Last week I detailed the relatively weak class of rookie hitters you’ll find in the upcoming 2022 Topps Series 1 release. Rookie pitchers have the floor today. Of the 49 rookies in the base set, there are 21 pitchers. We will focus on them in our guide to 2022 Topps Series 1 rookie pitchers.
The hobby does tend to prefer hitters. Nonetheless, the pitching class is the more competitive group in the Series 1 set. I broke those pitchers into three tiers:
Unlike Wander Franco, who took the title as “the hitter worth ripping for,” there are no pitchers who would fit into this tier. Nonetheless, there are five pitchers I am quite excited about. They may have the upside to compete for value with my mid-tier hitters in hobby terms.
The pitchers in the middle tier will probably pitch well enough in 2022 to bring value to their ball clubs. However, they likely do not have the value you’re looking for from an investment standpoint. I may have slid these four rookies down into the bottom tier on a less generous day. Like I mentioned last week, some of these players may be very productive big leaguers, but that’s not the same as the value from an investing standpoint.
The Tigers selected Matt Manning with the ninth overall pick in 2016. Therefore, he’s probably the name most people are familiar with among those in Topps’ 2022 Series 1 release. The 6-foot-6 right-hander looks like a giant on the mound and throws a five-pitch mix: a four-seam fastball, two-seam fastball (sinker), slider, changeup, and curveball. Although his fastball was clocked in the upper-90s in the past, it sat right around 94 mph in rookie season. Scouts agreed that Manning’s curveball was his best secondary pitch, but it was the one he used the least in 2021.
To be blunt, Manning was not good in his 18-game debut season. His fastball often floundered in the heart of the zone. Indeed, all of Matt’s pitches got hit hard, and he rarely got batters to chase, much less swing and miss. This wasn’t the Manning we thought we’d see, but I don’t think it’s fair to jump ship after half of a season. Some investors are, which is why now might be the time to snag his rookie card and wait for a breakout year.
We’re sticking to our guns regarding Manning’s  FV despite a rocky rookie year, mainly due to his athleticism and long-term body projection… Since entering pro ball, his walks have come down, Manning’s changeup has gotten better, and he started working with two different fastballs and was clearly manipulating the shape of his spike curveball depending on the hitter and situation in 2019. Now he’s working on a second-breaking ball.
If you glance at Josiah Gray’s line from his rookie season, it’s not that impressive. However, making a judgment based on that is doing yourself a disservice. Keep in mind that Gray and catcher Keibert Ruiz were the two main prospects the Dodgers parted with to acquire Max Scherzer and Trea Turner from the Nationals this summer. When Gray is at his best, he’s commanding his four-seam fastball and getting a lot of whiffs with his breaking pitches.
Josiah achieved this in his first few starts with the Nationals, striking out a career-high 10 batters in a five-inning start. Unfortunately, if Gray’s season was a rollercoaster, he flew off the tracks in late August. The pitcher couldn’t find the zone with his fastball, and his slider wasn’t practical, leading to 14 walks and 22 earned runs in 17.1 innings (four starts). However, gray made adjustments over his last few starts, including throwing his best game on the previous day of the season. He hasn’t put it all together yet, but Gray has the potential to be a reliable starter with nasty stuff.
The athleticism that allowed Gray to play shortstop at the college level translates well to the mound. His delivery isn’t the smoothest, but he repeats it well, commands his fastball, and is improving his ability to locate his secondary offerings.
The Los Angeles Angels have a chronic starting pitcher issue. Reid Detmers was called up a bit too early and struggled in his debut to compensate. However, two things stand out about Detmers. First, even though his fastball velocity is average, it’s super effective because of his ability to command it up-and-in against righties. Second, and perhaps the more tantalizing ability, is Detmers’ curveball. It’s got a huge break that FanGraphs called “hell’s rainbow,” making it a pitch that fans marvel at and batters look silly trying to hit.
It’d be irresponsible to draw any accurate conclusions based on the small sample of innings we saw in 2021. However, the former first-round pick has given fans something to get excited for when baseball returns. This combination of factors is probably not enough to catapult his card value. However, he’s one of the few rookie pitchers who may have a positive value in this release.
