Well, that's a vague term, isn't it? What do I mean by "most pivotal?"

The goal here is to identify the player on each team with the potential to change the Fantasy Baseball landscape the most, whether because of his own performance or the ripple effect that his role might have.

Another way of putting it is that I'm especially curious to see how things turn out for these 30 players. I'll be keeping a close watch on them in spring training, and I suggest you do, too.

ARI Arizona • #10 • Age: 21
The top prospect flopped in his major-league trial late last year, and the Diamondbacks saw fit to block him this offseason with acquisitions like Eugenio Suarez and Joc Pederson. But their lineup isn't so ironclad that Jordan Lawlar couldn't force the issue this spring, potentially introducing another power/speed threat (with an emphasis on the speed) to the shortstop position.
ATL Atlanta • #51 • Age: 35
Compelling though Jarred Kelenic's change of scenery and Sean Murphy's struggles to become an elite catcher may be, this choice became etched in stone the day the Braves acquired Chris Sale, a pitcher who remains one of game's most prolific bat-missers even while being plagued by injuries the past several years. With the Braves offense backing him, it's not a stretch to say he could still be an elite Fantasy option even though most have given up on the idea.
BAL Baltimore • #87 • Age: 20
The Orioles have confirmed the possibility of the top pick in the 2022 draft making the opening day roster at age 20, just a year after storming through entire the minor-league system with a .323/.442/.499 slash line. His arrival would actually clarify things for the Orioles, who otherwise have to start Jorge Mateo or Ramon Urias in the infield, and it would send shock waves through the Fantasy Baseball world, potentially making him a top-100 pick.
BOS Boston • #10 • Age: 31
Now in his third year with the Red Sox, Trevor Story is out of excuses. He looked completely lost at the plate after returning from elbow surgery last August but showed his athleticism with 10 stolen bases and is still theoretically in his prime at age 31. Fenway Park has the potential to do him all the favors Coors Field once did, with a stud outcome remaining on the table, but it's also possible the ride ends and he cedes the job to Ceddanne Rafaela or someone like him.
CHC Chi. Cubs • #5 • Age: 24
Christopher Morel's career numbers are pretty impressive, but the lengthy cold spells have tended to overshadow the flashes of greatness. Between that and his defensive shortcomings, it's not clear how much the Cubs intend to play him, which is why a 24-year-old with his power/speed upside isn't generating more interest in Fantasy.
CHW Chi. White Sox • #20 • Age: 31
Erick Fedde remade his arsenal prior to last season and then went on to dominate the KBO, winning its equivalent of the Cy Young and MVP with a 20-6 record, 2.00 ERA, 0.95 WHIP and 209 strikeouts in 180 1/3 innings. Will his new stuff prove similarly effective in the majors? It's worth noting that Merrill Kelly put himself back in the big-league discussion with a stint in Korea, though he didn't put up near the numbers there that Fedde just did.
CIN Cincinnati • #16 • Age: 22
Whether Elly De La Cruz can cut down on his strikeouts and ascend to superstardom is of course of great interest in Fantasy Baseball, but his playing time is probably assured regardless. Noelvi Marte is the one whose path is less clear with the addition of Jeimer Candelario and continued presence of Jonathan India and Christian Encarnacion-Strand, and his potential for power and speed is just a step behind De La Cruz, (only without the strikeout concerns).
CLE Cleveland • #57 • Age: 28
The reports of Shane Bieber regaining his lost velocity after training with Driveline this offseason supersede everything else going on with the Guardians, whether it's Triston McKenzie attempting to bounce back from injury or Kyle Manzardo attempting to win a job alongside Josh Naylor. If Bieber is truly back, then one of the biggest baseball tragedies of the past couple years has been reversed and the league has gained another ace.
COL Colorado • #22 • Age: 25
Nolan Jones represents the Rockies' one realistic hope for Fantasy stardom in 2024, and he came on so strong late last year that some are calling it a foregone conclusion. But of his 20 homers and 20 steals, seven and 12 came in September. Also, his .297 batting average was awfully high for a player with a 30 percent strikeout rate, even factoring in the BABIP-boosting effects of Coors Field. Mostly, we're just looking for reassurance here.
