A 2023 World Series draft, from 1 to 30

March 28th, 2023

With the season upon us, it’s time for MLB.com’s Will Leitch and Mike Petriello to conduct their annual World Series draft. The rules here are simple: Rank the teams in order of how likely you think they are to win the World Series this year. This isn’t about the future, it’s not about 2024 or ’26 or beyond. It’s 2023, and nothing else. Will gets the honor of going first, and he picks …

1. Los Angeles Dodgers

Leitch: … Yes, really! For the first time since … 2016 maybe? … picking the Dodgers first here may draw a few gasps. And I do understand. It’s stunning to look at the raw number of players who are gone, from Trea Turner to Tyler Anderson to Cody Bellinger all the way down to even Edwin Ríos.

But I’m still all in. This lineup, even without Turner and Bellinger (and the injured Gavin Lux), still has three All-Star starters (and two very-recent MVP winners), the rotation has stars up top, I trust them to figure out any bullpen issues and they’ve got one of the best farm systems, one that’s ready to contribute right now.

And let’s face it: After years of being the overwhelming favorite and often falling short of the title, it would be downright fitting if this year, the year everyone’s overlooking them, is the year they win it all.

2. Atlanta Braves

Petriello: It feels very weird to give you the eyeball emoji at taking the Dodgers No. 1, but, Will: eyeball emoji.

Anyway, I think I’d have picked the Braves first, so thanks for leaving them for me at No. 2. Every time I look at this team, all I can think is: What exactly am I worried about here? They’ve won five consecutive division crowns. Their biggest rivals are each missing huge pieces (Mets, Edwin Díaz; Phillies, Bryce Harper and Rhys Hoskins) for all or part of the season. They’ll get full years out of Michael Harris II and Spencer Strider and Ozzie Albies and, don’t forget, Ronald Acuña Jr., who is now another year removed from that 2021 knee injury, and oh yes, they traded for Sean Murphy this winter, who should hit much better outside of Oakland. Who's the next guy you don't know well who will be a star? Think about Jared Shuster.

FanGraphs has them with baseball’s highest World Series odds – by a lot – and I can’t see a good reason to dispute that.

3. Houston Astros

Leitch: Is it just me, or were people not as mad about the Astros winning the World Series last year as I thought they were going to be? Maybe that’s a sign I’ve finally started moderating my social media usage, but it’s also maybe a sign that no reasonable person can legitimately deny the Astros anymore. The 2022 Astros simply dominated start to finish. They won 106 games. They swept the ALDS. They swept the ALCS. They lost two games in the World Series, but c’mon: Were you ever really worried?

Will they be as good this year? There likely aren’t 106 wins in their future, not with a (probably?) tougher AL West, Justin Verlander in Queens and Jose Altuve's broken hand. That said, José Abreu should be a big upgrade at first base, and the rotation is packed with young pitchers who would be the envy of any other organization. They’ve shown they know how to handle them, too. No one should be surprised if they repeat.

4. San Diego Padres

Petriello: For the first time since what feels like the Roosevelt administration – no, the other one – the Dodgers are vulnerable. The Padres have done pretty much everything they possibly can to seize that opening, to the point that even though the Dodgers won 111 games last year, and have won the West for the last 76 consecutive seasons (fine, nine of the last 10), the Padres are currently the favorites to take the division for the first time since 2006.

And, really, why not? Remember, that they won only 89 games last year doesn’t matter, because that team had 90 games of Eric Hosmer, 52 from Juan Soto and 0 from Fernando Tatis Jr. – who, you may remember, hit 42 home runs in 2021. Throw in the fact that Soto is on an absolute tear this spring (assuming, we hope, his oblique injury is minor) and Josh Hader is on a 15-game scoreless streak (postseason included), and, oh yes, did you know Xander Bogaerts is a Padre now?

5. New York Mets

Leitch: Believe it or not, this bullpen can still be good without the injured Edwin Díaz (he only pitched 62 innings last year), and they’ll certainly be motivated to pick up whatever pieces they need. I’m actually more concerned about the rotation, where José Quintana is out for several months, Kodai Senga started the spring with finger problems and the other three guys are 36 or older. Of course, two of those guys are Justin Verlander and Max Scherzer, which is a pretty cool thing to be when you are 36 or older.

This team is deep, loaded with talent and has made it clear it will go get whatever players it needs to win. It’s a little scary choosing a team this high when I’m not even predicting it as a division winner. But don’t get it twisted: The Mets are stacked.

