What will you find in our guide to 2022 Topps Series 1 rookies? I hate to say it, but the rookie class in Topps’ 2022 Series 1 Baseball release is weak. There are 49 total rookies in the base set, 28 hitters, and 21 pitchers.
Wander Franco is the card everyone will cross their fingers for, but there’s been some discrepancy about which cards are considered Franco’s true rookie cards. If we remove Franco from the rookie list, the picture is grimmer. For this reason, I’ve broken up the rookie hitters in the 2022 Topps Series 1 Baseball set into a few tiers:
The space between the first and second tiers is vast. There’s an even more significant drop-off after that. Some of these players may turn out to be decent big-leaguers, but they don’t inspire me from a hobby perspective.
The Rays did something unheard of for any team, let alone for the penny-pinchers in Tampa Bay: they offered an 11-year/$182 million extension to a player with only 70 big league games under his belt.
Why? Wander Franco, the five-tool prospect the baseball world had been waiting for, is worth it. Franco has patience, power, and speed and does it all while playing above-average defense. Franco’s 2021 line is below, along with his 2022 projections from ZiPS and Steamer.
|ZiPS 2022 Proj.||536||85||138||16||8||7.6%||13.6%||.283||.340||.470||4.4|
|Steamer 2022 Proj.||651||85||170||19||10||7.5%||12.2%||.289||.346||.472||5.1|
Of the second tier, Bruján appears to have the most significant upside. With Wander Franco off the prospect list, FanGraphs lists Bruján as the Tampa Bay Rays’ new No. 1 and pushed him up to No. 12 in the MLB overall. He has the tools to be an excellent hitter with moderate power, solid defense, and blazing speed. Obviously, he isn’t the most exciting Rays rookie, but Bruján is someone I’d consider targeting if Franco is out of reach.
Indeed, some analysts are pretty upbeat about Vidal’s chances. MLB Pipeline and FanGraphs both mentioned Bruján having the potential to grow into a Ketel Marte-type, with the latter singing high praise for the young hitter from the Dominican Republic: Bruján is an elite athlete with a chance to come into relevant power later in his twenties.
Find Gavin Sheets Topps rookie cards on eBay
Sheets spent a decent amount of time in the big leagues last season and played pretty well. When he came up in the minor leagues, his calling card was his power. Sheets’ modest production was backed up by hard contact — 44.6% of his contact resulted in balls hit at 95mph or above, much better than the league-average 35.4%. Sheets hit some moonshots last season when he turned on pitches and pulled them deep to right field, his longest home run marked at 447 feet. Based on ZiPS and Steamer projections for 2022, a 20-homer season isn’t unreasonable.
Marsh was a player scouts felt good about in the minor leagues. He was the Angels’ top-rated prospect and No. 11 in all of baseball but struggled in his debut season. He had a great August where he hit .309 with a .805 OPS, but the rest of his season combined was a disappointing .218 batting average and .585 OPS. Although his power rates as slightly above-average, he’s played with a more contact-focused approach with above-average speed and defense. Scouts are still optimistic that Marsh can be an impact player, but his skill set isn’t of the caliber that the hobby usually appreciates.
The Marlins acquired De La Cruz in a mid-season trade and immediately felt a positive impact. Like Marsh, De La Cruz had a fantastic August (.384 batting average, .925 OPS). He didn’t drastically drop off after his hot start, but he did cool off. I saw a lot of De La Cruz last season because, full disclosure, I’m a Marlins fan. His production was a pleasant surprise, but I do not see him being able to replicate it for years to come. Projection systems see him being an average hitter in 2022, but he’ll probably occupy the backup outfielder role for the Marlins. But I question whether that would mean anything at all from the collecting or investment standpoint.
Burger has a similar skill set to teammate Gavin Sheets but has proven far less. Some of the problems are out of his control. Injuries saw him miss all of the 2018 and 2019 seasons; then the pandemic took away playing time in 2020. Back on the field for the first time in four years, he played well in Triple-A before struggling in 15 big-league games in 2021. Burger was once a top prospect but will now be fighting for a spot on the White Sox’s roster as he enters his age-26 season.
Raleigh played a handful of games with the big-league club in 2021. From an offensive standpoint, the results were underwhelming. Across 47 games, he slashed .180/.223/.309 and struck out more than one-third of the times he walked to the plate. There’s some power potential from the player who hit 29 home runs in Single- and Double-A, but it’s not nearly enough to get us excited. Most of Raleigh’s value is behind the plate, where scouts see him as a good framer. While this is undoubtedly a valuable asset to the Mariners, card collectors and investors do not usually appreciate primarily defensive catchers.
Nootbaar was an average hitter during his stint with the Cardinals in 2021. However, the underlying numbers don’t inspire confidence either. He frequently hit the ball poorly but would often take pitches for strikes then be unable to dig himself out of a pitcher’s count. If he can’t make serious progress on these issues, Nootbaar might hang around as a utility man or in a bench role but likely won’t be an impact player.
McCormick has played more games in the big leagues than anyone here, and he played pretty well. He was worth nearly two wins in 108 games, which was right around the value Michael Brantley and Alex Bregman provided the Astros this season. If he makes contact, the ball is hit hard and well.
What is the caveat? That’s an enormous “if” because McCormick’s 32.5% strikeout rate is concerning. Nevertheless, he hit 14 home runs, drove in 50 RBIs, and played fantastic defense in the outfield. If there’s a strong pick in this tier, it’s probably McCormick.
Jarren Duran, OF in Boston Red Sox organization: Sure, there was a bit of buzz around his Bowman’s. But Duran’s offensive production relies on speed and contact, making it difficult to imagine him becoming an impact player.
Connor Wong, C in Boston Red Sox organization: Wong’s hit tool tops out at a 35 with average raw power, speed, and defense.
Zack Short, SS in Detroit Tigers organization: Although his pitch selection is good, the 26-year-old played mediocre shortstop and slashed .141/.239/.282 in 61 big league games.
Jake Meyers, OF in the Houston Astros organization: Meyers underwent shoulder surgery in the offseason and is unlikely to be ready for the beginning of the 2022 season.
Rodolfo Castro, 2B in Pittsburgh Pirates organization: Castro projects as an average hitter who has been unable to tap into his power in-game situations.
Hoy Park, IF/OF in Pittsburgh Pirates organization: Park projects as a below-average hitter whose defensive versatility will try to keep him afloat.
Drew Ellis, 2B/3B in Arizona Diamondbacks organization
Stuart Fairchild, OF in Arizona Diamondbacks organization
Ernie Clement, 2B/3B in Cleveland Guardians organization
Ronnie Dawson, OF in the Houston Astros organization
Iván Castillo, 2B/3B in San Diego Padres organization
Emmanuel Rivera, 3B in Kansas City Royals organization
Patrick Mazeika, C in New York Mets organization
Trey Amburgey, OF in the New York Yankees organization
Matt Vierling, 1B/OF in Philadelphia Phillies organization
Luke Williams, 2B/OF in Philadelphia Phillies organization
Curtis Terry, 1B in Texas Rangers organization
Riley Adams, C in Washington Nationals organization
Jakson Reetz, C in Washington Nationals organization
I wish I had better news, but there are not notably strong investments in this class aside from Wander Franco. There can often be a surprise or two in a bunch like this, but it’s anyone’s guess who will jump out from the pack.
The good news is that some fine players are due for call-ups during the season. We may see Adley Rutschman, Bobby Witt Jr., and Julio Rodriguez in Series 2 or Update. So, there is plenty for baseball collectors to look forward to, the questionable standard of the Series 1 crop notwithstanding.