DET Detroit • #33 • Age: 22
After signing a six-year deal this offseason, Colt Keith is penciled into the starting second base job for the Tigers and seems like a good bet to win it after batting .306 with 27 homers and a .932 OPS between Double- and Triple-A last year. The bigger question is whether Comerica Park will sap all the power from his left-handed swing, rendering him but a fragment of the hitter he should be.
HOU Houston • #53 • Age: 27
Cristian Javier rose to Fantasy prominence thanks to a near unhittable fastball with the ideal vertical approach angle for swings and misses at the top of the zone. He lost it last year, stumbling to a 4.56 ERA, including 5.58 over the final four months. Because his struggles can be traced to him doing something wrong rather than the league catching up to him, he's theoretically fixable, and there were signs late last year that maybe he was on the right track.
KC Kansas City • #55 • Age: 26
Cole Ragans was the big success story of the second half, going from intriguing bullpen arm to apparent ace with a 2.70 ERA, 1.06 WHIP and 11.6 K/9 in 11 starts. But the breakthrough relied on a new pitch, a slider, as well as him avoiding the control lapses of his past, so we'll need a larger sample to confirm it was more than just a flash in the pan.
LAA L.A. Angels • #24 • Age: 31
Robert Stephenson was arguably the best reliever in baseball after the Rays acquired him and supplied him with a new cutter last June, going on to deliver a 2.35 ERA, 0.68 WHIP and 14.1 K/9 before entering free agency. Angels GM Perry Minasian continues to back Carlos Estevez as the closer (while acknowledging it's manager Ron Washington's call), but if Stephenson comes in looking as dominant as he did in Tampa, there's no way that holds, right?
LAD L.A. Dodgers • #18 • Age: 25
It's almost too obvious of a choice and sidelines whatever discussion we could have about Tyler Glasnow, Teoscar Hernandez, Emmet Sheehan and Kyle Hurt, but to name anyone other than Yoshinobu Yamamoto here would be intellectually dishonest. He's maybe the biggest curiosity in the entire sport this year, being the most decorated pitcher ever to come from Japan, and given how he's being drafted in Fantasy, anything short of an ace outcome would be a tough pill to swallow.
MIA Miami • #23 • Age: 25
Among the pitchers set to return from Tommy John surgery this year, Max Meyer is the most overlooked, probably because he had barely reached the majors at the time he needed the surgery and also because the Marlins don't have a clear opening for him. But Edward Cabrera is hardly established, and Trevor Rogers is hardly a model of health himself. In six Triple-A starts before the first signs of elbow trouble two years ago, Meyer had a 1.72 ERA, 0.86 WHIP and 11.2 K/9.
MIL Milwaukee • #11 • Age: 20
As anxious as I am to see if DL Hall and Aaron Ashby will live up to their potential as starters and if Joseph Ortiz's premium exit velocities will translate to big production, Jackson Chourio is the only acceptable answer here. Seeing as he'll turn 20 halfway through spring training, it's no certainty he'll make the opening day roster, but it's widely expected after he signed an eight-year deal this offseason. Whether he'll live up to his Julio Rodriguez-like potential right away is another matter.
MIN Minnesota • #38 • Age: 26
It's fair to say that Royce Lewis and Joe Ryan will be more top of mind in the lead up to opening day, but Matt Wallner might be the Twins player with the most to gain or lose. True, he struck out at nearly a 30 percent clip, which prevented him from getting an extended look in the majors until age 25 and may still prove to be his undoing. But in half a season's time last year, he slashed .249/.370/.507, offering a three-true-outcomes profile akin to Max Muncy.
NYM N.Y. Mets • #22 • Age: 24
Brett Baty has made a mockery of minor-league pitching the past two years, not only with excellent surface numbers but also plate discipline and exit velocity readings. But he thudded so hard in his first extended opportunity as a major-leaguer last year that it looked like he might have to play second fiddle to Ronny Mauricio moving forward. Mauricio's ACL injury puts Baty back in the driver's seat, with plenty to look forward to if he takes advantage.
NYY N.Y. Yankees • #55 • Age: 31
Rodon was an ace for Fantasy in 2021 and 2022, delivering one of the highest strikeout rates in all the game, and then he signed with the Yankees and fell flat on his face. But between the forearm strain at the start of the year and the back issues that followed, there's reason to believe he got out of whack mechanically, which is exactly what pitching coach Matt Blake has intimated. This year should be telling one way or another.
