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Ronald Acuna Jr. and Fernando Tatis Jr. were picture-perfect prospects and are picture-perfect stars for the instant-gratification society we live in.

Pre-packaged with superstar talent from their first steps into the Show, both Acuna and Tatis are part of a new phenomenon – the MLB prospects who mash from the onset of their hopefully long and storied careers.

The problem is the same as it has always been, though – not all prospects are created equal, and what’s more? Prospect growth is anything but linear.

Our satisfaction with prospects as a player-churning, teeth-gnashing community is often delayed, if not denied. For every Tatis, there resides a Lewis Brinson. With each Acuna comes an ensuant Clint Frazier.

No matter the level of impact a player may have, a certainty in each season is the necessity of a prospect reaching the major leagues to supplement roster holes. While fantasy managers may appreciate it, MLB teams are not bound by the arduous rankings of your favorite fantasy analysts; their methods are not always our own, and the prospects we long to see are often subjected to the always-fun push and pull of a contract system.

Still, though – prospects will have an unpredictable, but definite impact upon your favorite team and the season at large in 2022. Which young players have the best chance of being called up in the early goings of the new year?

The answers may not be as cut-and-dry as you would imagine.

ADDRESSING THE ELEPHANT(S) IN THE ROOM

Let’s establish some parameters for the ensuing exercise.

It should be known as of this writing, transactions are still running wild on the post-lockout high, and as such, information is leaked and released at erratic intervals. Any number of major league signings or trades have the chance to directly flub a prediction (blocking a prospect’s thought-open role) or even indirectly affect the analysis for a prospect’s given chances at reaching the majors early on in 2022 (another prospect may be added to the mix, or a group of young players may represent an upcoming jam at a position).
The larger, more intimidating, and difficult-to-discuss pachyderm in our purlieu is the threat of injury.

I firmly believe that no player is totally devoid of injury risk; at any given time, a player’s chances for injury are never zero. For prospects, this risk is inherently higher. Some players will probably need an ill-timed injury from a proven major leaguer to get a break of their own.

However, some minor league players will simply impress a team, making promotion inevitable. This is the unfortunate circumstance of only having 780 major league players at a given time, and only about 400 opportunities to play in a day’s slate of games.

Some of these predictions for prospects to get the early call-up will be based on an open role. Others may be reflective of injury or trade.

Of course, the third type of prediction hinges on a major leaguer failing to perform to the team’s expectations. This, sadly, is a very real possibility – the eternal optimist in me wants to believe Josh Rogers and Paulo Espino will make the most of their opportunities and impress the Washington Nationals enough to maintain their roster spot for the entire season.

The cold realist within me knows this is objectively improbable.

THE OBVIOUS FEW PROSPECTS

In case you weren’t aware, Bobby Witt Jr. (ADP 93), Shane Baz (139), Adley Rutschman (185), and Oneil Cruz (212) are universally projected to be helpful big-league contributors for the majority of the 2022 season. Register shock and awe, everyone.

Spencer Torkelson (261), Julio Rodriguez (273), Aaron Ashby (275), Joey Bart (281), and Riley Greene (307) might not contribute from day one of the season, but their call-ups seem all-but-inevitable. There’s little doubt any of this quintet will not have exceeded rookie limitations by Opening Day 2023.

Vidal Brujan (ADP 360), MJ Melendez (389), and Josh Lowe (449) are endearing themselves to fantasy managers, but their roles on their respective major league teams appear to be a bit cloudy. Fortunately, a lack of playing time is the common thread uniting these three batters; no certain skill is holding any of the trio back.

The final five ‘obvious’ players to be called up aren’t as outwardly apparent as those before them. Jeremy Peña (485), Kyle Isbel (523), Juan Yepez (528), Luis Campusano (595), and Oswald Peraza (741) have been penciled into roles of relevance with their teams per Roster Resource for the moment, but a trade or free-agent signing could evaporate their currently allocated at-bats quickly.

Depending on ADP and league construct, I would roster any and all of these players and believe they are deserving of the potential opportunity provided. Their teams are, more often than not, fortunate to have this embarrassment of riches; “oh, woe is me, my team has too many qualified internal candidates for playing time.”

I sincerely hope they understand how fortunate they are. After all, they could have had a situation similar to…

THE PLAYER CAROUSEL IN OAKLAND

Woof.

With the team staring down the barrel of a self-imposed rebuild, fans of the Oakland Athletics might have been excited to see which of their prospects could become the key pieces of their next great team.

Unfortunately, the Oakland farm system was rather barren; I won’t disrespect Tyler Soderstrom or Zack Gelof, – I like both of those guys! – but the upper-level minor leagues were seemingly devoid of players who could make a meaningful impact on the team in 2022 before their slew of swaps.

