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Prospects to Pop in 2022: Pitchers

Seven pitchers are poised for a breakout.

Welcome to the pitching edition of my prospect picks to click in 2022. Though the list could run nearly 50 deep, in honor of PL7 I’ve chosen 14 to write up—with 7 pitchers today and 7 hitters tomorrow. Below are scouting reports compiled on prospects I believe will break out in 2022. The term breakout is used loosely here, but for the most part I’ve steered away from already-top-100 types (Eury Perez) or more consensus picks to click (sorry, Cole Winn).

You will also notice my personal FV grades for each player. We rarely use FV here given its downfalls representing value in a fantasy setting, and that’s perfectly fair! But on a larger level, players don’t reach the majors based on fantasy stats. I’ve always evaluated prospects on a real-world scale first and foremost and the same is true here, so adjust accordingly. Or ignore them completely, that’s your choice. These grades take into account sourced data and video evaluation, which I’ve linked to when available. Players constantly evolve, so by no means are these grades the end-all-be-all. Each tool (or pitch) is graded on the FV scale (formatted as present/future value), while the overall grade combines those tools with perceived variance and relief risk.

Now that the legally required disclaimers are out of the way, let’s get into the prospects. I assume most of you just skipped to this point anyway.

 

Ricky Tiedemann, LHP, Toronto Blue Jays

 

Report: Tiedemann is a curious assortment of plus traits with a pandemic-plagued development path. He represents an inverse-projection arm of sorts, with more ancillary present strengths (changeup feel, approach angles, mechanics) while the typical raw litmus tests (velocity, command, control) wildly fluctuate. He went undrafted in 2020 as one of the youngest players in his class and was still 18 upon his third round selection in 2021 after spending the year at Golden West (JUCO). He has a loose and projectable 6’4″ frame and pitches from a modified windup, where his clean arm action and long stride create the type of flat angles progressive teams covet. He was also among the many young pitchers to have a post-draft velo spike, comfortably sitting 94-96 mph at instructs and considerably harder than he flashed at Golden West. It remains to be seen whether his velocity gains are sustainable, but projectable lefties with changeup feel tend to be something and Tiedemann has the underlying metrics to support it. The right-tail outcome is a mid-rotation stalwart with three plus offerings, and he’ll have the stability to prove that potential in 2022.

 

Manuel Mercedes, RHP, San Francisco Giants

 

Report: Mercedes pitches with unrivaled looseness and a 3/4 arm slot that maximizes horizontal movement. The length and sheer quickness of his arm action tend to indicate relief risk but his otherwise clean mechanics are composed enough to believe he can start. His fastball and changeup are both horizontal in nature, while the slider shows more vertical depth and might be more consistent at a flatter angle. The effectiveness of that pitch mix is heavily reliant on location, meaning Mercedes will have to improve his presently fringy command. A future high-leverage bullpen role isn’t out of the question, but I think Mercedes’ overall athleticism paired with Giants’ pitching development will keep him in the rotation long term. Slated to get his first taste of full-season ball in 2022, I wouldn’t be shocked to see him rising up top-100 lists next offseason.

 

Jayden Murray, RHP, Tampa Bay Rays

 

Report: Murray is the type of low-variance depth arm every team needs a few of, lacking a dominant trait but also without true weakness. His proclivity for spin made him an intriguing 23rd round senior-sign in 2019, featuring a two-pitch relief look and underlying traits that made him one of my favorite sleepers last offseason. Two years later, Murray boasts a starter’s arsenal with two distinct fastballs sitting 93-95, a quickly-developing changeup, and sweeping slider. Tampa tweaked his arsenal horizontally, helping Murray harness his natural arm-side run via the sinker and changeup in addition to tuning the high-spin breaking ball in a more lateral direction. The slider is still his best offering, but the more complete arsenal now allows him to mix-and-match over longer stints. He might not have the developmental runway to become an impact arm, but now projects to be a perfectly-serviceable major league swingman and fits seamlessly into the Rays’ unique usage mold.

