One player from each team who took a big step forward in ’23

One player from each team who took a big step forward in ’23

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As we near the end of the regular season, every team will begin taking stock of players who stood out in 2023, particularly those who took a big step forward in their development.

From hyped prospects just getting their bearings at the Major League level to young players who, whether due to injury or underperformance, had a lot to prove coming into this season, here’s a look at one player from each team who took a significant stride forward in ’23.

Blue Jays: 2B/LF Davis Schneider
When the season started, Schneider wasn’t even on our list of the Top 30 Blue Jays prospects. He put on a show in Triple-A, though, and has turned that into one of the best starts in Blue Jays history. The fan favorite is batting .353 with a 1.257 OPS over 26 games and put this lineup on his back at times when Bo Bichette was on the injured list. With multiple potential openings on their 2024 roster, the emergence of Schneider has been like winning the lottery for the Blue Jays. He’s already earned the inside track on an everyday role. — Keegan Matheson

Orioles: RHP Grayson Rodriguez
It was a rollercoaster start to the season for Rodriguez, who entered the 2023 campaign as Baltimore’s top pitching prospect. He didn’t make the big league team out of Spring Training, but he was called up to start the sixth game of the season due to an injury to right-hander Kyle Bradish. In his first stint in the Majors, Rodriguez posted a 7.35 ERA over 10 starts, prompting the O’s to send him back to Triple-A Norfolk. Since returning July 17, the 23-year-old righty has been a different pitcher, recording a 2.95 ERA in 10 outings. The recent performances have been an encouraging sign that he can develop into the long-term staff ace the Orioles need. — Jake Rill

Rays: INF Isaac Paredes
Paredes was a useful player for the Rays last year, clubbing 20 homers in 111 games after being acquired in a Spring Training trade for Austin Meadows. But he has taken a significant step forward this season, emerging as one of the game’s most productive hitters and the Rays’ top run producer. Blending the pull-side home run power that helped him break out last season with the two-strike approach that made him a high-average/on-base threat in the Minors, Paredes is batting .254/.355/.501 with a team-leading 29 homers and 89 RBIs as the club’s primary third baseman. Oh, and he’s still only 24 years old. — Adam Berry

Red Sox: 1B Triston Casas
While starting pitcher Brayan Bello could also have easily earned this distinction, the in-season improvement of Casas has been something to behold for the Red Sox. The AL Rookie of of the Year Award candidate has had quite the resurgence after a slow start. In his first 174 at-bats after the All-Star break, Casas had a batting line of .322/.419/.632 with 15 homers and 37 RBIs. He looks poised to be a cornerstone of the Boston batting order for many years to come. — Ian Browne

Yankees: RHP Clarke Schmidt
Schmidt has been one of the few Yankees to outperform expectations this year, having rounded into form as a reliable big league starter. After a bumpy beginning, Schmidt found his groove in late May, going 8-4 with a 3.84 ERA in 20 games (19 starts) after May 19. He has already hit a career high in innings pitched (140 2/3), and Schmidt’s 23 starts with three or fewer runs allowed are tied for the third-most in the AL. — Bryan Hoch

Guardians: RHP Tanner Bibee
There was a lot of attention on top prospect Gavin Williams, and rightfully so. His triple-digit heater stole the show at Minor League camp in 2022. When he pitched to a 1.96 ERA in 25 Minor League starts after that, it was hard to not have an eye on him coming into ’23. But Bibee has emerged as one of the most exciting arms for Cleveland’s future. His 3.03 ERA with 137 strikeouts in 136 2/3 innings has vaulted him into the AL Rookie of the Year conversation. And while the organization expected all the young hurlers to start to slow down at this point in the season, Bibee has looked just as sharp — if not more — as his innings racked up than he was earlier in the season. This season may be disappointing for the Guardians as a whole, but the club has quickly learned that its rotation is in good hands for the foreseeable future. — Mandy Bell

