Here's each team's top 2022 ROY candidate

November 18th, 2021

MLB officially announced the Rookie of the Year winners this week, with Randy Arozarena claiming the award in the American League and Jonathan India taking the honors in the National League. We're always looking toward the future here at MLB Pipeline, so we're already wondering about potential top rookie performers for next year.

Below, we identify each team's best candidate to win 2022 Rookie of the Year accolades. Twenty-three of the 30 players discussed reside on our Top 100 Prospects list.

Projecting rookies is admittedly not an easy task, especially this far in advance of next season. When we undertook this exercise last fall, we mentioned Arozarena and other top rookie performers such as Dylan Carlson and Ryan Mountcastle, but we whiffed on India.

American League East

Blue Jays: Gabriel Moreno, C (No. 1/MLB No. 32)
There’s a chance the backstop, who turns 22 in February, would have helped Toronto’s playoff chase last season if not for a fractured thumb that limited him to 32 games. But Moreno has shown in the Arizona Fall League that he’s as exciting a talent as ever, capable of hitting rockets all over the field while fielding his position well. Moreno’s plus hit tool and above-average power won’t need much finetuning in the Minors, and although Toronto’s catching situation looks loaded now, here’s betting he elbows his way into that situation in the first half.

Orioles: Adley Rutschman, C (No. 1/MLB No. 1)
This is about as easy a pick as there can be, right? The No. 1 prospect in baseball who is ready to knock down the door? It remains to be seen if the O’s will put him into the Opening Day lineup or let him get a little more time in Triple-A, but after a 2021 season that saw him reach Triple-A, post a .899 OPS and win a Minor League Gold Glove, he’ll ascend to Baltimore early enough to be considered an early front-runner for AL ROY honors.

Rays: Shane Baz, RHP (No. 1/MLB No. 19)
The Rays just had one prospect go from postseason performer to Rookie of the Year. Could Baz be next? Based on his ceiling, most definitely. Led by a 97-mph average fastball and plus slider, Baz’s stuff certainly played in the Majors during his three-start stint in the regular season. He posted a 2.03 ERA and struck out 18 in those 13 1/3 innings, earning an ALDS start in the process. The 22-year-old right-hander should slide right back into Tampa Bay’s rotation to open 2022, and assuming full health, he will get every shot to give the Rays their fifth Rookie of the Year since 2008.

Red Sox: Triston Casas, 1B (No. 2/MLB No. 18)
After starring for the U.S. Olympic team and hitting .279/.394/.484 with 14 homers in 86 games (mostly in Double-A), Casas is challenging for the Arizona Fall League batting title (.372) and leads the developmental circuit in on-base percentage (.495). Not only is the 2018 first-rounder from a Florida high school one of the game's top power prospects, but he's also an advanced hitter and a gifted defender with a strong arm.

Yankees: Luis Gil, RHP (No. 4/MLB No. 94)
Purloined from the Twins in a March 2018 trade for Jake Cave, Gil posted a 3.07 ERA in six starts with the Yankees down the stretch, striking out 38 in 29 1/3 innings. He averaged 96 mph with his four-seam fastball and dominated with his mid-80s slider, though he'll need to provide more consistent strikes to lock down a spot in New York's rotation.

American League Central

Guardians: Richie Palacios, OF/2B (No. 14)
Cleveland has had holes in its outfield for a while, and Palacios could plug one of them with his bat-to-ball skills, on-base ability and plus speed. A 2018 third-rounder from Towson whose uncle Rey and brother Josh have played in the Majors, he hit .297/.404/.471 with seven homers and 20 steals in 103 games between Double-A and Triple-A.

Royals: Bobby Witt Jr., SS (No. 1/MLB No. 3)
Witt very well could open next season as the Rookie of the Year favorite in the American League. The 2019 second overall pick was nearly a 30-30 player (33 homers, 29 steals) at the top two levels of the Kansas City system -- all the more impressive given 2021 was essentially his first full Minor League season. Witt clearly has the power and speed to play in the bigs right now, and while some swing-and-miss could hold him back, he’s shown an impressive ability to adjust to pitching at any level. Whether he plays short or third base next year for the Royals won’t matter much here. Witt could be electric right away.

Tigers: Spencer Torkelson, 1B/3B (No. 1, MLB No. 4)
Detroit certainly seems to be planning as if Torkelson will take over first-base duties next season. Who could blame it? The 2020 first overall pick lived up to the hype in his first full season, finishing with 30 homers and a .267/.383/.552 line over 121 games across three levels. He slugged at least .500 at each stop, and that includes Triple-A Toledo, where he put up a .531 mark in 40 games. Despite getting time at third base, Torkelson is likely locked into the cold corner, and his bat will certainly play there, thanks to his plus-plus raw pop. The former Arizona State slugger is a big piece of the Tigers’ plans to contend in short order.

Twins: Jordan Balazovic, RHP (No. 3/MLB No. 81)
There are a number of young pitchers who either got their feet wet in the big leagues this past season or are just about ready, with Balazovic leading a group that includes arms like Jhoan Duran, Joe Ryan, Josh Winder and Simeon Woods Richardson. Balazovic had a solid year in the jump to Double-A and has the combination of stuff, feel to pitch and ceiling to have the largest impact of that crop.

