TDG 2022 RISERS AND FALLERS: SHORTSTOPS
RISER: WANDER FRANCO, TAMPA BAY RAYS, (AGE: 20, CURRENT RANK: 4, PREVIOUS RANK: 6)
The moment some of us have been waiting for since 2018 finally came to fruition last season when Wander Franco busted onto the scene. It is safe to say that he did not disappoint. Wander scored 53 times in only 70 games last season. One of the great things about Wander is he doesn’t strike out a lot. Even though his strikeout rate was around 12% in his Triple-A and major league time, that doesn’t matter all too much when your career minor league strikeout rate is near 8%. Wander not only hit 18 doubles but he also managed to hit five triples.
Wander will turn 21 during spring-training. With that in mind, the Rays showed the world how much they believe in this 20 year old phenom when they finalized an 11 year contract for 182 million dollars before incentives late last year. My gut tells me that Wander will dominate year after year and earn some of that extra 41 million dollars available in incentives by the way he plays on the diamond. His 60 grade power and 80 grade hit tool is no joke. With the potential of Tatis moving to the outfield full time, this time next year our rankings may have a new number one SS in this stud. (Brett Cook)
FALLER: ROYCE LEWIS, MINNESOTA TWINS, (AGE: 22, CURRENT RANK: 43,PREVIOUS RANK: 22)
Royce once found himself near the top of prospect rankings. A former first overall pick, most websites had Lewis in their top ten prospects. Even with Royce struggling at the plate in 2019 in his High-A and Double-A stints, many prospect lists still had Royce in their top ten for the 2020 season. Then COVID came and wrecked the 2020 season and didn’t give us much to evaluate.
It wasn’t until the 2021 prospects lists came out that Royce dropped significantly on prospect lists. One list dropped him from 7th to 35th from 2020 to 2021. Then, before the 2021 season started, Royce Lewis tore his ACL. I have never been high on Royce. He just hasn’t proved all the hype people have given him in my opinion. Royce more than likely will get a cup of coffee this year at the least, as the team will consider his 2020 production in the COVID season as his time in Triple-A. Lewis’s best hope is to have some average pop and the ability to swipe a good amount of bag, but I am personally not taking the risk. The fall of Royce Lewis is warranted and I will not be surprised if he falls again in our rankings next season. (Brett Cook)
RISER: BOBBY WITT JR., KANSAS CITY ROYALS, (AGE: 22, CURRENT RANK: 6, PREVIOUS RANK: 15)
In his 180 plate appearance professional debut in 2019, Bobby Witt Jr. showed solid plate discipline and contact skills, but very little power on contact, hitting only a single home run in the AZL. Scouts and fantasy GMs did not panic, though, as he possessed excellent draft pedigree and tantalizing tools, and not overreacting to professional debuts is a powerful industry heuristic. People like me, who take a stats-first approach, generally did not end up with him, however, as the opportunity cost of getting him remained high, and we tend to prefer prospects who show a better balance of performance and tools. Fast forward to 2021: Witt Jr. hit more bombs in a few spring plate appearances against MLB pitchers than he did all of 2019 against prospects in the low minors and it was clear that the scouts had won this one–a debate that, to be fair, may have mostly existed only in my own mind. He continued to wreak havoc on minor league pitching throughout 2021, and is now a consensus top 25 selection in dynasty startups. His plate discipline and contact skills remain more solid than strong, but he hits for extreme power and offers good speed: expect plenty of stolen bases and home runs from this rising star (e.g., my aggressive projections have him peaking at 36 HR/600 and 18 SB/600). If there’s a lessoned to be learned for people like me, it might be this: respect the industry heuristic of not overreacting to small sample professional debuts (or small samples in general), as one full season, or even an excellent spring training (e.g. Alek Manoah), can change the narrative fast (and boost my peak projections) considerably. (Jordan Rosenblum)
FALLER: JETER DOWNS, BOSTON RED SOX, (AGE: 23, CURRENT RANK: 41, PREVIOUS RANK: 11 AT 2B)
Every year, there are a few major breakouts, and a few major cases of performance decline–Jeter Downs was one the more prized prospects to struggle in 2021. He simply did not hit much in Triple-A (62 wRC+), striking out much more than expected (32%), and displaying less power than expected. He did rebound somewhat in the small sample Arizona Fall League, and expecting positive regression toward career norms is definitely a good bet moving forward. Even though his star has dimmed, I think he’s a good bet for 20 homers and 15 to 20 stolen bases at peak, and I would bet on that K% rate landing more in the mid-20s than above 30% at peak in the major leagues. His 20 BB%, 25 K%, and five bombs in 57 AB in the AFL are an excellent start at rediscovering pre-2021 glory. Continue to monitor the BB% and K% in early 2022–both stabilize quickly–to try and formulate appropriate expectations in terms of a bounce back. In the meantime, consider sending out a couple of cautious buy low feelers. (Jordan Rosenblum)