The Next Crop of MLB Prospect Call-Ups Primed to Have Major Impact in 2022April 18, 2022
It isn't just Hunter Greene pumping triple-digit heat and Steven Kwan simply refusing to make outs. Major League Baseball is frankly loaded with talented rookies right now.
And there are more on the way.
Apropos of Joel Reuter's latest rankings for the top-100 prospects in baseball, the idea here is to spotlight seven young players who are next in line to make an impact in the majors. These are guys who have some combination of:
- They're a step away from the major leagues at Triple-A
- They're making a good first impression so far
- They have a clear avenue to playing time with their parent clubs
As Adley Rutschman, Riley Greene and Josh Jung are currently recovering from injuries, we left them out of this conversation for now. We also chose not to include prospects who have already debuted in the majors, such as Oneil Cruz, Spencer Strider, Luis Campusano and Vidal Brujan.
As for the guys who did make the cut, let's count them down according to their place in Reuter's rankings.
1B Nick Pratto, Kansas City Royals
B/R Rank: No. 39
2022 Stats: 12 G, 52 PA, 3 HR, 2 SB, .213 AVG, .289 OBP, .468 SLG
It hasn't all been peachy for Nick Pratto with the Omaha Storm Chasers thus far in 2022. He's continued to have swing-and-miss problems to the tune of 19 strikeouts, which is keeping his overall strikeout rate for his minor league career in range of 30 percent.
Few things quell concerns about whiffs, however, quite like good power. And fortunately for Pratto, merely calling his power "good" is an understatement.
MLB Pipeline @MLBPipeline
Third-ranked <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/Royals?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#Royals</a> prospect Nick Pratto's first two hits of the season?<br><br>Home runs, of course, for the <a href="https://twitter.com/OMAStormChasers?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@OMAStormChasers</a>. <a href="https://t.co/KW4pIhObWr">pic.twitter.com/KW4pIhObWr</a>
The 23-year-old really established himself as a slugger last year, as he went from hitting just 27 home runs across his first three professional seasons to 36 in 125 games at Double-A and Triple-A. His power surge was the direct result of the changes he made to his swing at Kansas City's alternate site in 2020.
Otherwise, Pratto has also been praised as a gifted defender at the cold corner. Jim Callis of MLB.com, for example, put Pratto in the running for the best defensive tool out of all prospects.
Though the Royals would surely like to see Pratto start getting on base more frequently, he's arguably their best option at first base even as is. After a down year in 2021, 36-year-old Carlos Santana is just 2-for-26 out of the gate.
2B Nolan Gorman, St. Louis Cardinals
B/R Rank: No. 30
2022 Stats: 10 G, 41 PA, 6 HR, 0 SB, .351 AVG, .415 OBP, .838 SLG
Meanwhile, in the St. Louis Cardinals system, Nolan Gorman has also wasted little time breaking out his pop for the Memphis Redbirds.
MLB Pipeline @MLBPipeline
5 Homers. 5 Games.<a href="https://twitter.com/Cardinals?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@Cardinals</a> No. 2 prospect Nolan Gorman blasts off again for the <a href="https://twitter.com/memphisredbirds?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@memphisredbirds</a>. <a href="https://t.co/F90ltY7ZgJ">pic.twitter.com/F90ltY7ZgJ</a>
Like with Pratto, the catch with Gorman is that a preexisting propensity for whiffs is unfortunately alive and well this season. He's struck out 15 times against only three walks.
Yet after he started 0-for-9, Gorman is nonetheless red-hot with 13 hits in his last 28 at-bats. And even if he isn't necessarily focused on cutting back on whiffs, it's not a bad thing that he's made his approach about "shrinking the zone and only hitting pitches that I know I can drive."
Defensively, Gorman is a natural third baseman who's only playing second base because a certain someone named Nolan Arenado occupies the hot corner in St. Louis. It's fair to call him a work in progress at second, where he's also looking up at Gold Glover and surprise offensive sensation, Tommy Edman.
Yet this is not to say that Gorman, 21, doesn't have a path to at-bats with the Cardinals. With Corey Dickerson struggling at the plate, they might see fit to swap him out for Gorman in a platoon at designated hitter with franchise icon Albert Pujols.
