After 99 days of lockout and a two-part hot stove season, the 2022 MLB season has finally arrived, with games beginning Thursday across the sport.
To kick off opening week, the FOX Sports MLB Writers share the things they are expecting, hoping for, excited about and keeping an eye on this year in baseball.
JAKE MINTZ’S TOP 10
We get to see the shock of the offseason play out on the field. There are so many possible outcomes for Correa as a Twin. He could kill it and deliver the team to October. He could kill it, and the team could stink. He could get traded or opt out after the year. He could get hurt, miss time, come back, crush it and stick around.
Wait, that guy went where?
Ben Verlander discusses several late free-agency moves, including Freddie Freeman heading to the Dodgers and Carlos Correa signing with the Twins.
2. Oneil Cruz will be big in Pittsburgh.
The 6-foot-8 shortstop made his major-league debut during the last week of the 2021 season and immediately hit the hardest Pirates homer in Statcast era history. Although he’ll start the season in Triple-A — turns out service-time manipulation didn’t get fixed in the new CBA — Cruz has a chance to be something we’ve never seen before: Think Giannis Antetokounmpo, but in baseball.
3. Luis Robert is ready for his star turn.
Robert figured something out at the end of last year. After missing a few months due to an injury, the White Sox‘s center fielder returned with a renovated stance — his front foot was much more open and his hands much closer to his body — and proceeded to dominate pitchers down the stretch. If those changes stick and he can stay healthy for 162 games, Robert just might blossom into the best player in the world.
4. Can Mike Trout stay on the field?
When he plays, Trout is still the best baseballer on the planet. But he hardly played last season, missing the final four months due to a calf strain. If injuries continue to hamper the Angels‘ talisman, we might need to start having The Conversation.
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5. Will Aaron Judge remain in New York?
The mountainous Yankees slugger is in his walk year. An extension has been discussed, but nothing significant has transpired thus far. Judge is a top-10 player in the game who should garner an enormous deal despite his relatively advanced age for a first-time free agent. It’s impossible to imagine him in any other uniform, but hey, Freddie Freeman is a Dodger, so anything is possible.
6. Lions of summer … in winter
The generation of aces that dominated the 2010s is starting to inch toward the end. Zack Greinke went back to Kansas City for what’s likely to be his final season. Justin Verlander is back after missing nearly all of 2020 and 2021 due to Tommy John surgery. Clayton Kershaw missed the 2021 postseason due to an injury, and though he re-signed with L.A., his health remains a question. Even Max Scherzer, who inked a massive deal with the Mets, is 37 and dealing with a hamstring “hiccup.”
7. Keep your eye on the ball.
In 2019, the baseball carried like a rocket, leading to a huge league-wide home run total. That number has decreased since, leading many to believe the ball was reconfigured in some way. The league has vehemently denied doctoring the ball at every turn, but the year-to-year variance is definitely eyebrow-raising. It should take a few weeks to know how the 2022 ball will fly, but the potential differences could be hugely impactful.
8. The Polar Bear goes for Derby history.
Last year in Colorado, Pete Alonso established himself as “The Home Run Derby Guy.” We’ve never seen a back-to-back-to-back winner before, so the Mets’ first baseman could thrust himself into Derby history with a winning performance at Dodger Stadium. And hopefully, Vlad Guerrero Jr. returns for another go at the title after his jaw-dropping show back in 2019.
9. The Blue Jays get a full season at home.
Both 2020 and 2021 were super bizarre for the Jays, who had to play games in Dunedin, Florida, and Buffalo, New York, before Canada reopened its borders in mid-2021. The Jays will finally get to play a full season as a postseason contender in front of their fans at Rogers Centre, and they might even get a karmic home-field advantage. Canada requires visitors to be vaccinated, which means unvaxed players on visiting teams would be denied entry. That has the potential to be a difference-maker in a division that could be decided by a game or two.
10. Jazz Chisholm is the most entertaining man in baseball.
The Marlins‘ second baseman is a supersonic ball of joy who plays the game with a childlike energy that’s beyond refreshing. Last season he was merely good, rather than outstanding, but if he improves his plate discipline a tad, he has the chance to be a landscape-altering ballplayer.