6. New York Yankees

Petriello: Sticking in the Big Apple, this is just about as far as I can let this team fall. Only the Yankees could win 99 games, reach the ALCS and have their season feel like a tremendous failure. It’s not hard to see why, of course. They didn’t maintain anything like their early-season dominance, and they didn't just lose the ALCS -- they were blown out of the water in a 4-0 sweep to the Astros. Throw in ongoing uncertainty at a few key spots, and early injuries to Harrison Bader and Carlos Rodón, and it hasn’t exactly been a smooth spring, either.

On the other hand, they retained Aaron Judge, added an ace-quality starter in Rodón and have two top prospects, in Anthony Volpe and Jasson Dominguez, who sure look like big leaguers. It does sort of feel like all the focus on the questions about left field, shortstop and the back of the rotation obscure just how good and talented this roster really is.

7. Toronto Blue Jays

Leitch: And here’s my pick to win the AL East. I know much has been made about how tumultuous the last few years have been for the Blue Jays, how they had to play a full season without home games, how they had three different home stadiums in 2021, how they never quite got settled. Even last year, when the vibes never quite seemed right, they still won 92 games.

Here’s betting this is the year the vibes get right. I love the offseason emphasis on defense, bringing in Daulton Varsho (who can also hit, of course) and Kevin Kiermaier (who can’t, but boy can he play center), fixing a problem that has plagued them for a few years. And as excellent as Teoscar Hernández is, I’m not sure the lineup is much worse, particularly because I think Vladimir Guerrero Jr. is about to go off after a stop-and-start 2022. That raises the ceiling on this team even more. What a terrifying lineup to face night in and night out. And they can catch the ball now, too.

8. Philadelphia Phillies

Petriello: … and this is about how far I can let the defending NL champs fall. That they’re not higher here isn’t hard to explain – the Mets and Braves are each extremely good competition, Bryce Harper will miss a few months, Rhys Hoskins will miss the season and there’s some pitching depth questions between Ranger Suárez and Andrew Painter – and yet the defending NL champs added Trea Turner (and Taijuan Walker). But I think there’s a pretty solid shot the NL East has three 90-win teams, and as we saw last year, all you have to do is get in, not necessarily win the division.

9. St. Louis Cardinals

Leitch: You should know that when I wrote my preview of the NL Central back in January, I picked the Brewers to win the division. I, clearly, have changed my mind. And with good reason.

I know we’re not supposed to get too caught up in what happens in the spring, particularly with a team like the Cardinals, who had so many guys playing in the World Baseball Classic. But every question the Cardinals had about their roster this spring, they got the right answer. Can Nolan Gorman lay off the high fastball but hold onto his power? Yep. Is Dylan Carlson’s wrist healthy enough that he can start hitting right-handers again? Yep. Is Jack Flaherty looking like the Flaherty of 2019 again? Yep. Are Tyler O’Neill and Lars Nootbaar going to be able to play center field? Ask about several million Japanese baseball fans. Will Jordan Walker stick? Goodness gracious, yes.

I no longer think the Brewers are going to win this division. I’m starting to wonder if it’s even going to be close.

10. Seattle Mariners

Petriello: 2021: 90 wins. 2022: 90 wins. 2023: ???

The Mariners, and their fans, have waited two decades to get to this point, which is “now there are expectations,” because there are. Look, you could do a lot worse than “Julio Rodríguez and an incredibly deep and talented pitching staff,” right? Because I am very much into this Seattle pitching group, from a full year of Luis Castillo to the fact that everyone seems to be working on some kind of new pitch. It’s not hyperbole to say this could be the best pitching staff in baseball. Imagine getting Castillo or George Kirby or Logan Gilbert or Robbie Ray out of the game, just to have to deal with Andrés Muñoz, Matt Brash, Paul Sewald and Diego Castillo.

11. Chicago White Sox

Leitch: Let this be the moment where you – and the rest of Earth – mocks me for my first pick in last year’s version of this article: Yep, it was the White Sox. Uh … [tugs collar] … oops?

I swear, it did make sense at the time. The Twins were down, the Guardians were idle all offseason, the Royals and Tigers were rebuilding and the White Sox were coming off a division title and looked primed to finally have a fully healthy year. I picked the White Sox because they were the team I was most confident would win their division. They, um, did not win their division.

