Buying or Selling 2022 MLB Rookies as Future All-Stars
Given how loaded Major League Baseball's 2022 rookie class is, it's surprising only one netted All-Star honors in July.
Julio Rodríguez can therefore help himself to a bow while we assess the future All-Star potential of other noteworthy first-years.
This was a matter of weighing players' strengths and weaknesses and how they might affect their development as they gain experience in the majors. The stronger the strengths, the better. The weaker the weaknesses, the, well, not better.
It's also important to note we didn't go into this pondering whether the player in question will be able to make one All-Star team. Anyone can do that. It takes a special player to make multiple All-Star teams, so that was the standard we applied.
We'll begin with speed rounds for select pitchers and hitters and then move on to a 10-player sample of rookies who we think present especially interesting cases. To keep things simple, we'll go in alphabetical order.
Speed Round: Rookie Pitchers
RHP Félix Bautista, Baltimore Orioles
2022 Stats: 56 G, 23 GF, 55.2 IP, 31 H (7 HR), 73 K, 16 BB, 1.62 ERA
In addition to his amazing entrance routine, Bautista's closer bona fides include a fastball-splitter combination that opposing hitters have understandably not yet solved.
As Eloy Jiménez knows all too well, Bautista could stand to improve his command. But even as a rookie in his late 20s, he should have more dominance in his future even if he never ascends beyond being effectively wild.
RHP Edward Cabrera, Miami Marlins
2022 Stats: 7 GS, 38.1 IP, 18 H (2 HR), 43 K, 19 BB, 1.41 ERA
Speaking of young right-handers with electric stuff, Cabrera can get his fastball up to 99 mph with a changeup that isn't much slower.
Trouble is, wildness and injuries have slowed the Cabrera hype train throughout his career. Until he puts these things in the past, we will hedge on the idea that he's an All-Star-caliber starter.
RHP Alexis Díaz, Cincinnati Reds
2022 Stats: 46 G, 10 GF, 48.0 IP, 23 H (4 HR), 65 K, 23 BB, 1.88 ERA
Between Alexis and Edwin, the Díaz brothers are having some season. They're both fastball-slider guys who get a ton of swings and misses, though Alexis has yet to prove he can stay away from ball four consistently. Even still, it would be hypocritical for us to assume continued success despite effective wildness for Bautista but not Díaz.
LHP Reid Detmers, Los Angeles Angels
2022 Stats: 20 GS, 103.2 IP, 81 H (13 HR), 99 K, 39 BB, 3.47 ERA
Before and after his May 10 no-hitter, Detmers struggled enough to earn a trip back to the minors in June. He's been better since returning, notably busting out more sliders as he's pitched to a 1.97 ERA over eight starts. His other pitches haven't really come around, but his low- to mid-90s fastball and wonderful curveball should play eventually.
RHP Jhoan Duran, Minnesota Twins
2022 Stats: 46 G, 12 GF, 54.2 IP, 41 H (6 HR), 70 K, 13 BB, 1.98 ERA
Opposing hitters have to protect against a fastball that can reach 103 mph when they face Duran, but he's actually gotten more strikeouts on his similarly nasty breaking ball.
As he's had only one month in which he walked more than three batters, Duran can also throw the ball where he wants. His future All-Star prospects are complicated by his setup role for Jorge López, but he's so nasty that this is still a buy for us.
LHP MacKenzie Gore, Washington Nationals
2022 Stats: 16 G, 13 GS, 70.0 IP, 66 H (7 HR), 72 K, 37 BB, 4.50 ERA
Gore was regarded as perhaps MLB's best pitching prospect not too long ago, and he looked the part as he dominated with a 1.50 ERA through his first nine appearances with the San Diego Padres. Then his velocity dried up, and he hurt his elbow. All this tracks with the roller coaster he's been on since his breakout 2019 season, as he's also had mechanical and blister issues across 2020 and 2021. He's a sell for us until he shows consistency.
Speed Round: Rookie Hitters
SS CJ Abrams, Washington Nationals
2022 Stats: 56 G, 177 PA, 2 HR, 2 SB, .216 AVG, .263 OBP, .284 SLG
We ranked Abrams as MLB's No. 6 prospect at the outset of the year, when he opened the season on the Padres roster in place of the injured Fernando Tatis Jr. He's still young, but he simply hasn't looked like the plus-hitting speed demon he was billed as. Factor in his already extensive injury history, and there's enough cause for alarm to at least put the Abrams hype on hold.