There was some doubt about Detmers’ stuff playing in pro ball the way it did in college — 284 K’s in 191 career innings — both because Detmers wasn’t throwing all that hard and because his best pitch’s huge arc makes it easy to identify out of his hand. Still, Detmers’ four pitches had well-defined shapes, and he executed them consistently.
Aaron Ashby’s delivery might look a little funky, but that’s part of what makes his stuff so good. At least when he’s at his best. Ashby, like Gray, had a better year than you might initially think because his first and last outings were genuinely awful, thus skewing the numbers. In both his first and last games of the season, Ashby left way too many fastballs over the middle of the plate and otherwise struggled to throw strikes. When Aaron is not on, that’s par for the course. However, when he is, Ashby is unhittable. Ashby was fantastic over his next 30.1 innings (11 games): he held a 1.78 ERA with 38 strikeouts. Most of those strikeouts were courtesy of his slider, his best pitch, and one he goes to often.
He’s going to rack up a ton of strikeouts and likely be very effective, but Ashby’s card value (if any) will be influenced by the way the Brewers use him. He made a few starts in 2021 but was primarily used as a multi-inning reliever. Milwaukee’s rotation is stacked, but their three-headed monster at the top all had to go through stints in the bullpen before assuming a full-time starter role. If Ashby takes the same path, there will probably be a greater potential card value than if he sticks as a reliever.
A filthy slider that earns well above average grades from evaluators headlines Ashby’s four-pitch mix and fuels his bat-missing ability on the mound. It is perhaps the best breaking ball in the organization, thrown with depth, power, and late downer action that plays against hitters on both sides of the plate.
You might have heard of the first four pitchers, all of whom carried above-average prospect grades and were on FanGraphs’ Top 100 list in 2021. So, what is Anthony Bender doing in the top tier?
There is a method to my madness. Bender spent all of 2020 playing in an independent league before signing with the Marlins at the end of the year, so it was no surprise he wasn’t on anyone’s radar coming into the season. He didn’t even make the team out of spring training, but immediately upon being called up, he proved why he probably should have. All four pitchers above had ERAs that ranged from 4.50 to 7.40. Bender didn’t allow an earned run until June 29 (21.2 IP) and by then had made himself someone that baseball couldn’t ignore. The 21.2-inning scoreless streak helped him keep a 2.79 ERA on the season.
The right-handed relief pitcher works with a hard 2-seam fastball and a filthy slider, the latter of which has more movement than almost all pitches in baseball. So instead of including an excerpt from a scouting report, I’ll let Pitching Ninja show you why Bender deserves your attention.
Kyle Muller, Atlanta Braves LHP: Plus-plus fastball in mid-to-high-90s, above-average slider, and curveball. The main problem? His poor command.
Andre Jackson, Los Angeles Dodgers RHP: four-pitch mix above-average but has injury history after elbow reconstruction surgery in late 2016.
Jake Cousins, Milwaukee Brewers RHP: Cousins had a whiff and strikeout rate in his rookie season, among the league’s best pitchers. However, Jake can be wild and often gets battered.
Luis Gil, New York Yankees RHP: Two plus pitches in his fastball (96 mph with great movement) and slider. However, Gils’s control isn’t so great, and he projects as more of a reliever than a starter.
Tyler Gilbert, Arizona Diamondbacks LHP
Zac Lowther, Baltimore Orioles LHP
Alex Wells, Baltimore Orioles LHP
Tony Santillan, Cincinnati Reds RHP (reliever)
Eli Morgan, Cleveland Guardians RHP
Jackson Kowar, Kansas City Royals RHP
Zach Pop, Miami Marlins RHP (reliever)
Zach Thompson, Miami Marlins RHP
Tylor Megill, New York Mets RHP
Max Kranick, Pittsburgh Pirates RHP
Sammy Long, San Francisco Giants LHP
Mason Thompson, Washington Nationals RHP (reliever)
There are no obvious future aces among the rookies in 2022 Topps Series 1. However, pitcher careers are notoriously difficult to project. The top pitchers in this release all have the upside to dominate and become top-tier pitchers.
The bad news? It is hard to say which among the pitchers listed here has the best prospects. The good news? The investment price for these guys will be low, so you can buy in cheaply and spread the risk.