ESPN15 Minute Read
We’re one week into the 2023 season and there’s been plenty of excitement from the impact of all the new rules to Aaron Judge continuing last season’s home run tear to the Rays being the only team still undefeated through seven days of play.
Is your favorite team off to a hot start — and, more importantly, will it last? Or, are you hoping the first week’s returns aren’t a glimpse of the future?
Our expert panel has combined to initially rank every team in baseball based on a combination of what we’ve seen so far and what we already knew going into the 162-game season. We also asked ESPN MLB experts David Schoenfield, Bradford Doolittle, Jesse Rogers, Alden Gonzalez and Joon Lee to weigh in with an observation for all 30 teams.
Preseason ranking: 3
The Braves take over our top spot despite losing Max Fried for at least a couple weeks after he tweaked his hamstring covering first base. Whether the Braves remain on top will depend heavily on rookie lefty starters Jared Shuster and Dylan Dodd, who both made their major league debuts. Shuster has been the bigger name prospect after the Braves drafted him in the first round in 2020. He had some jitters, walking five and striking out just one in 4⅔ innings against the Nationals on Sunday.
Dodd, a third-round pick in 2021, impressed in spring training and allowed one run in five innings against the Cardinals on Tuesday — with no walks and three strikeouts. He showed primarily a two-pitch repertoire with a four-seamer/slider combo (throwing just three changeups), and while he averaged just 92.2 mph with his fastball, he commanded it well. — Schoenfield
Preseason ranking: 1
Superstar slugger Yordan Alvarez is off to a slow start, managing just two homers, nine RBIs and a 1.058 OPS over the Astros’ first five games. Reportedly, Houston manager Dusty Baker says it’s too early to consider benching Alvarez but the situation bears watching. And since deadpan humor doesn’t always translate to the written word, we’ll be clear: That was an attempt at deadpan humor. Alvarez continues to be an absolute marvel at the plate.
Kyle Tucker homered twice during that span, and it’s a good thing that the Astros’ top producers are off to quick starts. The rest of the roster hit .215/.319/.227 with zero homers during those games, all at Minute Maid Park. Too early to worry? Of course. But we might as well worry anyway because with this franchise, we don’t get much of a chance to do so. — Doolittle
Preseason ranking: 4
The Yankees are short in their rotation with stars like Carlos Rodon and Luis Severino on the injured list, but the most excitement surrounds Anthony Volpe, the rookie shortstop who received the second-loudest ovation on Opening Day behind Judge. One of the team’s early season questions is Aaron Hicks, who continues to struggle after a poor performance in 2022. Yankees fans have heckled Hicks already, raising the question of if the two sides would be better off with a fresh start for the outfielder elsewhere. — Lee
Preseason ranking: 11
Tampa Bay won their first six games. At the center of the Rays’ World Series hopes is shortstop Wander Franco, who many baseball evaluators believe could be one of the game’s best players. Franco has been dominant through those six games, hitting .417 with two home runs, three doubles and seven RBIs. If his early season tear is a sign of things to come, the Rays will be one of the most dangerous teams in October. — Lee
Preseason ranking: 5
So many questions surrounded the Dodgers in the wake of an offseason in which they didn’t make any major moves and saw some integral pieces join other teams. So far, though, they’ve proven to be the same Dodgers who have dominated regular seasons for the past decade-plus. They outscored the division rival Rockies and D-backs by a combined 25 runs over their first six games. They’re getting contributions throughout the lineup — hello, Trayce Thompson — and their pitching staff has been excellent. At some point, they might need a full-time shortstop. Perhaps a center fielder, too. But they have more than enough for the time being. — Gonzalez
Preseason ranking: 2
Fernando Tatis Jr.’s return is still a couple weeks away, but the Padres’ new shortstop has made his presence felt immediately. Xander Bogaerts, signed to an 11-year, $280 million contract over the offseason, has begun his Padres tenure with a six-game hitting streak, during which he went 9 for22 with three home runs and three doubles. His 21 total bases were second most in franchise history for a player’s first six games with the team. The Padres need to get their starters healthy and at some point figure out their bullpen depth, but Bogaerts’ production has been a nice early sign. — Gonzalez
Preseason ranking: 6
It hasn’t exactly been smooth sailing for the Mets. Justin Verlander landed on the IL on Opening Day, and they go 3-1 against the Marlins, but then came back-to-back 10-0 and 9-0 losses to the Brewers — the first time they were shut out by 9-plus runs in consecutive games. Not even the ’62 Mets endured that. To make matters worse, Max Scherzer gave up three consecutive home runs in the second loss, the second time he’s allowed that in his career. Meanwhile, Brett Baty left a minor league game on Tuesday with a right thumb injury, the same thumb he had surgery on last season. — Schoenfield
Preseason ranking: 8
The 2023 season will prove to be an enormous test for Toronto’s young core. The group, led by Vladimir Guerrero Jr. and Bo Bichette, struggled to meet expectations in 2022, when many predicted the team might compete for a World Series title. This season marks a new opportunity for the group to fulfill its potential and for Jose Berrios and Yusei Kikuchi to record bounce-back seasons. — Lee
