Can these September '22 hitting stars keep it up in '23?

January 15th, 2023

While it’s important not to put too much stock into any one month on the baseball calendar, it’s hard not to pay closer attention when a player ends a season on a high note.

This is especially true when it’s a young player looking to establish himself or a previously productive veteran who hasn't had the year we expected. A strong final month creates optimism and builds anticipation for what the player might do the next year.

As we await the 2023 season, here are 10 intriguing hitters who excelled down the stretch in 2022.

, UTL, Yankees
Although he was almost exclusively an infielder in the Minors, Cabrera played all over the diamond after the Yankees called him up in August 2022. Most of his playing time came in right field, where he had 9 defensive runs saved -- 5 alone with his arm -- in just north of 200 innings. The 23-year-old’s bat also heated up late in the year, as he recorded a .304 average with six homers, 11 walks and a .984 OPS in his final 23 games. After the Yanks lost to the White Sox in free agency, the door is open for Cabrera to grab the left field job this spring.

, OF, D-backs
A potential five-tool star, Carroll joined the D-backs last August and showcased his dynamic skill set over 32 games for Arizona. MLB Pipeline’s No. 3 overall prospect not only turned heads with his legs (MLB-leading 30.7 ft./sec. average sprint speed) and glove (5 outs above average) but also made his mark with the bat, collecting 15 extra-base hits (four homers) and posting a 133 OPS+ over 115 plate appearances. He’ll enter 2023 as one of the leading contenders for the NL Rookie of the Year Award.

, SS, Pirates
Everything about Cruz is extreme, from his power to his speed to his arm strength. Although he’s played fewer than 100 career games, he already owns the records for the hardest-hit ball (122.4 mph) and the fastest infield assist (97.8 mph) under Statcast tracking (since 2015), and his barrel rate and sprint speed both ranked in the 96th percentile or higher last season. Even his height -- he’s a 6-foot-7 shortstop -- is extreme. Unfortunately, this also applies to his penchant for whiffing, which appears to be the one thing standing in the way of Cruz becoming a superstar. He did take a step toward curtailing that issue down the stretch in 2022, however, dramatically lowering his chase rate and making more contact on swings in the strike zone. He ended up posting a .288/.359/.525 slash with a 0.31 BB/K ratio in September/October, an improvement from .202/.257/.409 with a 0.18 BB/K through the end of August. The talented 24-year-old could have big things in store for 2023.

, 3B/DH, Giants
Despite ranking third among qualifiers in hard-hit rate -- behind only AL MVP and third-place finisher -- and ninth in barrel rate last season, Davis spent much of 2022 floundering at the plate as a member of the Mets (.683 OPS). However, he flourished after a summer trade to the Giants, recording eight homers and an .857 OPS over 49 games with San Francisco, including an .849 OPS in September/October. The 29-year-old has a lot of swing and miss in his game, but if he continues to produce quality contact at such an elite level, he should look more like the guy we saw with the Giants than the one we saw with the Mets last year. San Francisco is counting on that after missing out on Judge and walking away from a deal with due to concerns about his physical.

, OF, Marlins
Between multiple stints in the Minors, De La Cruz was one of last season’s unluckiest hitters. However, the tide started to turn late in the season, as he put up a .388/.419/.718 slash with six homers, 10 doubles and 22 RBIs in his final 25 games. On the year, the outfielder ranked in the 90th percentile or better in xBA (96th), xSLG (94th) and xwOBA (90th), setting himself up to vie for regular playing time on a Marlins club that has been perennially starved for offense since the end of the // era.

, OF, Guardians
Before Gonzalez made a name for himself with multiple walk-off hits during the postseason -- including a series-ending homer in the AL Wild Card Series against the Rays -- he helped the Guardians clinch the AL Central title with a stellar stretch run. The rookie outfielder recorded a .312 batting average with six homers and an .840 OPS after the calendar flipped to September, striking out in just 15.9% of his plate appearances during that span despite an aggressive approach at the dish. He also flashed one of the strongest arms in baseball, albeit as part of an overall defensive performance that left a lot to be desired (-6 OAA). Gonzalez will now look to cement himself as Cleveland’s long-term answer in right field, something the franchise hasn’t had since ’s tenure.

, C, Blue Jays
Jansen’s offense was supposed to be his calling card back when he was one of the top catching prospects in baseball, but he had a .668 OPS and 80 OPS+ over his first 181 games at the big league level. His bat finally showed up late in the 2021 season, and while he battled multiple injuries last year, including a left oblique strain and fractured finger, he was able to set career highs in most categories on the strength of a .344/.431/.634 slash with six homers and nine doubles over his final 31 games. Jansen was reportedly available in a trade this offseason, but the Blue Jays ultimately opted to deal young backstop instead, pairing him with in a trade with the D-backs for .

, 1B/OF, Nationals
There weren’t many reasons to pay attention to the Nats last season, especially after they traded  to the Padres, but this was one of them. After a lengthy Minor League career that included the 2018 International League MVP Award, plus a brief stop in Japan, the Mexican-born Meneses finally made his MLB debut at the age of 30 last August. He hit safely in 21 of his first 23 games and didn’t slow down from there, mashing his way to a .318/.366/.543 slash with seven homers and 23 RBIs over 32 games in September/October. The rebuilding Nationals will likely give him a long look in 2023 to find out if he’s for real.

, 2B, Blue Jays
Merrifield’s long-running tenure with the Royals ended with a whimper when he was dealt to the Blue Jays for two low-level prospects prior to the 2022 Trade Deadline. Last season was the worst of the veteran’s career by most metrics, though he did show positive signs late in the year, hitting .400 with four homers and a 1.133 OPS over his final 18 games. It will be interesting to see if Merrifield, who had only six dingers across 95 games with Kansas City prior to the trade, can increase his power production over a full season with Rogers Centre as his home park rather than homer-suppressing Kauffman Stadium.

, 1B, Royals
All Pasquantino has done is rake since the Royals selected him with an 11th-round pick in the 2019 MLB Draft, and his abbreviated rookie season was no exception. After a slow start largely caused by rotten batted-ball luck, Pasquantino was incredible down the stretch, producing five homers and a .992 OPS in August and returning from an IL stint to post a .361/.449/.482 slash in September/October. The man known as the “Italian Nightmare” showed a superb combination of power, plate discipline and contact ability in his first taste of MLB action, leading to an xwOBA of .374 that would have ranked 10th in MLB if he had enough plate appearances to qualify.