Top 2024 Bounce-Back Candidates for Each Team in the NL West

The NL West features some of the top talent in all of baseball. Let's check out a player from each team who's destined for a bounce-back.

CHICAGO, ILLINOIS - SEPTEMBER 22: Kris Bryant #23 of the Colorado Rockies reacts after striking out against the Chicago Cubs during the first inning at Wrigley Field on September 22, 2023 in Chicago, Illinois. (Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images)

There’s no doubt that the NL West is one of the most terrifying divisions in all of baseball. Each of the Dodgers, Diamondbacks and Padres finished above .500 last year, while the Giants faltered and the Rockies are continuing a rebuild.

Heck, the Diamondbacks made it all the way to the World Series and they were not even the most fearsome of the five squads.

That title belongs to the Dodgers, who won 100 games during the regular season. While they did not make a deep postseason run as anticipated, they went out and added Shohei Ohtani, Tyler Glasnow and Yoshinobu Yamamoto – amongst many others – to ensure that things go differently in October of 2024.

While there are some favorites in the NL West and some that are guaranteed bottom-dwellers, each club has something in common. In 2024, there are players on each team that will be looking to bounce back.

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Whether it be from injuries or just a statistical down year, each of the NL West’s teams has players that will be looking to rebuild some value. We’re going to dive in to each of them and see who has the best chance at a rebound.

Arizona Diamondbacks Bounce-Back Candidate: Joe Mantiply, LHP

2023 stats: 35G, 4.62 ERA, 3.84 FIP, 6.5 K/9, 2.1 BB/9, 95 ERA+

Joe Mantiply was a surprise All-Star selection in 2022 for the Diamondbacks. The crafty left-hander had taken his first extended chance at big league action the year before and ran with it.

Last year, however, some durability questions crept up for the first time in the 33-year-old’s career.

After opening the 2023 season on the injured list, Mantiply made his first appearance on April 18. He only took the mound a handful of times before another ailment, this time with his hamstring, popped up. He returned from the IL on June 13 and promptly surrendered four earned runs on six hits in his very first outing back.

Mantiply’s stint in the big leagues post-hamstring injury lasted just five outings. He surrendered a total of eight runs in as many innings before being demoted to the minor leagues. Down in Triple-A Reno, he posted a 7.30 ERA across 11 outings, thanks to 11 earned runs on 20 hits in just over 12 innings.

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Mantiply was shuffled back and forth between the major and minor leagues another time before making a more permanent return to the big leagues in August. He posted a 6.97 ERA in 12 outings that month.

September went much better for him, though. The southpaw had a 1.38 ERA across 10 outings, finally seeing some of the success that had come to be expected of him in recent years.

We can call 2023 a lost season for Mantiply. He has shown in years past that he’s a dependable hurler when he’s “on”. Low-leverage innings will be best for him moving forward, but that’s a role he’s taken nicely to in the past, so there’s no reason to expect he won’t rebound – yet.

Colorado Rockies Bounce-Back Candidate: Kris Bryant, 1B/OF

2023 stats: 80 G, 70 H, 36 R, 10 HR, 31 RBI, .233/.313/.367, 76 OPS+

Virtually nothing has gone right for Kris Bryant since he took his talents to the NL West. The former Rookie of the Year and NL MVP has struggled mightily to stay healthy, and when he’s on the field, he is a shell of the player he once was.

Currently playing out a seven-year deal in Colorado, Bryant has his work cut out for him moving forward. He hasn’t appeared in 100 games since 2021 and is stuck on a team destined to finish last in the division.

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A heel issue and broken index finger are what kept Bryant out of action for a huge chunk of games last year. When he took the field, he played nearly twice as many games as he did the year before, but had an OPS+ that suggests he was 24% below league-average at the dish.

If there’s any hope at all here, it’s the fact that last year was the first in a few seasons that Bryant was below-average with the bat. Outside of an injury-shortened 2020 season, he had never before had an OPS+ below 100. Even when he dealt with injuries in 2022, he sat at 128 in 42 games.

In a recent piece penned by Sam Blum of The Athletic, Bryant stated that he believed injuries are solely to blame for his lowered offensive production recently. He also said there are no lingering issues heading into 2024.

We’re talking about a four-time All-Star who previously found himself in Hall of Fame discussions. He is a respected veteran who is impactful when healthy, so it will be interesting to see what he does in 2024.