They’re my pick to win it this year, though. I’m betting on health again this year – sheesh, they’re due – but also on a general sense of normalcy that can’t help a franchise that (still) has a ton of talent.

12. Minnesota Twins

Petriello: Will, this isn’t a joke: Eloy Jiménez got hurt while you were writing that. I, on the other hand, will choose an AL Central team that has never had to deal with disappointing seasons or injury problems: Ladies and gentlemen, your Minnesota Twins, the team that has maybe made the largest positive impression on me this spring. It’s important to remember that last year, they led the division for 41 days more than Cleveland, and things only fell apart due to an endless wave of injuries and a near-inability to staff a rotation late in the year.

I am, I have to say, in. The outfield defense will be absolutely spectacular, the depth is better – they finally have a competent center fielder to spot for Byron Buxton in Michael A. Taylor – and while the rotation doesn’t quite have an ace-ace, they’re Cardinals-esque in that there’s plenty of solid-average starters you’d feel comfortable with sending out over six months.

By the way, Will. We have now both picked AL Central teams ahead of last year’s champions, Cleveland. Yes, we’ll both probably regret this.

13. Cleveland Guardians

Leitch: All right, so now I have my top two teams in AL Central, so I feel like I’m covered. Forgive me for being a Twins skeptic, but that makes me feel less guilty about passing on the Guardians two picks ago, and I’m giddy to get them here. The Guardians are always going to figure out something in their rotation, and obviously their bullpen is a potential face-melter; every one of their bullpen arms, as listed on FanGraphs Roster Resource, is 27 or younger. That’s how you build a modern bullpen.

14. Tampa Bay Rays

Petriello: Every year, we underestimate the Rays. Did you know they have the same World Series odds as the Cardinals? Now: Do I really view them that way? Not entirely, in part because the AL East is extremely tough, and in part because they didn’t really add to the offense in a satisfactory enough way this winter. On the other hand, just getting healthy years out of Brandon Lowe and Wander Franco should be enormous internal boosts. It really does feel as if people have moved past the Franco hype, as though he didn’t just turn 22 this month.

The strength here, as always, is the pitching. Despite Tyler Glasnow’s setback, the Rays are as close to having a traditional starting rotation as they’ve had in years, and if you’re looking for a breakout name that your extremely sicko baseball fan friends already know about but your uncle will not, start with Jeffrey Springs, who had a 2.46 ERA last year, learned a new sweeper this winter, and proceeded to lay waste to the Grapefruit League with a 24/2 K/BB this spring. Do spring stats matter? Mostly no – except when they come with a change in approach, and especially when they back up the narrative I want them to tell.

15. Los Angeles Angels

Leitch: I believe. I believe. I believe.

OK, so maybe “Ted Lasso” isn’t the right show here. Maybe it’s “The X-Files’” “I want to believe.” Because this is almost certainly the last year we get Mike Trout and Shohei Ohtani on the same team, I, like most baseball fans, desperately want to see a postseason series with these two, particularly after how deliriously entertaining it was seeing them in the World Baseball Classic. And can I say that I like what the Angels did this offseason? The old adage is that you just need to put an average team around Mike Trout (or Shohei Ohtani, or Mike Trout and Shohei Ohtani) and you’ve got yourself a playoff team, and that’s clearly what they tried to do.

Please, baseball gods: Just one Trout-Ohtani playoff series. Preferably more than one. But I will take one.

16. Milwaukee Brewers

Petriello: Sixteenth feels both “exactly right for this team” and “a considerable steal, because they have a reasonable chance to win a weak division, and the point here is to draft potential World Series winners, is it not?” (It is.) I have the same questions about this team I do pretty much every year, which is whether they’ll find enough offense to support what’s usually very good pitching, except it feels a little different now, since A) Josh Hader is gone and B) the clock is ticking on Corbin Burnes and Brandon Woodruff’s paths to free agency, which arrive after 2024.

I greatly enjoy Willy Adames and Rowdy Tellez. I believe it’s going to be an absolute heist that they snuck into the Sean Murphy deal to land William Contreras, and I think Jesse Winker is a great rebound candidate. I have no idea what to make of Christian Yelich, and neither do you. But of the greatest interest here is if and how a number of young outfielders – here I’m talking about Sal Frelick, Joey Wiemer, Garrett Mitchell and maybe even Jackson Chourio later on – make an impact.

