This weekend, the 2022 college season gets underway, with many future first-rounders and big league stars set to help their teams compete for a chance to go to Omaha and the College World Series.
Tipping our cap to them, we decided to give it the ol’ college try ourselves by identifying the best college product in each system. We’re trying to be a bit forward-thinking this week, picking players considered to be the top collegian in each organization in 2022, rather than looking back at the 2021 rankings.
Blue Jays: Gunnar Hoglund, RHP (No. 4)
The 22-year-old right-hander almost didn’t go to school. The Pirates took him 36th overall in 2018, only for the two sides to disagree on the results of his post-Draft physical and fail to come to an agreement. Hoglund overcame a bumpy freshman season (5.29 ERA) to shove in his final two seasons at Ole Miss, posting a 2.40 ERA with 133 strikeouts over 86 innings as a sophomore and junior. Tommy John surgery last May cut his 2021 season short, but the Jays believed enough in his four-pitch mix and plus control to take him 19th overall. He signed this time for $3.25 million.
Orioles: Adley Rutschman, C (No. 1, MLB No. 1)
All Rutschman did before becoming the No. 1 pick in the 2019 Draft was win the Golden Spikes Award (among a host of other honors) as the top player in college baseball in 2019 and get named as the College World Series Most Outstanding Player in 2018 in leading Oregon State to a title. He finished his Beavers career with a .353/.473/.559 line, walking nearly 40 times more than he struck out.
Rays: Greg Jones, SS (No. 5, MLB No. 84)
As an eligible sophomore, Jones became the highest UNC Wilmington player ever drafted when he went 22nd overall to the Rays in 2019, comfortably beating out 2008 33rd overall pick Bradley Holt. He certainly earned the designation with a .341/.491/.543 line over 63 games in his final spring as a Seahawk. He made use of his 70-grade speed with 42 steals (fifth-most in DI) and finished with a positive 44/55 K/BB ratio. Jones punches out more these days, but his wheels, above-average raw power and ability to stick at short still make him a Top 100 prospect.
Red Sox: Jarren Duran, OF (No. 3, MLB No. 25)
Duran didn't produce big numbers in three years at Long Beach State, posting a .753 OPS with 49 steals in 169 games before the Red Sox made him a seventh-round pick in 2018. He raised his profile quickly, appearing in the SiriusXM All-Star Futures Game in his first full pro season and making his big league debut last July, and offers plus-plus speed and 20-homer upside.
Yankees: Austin Wells, C (No. 6)
In his lone full year of college at Arizona, Wells won the Pacific-12 Conference freshman of the year and Cape Cod League prospect of the year awards in 2019, then went 28th overall in the 2020 Draft. He lived up to his reputation as one of the best all-around offensive prospects in his class with an .867 OPS, 16 homers and as many steals in his 103-game pro debut last summer between Low-A and High-A.
Guardians: Gavin Williams, RHP (No. 9)
Williams shed his reputation as a hard thrower who lacked polish in his fourth season at East Carolina last spring, garnering American Athletic Conference pitcher of the year honors while ranking fifth in NCAA Division I in strikeout rate (14.4 per nine innings). The 23rd overall choice last July, he backs up a mid-90s fastball that hits 100 mph with a solid curveball and changeup.
Royals: Asa Lacy, LHP (No. 3, MLB No. 66)
Lacy will attempt to find his Texas A&M form in his second full season this summer. The 6-foot-4 left-hander gave up only two earned runs in 24 innings and struck out 46 of the 93 batters he faced (49.5 percent) during the pandemic-shortened 2020 season. (He had a 2.13 ERA in 15 starts the spring prior.) A plus fastball, slider and changeup made him the top pitching prospect in the 2020 Draft, and the Royals selected him fourth overall to make him the second arm off the board after Max Meyer went third. Finding the strike zone will be his primary focus in 2022.
