MLB Scouts Identify 20 Players Turning Heads At 2022 Spring Training
Spring training is an annual time of hope and renewal. Every team opens camp with its best-case scenario still a possibility. Every player comes in believing they’re in for a big season.
Oftentimes, those rosy outcomes never come to fruition. Other times, however, the improvements players show in spring training carry over to the regular season and result in breakout campaigns.
Scouts predicted breakout years for Shohei Ohtani, Vladimir Guerrero Jr., Tyler O’Neill, Logan Webb, Jonathan India, Alek Manoah and Akil Baddoo based on what those players showed in spring training last year, and all responded with banner seasons. The same went for prospects like Bobby Witt Jr., Nick Pratto and Ryan Pepiot in the minor leagues. Previous breakout picks included Zac Gallen, Tony Gonsolin and Tyler Matzek before the 2020 season and David Fletcher, Sandy Alcantara and Brandon Lowe before the 2019 season, all based off what scouts were seeing in spring training.
With the lockout delaying the start of spring training nearly three weeks, scouts across Arizona and Florida spent most of this spring on the back fields watching minor leaguers in the absence of big league games. While major league spring training is now underway, scouts have had fewer looks than normal at big leaguers this spring because of the delay, and as such, many are reserving their breakout predictions for the minor leaguers they’ve been able to watch for longer stretches.
Here are 20 players, both major and minor leaguers, scouts predict will have big seasons in 2022 based on what they’ve seen in spring training.
All scouts are employed by MLB clubs and were granted anonymity to speak freely. Responses have been lightly edited for length and clarity.
Players are listed in alphabetical order.
Jorge Alfaro, C, Padres
(Note: This review occurred prior to the Padres acquisition of Matt Beaty.)
“He’s hitting the (expletive) out of the ball every time I see him. I liked him a lot. They say they’re not going to use him in the outfield, he’s going to be their third catcher, but I think they should use him in left field. Jurickson Profar is in left and he’s looked bad to be honest. I caught Alfaro three games and he hit probably five balls over 105, 110 mph. The bat is going to play for them, especially since they have no real help in left field. I never really liked him before this but seeing him now, this guy is a lot better than I imagined. I think he should earn some playing time for them.”
Taj Bradley, RHP, Rays
“He looks really good. High-90s fastball with two plus secondary pitches. Great athlete, great body, still projectable. He’s middle-of-the-rotation-type future. He’s really started to come into his own. He showed quality feel to pitch, decent control with some command. Definitely seems like arrow is pointing upward pretty steeply. It’s good stuff and it’s pretty projectable. He makes you sit there and think, ‘Wow if everything is starting to come together this quickly, where are we going to be this time next year?’ ”
Aaron Brooks, RHP, Cardinals
“I had seen him since he was with the Royals and I was never a big fan. Up-and-down is the best I ever did with him. He shows up again this spring after they signed him from Korea and it was like 'Ooo, wait a minute, this is pretty good.' Velocity was up, he was pitching at 95, had four pitches. It was the best stuff, delivery and production that I’d ever seen from him. He’s not going to get Cy Young votes but that’s a guy that I think can really contribute in a rotation.”
Yoelqui Cespedes, OF, White Sox
“When I was down here for the Fall League he stood on the field because of his name and how totally bad he was. It was like ‘Wow, this is terrible. This is a waste of a couple million dollars.’ And then this spring, it’s been a total turnaround. He’s been way more under control at the plate. The chase is definitely still there, there’s always going to be aggressiveness, but he’s been way more under control. And then on defense, he couldn’t even play left field in the Fall League. Now he’s been an absolute ballhawk in center and he made probably the most impressive throw I’ve ever seen live the other night. So yeah, for me his stock is definitely pointing in the right direction. I’m going to be tempered with my prediction on him, but if you told me he got up in the second half for them and was making a contribution, that wouldn’t be a surprise.”
Daniel Espino, RHP, Guardians
“He had like, the best stuff I’ve ever seen. He was 99-100 with like a (Jacob) deGrom slider at 90-92 and a plus curveball. It was just unbelievable. He actually looks taller to me. I saw him last year and in our computer system he’s listed at 6 feet, but he looks at least 6-2, 225, and he’s strong like an ox. It’s some special stuff. I think he’s got a chance to be the No. 1 pitching prospect in baseball before too long. I don’t know if I’ve seen anybody with more to offer than he does. It was nothing but strikes the times I’ve seen him."
