Do not look now, but the 2023 MLB season is less than 100 days away. Spring training games in the Cactus League will start on February 24th, while the Grapefruit League will start a day later. In anticipation of the March 30th opening day, we will take a look at a few players looking to bounce back from either disappointing or dismal 2022 campaigns.
Jesse Winker, Milwaukee Brewers
At his best, Jesse Winker is a left-handed hitter who hits best against right-handers. In his last season with Cincinnati, he hit .346 with 21 of his 24 home runs and 56 of his 71 RBIs against right-handers. When the Seattle Mariners traded for him and Eugenio Suarez before last season, they were looking for more of his hitting prowess. The problem is that they did not get that in 2022. After averaging a 90+ exit velocity in 2020-21, Winker’s average velocity dropped to 87.7 last season, according to Baseball Savant. As a result, his hard-hit percentage also dropped significantly down to 34.3%, nearly seven points lower than his career average of 41%. Overall, he only hit .219/.344/.344 with 14 home runs and 53 RBIs for the Mariners, missing the postseason with a neck injury.
Winker is now in Milwaukee thanks to a November trade, sending Kolten Wong to Seattle. The Brewers finished below the league average in batting average and hits while finishing above average in runs thanks to their 219 home runs, second in the National League. Winker bouncing back at the plate is imperative, as he does not provide great defense (-10 outs above average in 2022) or speed (ranked in the 12th percentile in sprint speed).
Brandon Lowe, Tampa Bay Rays
The Rays may have won 86 games and made the playoffs last season, but their offense was not great. The offense fell from 5.3 runs per game in 2021 down to 4.1 last year. A big part of the decline was that Brandon Lowe was not available. Lowe had a career year in 2021, hitting 39 home runs and 99 RBIs with a 140 OPS+. However last year, he was limited to just 65 games due to a back injury.
Even when Lowe was in the lineup, he was not having his greatest season. His batting average was down to .221, in part due to a 38.9% hard-hit percentage, the first year where he finished under 40%. His strikeout rate was also up to 27.7%, up from his career 22.1% average. The Rays have been an above-average offense statistically when Lowe was healthy in 2020 and 2021. For the Rays to be the playoff contenders we have seen them be at times, Brandon Lowe has to be healthy and productive at second base.
Ian Anderson, Atlanta Braves
On paper, the 2023 Atlanta Braves do not have many holes on the roster. There is power throughout the lineup, 1-9. They acquired and then re-signed Sean Murphy, one of the hottest names on the trade market. And their pitching staff is deep. There will be hotly contested with Mike Soroka, who is back after two Achilles injuries. Then there is 24-year-old Ian Anderson.
After two promising seasons in 2020-21, Anderson hit a wall last year. His 5.00 ERA is by far the worst in his young career. His strikeouts per nine innings were down, and his walks per nine were up to 4.4 a game. Anderson was even optioned to Triple-A in August before being shut down with an injury while in Gwinnett.
Anderson now enters a battle for the fifth spot in the rotation, while the loser likely goes to the bullpen. For Anderson to have a bounce-back season in 2023, he just has to find his command again.