White Sox: Jake Burger, 3B (No. 3)
One of the best power-hitting prospects in the 2017 Draft, Burger went 11th overall out of Missouri State but lost two Minor League seasons to Achilles and heel injuries and a third to the coronavirus pandemic. He finally returned in 2021, regaining his pop and showing improved athleticism while batting .274/.332/.513 with 18 homers in 82 Triple-A games and making his big league debut.

American League West

Angels: Reid Detmers, LHP (No. 1/MLB No. 23)
While Detmers’ big league debut this past season didn’t go as well as planned (though he did get his first Major League win in a solid six-inning effort), the 2020 first-rounder was outstanding in the Minors in his first season of pro ball and is the kind of advanced left-hander who will learn from the lumps he took and eventually settle into the middle of the Angels’ rotation.

Astros: Jeremy Pena, SS (No. 4)
Assuming the Astros don't re-sign Carlos Correa, their best in-house option to replace him may be Pena, a 2018 third-rounder from Maine and the son of former big leaguer Geronimo. Known much more for his glove in college, he's still the best defender in Houston's system but has gotten stronger and is driving the ball more as a pro. After missing the first three months of this season with a left wrist injury, he returned to hit .287/.346/.598 with 10 homers in 30 Triple-A games.

A’s: Daulton Jefferies, RHP (No. 5)
Jefferies has always had the polish to pitch in the big leagues; injuries have held him back. He’s stayed relatively healthy of late and made a solid contribution out of the A’s bullpen in 2021. He has the stuff to start, but in any role he should have the opportunity to make a season-long impact.

Mariners: Julio Rodríguez, OF (No. 1/MLB No. 2)
This might be wishful thinking, given that he’ll be just 21 for all of 2022 and he has a mere 46 games above A-ball on his resume. But he also had an OPS over 1.000 and starred in the Olympics, and is the kind of talent who could push the envelope quickly and force the Mariners to call him up in what seems to be ahead of schedule.

Rangers: Josh Jung, 3B (No. 2/MLB No. 48)
The eighth overall pick in the 2019 Draft out of Texas Tech, Jung might have made a big league impact this year if he hadn't come down with a stress fracture in his left foot that sidelined him until mid-June. An advanced hitter who should hit for average and power, he batted .326/.398/.592 with 19 homers in 78 games between Double-A and Triple-A.

National League East

Braves: Cristian Pache, OF (No. 1/MLB No. 63)
While it might be unfair to say this upcoming season is a huge one for a 23-year old. Pache has spent considerable time in Triple-A and gotten a couple of opportunities to show what he can do in the big leagues, without much success. The defense is Gold Glove caliber; the bat, which seemed to jump forward in 2019, ended slowly in 2021. If he comes out of the gate and shows he can be productive, he still has all the tools to be a very good big league center fielder.

Marlins: Edward Cabrera, RHP (No. 2/MLB No. 29)
The Marlins have several rookies who could crack their 2022 rotation in Cabrera and fellow Top 100 Prospects Max Meyer and Sixto Sánchez. Signed for $100,000 out of the Dominican Republic in 2015, Cabrera deals with a four-seam fastball that sat at 97 mph in seven big league starts and backs up his heat with a mid-80s slider and developing changeup. While he got knocked around for a 5.81 ERA with the Marlins, he recorded a 2.93 mark with 92 strikeouts in 61 1/3 innings at three stops in the Minors.

Mets: Mark Vientos, 3B (No. 6)
The 2017 second-rounder undoubtedly looked close to Major League-ready by 2021’s end. Vientos finished with a .281/.352/.581 line and 25 homers in only 83 games between Double-A and Triple-A. The bat isn’t the big concern here, even if it could use a little more seasoning at the top level. Vientos primarily plays third base now, but with a lack of range and Brett Baty coming behind him, his time at the hot corner might not be long. He might be a first baseman long term, though Pete Alonso will have a lot to say about that. Keep an eye on the glove, because Vientos’ bat will command enough attention when it reaches the top level.

Nationals: Cade Cavalli (No. 1, MLB/No. 39)
The Nationals showed at the end of 2021 that they’re willing to give prospects opportunities to win Major League jobs (see Josiah Gray, Keibert Ruiz and even Joan Adon). Barring a shift this offseason, expect that to continue into 2022. That’s big news for the club’s top prospect, who ended last season with six Triple-A starts. Cavalli’s 175 strikeouts in 123 1/3 innings overall led the Minors -- an indication of how well his four-pitch mix works already. He’ll need to improve his control to solidify his Major League readiness, but that may not take long enough to keep him and his high-K capability out of a rookie award race.

Phillies: Bryson Stott, SS (No. 2/MLB No. 97)
In 2021, Stott played across three levels and hit .299/.390/.486, improving as he moved up levels. He capped it with a very strong Arizona Fall League performance, all while providing solid defense. He’s going to head into Spring Training with an opportunity to win the Phillies’ shortstop job, and it might be imprudent to bet against him.