C Gabriel Moreno, Toronto Blue Jays
B/R Rank: No. 19
2022 Stats: 4 G, 19 PA, 0 HR, 0 SB, .389 AVG, .421 OBP, .500 SLG
Contrary to Pratto and Gorman, Gabriel Moreno thrives on a hit tool the likes of which is possessed by few other prospects.
Albeit in only 37 total games, he posted a solid 15.7 strikeout rate and .367 average in the minors last season. He then played 22 games in the Arizona Fall League and another 18 in the Venezuelan Winter League, totaling exactly 24 walks and 24 strikeouts.
Small sample size be damned, the 22-year-old is back on this same track with just two strikeouts thus far in 2022. And while Moreno has yet to go deep for the Buffalo Bisons, a swing like this one should serve as notice that he's not to be mistaken for a hit-it-where-they-ain't type of hitter:
MLB Pipeline @MLBPipeline
Oppo wall-banger for <a href="https://twitter.com/MLB?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@MLB</a>'s No. 7 prospect.<br><br>The <a href="https://twitter.com/BlueJays?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@BlueJays</a>' Gabriel Moreno plates two with a double for the <a href="https://twitter.com/BuffaloBisons?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@BuffaloBisons</a>. <a href="https://t.co/5gbKpvsirk">pic.twitter.com/5gbKpvsirk</a>
"He's ready for the big leagues," Max Castillo, a teammate of Moreno's teammate at Double-A last year, told Arden Zwelling of Sportsnet.ca. "He's a big-league hitter. He's unbelievable."
Defensively, Moreno is a converted infielder whose athleticism plays nicely behind the dish. He's been especially good at controlling the running game, throwing out 41.2 percent of attempted base-stealers throughout 2021. With bigger bases likely in the big leagues' future, such a talent only stands to appreciate in value.
The Blue Jays came into the year with a good-looking catching corps, but Danny Jansen is on the injured list with a strained oblique, and Alejandro Kirk hasn't been much of a captain offensively with just five hits in his first 26 at-bats. Thus, the door is open a crack for Moreno.
1B Triston Casas, Boston Red Sox
B/R Rank: No. 17
2022 Stats: 11 G, 50 PA, 3 HR, 0 SB, .282 AVG, .420 OBP, .564 SLG
At 6'4", 252 pounds, Triston Casas is hard to miss. He also has about as much power as you'd expect from a guy that size, which is to say "a lot."
No need to take our word for it. Take it from the sound and vision of the 477-foot moonshot that he clubbed for the Worcester Red Sox last Tuesday:
MLB Pipeline @MLBPipeline
"Polar Park is just not big enough for Triston Casas!"<br><br>The <a href="https://twitter.com/RedSox?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@RedSox</a> No. 2 prospect crushes one 477 ft for the <a href="https://twitter.com/WooSox?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@WooSox</a>. <a href="https://t.co/n7T8IdS9GM">pic.twitter.com/n7T8IdS9GM</a>
Whenever you see a big guy with a big swing, it's only fair to have concerns about strikeouts. But such concerns don't apply so much to Casas. He's widely credited as having a plus hit tool, and it shows in his numbers. In 2021, he struck out only 14 more times than he walked in the minors and later posted a .495 OBP over 21 games in the Arizona Fall League.
As for the 22-year-old's glovework at first base, Worcester manager Chad Tracy has been impressed this season, telling Katie Morrison of MassLive.com: "He's exceptional over there. So far, it's been fun to watch."
Bobby Dalbec should be watching his back. Though it's to his credit that he's been a lot better in the field this year, he remains uncomfortably volatile on the other side of the ball. To wit, his OBP is down from an already poor .298 in 2021 to an even worse .242 early this season.
RHP Max Meyer, Miami Marlins
B/R Rank: No. 16
2022 Stats: 2 GS, 9.0 IP, 2 H (0 HR), 13 K, 1 BB, 2.00 ERA
With Sandy Alcantara, Trevor Rogers, Pablo Lopez and a seemingly revitalized Jesus Luzardo in their starting rotation, the Marlins are already well off with talented 20-something hurlers.
Nonetheless, the 23-year-old Max Meyer is stating his case early on for the Jacksonville Jumbo Shrimp. He was barely touched in his first outing and then not at all through five perfect innings in his second.
