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Rays 2022 MLB draft preview: College (and independent) pitchers

The Rays typically value college pitching early in the draft.

2021 NCAA Division I Men’s Baseball Championship
Kumar Rocker looks like a first-round pick again
Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images

The 2022 MLB draft begins on July 17. With that date rapidly approaching, it’s time to start previewing some players who will hear their names called this month.

The draft remains the now-standard 20 rounds. In addition to their pick at the end of every round, the Rays have back-to-back picks at No. 70 and 71 overall in a competitive balance round.

Some of these players have been connected to the Rays in mock drafts, but some were just picked out by us to write about.

We’ll have a few other preview posts in the next couple weeks.

LHP Cooper Hjerpe, Oregon State (6’3 200, 21 years old)

103 13 IP, 2.53 ERA, 0.87 WHIP, 23 BB, 161 K

The Athletic rank: 54
Baseball America rank: 31
FanGraphs rank: 61 rank: 32

The Rays love throwing different arm angles at opponents, and Hjerpe would give them another weapon.

His low arm slot is unique among starters. Despite the delivery, he doesn’t have a problem throwing strikes. His career walk rate is just 7.3%, and it went down each season. All of his pitches — fastball, slider, and changeup — are average or better. His fastball velocity is just average, but it plays up due to his deception.

He led college baseball in strikeouts and was a finalist for the Golden Spikes Award presented to the best amateur player in the U.S. Statistically inclined teams are more likely to have him higher on their board. He may not be around for the Rays’ second pick.

Video is from FanGraphs.

LHP Bryce Hubbart, Florida State (6’1 181, 21 years old)

76 IP, 3.32 ERA, 1.16 WHIP, 21 BB, 96 K

The Athletic rank: 65
Baseball America rank: 80
FanGraphs rank: 26 rank: 70

Like Hjerpe, Hubbart’s stuff doesn’t stand out, but the analytics behind it do stand out. Every scouting report mentions his high spin rate and other pitch characteristics, so his average fastball velocity isn’t a huge issue.

Besides the fastball, he has two distinct breaking balls and a changeup, which he has to develop. His slider showed improvement in the Cape Cod League last summer, where he was one of the top prospects in the league. His strike throwing improved throughout his collegiate career.

Given the lack of depth in the college pitching class, he could be pushed up draft boards. It only takes one team for him to not be available at the Rays’ second pick.

RHP Ben Joyce, Tennessee (6’5 225, 21 years old)

32 13 IP, 2.23 ERA, 0.99 WHIP, 14 BB, 53 K

The Athletic rank: not in top 100
Baseball America rank: 83
FanGraphs rank: not in top 69 rank: 116

Unlike Hjerpe and Hubbart, Joyce does not have average velocity. If he could go higher than 80 on the 20-80 scale, he probably would. A pitch this season was clocked at 105.5 mph. His mid-80s slider is another very good pitch.

He started his collegiate career at Walters State, where Brent Honeywell Jr. pitched when the Rays drafted him. He transferred to Tennessee, but Tommy John surgery limited him to one season with the Volunteers. Clearly, the injury didn’t affect his stuff.

The Rays haven’t drafted a pure reliever in the top 100 in 11 years, and I’m not sure that’s suddenly going to change. His track record is very short, and he only threw back-to-back days once this season — getting just one out in each appearance. He’ll have to develop his workload and refine his command.

RHP Jake Misiorowski, Crowder College (6’7 190, 20 years old)

76 IP, 2.72 ERA, 1.25 WHIP, 45 BB, 136 K

The Athletic rank: 96
Baseball America rank: 68
FanGraphs rank: not in top 69 rank: 83

Misiorowski is the top junior-college pitcher available this year, but it’s not a guarantee that he signs. He could follow through on his commitment to LSU and improve his stock with the Tigers.

It might even be better for his career to go to LSU. Right now, he’s a two-pitch pitcher who needs to throw more strikes. Those two pitches — a mid-90s fastball with impressive characteristics and plus slider — are very good, but he’ll need a third pitch to be a starter.

There’s a lot to work with though, and an organization that has a track record of getting the most out of pitchers with great stuff might want to prioritize drafting him.

RHP Kumar Rocker, Tri-City (6’5 245, 22 years old)

15 IP, 1.80 ERA, 0.80 WHIP, 3 BB, 25 K

The Athletic rank: 34
Baseball America rank: 19
FanGraphs rank: 12 rank: 39

Rocker is one of the biggest wild cards in the draft. On talent, it feels like he should be a top-10 pick again. But there’s a lot more to the draft than talent.

The Mets obviously had genuine concerns about his arm after performing a physical and nixing their agreement. Will other teams see whatever they saw and share their assessment? His health will almost certainly limit his market.

On Sunday, ESPN’s Kiley McDaniel and Jeff Passan reported he had shoulder surgery last fall. Agent Scott Boras described it as a minor procedure.

He went to the Frontier League after not being able to sign and pitched a limited amount of innings. In those short bursts, his stuff — a mid-90s fastball and excellent slider — was still there. Last year, there were concerns about his stuff fluctuating between starts, and those concerns may still be there.

Still, at his best, he has great stuff and average control, and despite the reported inconsistencies, he had a great career at Vanderbilt and was one of the best pitchers in college baseball.

Video is from Prospect Live’s Brian Recca.

LHP Carson Whisenhunt, East Carolina (6’3 209, 21 years old)

11 IP, 10.64 ERA, 1.55 WHIP, 4 BB, 19 K

The Athletic rank: 18
Baseball America rank: 30
FanGraphs rank: 15 rank: 36

Whisenhunt’s innings didn’t come with East Carolina. He tested positive for a banned drug and was ineligible this season, but he has made several appearances in the Cape Cod League.

Teams will have to do their due diligence on what kept him out this season and be comfortable working with a few starts in the Cape Cod League and his 2021 season. His stuff this summer has reportedly largely been the same. His fastball is average, and he leans on his changeup, which some rate as a plus-plus pitch. He needs to continue to improve his curveball. He does throw strikes.

The short track record will concern some teams, but he’s a healthy college starter. He’s going to go pretty early in the draft.