than many of the game’s elite players, including fellow center fielder Mike Trout.

Closest challengers: Angels (5.4), Mets (4.9), Braves (4.8), Cardinals (4.1), Yankees (4.1), Twins (4.1)

Right field: Padres (6.9 WAR)
Key player(s): Fernando Tatis Jr., Juan Soto

What a combo here. The projection would be even higher if Tatis wasn’t going to miss the first three weeks or so of the season while serving out his suspension for violating MLB’s Joint Drug Prevention and Treatment Program. What will we see from Tatis after he’s missed an entire season-plus? Will he be the same Tatis that we saw from 2019-21, when he had a .965 OPS with 81 homers and 52 steals in his first 273 games? Only time will tell.

Soto, meanwhile, had a “down year” in 2022, when he hit .242/.401/.452 with 27 homers and a Major League-leading 135 walks. But we’re talking about the man who, at age 24, is quite possibly the game’s finest hitter. Barring an injury, a Soto bounce-back seems like a foregone conclusion.

Closest challengers: Yankees (6.2), Dodgers (5.6), Astros (5.5), Braves (4.6), Cubs (3.5)

Designated hitter: Angels (3.3 WAR)
Key player(s): Shohei Ohtani

Really no surprise here. The Angels have Ohtani, the runner-up for AL MVP last year after winning the honor in 2021. It took Aaron Judge and his AL-record 62 homers to dethrone the two-way sensation last season despite Ohtani actually having a better season on the mound than he had in ’21.

In 2022, Ohtani posted an .875 OPS with 34 homers while also dominating on the mound, where he turned in a 2.33 ERA and AL-best 11.9 strikeouts per nine innings over 28 starts for the Angels. He continues to amaze us even after all he’s already accomplished in both arenas, and next season should be no exception.

Closest challengers: Astros (3.1), Yankees (2.7), Blue Jays (2.7), Padres (2.7), White Sox (2.7)

Starting pitcher: Yankees (16.3 WAR)
Key player(s): Gerrit Cole, Carlos Rodón, Nestor Cortes, Luis Severino, Frankie Montas

This is what happens when you sign Rodón to add him to a starting rotation that already features Cole and Cortes -- the projections love you. Cole is Cole -- that is, he’s an ace and a workhorse who is a threat to win the Cy Young Award year-in and year-out. Cortes had a breakout campaign in 2022, posting a 2.44 ERA in 28 starts for New York.

Enter Rodón, who led the Majors in FIP (2.25) and strikeouts-per-nine innings (12) in his only season with the Giants. He’s another frontline lefty to pair with Cortes, and that could make the Yanks’ rotation the best in baseball.

New York could be without Montas for a month or so as he continues to deal with shoulder inflammation, but there is depth there, with Domingo Germán, Clarke Schmidt, et al. available to fill in if necessary.

Closest challengers: Mets (15.8), Rangers (15.6), Brewers (14.8), Braves (14.4), Phillies (13.8)

Relief pitcher: Braves (4.5 WAR)
Key player(s): Raisel Iglesias, A.J. Minter, Collin McHugh

Iglesias was tremendous for Atlanta after the Braves acquired him from the Angels prior to the Trade Deadline, pitching to a 0.34 ERA in 28 appearances down the stretch. In eight MLB seasons, the right-hander owns a 3.00 ERA and 157 saves, spending the first five-plus seasons of his big league career with the Reds.

Minter continues to be a reliable late-inning lefty with closing experience. He had a 2.06 ERA and struck out 35 percent of the batters he faced over a career-high 75 appearances (70 innings) last year.

McHugh was great in his first season with Atlanta, posting a 2.60 ERA and 0.94 WHIP over 58 appearances (69 1/3 innings). He’s 35, but hasn’t shown any signs that time is catching up with him just yet.

Closest challengers: Mets (4.4), Guardians (4.3), Mariners (4.2), Phillies (4.2), Twins (4.2)