Despite the MLB lockout showing no signs of coming to an end, expectations are building for every player in the league. Whether that refers to award winners who need to repeat their success, players who struggled and need to rebound or young players who’ll look to break out, here are seven players who have the most to prove in 2022.
1. OF/DH Giancarlo Stanton (New York Yankees)
Last season was Stanton’s best since his 2017 MVP season. Last year, he played a full season for the first time since 2018, posted his highest batting average (.273) and OPS (.870) in a full season with the Yankees, struck out a whole lot less and carried the offense for months. Other than Aaron Judge, no one else had a greater impact on the 2021 Yankees than Stanton, and it looked like it was worth it to take on his massive contract for the first time in four years. However, Stanton now has to do that again in 2022. The Yankees have not added any pieces to their lineup yet, so Stanton remains one of the two key players in that batting order.
2. SP Robbie Ray (Seattle Mariners)
Ray always had the ability to strike out everyone in the lineup, but last year he put together an elite season for the Blue Jays and won the American League Cy Young Award as a result. He set career-bests in ERA, innings pitched, strikeouts and WHIP in 2021, and that earned him a contract worth over $100 million with the Mariners. Now he is on a team with a far worse offense, and all eyes will be on him as the leader of the pitching staff. Seattle has not had a true ace since Félix Hernández in the early 2010s, and Ray now has the chance to assume that mantle in 2022.
3. SS Corey Seager (Texas Rangers)
Seager is one of the many elite middle-infielders who hit the free agent market this offseason. So far, he has the biggest contract handed out to any player this offseason. As the Rangers spend over $550 million to rebuild their roster, Seager has to show who he is. Is he the durable, elite lefty bat that won Rookie of the Year and was supposed to be the most important player on the Dodgers? Or will he be injury prone, lacking in power and more known for his subpar defense? This is the $325 million question the Rangers will spend the next 10 years answering.
4. C Adley Rutschman (Baltimore Orioles)
Rutschman may be a prospect, but he has been a top-three prospect in baseball for three years. The No. 1 pick from 2019 has been one of the very few bright spots in the Orioles’ organization since the team started losing over 100 games season after season. Now 23-years-old, expectations are that Rutschman will reach the majors next season. He isn’t getting any younger, and with young pieces like John Means, Cedric Mullins and Ryan Mountcastle already playing every day, Rutschman could at least spark the Orioles to reach close to 70 wins in 2022.
5. OF George Springer (Toronto Blue Jays)
Springer received a six-year, $150 million deal to lead the Blue Jays’ outfield and be one of their biggest hitters. Last season, Springer suffered injury after injury as Marcus Semien, Bo Bichette, Vladimir Guerrero Jr. and others led the offense for him. Despite how talented and young Toronto’s lineup is, they’re stuck with Springer for five more years and on the hook for a lot more money. He has to prove he can do what he does every game of the season or his deal will turn out to be a major bust.
6. 3B Alex Bregman (Houston Astros)
Carlos Correa is a free agent and nearly a lock not to return to the Astros. While they still have Jose Altuve, Michael Brantley and Yuli Gurriel, they’ve arguably lost their best hitter. It’s now on Bregman, who is in year two of a $100 million extension, to play like the near-MVP he was in 2018 and 2019. His OPS has dropped almost 200 points from his last two seasons compared to the previous two. Houston’s lineup will be much weaker if they’re stuck with the Bregman of the last two seasons.
7. SP Jacob deGrom (New York Mets)
Yes, the Mets signed Max Scherzer to be a second ace in their rotation. Yes, the Mets now have a great mix of young and veteran talent up and down the roster. That does not change the fact that deGrom is the face of this franchise, and a face of the franchise that made only 15 starts last season. Those starts might be the best 15 by any pitcher in baseball history, but the Mets will underachieve again if deGrom can’t stay healthy. With how talented he is and how highly paid he is, a half-season from deGrom will result in the same mediocre finish for the Mets in 2022 and beyond.