The Night Before Baseball Christmas

On the eve of Opening Day, I’m trying to recall the last time so many high-profile rookies were scheduled to break camp with the big club. Might’ve been . . . never? Prospect coverage has come a long way these past few decades. Used to be cool to bash rookies and the prospect lovers who drafted them. Now you’re just leaving money on the table if you ignore the possibility that Julio Rodriguez opens the season in center field for Seattle.

Focusing on Rodriguez in particular, I moved earlier than the Average Draft Position at the time to select him in the 18th round of The Great Fantasy Baseball Invitational. Pick 265. He went inside the top 75 this week. Incredibly weird to me that three weeks of stats is worth 200 draft spots in the echo chamber, but that’s the illusion of certainty for you. Objective permanence. I guess there was an outside chance Julio stayed in the minors until July, but not really. Not without a catastrophe of some kind.

I’m already eager to see how next year’s crop of potential rookies is treated during draft season. Will we overweight the 2022 outcome, which happened partly due to a backlog built from the paradigm of punting combined with a CBA in flux and a lost 2020 season? Or is this simply the new reality? If a player is ready to help generate major league wins for a contending team, he will open the season on the roster. Sounds crazy, I know.

So let’s run through the list, consider the fates of each player, and celebrate what we all hope will be a new chapter in baseball history, where service time suppression starts to creep away from center stage.

PS: You can click these names for more extensive profiles of the players.

Philadephia SS Bryson Stott might not start everyday. At least not right away thanks to Alec Bohm and Didi Gregorius, but I don’t think he’ll be sharing time for long. If he hits, he’ll be out there every day somewhere. I wasn’t drafting Gregorius or Bohm anywhere anyway, but Stott’s arrival is a pretty big arrow down for them.

Cincinnati RHP Hunter Greene is unlikely to post great ratios, but he’ll rack up the K’s and generate some wins on a solid team in a mediocre division.

Cincinnati LHP Nick Lodolo features plus command that has him further along than Greene as a pitcher at the moment. He’s gonna have some fantasy-monster outings this year and should wind up among the first faab run’s best values.

Pittsburgh SS Diego Castillo made my top 100 list at 83rd overall last September, and he looks even better now, spitting on tough pitches and raking high fastballs to the right field. He’ll have ups and downs like any youngster but has plenty of runway to develop his craft this season.

I don’t have San Francisco C Joey Bart rostered anywhere. I got blasted two years ago for ranking him pretty low, but he returned zero value in those two years and figured to do so again in 2022 until Buster Posey retired. He’s smelling his chance and smashing the ball this spring, and that coaching staff can perform wonders, so I suspect it’s a good time to buy Bart, who’s price still wears some of the rust formed these past couple seasons.

Like a lot of catchers, Washington C Keibert Ruiz is hitting well in spring before the wear and tear of the season takes its toll. Looks like a top five-ish redraft option to me at the moment.

Cleveland OF Steven Kwan is going to hit about .300 with some power and speed, as I shared before he made the roster in my Brash Predictions 2022: Prospects Edition.

Detroit 1B Spencer Torkelson might go through some struggles in the heart of a good lineup, but being surrounded by solid veterans should relieve some pressure. Pretty comfortable penciling in a .255+ batting average with 25+ home runs.

Kansas City SS Bobby Witt Jr. is the most physically gifted rookie we’ve seen since Mike Trout.

I’m pretty down on Anaheim LHP Reid Detmers, comparatively speaking. I won’t be surprised if he’s good against bad teams, but I’ll be very surprised if he can handle the good ones. That’s not much of a knock on a young pitcher, although the young arms with big stuff just have a different path than Detmers, who has to be fine with his below average fastball, which has decent velocity but predictable shape.

Houston SS Jeremy Peña has been an Itch favorite for a long, long time. Happy to see him get his chance. A 20/15 season is within reason.

Another longtime Razzball favorite, Minnesota SP Joe Ryan gets the Opening Day nod for the Twinkies, and I’m once again impressed they were able to acquire him for a couple months of Nelson Cruz, and yet Nelson Cruz was relatively cheap and easy to sign again this off-season for anyone who wanted him.

Oakland OF Cristian Pache has typically been the opposite of an Itch-favorite. I traded him the day I inherited him in a 20-team dynasty a few years back, so worried was I the bottom would fall out any moment. I’m more optimism about him in Oakland, where they can keep running him out there for the 800 plate appearances or so it might take for him to find his feet.

Oakland 3B Kevin Smith is going to produce this season. Been a value in every draft or auction I’ve seen even after the trade to Oakland opened up what should be an everyday role.

Seattle OF Julio Rodriguez is the best young hitter we’ve seen since Juan Soto. Get your offers in now. Might feel like a buy high, but this is likely your last chance, if his team is even open to listening in your league.

Fittingly enough, Seattle RHP Matt Brash seems like a polarizing prospect. People either love him or think he’ll be a reliever by July, but we know the stuff works. Truly elite fastball/slider combination. If he can command those, he’ll remain in the rotation. If he can spot his change and curve sometimes when he needs them, he’ll thrive.

Gotta mix in some news here as Tampa continues to do Tampa things. Can’t often see it coming. Whenever the Rays clear money, I wonder if that’s just a domino leading to another domino. Obviously, OF Jose Lowe getting called up is big news for his fantasy outlook. I’m worried Michael Conforto might be a part of this picture, but now let’s celebrate the possibilities of having Josh Lowe in our lineups for about 500 plate appearances.

I don’t know what to think about 3B Isaac Paredes as a Ray except to think he should’ve always been one. He’s exactly the kind of awkward, Yandy-ish piece they’ve maximized over the years. In fact, I’m half-expecting Yandy Diaz and his 2.8 million dollar contract to be moved to clear the spot for Paredes.

2B Vidal Brujan remains in a holding pattern. With Meadows and his four million dollar contract off the roster, Kevin Kiermaier could be settled in center. The team reportedly shopped him throughout the off-season, so maybe this deal is an admission Kiermaier couldn’t be sold. Paredes and a draft pick feels like a light return for three seasons of Meadows, but stuff gets weird around Opening Day, and Meadows has been on a roller coaster since his monster season in 2019, but who hasn’t?

Atlanta RHP Spencer Strider never made a top 100 for me, but he wasn’t far off. He lit up the radar gun all spring, and while he won’t be part of the opening day rotation, I think he’ll go multiple innings a few times before the rosters get trimmed from 28 down to 26. If he pitches well, he’ll stay around.

Special Considerations:

As I build this article (deadline of noon central on Wednesday April 6), San Diego SS CJ Abrams doesn’t know where he’ll be living tomorrow.

Miami RHP Max Meyer earned a spot in the rotation in my opinion, but he got optioned out of a full rotation and pitched 4.2 innings last night for the AAA club, lining him up perfectly to take Elieser Hernandez’s place if the combacker that hit him in yesterday’s game caused any IL-type damage.

White Sox RHP Michael Kopech is not a rookie, but it’s exciting that he’s getting another chance to start in the major leagues after spending most of 2021 in the bullpen and 2018-2020 rehabbing, being a reality TV personality, marrying a reality TV personality, and divorcing a reality TV personality nine months later. Been a wild stretch of life for all of us these past few years.

Thanks for reading!

And Happy Opening Day!

I’m @theprospectitch on Twitter.

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