How 10 clubs can turn weaknesses into strengths

March 5th, 2024

While some impact players remain available in free agency and a collection of interesting non-roster invitees are vying for spots on Opening Day rosters, for the most part, teams know who their top players are heading into the 2024 season.

Clubs will have opportunities this summer to address positions they see as weaknesses, but for now, any improvement will have to come from within.

Here’s a position-by-position breakdown of 10 postseason hopefuls who rank poorly in projected WAR (per FanGraphs Depth Charts) at specific spots on the diamond, but have the potential to outperform expectations. (All WAR figures in this story are from FanGraphs.)

Catcher: Reds (25th in projected WAR)

Why the projections are pessimistic: 's offensive production plummeted in 2023 (85 wRC+), and he was also one of the worst defensive catchers in baseball. He finished the year with -0.7 WAR, while backup catcher posted 0.2 WAR.

Why they could outperform the projections: Stephenson was one of MLB’s best hitting catchers across 2021-22, albeit in a limited sample size due to injuries. Among catchers with at least 500 plate appearances in that span, he tied for sixth with a 118 wRC+. Although his defense remains a question mark, it’s not unreasonable to think he could recapture his offensive form in his age-27 season.

First base: Astros (23rd in projected WAR)

Why the projections are pessimistic: is 37 years old and coming off a season in which he produced -0.6 WAR, finishing with career lows in batting average (.237), on-base percentage (.296), slugging percentage (.383) and wRC+ (86). Abreu is projected to bounce back some (108 wRC+), but not to his 2022 performance level (137 wRC+).

Why they could outperform the projections: While Abreu struggled for much of 2023, he did show positive signs late in the campaign and carried that over into the playoffs. In his final 32 games (postseason included), he hit .276 with 10 homers, 36 RBIs and a .927 OPS. With his track record, the veteran slugger shouldn’t be written off just yet.

Second base: Tigers (23rd in projected WAR)

Why the projections are pessimistic: The Tigers’ projected starter at second base, , has never appeared in an MLB game. Their top backup, , is a 30-year-old with a lifetime 96 wRC+ over 783 plate appearances.

Why they could outperform the projections: Keith is MLB Pipeline’s No. 22 overall prospect, and the Tigers showed how vital they expect him to be to the organization when they signed him to a six-year contract with three club options in January. The 22-year-old posted a .306 average with 27 homers and a .932 OPS between Double-A and Triple-A last season. If he hits the ground running as a rookie, Detroit could outperform its projections at the keystone by a significant margin.

Third base: D-backs (27th in projected WAR)

Why the projections are pessimistic: Arizona third basemen ranked 25th in WAR (0.5) and tied for 26th in wRC+ (75) last season, prompting the club to trade for in November. Suárez was a 3.2-WAR player for the Mariners in 2023, appearing in all 162 games and mitigating his offensive decline by making significant strides on defense. However, the projections don’t see his defensive improvements carrying over into 2024. With another dip at the plate also expected, FanGraphs has Suárez at 1.7 WAR.

Why they could outperform the projections: Suárez posted a 130 wRC+ as recently as 2022. If he moves back toward that level of offensive production and sustains the defensive improvements he made last year, he could be one of the best all-around third basemen in the National League. Of course, those are big ifs for a player who is now 32 years old and has registered the highest strikeout rate (31%) among qualifiers since the beginning of 2022.

Shortstop: Marlins (26th in projected WAR)

Why the projections are pessimistic: After ranking last in the Majors at the shortstop position with a 55 wRC+ in 2023, the Marlins brought in to be their new starter this season. However, Anderson wasn’t much better than the Marlins’ collection of shortstops last year, recording a 60 wRC+ and -0.5 WAR for the White Sox. The veteran is projected to be a below-average hitter (89 wRC+) again.

Why they could outperform the projections: Last year marked the first time since 2018 that Anderson didn’t have a wRC+ of at least 110. He was one of the most productive shortstops in the game from 2019-22, recording a .318 average with a 123 wRC+ and 13.5 WAR. At age 30, the Alabama native might have a resurgence in store.

