So much can change in four years' time.
Four years ago, Jose Ramirez was only a marginal prospect, with a .162 batting average and only one extra-base hit in 26 career big league games. Today, he's one of the best players in fantasy baseball and on the field.
Meanwhile, Felix Hernandez enjoyed one of the best seasons of his career as a 28-year-old in 2014, finishing second in the American League Cy Young Award race behind a 2.14 ERA and 0.92 WHIP, both of which led the league. Today, he's barely even a roster-worthy pitcher in mixed leagues, having lost a good deal of velocity.
Still, with so much young talent starring in today's game, many things probably won't change much in the next four years. To use an example from four years ago, Mike Trout was the No. 3 overall name on our 2014 Player Rater come season's end. As the second half of this season dawned, he was No. 8 on the Player Rater.
That's the fun of predicting the future: Guessing at the things that will change. So let's turn the clock forward four years, to the summer of 2022, and turn on the prediction machine. It's in this space where I predict -- nay, guess -- at the highest ceilings in baseball's (somewhat) distant future.
The "All-2022 Team," as with past editions, follows these guidelines:
A full 23-man, old-school Rotisserie roster: Two catchers; one apiece at first base, second base, third base and shortstop; one corner infielder and one middle infielder (listed at their primary positions); five outfielders; a designated hitter (for this team, the DH is an actual DH); and nine pitchers, in this case broken down as seven starters and two closers.
Players are listed only at the position I believe they'll play in 2022. For example, Scott Kingery has made starts at five different positions for the Philadelphia Phillies this season, with the most coming at shortstop, but for 2022, I've projected him as a full-time second baseman.
Players are picked based only upon how much fantasy value I believe they will have in the 2022 season and the 2022 season alone. In other words, this team projects the positional leaders on the 2022 ESPN Player Rater. This is by design, as it distinguishes players with the highest distant-future, single-year ceilings. For those seeking players projected to have the greatest overall value for the next four seasons combined, see my midseason Dynasty 300 rankings, published last Tuesday.
Only fantasy potential is considered. Defense is irrelevant, outside of how it impacts teams' decisions regarding roles and playing time.
Use this list however you wish: addressing your dynasty team's long-term goals, for lively fantasy sports debates with friends or, if you wish, to clip and save to remind me come 2022 how terribly, terribly wrong I was. It's all good.
Picks are ranked in order at each individual position, meaning that the two catchers are Nos. 1 and 2, and the "Best of the rest" picks, which are essentially the "B" team, begin with No. 3 and so on. "Sleeper" picks, however, do not necessarily follow this order.
Now, presenting the "All-2022 Team," with players' ages as of April 1, 2022, listed in parentheses.
Catchers: Willson Contreras (29) and J.T. Realmuto (31).
No offensive position has seen as significant a decline in fantasy value during the past decade, and it seems that teams are increasingly concerned about defense from their catchers. That's why all five names mentioned here, including the "Best of the rest" and the "Sleeper," have good defensive reputations. Contreras and Realmuto bring the best combination of batting average, power, defense and proximity to their primes. One note: If I could promise that Francisco Mejia, who has one of the strongest arms in professional baseball, would be a catcher come 2022, he'd have made the team ahead of Realmuto (then bumped to second team).
Sleeper: Keibert Ruiz (23). He's another good defensive catching prospect, with an elite hit tool that should make him one of the top five in the game in a half-decade.
First baseman: Cody Bellinger (26).
His high-strikeout, extreme fly-ball nature makes it likely he'll always struggle with batting average, but Bellinger's power is among the best of any first baseman -- and he'll still be only 26 years old come 2022. That's two years younger than Jesus Aguilar and Freddie Freeman and four years younger than Paul Goldschmidt are today.
Best of the rest: Freddie Freeman (32).
Sleeper: Peter Alonso (27). His power was on full display during the Futures Game, and he's already in Triple-A ball. This is a weaker position than you might think, from a prospects standpoint, but Alonso is one of the good ones.
Second baseman: Javier Baez (29).
He was on the "All-2018 Team," one of the picks that paid off the most, and he's still on the list for 2022, considering how well his power potential should hold up year over year. The main question he'll face by his age-29 season is whether he'll still have the same base-stealing ability he has now. That said, in his defense, if he managed to develop even slightly greater patience by then, it would more than make up for it.
Best of the rest: Scott Kingery (27).
Sleeper: Isan Diaz (25). He'll begin this season's second half in Triple-A ball, and could be ready to take over as a Miami Marlins regular by Opening Day 2019. Diaz has an appealing combination of pop and speed.
Third basemen: Manny Machado (29) and Rafael Devers (25).
