Gut reactions to Spencer Torkelson, Hunter Greene and top MLB rookies | Launderer’s report
AP Photo/John Bazemore
If you’ve just joined us for the start of the 2022 Major League Baseball season, perhaps the first thing you need to know is that the league is full of promising starting rookies.
According to MLB.com rankings, 53 prospects who ranked among the top 30 talents in their respective organizations opened the season on major league rosters. Among them are three elite hitters in Bobby Witt Jr., Julio Rodriguez and Spencer Torkelson, as well as an unusually armed pitcher in Hunter Greene.
Being 27 years old and a nine-year Nippon Professional Baseball veteran in Japan, Seiya Suzuki is technically not a prospect. He’s a rookie nonetheless, and certainly one under the microscope after signing an $85 million contract with the Chicago Cubs.
So how are these guys doing so far? Let’s take a quick look and form some instinctive opinions that we may or may not regret later.
Bobby Witt Jr., Kansas City Royals
Witt entered the year at least 3rd on the major prospect lists, and basically anyone who bothered to look on his swing could pick up amply Mike Trout vibes.
That is to say, the hype around Witt was all too real, so much on the 21-year-old for immediately making a statement with an RBI winning brace in the Royals’ 3-1 win over the Cleveland Guardians. opening day:
Witt then added another RBI brace on Sunday, and his presence was felt defensively as well. He’s a shortstop by nature, but his quick athleticism and strong arm have resulted in two impressive plays (see here and here) already at third base.
There is always a catch, however. In Witt’s case, those two doubles are his only hits in 16 at-bats. And although he hit only once in Kansas City’s first three games before blowing three times on Monday, only three of his first 11 batted balls crossed the hard-hit barrier with an exit velocity greater than 95mph.
If we wanted to overreact to that, we’d say that Witt is just the next comer of David Flecher and that the Royals therefore erred in trusting him to be their hot corner guy.
Instead, we’ll consider it a good thing that he at least makes contact at a reasonable pace. And lest anyone doubt the hard contact will start to come more regularly, we’re going to step out on a limb and keep grooving to those trout vibes.
Julio Rodriguez, Seattle Mariners
Rodriguez, meanwhile, also entered the season widely ranked as a top-three prospect. And that’s understandable after what he did in 2021, as he posted an OPS of 1.001 in 74 minor league games to go with an average of 0.444 for the Dominican Republic team at the Olympics.
The 21-year-old’s batting potential was there for everyone on Saturday when he scored a brace at the start of the rally for his first career hit:
This clocked in at 99 mph off the bat, making it one of the balls hit supporting his 50% hard hit rate.
Now, if only there were more than six batted balls in that sample size.
Even though he got sprayed on a third shot called in front Sonny Gray Sunday, Rodriguez is mostly responsible for being struck out six times in 12 at bats. He couldn’t help but widen the strike zone, and his five puffs were against breaking balls.
Although Rodriguez’s defense has yet to become a major storyline, he had a near miss with his outfield mate jesse winker on Sunday. For this he got a conversation on the way back to the canoe.
Could this all be just a case of nerves getting the better of the 21-year-old? It is certainly possible. But he also had never played above Double-A before the Mariners put him on their opening roster, so there could be some inexperience at play as well.
Spencer Torkelson, Detroit Tigers
After the Tigers made Torkelson the No. 1 pick in the 2020 draft, there were no minor leagues to send him to due to the canceled season. As such, he was only able to make 530 underage plate appearances last year before getting the call up for Opening Day.
The next stage of Torkelson’s trial by fire starts badly. In his first 11 trips to the plate for the Tigers, he walked three times, but also had six strikeouts and zero hits.
Like Rodriguez, Torkelson can blame at least one of his strikeouts on an unfairly wide area:
Jason Beck @beckjason
I don’t know if it’s the rookie treatment, but all of those strikes were called at Spencer Torkelson against Kyle Crick in the fifth. pic.twitter.com/GAJKuL3Jet
Overall, however, the 22-year-old wasn’t really a victim by too many bad calls. A more pressing issue is the speed with which he widened the area, especially on bad throws from the outside edge of the plate.
