With the end of the 2022 Major League Baseball season just about a week away, there isn’t a whole lot left to learn about this year’s class of rookies.
So, we might as well grade them now.
Not all of them, mind you. Just the ones that stand out from the crowd, whether it’s because of how they’ve played throughout the year or because of where they stood on B/R’s top-100 prospect rankings coming into the year.
Perhaps needless to say, our grades were strictly performance-based. We mostly took players’ performances at face value, though some situations did call for deeper readings into underlying stats.
In any case, we’ll go position by position.
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Adley Rutschman, Baltimore Orioles
Preseason Rank: No. 2
Stats: 104 G, 432 PA, 12 HR, 4 SB, .256 AVG, .361 OBP, .447 SLG, 4.8 rWAR
Rutschman didn’t do much through his first 20 games with the Orioles. Then he hit his first home run on June 15 and hasn’t looked back. Since then, he’s a .276/.386/.495 hitter with the second-most fWAR among American League hitters after only Aaron Judge.
Should we mention that Rutschman is also one of baseball’s most well-rounded defensive catchers? Yeah, probably should. Between that and his offensive skills, he would be a shoo-in for the AL Rookie of the Year if it wasn’t for Julio Rodríguez.
MJ Melendez, Kansas City Royals
Preseason Rank: No. 51
Stats: 120 G, 493 PA, 17 HR, 2 SB, .219 AVG, .314 OBP, .396 SLG, 0.7 rWAR
Though Melendez generally doesn’t rate well for his defense, his biggest weakness could soon be rendered moot. That would be his framing, which will become an obsolete skill when MLB inevitably introduces an automated strike zone.
Melendez’s 12.4 BB% and 90.8 mph exit velocity underscore his patience and power, but his offensive profile is otherwise marred by below-average whiff and strikeout rates. Yet he’s at least hit the fastball well, which is kind of an important skill for a big league hitter to have.
Joey Bart, San Francisco Giants
Preseason Rank: Unranked
Stats: 90 G, 267 PA, 11 HR, 2 SB, .216 AVG, .292 OBP, .378 SLG, 0.7 rWAR
There remains little question that Bart can put a charge into the ball. His average exit velocity is a pedestrian 88.0 mph, but he’s maxed out at 114.3 mph on a home run. Even still, a 37.8 strikeout percentage and an obvious hole against high fastballs are major red flags.
Bart is also more of an adequate defender than a good one, whether you’re looking at his results or metrics. This is ultimately to say that much of the shine that was on him when the Giants made him their No. 2 pick in 2018 has worn off.
Honorable Mentions: Nick Fortes, MIA
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Vinnie Pasquantino, Kansas City Royals
Preseason Rank: Unranked
Stats: 63 G, 258 PA, 9 HR, 0 SB, .283 AVG, .372 OBP, .453 SLG, 1.2 rWAR
Pasquantino is a decent defender, but fellow Royals rookie Nick Pratto is so good at first base that the former is likely to continue spending the bulk of his playing time at designated hitter. It’s a good thing, then, that he has the goods to be a special one.
It’s just not every day that you see a guy with 92.0 mph exit velocity and an 11.6 walk percentage and a 12.4 strikeout percentage. And while we would like to see more opposite-field productivity from Pasquantino, that’s also not a deal-breaker in light of the upcoming ban on shifts.
José Miranda, Minnesota Twins
Preseason Rank: No. 90
Stats: 116 G, 452 PA, 15 HR, 1 SB, .269 AVG, .323 OBP, .432 SLG, 0.8 rWAR
Even if history doesn’t have its eyes on Lin-Manuel’s cousin, he’s certainly earned the attention of Twins fans this season. Per his 116 OPS+, he’s been 16 points better than the average hitter, as he’s established himself as a regular at the cold corner.
It will nonetheless be interesting to see how Miranda adjusts to the inevitable adjustments that pitchers make against him. He’s a good low-ball hitter, but his .195 average against four-seam fastballs at least 2.5 feet off the ground make for a potentially exploitable hole.
Gunnar Henderson, Baltimore Orioles
Preseason Rank: No. 64
Stats: 24 G, 94 PA, 3 HR, 1 SB, .276 AVG, .330 OBP, .471 SLG, 0.7 rWAR
On account of his limited big league experience, we waffled on whether to include Henderson in this discussion at all. But given that he’s arguably the No. 1 prospect in baseball right now, we figured there’s no harm in at least grading his first impression.
In a word, it’s been good. He’s hit .326 against fastballs with impressive batted-ball metrics in general, as well as sprint speed in the 91st percentile. He’s also looked the part of a plus defender on the other side of the ball, so he would get an A if not for his sample size.
