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The MLB Youth Movement is in Full Affect

A new era of baseball is among us.

The game of baseball continues to change each, and every, day. A new start to a season provides young players the opportunity to make a name for themselves in this league. While we have had notable names make their debuts over the year, the impact of these rookies seems to have reached a new level in 2022.

There is a multitude of reasons why a rookie can make an impact at the Major League level from Opening Day. Whether it is an opportunity from injury, the loss of a player to free agency or trades, or even just a breakout performance in Spring Training that has led the Front Office to allow them the opportunity to achieve their life-long dreams, this season seems to have a different feel to it. Multiple organizations around the league have given their young prospects the chance to perform for them at the big-league level and, a majority of them, are proving that they deserve to stay. This youth movement is refreshing to many, especially those looking to get invested in the game. While many fans might not appreciate the bat flips, stare downs, audible screams after a big strikeout, or the antics of a hitter after a big hit, the attitude is what baseball needed to bring the passion back to a sport that has struggled to gain a new fanbase for the past few seasons.

We aren’t just talking about the struggling teams bringing up young players to fill their rosters. We are seeing playoff-hopeful teams relying more on their player development system and being aggressive with their prospects, thrusting them into starting roles. There are two obvious players that we expected to be impactful in Bobby Witt Jr. and Julio Rodríguez but I will not dig too far into them since they have been in the headlines from Day 1. This article is going to highlight some players that we were hoping would be able to hold their own, yet are standing out far more than we expected. From the mound to the batting order, let’s take a look at some players that were allowed to be impactful, and are running away with it.

 

Jeremy Peña (HOU) – SS

 

Carlos Correa was rumored to still be in the mix to return to Houston up until he put pen to paper with Minnesota. Once that happened, it was Jeremy Peña’s chance to prove he can step in and take over as the everyday starter for the Astros at shortstop. Needless to say, they were big shoes to fill.

Throughout his three years in the minor leagues, Pena was always able to produce at the plate. With a career average of .291 with 18 home runs, 85 RBIs, and 29 stolen bases over 182 games, the Astros were willing to make the move and hand the reigns over to the young prospect. So far, it seems as if they have made the right decision in doing so.

If you are an avid baseball fan, you might not be paying too much attention to Pena right now. You should.

Courtesy of BaseballSavant

Through every facet of the game, Pena has continued to excel. From his gold-glove caliber defense at a prime position to the clutch hits in the loaded Astros lineup, Jeremy Pena looks like the real deal. The slash line looks strong to anyone who only looks at that. Currently hitting .276/.338/.517 with seven home runs and even chipping in two stolen bases so far. The most impressive stat would be his 13.8% barrel% which ranks in the 87th percentile in all of baseball.

Jeremy Pena has stepped up admirably for the World Series hopeful Astros. If he continues to produce like this, ‘Stros fans will soon forget about Carlos Correa.

 

Joe Ryan (MIN) – RHP

 

When the Twins decided to move on from Nelson Cruz at the trade deadline last season, they could not have done much better in a return package that featured a young right-hander named Joe Ryan. Many were surprised to see the Rays willing to part with the top prospect at the time. Minnesota was able to capitalize on the roster crunch situation that Tampa was going through and it has quickly paid dividends for them.

This off-season, the Twins made a flurry of moves that had many scratching their heads. Trading away Josh Donaldson and Mitch Garver seemed to have them looking more towards a “re-tooling” phase than taking the “win-now” approach that they quickly took in trading for Sonny Gray and signing the prize shortstop in the class in Correa. Through all of these moves, one thing was clear… Joe Ryan was going to lead their staff in 2022. To date, this looks like a great decision by them in making the 25-year-old pitcher the cornerstone in their rotation.

Courtesy of BaseballSavant

Ryan has been dominant. Over 37.2 innings pitched, he is sporting a 2.39 ERA with 36 strikeouts and an impressive HR/9 of 0.72. While his expected stats are just a bit higher, there is no denying that Joe Ryan has been everything that the Twins Front Office has hoped for.

Going forward, limiting the walks is going to be something he will have to work on. The 83.3% LOB% is something to monitor going forward. However, what Joe Ryan has done so far puts him near the top of the list for Rookie of the Year candidates. Props to Minnesota for getting the best of the Rays here.

 

MacKenzie Gore (SDP) – LHP

 

Since he was taken as the third overall pick in 2017, MacKenzie Gore has headlined multiple top-prospect lists. As recent as the Arizona Fall League last year, many wondered if the former phenom would be able to return to form and make his major league debut for the Friars.

Gore took full advantage of the opportunity that presented itself at the beginning of the season. When Mike Clevinger was placed on the IL right before the start, Gore’s spring performance convinced the Padres Front Office that he was the right man for the job. While it now looks like he will be used out of the bullpen with Blake Snell returning this week, we cannot dismiss what he was able to do in his first time with the rotation.

Courtesy of BaseballSavant

Gore pitched to a 2.42 ERA in 26.0 innings in his five starts with 28 strikeouts and nine walks. The batted ball data left a little more to be deserved, referring to the 50.0% HardHit% on batted balls, but Gore was able to be effective on the mound.

The heat maps shown above give us a little perspective as to why the hard-hit data is the way it is. His fastball lived in the middle of the strike zone and has a -7 run value out of the 300 FBs he has thrown this season. Other than that, the .283 wOBA gives us optimism that it is something he can continue to work on as he develops at the Major League level.

The Padres faith in Gore’s potential return to his top-prospect form has paid off thus far in 2022. With all of the injury question marks surrounding the Padres rotation, it would be to no one’s surprise that Gore finds his way back into the fold, and end up being a staple going forward should he continues to make strides.

 

 

Spencer Strider (ATL) – RHP

 

Rocking one of the best mustaches in all of baseball, Spencer Strider has been able to succeed in every role that Atlanta has put him in this season. The 2020 fourth-round pick flew through the Atlanta system, making his initial appearance in Low-A to start the year, ending up as an intricate part of the team’s World Series run.

In the minor leagues last season, Strider made 21 starts and pitched to a 3.64 ERA, 1.11 WHIP, and 153 Ks in only 94.0 innings pitched. Will climbing through the system, Atlanta focused on simplifying his arsenal, ultimately creating a dominant fastball-slider combination that has produced an electric fastball touching triple digits and a slider that generated 14.6 K/9 in the minor leagues. While he does feature a change-up, he has only thrown it 2.7% of the time so far this season.

Strider made the Opening Day roster and has continued to impress out of the Atlanta pen by posting a 2.75 ERA in 19.2 innings pitched, continuing to generate a lot of strikeouts with the 37.7% K% he has generated through the eight appearances.

Courtesy of Fangraphs

The performance that he has shown thus far has a lot of the Atlanta fan base wondering when he is going to transition into the rotation for them. Recent reports of Tyler Matzek going on the IL, have news coming out of Atlanta saying that Strider will now be shifted into a higher leverage role going forward.

No matter what the outcome is, Atlanta made the right decision to aggressively push Strider throughout the system. The impact that he has had for them so far has flown under the radar due to all of the other rookie performances throughout the league. However, as his role continues to increase, Spencer Strider, and his ’stash, will be well-known by baseball fans all over the country.

Honorable Mentions:

Juan Yepez (STL) – 1B

Royce Lewis (MIN) – SS

Steven Kwan (CLE) – OF

Reid Detmers (LAA) – LHP

 

(Photo by Icon Sportswire)Adapted by Shawn Palmer (@PalmerDesigns_ on twitter

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