Behind the Scenes of My 2022 Top Prospects List

Written by: Ray Butler

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Hello and Happy Prospect List Day!

Instead of including an accompanying write-up for each prospect on my 2022 top prospects list, I’ve decided to supplement my rankings with a mini-series of short-ish articles with random thoughts on random prospects that made my list.

If you have a specific question regarding a particular prospect, shoot me a reply on Twitter and I’ll do my best to answer it in a future portion the mini-series.

Let’s dive in to some of my favorite prospects from my 2022 top prospects list:

  • A recent, simple question I was asked on Twitter: “Who is Brennen Davis?” A simple question should require a simple response, right? At his best, Davis will be the Cubs’ representative at the All-Star Game on a yearly basis. Unfortunately, it’s not that simple. Davis carried a 28.4% strikeout rate last season, with a .260 batting average to boot. Despite possessing at least above average speed, he only managed to steal six bases in 91 games. He was caught stealing four times during that same time span. Yes, he was a 21-year-old in Double-A and Triple-A. Yes, some of the strikeout woes can be chalked up to a bit too much passivity at the plate for such a talented hitter (42.4% of his plate appearances ended with a strikeout or walk). Yes, he hit 19 home runs and combined to post a 141 wRC+ at two levels in which he was considerably younger than his average competition. He’s an elite prospect, after all. But who will Davis be at the big league level? My two wishes for Davis in 2022 are quite simple. First, I hope he’s a bit more aggressive at the plate. The 22-year-old has skills at the plate that are practically impossible to teach, but I’m not sure he trusts himself to the extent in which he should. Yet. Secondly, I want to see him attempt more stolen bases. Have the Cubs purposely been playing it safe with their most prized prospect, or should we learn to simply not expect much in the stolen base department from Davis as a big leaguer? That’s a question we need an answer to this season. Disregard the handedness, but Davis’ statistical floor at the MLB level reminds me of what we’re likely to see from Brandon Marsh this season. Something in the realm of .240/.340 with 15-20 home runs and 5-10 stolen bases feels right as a floor. The ceiling, in more exciting news, is something like .270/.360 with 25-30 home runs and double digit stolen bases. That’s basically the output we just received from Manny Machado, except from center or right field.
  • Was asked if the 31-45 range of my list was full of ‘my guys’. In short? Yes. Without consulting other lists in the industry, I specifically felt I purposely ranked Oswald Peraza, DL Hall, Eury Perez, Michael Harris, Jeremy Peña and Kyle Harrison aggressively. Let’s briefly talk about these guys individually.
  • I remember discussing Oswald Peraza with Mike Kurland on the P365 Fantasy Baseball Podcast back in January 2020. At the time, Peraza had just missed my top-200 (he was featured in the #201-250 VIP portion of the list) after debuting in full season ball at the tail end of the 2019 season. Even then, you could tell there was a feel to hit, obvious speed, blossoming power and the defensive prowess to stick up the middle. It’s been extremely satisfying to see those tools solidify themselves since then. I don’t care about possibly being blocked by Anthony Volpe, Trevor Story or anyone else. Genuine talent always finds a way. I can’t wait to witness Peraza’s continued progression in 2022.
  • Look. I know DL Hall has yet to throw 100 IP in a season as a professional. I also know the command can be spotty. I don’t care. Hall has some of the best stuff in the minors. His ability to miss bats with every pitch in his arsenal is uncanny. In seven Double-A starts last season, the southpaw struck out 43.8% of the batters he faced. 60.4% of the batted balls he allowed were hit on the ground. These are numbers that allow for an above average walk rate without causing significant damage to an ERA or other underlying metrics. Now seemingly fully healthy after the Orioles slow-played an elbow injury last season, I think there’s a decent chance we see Hall’s big league debut (in 2022) a bit sooner than most people suspect. He’s my 7th-ranked pitching prospect, and I’m confident we’ve yet to see his best.