Nick Allen could be Oakland’s future shortstop, sure, but a utility infield role seems likely as of now. Jonah Bride could be a Swiss Army knife bench bat in the vein of Austin Nola, but he is new to catching and his power output is nothing special. Jordan Diaz might conceivably fill a major league bench role, filling in when necessary, with fine defense and a solid hit tool. Former Oklahoma quarterback Cody Thomas may have flashed enough raw power and speed to earn an opportunity in the outfield this season, but he’s 27-years-old, and the shot to truly bloom withers more each day.

The silver lining to the litany of trades impacting the current major league team is the influx of young talent headed to Oakland.
Adam Oller, one of the Athletics’ return players for Chris Bassitt from New York, is a student of the game. A well-prepared righty, Oller’s mind for the game outweighs his questionable offerings and could still find innings for a thin Oakland rotation.

You there, approaching from beneath the rock – Matt Olson was traded to Atlanta. Crazy, right?

In exchange for their breakout first baseman, Oakland received a quartet of young players, three of whom (Cristian Pache, Shea Langeliers, Joey Estes) could all feasibly impact the Athletics this year.

Cristian Pache has the best shot; the defensive wunderkind has been streaky with the bat but quickly endeared himself to the Athletic faithful with a series of earnest Tweets about his trade. There’s a non-zero chance Pache ends up a 20/20 threat, particularly if his 4% drop in swinging-strike-rate can hold or improve, but the road to this eventuality will likely see him as a defense-play at the bottom of the lineup.

In a subsequent move, Matt Chapman followed Olson out of the Coliseum and north to Toronto, where he will join the Blue Jays’ super-loaded offense.

Heading back to the Athletics are Gunnar Hoglund, Kevin Smith, Zach Logue, and Kirby Snead; of these, the latter three are the ones most likely to impact the season for Oakland in 2022. Smith, a sabermetric standout who led the Toronto farms in barrel rate and cracked 21 home runs in 410 AAA plate appearances, has a definite ‘Oakland’ vibe baked in following an uninspiring cup of coffee in Toronto. He has a fair shot of playing third base with Chapman vacating the hot corner.

Logue and Snead are polar opposites who may both pan out to be meaningful additions; the former is a 25-year-old with three interesting pitches who should pitch in the majors in the back half of the rotation. Snead is a two-pitch reliever with a low lefty arm slot and a 36% strikeout rate last season. A pesky 10% walk rate and sporadic command fluctuations complicate Snead’s profile, but the traits are present for a late-inning arm.

Hoglund, though, seems to be the jewel of the return, but his surgery and recovery will prevent him from helping the Athletics this season.

Like the Toronto crew, the trio from Atlanta, and former Metropolitan Oller, Oakland’s best shot for contributing prospects in 2022 are most likely to be those to come – the returns for players yet to be traded. With Sean Manaea, Frankie Montas, Ramon Laureano and others still swirling through trade rumors (as of writing), the returns for the Athletics might consist of talented youngsters, blocked in their former organizations and looking for an opportunity to succeed.

Anyhow – let’s proceed to a few more prospects worth monitoring in the first half.

The Prospects on Call

1. CIN SP Situation

The first two ‘players’ on the agenda are, in truth, ‘situations’ to monitor which could result in multiple prospects making their major league debuts within the first half of the season.

The Reds, long predicted to be sellers once the lockout ceased, had a great opportunity (and a great selection of talent) to add to their farm system by moving multiple big-league contributors. Many suspected outfielder Jesse Winker and a trio of starting pitchers (Luis Castillo, Tyler Mahle, and Sonny Gray) would be the most obvious trade candidates of the bunch, not only replenishing the farm system but clearing space for their existing prospects to grow and bloom.

Eventually discerning they would not be trading Castillo or Mahle, the Reds dove into the process in earnest on March 12 when they moved Gray to Minnesota, acquiring electric young arm Chase Petty in return. The flame-throwing Petty is a mercurial 18-year-old, nowhere near prepared for contribution in the Show, but the Reds are not without internal candidates for meaningful major league innings.

Hunter Greene is my favorite of the pair most likely to benefit from any trading the Reds are to pursue; beyond the phenomenal makeup, maturity, and frame, Greene boasts a world-class fastball, scraping 103 MPH, but sitting 99 normally. The pitch lives up in the zone and can give Greene a bit of susceptibility to home runs, but his slider makes a great buddy pitch, and the changeup can throw lefties off his case.

Nick Lodolo, on the other hand, is a true throwback. The sinker/slider lefty works left-to-right, using his immaculate command to paint either side of the strike zone with his peripatetic pitches. The sinker sits about 94 and runs to the opposite side of his slider, and when paired with his nasty changeup, Lodolo has an arsenal of offerings he’s comfortable throwing at any count. Lodolo represents a much different pitching philosophy than Greene, but the pair could combine to form a devastating 1-2 for the Reds for the foreseeable future.

