Even in redraft leagues, prospects can be the lottery ticket that wins your league. Here are the top hitters to keep an eye on for 2022.
#1: Seiya Suzuki, OF, FA
ETA: Opening Day
The number one contender for your stash list is a free agent that may wind up back across international waters. Seiya Suzuki is not like most of his NPB predecessors. He’s entering the prime of his baseball career and has an incredible slash line, most notably his proclivity of power. His mastery of the strike zone buoys his value for OBP leagues and he has some wheels too. If he winds up stateside, the team which signs him will have enough financial investment to start him day one. Go ahead and take the gamble because the payoff is much bigger than the names below. Expect Suzuki to produce top-60 OF fantasy value from the jump.
#2: Oneil Cruz, SS, PIT
ETA: Opening Day
The audacity to list a Buc in any list of required considerations, let alone in the top five. Oneil Cruz may be one of the best prospects in all of baseball, but doesn’t get the shine due to his organization where Michael Keaton—and not an actual baseball player—is likely the most memorable contributor to the team’s popularity. Cruz’s undeniably successful 2021 minor-league season was acknowledged when Pittsburgh called him up for a cup of coffee.
Small sample size acknowledgments here, but he immediately stood out as a player to watch by smoking his pitches with an average exit velocity north of 100 mph. Though there can be a lot of handwringing over his swing-and-miss profile, I would counter by questioning what rookie are we not worried about when it comes to big league hitting adjustment? Shortstop is a deep position which may lessen his overall value, but Cruz may have the highest ceiling in this bunch given his plus power combined with some speed, his likely Opening Day ETA, and the fact that Pittsburgh will give him plenty of room to work an entire season at the bigs. Cruz will fight for a top 12 shortstop spot from the start.
#3: Bobby Witt Jr., SS, KCR
ETA: late April
There’s an easy case to be made for Witt in at #1 with a bullet. Listing Cruz above Witt might be a fool’s errand here too if Witt begins the season with the big league club. As a fantasy bat, he’s the complete package and he’s been ready. Kansas City has shifted its footing away from service time manipulation in favor of what’s best for the player’s development. I suspect he’ll be up near the start of the year. Despite his outstanding glove, there is some uncertainty when it comes to near-term positioning as Nicky Lopez has graded high in terms of defensive abilities while Adalberto Mondesi needs to slide to 2B due to injury. All that means near-immediate multi-positional eligibility for you to reap the benefits of in your daily leagues. However, there is a scenario that Witt sits for other players to get reps in a crowded middle infield.
#4: Adley Rutschman, C, BAL
You already know about Adley Rutschman and the seemingly perpetual state of the catcher position. At AAA, Rutschman did everything Baltimore could want from him in the field and at the plate. If someone asked a robot to build a baseball player of prime mind and body, Rutschman would be the outcome. Some might say he initially struggled in his AAA debut, but Rutschman is a noted swing tinkerer. The Orioles director of player development seemed to infer those beginning struggles were due to that tinkering and, once righted, Rutschman took off like a rocket. He’s a top-five catcher in all formats.
#5: Spencer Torkelson, 1B/3B, DET
The king is dead. All hail the new Tiger king. After some expected time manipulation shenanigans, Miguel Cabrera will move to the DH role, opening up 1B duties for Spencer Torkelson. I fully expect Torkelson to be playing there for the next 10 years as Scott Chu smiles down upon him. In other words, if you have 3B eligibility to start, enjoy it while it lasts. Expectations are high for Torkelson. He has an elite bat, sporting a delectable hit tool that includes plus-plus power. I expect him to be a top-seven 1B from the jump.
#6: Josh Jung, 3B, TEX
ETA: Opening Day
Josh Jung is the Rangers’ best hitting prospect and he’s a top-10 fantasy prospect. He’s absolutely torched the high minors to the tune of a +.300/+.400/+.600 slash line between AA and AAA. Jung likely should have been up last year, but the Rangers were abysmal and they had no reason to start Jung’s service time. New season, new Rangers, though, after some splashy free-agent signings in the offseason. Jung will be the opening day 3B (sorry, Isiah Kiner-Falefa) and will provide some nice late-round value. He’s a player that might lack the homerun you expect out of a 3B, so hedge your bets elsewhere if you’re rostering him.