Deivi Garcia, RHP, Yankees
“He’s been really good. They’re going to have to start him at some point. The curveball is back. They tried to make him a slurvy curveball guy, but he’s all of 5-foot-7 and not very big. I don’t know what metrically or bio-mechanically they thought a slurvy breaking ball would help him with when he pitches at the top of the zone. I mean he can really spin a breaking ball. I didn’t understand that. It set him back two years, but he’s still only 23. That’s back and then the fastball was 94-96 with ride and it jumped out of his hand. And he holds his velo. I wouldn’t be shocked if he’s in the middle of the rotation at some point. They left him alone and now he’s good again.”
Nick Lodolo, LHP, Reds
“More strikes. The delivery, he fought his legs but he’s more under control and it seems like the game is slowing down for him and he’s repeating a whole lot more. Stuff was never in question. Looked like he belonged and acted like he belonged. It was good. He may start on the roster. If not, at some point this year he’ll be up when the time comes. I think personally he’s a No. 2 or 3 starter and I think he’s going to get better and better as he goes. He’s always going to fight his length from time to time, but he’s shown the ability to be athletic enough to make the adjustment. He’s got plenty of stuff. He was 93 today with angle and plane, he was throwing the slider for strikes (and) mixing in the changeup. It was three pitches for strikes. It was a pretty good recipe for success.”
Orelvis Martinez, 3B, Blue Jays
“He’s been on fire in big league camp. He’s gotten thicker, more muscular. He homered off a Triple-A pitcher in a big league game on a breaking ball. Just seeing him recognize and pick up the spin for such a young hitter compared to some other guys at that stage where you have concerns about potentially handling offpseed, he crushed it. He’s been one of the standouts so far for them. He looks like a dude, for sure. Just seeing him handle that breaking stuff from upper-level arms, not chasing, having good at-bats, it was really impressive.”
Bobby Miller, RHP, Dodgers
“He threw the best two back field innings I’ve ever seen. It was 99-101. There was no fastball below 99. The changeup and the slider were both plus or flashed plus. It was strikes. I mean, it was a Triple-A game, but he faced Ryder Jones and Patrick Kivlehan and guys with big league time and no one had a (expletive) chance against him. They’re going to try and do the whole Andrew Heaney thing for a while and when that doesn’t work they’re going to have Miller to turn to.”
Casey Mize, RHP, Tigers
"The command is back to what it was. It’s not trying to search for that velocity. The command is there. I think he’s got a chance to get a couple votes for the Cy Young Award. They’ve got Eduardo Rodriguez there. They’ve got a fallback guy. (Mize) doesn’t have to be the ace at his age which is good, because E-Rod can bear that load a little bit. I think it’s going to be a really good year, I really do. Some guys were concerned because he was over-reliant on the splitter before, that was kind of the concern, and then last year he went on a velocity search. He was touching some good velocities but it didn’t really work with how he pitched in my opinion. He’s going to take another step forward, a couple of them actually. Last year his command wasn’t very good, but it was an 80 in A-ball, and it’s back. It’s really good now."
Logan O’Hoppe, C, Phillies
“He just does a lot of good things. He calls a good game, good defender, provides something with the bat. Just a really well-rounded player who I think will surprise a lot of people. With kind of where the Phillies are at with their backup catching, some depth guys like (Garrett) Stubbs and (Donny) Sands and (Rafael) Marchan going to be at Triple-A, I can see this guy leapfrogging all those guys at some point just with the way he’s played. He’s certainly interesting. He’s a good player. He doesn’t get the recognition I think he should.”
Luis Robert, OF, White Sox
“Ability-wise he’s always really been good and he’s always been swing(ing) at everything. It looks a little bit better this year. That little adjustment could turn him from a really good player that is undisciplined to an MVP candidate. He’s stayed in the zone a little bit better. I’m not entirely sold that he’s taken that jump, but it’s a good initial impression.”