Los Angeles Dodgers Bounce-Back Candidate: James Paxton, LHP

2023 stats: 19 GS, 4.50 ERA, 4.68 FIP, 9.5 K/9, 3.1 BB/9, 101 ERA+

James Paxton went from budding star on the Mariners and Yankees to injury prone has-been at a rapid pace. He made a total of six starts combined between 2020 and 2022, which says a lot about his durability.

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Last year, he once again failed to throw even 100 innings, but he was decent when he took the mound. A strained hamstring and knee inflammation were the latest ailments to hold Paxton back. This questionable medical history led to the Dodgers, his current club, re-working his one-year pact.

The Dodgers were clearly squeamish, but willing to give the 10-year veteran a chance to turn things around for them. He projects to be the team’s fourth starter and is fully healthy for the first time in roughly five years.

While his strikeouts were down last year, Paxton technically was still an above-average pitcher. None of his Statcast metrics are enough to blow you away, but he did finish in the 66th percentile in xERA, 70th in xBA and 71st in Fastball Velo last year.

Truthfully, the Dodgers aren’t exactly full of players that jump out as bounce-back candidates. They are not only the best team in the NL West, but in all of baseball. Paxton makes the cut simply by being the team’s only candidate.

PEORIA, ARIZONA – FEBRUARY 22: (Photo by Norm Hall/Getty Images)

San Diego Padres Bounce-Back Candidate: Jake Cronenworth, INF

2023 stats: 127 G, 105 H, 54 R, 10 HR, 48 RBI, .229/.312/.378, 92 OPS+

Jake Cronenworth is much like Kris Bryant in that they’re both locked up on deals that could become albatrosses. Fortunately, the former’s situation is much less dire than the latter’s.

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Cronenworth, 30, had what was easily his worst full season as a big leaguer last year, seeing his value plummet. He was below-average in nearly every category and failed to make the All-Star Game for a third straight season.

It’s possible that Cronenworth was thrown off of his game by switching positions. He was moved from second base, his position by trade, to first base on a full-time basis.

Despite the fact that Cronenworth struggled to get going, he still has the unwavering support of manager Mike Shildt.

I definitely have confidence he is going rebound. He played a really good defensive first base, which is where we’re looking to have him start the season. He does intangible things really well, which don’t show up in some of the things you can evaluate from a number standpoint.

I thought he was going in a really good direction, and I think he’s carried that momentum into the offseason. My confidence in Jake as an overall player is very high in what he’s gonna bring to our club this year in all aspects of the game.

Via Kevin Acee, San Diego Union-Tribune

Last year, Cronenworth remained one of the game’s best at pitch selection, finishing in the 93rd percentile in Whiff%. It’s perfectly reasonable to expect him to turn things around now that he has his feet under him at first base. If he’s able to worry less about adjusting to a new position and more on hitting, he’ll return to All-Star form.

San Francisco Giants Bounce-Back Candidate: Michael Conforto, OF

2023 stats: 125 G, 97 H, 58 R, 15 HR, 58 RBI, .239/.334/.384, 99 OPS+

Suiting up for one of the toughest teams in the NL West to predict, Michael Conforto is entering his second season on the Giants in need of a rebound.

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Conforto, 31, sat out during the 2022 campaign while he recovered from right shoulder surgery. It was always likely that once he returned to action, it’d take a bit for him to get going. Turns out, it’ll take him more than a full year to do so.

Outside of strong months of May (.289 AVG, .916 OPS) and August (.300, .833), Conforto had a hard time returning to his usual self. The .718 OPS he posted on the season is the lowest he’s ever had in a full year and his OPS+ was the lowest its been since 2016.

However, we’re talking about an established All-Star who is an above-average performer when he’s at his best. Per Taylor Wirth of NBC Sports, Conforto is fully healthy and spent this past offseason training rather than recovering.

Wirth also mentions that Conforto is entering the year expecting to be the Giants’ every day left fielder. The at-bats aren’t going anywhere, so he’s going to get ample time to turn things around after a disappointing debut in the NL West.

Now that he’s entering year two of his return, Conforto is sure to improve as he continues to adjust. I can’t stress enough how important his clean bill of health is, too. He’s been bitten by the injury bug recently but with health on his side, he’s sure to rebound nicely.