Fantasy baseball 2022: The best hitters to consider in your draft
In a perfect world, we’d see top MLB prospects immediately live up to the hype and prove they belong in the show.
But this is not the reality. And, news flash, baseball is tough. Going from minors to majors is indeed a leap, and some are just not quite ready for it when they arrive. But be patient – sometimes it just takes a while for a player to realize their potential. In this article, we’ll identify three sophomore hitters who could break out in 2022.
Kelenic really is the perfect player for this kind of list. Ranked No. 4 on prospect lists heading into the 2021 season, Kelenic made his M debut on May 13 and fell face down. He put up an anemic 0.096/0.185/0.193 line with a 31.3% strikeout rate over 23 games before being fired in early June. He punished the Triple-A pitcher, so the Mariners recalled him in July. He was still struggling, but there were more bright spots.
Still, entering September, his OPS for the season was 0.507 in 64 games. But it seemed Kelenic had begun to figure it out over the past month. He hit seven homers, posted an .854 OPS, dropped his K-rate to a more attainable 27.6 percent, and went 3-for-3 in stolen bases. There’s a 25 home run, 20 steal player here. We started seeing this late last year. It stands to reason that 22-year-old Kelenic will continue his ascent in 2022.
Stephenson is not a good defensive receiver. But hey, his bat will definitely play, and that’s what matters in fantasy baseball. Also, after Cincy shipped Tucker Barnhart after last season, Stephenson is ready for a day-to-day role. He could also play first base or DH, given the implementation of the universal designated hitter. Stephenson put up a strong .286/.366/.431 line last year with 10 homers in 350 at-bats. That total will certainly increase in 2022 given his playing time and the gift to hitters that is Great American Ball Park. He needs a bit of swing change to help him make hard contact more consistently, but he has the skills to finish as high as No. 4 among fantasy catchers in his second year.
Cruz isn’t really a second-year player because, although he made it to the Majors last year, he still has rookie status. But I’m making an exception here because, first, there honestly isn’t a great crop of sophomore hitters who I think are worthy escape candidates (sophomore pitchers are another story) . And two, who doesn’t expect the best from a 6-foot-7 player who has an absolutely thunderous bat and plays shortstop? Cruz, one of Baseball America’s top 15 incoming prospects this season, hit .310 with 17 homers in just 68 MiLB games last year.
Despite only nine plate appearances with the Pirates in September, Cruz did something special during his time in Pittsburgh: he hit a ball at 118.2 mph, the seventh-hardest contact made by a batter last season. Some of the names in front of him? Stanton, Ohtani, Machado, Judge, Alonso. Cruz has struck four times and will probably feel a bit in the Majors. But the power is absolutely legitimate. He may not start the year with the big club, but Cruz deserves a call-up at some point early in the season. If so, he could easily hit 20 home runs and maybe steal double-digit bases. He’s a perfect late-round selection in your draft. And again, he’s a 6-foot-7 shortstop! It’s going to be fun to watch.