There have been some major names in the prospect world called up over the past several years.
Ronald Acuna Jr. and Shohei Ohtani broke out in 2018. Vladimir Guerrero Jr. and Fernando Tatis Jr. were the big names in 2019. Luis Robert had his first year in 2020. Wander Franco and Randy Arozarena were critical to the Rays' success in 2021.
The rookie class in 2022 has the chance to be something extra special. Many of the consensus top prospects in the sport are opening the season on MLB rosters, and several others are considered not far behind.
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One facet of the new CBA has helped incentivize teams to place top prospects on their Opening Day rosters. Rookies who open the year on the roster and finish in the top three in Rookie of the Year or top five in MVP or Cy Young voting earn their team an extra draft pick, providing teams an extra reason to call up their young talents early.
There are a lot of big names to track in 2022. Here are a few prospects The Sporting News has its eyes on heading into the year. The list is limited to players who will be making their MLB debut in 2022.
C.J. Abrams, Padres
The stolen base has become somewhat of a lost art in the minors. Padres' shortstop C.J. Abrams is looking to change that. The sixth overall pick by the Padres in 2019 is one of the fastest players in the minors and has put together a standout Spring Training to force himself into the conversation for a spot on the Opening Day roster.
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Abrams played in 34 games in 2019 after he was drafted and immediately put the wheels on display, swiping 15 bases in 21 attempts. After the 2020 minor league season was canceled due to COVID-19, he returned to appear in 42 games in Double-A, where he stole 13 bases in 15 attempts to go along with a .296/.363/.420 slash line. For those keeping track, his career totals put him on pace for a 162-game pace of 60 stolen bases.
Abrams missed much of the 2021 season due to injuries and still has limited experience past high school with only 76 games to his name, but with his hit tool, speed and defensive ability, he could be a major boost to the Padres as they look to get back to the playoffs, especially with Fernando Tatis Jr. expected to miss several months.
Hunter Greene, Reds
It has been a disappointing offseason for Reds fans who have watched a potential postseason team dismantled instead of improved, but there are reasons for excitement in 2022. The first reason is 2017 No. 2 overall pick Hunter Greene. The team announced Greene would make his MLB debut on April 10 against the Braves and would become a regular in the rotation.
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Greene did not get off to a hot start in the minors. He struggled in his 2017 debut and pitched to a 4.48 ERA in 2018 before undergoing Tommy John surgery. He dominated after returning to the mound in 2021, posting a 3.30 ERA with 139 strikeouts and only 39 walks in 106.1 innings of work.
If you want to see some high-octane fastballs, Greene is your guy to watch. He regularly hits triple-digits and, according to Redleg Nation, has reached 104 mph in games. Add to that a wipeout slider and improved secondary offerings, and you've got a pitcher with some of the highest upside in baseball. He'll be a must-watch attraction when he takes the mound for Cincinnati.
Max Meyer, Marlins
Another pick from the 2017 draft? Not quite. Max Meyer was taken in the 34th round in 2017, but went to the University of Minnesota to pitch. Three years later, the Marlins nabbed him with the third overall pick after a dazzling career with the Golden Gophers.
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In just one season in the minors, Meyer ascended from Double-A to Triple-A and dominated opposing batters at every level. He had a combined 2.27 ERA with 130 strikeouts and only 42 walks in 111 innings with 20 starts in Double-A and the other two in Triple-A.
Meyer isn't regularly in triple-digits like Greene, but he'll hit 100 mph and has plenty of life on the fastball. His slider reaches the upper-80s as his best pitch and one of the best secondary offerings in the minors. Coming out of college, Meyer was viewed as a quick riser who could be among the fastest in his class to reach the majors. After already reaching Triple-A in 2021, he could be in Miami in only his second season in professional baseball.
Jose Miranda, Twins
Some prospects are first-rounders with plenty of pedigree. Some are lower picks who slowly work their way up. Jose Miranda was taken 73rd overall in the 2016 draft by the Twins, and it took him a while before he started to really make waves.
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But he made plenty of noise in 2021. He slugged a career-best 30 home runs between Double-A and Triple-A in 2021, with 17 coming at the higher level. That accompanied an impressive .344/.401/.572 slash line and minuscule strikeout rates of 11.5 percent in Double-A and 13.1 percent in Triple-A.
Miranda is not a great defender, but he can handle a multitude of positions, which should help him find a role in Minnesota at some point during the season. He has the potential to be a major impact bat in the lineup and could impress with his power if he gets the call this year.
Gabriel Moreno, Blue Jays
The Blue Jays already feel loaded at every position on the field. How could they possibly get any more stacked? Gabriel Moreno might be the answer to that. The one position that lacks true star talent is catcher, and Moreno picked a great time to have a breakout season that vaulted him up prospect charts.
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Moreno reached the Low-A level in 2019 and performed well, slashing .280/.337/.485 with 12 home runs in 85 games, but it was his 2021 campaign that has everyone talking about the 22-year-old catcher. He appeared in 32 games for Double-A New Hampshire and crushed pitching at the level, slashing .373/.441/.651 with eight home runs, only 25 strikeouts and 14 walks. He had a fractured thumb that limited the rest of his season, but he did appear briefly in Triple-A, where he will likely begin the 2022 season.
Toronto is currently looking at Danny Jansen and Alejandro Kirk to open the season as the catching tandem, but neither have established themselves as true starting-caliber catchers at the dish. If Moreno can replicate his Double-A success in Buffalo, he could see himself in Toronto before too long, which would make an already potent lineup that much deeper.
