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Note: This file has been updated with any overnight pitching changes or weather-related game postponements, along with the addition of the latest MLB game odds as of the indicated time of publication.
What you need to know for Thursday's MLB Games
By Mike Sheets
Opening Day 2023 features a full 15-game slate, with eight former Cy Young winners scheduled to take the mound. With so many staff aces getting the ball for their respective clubs, we can expect a lot of tightly contested matchups on Thursday. That said, Shohei Ohtani and Max Fried get two of the day's most favorable draws, giving them additional appeal for DFS action and prop bets. Ohtani squares off against an Oakland Athletics lineup that might be the worst in the American League, while Fried matches up with the Washington Nationals, who ranked bottom-five in runs scored last season and don't look any more dangerous on paper this year.
The standout performances of top prospects Jordan Walker (43% rostered in ESPN leagues) and Anthony Volpe (38% rostered) have undoubtedly been two of the biggest stories in Spring Training. One of the most highly regarded prospects in baseball, Walker, 20, batted .306/.388/.510 at Double-A last season with 19 homers and 22 steals in 119 games, and the 6-foot-5 slugger earned a starting spot in the St. Louis Cardinals outfield with his strong spring. All prospects, including top-tier ones, carry plenty of risk, but Walker has the potential to be a five-category contributor in fantasy.
Volpe, meanwhile, won the New York Yankees starting shortstop gig at 21 years old, meaning he'll be the youngest member of the team's Opening Day lineup since Derek Jeter. Volpe doesn't possess Walker's power potential, but he's a bigger threat on the bases, as he swiped 50 bags between Double- and Triple-A in 2022, including going a perfect 5-for-5 in stolen base attempts this spring. Despite the growing hype, both youngsters are currently rostered in less than 50% of ESPN leagues. Even if you don't intend to insert them into your starting lineup right away, Walker and Volpe both carry more than enough upside to warrant a pickup.
With Rhys Hoskins having suffered a torn ACL in his left knee requiring season-ending surgery last week, the Philadelphia Phillies will lean on Darick Hall (4%) to replace some of Hoskins' thump in the lineup. In 42 games with the Phillies in 2022, Hall batted .250/.282/.522 with nine home runs. His plate skills (3.5 BB%, 31 K%) left something to be desired, but he displayed better discipline at Triple-A, where he walked at a 9.6% clip and struck out 22.6% of the time while smashing 28 bombs in just 101 games. At 27 years old, Hall might not see much additional growth, but he still packs plenty of punch from the left side of the plate and should see regular at-bats against right-handed pitching. Although he begins the season as "DH only" eligible, he should qualify at first base soon. Don't expect much production on Opening Day against Jacob deGrom, but Hall looks to be a cheap power source in deeper formats.
If you left Draft Day feeling light on saves, there should be help available on the waiver wire. Those playing in ESPN's new standard format likely still have some entrenched closers sitting on the wire, as the Pittsburgh's David Bednar (54%) and Cincinnati's Alexis Diaz (43%) are both still relatively available. For those with deeper rosters, A.J. Minter (29%), Evan Phillips (24%), Michael Fulmer (3%), and Scott McGough (1%) all have a path to close games and are worth speculation or at least putting on your watchlist.
Not all staff aces are created equal, so while the majority of teams have a high-end arm to throw out there on Opening Day, there are still a few hurlers we'll want to try exploit. The name at the top of that list is Patrick Corbin of the Washington Nationals, who was arguably the worst starting pitcher in baseball last season (6.31 ERA in 31 starts). He was particularly vulnerable against right-handed batters (.388 wOBA), creating a potential streaming opportunity for Marcell Ozuna (8%). The veteran outfielder is coming off a down year, but he hit .315/.373/.481 this spring and should bat in the middle of the Atlanta Braves batting order.
Looking to start a free fantasy baseball league? Come and join the fun of ESPN's brand new standard scoring format.
Starting pitcher rankings for Thursday
Best Sub-50% Rostered Hitters for Thursday
Best and worst hitters from the day are generated by THE BAT X, a projection system created by Derek Carty using advanced methods like those used in MLB front offices, accounting for a variety of factors including player talent, ballparks, bullpens, weather, umpires, defense, catcher pitch-framing, and lots more.
TJ Friedl (CIN, LF -- 2%) vs. Mitch Keller
Max Kepler (MIN, RF -- 5%) at Zack Greinke
Joey Gallo (MIN, LF -- 5%) at Greinke
Jonathan India (CIN, 2B -- 38%) vs. Keller
Jake Fraley (CIN, LF -- 3%) vs. Keller
Carlos Santana (PIT, 1B -- 19%) at Hunter Greene
Christian Vazquez (MIN, C -- 4%) at Greinke
Jesse Winker (MIL, LF -- 30%) at Marcus Stroman
Isaac Paredes (TB, 3B -- 12%) vs. Eduardo Rodriguez
Nick Gordon (MIN, LF -- 5%) at Greinke
Worst Over-50% Rostered Hitters for Thursday
Amed Rosario (CLE, SS -- 81%) at Luis Castillo
Andres Gimenez (CLE, 2B -- 79%) at Castillo
Corbin Carroll (ARI, LF -- 90%) at Julio Urias
Alec Bohm (PHI, 3B -- 58%) at Jacob deGrom
Nick Castellanos (PHI, RF -- 83%) at deGrom
Dansby Swanson (CHC, SS -- 94%) vs. Corbin Burnes
C.J. Cron (COL, 1B -- 83%) at Blake Snell
Ian Happ (CHC, LF -- 57%) vs. Burnes
Giancarlo Stanton (NYY, RF -- 64%) vs. Logan Webb
Gleyber Torres (NYY, 2B -- 86%) vs. Webb
THE BAT X's Best Stacks for Today
Minnesota Twins at Greinke
Cincinnati Reds vs. Keller
Prop of the Day
Shane McClanahan strikeouts: Over/Under 5.5 (-165/+115)
THE BAT X sees McClanahan putting up 7.7 strikeouts for this matchup on average, while projecting him to exceed his player prop total 80.2% of the time. THE BAT X believes there is positive value on the OVER with an expected value of $47.62.
Note: Expected Value is a measure of how good a bet is, factoring the probability that it will win versus the odds the book is providing. If you were to wager $1.00 100 times on a bet with an Expected Value of $25, you would win some and you would lose some, but in the end you would expect to come away with $25 in profit on your $100 investment.
FACTORS THAT FAVOR THE OVER
McClanahan projects as the 16th-best pitcher in the league when estimating his strikeout talent, via THE BAT X.
The Tigers (26.3 K%, according to THE BAT X) project to have the most strikeout-heavy lineup today.
Tropicana Field ranks as the No. 2 stadium in the majors for strikeouts, according to THE BAT X projection system.
It may come as a surprise, but fastballs are generally a pitcher's least effective pitch. McClanahan has relied on his secondary offerings 5.2% more often this season (64.3%) than he did last season (59.1%).
FACTORS THAT FAVOR THE UNDER
The Tropicana Field roof projects to be closed today, making the temperature in this matchup 14 degrees hotter than the average outdoor game of the day, which is favorable for offense.
The Tigers have eight bats in their projected offense that will hold the platoon advantage over McClanahan in this game.