Now just a week from Opening Day most Major League Baseball clubs have their 40 man rosters set and are working through their final cuts before kicking off the regular season. Although we don’t have Opening Day on its original scheduled time, a full 162-game season following the lockout is as good as it gets.
The Atlanta Braves are looking to repeat as World Series Champions, but they will be doing so with some new faces after letting franchise favorite Freddie Freeman walk. The American League will certainly be out to recapture the trophy, and there’s a ton of new talent being thrust into the highest level.
You can look back at my 2021 picks here. A dark horse MVP candidate wound up taking the crown, and it was good to see Bryce Harper pick up his second iteration of that award. Here’s what I have for 2022.
MVP: American League – Luis Robert (Dark Horse Byron Buxton) National League – Juan Soto (Dark Horse Manny Machado)
Maybe Robert is a post-hype type player, but he’s far too much of an afterthought with just two seasons in the big leagues. Robert played just 68 games last year for the White Sox, but the 24-year-old posted a .946 OPS. He has the complete package of speed, power, and athleticism to make an impact all over the diamond. The strikeout rates are still ugly, but he makes enough hard hit contact to generate a strong average. Chicago should again be good, and that puts him in a good spot.
Byron Buxton is going to be healthy this year if I have to manifest it into existence. Should that happen, he’ll find himself squarely in the conversation. He began 2021 on a ridiculous pace and was only overshadowed by Shohei Ohtani and Vladimir Guerrero Jr. Betting on himself in his new extension, that paying off early would be nice to see.
On the National League side it really feels like the MVP is Juan Soto’s to lose. He’s an otherworldly talent that hits for average and power while having a great eye. I don’t think the Nationals are going to be very good this season, but if Nelson Cruz has any positive impact on the youngster allowing him to take his game up a notch, that’s pretty scary. It’d also be somewhat of a nice development to see Manny Machado step up in a big way for the Padres with Fernando Tatis Jr. out to start the season. He’s been close to an MVP award previously, and maybe this winds up being the year.
Cy Young: American League – Shohei Ohtani (Dark Horse Luis Severino) National League – Max Scherzer (Dark Horse Logan Webb)
If there’s a way to follow up an MVP award after putting up the best individual season baseball has ever seen, Shohei Ohtani could grab a Cy Young as an encore. The greatest thing working against him will always be the amount of starts he makes. That said, another year of learning the league, I think this could be his true breakout on the mound. Another step forward and he’ll be in the conversation with Gerrit Cole as the best pitcher in the American League. Speaking of Cole, his teammate Luis Severino looked to have elite stuff prior to dealing with injuries since 2019. If he’s at all healthy, I wouldn’t be shocked to see that play again.
Max Scherzer jumps teams within the division, but now he’s in a place that’s willing to spend big. Paired with Jacob deGrom, the Mets have the best one-two punch in baseball. New York should be a very good team, and those two arms are going to do the heavy lifting. It’s been a few years since Scherzer won a Cy Young, and maybe he tired a bit in the postseason last year, but I think he shows well for his new club.
San Francisco Giants star Logan Webb is an intriguing choice here. He’s not far down the list of odds, but may be somewhat of an afterthought. The Giants probably won’t be as good this season, but Webb could take another step forward as he cements himself as a legitimate ace. His FIP was sub 3.00 last season and the strikeout numbers are there. It wouldn’t shock me if he puts up a head-turning performance.
Rookie of the Year: American League – Bobby Witt Jr. (Dark Horse Julio Rodriguez) National League – Hunter Greene (Dark Horse Max Meyer)
It’s hard to go against the Royals superstar prospect Bobby Witt Jr. He’s going to make the Opening Day roster and looks like someone that should be an impact player from day one. Kansas City won’t be good, but they shouldn’t be terrible either. The highlight reel play on both sides of the ball are impressive, and he should be fun to watch from within the division. Seattle’s Julio Rodriguez may also be in the conversation, but that will largely depend on how much runway he’s given this season.
Once considered among the best draft prospects ever, Hunter Greene’s debut should finally come in 2022. The Reds rotation has arms that need to still be moved, but Greene should see plenty of action for a team that’s clearly not trying. His stuff is going to play, and the triple-digit fastball is going to be fun to watch. If the Marlins promote Max Meyer with any amount of longevity destined for this season, he too could be in the running.
American League – Blue Jays, White Sox, Astros, Red Sox, Rays, Twins
National League – Braves, Brewers, Dodgers, Mets, Padres, Phillies
ALCS – Blue Jays over Rays
NLCS – Phillies over Braves
World Series – Phillies over Blue Jays
Toronto had a stellar offseason adding Kevin Gausman and Matt Chapman. Already having a strong rotation and top talents like Jose Berrios and Vladimir Guerrero Jr., it’s hard not to see them as the juggernaut in a competitive American League East. They picked up depth talents as well, and we’re already trending towards being among the best teams in baseball. I’d be far from surprised if they finish with the best record in the American League.
On the other side, I think the Phillies give themselves a nice chance to play spoiler as somewhat of an underdog. The Braves and Mets are seen as the best in the division, but Philadelphia shouldn’t be far behind. Castellanos and Schwarber are two big bats, and the addition of the designated hitter hides the latter from playing the field. Bryce Harper is still the reigning MVP winner, and adding what they did to a formerly bad bullpen should help a lot.
We’re so close to regular season action in a season that should bring the return of normalcy. It’s time to settle in for the fun.