With all the chaos of the 2021-2022 offseason now behind us, and the first matches of the 2022 season due to take place in the coming days, our attention is quickly turning to what lies in store.
In many respects, expectations for the 2022 season are that little bit higher, given the flurry of deal-making and transfer activity that we saw towards the end of the offseason. While the MLB lines for the new season are usually an early indicator of the building hype, they experienced a delay owing to the 99-day lockout during the offseason, which put a pause on all player activity and delayed the start of the 2022 MLB season itself.
The result of this sequence of events was that the transfers and deal-making we typically see unfold in a more drawn-out manner over the course of an offseason was condensed into two intense periods, before and after the lockout. This unquestionably had an impact on the sums of money involved in the player trades, with many of the MLB payrolls reaching record heights.
With all that said, who are the key players to watch in 2022?
Rookie of the year?
One of the prime picks for potential rookie of the year is Julio Rodriguez of the Seattle Mariners.
Rodriguez has clearly been making waves at the Mariners during the offseason, having put in a strong effort during the spring training period. As a result of this effort, the Mariners announced that Rodriguez will star on the opening day roster. It is hoped that Rodriguez will help to end the unlucky streak the Mariner’s seem to be stuck in. And for this reason, he is already being marked as the “future of baseball”.
Seiya Suzuki is another prospect for rookie of the year, and has every bit as much promise as Rodriguez. The 27-year-old Japanese slugger already has a decade of experience behind him in the Nippon Professional League, and considering this, he isn’t technically a rookie.
However, this will be Seiya’s first outing on American soil, which puts him in the running. And with a track record of 189 homers with a 0.943 OPS across 1,055 overseas games, we can already see why Seiya has been marked as a strong contender!
Most valuable player of the year?
As always, there are already a number of strong contenders for the most valuable player. However, two standout prospects at this early stage are Vladimir Guerrero Jr. of the Toronto Blue Jays and Juan Soto of the Washington Nationals.
Given that Guerrero was a runner-up for the MVP award in 2021, the Canadian son of MLB Hall of Famer Vladimir Guerrero Sr. is an obvious choice. However, based on how strongly he performed last season and his improvement in the off-season, it would be bordering on negligent of us not to include him!
Another strong prospect is Juan Soto. Soto also finished up as a strong MVP contender last season. And at just 23 years old, with a World Series Championship, a batting title, an All-Star appearance and two Silver Slugger awards to his name, he is an obvious choice. In just four pro seasons, Soto finished in the top 10 MVP prospects, which seems to indicate it is only a matter of time before he snags the award.
Other star players to watch
In terms of the other star players who look set to dominate coverage of the MLB this season, there are a number of obvious contenders.
One of these is Bobby Witt. Currently playing for the Kansas City Royals, Witt is one of the most promising prospects in the league. The 2021 season saw Witt putting in an incredible effort for the Royals, where he stayed solidly between AA and AAA, while also hitting 0.290 with 35 doubles, 33 home runs and 97 RBIs.
Another top prospect is Adley Rutschman of the Orioles. Rutschman was previously the No.1 pick in the 2019 draft, and since then has always appeared to be on the cusp of superstar status. Rutschman has already been marked as the future of catching in the sport. And last season, he batted 0.312/0.405/0.490 across 43 games at AAA. These stats are incredibly promising and a hint that we will be hearing a lot more about Rutschman as the season progresses.