Preseason ranking: 14
With the Twins opening against the Royals and Marlins on the road, we might look back at Minnesota’s quick start as a function of the schedule. The revamped rotation allowed just three runs — combined — during its first turn through the schedule. Kenta Maeda was sharp in his first start since Aug. 21, 2021, but had to leave with what he called a tired arm. He’s expected to make his next start. As for the offense, it wasn’t as dynamic, but the Twins saw early glimpses of a possibly rejuvenated Joey Gallo, who slugged three homers and drove in seven runs in the first five games. Despite the rise in steals, Minnesota did not attempt one in its first five contests. — Doolittle
Preseason ranking: 12
With the Mets’ Edwin Diaz injured, Guardians closer Emmanuel Clase entered the season bearing the mantle of the best current stopper. His velocity has been down this season, though no one bothered with two perfect outings, striking out half the batters he faced in the process. Then he blew a save, allowing a shocking two-run homer to Oakland’s Seth Brown in a game Cleveland eventually won in extra innings.
Clase dialed it up to 99 mph on his cutter during the blown save appearance, but his velocity was still off of last season’s standard. His spin rates have been a little off as well. This is something to watch. — Doolittle
Preseason ranking: 9
The Cardinals had several players participate in the World Baseball Classic, so a fast start wasn’t expected. They will get their act together but what is a legitimate question is the starting pitching. Miles Mikolas pitched poorly in his first two starts, but he’s not the only one. Even after a few games, it’s jarring to see the Cardinals with the highest ERA among the league’s starters. — Rogers
Preseason ranking: 13
The Brewers dropped their first game and then went on a tear. The story of the first week is newcomer Brian Anderson and rookie Brice Turang. The former had three home runs in the first five games, while the latter went 5 for 10 in that span. Both have given a boost to an offense that has been lacking over the past few years. If the trend continues, the Brewers will be contenders in the National League Central. — Rogers
Texas overhauled its starting staff during the winter but it was the offense that generated headlines after scoring 27 runs in its first two games against the NL pennant-winning Phillies. The Rangers returned to Earth with two losses to the Orioles, but they remain an intriguing team. Jacob deGrom’s debut wasn’t great but he still showed he can be a dominant pitcher as long as he’s healthy. He followed that start with a six-inning outing against the Orioles, where he allowed two runs and struck out 11. The back end of the Rangers’ rotation already seems better than it was last year.
There’s no reason the Rangers and manager Bruce Bochy can’t contend for a wild card this season. Some unexpected performances — rookie Josh Jung is off to a good start — will help their cause. — Rogers
Preseason ranking: 10
Luis Castillo, who some picked to win the AL Cy Young Award, started with two scoreless starts and just three hits allowed in 11⅔ innings. It’s just two starts, but he’s been throwing his four-seamer more often — 44% of the time compared to 32% after joining the Mariners last season. Between his starts, however, the Mariners lost four in a row in front of disappointed home fans (which included big crowds over the weekend). In the team’s first five games, newcomers Teoscar Hernandez, Kolten Wong, AJ Pollock, Tommy La Stella and Cooper Hummel went a combined 3-for-50 with one RBI. But Hernandez and Pollock broke out Tuesday with two home runs apiece. — Schoenfield
Preseason ranking: 15
Anthony Rendon is nearing the midway point of the seven-year, $245 million contract he signed heading into the 2020 season, and it has been nothing short of a disaster. His first two full seasons in an Angels uniform saw him battle a litany of injuries and play in only 105 of a potential 324 games, while batting a paltry .235/.328/.381. The Angels, desperate to make the playoffs, were looking forward to a full season of Rendon joining Shohei Ohtani and Mike Trout atop their lineup this year. But Rendon confronted a fan in Oakland on the first night of the season and earned a four-game suspension because of it. He’ll return Saturday, and the Angels will hope for some positive contributions. — Gonzalez
Preseason ranking: 7
It wasn’t just the fact that the Phillies lost their first four games, but the ugly nature of the losses: 11-7 (blowing an early 5-0 lead) and 16-3 to the Rangers. It’s never a good sign when you’re using a position player to pitch in the second game of the season. Then came a 2-1 loss — securing a Rangers’ sweep — followed by an 8-1 setback to the Yankees before the Phillies finally won. It was just one trip through the rotation, but Aaron Nola, Zack Wheeler and Taijuan Walker combined to allow 14 runs in 12⅓ innings. Without the injured Rhys Hoskins, the early plan is to platoon Darick Hall and Alec Bohm at first base, with Hall starting against righties and Bohm against lefties. Bohm will also be at his regular third base. Brandon Marsh and Cristian Pache (acquired from the A’s) will platoon in center field. — Schoenfield
Preseason ranking: 18
On the happy end of the spectrum, closer Liam Hendriks surprised fans with a video message saying that he was close to finishing his last round of chemotherapy, which is treating the non-Hodgkin lymphoma he was diagnosed with during the offseason. There is no timetable for his return, but White Sox GM Rick Hahn said that there is a reason why Chicago didn’t place Hendriks on the 60-day IL when the season began.
