As of yesterday, the 2022 minor league baseball season is officially two months old. There have been several surprises this spring in terms of performance that many people did not see coming. Some of them have been pleasant surprises just based on an uptick in performance. Other surprises have figuratively come out of left field.. Let’s take a look at a few players who have stepped up their game. FYI – These are in no particular order or ranking.
1. The expectations for Pete Crow-Armstrong were he was going to hit between .280 and .300 and he might hit a couple home runs here and there. I don’t think anybody expected him to hit almost .380 and have nine home runs in less than two months. He’s already skyrocketing up some prospect lists and he is in the conversation for being the Cubs top prospect.
2. Levi Jordan has a track record of injuries as a Cub. Then again, he’s only been a Cub for 2.5 seasons. When healthy, he’s done well. When healthy for extended periods of time, he’s been a two-time Championship game hero for Eugene and South Bend. This year, he is raking at the plate and we will get to see him get an extended look in Triple-A with Robel Garcia now gone.
3. I commented a few times this winter about how good Matt Swarmer finished the 2021 season. He made the All-Star teams for both August and September last year, but I did not expect him to get called up so early. They did and he is pitching just like he pitched at Iowa for the past 150 innings. Good for him!
4. Chris Morel has just been a Godsend for the Cubs. He’s always been one of my favorite prospects but I never envisioned him going straight from Double-A to the majors. His style of play fits perfectly in Wrigley and his versatility is going to keep him there.
5. I thought we would’ve seen some of the injured players start to come back at this point in the year. Cole Roederer is the only major prospect who has returned this year and he seems to be holding his own at Double-A after 10 days. As for Marquez and Amaya, along with Michael McAvene and several others, they are just not quite ready and I thought they would be at least close by now or at least in a limited role.
6. Infielder BJ Murray has been a very pleasant surprise. I thought he would do fairly well this year at Low-A and he’s even exceeded my expectations as he hitting over .300 and is a key part of the Myrtle Beach offense. The fact that he’s a switch hitter, it’s only a bonus.
7. The power surge from Yohendrick Pinango is a really pleasant surprise. Everybody knew that he was a good hitter and that he used all fields to get on base. Now he’s turning on pitches and driving them with authority. It’s looking like he’s going to be in Tennessee next month at 20-years-old. That’s more than anybody could ask for.
Fun trivia fact of the day – Yohendrick Pinango’s younger than Pete Crow Armstrong by six weeks.
8. Bryce Ball might be the biggest surprise of them all. The 6-foot-6 first baseman hasn’t really changed his swing as much as his approach. He’s much more aggressive early in the count now. He used to be able to work counts and grind out ABs but struggled with breaking pitches in strike two counts. This year, he’s not waiting for that count. He’s hit over .300, he showed that he still has light tower power, and he’s pushing for his own promotion to Iowa.
9. Matt Mervis has also been a great surprise. Mervis struggled to hit for average at Myrtle Beach (go figure) but he did show occasional power and the ability to draw a walk 12.8% of the time. Things changed for Mervis after a trip to Iowa to fill in at the end of the year when some many Iowa players were called up to Chicago. In that short span, he hit .286 in 3 games, which sort of gave him some confidence that he could hang. That carried over to this year and he has just destroyed the baseball. Between Tennessee and South Bend, he’s hit .331 with 13 HRs and 45 RBI in 44 games (as of 6.7). It does not seem like it will be long before he is back in Iowa, ironically.
10. Cam Sanders has also been pleasant surprise this spring. For Cam, it was a matter of putting his talent together and we might see him in Chicago at some point this summer. The live arm has always been there and he flashed huge growth in the second half of 2019 at South Bend. He skipped High-A last year and went to Tennessee. He struggled at times to command his pitches and how to best mix in a new slider. It’s all working now.
11. For Manny Espinoza, he’s not far behind in moving up a level either. He’s been used in a variety of roles so far and is thriving in each and every one with an ERA of 2.60 in 45 innings. He’s done it with an excellent breaking ball and great command of his fastball in the zone.
There were also some surprises for you that I saw coming last fall and that was the improvement of Sheldon Reed as a relief pitcher along with Dalton Stambaugh who I thought would blossom with pro coaching over the winter along with his own hard work. Bryce Windham is just darn good baseball player who is extremely physically talented and people should not overlook him as a future backstop and utility player in the major leagues. He’s got a great arm, great speed and athleticism, a high baseball IQ, works well with others, and hits for average – over .300 in May.
There have also been some setbacks for some players through injury and/or performance that have also been surprises. We don’t need to name names but hopefully those guys can get back on track this month or in the second half.
And now that the rookie leagues are playing, we will have a lot more surprises in the second half of the season headed our way.
Leave your current or future surprises down in the comments below!