National League Central

Brewers: Ethan Small, LHP (No. 5)
Small had the bonafides to see the Majors at some point in 2021. His 1.98 ERA was fifth-lowest among Minor Leaguers with at least 70 innings, and he added 92 strikeouts in his 77 1/3 frames spent mostly at Double-A and Triple-A. A left-hand injury limited his time in the upper Minors, and he’s spending time now in the Dominican Winter League making up for the lost time. Small’s deceptive fastball and above-average changeup should make him a Major League threat early in 2022, and Milwaukee’s emphasis on defense could keep his traditional stats low enough to be award-worthy.

Cardinals: Matthew Liberatore, LHP (No. 2/MLB No. 47)
Nolan Gorman could also push for an award if he arrives as St. Louis second baseman early enough, but we’ll give the early advantage to Liberatore, who spent all of 2021 at Triple-A Memphis. The southpaw held his own as a 21-year-old at the Minors’ top level (4.04 ERA, 123 strikeouts in 124 2/3 innings) on the strength of his plus fastball, plus curve and above-average changeup. Depending on the strength and depth of the Cards’ rotation, Liberatore could get an early call and has the arsenal to stick for a full season once that comes.

Cubs: Brennen Davis, OF (No. 1/MLB No. 14)
The Cubs are in full rebuilding mode, and their top prospect should surface at Wrigley Field at some point next year. A 2018 second-rounder from an Arizona high school, he's a polished hitter with 30-30 upside and the capability of playing anywhere in the outfield. He batted .260/.375/.494 with 19 homers in 99 games while rising from High-A to Triple-A and won MVP honors with two long balls at the SiriusXM All-Star Futures Game.

Pirates: Oneil Cruz, SS (No. 3/MLB No. 52)
A forearm strain slowed him for a spell in 2021, but he still went from Double-A to the big leagues, posting a .970 OPS in the Minors with 17 homers and 19 steals, then hit his first Major League homer during a brief callup. He’s played shortstop for a lot longer than anyone has expected, so don’t be surprised to see him break into the lineup in Pittsburgh there.

Reds: Hunter Greene, RHP (No. 1/MLB No. 26)
Greene’s first competitive action since 2018 following Tommy John surgery and the 2020 shutdown couldn’t have gone much better, as the flame-throwing right-hander reached Triple-A while topping 100 innings and missing a lot of bats (11.8 K/9) along the way. Even if the Reds decide to be cautious and have him start the year in Triple-A, he’s going to make a huge impact on their pitching staff in 2022.

National League West

D-backs: Alek Thomas, OF (No. 3/MLB No. 40)
There is some hope on the horizon in the desert. The D-backs are coming off a tough 52-110 season, and unless the club makes some unexpected moves this offseason, there should be ample chances for young players to win roles next summer. That charge could be led by Thomas. Previously known for a plus bat, good speed and quality defense in center, the 2018 second-rounder kicked things up a notch in the second half at Triple-A Reno, where he hit .369/.434/.658 with 23 extra-base hits in 34 games. That was in a hitter-friendly environment over a small sample, so it’ll be on Thomas to show his improved bat can stick longer term. If he does, he has the other tools to be a star in Phoenix fast.

Dodgers: Bobby Miller, RHP (No. 4/MLB No. 78)
Despite some uneven results in the Arizona Fall League, Miller has showcased the best stuff in the developmental circuit -- a fastball that sits at 96-97 mph, a pair of power breaking balls that can make hitters look bad and a developing changeup -- and just needs to refine his command. The 2020 first-rounder out of Louisville logged a 2.40 ERA in his pro debut, limiting opponents to a .192 average while striking out 70 in 56 1/3 innings between High-A and Double-A.

Giants: Joey Bart, C (No. 2/MLB No. 16)
Buster Posey's surprising retirement creates a sudden opening behind the plate in San Francisco, and the No. 2 overall pick out of Georgia Tech is a leading candidate to fill it. Bart, who could have plus power, arm strength and defense when he's fully developed, has played part of the last two years with the Giants but spent most of 2021 in Triple-A, where he batted .294/.358/.472 with 10 homers in 67 games.

Padres: Luis Campusano, C (No. 2/MLB No. 37)
The 2022 season could be Campusano’s third in the Majors, all before his 24th birthday, so the big stage shouldn’t scare the backstop. The 2017 second-rounder is a bat-first catcher who hit .295/.365/.541 with 15 homers in 81 games at Triple-A last season, and that’s much more indicative of his potential than his 3-for-34 (.088) turn with San Diego. Campusano has to wedge his way past Austin Nola and Victor Caratini on the catching depth chart to be an awards contender, but as the future of the position, he should be given plenty of chances to do so starting in the spring.

Rockies: Ryan Vilade, OF (No. 5)
Vilade parlayed a solid season in Triple-A into his first big league callup. He continued to get work in at the Arizona Fall League, showing his usually solid approach at the plate and ability to make hard contact. He demonstrated solid on-base skills as a leadoff guy in Triple-A, and the power will eventually come.