UTIL Brendan Donovan, St. Louis Cardinals
2022 Stats: 93 G, 334 PA, 2 HR, 2 SB, .300 AVG, .407 OBP, .386 SLG
Oh, nothing. Just a rookie with a .400 on-base percentage. And that tracks with Donovan's underlying metrics for his zone discipline and contact. It's a bummer, however, that he has next to no power and that the early returns on his fielding aren't great. Getting on base is obviously a very nice skill to have, but it alone may not make him a regular All-Star.
2B Nolan Gorman, St. Louis Cardinals
2022 Stats: 75 G, 275 PA, 13 HR, 1 SB, .242 AVG, .316 OBP, .444 SLG
Gorman, on the other hand, is a Cardinals rookie with tons of power.
He's averaged 413 feet on his homers, ranking fourth among left-handed batters. He's also shown a propensity for walks to balance out his propensity for whiffs, so he has at least two things to stand out at a star-starved position.
RF Seiya Suzuki, Chicago Cubs
2022 Stats: 86 G, 345 PA, 10 HR, 8 SB, .248 AVG, .322 OBP, .410 SLG
It's been nothing but diminishing returns for Suzuki since he took the league by storm in the first couple of weeks of the season. Yet the zone discipline is there, and his peripherals aren't too shabby even though he hasn't hit the ball with the same authority since he injured his finger in May. Given that he was kind of a big deal in Japan before he came to the United States, it seems a fair guess that MLB hasn't seen him at his best yet.
CF Alek Thomas, Arizona Diamondbacks
2022 Stats: 91 G, 339 PA, 8 HR, 4 SB, .246 AVG, .298 OBP, .374 SLG
Thomas can run and field his position, as he ranks toward the top of the scales in sprint speed and outs above average.
What's less awesome is that the average distance on his batted balls is the lowest for any hitter with at least 200 balls in play. Unless he can put more oomph in his swing, he could have trouble attracting sustained All-Star attention.
1B Spencer Torkelson, Detroit Tigers
2022 Stats: 83 G, 298 PA, 5 HR, 0 SB, .197 AVG, .282 OBP, .295 SLG
Torkelson's major league numbers have been frozen since July 17, when the Tigers optioned him back to the minors. He frankly deserved it, though some of the things—namely zone discipline—that made him the No. 1 pick in 2020 did show through. His bugaboo was a .139 average against four-seam fastballs, but to the naked eye, this looked less like a swing problem and more like a timing one. That's fixable.
SS Oneil Cruz, Pittsburgh Pirates
2022 Stats: 53 G, 208 PA, 10 HR, 6 SB, .197 AVG, .250 OBP, .394 SLG
If ever there were a real-life "Create a Player," it's Oneil Cruz.
At 6'7", 220 pounds, Cruz cuts as impressive a figure as anyone in the National League. "Impressive" barely begins to describe his tools, which include perhaps the most powerful bat...
and strongest arm of any player in the majors:
Cruz does have warts, however, beginning with a strikeout rate of nearly 40 percent since he made his debut in October. Any hitter who strikes out that much had better be prepared to walk a lot, but Cruz's 14 bases on balls in 217 career plate appearances don't bode well. He's also erratic on defense, mainly with his throws.
All the same, there are "early Javier Báez" vibes to buy into with Cruz. Somehow, someway, we come down on the side of confidence that his tools will make him a star.
RHP Hunter Greene, Cincinnati Reds
2022 Stats: 20 GS, 102.2 IP, 92 H (23 HR), 127 K, 41 BB, 5.26 ERA
Hunter Greene entered 2022 as one of the most hyped pitching prospects in baseball for one reason above all others. In the words of Dennis Eckersley, he's a "Gas Masterson."
Despite its velocity, Greene's fastball has rather notoriously been hittable to the tune of a .592 slugging percentage that ranks among the worst of the worst.
It had been getting better in July and through one start in August, and not uncoincidentally as he altered its shape and location patterns. But then came a strained shoulder that put him on the injured list, which is not an unfamiliar place for him.
