Prospects we expect to break out in '22
Here at MLB Pipeline, we like to begin the new year by picking prospects primed for a breakout in the upcoming season. When we highlighted a candidate from each organization last January, we identified eight players who wound up joining our Top 100 Prospects list in 2021 and another who made his big league debut.
Mariners shortstop Noelvi Marte, who currently ranks No. 11, climbed the highest up the Top 100. Blue Jays catcher Gabriel Moreno, Pirates right-hander Quinn Priester, Yankees shortstop Oswald Peraza, Guardians outfielder George Valera, Orioles shortstop/third baseman Gunnar Henderson, Dodgers second baseman/first baseman Michael Busch and Red Sox second baseman Nick Yorke made similar leaps to get recognized among the game's best prospects. And Mason Thompson made 31 appearances with the Padres and Nationals, changing organizations in a midseason trade for Daniel Hudson.
Below, we select a prospect from each farm system who could raise his profile in similar fashion in 2022:
Blue Jays: Irv Carter, RHP (No. 15)
Pay more attention to Carter’s $850,000 signing bonus (second-highest by a Jays pick) than his status as a fifth-round selection last year. The 6-foot-4 right-hander already throws up to 94 mph with his fastball, and he has the size to grow into even more velo at the pro level. His above-average slider gives him another potential building block. The Jays will need to work on making his delivery more consistent, and if that happens quickly, Carter could look like a first-round talent by season’s end.
Orioles: Colton Cowser, OF (No. 5)
Baltimore selected Cowser fifth overall in 2021 so it’s not as if the Sam Houston State product is coming out of nowhere. However, as one of the best college bats in last year’s Draft, Cowser is primed to break through in a big way in 2022. If his 32-game professional debut (.375/.490/.492) was a sign of things to come, then expect Cowser’s name to pop up often when discussing top performers in 2022. The 21-year-old has a solid approach and uses the whole field while hitting. While there are some questions about his power potential, his overall offensive game is one to keep an eye on.
Rays: Seth Johnson, RHP (No. 16)
Johnson was always going to be a work in progress when the Rays took him 40th overall in 2019 after he spent most of his college days as a shortstop. He throws in the mid-90s now with a promising slider, and a curveball and changeup that are good enough to give him a starter’s arsenal. Johnson used that package to build a foundation for success with a 2.88 ERA and 115 strikeouts in 93 2/3 innings at Low-A Charleston last year. He’ll be 23 for much of the 2022 season, and Tampa Bay should be ready to push him more aggressively. If he continues to answer the bell like this, he could easily shoot up prospect rankings further and become the Rays’ next big arm.
Red Sox: Blaze Jordan, 3B (No. 9)
Jordan's power has been famous since he won his first national home run derby at age 11, and it earned him a $1.75 million bonus as a Mississippi high schooler taken in the third round after he reclassified to the 2020 Draft. He hit .324/.368/.590 with six homers in 28 games between rookie ball and Low-A during his pro debut and will get to show what he can do over a full season in 2022.
Yankees: Austin Wells, C (No. 6)
Wells received relatively little hype despite being one of the best all-around college offensive talents available in the 2020 Draft, and he has flown a bit under the radar since the Yankees made him a first-round pick out of the University of Arizona. With a quick left-handed stroke, a mature approach and the ability to recognize pitches, he batted .264/.390/.476 with 16 homers and as many steals in 103 games between Low-A and High-A during his pro debut before tearing up the Arizona Fall League.
Guardians: Jose Tena, INF (No. 12)
Tena won the Arizona Fall League batting title (.387) despite being one of the younger players (age 20) in the developmental circuit, building more momentum after hitting .281/.331/.467 with 16 homers and 10 steals in 107 games while making his full-season debut in High-A. Signed for $400,000 out of the Dominican Republic in 2017, he possesses a pretty left-handed swing, outstanding bat-to-ball skills and solid speed and arm strength.
