BETTING THE A.L. ROOKIE OF THE YEAR – THE TOP FIVE CANDIDATES
With baseball season set to begin in the month of never, this list may all be a complete waste of time. By the team MLB owners figure out a way to squeeze every penny out of whatever few fans it will have left, you may not even be able to place a bet on this year’s AL ROY because no one will even care anymore. More’s the pity because there is a laundry list of exciting young players who are all on the cusp of breaking into the major leagues whenever this season does happen. These dudes are not just placeholders, either – everyone on this list is a bankable future All-Star and mainstay of their team’s rebuilding effort. (I know, Tampa Bay isn’t rebuilding in the same sense as losing teams are, but they are always rebuilding). The A.L. ROY battle figures to be the more intense of the two – there are three or four other potential impact guys for 2022 who didn’t even make this list, including #3 overall MLB prospect Julio Rodriguez, an outfielder for the Mariners who just reached AA last year and will likely play at least part of this season in the minor leagues.
BOBBY WITT JR., SS, Kansas City
His dad was the third overall pick of the 1985 Draft who won 142 games in his pitching career and it already feels like his son has surpassed him even though he hasn’t played an MLB game yet. He is a consensus top-two prospect in the game right now and did serious damage last season at AA and AAA, combining for a .290/.361/.575 slash line to go along with 29 stolen bases while playing the premium defensive position. His power has come along since his first minor league season (when he hit just 1 home run), creating some swing-and-miss issues, but those are small potatoes. The Royals will be better every day he spends with the big club and there’s really no one blocking his path.
SHANE BAZ, SP, Tampa Bay
He was dominating AA with a 2.48 ERA and .735 WHIP over 32 innings early last season, so the Rays moved him up to AAA Durham and all he did there was go 3-0 with a 1.76 ERA and .848 WHIP with 64 K’s in 46 innings. Late in the season he made his MLB debut in a pennant race with a 2.03 ERA with 18 K’s and just 3 walks over 13.1 innings before struggling in his only playoff start. The fact that Tampa felt comfortable starting a 22 year-old rookie with 3 career MLB starts under his belt in Game Two of the ALDS tells you all you need to know. His stuff is elite and his location is precise, making him very difficult to make hard contact against. He’ll be a rotation mainstay from the start this year.
RILEY GREENE, OF, Detroit
Baseball America’s #4 overall prospect right now, Greene hit a robust .301/.387/.524 between the two highest minor league levels last year and stole 16 bases while being caught just once.- all despite still being just 20 years old. He already possesses the speed, glove and instincts to be an above average MLB defensive center fielder right now – which is key in spacious Comerica (National) Park. Despite strong walk rates, he did also strike out 153 times last season so he’ll have to show the Tigers brass that he can slow those numbers down if he’s going to win the starting job right away, but none of the Tigers’ returning CF candidates are particularly daunting obstacles for a player of his pedigree.
ADLEY RUTSCHMAN, C, Baltimore
The first overall pick of the 2019 MLB Draft out of Oregon State University, it hasn’t taken him long for him to also become the #1 prospect on Baseball America’s 2022 preseason list. His bat is special, especially for his position – it took him just one full minor league season to reach Triple A and he hit .285/.397/.502 between AA and AAA last season, working deep counts and making consistently hard contact. Being a rookie MLB catcher can be a daunting prospect – the game can move pretty fast for them at the highest level and he has some improvements to make defensively, so it’s possible the Orioles don’t start him in the majors this year. He might be more of a keeper league fantasy gem than anything this year, but make no mistake – this is a longtime All-Star career getting underway.
SPENCER TORKELSON, 1B/3B, Detroit
The Tigers had three rookie starting pitchers initiate themselves as bona fide members of their MLB rotation last year and in 2022 they’ll have more than one rookie hitter play enough to get votes for ROY if all goes according to plan. The first overall pick of the 2020 Draft, Torkelson rampaged through the minors last year, hitting a combined .267/.383/.531 between three levels last season, which ended with him hitting 11 home runs in 40 games at AAA Toledo while playing first base exclusively. Last season Jonathan Schoop played the most games for Detroit at first base and he could easily return to second base if Torkelson has a strong preseason. He’s a big part of the Tigers’ future plans and integrating both him and Greene this year could make for a very exciting season in Motown.