2. BAL SP Situation

With all due respect to Jordan Lyles, Bruce Zimmermann, Keegan Akin, and Zac Lowther, the Baltimore Orioles’ rotation is …rather shifty, and I wouldn’t argue if you thought that ‘F’ made better sense as a ‘T.’

Lyles, you may recall, has a long-term relationship with hard contact and home runs. Bruce Zimmermann had three pitches with a 15 percent swinging-strike rate each, but his strikeout totals are lackluster and the underlying rate metrics paint a scary picture of his 2021. Akin is a probable reliever biding time until a more interesting name approaches, and Lowther’s deceptive delivery did little to mask his unexciting offerings from the dangers of upper-level bats.

Despite the very bland collection of back-end pitchers, Baltimore has reinforcements coming in short order in 2022 – and the organization will be better for them arriving.

First to discuss is my personal second-overall prospect, Grayson Rodriguez. If I may crudely paraphrase my podcasting partner Peyton Skinner, GRod “ticks all the boxes,” and emphatically, with a stupid-thick permanent marker at that.

Fresh off the heels of a 2021 season in which he posted nearly triple the number of strikeouts as hits allowed, Rodriguez features disgusting velocity on his fastball, chillin’ at 96-98 on the reg and maxing out with triple digits occasionally. The slider (a low 80s sweeper) and his curveball (low 80s with off-the-table movement) each garner rave reviews, but Rodriguez fills out his ridiculous arsenal with a new cutter and a changeup with more than 10 MPH of velo differentiation. Finally, GRod has a prototypical starter’s frame. He locates his pitches well. All of his pitches grade out supremely.

This is a no-doubter, folks. Grayson Rodriguez is a future number one, and a no-doubt prediction for meaningful big-league contribution in 2022.

The second impact arm to make his debut in 2022 should be D.L. Hall, another future fantasy stalwart buried beneath the mucky-muck of starters in Baltimore as of the moment.
For all the ballyhoo and praise I heaped upon Grayson Rodriguez’s pitches and arsenal, I may like Hall’s stuff just as much – if not more.

His fastball plays well and misses bats with upper-90s velocity, a near-criminal rate for a left-hander. Beyond the speed, the pitch doing a fine job setting up his breaking balls, which are, for lack of a more appropriate word, stupid.

Left-handed batters need not apply to his curveball or slider; the two pitches began to diverge more clearly in 2021, as the slider has more velo than the cambio. Rounding out the package is a changeup, which doesn’t zip through the zone, but earns enough whiffs from those trying to catch the fastball.

Don’t let any worries from the stress reaction in his elbow keep you from pursuing the young lefty; Hall had no major concerns from the injury and is as much a lock as G-Rod to help the Orioles this season. Even though the command is lacking when compared to Rodriguez’, Hall’s reliever risk is so negligible based solely upon the quality of his pitches.

I’ve said it multiple times in the SPS Discord, but if Hall does end up in the Baltimore bullpen, he will undoubtedly be the best reliever of the bunch by a country mile and will end up a lockdown flamethrower in the vein of Josh Hader or Raisel Iglesias. I still see a starter, however, and am buying when and wherever Hall is available.

3. Jose Barrero

As far as I know, there’s no proven, guaranteed way to overcome a poor showing in the major leagues.

Jose Barrero might have established the new frontrunning theory in 2021, though; His 135 wRC+ over 180 AA plate appearances were great, but the shortstop decided to up the ante and raise the figure to 158 wRC+ in 200 AAA PAs. His pair of stints in the majors, sandwiching around this stellar stretch in the upper minors, have varied along the spectrum from “poor” to “uninspiring,” but Barrero’s defense should hold a position in the majors while the offense improves or stabilizes.

Unfortunately, his natural position is currently filled by Kyle Farmer, a player best described as Silly Putty jammed into an atypical container; the substance fits, but probably not as well as it would have in its natural place.

…and to clarify, I mean the ‘catcher’ position, not the bizarre egg-shaped container Silly Putty belongs in.

Reds Manager David Bell seems to be fine with leaving the Silly Putty wherever it may land, though:

“…you look at what Kyle Farmer did last year, he’s coming in as the SS now… (Barrero) is going to force the issue…we’re going to have to let that play out.”

Farmer’s hot July and competent September aside, the versatile infielder was a pitiable major league batter in 2021, so the chances of Barrero beating him out of the job isn’t out of reach; Eugenio Suarez’ departure further opens time for the young shortstop, but he’ll need to impress this spring or over the opening months of the minor league season to capitalize on the opportunity before him.