Royals: Will Klein, RHP (No. 25)
The 2020 fifth-rounder arguably broke out already last season when he posted a 3.20 ERA with 121 strikeouts and .173 average-against in 70 1/3 innings as a multi-inning reliever at High-A Quad Cities. No matter. The bet here is that another season of success sends him surging even higher up prospect boards. Klein already boasts a fastball that can touch triple-digits and an above-average curveball on top of that. Considering his workload, there’s an argument to be made that he could give starting a look. Even if he doesn’t, Klein’s ability to have success over multiple frames an outing is valuable in the modern game, and the higher he climbs in 2022, the more that value will show.
Tigers: Cristian Santana, SS (No. 9)
The Tigers signed Santana for $2.95 million last January and moved him to the Dominican Summer League, where he found quick success. The shortstop hit .269/.421/.520 with nine homers and 12 steals in 54 games at the international complex circuit. Normally, we wouldn’t look too hard into Rookie-level stats, but it is notable that Santana hit the ground running as such. Next up: a move stateside. The 18-year-old has the bat speed and solid approach to handle the transition and as such could be a larger piece of the Tigers system’s puzzle by 2022’s end.
Twins: Chase Petty, RHP (No. 7)
A hard-throwing right-hander, the Twins selected Petty 26th overall in 2021 and inked him for $2.5 million. With a fastball that touches triple digits and an upper-80s slider, Petty certainly has impressive stuff. Now, he just needs to showcase it for an entire season. The 18-year-old briefly made his professional debut last season, pitching five innings over two games in rookie ball. Of course, not much can be gleaned from such a small sample size, but there’s plenty of excitement surrounding Petty and his upcoming full-season debut.
White Sox: Jose Rodriguez, SS (No. 9)
While many of the White Sox best young prospects struggled in 2021, Rodriguez bucked that trend by hitting .301/.338/.469 with 14 homers and 30 steals in 111 games while advancing from Low-A to Double-A. Signed for $50,000 out of the Dominican Republic in 2018, he could have at least average tools across the board and has a chance to stick at shortstop.
A’s: Robert Puason, SS (No. 10)
Signed for $5.1 million in July 2019, Puason was regarded as the second-best international prospect in his class (behind Jasson Dominguez) and arrived in the A’s system with plenty of hype. The shortstop was one of the youngest prospects at Oakland’s alternate training site in 2020 and then made his professional debut as an 18-year-old with Low-A Stockton last season. Now 19, he will enter the season with the experience gained from playing a full Minor League season and another offseason in the A’s strength program as he looks to add muscle to his wiry frame. The switch hitter not only has a smooth swing from both sides of the plate, but he’s also a solid defender and is expected to remain at shortstop long-term.
Angels: Jeremiah Jackson, SS (No. 5)
Jackson, 21, struggled over 17 games in the Arizona Fall League, hitting just .171 for the Glendale Desert Dogs. However, those struggles -- which weren’t all that surprising given it was his first experience above Low-A -- could pave the way for a big 2022. The 2018 second rounder now has a bit of experience against upper-level competition under his belt and still has plenty of tools. Jackson’s elite bat speed helps him drive the ball to all fields and he has the speed and arm strength to stick at shortstop as well.
Astros: Colin Barber, OF (No. 7)
Barber had one of the better power/speed combinations in the 2019 high school class, which he parlayed into an over-slot $1 million bonus in the fourth round. A right shoulder injury and subsequent surgery limited him to just 16 games last season, but he still showed the upside of a 20-20 player and his intensity draws comparisons to Alex Bregman's.
Mariners: Levi Stoudt, RHP (No. 9)
Stoudt put together a strong performance in 2021, though he was a bit overshadowed in a Mariners farm system full of talented pitching prospects. Selected in the third round of the 2019 Draft, Stoudt had Tommy John surgery shortly after he signed, but bounced back quickly. The 24-year-old made his professional debut in 2021 and pitched to a 3.31 ERA with 86 strikeouts over 81 2/3 innings (15 starts) and reached Double-A late in the season. Stoudt’s upper-90s fastball and plus changeup, not to mention both his slider and curveball, give the right-hander plenty to work with so it’s easy to see why 2022 could be a big season for the Lehigh University product.