The injury bug isn't the only thing that hurt Greene even before he made it to the majors, as he was also oddly hittable in the minors last season. The general picture that's beginning to emerge is of a pitcher who may yet have All-Star potential but perhaps not as a starter.
CF Riley Greene, Detroit Tigers
2022 Stats: 60 G, 270 PA, 5 HR, 1 SB, .246 AVG, .304 OBP, .375 SLG
By the time Riley Greene debuted for the Detroit Tigers on June 18, he trailed only Adley Rutschman in B/R's Joel Reuter's updated rankings of baseball's top 100 prospects.
He's periodically been fun to watch, particularly as he's zoomed across the outfield to make all manner of exciting catches.
It's been more of a struggle for Greene at the plate. He's striking out 29.3 percent of the time, and his 86th-percentile hard-hit rate comes with a significant caveat: a lot of that hard contact is going to waste.
With an average launch angle of just 3.3 degrees, Greene's batted-ball profile is heavy on ground balls and much lighter on line drives and fly balls. Which is a shame, because he can make the ball go far when he gets under it.
If there's hope for Greene, it may be in not what he can do but what the Tigers must do for him. Even A.J. Hinch thinks the organization needs to reevaluate its hitting instruction. If it does in an effective way, it'll only be a matter of time before Greene's potential is unlocked.
CF Michael Harris II, Atlanta
2022 Stats: 80 G, 304 PA, 13 HR, 15 SB, .289 AVG, .336 OBP, .511 SLG
There's no need to ask Atlanta how high it is on Michael Harris II. He had played only 71 games for the big club before it committed to him in the form of an eight-year, $72 million extension.
As for what, specifically, the reigning World Series champions are investing in, Gold Glove Award-caliber defense is arguably Harris' finest quality.
If there's a concern with Harris, it's that he's struck out (78) more than five times as often as he's walked (15). With his chase and whiff rates in the bottom tier, that's no mirage.
But as is usually the case with Atlanta batsmen, Harris sure can hit the fastball. By run value, he's been one of the National League's top five performers against fastballs since he made his debut May 28. The players he ranks ahead of include Juan Soto and Nolan Arenado.
As long as Harris can keep that up, he won't need to have a high on-base percentage to be a regular All-Star. His power, speed and defense should carry him just fine.
RHP George Kirby, Seattle Mariners
2022 Stats: 18 GS, 97.2 IP, 104 H (12 HR), 102 K, 13 BB, 3.32 ERA
The common complaint about today's young hurlers is that, sure, they throw hard, but they too often don't know where the ball is going.
George Kirby is the exception. If his walks don't prove it, his elite 68.6 strike percentage sure does. Most recently, he added to that by throwing a record 24 straight strikes to begin his outing against the Washington Nationals on Wednesday.
Far from a traditional finesse pitcher, Kirby can also get his four-seam fastball up to 98.7 mph. That's but one of five pitches he throws with regularity, as he also features a sinker, slider, curveball and changeup.
The big issue Kirby has had this year is that his slider hasn't been that reliable even though it's his No. 2 offering. But it's not actually as hittable as its .338 average suggests. There's some bad luck at play there, never more so than on that one double that clanged off his foot.
LF Steven Kwan, Cleveland Guardians
2022 Stats: 111 G, 469 PA, 3 HR, 12 SB, .298 AVG, .372 OBP, .392 SLG
This isn't a ranking of the top surprises of the season. But if it were, it would be tempting to put Steven Kwan near the top.
He made an impression right out of the gate, not swinging and missing until his 40th hack of the season. He's swung and missed a few times since then, but the emphasis is on "a few." His 2.9 swinging-strike rate ranks behind only everyone's favorite hit-for-average type, Luis Arraez.
In addition, Kwan is proving to be a Gold Glove-caliber defender in left field. His eight outs above average co-lead everyone at the position.
But while there's no denying what Kwan brings to the table, there's likewise no denying what he doesn't: power. His exit velocity is down there in the third percentile, and the 280 feet he's averaged on his fly balls rank ahead of only César Hernández and José Iglesias.
The best comp for Kwan is Andrew Benintendi. Though he did make his All-Star debut this year, it was partly because somebody had to represent the Kansas City Royals.
