The players with the most to prove in '23

February 20th, 2023

Each Spring Training, there are position battles and young prospects seeking to impress against big league competition. But there are also those players who come to camp with a lot to prove, whether they're top prospects or veterans who have struggled recently. We asked each beat writer to name one player from their club who has the most to prove in 2023:

American League East

Blue Jays: LHP Yusei Kikuchi
Is Kikuchi a passable fifth starter, a bullpen lefty with velocity and upside or a swingman who the Blue Jays will struggle to find spots for? He’s shown glimpses of all three, but the talent is clearly there to be a valuable MLB pitcher. Three-year, $36 million deals aren’t given to pitchers who are not capable of that. Consistency has eluded Kikuchi, though, and control issues plagued him in his first season with the Blue Jays. Having Kikuchi pitch to even a 4.50 ERA as the No. 5 starter for a few months while getting to the fifth inning consistently would be a fine start, but there are no guarantees and he’ll need to earn his innings. -- Keegan Matheson

Orioles: 2B Adam Frazier
The O’s signed Frazier to a one-year, $8 million deal over the offseason, adding another left-handed bat to their infield mix. The 31-year-old is the probable starting second baseman, and he could get some time in the corner outfield spots. But Frazier needs to prove that he can return to his 2021 All-Star form (a .779 OPS and 114 OPS+ in 155 games), rather than have a repeat of his down '22 (a .612 OPS and 80 OPS+ in 156 games). Otherwise, Ramón Urías -- a Gold Glover at third base last year who’s now serving in a utility role -- could take away more of Frazier’s playing time at second. -- Jake Rill

Rays: SS Wander Franco
Franco will be the Rays’ starting shortstop, and he’s going to be paid well for a long time. Nothing to prove there. But after falling out of the spotlight as injuries limited him to 83 games and a 117 OPS+ last year, he can remind everyone why he was one of the most celebrated prospects ever. The key? Staying healthy. In 153 career games, Franco has a 6.1 bWAR. If he just matches that this season, we’ll be talking about a 22-year-old as one of the most impactful players in baseball. If he plays to his enormous potential, he’s an AL MVP candidate. -- Adam Berry

Red Sox: OF Masataka Yoshida
Through no fault of his own, Yoshida enters his first Major League camp under the microscope. This, after the left-handed hitter signed a five-year, $90 million contract with Boston, ending his seven-year career in Japan. While some in the industry questioned the price the Red Sox invested in Yoshida, the club is confident in their valuation and Yoshida is eager to prove them right. Yoshida is known for his excellent plate approach and ability to spray the ball in the gap. The big question is whether he can hit for power in the Majors. As with most players coming over from NPB, there will likely be an initial adjustment period. Yoshida hopes to make the learning curve as quick as possible in hopes of being a key cog in Boston’s new-look roster. -- Ian Browne

Yankees: OF Aaron Hicks
Opportunity is knocking once again for Hicks, who will look to hold off the versatile Oswaldo Cabrera as the club’s starting left fielder. One spring after he spoke about aiming to become the third Yankee to join the 30-homer/30-steal club, Hicks looks to bounce back from a disappointing campaign in which he slashed .216/.330/.313 (86 OPS+) with eight homers, 40 RBIs and 10 stolen bases. Hicks said that he may have come into the season too light, prioritizing speed, and he spent his offseason trying to pack on muscle. He has three years and $30 million remaining on his contract. -- Bryan Hoch

AL Central

Guardians: CF Myles Straw
There’s nothing more that Straw needs to do defensively, considering he locked up a Gold Glove Award last year, but after the Guardians issued him a five-year, $25 million contract extension heading into last season, Straw needs to prove there’s more he can bring to the table offensively. After he was sent to Cleveland at the 2021 Trade Deadline, Straw made a strong first impression, hitting .285 with a .739 OPS in 60 games with his new team. In '22, he struggled to gain steam and posted a .221 average and a .564 OPS. He took it upon himself to work with the Guardians’ hitting coaches over the offseason and will have the early weeks of spring to prove he’s at least on the right track. -- Mandy Bell