17. Baltimore Orioles

Leitch: If this seems low to you – it probably doesn’t though, right? – remember that this is 13 spots higher than they were last year. Whatever your thoughts about the 2023 Orioles, and the offseason they just had (or didn’t have), that is undeniably progress.

Do you think the Orioles were actually a fluke last year? I sure don’t. That team maybe was a year or two ahead of schedule, but the the minute Adley Rutschman showed up, they were a haul to deal with for every team that faced them. And they did it mostly with young players just finding their place in the league. It’s a tough division, no question, and I wish they would have added an innings-eating starter. (Though look out for Kyle Bradish – it would not entirely stun me if he’s their ace by the end of the year.) If they were in the AL Central, I’d feel much better about their chances of making the playoffs. But this front office is full of very smart people with a track record of real success.

18. Texas Rangers

Petriello: We have now reached the “it’s going to go extremely right or extremely wrong” portion of the draft. There’s “high variance,” and then there’s the 2023 Texas Rangers. Tell me they’ll win 92 games, because Jacob deGrom and friends stayed healthy and proved to be baseball’s best rotation? Sure, I could see it. Tell me they’ll win 68 games, because deGrom and Andrew Heaney and Jon Gray did not stay healthy, and all of a sudden Dane Dunning throws your second-most innings instead of your sixth-most? I could see that, too.

19. San Francisco Giants

Leitch: The Orioles and Giants are logical back-to-backs for me: Two teams that have made big leaps forward over the last two years thanks to savvy, resourceful front offices who nevertheless spent the whole winter getting pummeled for what they didn’t do.

I find it more difficult to justify the Giants’ offseason than the Orioles’. The Giants very much needed to get a star this winter, and they didn’t. They may have tried to, but it doesn’t change the fact that they still don’t have one. So you have a roster full of above-average supporting pieces, a cast of character actors without a lead. Then again, that's not so different than two years ago, when they won 107 games. They won't do anything close to that again, but you don’t have to win 107 games to make the playoffs.

20. Arizona Diamondbacks

Petriello: I do not think the D-backs will win the World Series, or reach the World Series, or even come all that close. So there’s that. But that’s not the same as being uninteresting, not at all, because I do think their lineup will be incredibly fun to watch this year, in a way that is just going to sneak up on a ton of people.

Give me a full season of Corbin Carroll, next to Alek Thomas. Give me a ton of playing time from Gabriel Moreno, especially now that Carson Kelly is injured. Give me veteran bats Lourdes Gurriel Jr. and Evan Longoria. Give me a rebound season from Ketel Marte. Give me another year of underrated two-way star Christian Walker (who has been absolutely smashing it this spring). Give it all to me, then give me the remote control when it’s time to pitch. That’s a little unfair, I guess; Zac Gallen can be plenty good, and I want to see Brandon Pfaadt at some point. But when the pitching lags a fun-not-elite lineup this much, well, that’s why you’re 20th.

21. Chicago Cubs

Leitch: After clearing out the last pieces of their legendary 2016 championship team (other than Kyle Hendricks), I like that the Cubs are at least trying to be better this year. I like the Cody Bellinger addition, though it won’t be enough to help them this year and if he has the year they hope he does, he’ll bolt for more money somewhere else next year, which would seem to be the sort of thing that keeps annoying Cubs fans. Much of this may come down to whether Seiya Suzuki can be healthy and productive, as he gives this lineup a ceiling it doesn’t have otherwise.

22. Boston Red Sox

Petriello: This is the fifth-best team in the monstrous AL East, in my opinion, and yet there’s still a world in which the Red Sox make the playoffs. While I didn't exactly love the Masataka Yoshida signing when it happened, my opinion of it has improved considerably based on his performance in the World Baseball Classic. If he's a star, then this lineup looks a lot better.

But it still might not be good enough. We need not rehash the events that led to having neither Xander Bogaerts nor Trevor Story in the middle infield, but that’s where things are. It’s coming up on five years since Chris Sale was both healthy and regularly effective. He’s 34. So is James Paxton. Corey Kluber is 37. There’s talent here, but there’s also a chance they start off slow and then have a massive mid-season selloff of short-term veterans, and the second half ends up being a slog.