Tigers: Spencer Torkelson, 1B/3B (No. 1, MLB No. 4)
The mind marvels at where Torkelson’s Arizona State career totals could have ended up, if not for the shortened 2020 season. Instead, he slugged .729 over 129 games as a Sun Devil. He owned a 1.192 OPS over three campaigns and didn’t post a number below 1.100 in any of them individually. His 54 home runs were only two shy of Bob Horner’s school record, despite all the lost time and lack of a senior year. The right-handed slugger was an easy call as the 2020 No. 1 overall pick and remains Detroit’s first baseman of the near future.
Twins: Austin Martin, SS/OF (No. 2, MLB No. 36)
Martin got to Vanderbilt in 2018 and pretty much started hitting and getting on base from the outset, with a .338 average and a .452 on-base percentage as a freshman. He was a Golden Spikes semifinalist as a sophomore, finishing with a .392/.486/.605 line, and he had a 1.168 OPS in the shortened 2020 season, all while playing five different positions.
White Sox: Jake Burger, 3B (No. 3)
Burger slammed 43 homers in his final two seasons at Missouri State and won Missouri Valley Conference player of the year accolades in 2017, becoming the highest-drafted position player in school history when the White Sox selected him 11th overall that June. Leg injuries and the pandemic cost him the 2018-20 seasons but he returned last year, showed that he hadn't lost any power by hitting 18 homers in 82 Triple-A games and made his big league debut in July.
A's: Zack Gelof, 3B (No. 7)
It was hard to get a good read on Gelof’s potential while he was at Virginia. A three-year starter, the third baseman had a solid freshman campaign (.313/.377/.397) in 2019 and a big, albeit pandemic-shortened 2020 season had many thinking he’d be a sure-fire first-rounder in 2021. He started extremely slowly, though he finished well, ending with a .312/.393/.485 line. If his pro debut is any indication (.333/.422/.565, mostly in Low-A but including a scintillating three-game trip to Triple-A Las Vegas), the A’s might have gotten a steal.
Angels: Reid Detmers, LHP (No. 1, MLB No. 23)
Detmers both started and relieved for Louisville as a freshman in 2018, then was absolutely dominant with a full-time move into the rotation in 2019, going 13-4 with a 2.78 ERA, a 13.3 K/9 rate and just 2.6 BB/9. His shortened 2020 was just as impressive (1.23 ERA and a 48/6 K/BB ratio in 22 innings), leading to him going No. 10 overall. He’s lived up to the “should move quickly” college lefty label, going from Double-A to Triple-A, with a trip to the Futures Game in there as well, and up to the big leagues, in his first season of pro ball.
Astros: Jeremy Pena, SS (No. 4)
One of the top college defenders in the 2018 Draft, Pena became Maine's highest pick in 27 years when the Astros took him in the third round that June. He missed much of the 2021 season after hurting his left wrist in Spring Training but came back to swat 10 homers in 30 Triple-A games, putting him in position to possibly replace Carlos Correa as Houston's shortstop.
Mariners: George Kirby, RHP (No. 3, MLB No. 33)
The second of three straight college right-handers taken by the Mariners in the first round, Kirby became the first-ever first-rounder from Elon University in 2019. He entered pro ball known as an extreme strike-thrower, thanks to his 1.9 BB/9 rate in his three years at Elon (to go along with a 9.7 K/9 rate and 3.30 ERA), and he rose into the first round thanks to his 10.9 K/9 rate and 0.6 BB/9 rate in his Draft year. Striking out 25 and walking none in 23 IP during his pro debut did nothing to hurt his rep and all he’s done since is throw much harder while still filling up the zone (2.0 BB/9 in 2021).
Rangers: Jack Leiter, RHP (No. 1, MLB No. 12)
Leiter was the most dominant pitcher in college baseball and the top college prospect in his lone full season at Vanderbilt last spring, no-hitting South Carolina in his first Southeastern Conference start and tying for the NCAA Division I strikeout lead with 179 in 110 innings. The No. 2 overall pick last July, he signed for a franchise-record $7,922,000 and will unleash his elite fastball and downer curveball on pro hitters for the first time in April.