The bad news: Injuries continue to haunt slugger Eloy Jimenez. This time, a bum hamstring landed Jimenez on the IL on Wednesday and he’s expected to be out for two to three weeks. Over the course of his young career, Jimenez has a 122 OPS+ and has averaged 36 homers and 108 RBIs per 162 games played. But he played in just 55 games in 2021 and 84 last season. While the White Sox lack depth overall, they have Jake Burger to be part of the Jimenez replacement strategy at DH. — Doolittle
Preseason ranking: 19
Boston earned exciting wins in its first series against the Orioles, but the three-game set against the Pirates illustrated what will be consistent struggles. While the Red Sox offense has looked potent — and might see Trevor Story return this season as he works diligently to rehab from Tommy John surgery — the pitching staff has struggled to keep pace, with Corey Kluber, Chris Sale, Tanner Houck and Nick Pivetta not looking sharp in their first starts. Garrett Whitlock, Brayan Bello and James Paxton are working their way back from injury, and Boston will need them to be successful if it doesn’t want to repeat its last-place division finish from 2022. — Lee
Preseason ranking: 17
Hope reigns supreme in Baltimore. Top pitching prospect Grayson Rodriguez made his major league debut on Wednesday — he gave up two runs on four hits while striking out five in five innings — marking an important point in Baltimore’s rebuilding plan. Meanwhile, catcher Adley Rutschman appears to be a potential MVP candidate early on, hitting the cover off the baseball. The Orioles also look like one of the potential beneficiaries of the new pickoff rules, with Cedric Mullins and Jorge Mateo each tallying four steals through the first six games. — Lee
Preseason ranking: 21
The D-backs earned a split of their season-opening six-game road trip with a furious rally against the Padres on Tuesday. And how they did it encapsulated what makes them a dangerous team — by working walks and becoming exceedingly aggressive on the bases. The D-backs fashioned the seventh-highest walk rate in the majors last season and finished as the best baserunning team, per FanGraphs. Those two traits, in addition to elite defense, make them a sneaky contender heading into 2023. Nobody embodies that better than Corbin Carroll, the Rookie of the Year front-runner who has already stolen three bases. — Gonzalez
Preseason ranking: 22
Anthony DeSclafani’s first start of the year was an encouraging one — six scoreless innings, with only three baserunners allowed — amid his offense’s seven-homer barrage against the White Sox on Monday. DeSclafani was a missing piece to the Giants’ rotation last season, making five starts before undergoing season-ending ankle surgery. If he can return to his production from 2021, when he fashioned a 3.17 ERA across 167⅔ innings, he will provide a major boost to a Giants rotation that lost Carlos Rodon during the offseason. — Gonzalez
Preseason ranking: 20
Losing three games in a row after taking the opener put Cubs fans in panic mode, but Chicago recovered nicely with a come-from-behind blowout win against the Reds on Tuesday. Dansby Swanson has been even better than advertised in the early going. He’s showing no signs of any pressure after signing for $177 million this winter. He’s a smooth 10 for 20 at the plate and playing even smoother defense at shortstop. Slow starts by newcomers Cody Bellinger and Eric Hosmer were somewhat erased in the hitter-friendly Great American Ballpark. — Rogers
Preseason ranking: 23
After uncharacteristically walking four batters in a no-decision in the season opener against the Mets, Sandy Alcantara bounced back to shut out the Twins 1-0 in his second start and fourth career shutout (in a game that lasted just 1 hour and 57 minutes). It’s no surprise that Alcantara would throw the season’s first complete game, given that he led the majors in complete games and innings last season. He threw just 100 pitches Tuesday. The offense has struggled, scoring just 10 runs in the team’s first six games (hitting .154 with runners in scoring position). — Schoenfield
Preseason ranking: 28