23. Miami Marlins

Leitch: We are long past the point of consensus World Series contenders, but I can squint a little bit and make the case for the Marlins to potentially claw their way into the playoffs. They need:

  • A: Jazz Chisholm Jr. to be an MVP candidate
  • B: All five of their (mostly) young starters to throw 150 innings
  • C: Luis Arraez to hit .320
  • D: The Phillies, Braves or Mets to falter (probably two of them, actually)
  • E: Also probably two of the Padres/Dodgers/Brewers/Cardinals

That won't be easy, but it's not impossible.

24. Kansas City Royals

Petriello: This is a team I am simultaneously “higher on than most” and “still not that high on." FanGraphs has them projected for 90 losses. Baseball Prospectus says 98. I’ll take the under on each of those (though not by a lot) for two reasons. The first is that the lineup seems pretty fun, with Vinnie Pasquantino and Bobby Witt Jr. and MJ Melendez, and the second is that the pitching infrastructure is brand new. This was a team that had few pitching success stories under the old regime, and now, finally, they seem to be catching up to a pitch design world that had mostly left them behind. It’s maybe the first step.

25. Cincinnati Reds

Leitch: Two out of every five days, the Reds are going to be a huge pain for opponents. I’m extremely high on the Hunter Greene/Nick Lodolo combo, and there’s a non-zero possibility they are two of the 30 best starting pitchers in baseball this year. Put it this way: If the Cardinals are in a tight race heading into the final weekend and run into Greene/Lodolo, they’re going to be sweating.

26. Pittsburgh Pirates

Petriello: On Thursday, Oneil Cruz hit baseballs at 106.9, 115.1 and 110.4 mph. Only one of them, to be fair, became a hit, but most importantly is that he did those things in a game in which he stepped to the plate four times and didn’t strike out. There was already some evidence late last year that he was improving on chasing out of the zone less, and for a 24-year-old who is probably even above Aaron Judge on the list of “guys who could maybe challenge Giancarlo Stanton’s perch atop the Hits The Snot Out of the Baseball Leaderboard,” this is a pretty important development. If he can play shortstop even a little ... if he can cut the strikeout rate even a little ... the sky is the limit here. And at 6-foot-7, he’s closer to the sky than most.

Oh, the rest of the 2023 Pirates? Ke’Bryan Hayes is good. I’m interested to see what they do with Bryan Reynolds. But mostly I want to know whether Cruz is a great baseball player, or just the tall guy who hits it very hard sometimes. There’s a big and meaningful difference.

27. Colorado Rockies

Leitch: This will be a rebuilding year in Colorado, but that doesn't mean they are devoid of interesting storylines and players. For example:

  • It’s the 30th anniversary of the franchise, which means there’s going to be all sorts of groundswell support for Todd Helton’s Hall of Fame candidacy.
  • Seeing Charlie Blackmon play will always generate warm feelings.
  • Kris Bryant has to play more than 42 games this year.
  • Germán Márquez makes you feel better than most Rockies pitchers have historically made you feel.
  • Daniel Bard is very easy to cheer for.
  • Coors Field is gorgeous! The Rockpile!

The fans will hold out hope for a contender, but it still feels like they are a couple of years away.

28. Detroit Tigers

Petriello: Last year, it seemed as though the Tigers could be a sneaky breakout team, because they had all of the pieces of a potentially exciting young core in place and a veteran manager to lead them to the promised land. It, uh, did not go well. The young core mostly did not produce, the pitchers suffered a number of injuries, Javier Báez’s Tigers debut was an expensive disappointment, and ultimately it led to the front office being overturned.

Ultimately, this year is about showing that this particular rebuild can still work. For example, Spencer Torkelson’s debut was such a mess that he landed back in Triple-A, but he’s been crushing the ball this spring. There’s still a lot to like about Riley Greene, though losing both Casey Mize and Tarik Skubal to injury is a crushing blow. Six months from now, Detroit needs to know a lot more about this group of young Tigers.

29. Washington Nationals

Leitch: With my final pick, I’ll take the Nats if just because I think they have a little more juice than the A's right now. The World Baseball Classic just intensified my Joey Meneses fever, I like the quiet young core they’re building with Keibert Ruiz and all those guys they got from the Padres for Juan Soto, and I like the fliers they took on guys like Dom Smith.

30. Oakland A’s

Petriello: The A’s kelly green uniforms, especially when it’s a beautiful sunny day in the East Bay, might just be my favorite look in the game, if not all of sports. They are absolutely perfect. If the players within those unis don’t end up winning a whole lot of games, well, at least they’ll look good doing it.