Spencer Torkelson, Detroit Tigers
Preseason Rank: No. 4
Stats: 102 G, 373 PA, 6 HR, 0 SB, .205 AVG, .290 OBP, .314 SLG, minus-1.2 rWAR
As he was the Tigers’ No. 1 pick in 2020 and a consensus top-five prospect coming into this season, there’s really no other way to frame Torkelson’s rookie season than as a disappointment. The nadir, of course, was when he got sent down before the All-Star break.
Some of his metrics are encouraging, including his 90.4 mph exit velocity and a chase rate in the 75th percentile. But if Torkelson wants to be a productive hitter, he’ll need to do better than a .170 average against breaking and off-speed pitches. The major league average is .219.
Honorable Mentions: Jake Burger (CWS), Joey Meneses (WAS), Nick Pratto (KCR), Emmanuel Rivera (ARI)
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Bobby Witt Jr., Kansas City Royals
Preseason Rank: No. 1
Stats: 142 G, 595 PA, 20 HR, 28 SB, .257 AVG, .296 OBP, .442 SLG, 1.2 rWAR
If this season has made one thing clear, it’s that the finer points of Witt’s game still need work. His 15th-percentile chase rate speaks to his iffy swing decisions, and he’s going to have to be more accurate with his throws if he wants to cut it as an everyday shortstop.
If this season has made another thing clear, however, it’s that Witt is nonetheless an exciting player. He’s one of the fastest players in the league, and the readings on his contact quality are mostly above average. Even if those other traits don’t come around, this probably won’t be his last season as a 20-20 guy.
Jeremy Peña, Houston Astros
Preseason Rank: No. 25
Stats: 129 G, 530 PA, 19 HR, 11 SB, .247 AVG, .285 OBP, .408 SLG, 4.4 rWAR
Is it too early to anoint Peña as the American League’s Gold Glove winner at shortstop? Technically, yes, but that award is surely somewhere in his future. He’s second to only Jorge Mateo among AL shortstops in outs above average, and he’s first in defensive runs saved.
Peña was initially making an impact on offense as well, but his true hitting colors have been revealed amid a months-long slump. He still has a decent ability (i.e., a .284 average) to hit the fastball, which figures to keep him a viable regular in years to come.
Oneil Cruz, Pittsburgh Pirates
Preseason Rank: No. 11
Stats: 79 G, 322 PA, 17 HR, 8 SB, .215 AVG, .273 OBP, .448 SLG, 1.6 rWAR
A 6’7″, 220-pound shortstop with a powerful bat, elite speed and cannon-like arm strength? It’s hard to believe that such a player even exists, and there are times when Cruz is as exciting in real life as he is in concept.
Still, the same “yeah, buts” that apply to Witt also apply to Cruz. His 37.3 strikeout percentage needs to come way down, and he could stand to add some accuracy to his throws. If he can’t make fixes in these arenas, he’ll have a hard time ascending above Statcast stardom.
Nolan Gorman, St. Louis Cardinals
Preseason Rank: No. 30
Stats: 89 G, 313 PA, 14 HR, 1 SB, .226 AVG, .300 OBP, .420 SLG, 0.7 rWAR
Nobody can accuse Gorman of being incapable of getting ahold of one. He’s already the best in the business of hitting the ball with a sweet-spot launch angle between eight and 32 degrees, and he averages a solid 93.5 mph in exit velocity when he does.
That the Cardinals have basically hidden Gorman from left-handed pitching nonetheless makes his 32.9 strikeout percentage that much more alarming. He especially has a hole against high fastballs, as he’s hit just .128 against heaters 2.5 feet or higher off the ground.
CJ Abrams, Washington Nationals
Preseason Rank: No. 6
Stats: 81 G, 268 PA, 2 HR, 5 SB, .240 AVG, .278 OBP, .324 SLG, 0.2 rWAR
Reports on Abrams coming into the year tended to characterize him as a rare sort of talent. He was supposed to have the defensive chops to thrive at the position, as well as the speed to be an elite base-stealing threat and a bat that promised .300 averages and power.
Save for his speed, not one of these purported talents has shown through this season. Abrams has been particularly out of his depth on offense, walking only five times all year while generally making poor contact. The Nationals thus have a lot to work with him on.