Royals: SS Bobby Witt Jr.
A lot has been made, and rightfully so, about Witt’s breakout offensive season. He has an .811 OPS in his second year in the big leagues. He’s stolen 44 bases. If he hits two home runs, he’ll become the first Royal ever with a 30-homer, 30-stolen base season. But Witt’s defense has taken a massive step forward, too. His 13 Outs Above Average entering Wednesday were fourth-most among all position players. Witt went from -9 OAA at shortstop in his rookie season to 13 this year; his fielding run value went from -8 in 2022 to +10 in ’23. Witt is becoming the type of franchise player the Royals believed they had — and he’s only 23 years old. — Anne Rogers

Tigers: OF Kerry Carpenter
It feels like years ago now that Carpenter was battling for a roster spot in Spring Training, trying to prove he could stick in the Majors. Not only is the former 19th-round Draft pick an everyday player these days, he’s one of the key cogs of Detroit’s lineup going forward with a 20-homer season in his first full year in the big leagues. Not only has the 26-year-old shown that his prodigious Minor League power is legit, he has demonstrated an ability to adjust to how Major League pitchers attack him, hitting to the opposite field effectively, cutting his strikeout rate and batting well over .300 since the All-Star break. As president of baseball operations Scott Harris looks for ways to upgrade the offense, he’s a huge part of the solution. — Jason Beck

Twins: 3B Royce Lewis
Finally. Lewis and the Twins have waited too long for this breakout, the result of the former No. 1 overall pick finally being healthy after two consecutive years almost totally lost to torn ACLs. The organization had little idea what to expect from Lewis after the pandemic-shortened 2020 season, and the injuries cost him a huge chunk of his development in the upper Minors. But here he is, serving as the focal point of the Twins’ lineup as they surge toward the playoffs. He’s hitting grand slams at a ridiculous pace, his numbers in clutch situations and with runners in scoring position are through the roof, and he’s also the focal point of the emotion and energy in Minnesota’s clubhouse. — Do Hyoung-Park

White Sox: CF Luis Robert Jr.
Robert Jr. already was a good player coming into this season. Make that a very good player. But after a slow April, the 26-year-old has elevated his game to superstar level. Robert Jr. is the only player in franchise history and the only player in the Major Leagues this year to record 35-plus doubles, 35-plus home runs, 70-plus RBIs, 80-plus runs scored and 15-plus stolen bases. Chris Getz, the new White Sox general manager, has stated no White Sox player is untouchable as they try to bounce back from another rough campaign, but Robert Jr. seems to be the perfect five-tool talent to build around.– Scott Merkin

Angels: OF Mickey Moniak
Moniak started the season at Triple-A Salt Lake despite a strong showing during Spring Training, and he kept it rolling in the Minors before he was called up in mid-May. Moniak, the No. 1 overall pick in the 2016 Draft, made the most of his opportunity and is hitting .280/.307/.490 with 13 homers, 21 doubles and 43 RBIs in 83 games this season. He was acquired at last year’s Trade Deadline for right-hander Noah Syndergaard and has now put himself in a good spot to be a big part of the outfield mix for the Angels next season. — Rhett Bollinger

Astros: C Yainer Diaz
Diaz, acquired in a trade with Cleveland in July 2021, became the seventh Astros rookie to reach 20 homers in a season, including 12 from the catcher position. While playing as the backup to veteran Martín Maldonado, he emerged as an offensive force, hitting .286 with 21 homers, 56 RBIs and an .847 OPS in 95 games. Behind the plate, he ranks among Major League leaders in Caught Stealing Outs Above Average, Catcher Blocks Above Average and pop time, while throwing out 32 percent of base-stealers. The Astros have found their catcher of the future. — Brian McTaggart

Athletics: 2B Zack Gelof
Gelof has been nothing short of a revelation since his mid-July debut. He wasted no time in assuming the everyday duties at second base and making his mark on franchise history, becoming the fifth A’s rookie to reach 10 homers and 10 steals, among other feats. Recently named the AL Rookie of the Month after slashing .286/.350/.562 with eight doubles and seven homers in August, Gelof has emerged as a leader on and off the field for a rebuilding Oakland club. — Sonja Chen

