In the first Pipeline Podcast of 2022, Jim Callis and Sam Dykstra take a look at the year ahead with a wide range of predictions about prospects and farm systems to keep an eye on in the upcoming season, from Rookies of the Year in both leagues and the No. 1 overall Draft pick to which organization will finish with the top-ranked farm system at season's end and more. They also discuss some intriguing big league debuts on the horizon and note prospects poised for bounceback years. Since bragging rights come down to predictions, we'll focus on those.
Check out the entire Pipeline Podcast here.
Rookies of the Year
"Since it’s a crowded field, I went with the guy I thought was the best all-around hitter in the group, and that was Spencer Torkelson. … I think Torkelson is poised to have the most initial success. But there’s at least five guys you can come up with. There’s just so many good American League candidates right now."
"You look at the year [Stott] had in the Minors. He moved up from High-A to Triple-A and hit at every level. He continued to hit -- I swear my two weeks in the Fall League, I think Stott was on base three times in every single game. ... I just think he's a guy in a Phillies lineup that can be hit-or-miss, I think Bryson Stott is ready to come up and make an impact on the Phillies and help them get over the hump and into the playoffs."
"The Royals always seem like –- regardless of what service time considerations are at the time –- they always seem to throw caution to the wind in that way and bring guys up earlier than some other teams might. So Bobby Witt Jr. would seem to be an Opening Day candidate for them. … So I think what’s going to get him the playing time is that he can impact the game in different ways than a Torkelson, than a Rutschman, because of that speed factor. Whether he’s playing short or third base, we’ll see. … A lot going for Bobby Witt Jr."
"The thing we’ve always talked about with [Cruz] is, where is he going to play? And they continue to run him out there at shortstop. … There have been bigger shortstops in the past but 6-7 is an inch or two beyond the pale. … As things stand right now, he’s probably their Opening Day shortstop. The power can certainly play, the arm can certainly play in that spot. I always thought he was going to move out to right field, even so, I think the bat is good enough right now. ... I think the power is going to be his biggest asset at the Major League level."
Pipeline Hitter of the Year
Callis: Julio Rodríguez
"You could say Rodríguez could hit his way to the big leagues. … We aren’t going to know what the service time considerations are going to be on guys. At the same time, he’s only 21 years old. Just turned 21 at the end of December. He’s only played 46 games above A-ball. So I think he’s going to get a decent amount of Minor League time and put up huge numbers like he has everywhere he’s gone. … Last year, he only played about 60 percent of the season and he still put up monster numbers. He hit .347 with 13 homers and 21 steals."
"One thing that stood out to me about Álvarez last year, he had 22 homers at High-A in only 84 games. But he slugged significantly better away from High-A Brooklyn, which is an extreme pitchers' park. He slugged .607 there compared to .463 at home, an OPS above 1.000 there, his OPS at home was .763. Get him to Binghamton, get him to Syracuse, some of these fairer parks for hitters. I think Álvarez, on top of just another year of maturity, could really explode. I could easily see him hitting 25, 30 homers and having an OPS in that .900-1.000 range."
Pipeline Pitcher of the Year
Callis: Jack Leiter
"I’m taking a guy who has yet to throw a professional pitch, which is probably a bit bold. ... He was the best pitcher in college baseball last year. He did pitch 110 innings at Vanderbilt, so I think you could get him up around 120 this year. He just has a fastball that guys don’t hit, he’s got a really good curveball. I think there’s a solid changeup in there that he didn’t need a whole lot in college. ... He’s gotta be a little more consistent with his strike-throwing. And this will be the longest season he’s ever endured, but I think Jack Leiter could be a guy who moves very quickly through the Rangers system."
Dykstra: Daniel Espino
"He’s not necessarily someone you would immediately go to the No. 92 spot and say, hey, this guy is going to be Pitcher of the Year. But I think the stuff is there. Plus-plus fastball, good curveball, good slider, and what I especially liked from him last year was the way he improved as the season went on. When somebody has a plus-plus fastball at his age you start to think, 'OK, control issues are going to be an issue,' and they were to begin the year. But he actually improved in that after he moved to High-A. He only walked 16 in 49 innings. He struck out 88 in that time. ... Again, another year, another opportunity for him to build innings. He had 91 2/3 last year, can see him in the 110-120 range, and he can rack up the strikeouts that are essential to winning Pitcher of the Year."
