Each team's potential impact callup
We’ve already seen how quickly Major League clubs have been willing to turn to their prospects in 2022. Top 10 overall prospects Bobby Witt Jr., Julio Rodríguez, Spencer Torkelson and C.J. Abrams all cracked their respective club’s Opening Day rosters with zero MLB experience, and Adley Rutschman and Riley Greene seemed likely candidates to join them, if not for spring injuries.
So as the question always goes, who’s got next?
Now that we’re roughly one week into the Major and Minor League regular seasons, here are potential impact callups for the 2022 campaign, one for each team:
AMERICAN LEAGUE EAST
Orioles: Adley Rutschman, C (No. 1/MLB No. 2)
Sometimes you avoid the obvious, sometimes you embrace it. For the Orioles, we’ve opted for the latter. If it hadn’t been for his triceps injury, Rutschman could very well have been another Top 5 prospect to make an Opening Day roster. He’s taking batting practice and going through a throwing progression on his way back. There’s no timeline yet, but rest assured he’s going to impact Baltimore’s lineup at some point this season.
Red Sox: Triston Casas, 1B (No. 2/MLB No. 16)
One of the best offensive prospects in baseball, Casas combines power and patience better than most. He's just 22 years old and the Red Sox don't have an obvious opening in their lineup at the moment, but the 2018 first-rounder from a Florida high school could force his way to Boston after a couple of months in Triple-A.
Yankees: Hayden Wesneski, RHP (No. 8)
A sixth-round pick out of Sam Houston State University in 2019, Wesneski rocketed from High-A to Triple-A in his full-season debut last year and opened '22 with five scoreless innings in Triple-A. With his combination of sink on his two-seam fastball, ride on his four-seamer and sweep on his slider, he's on the verge of helping the Yankees as a starter or multi-inning reliever.
Rays: Vidal Bruján, OF/2B (No. 4/MLB No. 76)
The 24-year-old switch-hitter, who possesses plus-plus speed, debuted last year and could be another Swiss army knife player for Tampa Bay at points this summer. After getting more looks in the outfield last season, Bruján played only non-first-base infield positions in the Grapefruit League and has seen time at short and third with Triple-A Durham so far in 2022. With Joey Wendle in Miami, Bruján could be the next young player to bop around the dirt in St. Petersburg. (Note: Bruján hasn’t appeared for Durham since awkwardly sliding into third base on April 6. He stayed in that game, however, and hasn’t been placed on the IL as of Thursday.)
Blue Jays: Gabriel Moreno, C (No. 1/MLB No. 7)
Visa issues delayed Moreno's arrival a bit this spring, but his charge with the Triple-A Buffalo Bisons is back on. The 22-year-old is a gifted hitter with good bat-to-ball skills and is an athletic defensive backstop to boot, making him one of the Minors' best all-around catchers. The Jays have shuffled their catching depth chart a little by sending Reese McGuire to Chicago for another backstop in Zack Collins, but Moreno remains the future of the position (even with Alejandro Kirk and the injured Danny Jansen in the Majors) and should provide a boost to Toronto's AL East hopes as early as the first half.
AMERICAN LEAGUE CENTRAL
Guardians: Gabriel Arias, SS (No. 3/MLB No. 72)
Arias provides more power and better defense at shortstop than Amed Rosario, so he could claim that job and/or push Rosario to second base if Andrés Giménez can't get his bat going. Acquired in the nine-player Mike Clevinger trade with the Padres in August 2020, Arias also has one of the strongest arms in the Minors.
White Sox: Romy Gonzalez, SS/2B (No. 8)
The White Sox have a stacked big league club and MLB Pipeline's 30th-ranked farm system, so they may not get huge contributions from their prospects in 2022. But Gonzalez, an 18th-round pick from the University of Miami in 2018 who broke out last year, could offer some power and speed off the bench while playing all over the diamond.
Tigers: Riley Greene, OF (No. 2/MLB No. 5)
The 21-year-old outfielder likely would have joined fellow Top 5 prospect Spencer Torkelson on Detroit’s Major League roster to start the season if not for the fractured right foot he suffered at the tail end of Spring Training. The Tigers didn’t release an initial timeline on Greene’s possible return to action, but he may be back to playing games by late May/early June if all goes well. His plus hit and power tools would provide an instant boost to Detroit’s outfield, and even with the addition of Austin Meadows, there should still be a place for a healthy Greene when he’s ready.
Royals: Nick Pratto, 1B (No. 3/MLB No. 61)
Bobby Witt Jr., Kyle Isbel and Dylan Coleman opened 2022 in the Majors. Of those with the highest potential remaining in the Minors, Pratto seemingly has the clearest path to K.C. Following his 2021 improvements, Pratto is tapping much more regularly into his plus power from the left side, and his defense at first base could be Gold Glove-worthy in the Majors upon arrival. Unlike Salvador Perez to MJ Melendez, Pratto doesn’t have the same franchise-level player blocking his path on the depth chart.
