Image credit: Jackson Chourio (Photo Courtesy Wisconsin Timber Rattlers)
Each season several hitters break out in the minor leagues. Here are 10 players that raised their stock over the course of the 2022 season, with 10 more players coming next week.
Jackson Chourio, OF, Brewers: Entering 2022 Chourio was viewed as an up-and-coming prospect with a great deal of fanfare among the industry. Ranked 10th among Brewers prospects entering the season, Chourio saw an assignment to Low-A Carolina in May where he took the Carolina League, and the baseball world, by storm. The outfielder hit .324/.373.600 over 62 games with the Mudcats before seeing a promotion to High-A Wisconsin in July. Chourio showed well over 31 High-A games, hitting .252/.317/.488, before seeing an end-of-season promotion to Double-A Biloxi for the final six games of the campaign. Chourio showcases the ability to spray balls to all fields with electric bat speed, loose, adjustable hands and a knack for the barrel. A potential superstar in the making, Chourio had one of the most impressive seasons by a teeneager in full-season ball in quite some time.
James Wood, OF, Nationals: Entering the early period of the 2021 draft cycle, the imposing slugger from Maryland was one of the top players in the prep class. Unfortunately, struggles with swing and miss later on in the showcase circuit and during his high school season with IMG Academy (Fla.) depressed his draft stock. He fell to the Padres in the second round where they were more than happy to reward Wood with an over-slot bonus of $2 million. Wood rewarded their faith by impressing on the complex post draft, hitting .372/.465/.535 over 26 games. Assigned to Low-A Lake Elsinore out of camp in 2022, Wood took the California League by storm, hitting .337/.453.601 with 10 home runs, despite two stints on the injured list due to a lingering wrist injury. Wood was traded as a part of the deal that sent Juan Soto to the Padres, and Wood picked up where he left off with his new team, hitting .293/.366/.463 with a pair of home runs over 21 games.
Ezequiel Tovar, SS Rockies: After a strong showing in 2021, followed by a stint in the Arizona Fall League, Tovar entered 2022 with a high amount of helium. Despite the optimism around the talented shortstop, even his biggest fans were taken by surprise when Tovar was assigned to Double-A Hartford out of camp. A plus defender at shortstop, Tovar’s advanced defensive skills weren’t the only tools that translated, as the 20-year-old Tovar hit .318/.386/.545 with 13 home runs over 66 games. Unfortunately, a hip/groin injury cut Tovar’s season short as he missed all of July and August before returning late with Triple-A Albuquerque before seeing a late-season promotion to the big league club over the final week of the season. Blessed with a strong overall skill set, Tovar has the ability to impact the game in a variety of ways, whether it be with his above-average combination of contact and power or his advanced defensive skills and slick play in the field.
Carson Williams, SS, Rays: A two-way talent from the California prep ranks, Williams broke out at the 2020 World Wood Bat Association World Championships in Jupiter, Fla, hitting .400 over the course of tournament play. He continued to impress the following spring, hitting .506 for Torrey Pines (Calif.) High while facing some of the country’s toughest high school competition. He made his professional debut during complex play over the summer of 2021 and was assigned to Low-A Charleston to begin this season. With the RiverDogs, Williams showcased plus in-game power and a more patient on-base-driven approach at the plate this season. His production both from a power perspective and his underlying exit velocity data point to a potential middle-of-the-order power hitter at peak. His exit velocity data would already be above-average at the major league level and is in the top 1% of players 19 years of age or younger. He struggled with contact at times this season but does not swing himself into outs with bad chase swings outside the zone. If Williams can make improvements as a contact hitter in the coming years his foundation of power and on-base ability could blossom. Defensively, he’s a plus shortstop with a 70-grade throwing arm, giving Williams all the supporting skills he’ll need to earn opportunities in the big leagues one day.
Jackson Merrill, SS, Padres: A cold weather prep prospect that popped up in the spring of 2021, Merrill was a relative unknown after not attending many of the top high school showcases during the summer of 2020. He set a record for his high school during his senior season with 13 home runs, and was selected that summer by the Padres with the 27th overall pick in the first round. He debuted on the complex following the draft and displayed advanced strike zone awareness and hitterish qualities. Assigned to Low-A Lake Elsinore this spring, Merrill sustained a wrist injury that cost him a majority of his season. He returned to Lake Elsinore for the final 32 games of the campaign, hitting .298/.361/.468 upon returning. Merrill was then assigned to the Peoria Javelinas of the Arizona Fall League following the season, and is hitting .356/.404/.533 over 11 games as one of the youngest hitters in the AFL. As Merrill adds strength his impact should continue to blossom, leading many to believe Merrill could develop into one of the game’s elite hitters.
