The 2022 MLB season had a very talented rookie class. Looking at both leagues, the American League seemed to have the deeper class. I took a look at the long list of American League rookies and top performers in 2022.
Top American League Rookies
Witt had a fairly average Rookie season in 2022. The 22-year-old, son of former Major League Pitcher Bobby Witt, was named the preseason number three prospect in baseball, per Baseball America. Witt made his major league debut on Opening Day with the Kansas City Royals. He had an uneventful day up until the bottom of the eighth when he smoked his first big league hit down the left field line for a double, scoring the go-ahead run in a 3-1 win over the Cleveland Guardians.
Even with the added hype around Witt after opening day, he ended the year with a slash line of .254/.294/.428 with 20 Home Runs, 102 OPS+, and a 0.8 rWAR. Without question, the biggest factor keeping Witt’s value down in his rookie year was his defense. In 146 games between shortstop and third base, Witt committed 19 errors which drove his dWAR down to a -1.7.
Kirby started his 2022 season in AA Arkansas, where he pitched in five games, posting a 1.82 ERA with 32 strikeouts to only five walks. On May 8th, Kirby was called up to the big leagues to make his much-anticipated debut. The preseason #12 overall prospect, per Baseball America, would shine in his debut going six shutout innings while striking out seven. This was just the start of the 24-year-old’s impressive rookie campaign.
Throughout the season, Kirby ended up starting in 25 games totaling 130.0 innings pitched, a 3.39 ERA, 2.99 FIP, 133 strikeouts, and only 22 walks. Kirby was the August American League Rookie of the Month where he posted a 2.15 ERA, four wins, and 34 strikeouts to only three walks in the month. He also set an MLB record for the most consecutive strikes thrown to start a game with 24.
4. Jeremy Peña
Peña made his way onto my list not just by being a top rookie shortstop, but a top shortstop in general for 2022. Peña, a third-round pick in the 2018 draft was a pre-season Top 100 prospect by Baseball America heading into the season. He was the first Houston Astros shortstop not named Carlos Correa to start opening day since 2015. Playing in 136 games, he ranked in the Top 10 for rWAR: 4.8 (fourth), OPS: 101 (eighth), and home runs: 22 (second). He was also second amongst all American League shortstops in dWAR at 2.5, earning him a Gold Glove. The first-ever rookie shortstop to win the award.
Jeremy Peña plays defense like he’s in a Baseball for Dummies instructional video
not flashy but nails all of the fundamentals, so impressive pic.twitter.com/txXPWUE8Aa
— Joon Lee (@joonlee) November 4, 2022
Peña proved to not only have success in the regular season but was also a major contributor for Houston on their way to a World Series title. Slashing .345/.367/.638 in the postseason led to Peña winning both ALCS and World Series MVP. He is the sixth rookie player to ever win a postseason award, and only the second rookie to win both ALCS and World Series MVP (Livan Hernandez, 1997).
3. Steven Kwan
Make no mistake about it, Kwan jumped right into his big-league career with both feet. The 25-year-old outfielder who was a 2018 fifth-round pick for Cleveland wasn’t on a lot of preseason top prospect radars. He finished the 2022 season ranked second in rWAR (5.5), fifth in OPS+ (124), and tied for 10th in home runs among rookies with six.
— Cleveland Guardians (@CleGuardians) June 16, 2022
Kwan was a valuable piece to Cleveland’s AL Central championship team. Leading the team in average (.298) and OBP (.373), Kwan led all American League rookies in hits (168) and runs (89). According to Elias Sports Bureau dating back to the year 2000, Kwan had seen the most pitches to start a career without a swing and miss with 116 pitches. He started the first week of the season slashing .667/.750/.933 with seven walks and no strikeouts in 24 plate appearances.
The 2022 number-one prospect in baseball by Baseball America made his highly anticipated debut on May 21st in front of his home crowd. The 24-year-old was the first Baltimore Orioles player since Matt Wieters in 2009 to be named the top prospect in baseball. Finishing second in the Rookie of the Year voting, Rutschman finished third in rWAR (5.2), third in OPS+ (128), and sixth among rookies in Home Runs with 13.
Adley Rutschman's first career home run! pic.twitter.com/kjW2K9k9Gw
— Talkin’ Baseball (@TalkinBaseball_) June 16, 2022
When Rutschman joined the team, Baltimore was 16-24 and in last place in the division. With Rutschman on the team, Baltimore went 67-55 the rest of the way to finish in fourth place and with a winning record for the first time since 2016. Rutschman has had high value from his defensive catching ability since his college days. In his rookie year, he finished third in dWAR for all American League catchers with a 1.5. Even with missing the first month and a half while in the minors, Rutschman was able to have an impact on Baltimore, and show everyone around baseball why he was the former number-one overall pick.
The 2022 top-performing American League rookie of the Year, has to be the man actually named Rookie of the Year, right? In this case, yes. Rodríguez was able to put together the most impressive rookie campaign of 2022. In fact, it was so impressive it ended with Rodríguez signing a 12-year $209.3 Million contract from Seattle in August. The number two prospect by Baseball America had a year to remember while leading the Seattle Mariners to its first postseason berth since 2001.
Julio Rodríguez goes yard on the first pitch for home run #26!
— Farm To Fame (@FarmToFame_) September 14, 2022
In 132 games, Rodríguez ranked first among American League rookies in rWAR (6.2), OPS+ (147), and home runs with 28. His 6.2 rWAR was the highest value by an American League rookie since Aaron Judge in 2017 (8.0). The sixth-ever Seattle rookie All-Star was the fifth player in franchise history to win Rookie of the Year. Seattle was knocked out of the postseason in the second round in 2022. Possibly the biggest bright spot for the team moving forward is they will have a player like Rodríguez for a very long time.
2022 was filled with a talented group of rookies in the American League. Possibly one of the deepest classes ever? The fun part about rookie players, their careers are just starting. For the group of guys I listed above, if this was only the beginning we should be in for an exciting future in Major League Baseball. Now, of course, they have to follow it up. Some past rookies have been able to keep up their high-level production. Others have drifted away from the limelight. Who would you say is ready for round two in 2023?