JORDAN SHUSTERMAN’S TOP 10
1. Can the Marlins make things interesting?
Their payroll might be a fraction of those of their division rivals, but the Marlins were plenty active this winter. They’ve already developed one of the better young pitching staffs in the league. I’m eager to see if the additions of Jorge Soler and Avisail Garcia can boost the offense enough to keep the Marlins in the mix in the gauntlet that is the NL East.
2. The next big thing
We’ve been spoiled in recent years with the spectacular debuts of Juan Soto, Vladimir Guerrero Jr., Fernando Tatis Jr., Ronald Acuña Jr. and Wander Franco. Now, Mariners outfielder Julio Rodríguez, who turned 21 in December and was just announced as having made the Opening Day roster after a monster spring training, is on track to be the next big thing. For a team desperate to end its infamous postseason drought, a full season of J-Rod might be what puts Seattle over the top.
3. The returns of Acuña and Tatis
It’s a shame we won’t have these two ready to rock on Opening Day, but their returns will be welcomed by all fans, not just those in Atlanta and San Diego. Acuña should be back relatively soon, but it will be especially interesting to see where the Padres are in the standings by the time Tatis returns later this summer.
4. The Padres desperately need to bounce back.
Remember a year ago when we all thought the Dodgers and Padres might be the two best teams in baseball? Oops! The pressure is now firmly on San Diego, a team that still looks pretty damn good on paper but is going to need a ton more injury luck this year, especially on the pitching side. GM AJ Preller has made a bajillion moves the past few years. Will they finally pay off?
5. Can the Giants do it again?
A big part of the Padres’ disappointment in 2021 was the stunning surge of the Giants, who completely demolished all the preseason projections that had them as a .500 team at best. Losing Buster Posey to retirement will surely hurt, but it’s difficult not to believe in the organization Farhan Zaidi has built. That said, the team still doesn’t look that good on paper. How will the Giants prove us wrong this time?
6. Will Hunter Greene throw baseballs faster than anybody else?
The Reds weren’t exactly an offseason winner, but I was amped to see them commit to Greene as a member of the rotation to start the season. With Jacob deGrom out for the time being, don’t be surprised if Greene immediately establishes himself as the hardest-throwing starting pitcher in baseball.
7. Are the Astros still the favorites in the AL West?
The defending AL champs had a relatively quiet winter outside of the return of Justin Verlander, but they still look tremendously intimidating even without Correa. Will the improvements made by other AL West teams finally push Houston? Or is Houston still far and away the class of this division?
8. The Dodgers’ lineup is stacked.
The AJ Pollock trade has shaken things up a bit in terms of how to project the Dodgers’ offense, but it doesn’t really change the overall sentiment that this could be one of the better lineups we’ve seen in a long, long time.
9. Can the Phillies outscore their defense?
Defense wins championships … or does it? The Phillies have instead opted to lean into offense by signing Kyle Schwarber and Nick Castellanos, giving them one of the deeper lineups in MLB. It’s not like Dave Dombrowski doesn’t know how to build a contender, so I just can’t wait to see how this team shakes out.
10. How will the extra playoff spot impact the trade deadline?
Beyond the universal DH, the biggest change to baseball in 2022 is the addition of a sixth postseason team in each league. This was meant to increase competition among teams in the middle tier, and I’m intrigued to see how that dynamic plays out at the trade deadline. Will there be more buyers than ever? That would be fun!
PEDRO MOURA’S TOP 10
1. Mike Trout will return to form.
When Trout plays baseball, he tends to be the best at it. I expect that to again be true in 2022.
2. The Brewers will be a force.
Only one or two other teams in the NL Central are trying to win, so the Brewers should by far outpace their division and secure a playoff spot early. Once they do, their rotation could render them a postseason menace.
3. Both New York teams could miss the playoffs.
It hasn’t happened in eight years, but even with the larger postseason field, there’s a real risk of this happening in 2022. The Mets are already dealing with pitching injuries, and the Yankees didn’t add much in the offseason.
