(JTA) — The 2023 MLB season is almost upon us, and it has the potential to be a historic year for Jews in professional baseball.
Last year, 17 Jewish players appeared in a game — a likely record. This season, the number could be even higher.
The slate of Jewish players in the game this year features stars such as Max Fried and Alex Bregman, on-the-rise big league talent like Harrison Bader and Dean Kremer, and an impressive wave of minor league prospects on the cusp of the majors.
With the World Baseball Classic over and Spring Training winding down, there are plenty of storylines for Jewish fans to keep an eye on, including a number of Jewish teammate pairs — and even a possible trio.
Opening Day is next Thursday. Here is a complete guide to every Jewish player to watch in 2023.
The big leaguers
- Alex Bregman, Houston Astros, third baseman: Bregman returned to form in 2022, hitting 23 home runs with 93 runs batted in as the Astros won the World Series. The two-time All-Star has become one of the best postseason hitters of his generation, setting all-time records for most home runs and RBIs among third basemen. Bregman has been an active member of the Houston Jewish community.
- Joc Pederson, San Francisco Giants, outfielder: Pederson is entering his second season playing for manager Gabe Kapler’s Giants. Last year was his best since 2019, as he notched 23 home runs, a .274 batting average and his second career All-Star selection. Pederson played for Team Israel in the 2023 WBC and even helped recruit fellow Jewish big leaguers to the team.
- Harrison Bader, New York Yankees, outfielder: Bader will likely begin his first full season in New York on the injured list — injuries that kept him from playing for Team Israel, which he had committed to do. In parts of six seasons in the big leagues, spent almost entirely in St. Louis, Bader has become known for his elite defense in the outfield — he won a Gold Glove in 2021 — and last fall became a breakout star for the Yankees in the playoffs. Bader’s father, who is Jewish, told the Forward that his son is considering formally converting to Judaism.
- Rowdy Tellez, Milwaukee Brewers, first baseman: Tellez has the most power of any Jewish player, crushing 35 home runs in 2022. In one game in May, Tellez hit two home runs on his way to a historic 8-RBI game for the Brewers. Tellez, who had a Jewish mother and a father with Mexican heritage, considered playing for Israel in the WBC but opted to represent Mexico.
- Eli Morgan, Cleveland Guardians, relief pitcher: Last year was Morgan’s first season as a reliever, and it seemed to be the right move for the 26-year-old righty. Morgan appeared in 50 games for Cleveland, posting a 3.38 ERA — though his first half (2.83 ERA) was much stronger than his second half (4.26 ERA). Morgan originally planned to play for Israel in the WBC but ultimately did not join the team.
- Garrett Stubbs, Philadelphia Phillies, catcher: Stubbs played in 46 games for the Phillies as the backup behind J.T. Realmuto, the best catcher in baseball. Stubbs delivered the game-winning hit in Israel’s lone WBC victory, while playing third base for the first time, and has already said he will play for Israel again in 2026. (His younger brother C.J. is a catcher in the Astros system and replaced Garrett on Team Israel following an injury earlier this month.)
- Richard Bleier, Boston Red Sox, relief pitcher: After not making it to the big leagues until he was 29, Bleier has grown into a reliable reliever across seven MLB seasons, with a 3.06 career ERA. Bleier was traded to Chaim Bloom’s Red Sox this offseason after two years in Miami — where his most famous (and unfortunate) moment was a three-balk at bat last year. Bleier pitched for Israel in the 2023 WBC.
- Jake Bird, Colorado Rockies, relief pitcher: Bird made his MLB debut last summer and would go on to pitch in 38 games for the Rockies out of the bullpen. Bird was originally on Israel’s WBC roster but dropped out at the last minute due to injury.
