2022 Breakout Prospects: Hitters
Welcome to the batter’s edition of my 2022 prospect picks. After giving my thoughts on seven pitchers yesterday — it’s the pitching roster after all — we move on to the batter’s box. Below are compiled scouting reports on leads that I believe will break out in 2022. The term “breakout” largely comes down to your personal expectations, but for the most part I’ve avoided the 100 leads already among the first 100 (Elly De La Cruz) and no more consensus candidates (sorry, Curtis Mead).
You will also notice my personal FV ratings for each player. Take a look at yesterday’s article for a more detailed explanation of why I chose to include FV, even though it doesn’t fully represent the value in a fantasy setting. As with the launchers, these ratings consider sourced video data and assessment, with links provided where available. Each tool is rated on the FV scale (formatted as present/future value). Keystroke data is harder to come by and notoriously less reliable at lower levels (with a few exceptions), so always take these notes with a grain of salt.
Now that you’ve read the fine print, let’s move on to the players.
Endy Rodriguez, C, Pittsburgh Pirates
Reporting: Rodriguez is an ultra-smart, switch-hitting receiver with strong defensive and contact skills on both sides. Acquired from the Mets as part of the three-team Joe Musgrove trade, he spent the entirety of 2021 at Low-A Bradenton where he pulled down a solid .294/.380/.512 (140 wRC+) in 98 games. His swing is smooth on both sides, with equal bat-to-ball ability but more loft as a southpaw. Defense is his calling card, though, with advanced reception and arm strength packed into a lanky frame that brings a seldom-seen athleticism to the receiver position. This led to the Mets and Pirates trying it in other corners, not because of any defensive shortcomings, but simply because they could. The framing is perhaps the only area that needs work, which his pitch rating takes into account. What is the commissioning note is not it take into account is the defense to another position. The receiver position is temperamental, but I find it hard to believe Rodriguez isn’t catching long term.
An interesting twist is the presence of the overall top pick Henry Davis, who will also catch for now, but is much more limited defensively and can work his way into the lineup regardless. These are good problems to have, and resolve over time. I won’t pretend to know what the Pirates capture situation will look like two years from now, but the skills of Rodriguez and Davis would complement each other nicely in a rotating C/1B/DH tandem. Rodriguez may not have the offensive edge that Davis has, but he’s no slouch with the bat and doesn’t need much to have full-fledged day-to-day utility as a catcher.
Maximo Acosta, SS, Texas Rangers
Reporting: Acosta is a stocky 5’9″ infielder with early barrel control, especially adept at hitting high-end pitches. He was Rangers’ second-highest-grossing IFA signing of 2019, bringing in $1.7 million after Texas committed the majority of their pool to a powerful outfielder. Bayron Lora. He made his Complex debut midway through the 2021 season and suffered a shoulder injury soon after, so these ratings are largely based on projections. He underwent thoracic outlet surgery in August, the effects of which are (in)famous to the small sample of pitchers who underwent the procedure, but largely unknown to an even smaller sample of positional players. Even if his arm strength doesn’t fully return – and there’s no reason to think it won’t – Acosta was more likely to play 2B anyway and that projection hasn’t changed. . He profiles himself similarly to compact, contact-oriented infielders like Luis Urias and Jose Altuveand could follow a similar trajectory with a rapid arrival in the major leagues and further development of power.
Hendry Mendez, OF, Milwaukee Brewers
Reporting: Oh boy, do the Brewers have a type. Mendez has incredible bat-to-ball ability and advanced court recognition for someone his age (18), but he comes with a short swing path that leaves him with almost no usable power, even at physical maturity. . He’s not a type of player I’m generally attracted to, and a click-through choice driven more by personal curiosity than anything else. I’ve been considerably down on the crowd of slash types like Garrett Mitchell, Sal Frelickand Carlos Rodriguez in the past. Does Milwaukee have a tangible process for drawing power from this archetype? Are they gearing up for the sinker/slider revolution? Or just zag while others zigzag. There’s nothing to support the first (yet), and the second remains to be seen. What is evident though is the organizational affinity for this type of hitter and I have a strange, perhaps insane sense of optimism that at least one of them will have a productive career – either by making the required swing change or by outright challenging the status quo. Mendez is by far the youngest of this group, which not only gives him more room for development, but potentially better direction as the team gains understanding with the similar players in front of him.