Braves: Shea Langeliers, C (No. 2, MLB No. 69)
The best college catcher not named Adley Rutschman in the 2019 Draft class, Langeliers was every bit as good defensively as Rutschman during his time at Baylor, with a hose for an arm that’s allowed him to throw out 42 percent of potential basestealers as a pro, and outstanding receiving skills. There were more questions about his bat, but the Braves thought he hit well enough in 2019 after coming back from a hamate injury (.310/.343/.652) to take him No. 9 overall that June for a below-slot $4 million. He hit 22 homers during his first full season in 2021 and was thought highly enough to be on the Braves’ taxi squad for their entire postseason run.
Marlins: Max Meyer, RHP (No. 3, MLB No. 30)
Meyer tied a Minnesota record with 16 saves as a freshman in 2018 before starring as a starter the next two seasons and matching Hall of Famer Paul Molitor as the highest pick in school history when he went third overall in 2020. Using a mid-90s fastball and one of the nastier sliders around, he won Double-A Central League pitcher of the year honors and ranked fifth in the Minors in ERA (2.27) in his pro debut.
Mets: J.T. Ginn, RHP (No. 5)
Ginn is another player who may have missed this list had he signed with the Dodgers out of high school as the 2018 30th overall pick. He opted to try boosting his stock with a move to Mississippi State, where he would only need to spend two years. Ginn owned a 3.13 ERA with 105 strikeouts in 86 1/3 innings as a freshman but made only one 2020 start before needing Tommy John surgery. The Mets grabbed him in the second round and signed him for first-round money at $2.9 million. Ginn was steady and healthy in his 2021 return with 92 innings across two A-ball affiliates.
Nationals: Cade Cavalli, RHP (No. 1, MLB No. 39)
The 6-foot-4 right-hander opened his collegiate career as a two-way player for Oklahoma and picked up 319 plate appearances as a Sooner before moving full-time to the mound in 2020. That was the correct move. Cavalli’s stuff picked up as a junior as he started to throw more comfortably in the mid-90s and show two above-average breaking balls. That progress continued last summer. The 2021 22nd overall pick led the Minors with 175 strikeouts in 123 1/3 innings across three Washington affiliates.
Phillies: Bryson Stott, SS (No. 2, MLB No. 97)
A three-year starter at UNLV, Stott always hit and showed a super advanced approach at the plate, finishing his time in Nevada with a .340/.433/.515 line, drawing more walks (109) than strikeouts (81). He showed more pop in 2019 (10 homers, .599 SLG), which helped him land in the middle of the first round that June, No. 14 overall to be precise. He jumped on the fast track in 2021, his first true full year, going from High-A to Triple-A, while finishing with a .299/.390/.486 line. He capped his breakout year off with a .318/.445/.489 Arizona Fall League showing to serve notice he’s just about ready to play shortstop in Philadelphia.
Brewers: Sal Frelick, OF (No. 2, MLB No. 88)
Frelick headed to Boston College as the 2017 Gatorade Massachusetts Football Player of the Year and a good hockey talent, so it may have been an open question which sport fit him best at Chestnut Hill. He answered that quickly with his bat as a freshman in the spring of 2019, hitting .367 in 39 games, and his claim as a baseball talent only got stronger over the following three seasons. Frelick finished with a career .345/.435/.521 line with the Eagles and was named ACC Defensive Player of the Year for his work in the outfield. The Brewers selected the 5-foot-9, left-handed hitter 15th overall last July.
Cardinals: Michael McGreevy, RHP (No. 6)
The top of the Cardinals list is mostly loaded with former prep stars and international signees, so McGreevy’s addition as last year’s first-rounder provides at least some collegiate flavor. The 6-foot-4 right-hander is known most for his plus control, having issued only 11 walks in 101 2/3 innings last spring at UC Santa Barbara. He may need to add some velocity to do more than just throw strikes, but a full four-pitch mix gives him a decent place to start.