Twins: Royce Lewis, SS/OF (No. 1/MLB No. 45)
Last week, we predicted that Lewis would come up and help the Twins win the AL Central, so he has to be the clear choice for this week’s theme, right? He’s played only shortstop in Triple-A so far this year, but showed in the Arizona Fall League that he’s perfectly capable of moving around the field, looking particularly good in center field. And it’s an easy trip, too, going from St. Paul to Minneapolis when that call comes.
AMERICAN LEAGUE WEST
Astros: Hunter Brown, RHP (No. 3)
While playing in five consecutive American League Championship Series, the Astros have made a habit of turning pitching prospects with modest beginnings into vital members of their staff. The next could be Brown, a 2019 fifth-rounder from NCAA Division II Wayne State University (Mich.), who can hit 99 mph with his fastball and also owns a devastating curveball.
Angels: Janson Junk, RHP (No. 11)
Originally taken in the 22nd round of the 2017 Draft by the Yankees, Junk used the 2020 shutdown to turn himself into a legitimate prospect. He was dominating in Double-A when he was sent to the Angels in the Andrew Heaney deal, and he kept pitching well -- including during four starts in the big leagues last year -- so he’s already shown he can compete at this level.
A’s: Shea Langeliers, C (No. 2/MLB No. 58)
Sure, Sean Murphy is the guy in the big leagues right now and Langeliers is similar in terms of his glove being ahead of his bat. But Langeliers’ power is legit. He’s already smashed three homers this year in Triple-A after hitting 22 in 97 games a year ago in the Braves' system, and he’s ready to contribute right now. It’s going to come down to need and opportunity in Oakland.
Mariners: George Kirby, RHP (No. 3/MLB No. 31)
The Mariners decided to start Kirby in Double-A, and he’s going to quickly show he needs to move up, as he’s already struck out 13, with only one walk and five hits in 9 2/3 innings across two starts. His combination of premium stuff and command should move him to Triple-A in short order, and it’s hard to imagine him not being a part of the big league rotation in the second half of the season, if not sooner.
Rangers: Cole Winn, RHP (No. 3/MLB No. 47)
The Rangers may have the deepest crop of pitching prospects they've ever had, and the first frontline starter from that group to arrive in Arlington should be Winn, their first-round pick from a California high school in 2018. The Double-A Central Pitcher of the Year in '21, he possesses four pitches that grade as at least plus when they're on.
NATIONAL LEAGUE EAST
Braves: Braden Shewmake, SS (No. 6)
Shewmake had a rough year at the plate in Double-A a year ago, but he showed up to camp this spring stronger and having made some swing changes. The result? He’s off to a 5-for-12 start in Triple-A. He’s a really good defender at short (yes, we know Dansby Swanson is there), but he’s athletic enough to move around the infield if he’s needed in Atlanta.
Marlins: Max Meyer, RHP (No. 3/MLB No. 34)
The No. 3 overall pick in the 2020 Draft out of the University of Minnesota, Meyer excelled across 22 starts between Double-A and Triple-A (2.27 ERA) during his '21 pro debut and pushed to make the Marlins this spring. He may not have to wait too much longer, as his mid-90s fastball and wipeout slider have helped him allow just four baserunners, while striking out 13 in his first nine Triple-A innings this season.
Mets: Mark Vientos, 3B/OF (No. 4)
We could have gone with Francisco Álvarez, Brett Baty or Ronny Mauricio here given their hot starts at Double-A, but we’ll go with the top-four prospect actually closest to heading to Queens. With plus power and a good overall bat, Vientos would be an impact hitter in the middle of the Mets lineup rather quickly. He’s been third base-only in the early days of 2022 with Triple-A Syracuse, but he’s likely to sneak in looks in left field (as he did last year) before truly pressing the issue. Like many on this list, the 22-year-old Vientos is already on the 40-man roster.
Phillies: Logan O’Hoppe, C (No. 5)
There’s some obvious catching depth in this system, starting with the All-Star, J.T. Realmuto, at the big league level, and O’Hoppe is in Double-A. But count us among those who believe O’Hoppe is a Major League regular behind the plate, and his skills as a hitter have developed rapidly as well. He’s better long-term than Garrett Stubbs and could allow Realmuto to move to other positions or DH as needed.
Nationals: Cade Cavalli, RHP (No. 1/MLB No. 38)
Washington decision-makers have talked about Cavalli’s arrival in the Major League rotation all spring, and it may only take a few Triple-A starts for him to earn that look. The 23-year-old right-hander’s four-pitch mix -- highlighted by an upper-90s fastball and a pair of plus breaking balls -- would certainly play against big leaguers right now, but his command of that arsenal needs improvement. If he can hit his spots more consistently, there should be a spot in the capital waiting for him in the first half of the season.