Emmanuel Rodriguez, OF, Minnesota Twins
Reporting: Minnesota system features highly touted outfielders with consistency and their best IFA signing of 2019 Emmanuel Rodriguez is no exception. Hand-eye coordination is Rodriguez’s calling card, with an efficient swing path that manages to generate loft despite being relatively short. Plus, the noticeable bulk Rodriguez has added since signing, maintaining a toned 5’10” 165lbs, while maintaining his spinning explosiveness. It’s a key differentiator between him and the aforementioned Brewers hitters, as his tightly-knit swing translates to more bullish power projection. This efficiency is even visible in the statistical categories, as it finished tied for second in the FCL in home runs (10) last year, just one behind the league leader (Detroit’s Manuel Sequera) but in 40 AP less. It plans for double pops in the game, but should have no problem activating top-end speed and above-average pulling power isn’t out of the question. Defensively, Rodriguez won’t blow you away, but he’s capable of playing CF and should maintain playability in all three places even if he’s more regularly from a corner. It’s a well-rounded combination of skill and raw tools, wrapped in visually appealing mechanics and a major league setting. He should progress quickly through the Twins system and looks set to be in the top 100 in the near future.
Gabriel Rodriguez, 3B/SS, Cleveland Guardians
Reporting: Rodriguez is a free-swinging infielder who would benefit immensely from improvements in approach. Signed for over $2 million in J2 2019, the Venezuelan has a solid build and impressive batting speed for someone his age. The problem is a swing-happy approach that can prevent him from fully reaching his power in games. For what it’s worth, Rodriguez has completely reworked his lower half since his debut – going from a drifting kick to a much more controlled kick. Even with this stability, his swing is still long and scoopy, which is good for plate coverage but easily exploited by advanced pitching. This was evident by his K% at Low-A in 2021, where he was also among the youngest players at the level (more than two years below average) and playing ball all season for the first time. I’m betting on a breakout as it repeats the level in 2022, but that’s the biggest boom or bust prospect I’ve included here. Rodriguez has the chance to hit for above-average power while playing a passable shortstop, but there’s also significant concern that he’s moving into a corner and the hitting tool is bottoming out. The safe bet is something in between.
James Outman, DE, Los Angeles Dodgers
Reporting: Simply put, Outman checks a lot of boxes. The 2018 seventh-rounder has completely overhauled his swing and is a legitimate power/speed threat at the major league level. His swing is fiercely furrowed, which generates loft but also plenty of puff. It fits the profile of the three real results perfectly, with a MiLB career BB% above 11% and a K% approaching 30%. Few teams use their depth better than the Dodgers, and Outman’s 40-man presence and ability to play all three outfield spots make him a prime candidate to seize the opportunity in 2022. He’s a guy 20/20 potential if given regular playing time and someone I see occupying the strong side of a squad in the very near future.
Brandon Valenzuela, C, San Diego Padres
Reporting: Valenzuela is a well-rounded punch catcher with basic skills but lacks a carry trait. This may not matter, because the offensive bar that receivers have to cross is much lower than other positions. It’s not a knock on Valenzuela’s skill at the plate though – he showed advanced contact ability and plate discipline on both sides as a teenager and is starting to engage his lower half for a more powerful swing. This probably manifests as gap power rather than circuitry, but it’s a perfectly acceptable result given its high contact/OBP floor. Valenzuela is a high-probability receiver with four tools rated average or above. This looms at worst in a backup role and gives him a solid foundation to build on. If the power continues to progress to the higher levels, Valenzuela will suddenly become one of the league’s top catch prospects in no time.
Photos Icon Sportswire Adapted by Doug Carlin (@Bdougals on Twitter)