Prospects poised to bounce back in '22
Each year there’s an exciting group of prospects who break out and exceed expectations. While those stories are always fun to track, unfortunately there are also prospects who underwhelm or don’t live up to lofty expectations. Whether it’s a disappointing on-field performance, injuries cutting a season short or an aspect of a player’s skillset not developing as fast as some had hoped, there’s a variety of factors that go into why a player may underperform.
However, bad seasons happen. One season isn’t career defining and just as it’s exciting to track breakout prospects, it’s also enjoyable to see a player recover from a tough season or injury and get back on track. Overcoming adversity is a big part of development and these players have a chance to do just that in 2022. Here’s a look at some top prospects who are poised to bounce back in 2022.
Zack Thompson, LHP (Cardinals No. 8)
The Cardinals hope a strong showing in the Arizona Fall League is a sign of things to come. Thompson, a first-round pick from the 2019 Draft, was aggressively pushed all the way to Triple-A for his 2021 full-season debut. The lefty struggled, pitching to a 7.06 ERA and issued 5.52 walks per nine innings. However, the 24-year-old showed his resiliency as he bounced back and dominated in the AFL, where he pitched to a 1.56 ERA with 22 strikeouts over 17 1/3 innings. The Thompson who pitched in Arizona was much more reminiscent of the athletic southpaw the Cardinals selected back in 2019 than the guy who struggled during the regular season. Thompson’s command should improve a bit next season and if it does, it wouldn’t be surprising to see him carry over the success he had in Arizona into a strong 2022.
Corbin Carroll, OF (D-backs No. 2, MLB No. 20)
Carroll got off to a blistering start in 2021, but injured his shoulder on a swing and underwent season-ending shoulder surgery before his season really got going. The 2019 first-round pick offered a glimpse of his loaded skillset as he slashed .435/.552/.913 and stole three bases in seven games prior to his injury. Carroll drew rave reviews for his performance against advanced competition at the D-backs’ alternate training site in 2020 and his brief time on the field in 2021 validated those claims. He’s also added a bit more strength and power to his game since being drafted and has impressed with his ability to make adjustments at a young age. Carroll’s advanced approach and plus-plus speed give scouts plenty to dream on and now that he’s back to full health, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see the outfielder ascend through Arizona’s system in 2022.
Hunter Bishop, OF (Giants No. 6)
It’s been a challenging two years for Bishop, who has played in just 48 games since being selected 10th overall in the 2019 Draft. After the pandemic cancelled the 2020 season, Bishop was set to make his full-season debut in 2021, but he injured his shoulder on a swing in early May and missed three months working his way back. Bishop did get some additional reps in the Arizona Fall League and will enter the 2022 season back at full health. One of the better athletes from his Draft class, Bishop has both plus raw power and speed. He has the tools to develop into a 30-30 player, but health has hampered his development thus far. A healthy and productive 2022 season will go a long way toward expediting his path to San Francisco.
JJ Bleday, OF (Marlins No. 5, MLB No. 71)
A strong September (.311/.382/.444) followed by a red-hot stint in the Arizona Fall League will provide Bleday with plenty of momentum heading into the 2022 campaign. The fourth overall pick from the 2019 Draft hit just .212 over 110 games in his full-season debut, but he made some mechanical tweaks and adjusted his approach late in the season. The changes paid immediate dividends as Bleday looked like the advanced hitter with a smooth left-handed swing who the Marlins drafted out of Vanderbilt. It appears as if Bleday has figured something out at the plate -- perhaps he just needed a bit longer to round into form after the missed 2020 season -- and that should translate into a big 2022 season. If the end of 2021 is any indication, Bleday should post big numbers and make his Major League debut next season.
Jackson Rutledge, RHP (Nationals No. 3)
The 17th overall pick from the 2019 Draft, Rutledge got experience across three levels in 2019 and then drew rave reviews for his performance at the team’s alternate training site in 2020. Big things were expected for Rutledge’s 2021 first full season, but shoulder and blister issues limited him to 36 1/3 innings. Rutledge did log 19 1/3 more innings in the Arizona Fall League, but struggled with his command and posted an ERA just under seven. Entering 2022 with a clean bill of health, Rutledge has the stuff -- a mid-90s fastball, slider, curveball and changeup -- to bounce back in 2022. The 22-year-old needs to refine his command, but the 6-foot-8 right-hander’s ability to use his massive frame to pitch down in the zone should help him carve his way through lineups as he works his way through the Nationals system.
Heston Kjerstad, OF (Orioles No. 7)
The second overall pick from the 2020 Draft, Kjerstad was diagnosed with myocarditis shortly thereafter and has yet to make his professional debut. The 22-year-old Arkansas product did resume baseball activity at the Orioles’ instructional camp in October and is hoping to be full go by the time he reports to Spring Training. Known for his left-handed power bat, Kjerstad is an aggressive hitter with the ability to drive the ball to all fields and could be flourishing late next season. It’s been a long time since he last played in competitive games, so there may be a bit of rust to shake off and it wouldn’t be a surprise if Kjerstad gets off to a slow start. However, once he finds his rhythm he could quickly become one of the best comeback stories of 2022.
CJ Abrams, SS (Padres No. 1, MLB No. 6)
Abrams got off to a strong start, hitting .296 through 42 games as a 20-year-old in Double-A in 2021. However, a fractured left tibia and sprained left MCL cut his season short. An impact player on both sides of the ball, Abrams is bursting with potential and it’s easy to see why they are so excited about him in San Diego. An 80-grade runner with a plus bat, Abrams has also made big strides defensively since the Padres selected him sixth overall in 2019. Although the injury derailed Abrams’ path a bit, it’s easy to envision him as a quick riser if all goes well. In fact, Abrams will turn 22 in October and there’s a chance he could celebrate his birthday as a member of the Padres postseason roster.
Asa Lacy, LHP (Royals No. 3, MLB No. 66)
Lacy’s first full season didn’t go as planned as the southpaw pitched to a 5.19 ERA over 52 innings and also dealt with a minor shoulder injury. After being shut down in late July, Lacy was able to recover enough to make four appearances in the Arizona Fall League. While the numbers weren’t impressive, the 22-year-old still has the stuff to succeed. In addition to a mid-90s fastball, Lacy throws a trio of pitches -- fastball, slider, changeup -- that each grade out as above average or plus. The command issues (7.10 BB/9 in 2021) certainly need to be addressed, but a lefty with four quality pitches and the ability to miss bats (13.67 K/9 in 2021) is always worth keeping a close eye on.
Jasson Dominguez, OF (Yankees No. 2, MLB No. 17)
One of the most hyped international prospects over the past several years, Dominguez underwhelmed a bit in his professional debut, hitting .252/.353/.379 over 56 games. While "The Martian" didn’t put up the type of numbers many expected, the transition to the US is a tough one and he’s still just 18 years old. Factor in the fact that he’s a switch-hitter and has to develop two separate swings and it’s easy to see why he may have struggled. A 31% K-rate in Low-A is something that will need to be improved upon, but Dominguez still has all the tools to be successful. With the experience of 2021 and a full offseason under his belt, Dominguez’s impressive bat speed, strength and speed should all be on display in 2022 as he starts to perform more like the prospect everyone expected last season.