Five MLB Debuts to Watch for in 2022
Look for these players this season.
A new baseball season means new faces.
While the whole world is waiting for full seasons from Adley Rutschman, Spencer Torkelson, Oneil Cruz, and Shane Baz, here are some other names to watch. None of the players have made their MLB debut yet, but will try to in 2022. These players have been impressive in their pro careers so far and will look to continue that success (hopefully) in The Show.
Esteban Quiroz, Cubs (2B)
Quiroz was traded to the Cubs a few weeks ago in exchange for Harold Rámirez, which was a surprise to me because although TB clearly wanted Rámirez for whatever reason, I thought Quiroz would work well in their system. He hit .276/.414/.560/.974 in 72 mainly AAA games last year, with 14 homers.
He has a history of hitting well in the Mexican League as well, where he’s played parts of 11 seasons with a career .837 OPS there. He can play all around the defense, but has spent the majority of his career at second base.
We will have to see how he fits in the Cubs organization, as he has not been added to their 40 man roster. No one currently starting in their infield is particularly exciting (even Nick Madrigal) and I think he could provide some versatility and some pop off the bench if needed. He just turned 30, so he’s not getting any younger. It seems now or never and as the Cubs work out whatever they are working out, I think he should get a chance. He originally made this list when he was a part of the Rays organization because Tampa loves AAAA guys who play everywhere, but maybe the Cubs should do it too. It seems to work.
Zack Gelof, Athletics (3B)
I understand that it is a hot take to even say that Gelof will find his way to the bigs this year. He’s not on the 40 man roster, he was drafted just last year, and he only has 13 plate appearances above low-A.
However, Oakland is just a complete mess right now. If Gelof hits well in the first half, he could see some August and September ABs. They’ll obviously be long out of it by then anyway.
And he’s by no means inexperienced. Sure, he hasn’t seen big league pitching, but he raked in college. In his three seasons at UVa, he played in 137 total games, hit 16 home runs, collected 91 RBIs, 32 SBs, and saw improvement from his first year to his third.
Unlikely that he plays this year? Probably. But Oakland won’t have any other players before long. He’s got great potential and whenever he debuts, watch out for him.
Nick Lodolo, Reds (SP)
The Reds are in a similar situation. They’re throwing in the Big Red towel on 2022, and so you’ll see some new faces on their squad as well.
Nick Lodolo is, and will be, fighting for a rotation spot. He started in thirteen games between AA and AAA last year with a 2.31 ERA. He only pitched in 50 innings though, which is less than 4 innings per start. That was due to a shoulder issue.
I’d be surprised if that factored into his chances to make the big league roster, however. Starters seem to pitch less and less now.
He would need to be added to the 40 man roster, but the Reds seem to be looking for a fifth starter and lefties are always valuable. He’s pitched well in his few spring training outings and probably has the biggest chance to make a legit impact on their team this year. If he starts every fifth game against a weak division like the NL Central, he could put up some numbers that make people take notice. He’s got three good pitches and the best place for him to learn how to do that might be Great American Ballpark — where he would have to learn fast.
Nick Pratto, Royals (1B)
All Kansas City eyes are on SS/3B Bobby Witt Jr. and for good reason — he’s a stud. But he’s been sent down to AAA in a clear service time manipulation act. The new CBA was supposed to do something about that by awarding a full year of service time to rookies who win the Rookie of the Year, but teams like the Royals and Pirates (Oneil Cruz) are responding by sending them down and probably calling them up much later — so that their limited stats aren’t impressive enough for the accolade.
So instead, you should be watching Nick Pratto. Fangraphs has him listed as the number two on the 1B depth chart behind Carlos Santana, who has never played in less than 140 games in his entire career, aside from his rookie season. His numbers have declined significantly, however, and he hasn’t looked like him since 2019. He turns 36 the day after Opening Day, so it might make sense to platoon him with the 23-year-old Pratto. Santana also hit a lousy .184 against righties last year, so a platoon with the left-handed Pratto would keep him earning his 10.5 mil while giving the rookie some playing time.
Pratto has some great upside with both offensive and defensive tools. He ravaged his way through both AA and AAA last year, posting a total .265/.385/.602/.988 with 36 HRs to go with his 98 RBIs between the two levels. With 270 AA plate appearances against his 275 AAA PAs, it’s easy to compare the two numbers. He did even better in the higher league, which shows he’s up for a challenge and very competitive. Those are two skills this lowly Royals squad will need this year.
Juan Yepez, Cardinals (1B)
Speaking of platooning first basemen (talk about a transition!), the Cards’ Juan Yepez finds himself in an interesting situation now that Albert Pujols has returned to St. Louis.
Paul Goldschmidt (who has been an issue approximately zero times for St. Louis) already has first base on lock. Pujols’ reunion tour will mainly see him hitting against LHP and DHing. Both of those guys are righties, so the righty Yepez seems blocked.
He plays a little bit of third base and corner outfield as well, but FanGraphs has him listed on the depth chart as the third option for 1B, fourth option for 3B (righty Nolan Arenado has that covered a majority of the time), and fifth to play LF.
That’s not a great situation to be in.
But Yepez needs to see some ABs. He caught fire in 2021 with his best minors season by far, going .286/.383/.586/.969 with 27 trips around the bases and 77 runs batted in. If he wants to keep up that rhythm, he needs regular playing time. That’ll probably be in AAA, but he’s one injury or one roster move away from the majors. He might not have the most explosive first (half) season thanks to the crowded corner spots, but he’s one to watch whenever we do see him.
Bonus: Roansy Contreras, Pirates (SP)
Contreras technically already made his debut, but only pitched in one game for the Pirates, going 3.0 IP with 3 hits, 1 walk, and 4 Ks. No ER makes for a solid first outing. But since he’s only thrown 46 big-league pitches, he’ll be the bonus pick on this list since he’s not technically eligible.
He faced some minor injury issues last year, but was dealing any other time, with only two iffy outings all year. He’s only pitched in one AAA game, so he’ll see some time there this year as well — but the Pirates will need any help they can get. His fastball sits around 96 MPH and he’s got a few breaking balls many believe to be well above average.
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Stats, as always, are from Baseball Reference, FanGraphs, and MLB.com