The 2022 MLB rookie class was truly exceptional. Just consider that the article you’re about to read covers 13 of the best rookies to grace us with their presence, and you won’t see the likes of Riley Greene, C.J. Abrams, Alek Thomas, Bryson Stott, Nolan Gorman, MacKenzie Gore, Vaughn Grissom, Reid Detmers, Vinnie Pasquantino, et cetera.
All of those players had some great moments, and even though their overall body of work wasn’t quite good enough to crack the baker’s dozen below, they are all part of the sport’s luminous future.
What makes him electric? Everything. Is that too much of a cop-out answer? Maybe so, but it’s true. The likely AL Rookie of the Year winner, J-Rod’s ranked in the 90th percentile or higher in average exit velocity, max exit velocity, sprint speed, arm strength and outs above average. He is just 21 years old and is undoubtedly one of the very most talented players in the sport. The Mariners certainly know it.
You mix that talent with a bubbly personality and you end up with a player who looks like the next face of baseball.
Top 2022 moment: Baseball fans knew all about Rodríguez before the All-Star break, but his record-setting performance in the Home Run Derby was when the world realized just how special this wunderkind really is.
What makes him electric? With a little more than 100 MLB games under his belt, Rutschman is already one the best backstops in the Majors. Offensively, his 133 wRC+ was the best at the position among catchers with at least 450 plate appearances. Behind the plate, his 18 defensive runs saved trailed only AL Platinum Glove Winner Jose Trevino. Overall, J.T. Realmuto was the only catcher who compiled more WAR than Rutschman.
Top 2022 moment: Rutschman is so much more than a fantastic young player for the Orioles. As the No. 1 overall pick in 2019, he is the brightest beacon of the O’s future following an extended period of tough times for Baltimore. The future debuted at Camden Yards on May 21 and tripled for his first career hit.
What makes him electric? His fastball sits near 100 mph, and hitters are helpless against his splitter, which produced a 53.3% whiff rate. Part of Bautista’s charm is that he’s 27. Even though he had to wait quite a while to get his shot in the Majors, he definitely didn’t miss it.
Top 2022 moment: The Orioles surprised many by making a charge toward an AL Wild Card spot this season. Maybe few believed the O’s were for real until they went into Houston in late August and took the first two games from the future World Series champs. Bautista notched the final four outs – including strikeouts of Jeremy Peña and Yuli Gurriel on that devastating splitter – to secure a series victory.
What makes him electric? No one throws harder on a more consistent basis. Duran paced all pitchers this past season by reaching 100 mph on the radar gun 392 times, which accounted for nearly 40% of his offerings. The 24-year-old deals so much heat that even his offspeed stuff hits triple digits.
Top 2022 moment?: Duran not only blew hitters away, he kept them off the scoreboard. His 1.86 ERA was the lowest in Twins history among rookie relievers (minimum 65 innings), and there was a two-month stretch during the summer when he gave up just one earned run and struck out 36 over 24 2/3 frames. This four-strikeout performance against the Guardians – which includes a 103.2 mph K – came at the tail end of that span.
What makes him electric? Ryan works as if he’s a 10-year veteran. He didn’t wear down at the end of a long season, posting a 2.20 ERA in September, and he had little trouble against AL Central opponents (1.39 ERA in 12 starts). Even though he set a Twins rookie record with 151 strikeouts, Ryan won’t wow you with his raw stuff. Instead, he is the definition of steady. His six starts of at least six innings with no runs allowed were the most among rookies.
Top 2022 moment: If you need evidence of Ryan’s September success and ownership of the division, take a gander at his Sept. 13 outing versus the Royals. In perhaps his best start of the season, Ryan pitched seven hitless innings and racked up nine K’s.
What makes him electric? He absolutely pounds the strike zone. Here’s an extreme example, but that command was Kirby’s calling card as a top prospect. It carried over nicely to the Majors as the 24-year-old ranked fifth among all pitchers with a 4.1% walk rate (minimum 130 innings). He didn’t issue more than one free pass in any of his first 22 career starts and recorded a 2.98 ERA through those 117 2/3 innings.
Top 2022 moment: Kirby’s 2022 postseason deserves this spot. Specifically, his start in ALDS Game 3 versus the Astros. His save to clinch the AL Wild Card Series in Toronto was nice, but when Seattle handed him the ball for the city’s first home playoff game in more than two decades, Kirby was nails. He held the Astros scoreless over seven innings, struck out five and, of course, handed out no walks.