Honorable Mentions: Vaughn Grissom (ATL), Charles LeBlanc (MIA), Bryson Stott (PHI)
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Julio Rodríguez, Seattle Mariners
Preseason Rank: No. 3
Stats: 129 G, 549 PA, 27 HR, 25 SB, .280 AVG, .342 OBP, .502 SLG, 5.7 rWAR
Rodríguez is only the third rookie to ever hit 25-plus home runs and steal 25-plus bases in a season, and he’s done so while also playing quality defense for the Mariners. No wonder they were comfortable signing him to a contract that could pay out as much as $470 million.
In addition to his recent back problems, it’s likewise a red flag that Rodríguez has 3.5 times as many strikeouts as walks. However, he’s a good enough bad-ball hitter to justify his relative lack of strike-zone discipline, and he might even be a great one if he can boost his .189 average against sliders on the outer half.
Michael Harris II, Atlanta
Preseason Rank: No. 61
Stats: 106 G, 407 PA, 19 HR, 19 SB, .305 AVG, .346 OBP, .535 SLG, 5.1 rWAR
Speaking of talented young center fielders who have already gotten the bag, Harris has basically been the National League’s answer to Rodríguez. He might even be the better of the two on defense, where he’s in the top 10 among center fielders in OAA and DRS.
Harris isn’t devoid of nits to pick on the other side of the ball, specifically with regard to his 56.8 ground-ball percentage and modest 89.1 mph exit velocity. Yet he makes good contact when it counts, hitting his fly balls and line drives at an impressive 95.8 mph on average.
Riley Greene, Detroit Tigers
Preseason Rank: No. 5
Stats: 84 G, 379 PA, 5 HR, 1 SB, .251 AVG, .319 OBP, .363 SLG, 1.2 rWAR
With Greene, we have yet another player to keep the theme of talented defensive center fielders going. We could talk about his metrics, which are generally good, but what we really want to do is simply watch that catch from Sunday again:
Greene’s offense is more of a work in progress. He has a Harris-like profile in that he hits too many ground balls but salvages good exit velocity on his air balls, yet he’s struck out much more frequently. A particular problem is his 55.9 whiff percentage on curveballs.
Alek Thomas, Arizona Diamondbacks
Preseason Rank: No. 24
Stats: 113 G, 411 PA, 8 HR, 4 SB, .231 AVG, .275 OBP, .344 SLG, 1.3 rWAR
Hey, look, it’s another wiz-kid defender in center field. Thomas isn’t exactly the most efficient route runner, but the 94th-percentile sprint speed that serves him well on the bases equates to elite closing speed when he has to range far for a fly ball.
Offensively, there’s good news and bad news. To the former, Thomas has only struck out 74 times this season. To the latter, his 87.4 mph exit velocity might actually oversell his contact quality. He’s in Isiah Kiner-Falefa territory, averaging just 124 feet on his batted balls.
Honorable Mentions: Christopher Morel (CHC), Jose Siri (TBR), Matt Vierling (PHI)
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Steven Kwan, Cleveland Guardians
Preseason Rank: No. 68
Stats: 139 G, 602 PA, 6 HR, 17 SB, .298 AVG, .373 OBP, .400 SLG, 5.3 rWAR
With all this talk about exit velocity, you might be expecting us to raise a stink about the 84.9 mph average with which Kwan hits his batted balls. Psh, how does the guy even get the ball out of the infield with such minuscule oomph?
We’re being facetious, of course. Because when you’re the best contact hitter and finder of defensive holes this side of Luis Arráez, you just don’t need exit velocity. The fact that Kwan is also an exceptional baserunner and a Gold Glove-caliber defender only makes him more of a gift to Major League Baseball.
Brendan Donovan, St. Louis Cardinals
Preseason Rank: Unranked
Stats: 118 G, 436 PA, 5 HR, 2 SB, .279 AVG, .389 OBP, .377 SLG, 3.7 rWAR
The catch with Donovan perhaps ought to be that he’s taken only 17 percent of his plate appearances against same-side hurlers, but he actually has a better OBP (.419) in those than he does when he has the platoon advantage (.382).
So, maybe the guy’s just a good hitter? Yeah, that must be it. And rather than take our word for it, you can take it from his well-above-average whiff, strikeout and walk rates and his Gwynn-ian .492 average on balls to the opposite field.
Seiya Suzuki, Chicago Cubs
Preseason Rank: Unranked
Stats: 104 G, 417 PA, 13 HR, 9 SB, .263 AVG, .336 OBP, .433 SLG, 1.7 rWAR
Suzuki was a sensation earlier in the year, as he spent the better part of three weeks with a .300/.400/.500 slash line and an OPS over 1.000. The turn toward ordinary that he’s taken since then might raise the question of whether the Cubs erred in signing him for $85 million.
