Last week, we hit the top 10 prospects for 2022 fantasy baseball, and now — we’ll navigate into the top 20. It’s filled with Q-Bert references, jokes about dinner plans, an homage to hippie culture, my new rendition of a Lorde song, and more. It’s what you need to keep your wits about you when trying to figure out which prospects will garner enough playing time to be fantasy relevant in 2022 in the midst of the ongoing lockout. Who makes the top-20 cut? Who gets omitted like chicken in a McNugget? There will be no shortage of fiery opinions here, and the piece is somewhat lengthy, so let’s get into it, beginning with one of the more fascinating names on the list.
*The opinions expressed here are mine and mine only and by no means reflect the positions held by The Itch*
11. Oneil Cruz – What a roller coaster of a two years it’s been for Cruz’s baseball career. It looked like his career might be over after a car accident Cruz was involved with in his native Dominican Republic left three people dead in September 2020, but here we are in 2022 and Cruz is primed for a breakout rookie season in Pittsburgh. As a 6-foot-7 shortstop, Cruz’s unique physical traits are well documented, and with that comes a healthy dose of swing and miss: 25.3% in 2019 (Rookie, High-A, Double-A) and 22.8% in 2021 (Double-A, Triple-A). Given his size, however, you’d almost think he would strike out more given the power (17 HR in 302 PA in 2021), and that rate dropped 2.5% from 2019 to 2021 despite no competitive minor league baseball in 2020. Cruz got a cup of coffee at the end of September — maybe call it a sip, or perhaps just a pup cup — picking up three hits in nine at-bats while striking out four times. There’s no doubt he’s going to whiff a lot against MLB pitching. But he picked up his first-career homer in Game 162, depositing an offering half a foot below the strike zone for a 408-foot blast onto the right-centerfield deck. That’s easy power, albeit accompanied by a 35-hit tool. That hit tool produced a .310/.375/.594 batting line with 17 homers and 19 steals in the minors last year, though, so I’m feeling pretty good about Oneil Cruz’ing in the Pirates starting lineup for upwards of 550 at-bats in 2022. If he goes 68/23/78/.242/10 in 567 as Grey has him projected, he’ll likely finish higher on the player rater than Brujan and Abrams.
12. Keibert Ruiz – So far this preseason, Ruiz is being ranked as a top-10 fantasy catcher by the industry. He’s currently the No. 7 catcher in terms of ECR while Grey has him as his No. 8 option at the position heading into the season. And like Grey, I myself am I renowned Q-Bert fan. !^&*#%&! Ruiz is slated to be the starting catcher for the Nationals in 2022, and his minor league numbers were pretty redonkulous last year for a catcher: .310/.377/.616, 21 HR, 10.4 K%, 9.5 BB%. Playing 29 MLB games in 2021, Ruiz proceeded to hit .273/.409/.742 with three long balls all while maintaining that impressively low strikeout rate at 9.4%. He switch hits, and the ABs will be there. Like Itch, I don’t love young catchers for dynasty, but he’s a great long-term piece at the right price and redraft relevant in every format. Also, Grey hits on Ruiz in his top 20 catchers for 2022 fantasy baseball, projecting him for 56/17/66/.274/1 in 381 ABs. Ahh, shizz! Here comes a Coily! !^&*#%&!
13. Jose Miranda – There’s a terrific case for Miranda in the top 10, and I won’t be the least bit surprised if he out-produces half the names above him by the end of the 2022 campaign. My hesitancy to include him is based on the fact that I’m skeptical of the Minnesota Twins’ plans this year: the last I heard, they have dinner reservations at Fettuccini’s at 7 and then nothing scheduled until Spring Training 2023. Jokes aside, Miranda made some incredible strides last year and is positioned to be a formidable fantasy asset as long as he receives a timely promotion. Just take it from Grey in his Jose Miranda 2022 Fantasy Outlook: “At 23 years of age, Miranda ended 2021 across two levels (Double and Triple-A) with 30/4/.344/.400/.575 with a 12% strikeout rate. Beginning to think he’s Luis Arraez with 30 homer-power. His contact skills won’t just disappear, even if they fade a little because the majors are tougher than the minors, he’ll still hit .280 with a 17-19% strikeout rate.” That came with projections for 59/18/63/.284/3 in 441 ABs. Back to the promotion, Miranda appeared to be on the cusp last September, but it never happened. Sometimes I wonder if Minnesota is the AL’s version of Colorado in how they manage playing time with top prospects. If he pushed 450 ABs like Grey has him projected, this ranking is closer to his floor.
14. Riley Greene – With the lockout ongoing and Spring Training still weeks away even in a normal timeline, so much of these rankings come down to projecting 2022 ABs — and it’s an insanely tall task with virtually no fresh information to analyze. How do we realistically predict how much time Riley Greene will see in the big leagues this year? Grey has him projected for 306 ABs in 2022, but it could be way more. Then again, it could also be zero. Much less likely, but you get the point. Despite my concerns there, the sheer upside is what has Greene ranked where he is. In 558 plate appearances last season, Greene slashed .301/.387/.534 with 24 homers while going 16-for-17 on steals at Double-A and Triple-A. Each slash component was superior at Triple-A, and with the state of the Tigers’ positional depth at the MLB level mixed with their recent investment into winning, Greene should be up by late April — right? Well, he struck out about as much as Donkey Teeth at a bar mitzvah last year (27.4 K%) while walking 11.3% of plate appearances. As Grey put it: “My biggest concern is early Ks, which could mean he hits .210 in spring, and is sent to the minors until June/July. He still is so young.” 21 to be exact.