#7: Jeremy Peña, SS, HOU
ETA: Opening Day
Jeremy Peña is the heir to Carlos Correa’s throne and the reason Alex Bregman will stay at 3B. Peña’s glove is arguably the best in the minor leagues. I have questions about his swing and miss against advanced pitching and his lack of speed. However, if the power punch Peña portrayed last year persists (or is even 70% of that), perhaps that pushes this prospect within the top-14 SS of 2022.
#8: Julio Rodríguez, OF, SEA
If you don’t know about Julio Rodríguez, you haven’t been paying attention to baseball at all. When he steps onto the field he is the sun and everyone rotates around him. When he steps foot in T-Mobile the dawn of a new Mariner’s era will be in full effect. Unlike his fellow top prospect Jarred Kelenic, he lacks any real flaws in his profile and reminds me a lot of Eloy Jiménez before he arrived with the White Sox. Unfortunately, the reason Julio Rodríguez is outside the top three of this list is my suspicion that Seattle will engage in some service time manipulation before calling up their soon-to-be superstar—though if Rodríguez lights spring training on fire (which is certainly within the realm of possibility), he could force Seattle’s hand. In that scenario, Rodríguez is a top-three option. Still, the Mariners can hide behind a slew of lesser-than corner OF types by way of Kyle Lewis, Mitch Haniger, Jake Fraley, and Taylor Trammell. Still, Rodríguez will be there to stay when he gets the call. His effortlessly polished plate approach, combined with some speed and plus power bat plays in all formats.
#9: Juan Yepez, 1B/DH, STL
This ranking is operating under the assumption that the NL adopts the DH and the roster stands as currently constructed. Juan Yepez mashes, an absolute unit of a player who should produce immediately. Yepez hit 27 dingers over 434 plate appearances and you will see his name among the top of the leaderboard in all meaningful metrics. His respectable K/BB ratio should keep him in the rotation too. His only limitation will be the amount of patience he is given by his major league ballclub. The Cardinals have very “we like Nelson Cruz” energy and a free agent signing like that could hinder his value.
#10: Riley Greene, OF, DET
Riley Greene has a claim as the best prospect in all of baseball at this time. In an ideal world, Greene and Torkelson would be up on day one. If the Tigers do the bare minimum on the morality scale, Greene should shortly follow Torkelson and usher in a new era of Detroit dominance. Greene has been considerably younger than his competition at every level, but the impact power and speed with a strong feel for the zone continually show out. He has an aggressive swing profile which may speak to some early struggles. He will likely start at AAA and push for The Show just after Memorial Day.
#11: Jose Miranda, 1B/2B/3B/OF, MIN
ETA: April – June
This organization loves putting out heavy contact approach, multi-positional eligibility players. They’re like the Tampa Rays but colder and less talented. Sometimes these players turn into Jorge Polanco, sometimes they are Luis Arraez. After being devoid of power during his 2019 and 2020 tours, Jose Miranda went Super Saiyan. It’s not a hot take to say his 2021 is a bit of a mirage in that he can’t hit 30 dingers with a .340/.400/.570 slash line. I have concerns that, despite his preternatural ability to hit the ball, a lackluster walk rate indicates there will be more weaker contact than anyone would like out of their prospects. There’s a wide variance for ETA here because it’s a question of when and not if when considering the Twins. If one of their players will get injured (Byron Buxton, Josh Donaldson), or if one of their players struggle for a sustained period (Miguel Sanó, Trevor Larnach), Miranda will be the guy called up.
#12: Seth Beer, 1B/DH, ARI
ETA: Opening Day
Seth Beer is not my favorite prospect but, much like Yepez, this is a ranking where his immediate value supersedes names below if (when) the NL adopts the universal DH. Compared to Christian Walker and Pavin Smith—players who would compete for plate appearances at 1B/DH—Beer has a preternatural talent to hit the ball and should post solid power, average/on-base numbers. Beer also has the bad team benefit bonus. He’ll get more run and leash than if he were on even a second-division team. If you need a 1B/CI option in a 14-team or deeper league, Beer is a sneaky option to give you 20+ HR with a .265/.340/.450 slash line. That’s right around Anthony Rizzo territory.
