The best player at each position to debut in '22

August 28th, 2022

There is a celebration associated with Major League debuts, because we love bright, new, shiny things and the optimism associated with freshly promoted prospects. But there is great difficulty in maintaining that celebration because -- news flash -- the big leagues are pretty darn hard. So it is only natural that many young players need time -- in some cases years -- to sharpen and hone their skills at the highest level.

That’s why we should celebrate those who arrived and made an instant impact. And that’s what we’ll do with this 2022 All-Debut Team.

To be clear, this team is made up only of players who have debuted in 2022. So there are some standout rookies, such as the Braves’ Spencer Strider, the Pirates’ Oneil Cruz and the Twins’ Joe Ryan, who debuted prior to this year and are therefore ineligible for this particular “team.”

*All stats through Thursday's games*

Catcher: , Orioles
It’s still early, of course, but we might one day look back and put Rutschman, who arrived May 21, in that special class of catchers to debut this century -- alongside the likes of Yadi Molina, Buster Posey, Joe Mauer and Salvador Perez – who instantly took their teams to another level. Already, we can say Rutschman helped change the tone around the O’s from one of perpetual rebuild to, “Hey, this is starting to look like something!” In his first 76 games, the 24-year-old contributed a .256/.364/.447 slash along with excellent defense and framing that seemed to have a positive impact on the O’s pitching staff. He is also a world-class hugger.

First base: , Twins
Lin-Manuel Miranda’s cousin had a breakthrough 2021 season at the Double-A and Triple-A levels and has, amazingly, only gotten better after cracking the bigs on May 2. He took some lumps at first, but since June 3, the 24-year-old Puerto Rico native is slashing .313/.361/.505. His 124 OPS+ is nearly identical to that of star teammate Carlos Correa. We should also give a shout-out here to Joey Meneses, a 30-year-old Minor League journeyman who got his first opportunity with the Nationals after the Josh Bell trade and has put up a .324/.351/.595 slash with six homers through his first 77 plate appearances.

Second base: , Cardinals
One way or another, this position was going to be filled by somebody from the NL Central. It comes down to Gorman or the Cubs’ Christopher Morel, who at one point earlier this week had posted identical weighted runs created plus (wRC+) marks of 117. Morel, who has played all over the field, has more than 50 more plate appearances, but Gorman has seen more time at second base. The 22-year-old Gorman debuted on May 20 and, with a .752 OPS, 13 homers and 10 doubles, has been influential in the Cards’ rise to first place. We would also be remiss not to give a nod to the Braves’ Vaughn Grissom here. In his first 15 games after his Aug. 10 debut, he put up a 1.024 OPS with three homers, three doubles and two steals -- a small but mighty sample.

Shortstop: Jeremy Peña, Astros
Though his offensive output has dropped considerably in the second half (giving him roughly league average impact overall), you can’t tell the story of the 2022 season without noting how the 24-year-old Peña was named the departed Correa’s Opening Day replacement and helped the defending AL champs keep on keepin’ on as the team with the best record in the league. Peña has proven himself an elite defender (95th percentile in outs above average) and a terrific baserunner (94th percentile in sprint speed). The Royals’ Bobby Witt Jr. (18 homers) would be an equally worthy choice at short. It’s not easy to try to live up to the massive hype he received prior to his promotion.

Third base: , Cardinals
Witt could also be placed here, but this is a good spot to recognize a guy who has played a bunch of positions for a first-place team. Though he plays on the same team as Nolan Arenado and has (not coincidentally) spent more time in the outfield, the 25-year-old Donovan has seen time at third base (he’s made 15 starts and logged more than 130 innings there). He deserves to be saluted here for his .295 average and .404 on-base percentage in a super utility role. He's performed well in the No. 2 spot of the batting order (.876 OPS), has been clutch with runners in scoring position (.991 OPS) and has taken a particular liking to Busch Stadium (.940 OPS).