Endy Rodriguez, C, Pirates: Acquired from the Mets as a part of the three-team trade that sent Joe Musgrove to the Padres, Rodriguez has blossomed into one of the best offensive catchers in the minor leagues with positional versatility and a chance to stick at the position. After hitting an impressive .294/.380/.512 over 98 games with Low-A Bradenton in 2021, Rodriguez improved upon those numbers this past season. He hit .323/.407/.590 with 25 home runs spanning three levels of the minors, and Rodriguez reached Triple-A for the final week of the season. While his exit velocity data doesn’t jump off the page, the switch-hitting Rodriguez shows an advanced understanding of the strike zone with above-average contact skills. His combination of approach, contact and optimal launch angles allow Rodriguez to get the most out of his power.
Edwin Arroyo, SS, Reds: Drafted by the Mariners in the second round of the 2021 draft out of Puerto Rico, Arroyo debuted in the Arizona Complex League last summer, where he showed a variety of skills but with mixed results. Assigned to Low-A Modesto of the California League this spring, Arroyo hit the ground running, hitting .316/.385/.514 with 13 home runs and 21 stolen bases over 87 games. Arroyo was traded to the Reds as a part of the player package the Mariners sent to acquire Luis Castillo. He struggled over 27 games with Low-A Daytona, hitting just .227/.303/.381 across 109 plate appearances. With a well-rounded skill set on both sides of the ball, the switch-hitting Arroyo is still refining his righthanded swing with above-average game power and the ability to avoid strikeouts. In the field he’s a strong defender with a plus arm and has a high likelihood of sticking at shortstop long term.
Adael Amador, SS, Rockies: Amador signed for $1.5 million on the international market in 2019 out of the Dominican Republic. He made his professional debut in the Arizona Complex League last summer, hitting .299/.394/.445 over 47 games, displaying some of the league’s best strike zone discipline in the process. Assigned to Low-A Fresno out of camp in 2022, Amador led a group of talented young Rockies prospects on the Grizzlies roster, hitting .292/.415/.445 with 15 home runs and 26 stolen bases. Amador’s ability to avoid chasing out of the zone, combined with plus-plus bat-to-ball skills, allows him to control the strike zone and the pace of at-bats. A diminutive switch-hitter, Amador’s still growing into his power, but will show above-average exit velocities on his best struck balls in play. Amador has the look of a future top-of-the-order table setter that settles in defensively at second base long term.
Ceddanne Rafaela, OF, Red Sox: Entering 2022 Rafaela was viewed as a versatile utility player coming off of two solid but unspectacular seasons at the plate. After adding strength to his frame over the 2020 shutdown, Rafaela saw an increase in his exit velocities and in-game power during the 2021 season. While Rafaela’s .424 slugging percentage was a career best, he was still hitting the ball into the ground at a high rate (44%). Rafaela made adjustments to his swing to add more loft in 2022 and it materialized in a standout campaign. He hit .299/.342/.538 with 21 home runs and 28 stolen bases across High-A and Double-A. Rafaela’s combination of plus bat-to-ball skills, bat speed and optimal launch angles allowed him to find success despite his extremely aggressive approach. In the field, Rafaela is a plus defender at multiple positions up the middle, but developed into one of the premier outfield defenders in the minor leagues in 2022.
Emmanuel Rodriguez, OF, Twins: Signed for $2.5 million by the Twins out of the Dominican Republic in 2019, Rodriguez debuted in the Florida Complex League over the summer of 2021, hitting .214/.346/.524 with 10 home runs in 37 games. Rodriguez finished tied for second in the FCL in home runs, but his 36.6% strikeout rate was a major eyesore. Entering 2022, Rodriguez refined his approach, rarely (if ever) chasing pitches outside of the strike zone. Rodriguez rode an elite 12% chase rate to a loud first half of the season before going down with a season-ending knee injury that required surgery in mid-June. Prior to his injury, Rodriguez rode his discerning eye to a truly remarkable year-over-year turnaround, as he hit .272/.492/.551 with nine home runs and a 28% decrease in his strikeout rate. Not only did Rodriguez lower his strikeout rate with the approach improvements, he saw his walk rate nearly double while making harder contact at a higher rate. Beyond Rodriguez’s on-base ability and power, he possesses supporting skills with a chance to stick in center field and average or better running ability. Injury aside, Rodriguez showed a more optimized version of himself in the first half as a 19-year-old in full-season ball.