First things first: ever wonder why people say that? Of course, first things should be first, or else we’d call them second things. Can you imagine if I started this post, “first things second, let’s begin with thirds?” That wouldn’t make sense, and you’d probably disregard my introduction and move right on to one of Grey’s eloquently-written masterpieces. So, first things first: I am not The Itch. I am Hobbs: modern marvel of man and owner of over 500 antique bottlecaps. This brings us to second things second: these rankings, therefore, detail my own assessment of the top-10 prospects for 2022 fantasy baseball, and not Itch’s. Itch composes the official prospect rankings for Razzball and knocks it out of the park year after year. But here is how I see this year’s top-10 for both dynasty and re-draft purposes, with a heavy emphasis put on 2022 projections. You may be surprised as to how the first-few names came out this year.
*The opinions expressed here are mine and mine only and by no means reflect the positions held by The Itch*
1. Bobby Witt Jr. – There’s a case for at least four, maybe five, names at the top of this list. But after slashing .290/.352/.576 with 33 homers and 29 steals across 564 plate appearances split between Double-A and Single-A last year, I’m more confident Witt Jr. will blossom into a perennial MLB superstar than any other player in the pipeline. Witt Jr. would have hit 43 home runs and stolen 38 bags last year in a 162-game prorated sample, and he slugged slightly better against Triple-A pitching (.581) than in Double-A (.570), finishing with a .285/.352/.581 batting line at baseball’s penultimate level. He’s a true five-tool superstar in the making, comes with the MLB family pedigree and his swing has looked capable of producing consistently in the middle of the Kansas City order for the duration of the past calendar year. State your case for Tork, J-Rod and Rutsch below, but I’ll split these hairs for you and keep my wits from bobbin’.
2. Julio Rodriguez – Rodriguez is about as can’t-miss as they come, and I wrote about 600 words on the Mariners’ young phenom back in September 2020. He features a unique blend of 70-grade hit and power tools, and utilizes a repeatable and efficient timing mechanism that works in sync with his hands and lower half. At High-A and Double-A in 2021, Rodriguez slashed a combined .347/.441/.560 with 13 home runs and 21 steals in 340 plate appearances. He batted .362 at Double-A after posting a .325 mark at High-A, so although he’s untested against Triple-A pitching, he appears more than ready to handle pitching in The Show. Thinking in lockstep with my good friend Itch, J-Rod probably should have swapped paths with Jarred Kelenic, but the extra seasoning should only do him good. Rodriguez WILL be a five-category star.
3. Spencer Torkelson – I wrote to a commenter at one point last season that I was higher on Torkelson than Rutschman for three primary reasons: 1) I’m more confident in how his bat projects to play at the MLB level. 2) I don’t boost players based on position – this is fantasy analysis and we are not building a real-world team. Take it from Grey, positional scarcity is B.S. Boba Sheytt. 3) I must abide by the Law of Threes as stated in my Razzball contract that may or may not have been written on Donkey Teeth’s antique handkerchief in a Wendy’s parking lot just outside of Chicago. That said, Tork is going to be the real deal in Detroit, and his position isn’t going to hurt his long-term outlook or durability, making him a safer long-term investment in dynasty. In his first pro season, Torkelson rose from High-A to Double-AA to Triple-A, concluding the year with a .267/.383/.552 slash line accompanied by 30 homers, 91 RBI, 89 runs and five steals. In 121 games. For a 70-grade power bat in the year 2022, his 21.5% strikeout rate in the minors this year is actually encouraging and backed by a 60-hit tool, and his 14.5% walk rate last year paints the picture of a 22-year old with a mature, patient approach that makes him a can’t-miss prospect. There’s some development needed yet here for Tork, but he’s about as safe as they come and should produce as a middle-of-the-order slugger for the next decade to come.
4. Adley Rutschman – This No. 4 ranking is by no means a knock on Adley. He’s a switch-hitting catching prospect with 70-grade hit and power tools, but like most backstops, don’t expect him to run much. Ever since being drafted first overall by Baltimore, Rutschman has certainly lived up to expectations, slashing .278/.387/.485 across 160 games in the minors culminating with a .285/.397/.502 line at Double-A and Triple-A last year. Based on that, his performance has only improved with seasoning, further bolstered by a .312/.405/.490 mark at Triple-A. However, in my world analyzing prospects for fantasy baseball, the only component I truly care about regarding Rutschman’s status as a switch-hitting catcher is that profile enhances his ability to hit both left and right-handed pitching. I’d be thrilled to own Rutschman in a dynasty format, but not over any of the three names listed above. I expect his re-draft price to be too hefty for my liking this season, but this blue-chip Orioles catching prospect should more than outperform the last one.