OAK Oakland • #46 • Age: 24
For as good as Zack Gelof was in his 69-game stint last year, performing at about a 30-homer, 30-steal pace while averaging the eighth-most points per game among second baseman, many are writing him off because of his suspect exit velocity readings and dreadful zone-contact rate. The same was true in the minor leagues, where he was similarly productive, but his upcoming sophomore campaign will have the ultimate say for most people.
PHI Philadelphia • #61 • Age: 27
Whether or not Jose Alvarado finally gets his chance to close will certainly be top of mind as well, but the curious case of Cristopher Sanchez takes center stage here. While he arrived at age 26 and with a lackluster minor-league track record, his walk rate would have ranked fourth among qualifiers and his ground-ball rate would have ranked second. And then he began to miss bats in September, making more extensive use of his terrific changeup, which really raises the bar for what his upside could be.
PIT Pittsburgh • #15 • Age: 25
Cruz was here last year, too, but then played in only nine games because of a devastating leg injury. So in the immediate term, we're looking for any lingering effects, namely a reduced inclination to steal bases, and over the long haul we're still looking to see a reduction in strikeout rate that would allow him to get the absolute most out of his superlative exit velocities.
SD San Diego • #34 • Age: 28
How invested are the Padres in Michael King making it as a starter? Well, he's arguably the biggest piece they got back in the Juan Soto trade. The transition from the bullpen worked out well enough in an eight-start trial last year, his stuff basically holding as he stretched out further and further en route to a 1.88 ERA, 1.10 WHIP and 11.3 K/9. But as new as he is to the role, there are so many ways this could go so very wrong.
SF San Francisco • #45 • Age: 22
In his seven big-league starts, not to mention the last couple minor-league starts leading up to it, Kyle Harrison basically did the thing that was supposed to vault him to stardom, throwing 65 percent of his pitches for strikes. But new concerns have emerged about his secondary arsenal, which wasn't as "whifftastic" as promised, and all in all, the jury's still out as to what kind of pitcher he'll turn out to be.
SEA Seattle • #18 • Age: 33
From Aug. 1 to the end of the season, Mitch Garver was the third-best catcher-eligible player in Fantasy, and the reasons why are that he stayed healthy and stayed in the lineup. Both were made possible by the Rangers turning the DH spot over to him full time. We'll see if the Mariners are as committed to him in the role (they say they are) and if he can follow through again, this time over a full season.
STL St. Louis • #18 • Age: 21
Jordan Walker is here for a second straight year, which should tell you the first year didn't go well. But now he's a post-hype sleeper, still harboring the potential for a superstar outcome at age 21 but without the playing time concerns that swirled around him a year ago.
TB Tampa Bay • #62 • Age: 25
Where exactly top prospect Junior Caminero fits will of course be a topic of great interest, but the player in more urgent need of a lineup spot is Jonathan Aranda, who's on the verge of his 26th birthday and just slashed .339/.449/.613 at Triple-A Durham. He's limited defensively, capable of playing first base and maybe second, and the Rays haven't shown much inclination to free up a spot so far. Caminero could complicate things further.
TEX Texas • #36 • Age: 22
For as advanced as Wyatt Langford is offensively, storming through the entire minor-league system with a .360/.480/.677 slash line in his first taste of pro ball, his defense is a bit lacking. Between that and their already full outfield of Adolis Garcia, Evan Carter and Leody Taveras, the Rangers would have to make creative use of their DH spot to continue Langford's development on the job.
TOR Toronto • #36 • Age: 25
You wouldn't think much of Davis Schneider at first glance, but he's so committed to working the count and has such a knack for pulling the ball in the air that he produces well beyond what the raw data or his 5-foot-9 frame would indicate. In fact, his .275/.413/.567 slash line and 29 homers between the majors last year would suggest he's a budding superstar, but nobody seems to be thinking along those lines -- not even the Blue Jays, who have yet to confirm him as their starting second baseman.
WAS Washington • #1 • Age: 25
It's Year 3 for MacKenzie Gore, and patience is wearing thin. The best stretch of his career remains his first nine appearances while still in a Padres uniform, when he put together a 1.50 ERA, 1.06 WHIP and 10.7 K/9. The strikeouts have remained high since then, but he's been too combustible overall, done in by walks and home runs. Whether he can overcome those issues is a question he'll need to answer sooner than later to remain a viable rotation option.