  • I made it a point to not rank Eury Perez as though 2021 was a fluke. It wasn’t. The pitch metrics here are special, as one industry source called it ‘outlier stuff’. Even the 6-foot-8 frame, which would typically be worrisome from an evaluation standpoint, isn’t overly concerning thanks to Perez’s athleticism and coordination. He’s still learning how to pitch, and of course he carries the same injury risk as any 18-year-old pitching prospect, but the ingredients are truly special. The ‘top pitching prospect’ potential is overflowing here.
  • Ranking him 102nd last preseason when he was still mostly an unknown quantity was my flag-planting moment with Michael Harris II. A year later, he’s a top-50 prospect with plenty of room to grow before graduating. Simply put, Harris is in the process of becoming everything we hoped Cristian Pache would be from a fantasy perspective: solid defense serves as a solid foundation and creates a high floor, the approach, hit tool and in-game power are all a bit crude but truly emerging. The main difference so far? Harris appears to be a tremendous base runner, using his speed to his advantage to the tune of 27 stolen bases (87% success rate) last season. Harris will be a 21-year-old in Double-A this season, and I suspect he’ll continue to solidify himself as the Braves’ top prospects as well as one of the top prospects in the sport. The arrow is pointing straight up.
  • It’s hard to evaluate Jeremy Peña without drawing comparisons to Jose Barrero. The tools are so ridiculously loud, but an aggressive plate approach will likely lead to some growing pains that a lot of fantasy players won’t be able to stomach. Be patient here, even if it hurts. Barrero has accrued a brow-furrowing 28 wRC+ in his first 124 big league plate appearances, but I expect him to take a notable step forward when given a genuine opportunity this season. It’ll likely be a slow burn for Peña at the big league level thanks to the approach, but he’ll eventually reward fantasy players who exhibit patience and faith in the overall skillset. Strap yourself in for the long haul.
  • Kyle Harrison is a mega dude. In his first professional season, the southpaw struck out 35.7% of the hitters he faced while forcing ground ball contact on 50.5% of batted balls allowed. He allowed just three home runs in 98.2 IP while posting a 3.19 ERA despite a high .390 BABIP. The left-hander’s fastball remains on plane remarkably well for a pitcher who utilizes a low three quarters arm slot, and a plus slider should serve as a superb weapon against left-handed hitters regardless of level. The continued development of his changeup–which could eventually serve as the second member of a dynamic duo versus righties–could determine whether Harrison simply becomes a middle-of-the-rotation starter, or if there’s another gear to be found here.
  • I was recently asked in a round-about way if Coby Mayo has potential to someday be the top overall prospect in baseball. The odds are stacked against him, since he’ll bring very little speed output to the table and doesn’t play a premium defensive position (I discussed top prospect ideology in this article). To his credit, Mayo’s batted ball metrics were some of the most impressive I came across throughout my evaluation process. He doesn’t have to be ‘top overall prospect’ worthy in order to be a force to be reckoned with. He’s well on his way to becoming the latter, and he’s doing it in what could be the most underrated developmental organization in the sport.
  • While he didn’t quite make the 31-45 range chalked full of ‘my guys’, I hope you can see my affinity for Johan Rojas based on where he’s ranked. If I had to pick a prospect outside of my current top-50 who jumps into the top-10 a year from now, it’s him. The blend of fantasy-relevant tools (the ability to put the ball in play (though the approach is presently undisciplined), above average raw power and double-plus speed that he utilizes in-game) and real-life skills (everything I just mentioned plus blossoming defensive skills that likely stick in center field) are, quite frankly, mesmerizing. What’s more, I have a hunch the 21-year-old will spend most of his 2022 season in Double-A, meaning he could play a role in the Phillies’ center field discussion as early as next summer. It’s upside you dream about with a real-life floor that presents plenty of cushion if he battles growing pains. Invest while you still can.
  • Had a few folks bang their hand on the table for Sal Frelick to be included in the top-100. In summation: “All the tools are there, and the power is on its way.” The Brewers have already worked wonders with Joey Wiemer’s swing, and Frelick could very well be next in line.
