Prospects to Pop in 2022: Hitters

Reports on seven breakout candidates for next season.

Welcome to the hitter edition of my prospect picks-to-click for 2022. After giving my thoughts on seven pitchers yesterday—this is Pitcher List after all—we move to the batter’s box. Below are scouting reports compiled on prospects I believe will break out in 2022. The term “breakout” is largely dependent on your personal expectations, but for the most part, I’ve steered clear of already-top-100 prospects (Elly De La Cruz) and more consensus breakout candidates (sorry, Curtis Mead).

You will also notice my personal FV grades for each player. Take a look at yesterday’s article for a more detailed explanation of why I chose to include FV, even if it doesn’t fully represent value in a fantasy setting. As with the pitchers, these grades take into account sourced data and video evaluation, with links provided when available. Each tool is graded on the FV scale (formatted as present/future value). Hitting data is harder to source and notoriously less reliable at the lower levels (with a few exceptions), so as always take these grades with a grain of salt.

Now that you’ve read the fine print, let’s get into the players.


Endy Rodriguez, C, Pittsburgh Pirates


Report: Rodriguez is an ultra-smart, switch-hitting catcher with strong defense and contact skills from both sides. Acquired from the Mets as part of the three-team Joe Musgrove trade, he spent the entirety of 2021 in Low-A Bradenton where he slashed a robust .294/.380/.512 (140 wRC+) in 98 games. His swing is smooth from both sides, with equal bat-to-ball ability but more loft as a lefty. Defense is his calling card though, with advanced receiving and arm strength packed into a lanky frame that brings an athleticism rarely seen at the catcher position. That led both the Mets and Pirates to try him at other corners, not because of defensive shortcomings but simply because they could. Framing is perhaps the only area that needs work, which his fielding grade takes into account. What the fielding grade doesn’t take into account is defense at another position. The catcher position is fickle, but I find it hard to believe Rodriguez doesn’t catch long-term.

An interesting twist is the presence of top overall pick Henry Davis, who will also catch for now, but is far more limited defensively and can mash his way into the lineup regardless. These are good problems to have, and sort themselves out with time. I won’t pretend to know what the Pirates catching situation looks like two years from now, but Rodriguez and Davis’s skillsets would complement each other nicely in a rotating C/1B/DH tandem. Rodriguez may not have the offensive upside that Davis does, but he’s no slouch with the bat and doesn’t need much to have everyday catcher utility in his own right.


Maximo Acosta, SS, Texas Rangers


Report: Acosta is a stocky 5’9″ infielder with precocious barrel control, especially adept at hitting top-of-the-zone pitches. He was the Rangers’ second-most prized IFA signing in 2019, netting $1.7M after Texas committed the majority of their pool to powerful outfielder Bayron Lora. He debuted at the Complex midway through the 2021 season and went down with a shoulder injury shortly after, so these grades are largely projection-based as a result. He underwent thoracic outlet surgery in August, the effects of which are (in)famous for the small sample of pitchers who’ve undergone the procedure, but largely unknown for an even smaller sample of position players. Even if his arm strength doesn’t fully return—and there’s no reason the think it won’t—Acosta was more likely to play 2B anyway and that projection hasn’t changed. He profiles similarly to compact, contact-driven infielders like Luis Urías and Jose Altuve, and could follow a similar trajectory with a quick major league arrival and later developing power.


Hendry Mendez, OF, Milwaukee Brewers


Report: Oh boy, do the Brewers have a type. Mendez has uncanny bat-to-ball ability and advanced pitch recognition for someone his age (18), but it comes with a short-curt swing path that leaves him nearly no usable power even at physical maturity. This isn’t a player type I’m typically drawn to, and a pick-to-click driven more by personal curiosity than anything else. I’ve been considerably low on the Brewers’ bevy of slash-and-dash types like Garrett Mitchell, Sal Frelick, and Carlos Rodriguez in the past. Does Milwaukee have a tangible process to squeeze power from this archetype? Are they gearing up for the sinker/slider revolution? Or simply zagging while others zig. There is nothing to support the former (yet), and the latter remains to be seen. What’s obvious though is the organizational affinity for this type of hitter and I have a weird, possibly foolish, sense of optimism that at least one of them will have a productive career — either by making the requisite swing change or pure defiance of the status quo. Mendez is by far the youngest in this group, which not only gives him more development runway but potentially better direction as the team gains understanding from the similar players ahead of him.