Left field: Braves (25th in projected WAR)

Why the projections are pessimistic: With a hole in left field after declining ’s 2024 club option, the Braves swung a trade with the Mariners in early December to acquire . Kelenic took a step forward in 2023, but he is still a career .204/.283/.373 hitter with an 85 wRC+ over 252 big league games.

Why they could outperform the projections: Kelenic showed signs of breaking out early last season, slashing .297/.350/.564 with 10 homers and a reduced strikeout rate (28.9%) over his first 45 games, before his production took a nosedive. Perhaps a change of scenery -- and a move to a more favorable home park -- can help him reach his potential. The former highly-touted prospect is still only 24 years old.

Center field: Brewers (24th in projected WAR)

Why the projections are pessimistic: The Brewers are set to hand the center-field job to (MLB Pipeline’s No. 2 overall prospect), who has only six games of experience above the Double-A level and will turn 20 years old on March 11. Projection systems are notoriously conservative as it is, and a player with no big league track record is never going to receive overly optimistic projections, no matter how talented.

Why they could outperform the projections: Even at his age, Chourio could make an immediate impact in the Majors, similar to 2023 Rookie of the Year Award winners and . We know how much the Brewers like him. They signed him to an eight-year contract (plus two club options) worth $82 million in guaranteed money -- the most ever for a player with zero days of MLB service time -- after a 2023 Minor League season in which he produced 22 homers, 44 steals and an .805 OPS over 128 games.

Right field: Phillies (29th in projected WAR)

Why the projections are pessimistic: While produced 29 homers and 106 RBIs for the Phillies in 2023, he also had a lackluster .311 on-base percentage and 109 wRC+. Combined with his shortcomings on defense, he was worth just 1.0 WAR. He’s projected to be a tad worse in his age-32 season, with FanGraphs projecting him for a 100 wRC+ and 0.5 WAR.

Why they could outperform the projections: Castellanos’ final numbers were dragged down by a dreadful July in which he hit .162 with a 29 wRC+. It was the worst month of his career and only the second time he has amassed at least 100 PAs in a month and posted a wRC+ below 58. Castellanos had an .841 OPS combined in the other five months last season, 53 points higher than his overall mark (.788). Castellanos’ free-swinging approach makes him prone to streakiness, but if he can avoid slumping to that extent for a full month in 2024, he could easily have a better season for Philadelphia than he did last year.

Rotation: Royals (26th in projected WAR)

Why the projections are pessimistic: The Royals’ rotation looks a lot different than it did at this time last year, but there are still some question marks on this staff. Potential ace has made only 38 career appearances (21 starts), and free-agent additions (32 years old) and (34) are both a bit long in the tooth. The two holdovers in Kansas City’s rotation, and , combined for a 5.92 ERA in 2023.

Why they could outperform the projections: It’s not that hard to imagine a world in which Ragans, Wacha, Lugo and Singer are all better than their projected numbers. Ragans looked dominant at times after being traded from the Rangers to the Royals last summer, consistently throwing in the upper-90s and posting a 2.64 ERA with an 11.18 K/9 and a 2.49 FIP over 71 2/3 innings. Wacha and Lugo are projected to post ERAs of 4.59 and 4.40, respectively, but we just saw both do much better than that for the Padres last season. Singer, meanwhile, had a 3.23 ERA and a 3.58 FIP over 153 1/3 innings in 2022 before stumbling last season (5.52 ERA). With some tweaks to his repertoire, the 27-year-old is a candidate to bounce back.

Bullpen: Orioles (28th in projected WAR)

Why the projections are pessimistic: The Orioles lost All-Star closer to Tommy John surgery and replaced him with , who will turn 36 in May. Kimbrel is projected for a 4.08 ERA, a 4.10 FIP and 0.4 WAR. The projections are also skeptical about and , both of whom had out-of-nowhere breakouts in 2023.

Why they could outperform the projections: The O’s ranked second overall in bullpen WAR just last season and are returning most of the same group in 2024. The loss of Bautista stings, but Kimbrel showed in 2023 that he still has some gas left in the tank. Baltimore’s bullpen could also benefit from the return of , who missed all of 2023 due to right elbow/forearm injuries. Tate was a key reliever for the club in 2022, recording a 3.05 ERA and a 3.48 FIP over 73 2/3 innings.