Rangers: Evan Carter, OF (No. 9)
Though they surprised many clubs by taking Carter in 2020's second round out of a Tennessee high school, the Rangers believed in his five-tool potential and his makeup. A stress fracture shut down his 2021 pro debut after 32 games, but he impressed with his patience (34 walks) and flashed solid tools across the board.
Braves: Michael Harris, OF (No. 4)
A third-round pick from the 2019 Draft, Harris is full of upside. The 20-year-old started to tap into his impressive raw power a bit more in 2021, hitting seven homers and slugging .436 over 101 games with High-A Rome. Harris also showed off his speed and baserunning acumen with 27 stolen bases. The combination of power and speed is always enticing and another increase in power could help Harris’ stock soar.
Marlins: Dax Fulton, LHP (No. 9)
The consensus best prep left-hander in the 2020 Draft, Fulton lasted until the second round because he missed his entire senior season following Tommy John surgery but still landed a $2.4 million bonus. He posted a 4.60 ERA with 84 strikeouts in 78 1/3 innings between Low-A and High-A while the Marlins kept him on a short leash this summer, showing a plus curveball, a low-90s fastball and developing control and command.
Mets: Alex Ramirez, OF (No. 7)
New York officials have been talking up Ramirez’s potential since he signed for $2.05 million back in July 2019. The 2022 season could be when he becomes more than just talk. The Mets pushed the 18-year-old aggressively to Low-A St. Lucie for his first taste of the pros last summer and saw him hit .258/.326/.384 with five homers and 16 steals in 76 games. That may not jump off the page, but it’s notable that he was one of only three age-18 players to get 300 or more plate appearances in full-season ball. A longer summer awaits Ramirez, who already boasts above-average speed and could show more power as he matures.
Nationals: Daylen Lile, OF (No. 9)
The Nationals got aggressive in taking Lile -- ranked as MLB Pipeline’s No. 80 Draft prospect of 2021 -- with their second-round pick last year. That said, there’s a lot to like about the Kentucky native, specifically his quick left-handed swing. That stroke helps him spray the ball to all fields, and a solid approach helped him get a .363 OBP in 19 early games in the Florida Complex League. Lile needs to add some pop to match his swing, and if that comes early in 2022, he has the offensive upside to become a bigger name in a budding Nats system.
Phillies: Erik Miller, LHP (No. 9)
Injuries have limited Miller to just 48 2/3 innings since the Phillies selected him in the fourth round of the 2019 Draft. The 23-year-old lefty has shown good stuff and struck out 68 while pitching to a 1.48 ERA in that span, but a fully healthy campaign would go a long way toward elevating his stock. With a clean bill of health, Miller is certainly an intriguing prospect. Concerns about command caused him to drop a bit in the Draft, though he does throw a mid- to upper-90s fastball, a slider that misses a ton of bats and a changeup. Miller has also worked to add a curveball to his arsenal and has made strides with his command as a result of some tweaks to his delivery.
Brewers: Jeferson Quero, C (No. 6)
Quero signed for only $200,000 back in July 2019, but it hasn’t taken him long to become a standout catcher in the Milwaukee system. The backstop is already known as an above-average defender with a plus arm, and he’s shown a quality bat too -- hitting .309/.434/.500 with 10 strikeouts and 12 walks in 23 games in the Arizona Complex League. A little more prolonged offense from the 19-year-old in his second stateside season, which could come with more physical maturity, is all that may stand between him and major prospect prominence. (Note: Quero underwent surgery in September to address a separated left shoulder but is expected back without issue this spring.)
Cardinals: Andre Pallante, RHP (No. 30)
The last time folks saw Pallante he was topping out at 99 mph in the Arizona Fall League, catching the attention of everyone in attendance. That was even more notable considering the 2019 fourth-rounder sat in the low-90s when he first entered pro ball. In a league dominated by bats, Pallante finished the AFL with a 1.29 ERA and 22 strikeouts in 21 innings. Pallante, who reached Triple-A in 2021, will have to hold that velo for longer stints, but when he combines it with a promising above-average slider, he has the stuff to place himself squarely in the Major League conversation next spring.