Emmanuel Rodriguez, OF, Minnesota Twins


Report: The Minnesota system churns highly touted outfielders with regularity, and their top IFA signing in 2019 Emmanuel Rodriguez is no exception. Hand-eye coordination is Rodriguez’s calling card, with an efficient swing path that manages to generate loft despite being relatively short. What’s more is the noticeable bulk Rodriguez has added since signing, now a toned 5’10” 165lbs, while maintaining his rotational explosiveness. That’s a key differentiator between him and the Brewers hitters mentioned above, as his tightly connected swing results in a more bullish power projection. That efficiency is even on display in statistical categories, as he tied for second in the FCL in homers (10) last year, just one behind the league leader (Detroit’s Manuel Sequera) but in 40 fewer PAs. He projects for line-drive-doubles pop in-game but should have no problems turning on high-end velocity and above-average pull power isn’t out of the question. Defensively Rodriguez won’t wow you, but he’s capable of playing CF and should maintain playability at all three spots even if he’s at a corner more regularly. This is a well-rounded combination of skill and raw tools, wrapped in visually appealing mechanics and a major league frame. He should quickly progress through the Twins system and looks to be on top-100 lists in the near future.


Gabriel Rodriguez, 3B/SS, Cleveland Guardians


Report: Rodriguez is a free-swinging infielder who would immensely benefit from approach refinements. Signed for over $2M during the 2019 J2 period, the Venezuelan has a strong build and impressive bat speed for someone his age. The issue is a swing-happy approach that may prevent him from fully reaching his power in games. For what it’s worth, Rodriguez completely reworked his lower half since debuting — going from a drifting leg kick to a much more controlled toe tap. Even with that stability, his swing is still long and scoopy, which is good for plate coverage but easily exploitable by advanced pitching. That was evident by his K% at Low-A in 2021, where he was also among the level’s youngest players (over two years below average) and playing full-season ball for the first time. I’m banking on a breakout as he repeats the level in 2022, but this is the biggest boom-or-bust prospect I’ve included here. Rodriguez has the chance to hit for above-average power while playing a passable shortstop, but there’s also sizable concern he moves to a corner and the hit tool bottoms out. The safe bet is something in between.


James Outman, OF, Los Angeles Dodgers


Report: Simply put, Outman checks a lot of boxes. The 2018 seventh-rounder has completely revamped his swing and is a legitimate power/speed threat at the major league level. His swing is ferociously grooved, which generates loft but also plenty of whiffs. He fits the three-true-outcome profile to a tee, with a MiLB career BB% above 11% and K% approaching 30%. Few teams utilize their depth better than the Dodgers, and Outman’s 40-man presence and ability to play all three outfield spots make him a prime candidate to seize the opportunity in 2022. He’s a potential 20/20 guy if given regular playing time and someone I can see occupying the strong side of a platoon in the very near future.


Brandon Valenzuela, C, San Diego Padres


Report: Valenzuela is a well-rounded switch-hitting catcher with foundational skills but lacks a carrying trait. It may not matter though, as the offensive bar that catchers need to clear is far below that of other positions. That’s not a knock on Valenzuela’s skill at the plate though—he showed advanced contact ability and plate discipline from both sides as a teenager and is starting to engage his lower half for a more powerful swing. It likely manifests in gap power rather than homers, but that’s a perfectly acceptable outcome given his high contact/OBP floor. Valenzuela is a high probability catcher with four tools grading as average or above. That profiles in a backup role at worst, and gives him a sturdy floor to build upon. If the power continues progressing at the upper levels, Valenzuela will suddenly become one of the league’s better catching prospects in short order.


Photos Icon Sportswire Adapted by Doug Carlin (@Bdougals on Twitter)

Natan Cristol-Deman

Natan is a California native and senior at UMass Amherst. He enjoys applying analytics to scouting and player development. You can find him on twitter @natan_cd

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