15. Triston Casas – We got an extended look at Casas in the spotlight this past summer during the Olympics, and he did not disappoint. Although he batted just .217 with a .308 OBP, he led the team with three home runs and eight RBI in 23 at-bats and finished with a .652 slugging percentage. It’s safe to say that Casas makes LOUD contact. LOUD like your freshman dorm or a dive bar in Colorado. Casas got a nine-game cameo in Triple-A at the tail-end of last year, and was above average but not otherworldly with an .866 OPS. Overall, he batted .279./.394/.484 with 14 home runs and seven steals in 86 games split at Double-A and Triple-A. I’m surprised there wasn’t even more power, but his 19.1% strikeout rate quiets much of that. Bobby Dalbec currently has a greasy, pinky-finger grasp on first base in Boston, but Casas could displace him if the former struggles to open the 2022 season. On the other hand, Casas is a left-handed hitter while Dalbec slugs from the right side, so you know how this could end up. Grey has Casas projected for 41/16/48/.267/1 in 303 ABs. However, if Casas impresses enough to break camp with the Red Sox, he might be in store for a monster rookie year. Don’t count on it, but I think it’s more likely Casas breaks camp than a player like Miranda or Greene.
16. Gabriel Moreno – Alright, we’re working our way down the list now — so it’s time to dip my toes into the unknown art of brevity. Moreno was one of 2021’s biggest risers, slashing .373/.441/.651 with eight homers (18 XBH) in 32 Double-A games. Unfortunately, a broken thumb slowed down his minor league progression, so he went to the Arizona Fall League and batted .329/.410/.494 with a 1.0 K-to-BB. The swing is smooth, level, and purty, and he has a relatively simple loading mechanism. It’s like trying to toss jelly beans up in the air and catch them in my mouth when projecting his major league at-bats in 2022, but the Jays need the best bats available in the bigs. He might split time with Alejandro Kirk and Danny Jansen behind the dish, but I’m betting Toronto will need to find a spot for Moreno in the lineup. The downside here is that he has fewer than 200 career games on his resume. He’d be above Greene if I had more clarity here, but alas, I’m all fogged up.
17. Reid Detmers – I ranked Detmers as the No. 2 college prospect to target in dynasty leagues in my first-ever Razzball post back in March 2020, and he made me look good with a 15.7 K/9 and 2.8 BB/9 in 62 innings at Double-A and Triple-A last year. He finished with a 3.19 ERA and a 1.15 WHIP, but the results were rather gruesome with the Angels: 7.40 ERA, 1.79 WHIP, 8.3 K/9, and 4.8 BB/9. His career-to-date indicates those latter two numbers are outliers, and Detmers has a chance to win a spot in the LAA rotation this year. It’s far from a sure thing, and Detmers will likely have his innings capped, but he’s a terrific sleeper candidate for this season. Read more on Detmers in Grey’s 2022 outlook on him.
18. Nick Pratto – Carlos Santana was bad last year, but then again he was also the victim of some severely bad luck. Santana will also play most of the 2022 season at 36 years old, so Pratto shouldn’t have much trouble finding playing time at first base and elsewhere in the Kansas City lineup. There’s a debate for who should be ranked higher, Pratto or fellow Royals farmhand MJ Melendez, but Pratto simply has the clearer path to everyday ABs with Melendez being a catcher. Pratto slashed .265/.385/.602 with 36 homers and 12 steals in 124 games at Double-A and Triple-A last year, so he’s certainly close. But with a 28.8% strikeout rate, the Royals might give him more seasoning in the minors until June or July. I’m betting he’s up sooner, but you just never know.
19. Grayson Rodriguez – This one comes down to innings and opportunity. If it was solely about arm talent and upside, Rodriguez would be in the top 10. He was the top pitcher in The Itch’s final update on his Top 100 Prospects for 2021 Fantasy Baseball at No. 17 overall. But allow me to differ to Grey for the explanation here: “His minor league results: 23 GS, 2.36 ERA, 0.83 WHIP, 2.67 FIP, 40.5 K%, 6.8 BB%, 14.1 K/9, 161 K in 103 IP between High-A and Double-A. He won the Jim Palmer Award for the MILB Pitcher of the Year for the Orioles. They presented him with a pair of Jockey underwear… This was the 2nd year that Grayson Rodriguez won the Orioles’ MILB Pitcher of the Year award, which is such a joke. The Orioles are cheap eh-eff.” Winning an organization’s MiLB Pitcher of the Year Award two-straight seasons says it all. If Gray-Rod pushes past Grey-Razz’s projections of 61 IP, he’ll skyrocket up this list.
20. MJ Melendez – There are more Royals in this post than a Lorde song, I’m telling you! Let’s all try to predict who will A) be promoted first in 2022 and B) compile the most WAR in their rookie campaign between Witt Jr., Pratto, and Melendez. As I stated in the Pratto blurb, there’s a case for Melendez to be ranked ahead of Pratto, I just don’t see Melendez having as clear of a path to regular playing time this year. His body of work in the minors last year, however, was superior: .288/.386/.625 while pacing the minors with 41 homers in 123 games. Impressive, and it paints a drastically different picture than Melendez’s 2019 campaign in which he hits just .163 with nine homers in 110 games. Even so, it’s hard to rationalize the power not being legit after his 2021. There’s a lot to like here, but it will come down to the promotion timeline and the availability of regular ABs. My guess is each member of the Royals prospect trio is up by July or August at the latest. And now, I leave you in song. I’ve never seen a baseball diamond in the flesh… I cut my teeth on wedding rings in the dugout… And baby, I’ll rule (I’ll rule, I’ll rule, I’ll rule)… Let me live that fantasy (baseball blog post).
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.