Chris Clarke – Picture by Todd Johnson
Every year, I often refer to some players as “my guy.” Cam Balego is one of them. Cam Sanders most definitely is still a guy for me and Jeffrey Passantino always will be. Ethan Roberts continues to be while Bryce Windham is making me look good. Hopefully, 2022 will see “my guys” Riley Thompson and Kohl Franklin return to action. Last year, I added Owen Caissie to the mix along with Zac Leigh, Max Bain, and Yonathan Perlaza. They are probably more players I’ve given that moniker to than I remember.
As for today, I’m going to bestow some titles of “my guy” nobility upon a few players today that I am going to be rooting for to bust out this summer.
1. Casey Opitz – If it were up to me, this Arkansas product would be starting the year at AA and will probably be in Chicago by mid June. That’s not going to happen, but I don’t think Opitz is long for the minor leagues. He’s an outstanding defender and every pitcher’s best friend behind the plate. I am not concerned about his bat at all, anything he can give you at the plate is going to be gravy. I just want to see him throw guys out and get excited after strike three. That’s it.
2. Porter Hodge – I hope to meet Hodge at some point this year. The Cubs took him out of high school in 2019 and he really busted his butt during the pandemic to change himself physically. After debuting last year in Mesa, he got some work in at Myrtle Beach. He’s shown flashes of potential at times. I don’t know if he’s going to be in the rotation or the bullpen yet but he’s likely to start at Myrtle Beach with an outside shot of being a starter. I really like his bulldog mentality and fierce competitiveness.
3. Chris Clarke – It’s not every year that you see a guy with a hip injury come back and pitch pretty well. Such was the case for Clarke in 2021. I get to see him debut in Appleton and saw him pitch in Davenport and Beloit. I really came away impressed with all the little things he does to give himself an edge. I like the fact that he keeps a notebook during games when other guys are pitching as well as when he is. What is in that notebook is still a mystery, but if I see him this year I am definitely going to ask him about it and how it helps him.
4. Joel Machado – The 2018 international free agent only pitched in two games last year but he’s healthy now as he’s been showing some signs of life on his Instagram account. He’s gone from a scrawny kid of about 160 pounds to a full-fledged adult body that has some pretty good muscle on it. The lefty will hopefully get it together this year and he probably is going to be in extended spring training with an opportunity to head to Myrtle Beach at some point before the complex league begins play in mid June.
5. Dominic Hambley – This guy had a full ride to Oregon State before he was drafted and $200,000 was enough to change his mind. As soon as he signed, one of the first things I saw was Hambley was praised for his work ethic. Blessed with a big frame, Hambley looks like a guy who will benefit from pro instruction. He only pitched one inning after signing last summer and you should expect to see him start 2022 in Mesa with an outside short of going to Myrtle late in the summer. He is, after all, still 18 as the season begins. He won’t turn 19 until the end of April. That’s pretty young.
Honorable Mentions – Richard Gallardo, BJ Murray, Ronnier Quintero, Christian Franklin, Jacob Wetzel, Moises Ballesteros, Raino Coran, and Anderson Suriel.
As the season goes on, there will be lots of other “guys” join my list. It’s always fun to root for guys to put it together and sometimes they do!
It will be interesting to see who your guys are this year!