We're all about forecasting the future at MLB Pipeline. While much of our work entails evaluating the long-term value of prospects in the Minors or the Draft, we also made some very specific predictions a year ago to celebrate the opening of the 2021 Minor League season.
Our best call last year was Sam nailing that 2020 No. 1 overall pick Spencer Torkelson would bash 30 homers in his pro debut in the Tigers system. We hit on several others as well, including White Sox third baseman Jake Burger regaining his power after a long injury layoff, Guardians right-hander Daniel Espino blowing away Class A hitters and Pirates shortstop Liover Peguero leaping onto the Top 100 Prospects list.
With Triple-A teams already having begun play on Tuesday and the rest of the full-season clubs set to start on Friday, here's what we foresee for 2022:
AMERICAN LEAGUE EAST
Blue Jays: Orelvis Martinez, SS/3B (No. 2/MLB No. 38)
Martinez led all Minor League teenagers with 28 homers between Single-A and High-A last season as a 19-year-old. He’s set to jump to Double-A as a 20-year-old, and even though he’ll see the upper Minors for the first time, we believe the power is only going to get better for the infielder, in part because he’ll get away from the pitcher-friendly parks of the Florida State League. Martinez will eclipse the 30-homer mark for the first time in his career in 2022.
Orioles: Grayson Rodriguez, RHP (No. 2/MLB No. 6)
Giving Adley Rutschman a week off, this year’s Orioles prediction is about the best pitching prospect in baseball. Rodriguez will make quick work of Triple-A, earn a callup by midseason and pitch well enough in the second half to get some American League Rookie of the Year votes.
Rays: Taj Bradley, RHP (No. 3/MLB No. 74)
Bradley already finished at the top of a Minor League leaderboard in one category when he led full-season qualifiers with a 1.83 ERA at Single-A and High-A in 2021. With an improved fastball and slider, his stuff is only trending upwards, and that could lead to even more swing-and-misses this season. Thanks to an increased workload and deep arsenal, Bradley will finish among the top five in Minor League strikeouts this summer, starting at Double-A Montgomery.
Red Sox: Nick Yorke, 2B (No. 3/MLB No. 55)
In his 2021 pro debut, Yorke batted just .195 in his first month but hit .362 the rest of the way to finish at .325 overall and capture the Low-A East batting title at .323. This year, he'll eschew the early slump and win the Minor League batting title with a .358 average between High-A and Double-A.
Yankees: Anthony Volpe, SS (No. 1/MLB No. 8)
Led by Volpe, MLB Pipeline's 2021 Hitting Prospect of the Year, the Yankees will have four shortstops who hit 20 or more homers in the Minors. Volpe will go deep 29 times, followed by Trey Sweeney with 24, Oswald Peraza with 22 and Oswaldo Cabrera with 21.
AMERICAN LEAGUE CENTRAL
Guardians: Daniel Espino, RHP (No. 2/MLB No. 53)
Armed with a fastball that tops 100 mph and a slider that exceeds 90 mph, not to mention a power curveball and developing changeup, Espino will ascend to ranking as baseball's best pitching prospect by season's end. He'll also top the Minors with 188 strikeouts in 121 innings -- unless he forces his way to Cleveland ahead of schedule.
Royals: Erick Peña, OF (unranked)
There was considerable hype around Peña after he signed for $3,897,500 in July 2019, but he hit just .161/.256/.314 in the Arizona Complex League last season in his first taste of the Minors. The Royals remain high on the 19-year-old’s hitting ability, believing 2021 was an educational year for the outfielder, and a bounceback year at Single-A Columbia could be in the cards. We’re putting Peña down for at least a 110 wRC+ as he decreases his strikeouts and taps more into his above-average power.
Tigers: Cristian Santana, SS (No. 5)
Santana hits his way to full-season ball by August. That’s no small thing for a shortstop who only signed in January 2021 and will be 18 for the duration of the 2022 season. But Santana has a potential 60-grade hit tool, which he showed off by posting a .941 OPS over 54 games in the DSL last season, and the Tigers had no problem getting him in Major League Spring Training games just before the season started. Santana could move quickly beyond the Florida Complex League and become the face of the system following the graduations of Spencer Torkelson and Riley Greene.
Twins: Royce Lewis, SS/OF (No. 1/MLB No. 46)
Predicting a full, healthy season should be enough since Lewis hasn’t played a competitive game since 2019, right? Beyond that, Lewis will prove his knee is just fine and will hit and run his way up to the big leagues in the second half. Moving around the diamond, his bolt of energy will help the Twins win the AL Central and he’ll land on the postseason roster.