Cubs: Pete Crow-Armstrong, OF (No. 5)
When the Cubs acquired Crow-Armstrong from the Mets in exchange for Javier Báez and Trevor Williams in July, a front-office executive with another club called it the steal of the Trade Deadline. A first-round pick as a California high schooler in 2020, Crow-Armstrong could be a plus hitter and runner and even better as a center-field defender. He has played in just six pro games because he tore the labrum in his right (non-throwing) shoulder last May and required surgery.
Pirates: Cal Mitchell, OF (No. 18)
Mitchell reached the upper levels of the Minors for the first time in 2021, spending the bulk of the season with Double-A Altoona and finishing up with Triple-A Indianapolis. Over 115 games, the 22-year-old hit .279/.328/.423. Perhaps most important, he dropped his strikeout rate from 28.8 percent in 2019 to just over 17 percent in 2021. The 22-year-old has also added strength and power to his game since being selected in the second round of the 2017 Draft. Mitchell’s bat is his carrying tool and his ability to develop and make adjustments thus far have been impressive and are a promising sign of things to come.
Reds: Rece Hinds, 3B (No. 7)
Injuries have hampered Hinds development thus far, but a healthy 2022 could go a long way toward showing why the Reds signed the 2019 second-round pick to an above-slot bonus, keeping him away from his LSU commitment. A quad injury limited Hinds to just three games in his 2019 professional debut, and a torn meniscus in his left knee held the 21-year-old to just 54 games last year in his first full season. When healthy, Hinds possesses a tremendous amount of raw power. He’ll have to tighten up his approach to get that power, but made strides in that regard in 2021.
D-backs: Drey Jameson, RHP (No. 17)
You could make the case that the 2019 34th overall pick has already broken out. He is coming off a season in which he posted a 3.98 ERA with 145 strikeouts in 110 2/3 innings at High-A and Double-A. We’re including him here, though, because it feels like Jameson could reach another gear of prospecthood in 2022. He already throws mid-90s and earns solid grades on his slider and changeup. Taking those to the upper levels next season could get the 24-year-old not only on the cusp of the Majors but perhaps even the Top 100 -- if he doesn’t graduate first.
Dodgers: Jose Ramos, OF (No. 16)
Signed for $30,000 out of Panama in 2018, Ramos batted .329/.396/.576 with 11 homers in 62 games between rookie ball and Low-A in his U.S. debut this summer. He has well above-average raw power, understands the strike zone, owns a plus-plus arm and has the instincts to perhaps stick in center field despite average speed.
Giants: Hunter Bishop, OF (No. 6)
The best college athlete in the 2019 Draft, Bishop has barely played since his debut that summer because he came down with COVID-19 in 2020 and severely injured his right (throwing) shoulder on a swing this year. But he still offers huge raw power from the left side of the plate, plus speed and solid center-field skills.
Padres: Victor Acosta, SS (No. 19)
The organization that boasts Fernando Tatis Jr. at the Major League shortstop and has CJ Abrams and Jackson Merrill waiting in the wings could be on the cusp of another strong shortstop prospect. San Diego signed Acosta for $1.8 million out of the Dominican Republic last January, and he quickly showed a promising approach with a .285/.431/.484 line over 240 plate appearances in the DSL. Acosta also boasts above-average speed that helped him snag 26 steals. The switch-hitter seems primed to pop when he gets more stateside experience, which should come before he turns 18 in June.
Rockies: Michael Toglia, 1B (No. 6)
The 23rd overall pick in the 2019 Draft, Toglia reached Double-A for the first time in 2021 but struggled a bit offensively. He did fare better in the Arizona Fall League, hitting .264/.343/.407 over 26 games. While adjusting to the upper levels is always tough, it’s even more complicated as a switch-hitter trying to refine two swings. However, Toglia enters 2022 with experience against advanced pitching and should be able to get his power up a bit more from both sides of the plate. An athletic prospect who is also capable of playing the corner outfield spots, Toglia has the makings of a prospect primed for a breakout season.