The Nationwide Road to the Show™ Ambassadors series, which provides fans an exclusive, behind-the-scenes look at five of the best prospects in Minor League Baseball, returns for a second season in 2022.
Orioles hurler Grayson Rodriguez, Yankees infielder Anthony Volpe, Rangers right-hander Jack Leiter, Cubs outfielder Brennen Davis and Cardinals infielder Jordan Walker are this season’s representatives, and each will be involved in producing original content that will show fans who they are on and off the field while highlighting their own journey to fulfill their dream of reaching the big leagues.
Nearly every member of the inaugural class of ambassadors from last year has already reached the Major Leagues. Orioles catcher Adley Rutschman, MLB Pipeline’s No. 2 overall prospect, is the lone exception after starting this season on the injured list. Each of the other players in the 2021 class – Royals infielder Bobby Witt Jr., Mariners outfielders Jarred Kelenic and Julio Rodriguez and Padres infielder CJ Abrams – are currently playing in the Majors.
This year’s group is an eclectic mix of prospects from unique backgrounds who began the 2022 season at different stages of their careers. The players themselves will be able to tell their own stories, but here’s some background on each one that should help fans get up to speed.
The hard-throwing Texas right-hander developed into the game’s top pitching prospect after being selected with the No. 11 overall pick in the 2018 Draft.
Rodriguez often recounts tales of endless car rides to all corners of the Lone Star state to further his exposure as a first-round talent. Now, he’s on the cusp of his Major League debut with Triple-A Norfolk.
The 6-foot-5, 220-pound hurler has a 4.15 ERA with 33 strikeouts through his first 21 ⅔ innings with the Tides. Rodriguez posted one of the best seasons in the Minors last year, finishing with a 2.36 overall ERA and 161 strikeouts in 103 frames in 23 starts with Double-A Bowie and High-A Aberdeen. He was the only pitcher in the Minors to complete 100 innings with 14 K/9, and he allowed two runs or fewer in all but three starts, including eight scoreless outings.
After he was drafted in 2018, Rodriguez had a dominant debut in the Rookie-level Gulf Coast League, but he really came into his own as the leader of one of the best rotations in the Minors with Single-A Delmarva in 2019. Rodriguez went 10-4 with a 2.68 ERA and 129 strikeouts over 94 innings with the Shorebirds that season.
Injuries and promotions have limited the amount of starts Rodriguez has had with Rutschman as his batterymate. But as the two top prospects in MLB Pipeline’s No. 1 ranked farm system, the duo is destined to be reunited in perpetuity sometime soon, either in Norfolk or Baltimore.
Born in New York and raised in New Jersey, Volpe was selected by the Yankees at No. 30 overall in the 2019 Draft, providing the 21-year-old with a true homecoming. Volpe is in his first season with Double-A Somerset, playing home games nearly 20 miles from his alma mater, Delbarton High School, where he starred alongside another 2022 Road to the Show ambassador, Jack Leiter.
Both Volpe and Leiter were viewed as first-round talents coming out of high school, but they truly flourished in 2021. While Leiter was finishing up at Vanderbilt, Volpe shot up the prospect ranks with one of the best offensive seasons in the Minors at High-A Hudson Valley and Single-A Tampa.
Volpe batted .294/.423/.604 with 27 homers, 86 RBIs, 35 doubles, six triples and 33 stolen bases across both levels. He was the only player in the Minors to hit at least 25 homers and 30 doubles and steal 30 bases, earning a nomination for the Top Offensive Player MiLBY Award.
During the latest Winter Meetings, Yankees general manager Brian Cashman told reporters that Volpe’s season “caught the attention of the entire industry” and “reinforces and justifies everything we heard from our amateur department when we drafted him.”
Volpe will likely reach the big leagues at some point next season. He isn’t exactly setting the Eastern League on fire this year the way that he tore up two levels last year. But it is worth noting that his ridiculous 2021 season began with a .239 batting average through his first 21 games with Tampa.