Royals: 3B Hunter Dozier
The Royals are committing playing time to Dozier at third base, at least to start the spring, because that’s the most open position for him to get everyday playing time. After two seasons of offensive and defensive struggles, Dozier must prove that his 2019 season -- when he hit a career-high 26 homers with a career-high 124 OPS+ while playing third most of the season -- was not a fluke. The Royals extended the now 31-year-old in the spring of 2021 because of that '19 production, but in the two seasons since, Dozier has 28 homers and an 87 OPS+, slugging just .391. Having Dozier return to being a reliable bat would boost the Royals’ young lineup, and now is the time for Dozier to prove that he can be a part of Kansas City’s future. -- Anne Rogers

Tigers: RHP Spencer Turnbull
Turnbull has a spot locked up in the Tigers' rotation, barring another injury, but can he be the front-line starter that he was becoming before Tommy John surgery halted his career in 2021? He made just three starts after no-hitting Seattle. So far, the signs are encouraging, including a 94 mph fastball in his bullpen session last week. Getting the slider back, and trusting himself to throw it, could be key. The Tigers will be cautious with Turnbull and give him extra rest, but at age 30, he’s in his prime years. -- Jordan Beck

Twins: RHP Tyler Mahle
The Twins traded three legitimate prospects to the Reds at last season’s Trade Deadline in the hopes that Mahle would be an anchor atop their rotation next to Sonny Gray. Instead, he made it three starts into his Twins career before his fastball velocity cratered -- and it happened again in his return from the injured list. They still aren’t sure what happened, but they’ll have to hope the issue is behind him, because a healthy, effective Mahle is a difference-maker the Twins need. -- Do-Hyoung Park

White Sox: OF Oscar Colas
The No. 2 White Sox prospect per MLB Pipeline has the inside track as the starter in right field with position players set to report Monday. His job won’t depend purely on Cactus League results, but the 24-year-old will need to show he belongs at the outset when given the opportunity in Arizona. Colas worked hard with teammate Luis Robert and White Sox coaches, among others, during the offseason in Florida and is coming off a Minor League season featuring a combined 23 home runs and an .895 OPS. He provides left-handed power and a glove with center field capabilities defensively in right. -- Scott Merkin

AL West

Angels: OF Jo Adell
The Angels bolstered their outfield by acquiring veterans Hunter Renfroe and Brett Phillips in the offseason, which means Adell could be the odd man out. Adell, a former top prospect, spent the entire offseason training in Arizona and added roughly 10-15 pounds of muscle. Adell could put himself back on the radar with a strong spring. Even if he doesn’t make the roster, it would improve his stock going forward. -- Rhett Bollinger

Astros: CF Chas McCormick
McCormick comes to camp as the favorite to stick in center field after he won the job late last year and started there in the playoffs. And who can forget his incredible catch at the wall in Philadelphia late in Game 5 of the World Series? Still, a healthy Jake Meyers will push McCormick for playing time this year. Plus, McCormick was demoted briefly in June, so he could use a strong regular season to establish himself as a starter. -- Brian McTaggart

Athletics: OF Ramón Laureano
Dealing with a suspension and multiple injuries, Laureano turned in career-worsts in batting average (.211), on-base percentage (.287) and OPS (.663) over 94 games last season. Having spent the entire offseason working out in Arizona, Laureano, still only 28, is confident that partaking in a more “normal” Spring Training than he’s had in recent years will help him regain the form he showed in a breakout 2019 campaign that featured a career-high .860 OPS with 24 home runs, 13 stolen bases and 67 RBIs. -- Martín Gallegos

Mariners: LF Jarred Kelenic
Two springs ago, Kelenic was MLB Pipeline’s No. 4 overall prospect and the face of Seattle’s future. He’s shown flashes of big potential, but it’s been inconsistent. Entering 2023, Kelenic has a clearer path to playing time, and with protection in the form of veteran free-agent acquisition AJ Pollock, whom the club signed to platoon with Kelenic. Yet Kelenic still faces the reality that he has only one Minor League option left and this could be a big year for him to prove he can put it all together. -- Daniel Kramer