- Zack Weiss, Los Angeles Angels, relief pitcher: Weiss debuted in 2018, but it did not go well: he allowed four runs, including two home runs, without recording an out. That meant his earned run average was — and this is real — infinite. Four years later, Weiss made it back to the big leagues with the Angels, appearing in 12 games with a more respectable 3.38 ERA. After a solid stint with Israel in the WBC, Weiss is expected to factor into the Angels bullpen this season, though he could start the season in the minor leagues. Weiss has talked about attending Rosh Hashanah services as a minor leaguer in Montana.
- Dalton Guthrie, Philadelphia Phillies, utility player: Guthrie is the most recent Jewish ballplayer to debut, joining the Phillies in September. He played in 14 games for the National League champions, and even appeared in a postseason game. Guthrie is the son of former MLB pitcher Mark Guthrie, who played for eight teams across a 15-year career.
- Scott Effross, New York Yankees, relief pitcher: Effross is likely to miss all of 2023 after undergoing ulnar collateral ligament reconstruction (known as Tommy John surgery). Before his injury, Effross, who wears a Star of David necklace on the mound, was excellent for the Chicago Cubs and Yankees last year, with a 2.54 ERA in 60 games. Effross also would have played for Israel had he not gotten hurt.
(Also worth noting: Chicago White Sox ace Dylan Cease, the 2022 American League Cy Young runner-up, does not identify as Jewish but was on Israel’s preliminary roster of eligible players for the 2023 WBC.)
There are a number of Jewish players who are on the brink of breaking into the big leagues — including a few who could even make Opening Day rosters.
- Jared Shuster, Atlanta Braves, starting pitcher: Shuster is the top prospect in the Atlanta organization, and in the midst of a stellar Spring Training, with a 1.45 ERA through 18.2 innings. He has a serious shot of securing the final spot in the Braves rotation to begin 2023. He was a first-round draft pick in 2020 and played in the MLB Futures Game last year.
- Matt Mervis, Chicago Cubs, first baseman: Mervis played for Israel in the WBC and though he begins the season in the minors, he is almost certain to join the big-league team this season. The Washington, D.C., native belted 36 home runs in the minors last year, hitting .309 with 119 runs batted in while rising through the Cubs’ system at an impressive pace.
- Zack Gelof, Oakland Athletics, second baseman: Another Israel player, Gelof will begin the season in the minors but is expected to make his debut this year. The 23-year-old is Oakland’s No. 3 ranked prospect and was a second-round pick in the 2021 draft. (His younger brother, Jake, currently plays at the University of Virginia and is seen as a possible first round pick this year.)
- Spencer Horwitz, Toronto Blue Jays, outfielder: Horwitz played with Gelof and Mervis in the WBC, and will also start 2023 in the minors. But the 25-year-old Maryland native is a candidate to crack into the big leagues at some point this season as depth for the loaded Blue Jays.
Other minor leaguers with MLB experience
- Jake Fishman, Oakland Athletics, relief pitcher: The Team Israel pitcher made his MLB debut with (who else) the Marlins last season, and begins 2023 at the Triple A level with Gelof. He could be called up as bullpen depth.
- Bubby Rossman, New York Mets, relief pitcher: Rossman made his debut last year with the Phillies, and it also did not go well. But after a strong stretch with Team Israel, Rossman begins the year in the New York Mets system. Despite his Yiddish-sounding name, Rossman is only 30.
- Ryan Sherriff, Boston Red Sox, relief pitcher: Sherriff has four years of big-league experience under his belt with the Cardinals and the Tampa Bay Rays. He signed a minor league deal with the Red Sox this offseason.
- Kenny Rosenberg, Los Angeles Angels, relief pitcher: Rosenberg made his debut for the Angels last April and appeared in three games over the course of the season. He begins the year in the minors but has a shot to be called back up as bullpen depth.
- Robert Stock, Milwaukee Brewers, starting pitcher: Stock has pitched for four MLB teams across four seasons, plus a year in the Korean professional league last year. Stock pitched for Israel in 2023 and will begin the season in Triple A.