We’re not about to go that far. Major league pitchers have exposed Suzuki in some ways, particularly by way of a .183 average against sliders. Yet his approach has mostly been on point, and it bodes well that he’s hit fastballs as well as he has. He’s a .300 hitter against them in general and even a .270 hitter against the 95-plus variety.
Oscar González, Cleveland Guardians
Preseason Rank: Unranked
Stats: 82 G, 343 PA, 11 HR, 1 SB, .289 AVG, .321 OBP, .468 SLG, 1.8 rWAR
For all of Kwan’s contact-hitting mastery, González has actually been the better hitter of the two for Cleveland this season. This is according to OPS+, which puts González at 125 and Kwan at 124. Check and mate.
Sort of, anyway. Though González does make up for it a bit with a 93.9 mph average on fly balls and line drives, his overall exit velocity of 89.0 mph is less than you’d expect from a 6’4″, 220-pound slugger. Going forward, the need for him to make more consistent hard contact will be that much greater if he’s still chasing and whiffing as much as he has this season.
Honorable Mentions: Luis González (SFG), Jack Suwinski (PIT)
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Spencer Strider, Atlanta
Preseason Rank: No. 54
Stats: 31 G, 20 GS, 131.2 IP, 86 H (7 HR), 202 K, 45 BB, 2.67 ERA, 3.9 rWAR
Here’s hoping that Strider’s oblique strain heals in good time because he deserves to pitch under the bright lights of October. He had been utterly dominant since moving into Atlanta’s rotation on May 30, pitching to a 2.77 ERA with 165 strikeouts over 107.1 innings.
Strider’s fastball is so electric that it’s racked up more swings and misses within the strike zone than even that of Gerrit Cole. Then there’s his slider, which bamboozled hitters to the tune of a 52.2 whiff percentage and a .139 average. Health permitting, these two things will be a problem for hitters for years to come.
George Kirby, Seattle Mariners
Preseason Rank: No. 20
Stats: 23 G, 23 GS, 120.0 IP, 124 H (12 HR), 124 K, 18 BB, 3.30 ERA, 1.5 rWAR
Kirby is on track to post the highest strikeout-to-walk ratio ever for a rookie pitcher, which generally makes him immune to the hand-wringing over control that tends to accompany young hurlers.
That Kirby also has good stuff makes him even more fascinating on paper, though the catch is that it doesn’t make him that overpowering in reality. His whiff rate is only in the 20th percentile, a sign that one of his six offerings needs to be developed into a proper out pitch.
Joe Ryan, Minnesota Twins
Preseason Rank: No. 88
Stats: 26 G, 26 GS, 141.0 IP, 110 H (20 HR), 143 K, 46 BB, 3.70 ERA, 1.8 rWAR
It’s not worth nothing that Ryan leads rookie hurlers in innings pitched, and he has at least one mega-weapon in his four-seam fastball. Its 92.0 mph velocity won’t wow anyone, but its rising action and generally high location make it eminently tough to square up.
What Ryan lacks is a proper out pitch among his secondary offerings. He clearly wants his slider to be the one for the job, but it has neither the velocity nor the movement to consistently fool hitters. Nothing attests to this like the .511 slugging percentage against it.
Edward Cabrera, Miami Marlins
Preseason Rank: No. 45
Stats: 13 G, 13 GS, 68.2 IP, 44 H (10 HR), 70 K, 33 BB, 3.13 ERA, 1.8 rWAR
Stuff-wise, Cabrera is one of the more impressive rookie hurlers to come along in a while. The 6’5″, 217-pounder can get his fastball up to 99 mph, and his changeup has been known to come in just a few miles per hour slower than that.
There are, however, still two things that Cabrera must prove: that he can go at least one start without walking multiple guys and, above all, that he can stay healthy. He exited his most recent start on Sunday against the Washington Nationals with an ankle strain. Suffice it to say that his relationship with the injury bug is of the long-running variety.
Hunter Greene, Cincinnati Reds
Preseason Rank: No. 13
Stats: 22 G, 22 GS, 113.2 IP, 98 H (24 HR), 146 K, 44 BB, 4.91 ERA, 1.5 rWAR
They said Greene threw hard, and he has certainly proven them right this season. He’s hit 100 mph on the radar gun 300 times, easily the most ever recorded for a starting pitcher since the pitch tracking era began in 2008.
It’s paradoxical, then, that Greene’s fastball rates as one of the least effective in MLB. That just goes to show that even all the velocity in the world can’t really make up for a flat shape and a location pattern that can be fairly described as “down the middle.”