No. 1 prospect at the end of the year
Callis: Anthony Volpe
"I don’t think there’s any way Anthony Volpe gets to the big leagues this year. At least not enough to release his rookie status. ... This is a guy who just had an unbelievable year. Among the Minor League leaders in just about every category: 27 homers, 33 steals. I think he could wind up having that year again, very similar to what Bobby Witt Jr. just had … and he might be in the running for Pipeline Hitter of the Year, too."
Dykstra: CJ Abrams
"If you’ve been following his season at all you know he suffered multiple leg injuries that stopped his 2021 season short at only 42 games. Even though the Padres had pushed him aggressively to Double-A, that was interesting. He was starting to pick up a little momentum when he got back, but that was cut short. Was supposed to go to the Arizona Fall League, didn’t end up participating there because of a shoulder concern. … Really good hitter from the left side. His best attribute by far is his speed. He’s a good fielder at short. I wouldn’t be surprised at all to see him start again at Double-A this year. It’s his age-21 season, he’ll still be young for the level. Move up to Triple-A halfway through the year because he still hits well enough and maybe get a September cameo with San Diego but doesn’t officially graduate."
No. 1 farm system at the end of the year
"I looked at our midseason rankings and I looked at the players, where they were ranked, and quite simply, looked at who’s going to graduate. And I think the Pirates –- outside of Oneil Cruz, who Sam picked as National League ROY –- it’s a deep system. And the vast majority of their better prospects are still going to be there. Cruz might be the only guy they lose. And I think they’re going to have guys develop and continue to get better and add guys via the Draft. So I thought the Pirates were a fairly easy choice."
"I started with the 2022 MLB Draft order, just seeing who was going to add some of these premier talents at the top of the Draft. It seems like the first three, four, five are potential crown jewels of the systems moving forward. And I saw the Pirates picking at four, and I thought, 'Who do the Pirates have?' And they are deep, adding a No. 4 pick is going to be huge. I just think that even if they lose somebody this system is too deep –- it’s one of the deeper in baseball –- and it’s only going to get deeper through that Draft."
No. 1 overall Draft pick
Dykstra: Elijah Green
"Elijah Green goes back to a time when I was down in Cary, North Carolina, last year when I was checking out some of these guys. I got to interview Termarr Johnson, I had a great time talking to him. But Elijah Green, I remember seeing him and seeing the power potential, seeing the athleticism and he seemed like just a standout in the field when I saw him. Now this is based off personal experience, and I know there’s hit tool concerns here. ... And we have to consider who’s making the first overall pick and that’s the Orioles, so do the Orioles like Elijah Green enough to take him 1-1? I don’t know, but I think the tools are just loud enough there to make him a candidate."
Callis: Termarr Johnson
"While I think Elijah Green has the highest ceiling in the Draft, if they go high-school hitter, I think they’re going to go more polished hitter. And Termarr Johnson is the best high-school hitter that I could ever remember. I had a scout compare Termarr Johnson to Vladimir Gurrero Sr.’s bat-to-ball skills with Wade Boggs’ mastery of the strike zone. Which seems like an insane combination and to say about a high-school kid. I just see Termarr Johnson more fits their mold."
Biggest riser among current Top 100 prospects
Callis: Nick Gonzales
"I was torn here. Almost went Nick Yorke … but I ultimately went with a guy who I think can vault into the Top 10 this year. Maybe it’s because Nick Gonzales looked so good in the Fall League, and he was so hot down the stretch for the Pirates at High-A. And because he was at High-A, I don’t think he’s going to lose his prospect status this year. I just think Nick Gonzales can come out and hit .350 with 25 home runs this year and even though he’s ranked No. 62 on our list right now, I think Nick Gonzales can rank in the Top 10 prospects in all of baseball by the end of this year. The bat looks so good, it lived up to the scouting reports, and I think we’ll be talking about him as a Top-10 prospect by the end of this season."
Dykstra: Luis Matos
"Currently at No. 77. I’m just a big believer in the bat. We have him at a 60-grade hit tool, a 50-power. I think he could grow into even more power. He’s somebody who hit 15 homers, had 35 doubles in 109 games last year. Seems like a pretty classic candidate to turn some of those doubles into home runs as he matures. But also doesn’t strike out very much. He only struck out 61 times in 451 at-bats. He stole 21 bases as well, he has above-average speed. … The package is there for him to make a significant jump if he can do this over another full season. He is a career .332 hitter in the Minor Leagues. He could easily turn into a top-20, top-30 prospect by the end of the year."