There are 121 players nominated for the 2022 All-MLB Team. If you've followed along throughout the season, you probably understand why everyone on that long list is up for consideration. Only 32 can make the cut onto the First or Second team, and fans can vote now for their favorites once every 24 hours until 5 p.m. ET on Nov. 22.
But take yourself back to Opening Day and then re-examine that list. Many players would still be thought of as shoo-in selections, but quite a few others weren't at the front of most minds in early April. Yet, over the course of six months and 162 games, those who were overlooked or unheralded demanded your attention.
In fact, you can make a pretty good starting lineup out of those types of players, so that’s what we’ll do. Here is one player from each position on the All-MLB ballot who surprised us this year.
Catcher: Cal Raleigh, Mariners
As a prospect, Raleigh’s power received a 60 grade and he had shown it in the Minors. He bashed 29 homers across two levels in 2019 and nine more in 44 games at Triple-A last year. But would that carry over into the big leagues? Raleigh had just two dingers in 139 at-bats with the Mariners in 2021, and his 2022 began with a 2-for-24 slump followed by a demotion back to the Minors.
However, things changed for Raleigh when he returned to Seattle in May. That power was fully realized at the highest level as he went yard 26 times over his final 105 games. He ultimately led all catchers in home runs this past season (22), became a folk hero in Seattle for his epic swing that launched the Mariners into the playoffs and got tagged with the best nickname in the game.
First baseman: Nathaniel Lowe, Rangers
The Rangers made two gigantic adds to their lineup last winter, signing shortstop Corey Seager and second baseman Marcus Semien to beef up their offense. But it was Lowe, in his second season with Texas, who was the team’s best bat in 2022. And it wasn’t really close.
The lefty swinger ranked among the American League leaders in multiple offensive categories, including hits (fourth, 179), total bases (sixth, 292) and OPS (eighth, .850). Lowe became the first Ranger to hit at least .300 with 25 homers since Adrián Beltré in 2016, and his 143 wRC+ was the best by any Ranger since Josh Hamilton (175) during his 2010 MVP campaign.
Lowe’s first season in Texas was fine – .264 average, 18 HRs, 114 wRC+ – but his game took a significant leap this year.
At the plate, Giménez ranked inside the top five among second basemen in hits (146), homers (17), stolen bases (25), average (.297), slugging percentage (.466) and OPS+ (141). He trailed only Jose Altuve in those last two categories.
The 23-year-old’s overall performance earned him his first Gold Glove and All-Star Selection. It also helped him register a 7.4 bWAR, which was one full win ahead of the next-best second baseman (Tommy Edman, 6.4).
Shortstop: Jeremy Peña, Astros
Rookie phenom. Postseason stud. Sure, we all know who Peña is now. But seven months ago, he was an unproven top prospect with big shoes to fill. Carlos Correa was a No. 1 overall Draft pick, Rookie of the Year, two-time All-Star and a World Series Champion in Houston, and after he went to the Twins as a free agent, the Astros trusted Peña to fill the void left behind.
He rewarded that trust immediately as he carried an .800-plus OPS into July and shined on defense. By season’s end, Peña had matched Correa with 22 home runs in the same number of games while surpassing him with the glove. And that was all before he, like Correa in previous years, experienced a major star turn in October.
Third baseman: Brandon Drury, Padres
Drury’s career was at a crossroads entering this year. Yeah, he had a decent albeit short run as a bat off the bench for the Mets in ‘21, putting together a .783 OPS through 84 at-bats. But from 2017-20, Drury played for three teams and recorded a .233/.283/.392 slash line while dealing with multiple injuries.
He latched on with the rebuilding Reds this past March on a one-year, $700,000 contract. And by the season’s midway point, he had clearly outperformed that deal. Although he wasn’t selected for the Midsummer Classic, Drury’s 18 homers and .528 slugging percentage at the All-Star break gave him a pretty good case among third basemen. Those two totals were topped only by Austin Riley, Rafael Devers and José Ramírez.
Drury was dealt to the Padres a couple of weeks later and although his bat wasn’t as loud in San Diego, he ultimately finished with career highs across the board, won a Silver Slugger and has positioned himself to receive a multiyear deal this winter in free agency.
Designated hitter: Albert Pujols, Cardinals
What began as a feel-good story about a legendary player returning to his roots to end his career transformed into an incredible tale of a future first-ballot Hall of Famer raging against the dying of his MLB light.
Wearing Cardinal red again for the first time since 2011, Pujols looked like a 42-year-old player during the first half of the season, batting .215 with a .676 OPS and six home runs through 149 at-bats.
And then somewhere between his Home Run Derby appearance or his 11th All-Star Game, Pujols discovered a way to turn back time about 15 years. He was once again one of the sport’s most feared hitters as he clocked 18 homers with a .715 slugging percentage, an 1.103 OPS and a 206 wRC+. The only player who was better than that after the break was AL MVP favorite Aaron Judge (minimum 150 plate appearances).
Of course, Pujols’ renaissance was highlighted by his two homers in Dodger Stadium on Sept. 23, which made him only the fourth member of the 700 HR club.
Outfielder: Taylor Ward, Angels
While Pujols took over the back half of the season, who was the best hitter during the opening months? OK, the subhead kind of gives the game away, but it was indeed Ward. The same Taylor Ward who had a .230 average and just 15 homers spread across his first four years and 479 at-bats with the Angels.
The 28-year-old got off to a late start due to an injury, but once he debuted on April 16, Ward was just about impossible to get out. By the time June arrived, the Angels’ leadoff hitter had a .347 average, 10 home runs and was leading MLB in on-base percentage (.459) and slugging (.686), just to name a couple of categories.
Ward cooled off in the latter months, but his surprising start justifies his standing as an All-MLB nominee.
Starting pitcher: Kyle Wright, Braves
Like other players on this list, Wright had the pedigree and the opportunity to author a breakout season; you just needed to see it first before ever considering him for an All-MLB squad. The fifth overall pick in the Draft five years ago came into this season with a career 6.56 ERA through 70 regular-season innings. He had completed five innings in just five of 14 career starts.
But this summer, while Ian Anderson faltered, Charlie Morton began to show his age, and before Spencer Strider became a strong Rookie of the Year candidate, Wright was a rock in Atlanta’s rotation. He compiled a 3.19 ERA over 30 starts and 180 1/3 innings. His 55.6 ground-ball rate ranked third among qualified starters, and Wright’s 2.65 walks per nine rate was his lowest at any level in pro ball (minimum 30 innings pitched).
Even though wins are not a good measurement of a pitcher’s quality, Wright did become the first Brave to lead MLB in victories since Hall of Famer Tom Glavine in 2000. That’s still a pretty cool note.
Relief pitcher: Evan Phillips, Dodgers
There are plenty of All-MLB reliever candidates who deserve the “surprise” label considering the year-to-year variability at the position. But no one could have foreseen Phillips’ season to remember.
A 17th-round Draft pick in 2015, Phillips’ ERA in college was 5.07. His ERA with three other MLB teams entering this year was 6.68. His 2021 ERA in the Minors was 5.04.
This year? How about 1.14 over 63 innings? Phillips had a stretch of 46 appearances from June 1 through the end of the regular season during which he allowed a total of two earned runs and constrained batters to an absurd .353 OPS.
The Dodgers made Phillips less reliant on his four-seamer and much more slider-heavy in his approach. It all helped him become arguably the best bullpen arm on the best team in the regular season.