White Sox: Oscar Colas, OF (No. 2)
Signed for $2.7 million in January, Colas will live up to his scouting reports of having well above-average raw power and arm strength. He'll slam 24 homers between High-A and Double-A and also register 13 assists as a right fielder.
AMERICAN LEAGUE WEST
A’s: Zack Gelof, 3B (No. 3)
The A’s second-round pick in 2021 will show that his .333/.422/.565 line during his 33-game pro debut last summer was no fluke. The University of Virginia product will hit his way from Double-A to Triple-A in his first full season and put up a 20-20 season in the process, working his way onto the Top 100.
Angels: Sam Bachman, RHP (No. 2)
Bachman will quickly answer questions about his ability to start by carving up Minor League hitters with his ridiculous fastball-slider combination. His changeup will be much better than people anticipated and he’ll maintain his stuff and command deep into starts, pitching across three levels while leading the organization in strikeouts, landing firmly in the conversation about top right-handed pitching prospects in the game.
Astros: Hunter Brown, RHP (No. 3)
Following Cristian Javier and Luis Garcia, Brown will become the third straight unhyped Astro who will finish first among pitchers in American League Rookie of the Year balloting. He'll arrive in Houston in late May and finish with 11 wins, a 3.52 ERA and 132 strikeouts in 122 innings.
Mariners: George Kirby, RHP (No. 3/MLB No. 32)
Kirby will quickly show that there was no need to send him to Double-A to start the year, dominating the level so handily, he’ll earn a promotion to Triple-A by May. From there, the 2019 first-rounder will bring his dominant stuff and uncanny control to Seattle, settling into the big league rotation in the second half of the season, posting another year with a combined K/BB rate of 5.00 or better. (His career rate is 7.00 and was 5.33 in 2021.)
Rangers: Jack Leiter, RHP (No. 1/MLB No. 17)
The No. 2 overall pick in the 2021 Draft, Leiter will live up to the hype, dominating the upper levels of the Minors and laying the groundwork to make Texas' 2023 Opening Day rotation. He'll post a sub-2.00 ERA in Double-A in the first half of the season, start the Sirius XM All-Star Futures Game in July and finish with 10 strong Triple-A starts.
NATIONAL LEAGUE EAST
Braves: Jesse Franklin, OF (No. 11)
Franklin hit 24 homers in his first season of pro ball, albeit with a healthy strikeout rate, and finished a stolen base shy of a 20-20 season. He may not steal as many bags in 2022, but he’ll prove the power will play at the upper levels, topping 30 homers for the year and leading the organization in long balls and slugging percentage.
Marlins: JJ Bleday, OF (No. 6/MLB No. 69)
Which is the real Bleday? The one who batted .212/.323/.373 in Double-A last summer or the one who raked at a .316/.435/.600 clip in the Arizona Fall League? He'll do a better job this year of living up to expectations as the No. 4 overall pick in the 2019 Draft, bouncing back to hit .280/.370/.510 with 24 homers in Triple-A.
Mets: Francisco Álvarez (No. 1/MLB No. 10)
Álvarez hit .272/.388/.554 with 24 homers in 99 games last season, and that was while playing the plurality of his games at High-A Brooklyn, one of the most pitcher-friendly environs in the Minors. He’s taking his plus hit tool and plus-plus raw power to Double-A Binghamton to start 2022, and the added experience, along with the change of venue, could lead to an even bigger year ahead -- so much so that Álvarez will be MLB Pipeline’s Hitting Prospect of the Year come season’s end, following in the footsteps of fellow New York prospect Anthony Volpe.
Nationals: Cade Cavalli, RHP (No. 1/MLB No. 39)
The NL Rookie of the Year race looks wide open at this juncture. With that in mind, top Nationals prospect Cavalli will earn some ROY votes come the fall. The reigning Minor League strikeout king is already on the cusp of the Majors at Triple-A Rochester, and the rebuilding Nats seemed poised to call on him early in 2022, meaning he’ll get enough innings to make himself a candidate. Command will be a focus this summer, but with four above-average pitches, Cavalli has the stuff to be at least a steady performer in the Majors upon his arrival.
Phillies: Andrew Painter, RHP (No. 3)
The Phillies went big right-handed high schooler in the first round in back-to-back drafts, with Mick Abel a step ahead of Painter. Having Abel as a mentor will prove useful, as the 6-foot-7 Painter will come out on fire right out of the gate, pitching so well in Clearwater, he’ll earn a promotion to High-A before the year is out, replacing Abel (who will have been promoted to Double-A Reading) and landing firmly in the Top 100.