4. The Mariners’ young outfield is one to watch.
There’s so much potential here — and plenty of uncertainty. We should not be surprised if Julio Rodríguez and Jarred Kelenic become a dynamic duo as soon as this season, but given that their combined ages barely amount to Albert Pujols’, we also shouldn’t be surprised if it doesn’t happen this year.
5. The Giants will surprise again.
Perhaps not as much as last year. That’s probably not possible. But the Giants should again be better than expected, in significant part because of their depth and ability to quickly adjust to nonperformance across their roster.
6. Can Jazz Chisholm build on an amazing April 2021?
Chisholm was breaking out in 2021 until injuries disrupted his season. The 24-year-old second baseman retains that potential, generating real power despite his smaller frame. He’s Miami’s best hope for a homegrown star.
7. Kris Bryant will exceed expectations in his first season at elevation.
It won’t be enough for him to make any notable impact on the Rockies’ playoff chances, mind you, but it’ll be enough to quiet the criticism of his enormous contract.
8. The Padres’ rotation will be one of baseball’s best.
Barring another trade, San Diego should have five top-50 starters among Joe Musgrove, Yu Darvish, Sean Manaea, Mike Clevinger and Blake Snell. It probably won’t be enough for the team to contend, considering Tatis’ absence, but the potential here is too significant to ignore.
9. How will the Astros’ Correa succession plan work?
Clearly, Houston is entrusting shortstop to Jeremy Peña, a rookie with a pedigree but little high-level experience. The Astros opted against bringing back Correa, even when his price dropped to a level and tenure that could have kept Peña in their plans. If Peña doesn’t pan out right away, it’ll be a frustrated fan base.
10. The Phillies’ strange outfield plans will provide plenty of entertainment at both extremes.
Philadelphia decision-maker Dave Dombrowski repeatedly opted for offense over defense in assembling a roster, and he has constructed a powerful but defensively inept outfield in which both Kyle Schwarber and Nick Castellanos will have to spend some time fielding. They’ll hit a lot. Will they catch the ball enough?
BEN VERLANDER’S TOP 10
1. Bob Melvin will lead the Padres to the playoffs.
Melvin is one of the best managers in baseball. With him taking over a team that was already extremely talented, I like the Padres a lot. They just need to be good enough while Tatis is out.
2. Juan Soto will lead the league in AVG/OBP/OPS/SLG.
I think Soto will dominate the offensive categories and, as a result, be the runaway favorite for MVP in the NL.
3. Shohei Ohtani will be even better this season and win back-to-back MVPs.
We saw Shohei’s true ability last season. Now, with much more protection in the lineup, he will be pitched to more often, which means he’ll get more chances to put up numbers.
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4. Justin Verlander will win the AL Cy Young.
Yes, this one is me being hopeful, but it’s not out of the realm of possibility. Justin’s most recent full season was in 2019, when he won the Cy Young Award. After nearly two missed seasons due to Tommy John surgery, he is back and looking great in spring training.
5. A right-handed hitter will make a splash in McCovey Cove.
Since the stadium opened in 2000, a right-handed batter has never had a splash hit in San Francisco. I think it will happen this year, and I think it will happen with the Rockies in town. Kris Bryant or CJ Cron will get it done.
6. The Royals will compete for a wild-card spot.
I like this team. I think the Royals have all the makings to surprise this year and at least make it interesting down the stretch.
7. Acuña will be an MVP finalist despite missing the start of the season.
It’s just a matter of time until Acuña wins his first MVP award. Last season, an ACL tear ruined his chances, and with him missing about a month to start this season, I don’t think he can win it. But I do think he’ll do enough to get himself in that final conversation.
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8. The Brewers and Cardinals will both win 90-plus games in the NL Central.
I like both of these teams a lot, and I think they will both be very good, though the Brewers will edge the Cardinals when all is said and done.
9. Hunter Greene will have the fastest recorded pitch in baseball this season.
Reds right-hander Greene is set to debut after being drafted second overall in 2017. This 22-year-old throws fire, and I can’t wait to watch him this season.
10. Dylan Cease will be an AL Cy Young finalist.
Cease, a right-hander for the White Sox, continues to get better and better. I think this is the season he establishes himself as one of the best pitchers in baseball.
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