The 22-year-old right-hander was practically born in a big league dugout. His father, Al Leiter, uncle, Mark Leiter, and cousin, Mark Leiter Jr., each pitched in the Majors.
The youngest Leiter is just beginning his professional career after being selected with the No. 2 overall pick in last year’s Draft. He’s off to a strong start with Double-A Frisco, where he made his Minor League debut in April after shutting down following the conclusion of the college season. Through his first four starts with the RoughRiders, Leiter has 19 strikeouts over 12 ⅔ innings with four earned runs allowed (2.84 ERA).
His strong start comes on the heels of a well-decorated college career at Vanderbilt. Leiter fell to the 20th round of the 2019 Draft – and was ironically selected by the Yankees – not because of his talent, but due to his strong commitment to play for the Commodores. Across two seasons in Nashville, Leiter posted a 2.08 ERA with 201 strikeouts over 125 ⅔ innings.
During his final season, Leiter was a unanimous First Team All-American and finalist for both the Golden Spikes Award and Dick Howser Awards. He threw 20 2/3 consecutive hitless innings across a three-start span, which included Vanderbilt’s first regular-season, complete-game no-hitter since 1971.
Leiter’s clearly beneficial decision to play college ball was practically the only deviation from the same path Volpe has followed to this point. But they’re now at the same level in the Minors and could potentially square off against each other in the Majors as soon as next year.
Davis displayed superstar potential during the second half of last season. Unfortunately, his 2021 campaign began with a stint on the injured list after he was hit in the head with a pitch during Spring Training. But the 22-year-old outfielder returned at the end of May and proceeded to tear through three levels of the Minors.
Davis opened the year in his first full season with Triple-A Iowa, where he played the final 15 games of the 2021 season. He batted .260/.375/.494 with 19 homers, 25 doubles and 53 RBIs across the three levels last year. But his season will best be remembered for a pair of two-homer games. The first came during the Futures Game at Coors Field, where he homered twice and was named MVP. Davis also homered twice in his first game with the I-Cubs after his promotion.
The 6-foot-4, 210-pound righty was a state champion basketball player at Basha High School in Chandler, Arizona, but he stopped playing hoops after his junior year to focus on baseball. He was selected by the Cubs with the No. 62 overall pick in 2018 and is now a key figure in the club’s rebuild.
Davis hasn’t gotten off to the best of starts in his first full season with Iowa. But a streak similar to his first few games with the I-Cubs last year could spark a quick promotion to Chicago.
At 6-foot-5, 220-pounds, the first thing that stands out about Walker is his hulking frame. After a round of batting practice, it becomes obvious that there is some raw power that comes with the size.
But his first Minor League season with High-A Peoria and Single-A Palm Beach was defined by his feel for the strike zone and incredible bat-to-ball skills. Across both levels last year, Walker batted .317/.388/.548 and hit 14 homers with 25 doubles and 48 RBIs. As a teenager, he posted a .300 average or better in three different months, highlighted by a .407/.477/.759 slash line in June.
He’s continued that trend through the first month of the 2022 season with Double-A Springfield, posting a .329 average and .434 on-base percentage through his first 70 at-bats.
Walker is a natural third baseman, but, like Nolan Gorman before him, a position change may be in his future as the Cardinals have Nolan Arenado at the hot corner. His size hasn’t limited him defensively, and he’s shown good speed and athleticism and should be able to handle learning a new position. He’s only played third base so far in the Minors, but a move to a corner outfield spot is certainly feasible -- he was also clocked in the low 90s on the mound in high school, so arm strength shouldn’t be a concern either.
The Cardinals drafted Walker away from his commitment to Duke with the No. 21 overall pick in the pandemic-shortened 2020 Draft. Like Gorman, a potential position switch may delay his arrival to the big leagues. But he’s hit the ground running with the bat since his debut.
Gerard Gilberto is a reporter for MiLB.com.