10 MLB Prospects Who Will Impact the 2022 Pennant Races
The MLB trade deadline might be in the rearview, but contenders still have opportunities to add talent to their rosters in the form of prospects who have earned shots at the big leagues.
Tampa Bay Rays left fielder Randy Arozarena is a great recent example of the type of impact a second-half call-up can have, as he played just 23 games during the 2020 regular season before making a huge splash in the postseason.
So which prospects have the potential to impact the pennant races this year?
We've highlighted 10 who are in the upper levels of the minors but could still make their marks on the 2022 season.
Keep these players in mind in the coming weeks and into September when rosters expanded to 28 players and there will be a wave of call-ups around the league.
IF Jonathan Aranda, Tampa Bay Rays
Jonathan Aranda hit .331/.419/.543 with 41 extra-base hits in 102 games in High-A and Double-A during a breakout 2021 season, and he has continued to rake against minor league pitching this year.
The 24-year-old is hitting .319/.399/.524 with 22 doubles, 15 home runs and 67 RBI in 87 games in Triple-A, and he's doing it while splitting his time among third base, second base and first base.
That versatility could be his ticket to a role with the big league club down the stretch. He performed well in a pair of short call-ups earlier this season, going 6-for-16 with a double in seven games.
With Ji-Man Choi (59 PA, .132/.203/.189, 17 K) and Isaac Paredes (56 PA, .204/.286/.327) slumping since the All-Star break, Aranda could play his way into a large role if given the opportunity.
RHP Hunter Brown, Houston Astros
The Houston Astros lead the American League in team ERA (2.99) and starters' ERA (3.18), so they are not exactly desperate for pitching help.
That said, Hunter Brown might be too valuable to not utilize down the stretch.
The hard-throwing right-hander has emerged as the consensus top prospect in the organization, posting a 2.52 ERA and 1.14 WHIP with a Pacific Coast League-leading 115 strikeouts in 85.2 innings.
The 23-year-old checked in at No. 47 in B/R's most recent Top 100, and his electric stuff—including a fastball in the upper 90s and a hammer curveball—could play up in a multi-inning bullpen role down the stretch.
LF Alec Burleson, St. Louis Cardinals
The St. Louis Cardinals have not been shy about giving inexperienced players opportunities this season. They have already used 13 rookies in at least one game, including Nolan Gorman, Brendan Donovan, Juan Yepez and Andre Pallante, who have all made impacts.
Alec Burleson could be next.
The 23-year-old has done nothing but hit since he was selected in the second round of the 2020 draft, and he's batting .329/.371/.541 with 18 doubles, 19 home runs and 74 RBI in 91 games in Triple-A this year.
Lars Nootbaar and Corey Dickerson swung hot bats in July, but Burleson could steal playing time as the Cardinals chase the National League Central title.
RHP Bobby Miller, Los Angeles Dodgers
The Los Angeles Dodgers have a track record of utilizing their top pitching prospects as relievers before moving them into the starting rotation, as Walker Buehler, Julio Urias, Dustin May and Tony Gonsolin all came out of the bullpen early in their MLB careers.
Don't be surprised if Bobby Miller follows that path.
Armed with a 70-grade fastball that can touch triple digits and three quality off-speed pitches, Miller has 108 strikeouts in 83.2 innings in Double-A. He matched a season high with 11 strikeouts in six innings Tuesday.
The long relief spot in the Dodgers pen has been a revolving door this year, with Andre Jackson the latest call-up to fill that void. Miller could be the answer and give the relief corps another power arm.
LHP Kyle Muller, Atlanta Braves
At some point, the Atlanta Braves need to give Kyle Muller another shot.
The 24-year-old made one start May 1 and allowed four hits, six walks and seven earned runs in 2.2 innings before he was optioned back to Triple-A.
Command has always been the question with the left-hander, but he has shown significant improvement in the minors, trimming his walk rate from 4.7 per nine innings to 2.5 this year while posting a 3.27 ERA, a 1.10 WHIP and 122 strikeouts in 99 innings.
The deadline addition of Jake Odorizzi addressed the team's need for back-of-the-rotation help and allowed struggling right-hander Ian Anderson to be sent to the minors. He could be the first one up if another starter is needed, but Muller has earned a second opportunity.
