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11 under-the-radar prospects for 2022 staffers predict big seasons for lesser-known players
April 5, 2022

There are a host of great players who don't get the same attention as top-ranked prospects like Bobby Witt Jr. and Adley Rutschman. Here staff members pick one relatively unheralded player they expect to excel in 2022.

There are a host of great players who don't get the same attention as top-ranked prospects like Bobby Witt Jr. and Adley Rutschman. Here staff members pick one relatively unheralded player they expect to excel in 2022.

Jonathan Aranda, INF, Tampa Bay Rays
Aranda isn’t a physical standout on the diamond at 5-foot-10, 173 pounds, and with below-average speed, his defensive home remains up in the air, though it’s trending toward first base. But the left-handed slugger can flat out hit and was one of the most successful bats in the Minors in 2021. He finished with a .330/.418/.543 line and 14 homers between High-A and Double-A. He was one of seven Minor Leaguers to post an OPS above .950 while striking out less than 20 percent of the time (min. 400 PA) last season. Anthony Volpe, Jose Miranda, Alek Thomas, Juan Yepez, Vinnie Pasquantino and Johan Camargo may be bigger names, but the Rays liked the club's No. 22 prospect enough to add him to their 40-man in November. Still, it’s easy for the 23-year-old to get lost in the shuffle of a deep, deep system. Keep him in your sights early in 2022. --Sam Dykstra

Keegan Curtis, RHP, Arizona Diamondbacks
A 22nd-round pick from the 2018 Draft, the D-backs acquired Curtis from the Yankees last July. The hard-throwing right-hander flies a bit under the radar in a system filled with a number of intriguing pitching prospects, but has the potential to develop into a high-leverage reliever as early as this season. Curtis operates in the mid-to-upper 90s with a fastball that jumps on hitters. He complements the offering with a sharp-breaking slider. Effective relievers are typically able to rack up strikeouts and Curtis has shown an ability to do just that. He fanned over 12 batters per nine innings in 2021 and then finished the year with 12 strikeouts over 9 1/3 innings in the Arizona Fall League. --William Boor

Elijah Dunham, OF, New York Yankees
Dunham passed after being selected by the Pirates in the 40th round of the 2019 Draft and then went undrafted in the shortened Draft the following year. But the Indiana product signed with New York for the maximum $20,000 permitted for a nondrafted free agent on June 18, 2020. The 23-year-old opened his first pro season with a 14-game on-base streak -- including a four-hit game -- for Low-A Tampa. After Dunham was promoted to High-A Hudson Valley on June 15, he finished the season with a combined .263/.362/.463 slash line, 13 homers, two triples, 25 doubles, 72 runs scored, 57 RBIs and 28 stolen bags (in 33 attempts) over 93 games. The No. 27 Yankees prospect took that momentum to the desert, where he earned the Arizona Fall League’s breakout player of the year award after hitting .357/.465/.571 in 23 games. --Rob Terranova

Daniel Juarez, LHP, New York Mets
Juarez has thrown exactly 2 1/3 innings above Rookie-level competition, but the 21-year-old has an arm that bears watching. Signed out of Venezuela in 2019, the southpaw generates a good heater despite his relatively slight 5-foot-11, 155-pound frame. Even at his young age, Juarez already possesses a solid slider and a developing changeup, helping lead to a 38 percent K rate last season in the Rookie-level Florida Complex League. Overall, he posted a 2.56 ERA, a 0.95 WHIP and held opponents to a .106 average against in 17 appearances, including one start. Juarez fanned 46 while allowing just two homers in 31 1/3 innings. He’ll have to harness his control (19 walks), but being a lefty with swing-and-miss ability could put him on the fast track up the Mets' ladder. --Michael Avallone

Hao Yu Lee, SS, Philadelphia Phillies
Lee may not have made the biggest headlines on the international market in 2021, but the Phils feel they locked down a gem when they signed him in June. The infielder has long been a mainstay for his native Taiwan on the international stage. He competed for Chinese Taipei at the U-12, U-15 and U-18 World Cups, the last of which he won as a 16-year-old cleanup hitter in 2019, helping a team that beat the four-time reigning champion United States. Lee loves the game – like, really loves it. Now 19, the club's No. 20 prospect turned heads in a brief pro debut, hitting .364 with a 1.213 OPS in nine games for the Rookie-level FCL Phillies last summer, then impressed at instructs. His bat-to-ball skill is impressive, as is his ability to control the strike zone. Lee will get a chance against full-season competition for the first time this year. --Tyler Maun