5. Josh Jung – The Texas Tech product can flat-out rake and has a good chance to stick at third base long term. Backed by 60-grade hit and power, Jung was a .348/.455/.577 hitter in college and has hardly missed a beat in pro ball, slashing .322/.394/.538. Jung split the 2021 campaign at Double-A and Triple-A, where he posted a .326/.398/.592 slash line, and like Rutschman, performed even better at Triple-A: .348/.436/.652 with nine homers in 35 games. Expect Jung to be a perennial .280+ hitter with 30+ long balls annually once he establishes himself as a mainstay for the Rangers. With only Isiah Kiner-Falefa blocking him in Texas and the team committed to winning with the signings of Corey Seager and Marcus Semien up the middle, there’s little reason for the Rangers to not have Jung at the hot corner come mid-April. The future of the infield looks bright in Texas.
6. Shane Baz – Well, I had to include at least one pitcher on this list, right? Being a Tampa hurler means limited innings per start, but it also means more attractive matchups, advanced analytics and not being over-exposed to opposing lineups. I doubt fellow Ray Shane McClanahan would have made the top-10 last year but threw 123.1 innings of 3.43 ERA ball while striking out 141 batters. Baz could produce similar results and then some. Grey is projecting Baz for 130 IP in 2022, and that was enough for me to move Baz up from No. 9 to No. 6 on this list. He threw 13.1 innings with a 2.03 ER and 18 strikeouts in The Show last year, while also tossing 78.2 frames with a 2.06 ERA and 113 strikeouts at Double-A and Triple-A.
7. Brennen Davis – After winning the Futures Game MVP in 2021, Davis ascended to Triple-A in a season which he began in High-A. Davis batted .260/.375/.494 with 19 homers and eight steals in 99 games across three levels last year, ultimately posting a .268/.397/.536 line at Triple-A. However, his 2021 did come with a 30.7% strikeout rate, but he did walk in 12.0% of plate appearances and cut down on the Ks in the small, 15-game sample size in Triple-A (22.1%). The strikeouts will most likely be a problem when he first breaks into the MLB, but the in-game pop and legs will be there for fantasy managers to capitalize on.
8. Vidal Brujan – With Joey Wendle moving down the street to play for Kim Ng and Jeets’ ragtag crew, there’s more room for Brujan in the Tampa infield. He struggled in a 10-game cameo with the Rays last season, picking up two hits in 26 at-bats with eight strikeouts (31.8 K%) and zero walks. As Grey discussed in his 2021 Vidal Brujan fantasy outlook, “Hobbs is quite possibly our best-looking writer on staff and has a heart the size of an African bush elephant.” Wait, wait. My mistake — that was a screenshot from Donkey Teeth. Here it is: “he might have a strikeout rate that’s half of that when he’s fully comfortable.” Brujan, that is. Honestly, I’ll pitch it to Grey’s outlook for the rest of the Brujan breakdown, where he projected the Rays prospect to go “51/6/43/.238/18 in 387 ABs with a chance for way more or way less.”
9. CJ Abrams – Now that Jake Cronenworth has emerged as a legitimate everyday starter in the San Diego infield, what spot is left for Abrams? He doesn’t have as clear of a path to playing time as the players ranked 1-5, but as we know, teams find creative ways to sneak star prospects into the lineup and Cronenworth has positional versatility. Abrams batted .296/.363/.420 with two homers, 14 doubles and 13 steals in 42 Double-A games last year prior to a season-ending broken leg/sprained MCL in June. He should start 2022 in Triple-A and although he may only receive a call to the bigs out of necessity early on, his overall talent and ceiling as a prospect keep him on the top-10 radar.
10. Max Meyer – Without a doubt, the most controversial name on this list. Will Meyer reach the majors in 2022? If he does, how will he pitch enough innings to be fantasy-relevant? My line of thinking is two-fold. In my own rankings, I have Meyer as the top pitching prospect in baseball and a top-10 prospect overall. Last year, I made a case for Meyer as the No. 1 overall prospect in the game to Itch, to which he chuckled, took a sip of fine bourbon and swiftly dismissed my insanity. So in dynasty formats, I would have Meyer even higher than this, because although his production may be concentrated into the second half of 2022, he holds so much value in 2023 and beyond. For redraft, his inclusion here is certainly questionable but look at his numbers from his first taste of professional baseball split between Double-A (101 innings) and Triple-A (10 innings): 2.27 ERA, 1.19 WHIP, 10.5 K/9, 3.4 BB/9 and 0.6 HR/9. That’s going straight from a non-conference Big-10 schedule in 2020, to no competitive baseball until the following spring training, to 111 innings with dominant results in the upper minors in 2021. That’s a heck of a jump, and super impressive. He’s the real deal with a plus-fastball and curve and a developing changeup. Buy stock, and assess reports in spring training — if there is one.
That’s all for this week, Razzball fam! As always, I’m happy to take this conversation into the comments section or on Twitter, where you can find me @WorldOfHobbs.