Meyer exited his second start with cramping in his right calf, but it doesn't sound as if it's going to cost him any time.
“I feel good now,” he said, per Tyler Maun of MLB.com. "I’m not going to be held back for anything. I’m ready to go the next time.”
Meyer is a tad undersized at 6'0", 196 pounds, but he repeats his delivery well and can get his fastball up around 100 mph. His best offering is his slider, which earned rave reviews from scouts even at the time the Marlins drafted the right-hander third overall in 2020.
Since his changeup is a significantly less dangerous pitch, Meyer could potentially struggle against left-handed batters whenever the Marlins call him up. But given that Elieser Hernandez isn't an insurmountable hurdle in the back end of the team's rotation, that call might come sooner rather than later anyway.
OF Brennen Davis, Chicago Cubs
B/R Rank: No. 14
2022 Stats: 11 G, 44 PA, 1 HR, 0 SB, .189 AVG, .318 OBP, .324 SLG
Those are some ugly numbers attached to Davis' name, but they obscure how he's come on strong lately. Since going 0-fer through his first four games, he's 7-for-27 with two doubles and a home run.
MLB Pipeline @MLBPipeline
1st Hit ✅<br>1st HR ✅<br>1st RBI ✅<br><br>Top <a href="https://twitter.com/Cubs?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@Cubs</a> prospect Brennen Davis kicked his '22 season into gear with one swing for the <a href="https://twitter.com/IowaCubs?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@IowaCubs</a>: <a href="https://t.co/A6ZtGTMHUZ">pic.twitter.com/A6ZtGTMHUZ</a>
There is some swing and miss in Davis' game, but the 22-year-old balances that out with a good sense of the strike zone. The 27 games he's played at the Triple-A level since last year have yielded 18 walks in 112 plate appearances, good for a 16.1 walk percentage.
Plus speed is still another tool in 6'4", 210-pounder's toolkit, even if it's currently less apparent on the basepaths—he's stolen only 18 bases—than it is in the field, where he can cover wide swaths of ground in center field:
It also seems as if Davis might have a flair for the spotlight. He homered twice and won MVP honors for the Futures Game in 2021. And in spring training with the Cubs this year, he homered twice and drove in five runs.
"It's hard to judge guys off just such a short spring training, but you can tell he's just starting to fill out that body," Cubs manager David Ross said of Davis, according to Tim Stebbins of NBC Sports Chicago. "He looks the part. He had a great season last year. Continue to build on that, and, hopefully, we see him really soon."
In Ian Happ, Jason Heyward and rookie sensation Seiya Suzuki, the Cubs already have a solid trio in the outfield. Heyward is playing out of position in center field, however, so Davis could look all the more tempting if the veterans can't keep their offensive numbers up.
RHP Grayson Rodriguez, Baltimore Orioles
B/R Rank: No. 7
2022 Stats: 2 GS, 9.0 IP, 4 H (1 HR), 15 K, 1 BB, 2.00 ERA
It's a bummer that Rutschman, who checks in at No. 1 overall in Reuter's prospect rankings, is out with a strain in his right triceps. He is recovering well, but there's still no clear timetable for when he'll be able to return to action.
On the bright side, it's high time for Orioles fans to look forward to Grayson Rodriguez's arrival. It seemed nigh even before the season started, and certainly that much more so after what he's done in two starts for the Norfolk Tides.
There's an embarrassment of riches in the 22-year-old's arsenal of pitches. He can get his fastball up over 100 mph, though it's actually his changeup that grades as his best pitch. When he has them working, his curveball and slider also flash plus.
Far from being just a thrower, "Gray-Rod" also simply knows how to pitch. Not just in the sense that he throws strikes—he walked only 2.4 batters per nine innings in the minors last season—but in that he also throws quality strikes within the zone.
"The ability to manipulate the baseball the way he does on the mound is incredible," Buck Britton, who's managed Rodriguez in each of the last two seasons, told Nathan Ruiz of the Baltimore Sun in March.
So far in 2022, Orioles starters actually have a solid 3.50 ERA but with one of the worst strikeout-to-walk ratios in the league. Between that and how, oh yeah, they don't have a No. 5 starter right now, there's clearly room for Rodriguez.
Stats courtesy of Baseball Reference and FanGraphs.