(Note: On Sunday, March 20, Barrero suffered a hamate injury and faces an estimated six weeks of recovery. While the young shortstop will seek a second opinion, I still feel his chances of contributing to the Reds in the first half are strong, though it may take an additional month or two to be realized.)

4. Steven Kwan

Kwan’s selection for the exercise was excruciatingly close to being negated and shoved into the “obvious” section of the article, but I don’t interpret the community’s knowledge of or preparation for the debut of a prospect of this quality as being high enough.

The slight-framed Steven Kwan is a product of the Oregon State collegiate baseball dynasty of the last decade who turned in a .329/.431/.418 triple-slash and played alongside (and batted leadoff for) Nick Madrigal, Adley Rutschman, and Trevor Larnach. Not surprisingly, the closest comparison for Kwan’s carrying tool (hit) is former teammate Madrigal; in his career in pro ball, Kwan’s 3.3 swinging strike rate is the second-lowest in the minors among players with 650 plate appearances – the lowest is Madrigal’s.

Over his first few seasons, Kwan’s hit tool could not be disputed, but the counting stats were nowhere to be found, leaving much to be desired before a suitable major leaguer could be found. Fortunately, Kwan exploded into relevance last season, slashing a preposterous .328/.407/.527 line over stints in AA and AAA with 12 home runs, six stolen bases, and 109 combined runs and RBI. A batting stance change is a cause for Kwan’s newfound prospectdom, allowing a mid-range projection of double-digit yaks based upon consistency in the coming season.

While it’s unrealistic to believe he could slug .527 in the major leagues, the underlying mechanical change which is now present seems real enough to project Kwan as an everyday major leaguer. His plate discipline and knowledge of the strike zone are capitalized upon by his world-class hit tool, driven by his short-levered, whiff-free swing. This is an A-1 target, as the prospect hype has not caught up to the results, and Kwan represents a near-perfect leadoff hitter for the shuffling Guardians.

Now on the 40-man roster, Kwan is slotted into a platoon in left field to begin the season in Cleveland, giving him one of the more accelerated and bump-free roads to success in the 2022 season. I apologize to Bradley Zimmer, Owen Miller, and Oscar Mercado, but Myles Straw appears to be the only outfielder whose playing time feels safe – which means Kwan should control his own destiny, hopefully finding success in Spring Training and earning a promotion along the way.

5. Heliot Ramos

Back in the first round of the 2017 MLB Draft, Heliot Ramos was a five-tool player the Giants and fantasy managers could dream on. In terms of the modern Ramos, his set of tools are still present, though none of them have fully blossomed into the forms they were projected to be.

Splitting time between AA and AAA in 2021, Ramos batted .254/.323/.417 with 66 runs, 14 home runs, and 56 runs batted in. His approach at the plate is solid, teetering on too aggressive, leaving some swing-and-miss to be addressed. Ramos’ swing produces more drive than loft, but he still comfortably projects for seasons worth of double-digit home runs and steals at his peak.

Frankly, I feel the concerns levied against Ramos are overblown, as he’s been playing against consistently older competition for several years. His case of prospect fatigue is significant, one of the worst across Top 100 types, but I still see a probable major leaguer, and a damn good one, in fact. He may never be the star some projected him to be, but a double-digit homer/steal threat with solid defense will play every day.

With all the moving parts in San Francisco’s outfield, the path to playing time is certainly murky for any prospect. Mike Yastrzemski has cemented his place in right field. A left-field platoon between “Late Night” LaMonte Wade Jr. and Darin Ruf and a timeshare in center amongst Steven Duggar and Austin Slater project to keep the other 66 percent of the outfield occupied.

Unfortunately for Ramos, platooning does not seem to be a short-term fix for the Giants, who could feasibly alternate each position on a day-to-day basis. Regardless of their tinkering nature, the organization offers no obvious playing time solution for the 22-year-old.

Even still, the unpredictable occurs more often than not, and inevitably, something will clear space for Ramos at some point in 2022. It always feels macabre to project injuries for any player, but they do happen. While it may not be an outfield to directly open a line of time, the Giants appear willing to contend again, so the MLB-ready 22-year-old might be a perfect trade chip for a selling team.

Regardless, I’m keeping my eyes on Ramos in every league and will still be investing in dynasty situations.

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Drew Wheeler

Drew Wheeler

Drew is many things, the most pertinent of which is 'okay.' Additionally, he is a husband, friend, Dachshund-dad, and fantasy baseball champion peddling his carefully-crafted opinions to the masses with a chaser of bad jokes. Follow him on Twitter @drewisokay for baseball, professional wrestling, and Survivor opinions galore.

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