What makes him electric? Greene just ended his first MLB season at the age of 22, but his big right arm and eye-popping fastball have been the stuff of legend since he was a high schooler. Although Tommy John surgery delayed his arrival, the former No. 2 overall pick finally made it to The Show this year and brought his hand cannon with him. In just his second start, Greene threw an AL/NL record 39 pitches at 100 mph or faster. He would top that record with 47 such heaters against the Cardinals on Sept. 18.
Top 2022 moment: Greene’s flashy four-seamer did run into a lot of bats over the course of the year. He served up 24 homers in 125 2/3 innings in what was a season with a lot of understandable growing pains. However, he left us with a possible preview of the domination to come in a September to remember: Four starts, 23 innings, two earned runs, one homer and 37 strikeouts.
Greene’s home stretch began with that record-setting night in St. Louis as he whiffed 11 Cards through six shutout innings.
What makes him electric? He was the most overpowering starting pitcher in MLB this year. Among those with at least 130 innings pitched, Strider was at the top in K rate (38.3) and strikeout-minus walk rate (29.7%) by significant margins. He was one of 11 who reached 200 K’s, which is pretty remarkable when you consider that Strider didn’t get his first Major League start until the end of May and missed the final three weeks of the regular season due to an oblique strain. He may only have two pitches, but his fastball-slider combo was pure dynamite.
Top 2022 moment: This one is easy.
Strider’s 16 strikeouts versus the Rockies on Sept. 1 set an Atlanta Braves franchise record. And that franchise, if memory serves correctly, has a pretty strong list of starting pitchers.
What makes him electric? He blazes the basepaths. Witt’s speed is one reason why he entered the year ranked by MLB Pipeline as baseball’s No. 1 prospect, and his wheels may have been better than advertised. Witt recorded the second-fastest sprint speed at 30.4 feet per second and joined Trea Turner as the only players to tally at least 100 bolts this season.
Top 2022 moment: Witt ended this year with 20 homers and 30 steals, becoming one of only two players in AL/NL history to reach those benchmarks in a debut season. Here’s bag No. 30 from Oct. 3 against the Guardians.
What makes him electric? He graded out as the season’s best left fielder. Kwan made headlines at the start of the season for his uncanny ability to not swing and miss at literally anything. On the whole, his 124 OPS+ denoted his solid offensive season.
But his defense was on another level. Kwan’s 21 defensive runs saved and 12 outs above average set the bar for left fielders and were indicative of why the 25-year-old became the first Cleveland rookie to win a Gold Glove.
Top 2022 moment: Kwan put his body on the line for this catch in Seattle. That was good. But his best catch of the season featured an all-out dive on the warning track in Colorado to preserve a Guardians lead. Just jaw-dropping stuff.
What makes him electric? He has ice in his veins. Peña was the biggest question mark in the Astros’ lineup at the season’s outset. Everyone was wondering how this 24-year-old would fill the shoes of a star shortstop who was coming off a Gold Glove season and had produced a bevy of clutch hits in the postseason.
Hey, that sounds familiar!
Pena matched Carlos Correa with 22 home runs this season, outplayed him on defense en route to a Gold Glove and came up big time and time again when the stakes were highest.
Top 2022 moment: The entire 2022 postseason.
What makes him electric? Another member of the Braves’ unprecedented rookie class, the 21-year-old Harris didn’t play in an MLB game until May 28. Despite the seven-week head start for everyone else, Harris still led all NL rookies in bWAR (5.3). Over the past 40 seasons, the only rookies age 21 or younger to top Harris’ total are Mike Trout and Julio Rodríguez. Harris also socked 19 home runs (tied for the most among NL rookies) while putting up elite numbers in regards to arm strength, speed and center-field defense. To answer the subhead question, he basically looks like the National League equivalent of J-Rod.
Top 2022 moment: Let’s keep the Harris-Rodriguez connection going by revisiting a thriller between the Braves and Mariners on Sept. 11. Both youngsters went deep twice that afternoon, marking the first time that two players, age 21 or younger, each hit multiple homers in the same game.
What makes him electric? He’s breaking Statcast. There have been a lot of superlatives thrown around in this article, and as we get ready to wrap it up, prepare for the grand finale:
Cruz is the tallest shortstop in AL/NL history (6-foot-7).
Cruz has the hardest-hit ball ever tracked by Statcast (122.4 mph).
Cruz logged the fastest infield assist in Statcast history (98.7 mph).
Cruz had the best barrel rate of any shortstop this year (15.5%).
Although he needs to clean up his defense and pitch recognition, this Bucco is simply one of the most innately gifted players we have ever seen. He will be only 24 years old next season.
Top 2022 moment: We’ll cheat again and pick two: Cruz’s laser throw from July and the missile off his bat in August.
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