Rangers: OF Leody Taveras
The Rangers’ top prospect in 2020, Taveras has endured a roller coaster of an MLB career since making his debut that season. Due to the cancellation of the Minor League season in '20, he made his debut without taking a single Triple-A at-bat. He’s shown flashes of potential, but has yet to truly reach the ceiling the Rangers expected of him prior to his debut. He slashed .261/.309/.366 in 99 games last season, but Texas wants to see more consistency from the outfielder to solidify himself into the '23 lineup. -- Kennedi Landry

National League East

Braves: OF Eddie Rosario
The Braves are hoping Rosario thrives during his final season before becoming a free agent, conjuring memories of the great postseason he had just two years ago. Rosario was named the 2021 NL Championship Series MVP and helped Atlanta win that year’s World Series. But he came to Spring Training with vision issues last year, missed three months after having surgery in late April and never found a groove. He needs to rebound to keep his career alive and to erase concerns about how much value the Braves could get from the left field position. -- Mark Bowman

Marlins: LHP Trevor Rogers
Following a stellar 2021 campaign in which he finished as the runner-up for NL Rookie of the Year, Rogers saw the largest ERA increase for any Major Leaguer with at least 100 innings thrown in '22: from 2.64 to 5.47. Rogers, who made 23 starts, also missed time with back spasms and a season-ending left lat strain. He will be competing for the fifth spot in the rotation. -- Christina De Nicola

Mets: RHP Kodai Senga
The Mets took a risk in signing Senga to a five-year, $75 million contract despite questions about his physical state, so they have a vested interest in making sure this marriage works. Early in camp, Senga was still feeling out issues such as the larger, slicker American baseballs, the steeper mound slope and the transition to stateside culture. Mets officials are confident that Senga, a Nippon Professional Baseball star, can thrive in New York, but he’ll need to prove it every time he takes the mound. -- Anthony DiComo

Nationals: RHP Cade Cavalli
Cavalli, ranked as the Nationals’ No. 4 prospect by MLB Pipeline last season, is vying for a spot in the starting rotation. He made his Major League debut last August, but he was shut down after one start because of right shoulder inflammation. Said manager Dave Martinez, “Cade’s got to come out and really show us that he can pound the strike zone and do all the things that we ask him to do and be consistent.” -- Jessica Camerato

Phillies: RHP Andrew Painter
Painter is the Phillies’ No. 1 prospect and the No. 6 prospect in baseball, according to MLB Pipeline. He also is a legitimate candidate to be the Phillies’ No. 5 starter come Opening Day. But the job won’t be handed to him. He will have to earn it. He is immensely talented, but he also is only 19. Is he up to the task? -- Todd Zolecki

NL Central

Brewers: Christian Yelich
It could be Jesse Winker trying to return to being one of the NL’s top hitters as he heads into a contract year, or former All-Star Freddy Peralta coming back from a year shortened by injuries. But the Brewers’ investment in Yelich means he’ll perennially have something to prove until he re-establishes himself as a run-producer. Last year, Yelich provided some value in a leadoff role, though his .738 OPS was only two points higher than his career-low .736 OPS in 2021. The arrival of catcher William Contreras and Winker (provided he hits like he did with the Reds) should help provide some protection around Yelich in the batting order. -- Adam McCalvy

Cardinals: OF Tyler O’Neill
The Cardinals are quite eager to see which O’Neill they will get in 2023. Will it be the one who hit .286 with 34 home runs, 80 RBIs and a .912 OPS in 138 games in 2021? Or will it be the '22 version that was mostly hobbled by hamstring and shoulder injuries while playing just 96 games and ending up with just 14 home runs and 58 RBIs? In addition to welcoming his first child, the muscle-bound O’Neill stayed in St. Louis much of the offseason while reworking his conditioning program to promote better health in the season ahead. Thus far, O’Neill has looked great in Spring Training and has hit the ball well. -- John Denton

Cubs: CF Cody Bellinger
After the Dodgers made the anticipated decision to cut ties with Bellinger this past offseason, the Cubs reeled him in with a one-year, $17.5 million contract to be their primary center fielder. Chicago is betting big on the 27-year-old Bellinger being a prime change-of-scenery candidate for a club looking to upgrade its defense up the middle and inject some power into the order. The question will be: which version of Bellinger do the Cubs get? He burst onto the scene across 2017-19, winning a Rookie of the Year Award ('17) and MVP Award ('19) while posting a .928 OPS and 144 OPS+ in that three-year span. Across 2020-22, Bellinger had a .648 OPS and 74 OPS+ with injury issues mixed in with the offensive woes. -- Jordan Bastian

