2022 MLB Draft Stock Watch: A Depleted College Pitching Class
Welcome to Baseball America’s 2022 Draft Stock Watch. This is a recurring feature we’ll bring throughout the draft season to explore rising and falling prospects and dig into different themes and topics with the class at greater length.
Where are all the arms?
As the college baseball season approaches, that’s likely a question most scouting departments are asking. While the hitting chops of the class in both the college and high school groups seems strong, and the high school pitching has plenty of depth, a confluence of factors has led the industry to view this as a down group for the 2022 collegiate arms.
This was true prior to the news that Baseball America’s top two college pitchers—Arkansas righthander Peyton Pallette and Tennessee righthander Blade Tidwell—have injuries that will limit or end their spring seasons before they started. It’s especially the case now.
Try and find a first round college pitcher who is both healthy and has any reasonable track record of performing as a starter. It’s a tough ask. Let’s go through our current draft board and see for ourselves how many we can find.
First up, Tidwell, who is the de facto top pitcher in the class at the moment at No. 12, though his draft stock will depend heavily on his shoulder health. Hurt.
Next is Mississippi State righthander Landon Sims at No. 19. Total collegiate starts? Zero.
After that is East Carolina lefthander Carson Whisenhunt at No. 21, who is both healthy and started 13 games and threw 62 innings last spring to a 3.77 ERA. There’s one.
Behind Whisenhunt is another lefthander and one who would be a reasonable 1-1 candidate with good health in Alabama southpaw Connor Prielipp, ranked No. 23. He’s returning from Tommy John surgery, and while it sounds like he’s been throwing quite well in bullpen sessions, he doesn’t quite count as healthy.
Next on the board is righthander Kumar Rocker at No. 25, who the Mets didn’t sign as the No. 10 pick in the 2021 draft due to questions about his medical. He is healthy in the sense that he took the ball the entire 2021 season and pitched quite well, but certainly scouting departments will view him with immense polarization this year.
Florida lefthander Hunter Barco checks in behind Rocker at No. 28 and he is both healthy and has the longest track record of starting so far in this group—in the SEC no less. Barco has 20 starts under his belt with Florida and 102.1 total innings, with a 3.52 overall ERA. So we have a second pitcher who qualifies, but we are already towards the back of the first round and teams will likely be split on whether or not Barco is, at this moment, a clear and obvious first round talent.
Palette fell from the middle of the first round to No. 29 overall after the news that he would need to have Tommy John surgery and the only other college pitcher currently ranked among the top 50 is Connecticut lefthander Reggie Crawford at No. 35, who is unlikely to pitch in the 2022 season after also having Tommy John surgery.
If there’s one big question mark looming over the 2022 draft class, it’s what to make of the college pitching class.
Hitting in both the college and prep groups and the high school pitching class will give scouting departments plenty to sort through, but a number of factors have led to the industry being quite skeptical of the college pitching class at best, and downright disappointed at worst.
So, where does that leave us?
There are seven college pitchers ranked among the top 50 prospects in the class (and eight if you want to include Rocker, who will not be pitching with Vanderbilt this spring), with just three who appear in good health. Among those three, only two have a starting resume at the college level.
Injuries are one very obvious issue for this class, but another is the lingering effects of the Covid-shortened 2020 draft season. As we get further and further away from that year, Covid will be cited less and less frequently for its impact on players, but every pitcher in this group with the exception of Rocker and Barco has fewer than 100 college innings under his belt.
Rocker was obviously draft-eligible a year ago, and Barco just barely eclipses that mark at 102.1 innings with the Gators.
To get a better sense of how the Covid season has reduced the 2022 group’s innings and starts, we pulled data on college pitchers for each of the previous five draft classes. Specifically, we used preseason top 100 draft ranking lists and checked to see where every ranked player stacked up entering the specific draft year.
What should jump out immediately are the significantly lower innings totals that the 2021 and 2022 draft classes have to show for themselves entering the draft year. The two classes essentially have half the innings, on average, you would expect for top 100 pitching prospects with a normal college developmental period.
In fact, the 2022 group checks in dead last here for every category outside of total college pitchers ranked among the preseason top 100. Both the 2017 class and the 2019 class have fewer than the 25 ranked college arms that the 2022 group boasts.
A particular indictment of the 2022 group is the fact that it also has the lowest-ranked top pitching prospect in the class—lower even than a 2019 group that was panned for being one of the worst college pitching classes of all time (a criticism that in hindsight seems harsh given how lefthander Nick Lodolo and righthanders George Kirby and Alek Manoah appear to be panning out).
Ordinal rankings in the draft are a zero sum game, so it doesn’t help that it’s a very strong year for college hitters at the top. That will naturally push other demographics down and one class’ No. 10 prospect is not equal to another’s, but it does seem clear that the 2022 college pitching class is lacking as we enter the 2022 season.
It seems like a real possibility that the 2022 class could be the first since 1990 that didn’t feature a college pitcher among the first 10 picks. Even in 2019, Lodolo snuck inside the top 10 at No. 7 overall.
Much of this is out of the players' hands. Injuries cannot be prevented and the Covid pandemic couldn’t be avoided.
That does create plenty of opportunity for every healthy, draft-eligible college pitcher in the class, though. Teams won’t stop coveting proven college arms who will take less time to develop and make an impact with a big league club. The door is wide open for someone to come out this spring and claim the title of best college arm in the class and many pitchers have a chance to push themselves into the first- or second-round range on draft boards.
Given the uncertainty of the group and limited track record, generally, we should expect plenty of movement both up and down boards this spring as players go out and toe the rubber. The class could look significantly different on draft day than it does as we sit here in February.
What we do know is that right now there’s reason to be skeptical of an unproven, injury-riddled class of college pitchers.