SS Jeremy Peña, Houston Astros
2022 Stats: 103 G, 422 PA, 16 HR, 7 SB, .245 AVG, .285 OBP, .413 SLG
In one way, at least, Jeremy Peña has been a worthy replacement for Carlos Correa. He's had a terrific year defensively, racking up seven outs above average and 14 defensive runs saved, the latter of which leads all shortstops.
Otherwise, Houston Astros coach Jason Kanzler is open with his appreciation for the effort Peña puts into his hitting: "Something I really appreciate is he is not just going to hang his hat on just his defense. He wants to hit and be a superstar hitter."
After a strong start, however, Peña's returns were diminishing even before he went on the IL with left thumb discomfort in June. A consistent problem has been too many strikeouts (104) and not enough walks (19).
To this extent and how he handles fastballs to the tune of a .500 slugging percentage, Peña does vaguely resemble Harris. The difference is that Harris generally hits the ball hard, whereas Peña is deep under average waters with his exit velocity and hard-hit rate.
This is not to say Peña is any kind of bad player. He's indeed quite good. But at a position as star-studded as shortstop, he will have a hard time standing out if he can't better realize his offensive ambitions.
C Adley Rutschman, Baltimore Orioles
2022 Stats: 77 G, 320 PA, 8 HR, 2 SB, .253 AVG, .363 OBP, .442 SLG
If we were doing this back in June, we'd lean toward being bearish on Adley Rutschman. His major league debut was delayed by a triceps injury, and he was hitting under the Mendoza line after 20 games.
Since June 15, however, Aaron Judge is the only hitter in the American League with more fWAR than Rutschman.
The Oregon State product has taken a holistic approach with his recent dominance, though it all surely starts with a hot bat. He's put up a .399 OBP and .513 SLG, notably with more walks (38) than strikeouts (36) to go with eight home runs.
In any case, all this should sound familiar for anyone who read our Aug. 19 column on Rutschman's rise. Never mind a future All-Star. He looks like an MVP in the making.
RHP Spencer Strider, Atlanta
2022 Stats: 27 G, 16 GS, 106.2 IP, 72 H (6 HR), 158 K, 38 BB, 2.87 ERA
The first anyone saw of Spencer Strider this season was when he added a silver lining to Atlanta's Opening Day defeat by striking out five over two perfect innings.
He hasn't let up since, even after moving into the rotation May 30. His 15 starts have yielded a 3.06 ERA and 121 strikeouts, many of which have come courtesy of his overpowering fastball.
It's not just the velocity that renders hitters so helpless against Strider's fastball. Justin Choi of FanGraphs wrote in July about how it notably benefits from things Greene's similarly blazing heater doesn't: extension and vertical movement.
As Strider has had Tommy John surgery and has already set a career high in innings, there's a question about his durability. It is some comfort, though, that he's maintained his velocity and even improved his control. He's cut his walk rate basically in half since June 4.
The smart money may still be on Strider to find lasting stardom in a relief role that would make the most of his high-octane fastball. But given just how good he's looked as a starter, we'll take the stupid money anyway.
SS/3B Bobby Witt Jr., Kansas City Royals
2022 Stats: 116 G, 481 PA, 18 HR, 24 SB, .254 AVG, .295 OBP, .448 SLG
Bobby Witt Jr. came into this season ranked by Reuter as the No. 1 prospect in baseball, so the numbers he's put up are arguably disappointing.
Still, let's start with the good stuff. The power and speed are already there, as he's in the 80th percentile for exit velocity and the 100th percentile for sprint speed. The latter speaks for itself, while the former is further backed up by early readings on his bat speed.
It's Witt's approach that's lacking. He's walked only 22 times and whiffed more than the Royals would probably like (106). This especially goes for his swings against four-seam fastballs, which have been largely fruitless as he's hit just .238 against them.
But in case anyone doesn't want to trust the very much newfangled bat speed metrics, here's video evidence that Witt is indeed capable of getting around on the hard stuff:
As he's batting .310 against fastballs on the inner half and just .213 against fastballs on the outer half, Witt merely needs to improve his plate coverage on those pitches. And since he's already capable of taking good cuts in this regard, it may just be a matter of his continuing to add strength.