Third base is rich in future talent, but it's also full of players who could wind up at several different positions. I still think Machado's future is at third base, after his outstanding defensive years there in the past, but he'll be a star for years to come -- no matter where he signs this offseason. Devers, meanwhile, is a personal favorite, with much better raw power potential than people give him credit. He'll need to make more contact and raise his batting average to get here, but I've long felt he has a .280-40 season in his not-too-distant future. Remember, he's still only 21.
Best of the rest: Alex Bregman (28) and Nick Senzel (26).
Sleeper: Matt Chapman (28). His glove will keep him in the lineup for years, and "Arenado lite" comparisons aren't out of line. If Chapman can only raise his launch angle, a 30-homer season won't be far off.
Shortstops: Francisco Lindor (28) and Gleyber Torres (25).
Like third base, shortstop is a position filled with future talent, but Torres' inclusion here shows that there's some question about where all those up-and-coming stars might play. Didi Gregorius is a free agent after next season, and in the event the New York Yankees let him go -- not that it's especially likely right now -- Torres should slide over to cover shortstop, his natural position. Lindor and Torres are two of the most complete talents at the position, with great odds of being fantasy superstars for the next decade.
Best of the rest: Carlos Correa (27) and Fernando Tatis Jr. (23).
Sleeper: Luis Urias (24). The San Diego Padres will have a decision on their hands once both Urias and Tatis are major-league ready, but Urias' hit tool gives him a good chance at batting-average success -- and his glove is capable enough to stay at short.
Outfielders: Andrew Benintendi (27), Mike Trout (30), Ronald Acuna Jr. (24), Eloy Jimenez (25) and Jo Adell (22).
This is perhaps the toughest position from which to pick five players, as nine different guys -- including the top four in the "Best of the rest" -- all make compelling cases for inclusion. Trout is an obvious pick, and Benintendi and Acuna are future five-category superstars who today aren't even close to their primes. It's Jimenez and Adell who might take you by surprise, but their raw power potential ranks among the best of all prospects. Jimenez is in a great ballpark in which to exploit it, and he should be a Chicago White Sox regular in less than a calendar year. Adell is 19 and in high Class-A ball, but so far as a professional he hasn't had much trouble posting .250-plus isolated power and at least a 5.0 percent homer rate (based on a percentage of his trips to the plate). If you're picking less-proven candidates to lead the majors in homers in 2022, Jimenez and Adell are it.
Sleeper: Manuel Margot (27). I'm not ready to give up on him, as the skills are still there even if the results aren't. He's still good enough with the bat to eventually bat .280, has enough pop for 15 homers and can steal 30-plus bases.
Designated hitter: Vladimir Guerrero Jr. (23).
It would be unfortunate if he can't find a field position in which to play, at least for the early part of his big league career, but when I look at Guerrero, I think DH is his eventual destination. He's the real deal and the one prospect pick to legitimately challenge a .300 batting average and 40 homers in the same year. You might not even have to wait until 2022 to see that come to fruition.
Best of the rest: Giancarlo Stanton (32).
Sleeper: Willie Calhoun (27).
Starting pitcher: Shohei Ohtani (27), Aaron Nola (28), Chris Sale (33), Hunter Greene (22), Walker Buehler (27), Alex Reyes (27).
I'm a bit more wary of Ohtani in dynasty leagues where you're locking him in year over year as opposed to projecting an individual future year, as he still possesses "top of the rotation" talent, will be an "in the middle of his prime" 27 years old come 2022 and, if he does eventually require Tommy John surgery, he'll probably have had it and already recovered from it by then. Sale still makes this list, but otherwise I see the new aces in fantasy being those who haven't yet reached their 30th birthdays. Greene's and Reyes' inclusions are probably the most unexpected, but the former has outstanding stuff at 18 years old, which gives him plenty of time to polish his command over the next three seasons. Reyes, meanwhile, still looks like an ace to me if he can merely get past the injuries. Still, as a 23-year-old, he has a lot of career ahead of him.
Sleeper: Julio Urias (25). Injuries have sidetracked his career, but he's still just 21 years old today. Urias' ceiling was that of one of the best pitchers in fantasy, and with positive reports on his rehab thus far, he could recapture that status by 2022.
Relief pitcher: Josh Hader (27) and Craig Kimbrel (33).
Here's the position that experiences the largest amount of turnover, and is often the destination for starting pitcher prospects who lacked the secondary pitches to succeed in a big league rotation. Hader didn't exactly fail as a starter, but rather was promoted to serve in relief at the time of his big league debut. His stuff is far too filthy at this point to envision him shifting back and, if he were going to, shouldn't he do so now, considering the Brewers' current rotation? A Billy Wagner-esque career isn't entirely out of the question. Kimbrel, meanwhile, still has nearly as good stuff now as he did as a rookie, and 33 isn't exactly old for a closer.
Sleeper: Drew Steckenrider (31). He's still one of the best strikeout artists among relievers and has an improving cutter that could help put him in line for elite closer numbers when he eventually gets a chance.