Cade Marlowe, OF, Seattle Mariners
If you followed the Minors last year, there’s a good chance Marlowe is not under your radar at all. The left-handed-hitting 20th-round pick from 2019 put together a 20-20 campaign (with 26 homers and 24 stolen bases) while also leading MiLB with 107 RBIs and tying the Tigers’ Spencer Torkelson for ninth with 61 extra-base hits. He did all this while climbing from High-A Modesto to Triple-A Tacoma. And yet Marlowe’s is not a name most fans have heard. He ranks merely No. 17 on the Top 30 Mariners prospects list (which is, admittedly, stacked). But nobody hits (and runs the bases) that well while acing increasingly advanced challenges over an entire pro season – especially not his first full pro season – unless his tools are legit. Get your ticket for the Cade Marlowe train now. --Josh Jackson

Ismael Munguia, OF, San Francisco Giants
Munguia was an electric presence and the driving force behind Eugene’s High-A West title last year. The 5-foot-10 outfielder batted .336/.366/.502 with 57 runs scored and 53 RBIs. Munguia hit three total homers in his first five professional seasons, but slugged nine last year for the Emeralds. He rarely walked but was one of only three players in full-season ball to strike out in fewer than 10 percent of their plate appearances, posting a 7.6 percent whiff rate. The 24-year-old has mostly flown under the radar since signing out of Chinandega, Nicaragua in 2015, but he’s still a lifetime .298 career hitter in nearly 1,300 at-bats. He was a little older than most players at High-A last year and he’s not listed among the Giants’ top prospects but it’s hard to argue with the results. --Gerard Gilberto

Michael Stefanic, 2B, Los Angeles Angels
Stefanic set many offensive records at Westmont College (CA), and he graduated with a .363 average (fifth all-time at the school). When he went undrafted in 2018, he sent video to all 30 clubs until the Angels signed him as a free agent. He’s hit at every single level, with his worst season coming in 2019 with a line of (gasp!) .282/.358/.364. In addition to a pro .314 average and .824 OPS, the 26-year-old has a career K rate of 12.7 percent and found a power stroke in 2021, clubbing 17 homers between Double-A and Triple-A. The Angels' No. 27 prospect may be considered a below-average defender, but after slashing .336/.408/.493 last season and racking up eight hits, seven walks, five runs, three RBIs and two stolen bases this spring, his bat is hard to ignore. All that’s left is for Los Angeles to find a place for him in the lineup. --Stephanie Sheehan

Cody Thomas, OF, Oakland Athletics
In 2015, Thomas was a star quarterback for the Oklahoma Sooners and a legitimate NFL Draft prospect (much like another A’s first-rounder). He stuck with baseball, spending five years in the Dodgers’ farm system before being traded to Oakland prior to the 2021 season. After a slow start, he burst onto the scene as a bat to take note of. Thomas hit 18 homers, four triples and 20 doubles with 52 RBIs and a 1.028 OPS in 59 games for Triple-A Las Vegas before an Achilles injury cut his season short. The 27-year-old has belted between 18 and 23 home runs in all five of his Minor League seasons and is one shy of 100 career dingers. With the departure of much of Oakland’s 2021 lineup this offseason, the club's No. 29 prospect should have a great chance to cement himself in the Majors after returning from Achilles surgery. --Nick Trujillo

Nick Vespi, LHP, Baltimore Orioles
Sometimes overlooked in an Orioles system that was recently recrowned the best in baseball, the left-handed Vespi put himself back on the organizational map with a 1.42 ERA and 26 strikeouts in 19 innings at Double-A Bowie in 2021. The southpaw struggled after a late-season promotion to Triple-A, where he’s bound to begin 2022. But he rebounded with a strong showing in the Arizona Fall League, logging a 2.19 ERA and 14 strikeouts in 12 1/3 innings on his way to being named an AFL All-Star. That’s put the former 18th-round pick out of Palm Beach State College in 2015 a stone’s throw away from the Majors. Vespi has thrown well in limited opportunities this spring, but is unlikely to get the Opening Day call. Instead, he’ll anchor the back of bullpen at Triple-A Norfolk with an eye toward debuting this summer. --Joe Trezza

Jake Walsh, RHP, Cardinals
A 16th-round pick in 2017, Walsh was a dominant reliever in his pro debut, then seamlessly transitioned to the rotation for his sophomore campaign while advancing to High-A. But in 2019, Walsh tore his right UCL and underwent Tommy John surgery. Back in the bullpen in 2021, the Florida Southern product returned to form, notching a 2.86 ERA with 34 strikeouts and eight walks in 22 innings across the top two levels. While his ERA was not as sharp in the Arizona Fall League, the righty struck out 10 in 10 frames while converting four saves in five opportunities. The two campaigns were enough to protect him from the Rule 5 Draft, the Cards added their No. 30 prospect to the 40-man roster last fall. With a plus sinking fastball and an impressive curveball, Walsh could be in the St. Louis bullpen in no time. --Kelsie Heneghan