Cincinnati got an unexpected early burst, hitting 10 home runs in its first five games with 29-year-old journeyman Jason Vosler leading the way with three. That’s nearly halfway to his career total of seven entering the season. He wasn’t the only one doing damage, as seven different Reds smacked homers in those five games. It remains to be seen if their pitching can keep them close in the division race but winning three of their first five games is better than last season, when they won three of their first 25. — Rogers
Preseason ranking: 25
Bryan Reynolds is playing as if he wants a new contract. Through Wednesday’s games, he leads the majors with four home runs and has a 1.444 OPS. Though Pittsburgh has refused to trade him, that could change this summer, if (or when) the Pirates fall out of the playoff race. Until then, the sides are likely to keep negotiating. He looks as good at the plate as he ever has. — Rogers
Preseason ranking: 27
It’s only six games, of course, but the Rockies probably can’t help but be encouraged by the prospect of seeing C.J. Cron and Kris Bryant in the same lineup for a full season. Cron and Bryant, the latter of whom was limited to only 42 games in his first season with Colorado, slashed a combined .319/.373/.596 in their first 51 plate appearances and can look forward to spending time at Coors Field. The Rockies have finished 12th in the majors in slugging in each of the past two years despite spending half their time in the sport’s best hitting environment. They will need to do better if they hope to have a chance at the postseason. — Gonzalez
Preseason ranking: 24
Although the Royals have featured some crisp run prevention in the early going, a lack of offensive production has kept that success to a minimum. No one in the rotation allowed more than two runs in an outing. Aroldis Chapman has been sharp out of the bullpen, adding back a couple of ticks from last year’s velocity. But the offense hasn’t produced. And what little production there has been has come from veterans who aren’t really building blocks, like Franmil Reyes and Matt Duffy. The young quartet of M.J. Melendez, Vinnie Pasquantino, Michael Massey and Bobby Witt Jr. hit a combined .136/.239/.237 over the Royals’ first five games. — Doolittle
Preseason ranking: 26
Ordinarily, you don’t want to bury a team after a handful of early games. And we won’t do that to the Tigers, either, especially since they have yet to play at home. But starting a season on the road against the Rays and Astros is a chore for any team. Detroit actually played defending champion Houston tough, so we won’t bury the Tigers yet.
On the other hand, their early performances have more or less dovetailed with preseason expectations. Detroit has struggled in every category — offense, starting pitching, relief pitching. Even baserunning, where the Tigers have failed to catch the base-stealing wave washing over the majors. Still, it’s not all bad news. Spencer Torkelson and Riley Greene have swung the bats well in the early going despite facing some of the toughest pitching in the majors. Matt Manning had a decent first outing. And the Tigers finally get to play at home Thursday. — Doolittle
Preseason ranking: 29
The biggest story around the A’s centers around their future in Oakland. Attendance has been embarrassingly low, with just 3,407 fans showing up Tuesday at the RingCentral Coliseum, which seats about 47,000 fans for baseball games. According to JJ Cooper of Baseball America, 11 teams in Triple-A had higher attendance than the Athletics on April 4. The dynamic in Oakland has gotten to the point where the president of the Las Vegas Aviators, Oakland’s Triple-A affiliate, has publicly stated that the team has a better chance if it moves out of the Bay Area. — Lee
Preseason ranking: 30
Opening against the Braves and Rays isn’t the best way to a good start and sure enough the Nationals have struggled. On the bright side: MacKenzie Gore allowed just one run in 5⅓ innings to beat the Braves. On the rough side: Josiah Gray allowed five runs, including three home runs, in five innings against the Braves. Gray led the majors with 38 home runs allowed last season in 148 innings. The home runs came on two cutters and a slider. The cutter is a new pitch for Gray, who is looking to find another pitch that moves more than his four-seamer (which batters slugged .742 against in 2022). — Schoenfield