Mariners: RHP Bryce Miller / RHP Bryan Woo
This is a two-fer, given the massive voids the Mariners have filled and their rookie status. First it was Miller, who was injected into Seattle’s rotation after Robbie Ray underwent season-ending flexor tendon and Tommy John surgeries. Then it was Woo, who took over for Marco Gonzales, who was sidelined in June with a nerve issue in his pitching forearm that eventually required season-ending surgery. Both have not only filled in formidably, but they’ve also been vital to Seattle thrusting into the postseason picture. — Daniel Kramer

Rangers: CF Leody Taveras
Earlier this season, it seemed like the real Taveras — the one who was once the Rangers’ top prospect in 2020 — had finally arrived at the big league level. Through the end of May, he was hitting .310/.369/.434 with a .803 OPS (123 OPS+) in 41 games. He was unable to sustain that pace, and even struggled to a .194 average in August, but he’s held his own in a powerful Rangers lineup. In 11 September games, he’s hitting .375, breaking free of the slump that hampered him last month. He’s done everything you could ask from a nine-hole hitter and figures to be a vital part of Texas’ formula for success over the next few years. — Kennedi Landry

Braves: RHP Bryce Elder
Elder began the season as Triple-A Gwinnett’s Opening Day starter. He will exit the season with his first All-Star selection and likely a top-10 ERA finish among NL pitchers. His success during his first full big league season significantly aided the Braves while they spent three months without Max Fried and Kyle Wright. — Mark Bowman

Marlins: LHP Andrew Nardi
Nardi’s first stint with Miami was a forgettable one in 2022, as he posted a 9.83 ERA and a 9.8 walks-per-nine-innings rate. The 25-year-old has reversed that in ’23 to become one of the best high-leverage relievers in the game, permitting an MLB-low 11.1% of inherited runners to score and tallying elite marks for advanced metrics like hard-hit rate (97th percentile) with his four-seamer/slider combination. — Christina De Nicola

Mets: INF Ronny Mauricio
The year began with a hot spring for Mauricio, who nonetheless had to wait until September to earn his first call-up. When he did, he immediately made the most of his opportunity, smoking a 117.3 mph double in his first plate appearance and hitting safely in eight of his first 10 games. Next spring, Mauricio should be on the inside of the Mets’ roster bubble, with the only question being his long-term defensive position — perhaps second base, perhaps third, but most likely a combination of those and other spots. — Anthony DiComo

Nationals: SS CJ Abrams
In his first full season in the Majors, the 22-year-old Abrams has shown growth in all areas of his game. Manager Dave Martinez recently lauded the progress he has made on defense, the result of a dedicated routine. He has been thriving at the plate after being moved to the leadoff spot, slugging over .450 with 11 home runs since then. That also has translated to being a threat on the basepaths — he has 41 stolen bases on the season. — Jessica Camerato

Phillies: CF Johan Rojas
Rojas has played in only 46 games this season, but the rookie has made a tremendous impact. He entered Wednesday ranked 9th on the team with 1.1 FanGraphs WAR. How? While Rojas has been a slightly below average offensive player, based on OPS+, he has been one of the best defenders in baseball. Entering Wednesday, the center fielder was not only ranked third on the Phillies in Outs Above Average (5), his success rate added (six percent) was tied for fourth among all center fielders. — Todd Zolecki

Brewers: C William Contreras
We’ll see what the future holds for speedy A’s outfielder Esteury Ruiz, but for now, the three-team trade that sent Ruiz to the A’s and landed Contreras and reliever Joel Payamps in Milwaukee looks like an absolute steal for the Brewers. Besides being every bit the offensive upgrade at catcher the Brewers were hoping for, Contreras took the defensive step forward he was so adamant about in Spring Training, ranking among Statcast’s top 10 in Catcher Framing Runs and catcher’s Caught Stealing Above Average. He’s under club control for four more years. — Adam McCalvy

Cardinals: Nolan Gorman
When the Cardinals’ top rookie struggled down the stretch last season, some tended to lower Gorman’s potential as a future star. However, following a winter of work on better understanding how to get to elevated pitches, Gorman responded in a big way. After a recent homer binge where he hit three long balls in a two-game stretch, he leads the Cardinals in homers with 27. Also, he’s had five multi-homer games. Gorman’s done all that in just 119 games. Taking care of his balky back could allow him to play more and likely smash more long balls. — John Denton