Honorable Mentions: Graham Ashcraft (CIN), Roansy Contreras (PIT)
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Reid Detmers, Los Angeles Angels
Preseason Rank: No. 59
Stats: 24 G, 24 GS, 123.0 IP, 106 H (13 HR), 113 K, 45 BB, 3.88 ERA, 2.1 rWAR
Even though the first portion of his season included a no-hitter on May 10, it’s more recently that Detmers has been at his best. Since his return from a brief demotion to the minors in June, he’s pitched to a 3.18 ERA over 12 starts.
Detmers’ slider has been the difference, as he’s thrown it more often and used it to limit hitters to a .317 slugging percentage since July 8. It’s such a hard pitch to get on top of that it practically functions like a sinker, getting ground balls more than half the time it’s put in play.
Nick Lodolo, Cincinnati Reds
Preseason Rank: No. 35
Stats: 18 G, 18 GS, 98.1 IP, 88 H (13 HR), 126 K, 34 BB, 3.75 ERA, 2.5 rWAR
You can infer that Lodolo has good stuff just from seeing that he has 126 strikeouts over 98.1 innings, and there’s nothing misleading there. He sits in the mid-90s with both a sinker and a four-seamer, and his sweeping curveball boasts a 46.6 whiff percentage.
Yet, in addition to 34 walks, Lodolo’s iffy control is further highlighted by his league-leading 18 hit-by-pitches. Most of those have come on curves down and in to right-handed batters. There’s no faulting the tactic there, but the execution clearly needs work.
MacKenzie Gore, Washington Nationals
Preseason Rank: Unranked
Stats: 16 G, 13 GS, 70.0 IP, 66 H (7 HR), 72 K, 37 BB, 4.50 ERA, 0.2 rWAR
Though Gore was originally unranked for us at the start of the year, he had previously been considered the best pitching prospect in baseball. He even looked the part when he first came up, ripping off a 1.50 ERA in his first nine appearances for the San Diego Padres.
Yet even before he landed in Washington by way of the Juan Soto blockbuster, Gore hit a wall with an 11.05 ERA as his velocity flatlined between June 11 and July 25. He hasn’t been seen since then because of elbow soreness, so it’ll be proving time all over again when he returns in 2023.
Honorable Mentions: Braxton Garrett (MIA), JP Sears (OAK)
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Jhoan Duran, Minnesota Twins
Preseason Rank: Unranked
Stats: 56 G, 17 GF, 66.2 IP, 50 H (6 HR), 87 K, 16 BB, 1.89 ERA, 2.8 rWAR
We won’t attempt to pass Duran off as some kind of hidden velocity gem, but it does feel like he deserves more attention than he’s gotten. He’s topped 100 mph a league-high 384 times, with an overall 100.9 mph average that’s the new gold standard for the pitch tracking era.
As opposing hitters nonetheless boast a .255 average against it, Duran’s heater has been more hittable than it probably should be. Yet he fortunately doesn’t need it to be his out pitch. His curveball has handled that duty just fine, courtesy of a 50.0 whiff rate and a .122 average. That makes it a low-key entry in the conversation of the best curves in MLB today.
Félix Bautista, Baltimore Orioles
Preseason Rank: Unranked
Stats: 64 G, 30 GF, 64.2 IP, 38 H (7 HR), 86 K, 22 BB, 2.23 ERA, 2.5 rWAR
Bautista finally got blown up his last time out, allowing four runs on four hits and two walks in an inning and a third against the Houston Astros on Saturday. There’s nonetheless still no question that he will be closing games for the Orioles for a long time.
There’s nothing wrong with Bautista’s fastball, which he can get as high as 103 mph. Yet his signature pitch might also be the best pitch in all of baseball right now. That’s a splitter that’s holding hitters to an .089 average and an even lower .084 expected average.
Alexis Díaz, Cincinnati Reds
Preseason Rank: Unranked
Stats: 56 G, 17 GF, 59.2 IP, 27 H (5 HR), 79 K, 30 BB, 1.81 ERA, 3.0 rWAR
Díaz’s older brother, Edwin, obviously has a lot on him in terms of fame and near-future earning potential. Not so much productivity-wise in 2022, though, as the two brothers each have the exact same rWAR.
The older Díaz still has bragging rights when it comes to sliders, and the two are further separated by the quality of their control. And even though the younger Díaz can’t dial his fastball quite as high as the older Díaz, it’s actually been the more effective of the two heaters.
Honorable Mentions: Brock Burke (TEX), Dylan Coleman (KCR), Penn Murfee (SEA)