Pirates: OF Travis Swaggerty
The last couple of seasons have been very rocky for Swaggerty. In 2021, he played in only 12 games due to injury. He made his Major League debut in '22, but played in just five games and spent most of the season with Triple-A Indianapolis, where he put up a solid, yet underwhelming .747 OPS across 107 games. The Pirates have a flurry of young talent that’s clamoring for a spot on the 40-man roster. Additionally, the Pirates will eventually need to clear a spot on the 40-man roster to make room for a backup catcher. Endy Rodriguez, the only other catcher on the 40-man roster, will begin the season in Triple-A. Swaggerty might be a former top-10 Draft pick, but the clock is ticking. -- Justice delos Santos

Reds: CF Nick Senzel
This is likely the most crucial season of Senzel’s career. Injuries have hampered each of his four big league seasons and with a .601 OPS last season, the 27-year-old didn’t show much power. After spending much of the season in a boot and scooter when his fractured big toe required surgery, Senzel still came to camp in very good shape. But to hold down the starting center field job, he will need to stay healthy and show some of the hitting prowess that made him the second overall pick in the 2016 Draft. -- Mark Sheldon

NL West

D-backs: LHP Madison Bumgarner
It’s not a matter of whether Bumgarner will be in the rotation come Opening Day -- general manager Mike Hazen said unequivocally that he would -- but last year’s struggles weighed on the prideful veteran and he would like to carry some good momentum into the regular season. Bumgarner tried numerous things last year to try and get on track and he doesn’t want to have to go through another year like 2022. -- Steve Gilbert

Dodgers: SS Gavin Lux
Lux had a solid season in 2022, posting a .745 OPS in 129 games, all while playing second base. This season, Lux’s role will continue to increase as he enters Spring Training as the Dodgers’ everyday shortstop, replacing the departed Trea Turner. Chris Taylor is also another player that could benefit from a strong camp, but all eyes will be on Lux and how he steps into his new -- and incredibly important -- role. -- Juan Toribio

Giants: C Joey Bart
The Giants have made it clear that nothing is guaranteed for Bart, who hasn’t developed as quickly as the club hoped when it took him with the No. 2 overall pick of the 2018 Draft. Long viewed as the heir apparent to Buster Posey, Bart now finds himself in a wide open competition with non-roster invitees Roberto Pérez and Austin Wynns and Rule 5 Draft pick Blake Sabol for the starting job behind the plate. To earn the spot, Bart will have to show that he can cut down on the strikeouts and improve his framing this spring. -- Maria Guardado

Padres: RF Fernando Tatis Jr.
There’s little Tatis must prove in the way of talent. When healthy, he’s one of the best players in baseball. But he also hasn’t played a game in 18 months. Tatis will be shaking off the effects of three surgeries -- two on his left wrist and another on his left shoulder. He also must adjust to a new position -- likely right field -- with the arrival of Xander Bogaerts at shortstop. On top of that, Tatis will be in camp amid an 80-game suspension for a positive PED test. He’s been contrite and forward-looking in his comments since the suspension. His teammates have welcomed him back into the fold with open arms. Still, it’s worth watching how Tatis reacclimates this spring. -- AJ Cassavell

Rockies: 3B/1B Elehuris Montero
The right-handed-hitting Montero has been on the spot since the Rockies acquired him from the Cardinals as part of the Nolan Arenado deal. In two Minor League seasons, Montero has hit 43 home runs. Last season, he appeared in 53 Major League games and hit .233 with six homers. However, he’ll need to show he’s made steps forward this spring. The Rockies are counting on him and several other players for starts since they want to give their mainstay players more days off than in the past. If Montero develops properly, his presence could allow the Rockies to give regular third baseman Ryan McMahon either days off or games at designated hitter, and Montero will help his cause by making strides at first base. -- Thomas Harding