8 Young MLB Hitters Trending Toward Becoming All-Stars in 2022

Brandon Scott@@brandonkscottFeatured Columnist IApril 2, 2022

8 Young MLB Hitters Trending Toward Becoming All-Stars in 2022

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    David J. Phillip/Associated Press

    One of the more exciting elements of each season is seeing which players emerge as superstars around the league. 

    We are focusing on who could be some of the players to go from good to great, though a few are already there but just haven't been named All-Stars. 

    Only one of these eight players is older than 25. All of them have either shown signs in the majors pointing toward stardom or are a top pick entering this season with lofty expectations.

    Let's do this alphabetically.

Yordan Alvarez, Houston Astros

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    Sue Ogrocki/Associated Press

    It's time for one of the game's elite power hitters to finally emerge as an All-Star. 

    The trajectory seemed clear when he was unanimously voted as the 2019 American League Rookie of the Year.

    Knee injuries kept Alvarez out for most of 2020, and he returned in 2021 from surgery on both knees. The results were good, basically picking up right where he left off as a rookie. Alvarez hit .277/.346/.531 with 33 home runs, 104 RBI, 138 wRC+ and 3.7 fWAR

    ZIPS DC projects an improvement to all of those numbers (.290/.366/.575, with 40 home runs, 126 RBI, 155 wRC+ and 4.7 WAR). 

    The 24-year-old slugger also was good enough last year to win ALCS MVP honors after going 12-for-23 with five extra-base hits against the Red Sox. It's difficult to imagine Alvarez not making his first All-Star appearance if he's healthy.   

Dylan Carlson, St. Louis Cardinals

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    Sue Ogrocki/Associated Press

    The 23-year-old switch hitter smashed 18 home runs and drove in 65 runs to finish third in National League Rookie of the Year voting in 2021. Expect to see him move throughout the Cardinals' lineup. 

    New manager Oliver Marmol told John Denton of MLB.com the plan is to have Carlson hit anywhere from leadoff to fifth depending on the matchups. 

    Carlson was considered one of the best prospects prior to his major league debut in 2020, and just over a year ago he ranked as MLB Pipeline's 13th-best prospect.

    With a 40.6 percent sweet-spot rate, ranking him seventh-best in MLB, and second-half stats including a .505 slugging percentage and a .847 OPS, Carlson is primed for an All-Star nod.  

Ty France, Seattle Mariners

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    Elaine Thompson/Associated Press

    France stepped in at first base for the injured Evan White last year and established himself as a viable everyday player at the position. 

    He slashed .291/.368/.445 and posted a r4.3 WAR. France's ZiPS projection has him slashing .282/.356/.455 with 21 home runs and a 123 WRC+ this season. 

    The 27-year-old could improve his power numbers, but he was a high-level defensive first baseman in 2021, tying for the fourth-highest Outs Above Average among players with at least 250 attempts, according to Baseball Savant.

    With the reigning AL Cy Young winner Robbie Ray and All-Star infielder Adam Frazier joining the squad—in addition to another player mentioned later in this article—don't be surprised to see three Mariners in the All-Star Game.   

Wander Franco, Tampa Bay Rays

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    Tampa Bay Rays Wander Franco (5) connects for a base hit during the fifth inning against the Boston Red Sox during Game 3 of a baseball American League Division Series, Sunday, Oct. 10, 2021, in Boston. (AP Photo/Charles Krupa)
    Charles Krupa/Associated Press

    The Rays would not have signed him to that historic, massive contract extension—with such a small sample size—without anticipating Franco becoming a perennial All-Star. 

    He's already their best player, which immediately puts him in the conversation to be Tampa's guaranteed representative in the All-Star Game.

    Last year, Franco batted .288/.347/.463 with seven homers. He also had a 43-game on-base streak. This year, he wants to hit 30 home runs and steal 30 bases. 

    That's loftier than the ZIPS DC projection, which has him with 20 homers and 10 stolen bases. But it's still an optimistic, All-Star-level projection: .283/.340/.470; 128 wRC+ and 5.2 WAR. 

    It would be a surprising disappointment if Franco is not an All-Star.   

Ke'Bryan Hayes, Pittsburgh Pirates

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    Lynne Sladky/Associated Press

    A sprained ankle suffered in spring training should not keep the Pirates' third baseman down for too long. He told Jason Mackey of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette on Friday morning that he expects to be in the lineup against the St. Louis Cardinals on Opening Day. 

    The Pirates obviously want him healthy and hope he produces like he did in his rookie season in 2020, when he hit .376 with a 1.124 OPS over 24 games. 

    His production dipped last year when he hit just .257 with a .689 OPS in 96 games. 

    Pittsburgh, short on talent these days, is relying on the 25-year-old to produce runs. FanGraphs projects a noticeable improvement from Hayes, with his wRC+ jumping from 88 to 100 and his WAR vaulting from 1.5 to 3.   

Jonathan India, Cincinnati Reds

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    Charlie Riedel/Associated Press

    India showed an unexpected increase in power as a rookie last season, nearly doubling his home run total from his previous season in the minors.

    He had 21 home runs in 150 games for the Reds last season, and 11 homers over 121 games for High-A Daytona and Double-A Chattanooga in 2019. 

    If that's the pace in which he's improving, watch out. 

    Logic dictates there could be some sort of regression to the mean, as his .326 BABIP last year was higher than at any point in the minor leagues. 

    If he's able to sustain this level of play, India should be an above-average hitter on a bad team. 

    FanGraphs projects the 25-year-old will hit 22 home runs with a 116 wRC+ and 3.8 WAR.    

Jarred Kelenic, Seattle Mariners

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    Elaine Thompson/Associated Press

    Kelenic's spring has been relatively quiet, but he's caught the attention of new teammate Jesse Winker, who made his All-Star debut for the Cincinnati Reds last season. 

    "Jarred's a special player, man," Winker told reporters. "Special talent. Only 22 years old. Built like that, like a running back. Great bat speed, great swing. I'm all for left-handed swings, and he's got a very pretty one. It's going to be fun to play alongside him and watch him flourish and become a superstar. I think that's what both him and Julio are going to become."

    The Mariners' future success depends on players like Kelenic, and they've made the investments this offseason to finally break their record postseason drought. 

    Trading for Winker last month, signing AL Cy Young winner Robbie Ray and acquiring Adam Frazier from the San Diego Padres are among the team's notable moves. 

    The hope in Seattle is that Kelenic builds off the last five weeks of his 2021 season, when he slashed .248/.331/.524 with seven homers and a 135 wRC+.    

Kyle Tucker, Houston Astros

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    Sue Ogrocki/Associated Press

    If it wasn't for an unlucky first month of the season, Tucker very well may have been an All-Star last year.

    His teammate, first baseman Yuli Gurriel, won the American League batting title. But it was Tucker who led the American League in batting average (.320), slugging percentage (.600), OBP (.387) and OPS (.986) after May 1.

    In 140 games last season, Tucker finished hitting .294 with 30 home runs, 92 RBI, 37 doubles and a .917 OPS. 

    Now just consider what those numbers would have looked like if he wasn't slashing .175/.242/.342 with a 45.7 percent hard-hit rate through the first 33 games. 

    The Astros have long believed Tucker was destined for stardom. Hitting coach Troy Snitker talked to MLB.com's Brian McTaggart about the 25-year-old growing gradually each year and refining his overall approach to the game. 

    His offensive role grew last year when the Astros lost George Springer in free agency, and it will happen again this year with Carlos Correa gone, too.   


    Stats via FanGraphs, Baseball Reference and Baseball Savant unless otherwise noted.