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Kev Mahserejian's Bold Predictions For 2023 Fantasy Baseball

George Kirby - Fantasy Baseball Rankings, Draft Sleepers, Waiver Wire Pickups

Bold predictions can be the key to fantasy seasons. Predicting players who will outperform or underperform expectations by extreme amounts can win leagues. Bold predictions can also be entirely unhelpful, speculative thoughts that are just fun to consider.

At the end of the day, the BOLD factor of these articles should not take away from the analysis. Whether or not a player below reaches the heights that are claimed, the process that led to these calls is sound. There is plenty that goes into a breakout yearly and oftentimes the biggest factor is luck, particularly regarding health. Unfortunately, we only see results on our fantasy rosters and in comment sections.

Nevertheless, Kev Mahserejian has his set of five BOLD Predictions for the 2023 fantasy baseball season! If you have any questions or concerns, feel free to yell at him on Twitter (@RotoSurgeon).

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George Kirby Finishes As a Top-10 SP and Receives Cy Young Consideration

Kirby burst on the scene as a rookie SP in 2022 with fantastic numbers across the board. His 3.39 ERA was backed up by glowing peripherals like a 3.33 xFIP and 3.32 SIERA while showing a sturdy workload of 130 major league innings (156.2 IP total between the MLB and MiLB). Kirby pitched at least six IP in 11 of 25 starts and is likely to repeat heavy per-game workloads thanks to his ability to throw strikes and get through innings quickly.

Kirby was so good prior to his call-up that he never cracked double-digit outings at any level of the minor leagues in a given year due to promotions. He dealt with the misfortune of a COVID season interrupting his first full year in the minors (2020), which led to a potentially delayed call-up. Nonetheless, he never amassed an ERA over 2.80 while dominating every minor league stop. Kirby looks to build on his rookie season and is showing signs already through Spring training with 15 strikeouts to just three walks in 11.2 IP.

The elite ceiling for Kirby is halfway to being unlocked as he already posted an obscene 4.1% walk rate last season. His 20.5% K-BB would have been tied for 10th among SPs (with Shane Bieber) if he met the IP qualifier. All Kirby has to do is tick up his 24% K rate near 30%. He's accomplished this at two separate levels of the minors and could reach it once more in 2023.


Jarred Kelenic *Finally* Breaks Out As a 25/15 Hitter Averaging .240

Let's keep the Mariners hype going for a bit! While many in the fantasy and real baseball community may be exhausted by Jarred Kelenic's never-ending discourse, there is good reason to believe he is set for a proper showing in 2023 beyond stellar Spring training numbers. For the sake of transparency, he is slashing .353/.389/.706 across 54 PA this spring and most importantly, his strikeout rate is merely 24%!

Kelenic's struggles in the MLB thus far may be tied to the shift and the extent by which it is employed relative to the minors. Across his first two seasons in the MiLB, Kelenic's pull rate dipped below 48.5% at just one of four stops (High-A in 2019). He was a comfortable hitter who almost fully adjusted his swing once in the majors.

Kelenic's pull rate in the MLB:

  • 2021: 40.5%
  • 2022: 31.1%

After an unlucky 2021 where Kelenic's xwOBA sat at a league average .310 and his actual wOBA was  .270, he overadjusted and made everything worse. His strikeout rate spiked from a reasonable (for a rookie) 28.1% to an egregious 33.1% in Year Two.

His quality of contact cratered and he came off as a lost cause completely in his head. Luckily, it seems that Kelenic has readjusted throughout Spring training thus far. While he may not be that top prospect anymore, he should still provide solid fantasy value in the late rounds.


Carlos Estevez Erases Concerns Over Shaky Spring and Earns 25+ Saves

Everyone remembers Carlos Estevez's gruesome start to Spring training with two walks, one hit, and three ER in 0.1 IP. While that was ugly and his ST as a whole is not ideal, Estevez is a veteran reliever with 302 MLB innings who's finally got a chance to pitch outside of the league's toughest home park. His career splits speak for themselves.

Carlos Estevez splits:

  • Home: 158.1 IP, 5.57 ERA, 4.60 xFIP, 1.54 WHIP, 12% K-BB
  • Away: 143.2 IP, 3.51 ERA, 4.12 xFIP, 1.26 WHIP, 17.8% K-BB

While Estevez is far from elite, he is still a quality reliever when pitching outside of Coors. It is also fair to state that his numbers away could have been impacted by the factor of travel from Denver to lower altitude states. This is more theoretical than anything for Estevez's sake but a fair notch to add on him as a buy.

Also, he does not face sturdy competition in the Angels' bullpen as they have not restocked outside of lefties like Aaron Loup and Matt Moore this offseason. While both are talented in their own right, it is the RHP who is typically favored for saves and Estevez is still in the mix to take over despite an unfavorable start to his Anaheim/Los Angeles career.


Whit Merrifield Returns to Form and Has 25+ SB En Route to a Top-Five 2B Season

Whit Merrifield has not posted a wRC+ above 90 since 2020. While his defense is still favorable to get him on the field, he has to hit at least competently to stay on it. Especially in a potent Toronto Blue Jays lineup that features MLB bats like Danny Jansen and Santiago Espinal on the bench.

Nevertheless, there is room for optimism in Merrifield's near future. He posted a quality slash line during his short stint in Toronto last season and it is fair to assume this was due to hitting in a lineup with multiple respected bats.

Whit Merrifield's 2022:

  • Kansas City: .240/.290/.352, 79 wRC+ (420 PA)
  • Toronto: .281/.323/.446, 119 wRC+ (130 PA)

The sample size in Toronto is small but at least Merrifield is carrying over some of the heat in Spring training with his .894 OPS. Merrifield is slated to hit toward the bottom of the order as the everyday second baseman for Toronto.

While this will not help his SB ceiling, he should still be someone that benefits from the new baserunning rules given that he is a season removed from 40 SB. Also, maybe he sees a power uptick as Rogers Centre renovated the outfield and moved the walls in to play more favorably for hitters.


Ryan Mountcastle Hits 30+ Home Runs and Finishes As a Top-Five 1B

Mountacastle is the regression darling of Statcast. He posted the highest differential between his expected wOBA and actual wOBA in 2022 and looks to bridge that gap this season. By xwOBA, Mountcastle was a top-20 hitter last year ahead of premier fantasy picks Kyle Tucker and Rafael Devers. His expected slugging percentage was 10th among all qualified hitters despite the actual results placing him 100th.

The biggest issue for Mountcastle in 2022 may have been the park change in Baltimore that adjusted the outfield walls to make Camden Yards more pitcher-friendly. While these confines may benefit the organization and their budding star pitchers, they hurt potential mainstay corner infielders like Mountcastle.

Regardless, we should see a jump in fantasy value if Mountcastle adjusts to his new home park in Year Two with the dimension changes. He already has the quality of contact and is slated to hit every day toward the top of the order behind an improving young roster.


Honorable Mention: Nolan Gorman Ends Up a Top-10 2B

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