#13: Miguel Vargas, 1B/3B/2B, LAD
ETA: May – July
This may be my biggest reach on the list, but here’s my rationale. Max Muncy injury reports are a bit murky after a torn UCL at the end of the season, Justin Turner is now 37, Edwin Ríos was meh, and Matt Beaty has been tabbed with a preference towards pinch-hitting duties. Vargas, the organizational prospect of the year awardee, turned in an incredible 2021 campaign between high-A and AA. Vargas may need a bit of “prove it” in AAA before he’s called up, but the Dodgers have already begun experimenting with moving him around the diamond in anticipation of his arrival. If the lockout extends and Muncy becomes more of an Opening Day option, Vargas drops much further down this list. One knock: his power isn’t quite what you typically need out of a corner infielder, so make sure you have the ability to fill that gap elsewhere.
#13 and #14: Steven Kwan and Nolan Jones, OF, CLE
ETA: March and July
Who dis? Yep. Steven Kwan is currently penciled in to man the OF for the Guardians this year and for good reason. A contact-first approach with a BB/K ratio that puts him on another plane, Kwan isn’t going to hit dingers but he’s going to knock a number of doubles. Kwan has the floor to be a solid fourth OF in 14-team leagues and maybe a bit more in OBP leagues. Contextual factors matter though, such as Kwan batting in the bottom half of a bad lineup, which doesn’t bode well for boosting his value in the runs department. If Kwan fails, the Guardians become exhausted with Bradley Zimmer’s shortcomings, or José Ramírez is shipped off, Nolan Jones becomes a very interesting waiver add. He has the building blocks to be a top-end prospect, but the 2021 season exposed some shakiness that may have been due to the lost 2020 season or may be due to his uber-patient approach against advanced pitchers. Keep an eye on him at the start of the season.
#15: Triston Casas, 1B, BOS
Triston Casas is the name that could easily make a six-spot jump on the list over the next few weeks. If the Red Sox re-sign Kyle Schwarber, Casas would be presumably blocked by two players. However, should the Red Sox elect to run solely with Bobby Dalbec—Tom Holland look-alike and notoriously streaky hitter—Casas could be up in short order. The AL East leaves no margin for error and Dalbec’s shade above replacement-level play is not something the Sox could stomach for too long. Meanwhile, Casas looks and plays the part of a middle-of-the-order, sweet-swinging, 30+ HR bat. Incredible control of the strike zone wherein the discipline plays out in the walk rate. An absolute standout.
#16 and #17: Nick Pratto and Vinnie Pasquantino, 1B, KCR
ETA: April and June
The Hunter Dozier Experience (TM pending) may be over before the completion of spring training. Nick Pratto then Vinnie Pasquantino have the most to gain in the ensuing fallout. Pratto’s power and on-base ability are present, albeit a bit overstated, given his swing mechanics. He’s the heir to the throne, but I wouldn’t expect him to be any better than the 15th or 16th best 1B. If you’re in daily leagues, Vinnie P. becomes an intriguing waiver wire add later in the spring. I foresee Pasquantino starting in Triple-A, but the Monet-esque BB/K ratio and power performance may push him into a platoon with Pratto before the start of June.
#18: Travis Swaggerty, OF, PIT
Everyone has their guys and Travis Swaggerty is very much “my guy”. My sweet boy is mired in prospect fatigue due to a canceled 2020 debut and a 2021 torn labrum in an absolute freak accident. These things need to be considered when labeling someone as a bust. The Pirates org thought enough of Swaggerty’s high-A 2019 season to skip AA, and let him run wild in AAA upon a return to baseball. Prior to the aforementioned shoulder injury, Swaggerty showed his prowess for punishing the ball with a 26.7% line drive rate and a 36.7% fly ball rate. When you can put the barrel on the ball while running the way Swaggerty has in the past, you can expect a nice slash line as well as counting stats. The Pirates have nothing to play for in 2022 (and maybe throughout the entirety of Swaggerty’s career), so don’t expect him up right away. However, between Oneil Cruz, Ke’Bryan Hayes, Ji-hwan Bae, and Swaggerty…somethin’s brewin’ in Pittsburgh.