NATIONAL LEAGUE CENTRAL
Brewers: Jeferson Quero, C (No. 5)
Quero is already considered a plus defender with a 60 arm behind the plate, and a series of unrelated injuries kept him from showing more offensively in the Arizona Complex League last season. He did finish with a .309/.434/.509 line in 23 games there, and the Brewers felt comfortable assigning him to Single-A Carolina for his age-19 season despite the limited experience. With additional playing time to show off his offensive skills, Quero will be a Top 100 prospect by the end of the season, solidifying his place as one of the best catching prospects in the game.
Cardinals: Jordan Walker (No. 1/MLB No. 30)
The chatter around Walker’s prospect stock has gotten louder by the month since he was selected 21st overall in 2020. The 19-year-old third baseman showed off special power and overall hitting ability with a .548 slugging percentage and 14 homers in 82 games between Single-A and High-A. He’s received another aggressive assignment at Double-A Springfield to begin the season, and when he continues to show 65-grade pop there, Walker will become a Top 10 overall prospect at the end of 2022.
Cubs: James Triantos, 2B/SS (No. 3)
Originally set to graduate from high school in 2022, Triantos reclassified with the intent to attend the University of North Carolina a year ahead of schedule. Instead, he signed as a second-round pick last July and will spend this year winning the Single-A Carolina League batting title with a .337 average.
Pirates: Nick Gonzales, 2B (No. 1/MLB No. 20)
A broken finger slowed Gonzales last year, so not everyone realized just how good he was in the second half of his first season of pro ball. The 2020 first-rounder will show that his 1.032 OPS in the Arizona Fall League was no fluke and will hit his way to Pittsburgh in the second half, with that callup being the only thing keeping him from winning a Minor League batting title.
Reds: Brandon Williamson, LHP (No. 5)
Williamson narrowly missed our Top 100 (though he did land on our Top 10 LHP prospect list) before he was dealt to the Reds in the Jesse Winker/Eugenio Suarez trade. He’ll prove that we made a mistake very quickly, striking out 12 per nine or better in his first taste of Triple-A and earning a second-half callup to Cincinnati, where he will join Hunter Greene and Nick Lodolo in a very exciting young rotation.
NATIONAL LEAGUE WEST
D-backs: Corbin Carroll (No. 2/MLB No. 19)
Saying Thomas will see the Majors at some point in 2022 isn’t much of a take as he begins the season back at Triple-A Reno. Let’s go one step further. Carroll will get Major League at-bats this season. The D-backs’ No. 2 prospect missed all but one week of the 2022 season with a shoulder injury but was pushed to Double-A Amarillo because Arizona deemed his plus hit tool, growing power and 70-grade speed ready for the upper Minors. After spending his off time studying Major League hitters in 2021, Carroll could hit the ground running, move to Reno himself by midseason and put himself in position to see Arizona by September.
Dodgers: Bobby Miller, RHP (No. 2/MLB No. 57) Striking out Shohei Ohtani on a 100-mph fastball on Tuesday won't be the last time Miller blows away big leaguers with his heat this year. He'll claim a significant role with the Dodgers this summer and pitch important innings in October with an arsenal that also includes a pair of power breaking balls and a lively changeup.
Giants: Luis Matos, OF (No. 3/MLB No. 63)
After posting a 1.004 OPS in his 2019 pro debut and winning 2021 Low-A West MVP honors in his first full pro season, what will Matos do for an encore? He'll win his second consecutive MVP award in the High-A Northwest League by batting .322 with 21 homers and 24 steals.
Padres: James Wood, OF (No. 5)
In talking to folks at San Diego’s Minor League spring camp, their eyes lit perhaps the most when discussing 2021 second-rounder James Wood. The 6-foot-7 outfielder shows above-average power and surprising speed for his size, leading Padres officials to believe he truly can stick in center. Should he show even an average hit tool in his first full season, Wood will rival Robert Hassell III for the title of best outfield prospect in the San Diego system.
Rockies: Drew Romo, C (No. 2)
Romo was another player who some in the scouting industry believed belong on a Top 100 list, but he just missed out in the end. That won’t last long as he’ll continue to provide his plus defense behind the plate and show the gains with the bat last year (.314/.345/.439) by playing his way from High-A to Double-A and joining a very deep crop of backstops in the Top 100 before the All-Star break.