With the lockout cancelled, Spring Training done and opening day upon us, let’s look at four under the radar guys poised to breakout in 2022.
Four different players, four different teams, lots of reasons to be excited for the 2022 season.
1. Mitch Keller – SP / Pittsburgh Pirates
In 2021 Keller was one of the most hittable yet unlucky pitchers in all of baseball. With his fastball averaging 93.8 MPH, opponents hit him like a piñata. The fastball alone had a .311 BAA and 46.5% hard contact rate against. What was supposed to be his most used pitch (he threw it 56.7% of the time) ended up leading to much of his downfall. With his other pitches not finding much more success, Keller ended the year with a .316 BAA, .388 and lowly 68.2 LOB%.
Everything is changing in 2022.
During the off-season, Keller worked with a company called Tread Athletics to try and add some speed to his fastball and the results were incredible. While he’d only topped out at 98 MPH a few times in the past, Keller is now able to touch 100 if he feels like it. During this spring training alone he was able to hit 99.8 MPH and the fastball averaged 97.3 MPH. A massive difference. Combine that with the impressive 2354 RPM spin rate he gets on his fastball and you have the makings of a plus pitch. That spin rate is comparable to guys like Shane Bieber and Lucas Giolito.
Side note…Keller has a weird ass slider. That’s what I’m officially labeling it as. It only has a 2370 RPM spin rate, only breaks 3.2 inches horizontally both of which are LOWER than his fastball, but he throws it 86 MPH with a 36 inch vertical break. It ended last year with a 30.5% whiff rate and a 19% put out rate which were both the highest of any of his pitches. Feels more like a curveball to me. Don’t really know where this fits in with his breakout, just a weirdly successful pitch I’d like to see a bigger sample size of.
I think Keller rides that new fastball all the way to 150 IP, 175 Ks, 3.6 ERA, 1.25 WHIP.
2. Gavin Lux – 2B/SS / Los Angeles Dodgers
Much of Lux’s breakout hype comes from the fact this is officially his first season being in the Dodgers starting lineup. With AJ Pollack being gone it seems as though Chris Taylor is gonna end up in left field leaving Lux to man second base. While availability is the best ability, Lux is actually a pretty damn good hitter as well.
In 102 games last year at the major league level, Lux hit .242 with 12 doubles, 4 triples, 7 HR and 46 RBI. Not lighting the world on fire, but he had some sabermetrics which pointed to sustained success over long stretches. For one, Lux only makes soft contact 12.6% of the time. He’s not the elite power hitter many people salivate over, but the propensity he has for solid contact combined with his 89.8 mph average exit velo and 11.3 degree launch angle mean Lux has the makings of an extra base machine.
In 2021 he also did an excellent job of lowering his strikeout rate to his lowest at the major league level (21.5%) while also raising his walk rate to his best at the major league level (10.8%).
Look for him to bat towards the bottom of the order this year, but in this Dodgers lineup there’s crazy talent all around him. I don’t think it’s too crazy to think he ends the year around .250, 18 HR, 100 runs, 15 SB.
3. Trent Grisham – OF / San Diego Padres
My initial reaction to Grisham is that this kid is going to be a star. Maybe it’s the Tatis buzz transferring over to Grisham in my mind, or maybe it’s the fact that had he not gotten hurt last year he’d be someone quickly climbing the hype ladder.
Through his first 150 career games he had 21 HR and 18 SB while hitting .251. After his foot and hamstring issues at the beginning of last season he really struggled and hit .218. Now fully healthy, this has primed Grisham to be a true breakout candidate.
One of Grisham’s biggest assets is his speed. Last year, according to statcast, Grisham ranked in the 90th percentile in all of baseball in speed. Combine that with his excellent career walk rate (10.9%) and OBP (.333) and you have a recipe for a sneaky good source of steals.
Despite his slowish start to the 2022 season, Grisham has some pretty solid under the radar stats. Through 24 plate appearances he’s only making soft contact 5.9% of the time, he’s lowered his K% down to a career low 20.8% and his hitting the ball to the opposite field a career high 35.3% of the time. If you play fantasy baseball, Grisham is a prime “buy low” candidate. Look for him to end the year hitting around .265 with 22 HR and 25 SB.
4. Matt Brash – SP / Seattle Mariners
Although we’ve done a deep dive on Brash in the past, he needs to be mentioned everywhere before his first start of the season.
After adding his disgusting slider his final season in college, Brash has become one of the best strikeout pitchers in baseball. In 97.1 IP between High-A and AA ball last year, Brash struck out an absurd 142 batters. While he does have a plus sinker that’s an excellent out pitch (98 MPH with a 16 inch vertical drop) what makes Brash truly an elite breakout candidate is that slider.
While the sample size may be small, Brash showed just how effective the pitch can be at the major league level this spring training. Take his start on March 21st, for example; 3 IP, 6 strikeouts, 28 pitches thrown, 14 sliders, average velocity on the slider was 84.7 MPH and the average spin rate was 2878 RPM topping out at 3158 RPM (the highest of any pitcher in spring training). If you take that average spin rate and compare it to the 2021 season leaders, that would have placed his slider fifth in all of baseball ahead of elite pitchers like Corbin Burnes, Walker Buehler and Shane Bieber.
While walks and some potential rookie jitters may haunt him a bit, look for him to end the year around 140-150 IP, a 4.10 ERA, 180 Ks and some MONSTER games.
The season is under way:
While we may already be a few games into the 2022 season, the outlook for these guys stays the same. Whether you’re playing fantasy baseball and are looking for solid guys to trade for who will outperform their expectations, or you’re a fan of the game in general looking for some new guys to root for, expect some big things to come from these four youngsters loaded with potential.