MLB Barometer: 2022 All-Risers Team

MLB Barometer: 2022 All-Risers Team

This article is part of our MLB Barometer series.

The season is nearly over, meaning it's a great time to look at the players who have raised their profiles not just over the past few weeks but over the past season. I typically like to do this in an objective way at the end of the season, comparing a player's draft-day price to his final earned auction value ranking, but that's a project for next week. This week, we'll go with a subjective approach, listing one player at each position (plus a couple extra starting pitchers) who made a breakthrough this year.

Some of these players jumped from fairly early picks to clear first-rounders. Others improved from merely interesting sleepers to genuine top-level talents. Still others were nearly complete afterthoughts at the start of the year and have become at minimum quite useful, and in some cases true stars. Whichever category these players fit into, they'll be the names you look back on when you remember the 2022 fantasy season, either because picking them is the reason you won your league or because not picking them is the reason you didn't.

It's a longer list of players than usual today, so we'll jump right into it. If you think I've overlooked anyone more deserving of the honor, let me know in the comments. For now, we'll move onto my 2022 All-Risers Team.

Catcher

Alejandro Kirk, Blue Jays: Kirk certainly had his fans during draft season, myself among them, but the hype was muted enough to leave him as

The season is nearly over, meaning it's a great time to look at the players who have raised their profiles not just over the past few weeks but over the past season. I typically like to do this in an objective way at the end of the season, comparing a player's draft-day price to his final earned auction value ranking, but that's a project for next week. This week, we'll go with a subjective approach, listing one player at each position (plus a couple extra starting pitchers) who made a breakthrough this year.

Some of these players jumped from fairly early picks to clear first-rounders. Others improved from merely interesting sleepers to genuine top-level talents. Still others were nearly complete afterthoughts at the start of the year and have become at minimum quite useful, and in some cases true stars. Whichever category these players fit into, they'll be the names you look back on when you remember the 2022 fantasy season, either because picking them is the reason you won your league or because not picking them is the reason you didn't.

It's a longer list of players than usual today, so we'll jump right into it. If you think I've overlooked anyone more deserving of the honor, let me know in the comments. For now, we'll move onto my 2022 All-Risers Team.

Catcher

Alejandro Kirk, Blue Jays: Kirk certainly had his fans during draft season, myself among them, but the hype was muted enough to leave him as merely the 12th catcher off the board in NFBC leagues. Fears about his playing time on a team that also employs Danny Jansen and had Gabriel Moreno waiting in the wings may have kept some drafters away, but he's gone on to rank third among catchers in total games played thanks in part to his 47 starts as a designated hitter. Unlike many backstops who merely hit well for a catcher, Kirk's bat is legitimately good enough for a full-time DH, though fears of him giving up catching entirely may be overblown, as he's graded out as the league's seventh-best pitch framer per FanGraphs. Kirk's barrel rate did drop off down the stretch, and neither his 7.0 percent mark in that category nor his 14 homers are particularly impressive, but his overall .293/.377/.429 slash line (134 wRC+) is excellent for a catcher. With a walk rate (11.4 percent) that's higher than his strikeout rate (10.4 percent), he has an excellent foundation for continued success next season.

Honorable mentions: William Contreras, Cal Raleigh

First Base

Christian Walker, Diamondbacks: Raise your hand if you pegged Walker as the sixth-best first baseman this season (by earned auction value). If you raised yours, you're either a liar or Christian's mom, as there really wasn't much reason to get excited about a 31-year-old who hit .244/.315/.382 with just 10 homers last season. Predicting Walker to lose a roster spot made more sense than predicting him to go off like he has, as his NFBC ADP of 496 suggests. Instead, he's gone on to hit .237/.326./479 (good for a 122 wRC+) with 36 homers, and his line could be even better if not for a .239 BABIP. He's combined a career-best 19.8 percent strikeout rate with a 12.1 percent barrel rate, numbers that look like those of Pete Alonso (18.7 percent strikeout rate, 12.6 percent barrel rate) or Rafael Devers (19.0 percent strikeout rate, 11.4 percent barrel rate). Walker will have to fight against the effects of aging next season, but that could be offset by the fact that the Diamondbacks' lineup is rapidly improving, giving him plenty of chances to drive in runs.