Cubs: Jordan Wicks, LHP (No. 6)
Wicks starred at Kansas State, winning Big 12 Conference freshman of the year honors in 2019, setting school records for single-season (118) and career (230) strikeouts last spring and becoming the first Wildcat selected in the first round when the Cubs took him 21st overall. He had the best changeup in the 2021 Draft and sets it up with a 91-97 mph fastball and an improving slider.
Pirates: Henry Davis, C (No. 1, MLB No. 22)
Davis had shown glimpses of offensive promise in his first two years at Louisville, serving notice he might be one of the better college bats in the 2021 Draft class when he hit .372/.481/.698 in the 14 games of the shortened 2020 season. He followed that up with a monster .370/.483/.663 campaign, to go along with 15 homers, as a junior that catapulted him to the top of Draft boards. Yes, the Pirates saved money by taking him No. 1 overall, but it was a win-win for them as they liked the bat, think he has a better chance to stick behind the plate than many do and absolutely love his makeup and work ethic.
Reds: Nick Lodolo, LHP (No. 2, MLB No. 31)
Lodolo was taken No. 41 overall by the Pirates in 2016, but opted to head to Texas Christian University instead of signing. He spent three years in the Horned Frogs rotation and parlayed his 2.36 ERA, 11.4 K/9, 2.2 BB/9 junior season into being the first pitcher taken in the 2019 Draft, No. 7 overall. The advanced lefty has moved quickly, reaching Triple-A in 2021, and while shoulder woes did limit him to just 50 2/3 innings last year, he appeared strong and healthy as the Reds started their early camp this week.
D-backs: Ryne Nelson, RHP (No. 5)
The 24-year-old right-hander made only five starts in 48 appearances during his three years at Oregon, in part due to some rough control numbers. The D-backs believed enough in Nelson’s 70-grade fastball and overall four-pitch arsenal to transition him back to a starting role. He clicked there in 2021, posting a 3.17 ERA with 163 strikeouts in 116 1/3 innings at High-A and Double-A, and he enters 2022 as a fringe Top 100 candidate.
Dodgers: Bobby Miller, RHP (No. 4, MLB No. 78)
Though overshadowed by Reid Detmers at Louisville, Miller went 15-2 in three seasons and came within three outs of a no-hitter in the 2019 Super Regionals against East Carolina before joining Detmers in the first round of the 2020 Draft. He compiled a 2.40 ERA with 70 strikeouts in 56 1/3 innings while reaching Double-A in his pro debut, displaying the ability to maintain upper-90s fastball velocity for several innings and flashing the potential for three plus secondary pitches.
Giants: Joey Bart, C (No. 2, MLB No. 16)
Bart took home the Johnny Bench Award as college baseball's best catcher in 2018, when he also was the Atlantic Coast Conference player of the year and defensive player of the year and became the highest pick in Georgia Tech history (No. 2 overall). Buster Posey's heir apparent in San Francisco, he posted an .830 OPS with 10 homers in 67 Triple-A games last year and features both 25-plus homer potential as well as Gold Glove upside.
Padres: Reiss Knehr, RHP (No. 9)
Knehr played two ways in all three of his years at Fordham, hitting .259/.333/.370 over 95 plate appearances as a junior while posting a 2.40 ERA over 90 innings that same 2018 spring. The Padres saw enough on the mound to take him in the 20th round and signed him for $80,000. Nearly four years later, Knehr has climbed to the Majors, where he made 12 appearances (five starts) last season, on the strength of a 93.5 mph average fastball and 55-grade changeup. He’ll need to throw more strikes (20 walks in 29 innings) to get additional looks at the San Diego rotation.
Rockies: Ryan Rolison, LHP (No. 3, MLB No. 95)
Rolison was the fourth college arm, and the first lefty from the college set, taken in the 2018 Draft when the Rockies selected him No. 22 overall. The Ole Miss product was a Draft-eligible sophomore, one who spent two seasons in the Rebels’ rotation (and also pitched very well in the Cape Cod League). He had an up-and-down second full season in pro ball last year, but still has a very good feel for pitching and looks to have made some good adjustments pitching in the Dominican Winter League during the offseason.