Julio Rodriguez, Mariners
The Mariners were one of baseball's biggest surprises in 2021, when they won 90 games and nearly made the playoffs. Seattle expects that 2022 is going to be even better, and a big reason for that is the presence of Julio Rodriguez. The 21-year-old outfielder has slugged his way to the top of prospect lists, and after a blistering spring training, the team announced he will begin the year in the big leagues.
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Evaluators have raved about the talent in Rodriguez's bat for years, and he's never disappointed. But last season was where he was able to shine at the highest levels. He reached Double-A and finished the 46-game stretch with a slash line of .362/.461/.546 with seven home runs, 37 strikeouts and 29 walks.
The bat is loud and it's dynamic. He's not a prototypical slugger, who is set to strike out, walk and hit home runs. Scouts see him as a true middle-of-the-order talent who will compete for batting titles and home run crowns. The outfield is already poised to be stacked with Jesse Winker, Jarred Kelenic and Mitch Haniger, but it would not be surprising if Rodriguez had the best season of the bunch.
Adley Rutschman, Orioles
There's often plenty of fluidity over the course of a draft season among scouts over the consensus No. 1 player in a draft class. That was never the case with Oregon State catcher Adley Rutschman. Heading into the 2019 draft, he was the undisputed top pick from the time the 2018 draft ended until the Orioles submitted their selection. He has firmly established since then that they made the right choice.
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Entering 2021, Rutschman had played in only 37 games of professional baseball after the 2020 minor league season was canceled. He showed no rust whatsoever. He crushed Double-A pitching to the tune of a .901 OPS in 80 games before earning a promotion to Triple-A. He kept his hot hitting going, posting a .896 OPS in 43 games to finish his first full season of action with a slash line of .285/.397/.502 with 23 home runs, 79 walks and 90 strikeouts between the two levels.
As if the hype around Rutschman couldn't be any higher over his batting potential, scouts also see him as one of the best defensive catching prospects in the minors and view his upside as not only an annual Silver Slugger at the position, but also a Gold Glove winner. He was shut down in spring training with a triceps strain, and might return to the minors briefly to get back to seeing live pitching before a promotion. But expect Rutschman to be in the majors early in the 2022 season.
Spencer Torkelson, Tigers
Much like with Rutschman, there was little speculation as to who the Tigers would select with their first overall pick in 2020. Arizona State star first baseman Spencer Torkelson had torn apart college and summer-league pitching and boasted one of the most major league-ready bats scouts had seen. After just one season in the minors, he's now going to open the year in Detroit.
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Torkelson started the 2021 season in High-A, but was promoted all the way up to Triple-A. Though he hit only .238 in 40 games in Toledo, the .881 OPS, 23 walks and 36 strikeouts pointed to a batter that still controlled the strike zone and hit the ball with authority. His .233 BABIP pointed to a batter who just was unlucky in the small sample size. This spring training, he kept his success going with a .895 OPS to solidify his spot on the roster.
The Tigers have used Torkelson at third base and first in the minors, but with Miguel Cabrera fully entrenched as the DH at this point in his career, Torkelson will likely be the team's primary first baseman. He immediately opens the year as one of the frontrunners for American League Rookie of the Year. The Tigers have a youth movement coming up through the minors, including the rise of fellow top prospect Riley Greene, and Torkelson figures to be at the center of this team for years to come.
Alek Thomas, Diamondbacks
The Diamondbacks need a reason to be excited in the coming years. Coming off a 52-110 season and bracing for another year in the brutal NL West, Arizona is likely headed for another year in the cellar. But the team can take comfort in knowing that top prospect, Alek Thomas, is just around the corner.
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Thomas has always shown a promising hit tool in the minors, but in 2021, he tapped into the raw power more. In 106 games between Double- and Triple-A, he launched 18 home runs with a .313/.394/.559 slash line. He also walked 52 times with only 99 strikeouts and added 13 stolen bases to his stat line.
At only 21 years old and having played only 34 games in Triple-A, Thomas is not expected to begin the campaign in Phoenix, but he also should not spend much time in the minors if he keeps hitting as he did in 2021. With his contact, power and speed, there isn't much Thomas can't do when he's on the field, and he would add some excitement to the games at Chase Field.
Bobby Witt Jr., Royals
There are plenty of exciting prospects getting a promotion in 2022. But the hype meter goes off the charts for Bobby Witt Jr. The son of former big league pitcher Bobby Witt, the infielder was taken right after Rutschman in the 2019 MLB Draft and has stayed right there with him as two of the top three consensus prospects in the sport. Despite being drafted out of high school, Witt will make his MLB debut first as he was named to the Royals' Opening Day roster.
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Coming out of high school, Witt was viewed as a five-tool prospect. He's proven that that wasn't just talk. Witt started the 2021 season in Double-A and posted a .939 OPS with 16 home runs and 14 stolen bases. That 61-game span was enough for the Royals to promote him to Triple-A, where he replicated his success in 63 games, posting a .933 OPS with 17 home runs and 15 stolen bases.
Witt has the potential to immediately thrust himself into the conversation with several other big names as one of the sport's brightest young stars. He hits for contact and power, he is fast and he's a smooth defender. Witt is the favorite to win AL Rookie of the Year, per VegasInsider, and looks to be the first of many exciting players to come up in Kansas City.