Honorable mentions: Nathaniel Lowe, Rowdy Tellez

Second Base

Andres Gimenez, Guardians: A poor 2021 campaign meant that Gimenez was merely the 31st second baseman off the board during draft season, but he's taken every step forward one could have asked for in his age-24 season and sits fifth at the position in earned auction value. After showing decent speed but not much of a bat last year, he's suddenly become a well above-average hitter, as his .303/.375/.482 slash line is good for a 145 wRC+. There's at least some luck involved in that line, as seen in his .353 BABIP, but a large portion of his dramatic improvement has been fully earned. He slashed his strikeout rate from 25.7 percent to 19.0 percent while increasing his barrel rate from 3.6 percent to 6.5 percent. He's now three homers and one steal away from a 20-20 season. Just seven players have accomplished that feat this season, and none can match Gimenez's batting average.

Honorable mentions: Luis Arraez, Thairo Estrada

Third Base

Brandon Drury, Padres: Drury has to have a spot somewhere on this list at one of the four spots he's eligible, and it may as well be here. If you forgot Drury was even in the league during draft season, you probably aren't alone, as he'd hit a forgettable .249/.296/.415 through parts of seven seasons up to that point. He found himself on a Reds roster that had plenty of playing time available at the start of the year, however, and he took advantage of the opportunity, hitting .274/.335/.520 with 20 homers in 92 games before a midseason trade to San Diego. His numbers have trailed off a bit since the move, but he still sits in the top seven in earned auction value at first, second and third base. He's likely to be eligible at all three spots in most leagues next season, further enhancing an already interesting fantasy profile. His underlying numbers back up the idea that he's at least a solidly above-average hitter, as his 21.8 percent strikeout rate and 10.9 percent barrel rate are both better than league average.

Honorable mentions: Eugenio Suarez, Alec Bohm

Shortstop

Dansby Swanson, Atlanta: Swanson seemed to be generally viewed positively enough over the offseason, but the depth at shortstop meant that he went merely 18th off the board at the position and 121st overall. As of writing, however, he's set to finish as the third-best shortstop and 19th-best player overall. His 116 wRC+, the product of a .281/.334/.445 slash line, is a career high. A .357 BABIP accounts for at least some of that performance, and his quality of contact (10.6 percent barrel rate) as well as quantity (26.3 percent strikeout rate) are in line with his numbers from recent seasons. Part of his rise also comes from the fact that he's managed 94 runs and 92 RBI, something that's at least partially attributable to his teammates. If he signs with a team with a much weaker lineup this winter, he'll be unlikely to repeat those numbers. What earns him a spot here despite those reservations is his newfound speed. His 18 steals nearly double his previous career high of 10 and put him in a different category of player from a fantasy perspective.

Honorable mentions: Amed Rosario, Jorge Mateo

Outfield

Aaron Judge, Yankees: How could an All-Risers team not include this guy? Sure, I'm mostly discussing players who jumped from deeper down the draft board, but a jump from an ADP of 36 to finish miles better than anyone else is arguably even more impressive. Judge hasn't homered in a few days, so his home run lead has shrunk to 18 over Kyle Schwarber in second place, but that's still an absurd number. Similarly, per our earned auction values, Judge has been worth $60 in standard 12-team leagues this season, $20 more than Paul Goldschmidt in second place. It can't be overstated how remarkable it is that a player has finally reached 60 homers for the first time in 21 years just as we seem to be pulling out of the latest juiced-ball era. The league-wide home run rate sits at 2.9 percent this year, down from 3.3 percent last year and a peak of 3.6 percent in 2019, even with the introduction of 15 new designated hitter spots. Judge homers 9.1 percent of the time. He's also stolen a career-high 16 bases, further enhancing his fantasy value.

Julio Rodriguez, Mariners: There was understandable hesitancy around Rodriguez during draft season. Sure, his talent level wasn't in doubt, but he'd only played 46 Double-A games and none at Triple-A, so it wasn't clear when he'd get called up. Even from March 24 onward, after reports emerged that he had a legitimate shot to crack the Opening Day roster, he merely had an ADP of 152, as even the most talented rookies are far from locks to put everything together right away. Rodriguez has put it together and then some, slashing .280/.342/.502 with 27 homers and 25 steals, meaning he now sits as an early second-rounder per our earned auction values. Given that another step forward would hardly be a surprise in his age-22 season next year, he's likely to be a first-round target of many drafters. Just how high he goes may depend on the extent to which people buy into his speed. Projections generally pegged him for a steals total in the low teens before the year, but he swiped 21 bags before the break. With just four second-half steals, though, it's possible we should expect 10 to 15 next season.