 

Justin Martinez, RHP, Arizona Diamondbacks

 

Report: Martinez might have the smoothest mechanics in minor league baseball, pitching with a loose and comfortable fluidity rarely seen in young pitchers. His arm action is longer than most high-velocity guys and also means he has trouble staying behind the pitch. That leads his fastball to have lots of natural cut—a sub-optimal shape for missing bats—but also a fairly simple fix for most prospects. That phenomenon actually benefits his slider which has good movement, firm velocity, and a flat approach angle. Added arm-side movement would do wonders for his third pitch though, a low-80s splitter, and fully complete the above-average arsenal. It’s obvious the Diamondbacks are high on Martinez, who was aggressively placed at Low-A as an 18-year-old in 2021. He pitched to mixed results in seven games (all starts) before undergoing Tommy John Surgery in July. It will be interesting to see where he’s at during rehab, as even if the fastball continues to cut Martinez has the velocity and slider command to get away with it (à-la Luis Patino). He should be a mid-season addition to the Visalia rotation in 2022 and looks to have frontline potential.

 

Dane Acker, RHP, Texas Rangers

 

Report: Acker navigated a path that saw him go from freshman at Rice, to San Jacinto (JUCO), and then Oklahoma in a three-year span. After a short but memorable Sooners career, he was selected by Oakland in the fourth round of the 2020 draft before being shipped to Texas in the Elvis Andrus deal. To that point he looked like your garden-variety depth starter, topping out in the low-90s with decent command of a middling four-pitch mix. Then something clicked last spring, where the fastball was suddenly touching 99 and sitting comfortably just a few ticks below. Acker throws multiple fastballs, of which the sinker was his most relied on in college. As noted with Tiedemann, there’s some mystery on the post-shutdown velo spikes and varying opinions on how much each pitcher can carry over. That’s potentially more clouded for Acker, who underwent elbow reconstruction surgery in May after just two professional appearances. That delay is certainly not ideal, but Acker is clearly a starter long-term and should move relatively quickly upon his returns.

 

Denny Larrondo, RHP, New York Yankees

 

Report: Larrondo is an athletic conversion arm who mainly played CF as an amateur in Cuba, but strong underlying numbers point toward a potential breakout on the bump. Larrondo has a quick arm and impressive ability to spin a baseball, with raw spin rates on his curveball routinely approaching 3000rpm. His mechanics are inconsistent, with varying stride lengths and glove placement even over the stretch of an inning. If you squint though, his slight crossfire delivery nicely counters a longer arm action and makes for a clean release—even if the rest of it needs refinement. There have also been reported command issues, but given the development track I wouldn’t expect him to have pinpoint command nor would I put much (if any) weight into rookie league statistics. His spin metrics and arm quickness suggest future upticks in velocity, but he didn’t show a ton of improvement in 2021. The fastball still sits around 92 and his curveball is just a get-me-over pitch at its current low-70s velocity, though both have desirable shapes. I think the changeup has upside as well, but that will likely come after larger refinements. Even with a stagnant season on paper, I still think Larrondo has a chance to pop. That’s largely me banking on the Yankees history of developing similar pitchers and work being done behind the scenes, but his range of outcomes are wider than the Grand Canyon.

 

Keider Montero, RHP, Detroit Tigers

 

Report: Montero may not be the most projectable starter in the Tigers’ system, but the 21-year-old has already shown an uptick in velocity and mirrors the profile of some recent breakouts. He was a fairly pedestrian IFA in 2016, signing for just 40k in a notably deep J2 class. Since debuting stateside, Montero progressed to Low-A as an 18-year-old before the pandemic. Though his numbers at High-A in 2021 leave something to be desired (5.28 ERA, 13% K-BB%), his BABIP and FIP hint at some poor luck while his arsenal promises to deliver more whiffs with just minimal refinement. That arsenal is headlined by his breaking ball, which I’ve called a curveball because that’s what Montero himself calls it, but its movement profile is that of a sweeping slider and possesses elite spin (3000rpm) and tilt. Call it whatever you want, that sweeper shape plays extremely well with his arm-slot and fastball traits. His mechanics are fairly sound, though his stride length can be a bit short and struggles to allow for full extension. Those are certainly concerns given his lack of physical projection, but are somewhat alleviated by his present velocity and doesn’t seem to be overly limiting. I believe Montero will follow a similar track to Brewers’ righty Freddy Peralta and Astros’ righty Cristian Javier, both of whom I rate highly.  Even without a third pitch, the left tail outcome is a multi-inning reliever and given his relative youth and underlying traits I think Montero has the makings of a successful modern big league starter. He is currently Rule 5 eligible and could push for a spot as soon as this year.

Photos Icon Sportswire Adapted by Doug Carlin (@Bdougals on Twitter)

Natan Cristol-Deman

Natan is a California native and senior at UMass Amherst. He enjoys applying analytics to scouting and player development. You can find him on twitter @natan_cd

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