Welcome to the 2022 debut of MLB Pipeline’s Rookie Power Rankings. Once a month, the Pipeline staff will vote on who we see as the likeliest Rookie of the Year winners at the end of the season.
It’s that last part that’s key here. We’re not voting on who would win if the awards were handed out now. Instead, it’s a combination of current performance and rest-of-year expectations, adding up to a judgment call from our prospect experts. So you just might -- spoiler alert! -- even see the name of a player who hasn’t yet appeared in a big league game in 2022.
Without further buildup, on with the rankings.
1. Seiya Suzuki, outfielder, Cubs
This one makes too much sense to be anybody else. We loved Suzuki coming into the year, ranking him the most likely winner of National League Rookie of the Year honors back before the season started. Then the former star of the Japanese Central League got off to a hot start, making everybody look smart. Suzuki entered Tuesday with a .278/.398/.528 batting line, the kind of numbers that can lead to down-ballot MVP votes, never mind Rookie of the Year. No rookie has more RBIs, doubles, walks or hits than Suzuki.
2. Julio Rodríguez, outfielder, Mariners
It hasn’t been the most blazing start for any of the top prospects who arrived in the Major Leagues on Opening Day this year, but just about all of them are starting to show signs of life. That’s particularly true of Rodríguez, who hit his first homer Sunday and has cut his strikeout rate drastically over the past couple of weeks. He’s at .238/.307/.325 on the year, which isn’t flashy, but his talent is undeniable -- we had him ranked second among American League Rookie candidates in the preseason -- and it seems like the light has turned on. Oh, and by the way, he has nine steals in 10 tries.
3. Jeremy Peña, shortstop, Astros
Peña has to count as the first surprise on this list, since we didn’t have him as a top-5 candidate for AL rookie honors as of four weeks ago. Leading all rookies in homers can do that. Peña came out of the gates ferociously, and though his average has hit quite a bump in the past two weeks, he’s still hitting for power. His five homers are tops among first-year players, as are his 14 runs scored. And there’s little doubt he’ll have the opportunity to keep producing.
4. Joe Ryan, right-handed pitcher, Twins
Ryan, a top-100 prospect entering the year who performed ably in a brief stint with the Twins last year, didn’t rank in our preseason poll but perhaps should have. Ryan leads rookie pitchers in strikeouts (25) and has the lowest ERA (1.17) of any rookie who qualifies for the ERA title. He has also gotten better as the year has gone on, with at least six innings and no more than one run allowed in his second, third and fourth starts.
5. Bobby Witt Jr., third baseman, Royals
We had Witt as the AL Rookie favorite four weeks ago, and any honest assessment wouldn’t have him on the ballot if the vote were taken today. It won’t be, though, and we still firmly believe in Witt, Pipeline’s No. 1 prospect. He’s still not hitting for power after a very rough start, but he’s started to put together some hits and has collected four stolen bases while playing a quality third base. Lots of great players have hit .221 over a month of baseball. We’re not worried.
6. Spencer Torkelson, first baseman, Tigers
Here’s another from the “we believe” file. Pipeline’s No. 4 prospect actually got off to a hotter start than Witt or Rodríguez, but he has hit a rough patch recently. Still, he’s already tallied three homers, and Torkelson has never not hit. The big leagues are hard, man! And it’s worth noting that he’s taken a bit to adjust before -- he hit .220 and slugged .305 over his first 17 pro games at High-A. He hit .246 over his first 16 games at Double-A. He hit .180 over his first 16 Triple-A games. And he figured it out every time. Torkelson will be fine.
7. MacKenzie Gore, left-handed pitcher, Padres
If Torkelson and Witt fall under “we still believe,” then the best way to describe Gore may be “we really, really want to believe.” Two years ago, Gore was the top pitching prospect in the game. Then he lost his way on the mound. Now it seems like he’s found it again. He’s been brilliant in three Major League starts, and there’s never been any doubt about his ceiling. If Gore is still dealing in a month, it’s very likely he’ll be much higher on this list.
8. Joey Bart, catcher, Giants
This is about where we had Bart coming into the year -- fifth in the NL, to be exact -- and honestly, his performance has been what probably should have been expected. He’s hitting .205, which isn’t dazzling, but he’s hitting for power and he’s always gotten good marks for his defense. Mostly, if you ask the Giants, they’ll probably note that Bart is the primary catcher for a pitching staff that ranks third in the NL in ERA. They have no complaints, and neither do we.
9. Steven Kwan, outfielder, Guardians
Here’s another, far more extreme case of performance over pedigree. It should be no surprise that we didn’t rank Kwan among the most likely Rookie winners, since we have him ranked 15th among Guardians prospects. Still, he was one of the best stories of the early season with his historic contact streak, and he entered Tuesday with a nifty .340/.439/.472 line. Kwan hit for average but not for power throughout the Minors; the question is how sustainable that approach can be in the Majors in 2022. It will be fun to find out.
10. Adley Rutschman, catcher, Orioles
Virtually nothing has changed about Rutschman since we ranked him fifth among AL Rookie candidates last month. He’s still one of the highest-ceiling and highest-floor prospects in the game. He’s still a two-way threat. He’s gotten healthy, and is currently in the process of showing that he’s far, far better than the rest of the players in the South Atlantic League. He’ll make his way up through the system quickly, probably will be in the big leagues before terribly long once he gets his timing all the way down, and he should perform very well once he gets there.