Michael Harris, Atlanta: Harris was completely off the radar for redraft leagues last winter, which made perfect sense, as he'd yet to play above High-A. After just 43 games at the Double-A level, however, he made the jump straight to the majors, where he's done nothing but excel. Through 107 games, he's hit .305/.345/.532 with 19 homers and 20 steals, putting him on the verge of producing this year's eighth 20-20 season. A .368 BABIP is inflating his numbers somewhat, though his 94th percentile sprint speed means a high BABIP is no surprise. That speed also helps him play some of the best center field defense in the league, which should keep him in the lineup even during slumps. A low walk rate (4.6 percent) does mean he won't produce much when the hits aren't falling, but that could rise as he matures and as pitchers become more scared of his power, which seems to be real, as his barrel rate (10.8 percent) sits in the 75th percentile. If he trims his slightly sub-par strikeout rate (24.1 percent) as he gets more at-bats under his belt, he could even unlock another level.

Honorable mentions: Adolis Garcia, Steven Kwan, Taylor Ward

Starting Pitcher

Justin Verlander, Astros: Sure, he's Justin Verlander, but he's also 39 years old and has made just one start over the last two seasons due to Tommy John surgery. That presumably was many drafters' thought process this past winter, allowing the veteran to slip to an ADP of 92. I was a bit more willing to take the chance than most and wound up with him on my two most successful teams this year, but I can't say I predicted him to finish as the top pitcher in the league, as he's on pace to do. While his 1.82 ERA is significantly better than his 3.18 SIERA, the latter is still quite a strong mark. Verlander has also gotten better as the season has gone on. His first-half success didn't seem entirely sustainable, as it came with a merely good 25.6 percent strikeout rate, but that figure has jumped to 29.6 percent since the break, with his ERA over that stretch coming in at 1.68. Age will come for Verlander eventually, but he's proven that he's still an elite pitcher for now.

Spencer Strider, Atlanta: I could go with any of a handful of pitchers who were drafted in the same range as Verlander and will finish as clear SP1s, but I'll instead go with a pair of teammates who got almost no attention during draft season but will finish as strong SP2s. In Strider's case, he'll only finish in that territory because he pitched in relief until late May, as his numbers since his move to the rotation are clearly ace-worthy. In 20 starts, he's managed a 2.77 ERA and 0.99 WHIP, though it's his incredible 38.1 percent strikeout rate that deserves the most attention. The only qualified starter to beat that mark over a full season was Gerrit Cole in 2019. While you might expect a high-strikeout starter whose also spent time in relief to have shaky control, that hasn't been the case for Strider, whose walk rate actually fell from 11.6 percent to 7.9 percent after his move from the bullpen. An oblique strain will wind up ending his breakout campaign slightly prematurely, but he'll find himself going very high on draft boards next season.

Kyle Wright, Atlanta: Wright can't match the dominant level of Strider's performance, but his breakout campaign was just as unexpected. Whatever prospect pedigree the 2017 fifth-overall pick had left had all but evaporated, as he'd struggled to a 6.56 ERA across parts of four seasons prior to this year, with similarly poor underlying numbers. He made Atlanta's Opening Day rotation, however, and he hasn't looked back, posting a 3.18 ERA through 29 starts. He's won 20 of those starts, three more than anyone else in the league, and while that's not the most predictive statistic, it's given him a ton of fantasy value. Pitching for one of the league's best teams should allow him to continue punching above his weight in that category next season. The way he's gotten to his ERA should help him keep pitching deep enough to earn wins. His 23.9 percent strikeout rate and 7.3 percent walk rate are merely slightly better than average, but his strong 55.7 percent groundball rate helps him limit damage.

Honorable mentions: Dylan Cease, Alek Manoah, Shane McClanahan, Tony Gonsolin, Nestor Cortes

Reliever

Ryan Helsley, Cardinals: Helsley had some low-level hype at one point in his career, but that was years ago. His 4.70 ERA across the previous two seasons (with similarly poor peripherals) left him as a complete afterthought this winter. If for some reason you drafted him nonetheless, you wound up with the second-best true reliever (Spencer Strider and Cristian Javier have gotten most of their value as starters) on the year per our earned auction values. That fact gets considerably more remarkable when considering he only had three saves through the first two months of the season. He still only has a modest 18 saves, just four more than teammates Giovanny Gallegos, but his dominance in other categories has kept his value high. His 1.32 ERA is tied for third among qualified relievers, while his 0.75 WHIP is tied for second. He's also second among that group with a 39.2 percent strikeout rate, a mark helped greatly by the fact that he added two ticks to his fastball, which now averages 99.6 mph.

Honorable mentions: Daniel Bard, Clay Holmes

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Erik Halterman
Erik Halterman is the Features Editor for RotoWire. He also co-hosts RotoWire Fantasy Baseball on SiriusXM's MLB Network Radio.
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