Left field: , Guardians
The 24-year-old Kwan wasn’t widely cited as a top prospect to watch going into 2022, but he made Cleveland’s Opening Day roster and instantly made history, becoming the first player since at least 1901 to reach base safely 15 times in his first four games and the first since at least 2000 to go 116 pitches without a swing-and-miss. We’ve seen many players debut with some kind of historical oddity and quickly fade into oblivion. Not so with Kwan. With an approach not all that unlike that of Ichiro, Kwan has made the necessary adjustments as this season has rolled along and been an important leadoff presence for the first-place Guards’ high-contact lineup, with a .298/.371/.393 slash line. He’s been an excellent defender in left, too, as evidenced Friday, when he pulled a Derek Jeter with a swan dive (Kwan dive?) into the stands.

Center field: Julio Rodríguez, Mariners
Well, there’s a reason the Mariners wanted to lock this guy in for at least the next 12 years. Rutschman might have something to say about it, but the 21-year-old Rodríguez, who debuted on Opening Day, is the odds-on favorite for the AL Rookie of the Year, with only a midseason wrist injury stalling an otherwise star season. Rodríguez’s size and presence had the heads of his fellow All-Stars turning in Los Angeles last month, particularly when he swatted 81 dingers in the Home Run Derby. In games that count, he’s slashed .269/.328/.471 with 20 homers, 19 doubles and 64 RBIs to help lead the Mariners to what would be their first postseason appearance since 2001 (when he was less than 1 year old), and many more in the future after agreeing to a long-term deal, according to a source.

Right field: Michael Harris II, Braves
Are we cheating by putting Harris in right field instead of center? Guilty (and apologies to the Cubs’ Seiya Suzuki for the snub as a result). But there was absolutely no way we weren’t putting both J-Rod and Harris in our starting lineup, and at least Harris logged two games in right for Double-A Mississippi this season. Good enough for us. No one could have imagined that when the 21-year-old Harris was promoted directly from Double-A on May 28, he would make as big an impact on the defending champs as he has. But he’s been nothing short of one of their best players ever since, with a .286/.331/.504 slash line, 13 homers, 18 doubles, 15 steals and excellent defense (93rd percentile in outs above average). The Braves know a good thing when they see it: They already locked Harris up for at least the next eight years.

Designated hitter: , Guardians
The 24-year-old Gonzalez, who debuted on May 26, has the best offensive numbers of any player we haven’t already named to a starting spot, and he’s seen some time at DH this year (in addition to right field) for the Guards. Listed at 6-foot-4, 240 pounds, Gonzalez is an imposing presence who has made his presence known early, with a .303/.329/.478 slash line and 25 extra-base hits in his first 210 plate appearances. Gonzalez wasn’t ranked as a prospect and wasn’t protected from the Rule 5 Draft (that didn’t end up happening) last year, but he’s been impressive.

Starting pitcher: , Mariners
Perhaps there’s some recency bias here, as we just watched Kirby set a record against the Nats on Wednesday by throwing 24 straight strikes to open an outing. But that fits the mold for a pitcher whose 3.2% walk rate is second best among any Major League pitcher with at least 60 innings this year. Overall, the 24-year-old Kirby is 5-3 with a 3.32 ERA, 1.20 WHIP and 111 ERA+ in 18 starts since debuting on May 8.

Reliever: Alexis Diaz, Reds
This spot is an impossible choice between Díaz, Orioles closer Félix Bautista and Twins flamethrower Jhoan Duran. The three have been comparably dominant, with ERAs around 2.00 or lower, sub-1.00 WHIPs and strikeout rates around 33%. Take your pick (and if Bautista wins you over because his entrance song is Omar’s whistle from “The Wire,” fair enough). But because our team already has an Oriole and a Twin, we’ll roster a Red here and feel comfortable handing the ball to 25-year-old Díaz, who, like his brother Edwin of the Mets, can get the job done. Quite a year for that family.