C Bo Naylor, Cleveland Guardians
Does the Cleveland Guardians front office trust Bo Naylor's defense enough to give him a shot to siphon off playing time from the light-hitting tandem of Austin Hedges and Luke Maile behind the plate?
A first-round pick in 2018, Naylor is enjoying a breakout season. Between Double-A and Triple-A, he's hitting .272/.418/.502 with 19 doubles, 13 home runs and 45 RBI in 85 games.
With Cleveland catchers hitting just .184 with a .561 OPS, there is little question he would be an upgrade.
The Guardians, however, have valued defense behind the plate more than most clubs in recent years with Roberto Perez and now Hedges playing regularly despite lackluster offensive production. If he gets a chance, Naylor could play his way into the starting role.
SS Oswald Peraza, New York Yankees
It's unlikely top prospect Anthony Volpe will be promoted straight from Double-A to the majors, leaving fellow middle infielder Oswald Peraza as the New York Yankees' up-and-comer to keep an eye on.
After a slow start, Peraza is hitting .338/.401/.607 with 10 home runs and 15 steals in his last 36 games.
Meanwhile, incumbent shortstop Isiah Kiner-Falefa is hitting .250/.281/.267 since the All-Star break and has an 81 OPS+ overall. Known more for his glove than his bat, he ranks just 18th among shortstops in defensive value and has been worth a good-not-great 1.4 WAR in 100 games.
There's value in a high contact rate and reliable glove, but Peraza is capable of providing a spark that Kiner-Falefa has simply not.
LHP Ethan Small, Milwaukee Brewers
The Milwaukee Brewers have done a terrific job of developing starting pitchers in recent years, turning Corbin Burnes, Brandon Woodruff, Freddy Peralta and Aaron Ashby into key contributors.
All of them worked out of the bullpen early in their careers after being developed as starters in the minors, and Ethan Small could be next in line.
Small has a 3.38 ERA with 93 strikeouts in 82.2 innings in Triple-A, and while his command is average at best, his fastball-changeup combination is MLB-ready and should play up in shorter stints. He has not fared well in a pair of spot starts this year (7.11 ERA in 6.1 IP), but he could be a welcome addition to the bullpen.
The oft-used Hoby Milner has allowed at least one earned run in four of his last six appearances, posting an 11.81 ERA in 5.1 innings during that span, and Brent Suter (33 G, 4.22 ERA, 1.22 WHIP) has been mediocre. That leaves the team in need of another reliable left-hander alongside setup man Taylor Rogers.
OF Kyle Stowers, Baltimore Orioles
The Baltimore Orioles have a ton of young talent knocking on the MLB door.
Left-handed pitcher DL Hall, infielder Jordan Westburg and top prospect Gunnar Henderson are all in Triple-A, and while it's unlikely we'll see Henderson this season, the other two could join the big league club.
That said, the prospect in position to make the biggest impact is outfielder Kyle Stowers, who is hitting .270/.364/.554 with 27 doubles, 19 home runs and 73 RBI in 87 games in Triple-A.
The 24-year-old has always been an intriguing power threat, and he has made significant strides in his approach, trimming his strikeout rate from 32.3 to 24.2 percent while better tapping in to his 60-grade power.
He could take over at designated hitter, with fellow rookie Terrin Vavra moving to second base and Rougned Odor (.196 BA, 79 OPS+, -0.3 WAR) being benched or released.
3B Mark Vientos, New York Mets
A popular name in hypothetical trade packages over the past two seasons, Mark Vientos is still a member of the New York Mets, and he has little left to prove in the minors.
The 22-year-old has an .871 OPS with 19 home runs and 54 RBI in 76 games in Triple-A this season. After an ice-cold start, he's batting .299/.376/.584 in 56 games since May 3.
With Luis Guillorme and Eduardo Escobar splitting time at third base and newcomers Daniel Vogelbach and Darin Ruf platooning at designated hitter, there's not a clear path to playing time.
Vientos is already a member of the 40-man roster, however, and could be one injury or slump away from getting his first MLB call-up and potentially pushing his way into a key role.
Stats courtesy of Baseball Reference and accurate through Tuesday.