Brendan Rodgers, 2B, Rockies
“He looks really good offensively. He had a pretty solid year last year but I think he’s going to (be) even better this year and be that all-around offensive threat in the middle of their order with Kris Bryant. He looks more comfortable at the plate, kind of understanding what guys are trying to do with him, hitting the ball hard to all fields. He’s rounding out his game offensively. He’s not really pushing himself to chase a pitch early in counts. He’s working counts a little more and finding a pitch he can actually drive. I think he’s going to be in for a big season.”
Julio Rodriguez, OF, Mariners
“The entire org for the Mariners seems to do a pretty good job with plate discipline and having an approach, and he had one of those. He struck out three times one of the days I saw him, but he wasn’t overly antsy or swinging the bat just because. He’s tracking pitches right now. It’s not the same punchouts Cody Bellinger was having where it’s like, you don’t want to be that lost at the plate this early. For him it’s just calm. It was, 'OK, I’m watching this pitch in.' He’s out here slowing the game down. For him to be barely 21 and have that much of a presence on the field is incredible.”
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Tyler Stephenson, C, Reds
"Circle his name. That guy, he’s going to be a good player sooner than later. It’s such an impressive catcher’s package of strength, athleticism, plus arm, plus raw power, bat-to-ball skill. He’s like a foundational talent that you build around. Defense is still a work in progress but he’s certainly athletic enough and his work ethic is so great, makeup is so good, I think he’s going to be fine back there. He’s got a chance to be a good player for a long time. Big, strong kid who seems to get it on every level. The performance, the professionalism, maturity, and that’s all part of it. "
Freddy Tarnok, RHP, Braves
“He was 96-98 with a well above-average curveball and he was around the plate more than he had been in the past. It was two swing and misses with control. I liked Freddy last year when I saw him as a starter but his stuff really jumped in short relief. More crispness to the secondaries. He has to be one of their top arms at this point.”
Tyrone Taylor, OF, Brewers
"He’s a guy I think is going to emerge in light of Lorenzo Cain being 36 and struggling to stay healthy. He’s going to play a bigger role for them and they’re going to have to lean on him a little bit because he’s the only other guy who can play center in the event Cain goes down. I just like the fact I’m seeing him use the middle and the opposite side of the field very well and he’s got power to all fields. He’s had a really nice spring every game I’ve seen him. He's a guy I think is going to play a big role for them."
Jared Triolo, 3B, Pirates
“He has a chance to be scary good. He’s my pick to click. The growth he’s made from last spring and summer to now, it’s just better and better and better in every facet of the game. On both sides he kind of reminds me of Ryan Zimmerman. He has a chance to be that good, especially defensively. He’s got agility, he’s got athleticism, he’s got arm versatility, he’s got arm strength. He checks every box at third base. I think he can play shortstop and be a solid-average defender at shortstop. In their system he’s the guy who doesn’t get talked about who has a chance to be a star. I think he’s got a chance to be special. He can hit, he’s got big power. He has a chance to be impactful on both sides of the ball.”
Daulton Varsho, C/OF, D-backs
“He’s looked good. Obviously he’s super athletic, and he’s even more athletic than you see on video or on camera or anything. I thought he’d be like an average defender in center, he might even be above-average, better than I thought. He just moves so well and his bat speed is there. He looks pretty good offensively. He looks comfortable at the plate, not really pressing, knows he has a job and isn’t trying to force anything. He’s working counts and he’s selling out for power in the right counts when he’s up 2-0, 2-1 and knows he’s going to get fastball. He’s been a little too early, pulling stuff well foul, but that’s just timing. Once he gets his timing down, I think he might be a 20-homer guy. I didn’t know if he would be before, but he’s got the bat speed, he’s got the talent and obviously he’s athletic as hell.”
Bobby Witt Jr., SS, Royals
“He’s going to be a stud. If they were in contention last year I wouldn’t have been shocked if he made the big leagues at some point, and he definitely earned his way to doing so. I really think that he’s just an absolute superstar. Swing, approach, everything is there. The fact he can be that twitchy of an athlete, first game back from the lockout I had him beat out a chopper to the second baseman with a 4.11 down the line and he’s able to hit 450-foot tanks as well. The guys you see doing that are Hanley Ramirez, Mike Trout, guys like that. That’s pretty special.”