Earlier this week, Major League Baseball wrapped up its 2022 amateur draft. The Baltimore Orioles kicked off the event by selecting Oklahoma prep shortstop Jackson Holliday with the third No. 1 pick in franchise history. (Baltimore had previously chosen Adley Rutschman in 2019 and Ben McDonald back in 1989.)
Holliday may have been the first player to come off the board on draft night, but his youth makes it unlikely that he'll be the first in the class to reach The Show. So, who will earn that honor? Below, we've highlighted the five players who we feel have the best chances at making quick ascents to the majors. (Do note that the players are presented in descending order of perceived likelihood.)
1. Ben Joyce, RHP, Los Angeles Angels
Joyce, the 89th pick in the draft, is the class's most obvious fast-track candidate. He's a pure reliever who has already had Tommy John surgery and whose fastball was clocked up to 105 mph this season. It doesn't hurt that general manager Perry Minasian has shown a willingness to strap a rocket to a prospect's back. Chase Silseth, an 11th-round pick, made his big-league debut within a year of being selected; Sam Bachman, the Angels' first-round pick in that draft, opened the year in Double-A and might already be in The Show, too, were it not for a pesky arm injury. Other than an injury of his own, the biggest potential threat to Joyce's ETA is the risk that Minasian's sense of urgency has been dulled by the Angels' non-competitive nature.
2. Blake Burkhalter, RHP, Atlanta Braves
Burkhalter, another pure reliever from an SEC power (Auburn), was actually taken more than 10 picks ahead of Joyce. Though he doesn't throw as hard as Joyce (who does?) he has a good fastball-slider pairing and he threw a ton of strikes this season. The Braves have every reason to hasten his arrival: not only are they competitive, but his delivery does not give the impression that it's built to last.
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3. Kumar Rocker, RHP, Texas Rangers
Here's a weird technicality: Rocker has already played professional baseball, albeit as a member of the Frontier League. Of course, that doesn't answer the question at hand -- which draftee will make their MLB debut first -- so we're just mentioning that for trivia's sake. The Rangers started their top pick in last year's draft, Jack Leiter, at the Double-A level; it would stand to reason they'd do the same with Rocker, this year's No. 3 pick. As an added bonus: Rocker has pitched more recently (July 1) than many of the others in this class, which may give him an additional leg up on the race to the top.
4. Brooks Lee, SS, Minnesota Twins
Lee, the eighth overall pick, was the second collegiate hitter to hear his name called, behind Jacob Berry of the Marlins. We think Lee stands a good chance at beating Berry to the majors, in part because he has a wider berth thanks to creating more secondary value. (Even Berry's boosters have to admit his game is wholly dependent on hitting and hitting a lot.) The Twins have additional incentive for speeding Lee along: he has a history of knee and back woes, and there's no sense tempting fate by asking him to play more minor-league games than is necessary. We do think Lee ends up shifting to another position, likely second or third base, so that could impede his arrival to some extent.
5. Cooper Hjerpe, LHP, St. Louis Cardinals
Hjerpe is a polished left-hander who easily could've gone in the top half of the first. He slipped to No. 22, and now he has a chance to offer his own spin on a familiar song and dance in St. Louis. Over the past decade, the Cardinals have selected seven non-Hjerpe college arms in the first round; four of them debuted before the end of their second full pro season, including two within 13 months of draft day. One of the other three, last year's first-round pick Michael McGreevy, is currently in Double-A, suggesting he's going to debut either late this year or early next. Hjerpe, then, might be trying to make it six out of the last eight by this time next year.