Welcome Back to Baseball
Though America’s pastime remains the game we all know and love, the 2023 MLB season will bring some of the most significant changes to the sport in modern memory. A few key rule changes will drastically change how fans experience baseball — a strict pitch clock will speed the game up, larger bases will induce more stealing, and a ban on infield shifts will force teams to adjust their defense on the fly.
That’s not to mention this offseason’s astonishingly lucrative free agency period or the new kids on the block with sky-high expectations. Before the first pitch of the year, we’re looking at 2023’s rookie class and highlighting the highest-profile players on new teams.
Getting it Right
Ever wondered how the Topps team ensures that every player appears in the right uniform in his first season on a new team? The answer is that it depends on the product.
For Series 1, the early timeline (the set is released in February) means that the Topps team has to make a lot of educated guesses. Topps Editor Keith Andrews says he generally tries to delay the inclusion of any player who seems likely to switch teams. From there, the solution is pretty easy — just put them in Series 2.
2023 Topps Series 1
Andrews said New York Yankees slugger Aaron Judge presented a particular challenge this past offseason. His record-breaking 2022 season merited inclusion in Series 1, but nobody knew whether he’d return to the Yankees or accept a deal elsewhere. Without any real insight, Andrews and his team took a chance and included him in Series 1. Of course, Judge returned to the Bronx in the end, and all turned out fine.
For Big League Baseball, Topps Brand Manager Aaron Abrams said that the design team has more flexibility to retouch photos. “We’re working on a different timeline (than Series 1), so we’re able to get everyone in their current uniform,” Abrams said.
As long as the signing or trade occurs within a few months of release, Topps’ pre-press team can edit the image to show the player in his new jersey. Shortstop Trea Turner, for example, appears in Big League Baseball as a Phillie.
2023 Topps Big League Baseball
Why don’t we meet some of those team changers and new rookies on the scene? Here are the newcomers that baseball fans should watch this year.
Same Faces, New Places
SS Trea Turner, Philadelphia Phillies
The Phillies made a surprise run from the Wild Card round to the World Series in 2022, but they’re facing an uphill battle heading into 2023. Star outfielder Bryce Harper isn’t expected back from Tommy John surgery until at least June, while first baseman Rhys Hoskins is likely out for the year with a torn ACL. They’ll need everything they can get from Turner, the biggest acquisition in a free agency period loaded with eye-popping contracts. The home run leader at the World Baseball Classic, Turner has pop at the plate, fields his position well, and runs the bases with the best of them.
SS Xander Bogaerts, San Diego Padres
How did the Padres address the fact that they were adding shortstop Fernando Tatis Jr. to a lineup that already had a capable incumbent in Ha-Seong Kim? By signing yet another shortstop, of course. Though the Bogaerts signing will require a few players to shift around the field, it also solidifies the starting nine with the highest potential in the MLB. He begins an 11-year contract on the wrong side of 30, but Bogaerts is a strong hitter and remains capable in the field.
SP Jacob DeGrom, Texas Rangers
The recipient of the biggest free agent contract given to a pitcher in 2022, Jacob DeGrom, could make the Rangers front office look like geniuses… if he can only stay on the field. After dropping nearly a billion dollars on free agents over the past two offseasons, the Rangers are trying desperately to compete in the AL West gauntlet. DeGrom’s overpowering stuff could help that fight.
Meet the Top Rookies
3B Gunnar Henderson, Baltimore Orioles
Now that teammate Adley Rutschman is officially a second-year player, Orioles third baseman Gunnar Henderson is the consensus top prospect in baseball. The 21-year-old was called up for the first time after rosters expanded at the end of last year, and he’s impressed enough in his brief MLB action to earn the starting job going into the season. In 34 games in 2022, Henderson posted a 123 OPS+, slugging four home runs and exhibiting defensive flexibility as he played three positions around the infield.
LF Corbin Carroll, Arizona Diamondbacks
Corbin Carroll can hit for contact and power; he’s smooth in the field, and his arm is above average. But none of those are the main reason you should know Carroll’s name: he can fly.
The Diamondbacks starting left fielder had the best average sprint speed in the game last year. With larger bases and pitchers limited in their pickoff opportunities, Carroll is liable to have a field day on the base paths. He can play at any outfield spot and covers plenty of ground no matter where he’s positioned. There’s an exciting youth movement brewing in Arizona, and the 22-year-old Carroll is the face of it.
LF Jordan Walker, St. Louis Cardinals
He’s 20 years old. He’s never played above Double-A before. What makes the Cardinals think that Jordan Walker is ready for The Show?
Well, he’s mashed at every level of the Minors. He impressed in spring training, belting three home runs and five doubles. He’s got a cannon of an arm and has shown upside in his move to the outfield (Walker was drafted as a third baseman, but with Nolan Arenado, the Cards are all set there for the foreseeable future). Though Walker will start the season off the bench, he might not be relegated to spot starts and pinch-hitting for long.
SS Anthony Volpe, New York Yankees
When you say “shortstop” and “the Yankees” in the same sentence, most people will only ever think of one person. Anthony Volpe is setting out to make those fans second-guess themselves.
The 21-year-old New Jersey native has only played 22 games in Triple-A, but no matter — on the heels of a hot spring, the Yanks have declared him the starting shortstop heading into 2023, the youngest to hold that title since (you guessed it) Derek Jeter in 1995. Volpe grew up idolizing Jeter, but now, the No. 5 overall prospect on MLB.com will try to fill his shoes.
LF Masataka Yoshida, Boston Red Sox
Fresh off a heroic performance in the World Baseball Classic, Masataka Yoshida is jumping from Japan’s Nippon Professional Baseball to the MLB. Yoshida slugged two home runs (including a three-run shot that helped stave off elimination against Team Mexico in the semifinals) and led the tournament with 13 RBIs. Though a few analysts criticized the Red Sox for a potential overpay, all Yoshida has to do is to keep slugging to show the doubters that he was worth it.