NATIONAL LEAGUE CENTRAL
Cubs: Brennen Davis, OF (No. 1/MLB No. 15)
The Cubs' primary outfielders are all off to hot starts, though Davis offers a better combination of power and speed, and perhaps better defense in center field, than anyone on their big league roster. The 2018 second-rounder from an Arizona high school could use some more time in Triple-A, where he has logged limited appearances in the last two seasons, but he's nearly ready for Wrigley Field.
Reds: Brandon Williamson, LHP (No. 5/MLB No. 100)
Yes, he got knocked around in his first start with the Reds organization, in Double-A, after coming from the Mariners in the Jesse Winker trade, but we’re not too worried. He’s one of the more intriguing left-handed pitching prospects in baseball, with a ton of upside. Look for him to get settled in and use his four-pitch mix to carry him to Triple-A and then the big leagues where he can join Hunter Greene and Nick Lodolo in a very exciting and young big league rotation.
Brewers: Ethan Small, LHP (No. 7)
The Brewers know how to bring along pitching, as Corbin Burnes, Brandon Woodruff, Freddy Peralta and now Aaron Ashby can attest. Small appears to be the next arm ready to help out following his return to Triple-A Nashville. The 25-year-old southpaw showcases a low-90s “invisiball” fastball and a plus changeup that have helped him post a 1.91 ERA over his first 11 Triple-A starts, dating back to last year. Further refinement of his slider, along with slightly improved control, could be all that stands between him and a role with the Brewers, either as a starter or long man out of the bullpen initially.
Pirates: Oneil Cruz, SS/OF (No. 3/MLB No. 26)
There was a question about Cruz not being in the big leagues in this week’s Pipeline Inbox, and we agree that we all want to see Cruz and his ridiculous raw power and unusual athleticism in a 6-foot-7 frame back in Pittsburgh soon. He’s still mostly playing shortstop in Triple-A, though he’s played one game in left field and is getting outfield reps, one of the main reasons he’s down there. Here’s thinking he gets more big league at-bats than Triple-A ones in 2022.
Cardinals: Nolan Gorman (No. 2/MLB No. 32)
St. Louis started planning for Gorman’s place in the Majors last year when it got him most of his defensive looks at second base. To begin 2022, the Cardinals assigned Gorman back to Triple-A Memphis, where he played 76 games last year, and he’s off to a hot start with a .385/.448/.731 line and three homers through seven games entering Thursday. Getting the ball off the ground was going to be a point of emphasis in his return to the Minors’ top level, and early returns are promising. It might not be long before Gorman takes over for Tommy Edman at the keystone.
NATIONAL LEAGUE WEST
D-backs: Alek Thomas (No. 1/MLB No. 18)
There were rumblings that Thomas was in the mix to crack the Majors out of Spring Training after he hit .313/.394/.559 with 18 homers and 13 steals in 106 games at Double-A and Triple-A a year ago. Instead, the 21-year-old has headed back to Reno to open the 2022 season. A career .311 hitter in the Minors, Thomas started to show improved power upon reaching the upper Minors, and his plus speed and defense could be useful to Arizona right now. A little more Triple-A experience may be the only thing between him and a spot in the Majors.
Rockies: Elehuris Montero, 3B/1B (No. 4)
He had a bounce-back season last year, his first with the Rockies, hitting 28 homers across two levels, and he’s already gone deep twice in eight games in Triple-A. While C.J. Cron and Ryan McMahon seem to have the infield corners taken care of, and Connor Joe is off to a good start as well, Montero’s power bat is going to force its way into the Rockies lineup eventually, where he can get at-bats at both third and first while also taking advantage of the universal DH.
Dodgers: Ryan Pepiot, RHP (No. 6)
The Dodgers keep winning and keep producing talent, and they have several pitching prospects who could play roles in Los Angeles this year. A 2019 third-round pick from Butler, Pepiot likely will be the first one to get a chance. He has ridden his mid-90s fastball and wicked changeup to a pair of scoreless outings (7 2/3 innings, one hit) in Triple-A to start the season.
Padres: MacKenzie Gore, LHP (No. 4/MLB No. 85)
The cat is out of the bag on this one. Gore was added to San Diego's taxi squad this week and is headed for his Major League debut in Friday's game at home against the Braves. That comes after Gore battled issues with his command and delivery for the last two seasons. He's looked like his more dominant self this spring, sitting in the mid-90s with his fastball while getting whiffs on his slider and changeup. After striking seven and without issuing a walk over five scoreless innings in his season debut for Triple-A El Paso last Saturday, Gore has earned this chance to stick at last in the Padres rotation.
Giants: Gregory Santos, RHP (No. 14)
Part of the Eduardo Núñez trade with the Red Sox in 2017, Santos has the most upside among the several quality relief prospects in the upper levels of the Giants' system. Armed with a 97-99 mph four-seam fastball with quality carry and an 88-90 mph slider with nasty life, he struck out six in his first three Triple-A innings this year.