Cubs: LHP Justin Steele
No one has been more important to the Cubs’ rotation this season than Steele, who finds himself in the thick of the NL Cy Young Award race with a handful of starts to go. Steele was a fifth-round pick by Chicago in the 2014 Draft and injury setbacks threatened to derail his career in the Minors. In his third MLB season this year, the 28-year-old lefty has blown by career highs in workload, while going 16-3 with an MLB-low 2.49 ERA. Without Steele, the Cubs probably are not in this playoff chase. And now they might have an ace to build around for the next several seasons. — Jordan Bastian

Pirates: INF Liover Peguero
Following a disappointing 2022 season, Peguero repeated at Double-A instead of moving to Triple-A Indianapolis. After committing 31 errors, questions arose regarding whether Peguero could stick at shortstop. Despite the setbacks, Peguero looks the part of an everyday starting second baseman to start alongside shortstop Oneil Cruz. In addition to hitting seven home runs in 45 games for the Pirates this season, Peguero has played solid defense on the middle infield. — Justice Delos Santos

Reds: LHP Andrew Abbott
With the way he’s pitched since his promotion, it’s hard to believe that Abbott began the year with Double-A Louisville. The Reds southpaw opened his MLB career with five quality starts in six tries, the last of which was a 7 2/3-inning, one-run performance during which Abbott fanned 12 to establish himself as a rotation leader. He’s also held opponents to a .130/.196/.283 slash line in high-leverage situations, delivering Cincinnati exactly what’s needed during a crucial time of year. — Dawn Klemish

D-backs: C Gabriel Moreno
The D-backs felt good about acquiring the unproven Moreno in a trade last offseason, but it’s hard to believe they could have expected him to be this good behind the plate. In his first full season in the big leagues, Moreno leads all backstops in catcher’s Caught Stealing Above Average, which is the number of extra runners caught trying to steal compared to the expectation of an average catcher. He’s also contributed at the plate with a .740 OPS. — Steve Gilbert

Dodgers: RHP Ryan Pepiot
Pepiot has been a top pitching prospect for a few years now and he’s starting to show why in 2023. The 25-year-old right-hander missed the first four months of the season after suffering an oblique injury the last weekend of Spring Training. But since returning, Pepiot has taken full advantage of his opportunity. With a more conscious effort to limit walks, which hurt him last season, Pepiot has posted a 2.00 ERA over five appearances this season, giving him a legitimate chance to make the postseason roster. — Juan Toribio

Giants: C Patrick Bailey
The Giants held a four-way catching competition between Joey Bart, Roberto Pérez, Austin Wynns and Blake Sabol during Spring Training, but Bailey ended up overtaking them all after being called up to the Majors in May. The 24-year-old switch-hitter has slowed down at the plate this month, but he’s already flashing Gold Glove potential and entered Wednesday leading all Major League backstops with 14 Catcher Framing Runs in 2023.

Padres: IF Ha-Seong Kim
You probably know that Ronald Acuña Jr. and Mookie Betts are staging an epic MVP race. You probably know that Matt Olson and Freddie Freeman are right behind them. But guess who entered Wednesday ranked fifth in the NL in Baseball Reference WAR? It’s Kim, who has been one of very few bright spots for the underperforming Padres this season. Kim has developed into an elite leadoff man, ranking second in pitches per plate appearance while reaching base at a .358 clip with 35 steals. Defensively, the Padres believe there’s no one better. Kim has thrived wherever he’s been needed this season — mostly at second, but also at short and third while his teammates have suffered injuries. — AJ Cassavell

Rockies: OF Nolan Jones
Jones didn’t make his Rockies debut until May 26, and the first couple of weeks he played in the corner infield more than the outfield. But all the physical tools that led the Rockies to obtain him from the Guardians — for whom he played briefly last season — began showing up, and now Jones is a factor in NL Rookie of the Year voting. Jones his batting .275 with 16 home runs and an .866 OPS. He also has 15 outfield assists, including a Rockies-Statcast-record 102.7 mph throw for an out at the plate against the Cubs on Monday. — Thomas Harding

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