Whether it's a return from injury, upcoming free agency or a disappointing season in the rearview, MLB players can enter the new season with something to prove for a variety of reasons.
One of the most prominent players who fit that category this year is San Diego Padres star Fernando Tatis Jr., who spent the entire 2022 season on the sidelines, first recovering from an injury and then serving an 80-game PED suspension. Can he get back to where he was in 2021, both from a production and an image standpoint?
Injuries were not the issue for Cody Bellinger, who simply has not produced the last several seasons with the Los Angeles Dodgers after winning NL MVP honors in 2019. Will a change of scenery and the motivation of a one-year deal help him rebound?
Those are two of the players we've highlighted here as having the most to prove during the 2023 season, with our list compiled based on what's at stake for each player in terms of playing time, financial implications or long-term role.
Who else are we watching?
But first, here are a few other players with a lot on the line in 2023:
OF Jo Adell, LAA (post-hype)
SS Javier Báez, DET (bounce-back candidate, opt-out after 2023)
C Joey Bart, SF (post-hype)
RF Nick Castellanos, PHI (bounce-back candidate)
LHP Josh Hader, SD (upcoming FA)
3B Yoán Moncada, CWS (bounce-back candidate)
LHP Trevor Rogers, MIA (bounce-back candidate)
SS Amed Rosario, CLE (upcoming FA)
LHP Blake Snell, SD (upcoming FA)
1B Spencer Torkelson, DET (disappointing debut)
OF Jesse Winker, MIL (bounce-back candidate)
RF Ronald Acuña Jr., Atlanta Braves
Ronald Acuña Jr. was enjoying an MVP-caliber year in 2021 when he suffered a season-ending torn ACL on July 10, and it ended up costing him the first 19 games of the 2022 campaign while he continued to shake off the rust.
The 25-year-old avoided any further setbacks once he returned to action, but he was not the same dynamic player who was a legitimate 40/40 threat pre-injury, hitting .266/.351/.413 with 24 doubles, 15 home runs and 50 RBI in 533 plate appearances.
Digging into his batted-ball metrics, his average exit velocity (-2.6 percentage points) and hard-hit rate (-5.1 percentage points) both dipped, while his ground-ball rate spiked (+15.9 percentage points), and he seemed to have trouble elevating the baseball.
Can he return to form another year removed from his injury?
The Atlanta Braves will be counting on it, as he will once again be expected to make a significant impact out of the leadoff spot in the lineup.