None of this tallies with scouting reports that consider Torkelson a good power hitter rather than a power hitter. He also reached Triple-A level last year, so his early problems may be more a matter of too much adrenaline than lack of experience. The following link comes with an NSFW warning, but it sounds amplified.
On the positive side, the tower at least made its presence felt in defense:
All in all, the Tigers shouldn’t panic yet. the day off they gave Torkelson on Monday might turn out to be just what he needed.
Hunter Greene, Cincinnati Reds
It’s been a while since a rookie starting pitcher has taken Major League Baseball by storm. Not to mention the two-way feeling Shohei Ohtani in 2018, the last to really do it was Michael Fulmer in 2016.
If anyone wants to break that streak, why not Greene? Just watch it go… uh, throw:
Leading the Reds past Atlanta with five 3-run slugging innings on Sunday, the 22-year-old right-hander topped 100 mph 20 times striking out seven batters.
As MLB.com stats guru Sarah Langs noted, it’s not entirely ordinary for a starting pitcher to bring that much heat:
Sarah Lang @SlangsOnSports
Most locations over 100.0 mph as SP, single game since 2008 (location tracking era including PS):
6/5/21 deGrom: 33
8/19/15 Eovaldi: 28
05/31/21 from Grom: 27
3/10/14 Ventura: 26
06/15/16 Syndergaard: 24
6/6/16 Paxton: 24
18/04/16 Syndergaard: 21
**TODAY Greene: 20**
03/07/21 Alcantara: 20
Mind you, all was not good for Greene in his early days. He walked two batters and returned home runs to Travis d’Arnaud and Matt Olson on fastballs who took too much of the area. Control and command are therefore things he still has to master.
In the short term, Greene could just try to get batters off his fastball by trusting his slider and change more. The first is a beautiful land with a two-plane break, and he caught five puffs of the 11 hits the Atlanta batters took against him.
Either way, hopes for the 22-year-old should only be high. While it doesn’t happen overnight, he has plenty of time to go from pitcher to pitcher.
Seiya Suzuki, Chicago Cubs
How good has Suzuki been so far? Well, his 0.375/0.538/0.750 three-game slant line is amazing and yet he’s also selling it short.
For starters, he really hit his first major league home run on Sunday. It started at 111 mph and traveled about 412 feet:
Suzuki came to the Cubs after a 38-home run season for Hiroshima Carp in 2021, so all he did with that home run was add to the data points that suggest he can be a hitter. dangerous power in the United States.
What’s more, it already looks like he’ll be able to translate the discipline he’s walked through 20 more times than he’s kicked in the past three seasons. His four strikeouts are offset by four walks. Plus, he swung and missed as many times as he widened the area: once.
Oh, and this one swings out of the box? It produced an RBI single on an inside fastball that he was strong enough to muscle into the outfield.
In short, wow.
Elsewhere in today’s rookie world, there’s already an unlikely folk hero in Cleveland in the person of Steven Kwan. The Guardians outfielder is 9 for 13 with five walks to the side, which is .789 on-base percentage.
Moving To Houston, Jeremy Pena has done the impossible so far to make Houston Astros fans forget about Carlos Correa. He’s 6 for 16 with two doubles and one hell of a first home run:
Also replacing a franchise legend is Joey Bartwho takes over for Buster Posey behind the plate for the San Francisco Giants. To that end, it’s not the worst sign that he absolutely demolished his first home run on Friday.
A few others to watch are the San Diego Padres infielder JC Abrams and Tampa Bay Rays outfielder Josh Lowe. The former has posted impressive leather, while the latter already has more walks (3) than strikeouts (2) through 12 plate appearances.
Statistics provided by Baseball Reference, FanGraphs and Baseball Savant.