These are the names to watch in Rookie of the Year races

Detroit Tigers

It’s a fun, fun time to be a prospect hound. Of course, part of what’s great about being a prospect hound is there’s always something fun to look ahead to. But right now? This moment? It’s awfully good.

That’s because not only is there a group of really exciting prospects at the top of the rankings, but we may be about to see several of them in the big leagues. Like, imminently.

Often, when handicapping contenders for Rookie of the Year honors, playing time is as much a factor as talent. This year, especially in the American League, it looks very much as though many of the most tantalizing and talented players will break camp with their Major League clubs and start getting at-bats and innings right out of the gate.

1. Bobby Witt Jr., Royals: There was actually some buzz that Witt might crack the Royals’ roster at this time last year. He didn’t, and it was probably for the best, but it’s clear he has very little left to prove in the Minors. Witt, a legitimate five-tool prospect, fell one stolen base short of a 30-30 season split between Double-A Northwest Arkansas and Triple-A Omaha last year. He has big-time power, quality bat-to-ball skills, and can hold his own at shortstop. He’ll start the year as the Royals’ third baseman, but that’s because of what else is on the roster, not because he’s not good enough to play up the middle. Witt edged out two other names on this list to be Pipeline’s No. 1 prospect.

2. Julio Rodríguez, Mariners: Ranking No. 3 on our prospect list, Rodríguez may have the most offensive upside of any player not currently in the Major Leagues. And it’s trending as though he may break camp with the Mariners, which seemed a bit of a long shot a few weeks ago. Rodríguez ranks as the best pure hitter on the Top 100 list, and showed it with a combined .347 mark (along with a .441 on-base percentage and .560 slugging) in a season he split between High A and Double-A. The only real question about Rodríguez is his relative lack of experience — he enters the year with fewer than 1,000 professional plate appearances.

3. Spencer Torkelson, Tigers: Like Rodríguez, Torkelson has not yet been announced as having made the big club, but it’s sure trending that way. Also like Rodríguez, he ranks at the top in a major category: he’s ranked as having the best power on the Top 100. Torkelson probably doesn’t have the long-term upside that the two guys ahead of him have, but boy can he hit. He posted a .383 on-base percentage and .552 slugging across three levels of the Minors last year, just a year after he was drafted out of Arizona State.

4. Riley Greene, Tigers: It’s tempting to put Torkelson and Greene as a single entry. Friends and fellow Tigers farmhands, they’re also the faces of what Detroit fans hope will be the next championship team at Comerica Park. Greene is a polished hitter with an all-around skill set, who hit .301/.387/.534 at Double-A and Triple-A last year. He also stole 16 bases in 17 attempts, and is rated as at least a solid outfielder who can handle center if needed.

5. Adley Rutschman, Orioles: Rutschman spent some time as Pipeline’s No. 1 prospect last year, and fell all the way to No. 2 for 2022, but not due to any failings. That’s merely a reflection of enthusiasm about Witt. As for his relatively low positioning here? That’s about opportunity. He’s the one of these five who we are confident will not start the year in the Majors. Once he arrives, though, he’s a rare combination of offense and defense behind the plate. Rutschman is a switch-hitter with big-time power, a strong arm and first-rate receiving skills. He even has a fine eye at the plate. He’s the real deal, and if he arrives quickly, he’ll be a serious contender for the award.

1. Seiya Suzuki, Cubs: This is definitely a matter of talent meeting opportunity. Suzuki, who has played nine seasons in NPB in Japan, will play regularly for the Cubs, and he’s a relatively known quantity. The guy can hit. The 27-year-old outfielder smacked 38 homers for Hiroshima last year, and has four straight seasons of at least a .300 average, .400 on-base percentage and .500 slugging. Oh, and he also has more than 100 career steals in NPB. He’s not ranked as a prospect, but that’s due to experience in Japan, not ability.

2. (tie) Bryson Stott, Phillies: Pipeline’s No. 45 rated prospect, Stott may be the kind of player who forces an opportunity. He’s had an outstanding spring. However, he’s a shortstop by trade, and the Phillies have Didi Gregorius. So … how about third base? Stott, who hit .299/.390/.486 across three levels in the Phils’ system last year, is doing all he can in camp to make the Phillies’ decision very, very hard. And it seems likely that even if he starts the year in the Minors, he could be up quickly.

2. (tie) Oneil Cruz, Pirates: Welcome to one of the most intriguing players in professional baseball. Cruz, Pipeline’s No. 26 prospect, is a 6-foot-7 … shortstop. And while he’s not a Gold Glove-caliber defender, he can handle the position. He has light-tower power, slugging .594 across three levels last year — including a cup of coffee in Pittsburgh. Cruz will start the year in the Minors, but the Pirates know they have something special in him, and he’s already been up once. It shouldn’t be too terribly long before we see him back in the bigs.

4. Hunter Greene, Reds: Now here’s a guy you should be excited to see. Few pitchers at any level throw harder than Greene, and even fewer are more entertaining to watch pitch. Greene, Pipeline’s No. 22-rated prospect, has an 80-grade, 100 mph fastball, and the kind of athletic talent that allowed him to play the infield at a high level as an amateur as well. He’ll open the year in the Reds’ rotation, and while there could be some bumps as he refines his command and control, there will also likely be days when all you can say is, “Wow.”

5. Joey Bart, Giants: A few months ago, the Giants thought they might have a big dilemma. Now, they just hope they have a solution. Buster Posey’s retirement hastened the clock for baseball’s No. 31 prospect, who is now expected to open the season on the big league roster and playing regularly. Bart, who like Rutschman can handle himself both behind and at the plate, scuffled a bit in a 2020 introduction to the big leagues, but he’s hit pretty much everywhere else and he gets high marks for pretty much every aspect of his defense.

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