#19 and #20: Drew Waters and Cristian Pache, OF, ATL
ETA: Opening Day
At the time of publishing, Acuña is putting up thirst trap videos of his agility video sans knee brace and the MLB is still in lockout. These two things combined limit the potential earnings when drafting Waters and/or Pache. Every day the MLB stays in a lockout is another day Ronald Acuña Jr. gets closer to being a more viable opening day candidate. In addition, manager Brian Snitker has already said he intends to start Marcell Ozuna if he’s deemed eligible to play. However, there is still a pretty big black hole in one of the OF if we assume Austin Riley plays the hot corner and the NL has a DH. You may be able to surmise that caveating this much means that a lot needs to happen for any real value to be squeezed out here.
Even then, Pache and Waters are not necessarily the tantalizing prospects they were once made out to be and this isn’t because of prospect fatigue. They just simply haven’t been good. Their struggles at AAA necessitated the acquisitions of Jorge Soler, Eddie Rosario, and Joc Pederson for Atlanta’s postseason run. A groundball rate of 56.9% for Waters (which led the upper minors) and middling K/BB rates is pretext for understanding a subpar wRC+. Meanwhile, Pache is a soft and slappy hitter whose legs haven’t carried him thus far and we shouldn’t expect it to turn around in the bigs.
#21: Esteban Quiroz, 2B/SS/OF, TBR
ETA: July – September
Maybe it’s my love for the Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou (ESTEBAN WAS EATEN!), but I have a soft spot for Quiroz. This diminutive dollop, a former Mexican league superstar and San Diego prospect, was the player to be named later in the Blake Snell trade. While Wander Franco and Vidal Bruján get all the glory, Quiroz continues to plug away a solid stat line year after year. My guy has not posted a wRC+ under 120 since the Obama administration. There is absolutely no reason to overlook him like you have done with Jake Cronenworth, Nick Solak, and Mike Brosseau. He has a solid glove, can spray the balls to all fields, and knows how to get on base with a walk. Is he a 12-team roster candidate? Certainly not. Is he a 14-team with an MI spot pick-up when you inevitably are facing IL replacement? Most assuredly.
#22: Brennen Davis, OF, CHC
Dear Cubs, go for it. Just put him in there to start the season. Let him be the beacon of light after a markedly less fun 2021. A lot of people are saying you won’t do it, but I believe in you. I know you’re cool enough to put your best prospect out there on the field and let him fly. After seeing him at the MLB Futures Game in Denver, I can confidently say Brennen Davis is beautiful in both baseball mind and body. I may be overinflating it here because Davis’ field speed is not translating to the base paths. I may be overlooking the fact that his sample size at AA detects a hint of swing and miss. However, the sheer athleticism and raw power give way to the notion that overcoming these obstacles and elevating them to another level is a very real scenario to play out.
#23: Heliot Ramos, OF, SFG
Ramos isn’t here because of his talent, but simply as this is basically the end of the road for him. This notion is a little wild to think about given that his road is not unlike Travis Swaggerty. The die cast, however, is a little more dire for Ramos as players like Luis Matos and Jairo Pomares are breaking out. Ramos has been subjected to fits and starts, being promoted and demoted twice in his career as well as a lost 2020 season. The bat speed, translating to power, is very real. The swing and miss that comes with that violent swing are also very real. I am betting he starts the season at AAA. If he rights the ship, there’s no reason to not call him up. If he doesn’t…well…
#24: Khalil Lee, OF, NYM
ETA: Upon Injury
Leave it to the Mets to make things weird. Lee tore the cover off the ball last season and broke out in a big way. An incredible OBP (.451) with some power and speed, it looked as if Lee had finally realized his potential. The door opening with Michael Conforto’s departure was quickly slammed shut when New York signed Mark Canha and Starling Marte. Unfortunately, this leaves Lee relegated to “standby” duties, which I am betting happens given Canha and Marte enter their 33rd year circling the sun and have a checkered history of health.
#25: CJ Abrams, SS/OF, SDP
The injury bug seems to keep biting Abrams and is slowing his progression to the bigs and a consistently achy shoulder may not allow him to stick at short for long. Abrams hasn’t hit for much over-the-fence power yet, but he can punish a ball as exemplified by the extra-base hits he can put up with regularity. He has improved his stolen base efficiency and San Diego is a team who definitely likes to run. He may start the year in AA, but his path to The Show is a short one with plenty of shortcuts along the way.
Photos by Icon Sportswire | Adapted by Justin Paradis (@JustParaDesigns on Twitter)