Optimism is a spring tradition, and it increasingly seems like this column is as well. The allure of dreaming of better days for those players who suffered through a poor 2022 is just something that resonates with anyone who has struggled before, especially right before pitchers and catchers report.

One of the fun things about continuing this tradition — where we look at the veterans projected to bounce back the most off poor years — is that we can take a look back at how this column has fared so far. Last year, of the 20 players who were projected to rebound the furthest, only four got within 10 points of their projected park- and league-adjusted production. Sure, 12 improved their wRC+ by more than 10 points, but only about a quarter actually made good on the projections. Our picks had a better percentage, going three for four and correctly nailing the comebacks from Jeff McNeil, Rowdy Tellez and Alex Bregman.

The year before, we highlighted the 10 biggest bounce-back projections and focused more on Wins Above Replacement. Of those 10, four did about as well as their projections or better, and another four improved but not by as much as the numbers said they would. This article picked three out of four again with Gleyber Torres, Austin Meadows and Rafael Devers coming through on the promise of a rebound. In year one, before the strangest season in baseball history, we only worked with five projected bounce backs, and four of the five improved, but only two improved as much as the projections said, and we got one out of two right as picks in a slightly different format.

A trend emerges! On players coming off terrible seasons, projections are about half right that they’ll rebound to previously established levels. It also looks like using some common sense and outside information (even a little narrative) can help us improve on that 50-50 proposition a bit. After all, this column is batting .778 on our picks. That’s a tough streak to keep going, but we’ll try again this year.

These lists always include youngsters that are really progressing more than anything, and that’s always enticing but not quite the spirit of this enterprise. The 22-year-old CJ Abrams is not bouncing back from anything, really; it was just a struggle in a debut followed by the unknown. Young players without established track records wreak havoc on projection systems.

On the other side of the aging curve, there’s also a confounding factor. Not every player ages the same way, but the numbers have to use aging curves built off all of baseball history to try and guess how they will age. This is probably why projected bounce backs for players over the age of 32 have been shown to be less reliable. Not only are Yasmani Grandal and Joey Votto coming off injuries, but they’re in that age group that suggests it’s an iffy proposition to bank on them returning to previously held production levels.

In between the young and the old are some intriguing names. Let’s highlight our four picks for the year:


Ronald Acuña Jr., OF, Braves

It’s probably easy to pick the 25-year-old superstar now another year removed from ACL reconstruction surgery, but beyond the obvious, there are still some more interesting indicators under the hood that suggest the Atlanta outfielder should be just fine in 2023. For one, despite the fact that he only hit 15 homers, the raw power was absolutely still there, simmering under the surface.