  • I received quite a bit of pushback on Ronny Mauricio‘s aggressive, initial ranking on this list, but I’m comfortable with his final destination. To sum up a few different opinions from folks I talked to: it’s 30 home run power, but the approach is ‘dog shit’. And that’s despite the fact he was a 20-year-old playing in High-A and Double-A last season. There’s also no speed to speak of, and we can’t forget the fact he’ll likely move to the hot corner as a big leaguer unless something happens to Francisco Lindor. At this rate, something like .250 AVG/25 HR feels like a reasonable MLB projection for Mauricio once he settles into a consistent role.
  • The idea of trying to rank MacKenzie Gore with any precision or accuracy right now is so silly. We’ve seen the southpaw look good enough to project as one of the best left-handed starting pitchers in the entire sport. We’ve also seen command so poor, it was hard to not use the b-word when evaluating the outlook (bust). As it often does, the truth regarding where Gore belongs on current prospect lists probably lies somewhere in the middle. I hope I conveyed that with his ranking on my list. Growth isn’t linear, and as a 23-year-old who’s already pitched in Triple-A, Gore has plenty of time to prove he’s still worthy of the lofty expectations he was once given. Here’s to hoping he fills it up in 2022.
  • He has to prove he’s healthy first, but Matt Canterino is a name that could skyrocket up prospect lists throughout 2022. The right-hander is armed with one of the best fastballs in the minor leagues, but the entire arsenal is simply filthy. Assuming good health, don’t be surprised if he moves quickly through the Twins’ farm system this season.
  • Deyvison De Los Santos drew rave reviews from a plethora of folks I sourced my list to prior to publishing time. Like, rave reviews to the point I’m not sure I was aggressive enough with his final placement. But for my money, the unrefined approach and unpolished defense from a corner infield spot calls for a ‘wait and see’ mindset on prospect lists rather than pushing our chips to the center of the table.
  • In the same mold as Gore, Simeon Woods Richardson is currently a near-impossible rank for folks who are in to such endeavors. Without the long-awaited uptick in fastball velocity we’ve been crossing our fingers for since he was drafted, the current hope is SWR regains his above average command and becomes a top-tier SP4 at the big league level sometime in 2023.
  • Blue Jays infield prospect Leo Jimenez may have the best plate approach of any prospect on the entire list. Let me say that again. Blue Jays infield prospect Leo Jimenez may have the best plate approach of any prospect on the entire list. Now, there’s not much present power or speed to speak of. Neither project overly well, either. But outside of the top-200 on a list where gaps between prospects are practically indistinguishable long before we arrive at Jimenez’s ranking of 243rd, an elite tool stands out like a sore thumb. The plate approach and discipline are exactly that. As a 20-year-old, Jimenez posted a .517 OBP over 242 plate appearances in Low-A. Sixteen more walks (51) than strikeouts (35). That is prospect list worthy, regardless of how well (or not so well) everything else projects. Up-the-middle defense should give Jimenez a role player, utility floor in real life even without much speed or power. The fact he was added to the Jays’ 40-man roster before ever playing at a level above Low-A tells me everything I need to know. He’s one to watch in 2022 and beyond.
  • Even at the tail end of my list, Ryan Kreidler was a name I felt belonged, albeit outside the top-200. The 24-year-old underwent a swing change last season, and the subsequent output (.270 BA/.349 OBP/22 HR/15 SB) is impossible to ignore. He’s still susceptible to advanced spin, but the overall skillset should make him a solid utility player at the big league level. I suspect Kreidler will replace Harold Castro on the Tigers’ bench at some point in 2022.
  • An all-encompassing list of prospects who were hyped to me by industry friends and sources at any point during my evaluation process: Jordan Walker, Eury Perez, Coby Mayo, Luis Campusano, Orelvis Martinez, George Valera, Pete Crow-Armstrong, Cade Cavalli, Everson Pereira, Sal Frelick, Vaughn Grissom, Cody Morris, Owen Caissie, Cole Henry, Jordan Westburg, Cristian Santana, Deyvison De Los Santos, Eddys Leonard, Drey Jameson, Ricardo Cabrera, Freddy Zamora, Gabriel Gonzalez, Junior Marin, Nelson Velazquez, Darryl Collins, Ezequiel Tovar. 

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Featured image courtesy of photographer William Vaughan and the Bowie BaySox

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