2018 Top 15 Fantasy Baseball Rookies
GM Jim Bowden breaks down the Top 15 fantasy baseball rookies for the 2018 MLB season.
Rookies, rookies, rookies! Everyone loves them. Why wouldn't they? Who doesn't love a shiny, new toy? But in fantasy, people get even more crazed as everyone wants to be the one who "discovers" a player and gets to reap the benefits all season long. Remember when Albert Pujols was a rookie? It came right about the same time the internet was blowing up fantasy sports and if you were one of the people who owned him, you got that feeling first and it felt good. It has since spilled over year after year with the likes of Mike Trout, Bryce Harper, Corey Seager and so on, and now the love for rookies has increased exponentially.
As a result, I'm going to give you my preliminary list of 2018 rookies to own in fantasy baseball. This list is based on FANTASY POINT POTENTIAL for 2018 only and is not a ranking of the type of prospect they are. We'll have the Dynasty League rankings up soon enough and keep your eyes open for updates to this piece as well. More player profiles are coming.
- Shohei Ohtani RHP OF/DH
When it was announced that Ohtani would be coming to the United States to join us for the 2018 MLB season, he was instantly regarded as the heavy favorite for Rookie of the Year without even knowing which team he would play for or what his exact role would be with whomever he signed. When asked to evaluate the 23-year old Japanese phenom, Seattle Mariners GM Jerry DiPoto seemed nothing short of impressed. “I’ve seen players hit a ball 500 feet and I’ve seen pitchers throw over 100 mph. I’ve just never seen one person do both until Ohtani”. Profiling as a top-of-the-rotation starter, the young right-hander has more potential than any other Japanese starter who has come to the States, including Yu Darvish, Masahiro Tanaka and Hideo Nomo. Even more impressive is that his bat projects him to be a .300-type hitter with 20-25 home run power, though we won’t know for sure until he starts facing MLB pitching on a regular basis. Ohtani has since signed with the Angels and there is a much clearer picture as to what his role will be, but with news circulating that he has a slight tear in his UCL in his pitching elbow and received platelet-rich injections last October, we’re now dealing with a pretty big red flag for the budding superstar. Masahiro Tanaka has pitched through it, but anytime people start talking about potential Tommy John surgery, there should be some concern. Prior to the news, he was likely to be a fourth or fifth round fantasy pick, but we may have to drop him further down depending on what we hear and see over the next few months.
- Alex Reyes RHP St. Louis Cardinals
Reyes had Tommy John Surgery last March, but is expected to make a full recovery, as he has not had any set- backs to date. Cardinals President John Mozeliak gave me this scouting report on Reyes: “His fastball is 95-100 mph, he has a plus-plus curve ball and change- up. He has size, strength and pitches to potentially be a number one starter”. I agree completely with his assessment, but I will add that his command, both in and out of the zone, needs to improve if he’s going to reach that potential. He’ll definitely be on an innings-limit this year and while we’d love to see him stretched out and dominate as a starter, if the Cardinals don’t trade for or sign a closer, he could be a candidate to close his first year back from surgery. UPDATE: While he is likely headed for a fair amount of bullpen work and we don't want to rule out the possibility of serving as the Cardinals closer at some point, St. Louis' President of Baseball Operations, John Mozeliak, has informed us that the team's ultimate goal is to use Reyes as a starter and limiting him to 60-70 innings this season hurts his chances of being an effective member of the rotation in 2019. He is most likely to be used as a swingman who could make a number of spot starts throughout the season.
- Willie Calhoun LF Texas Rangers
After acquiring the young outfielder from the Dodgers in the Yu Darvish trade, it looks like the Rangers are going to give Calhoun a chance to be their every-day left fielder. He’s a below-average defender, but can really hit with surprising power for his frame. Offensively, the Rangers are solid throughout the lineup so he should have plenty of traffic when he belts his projected 25-30 bombs. Expect him to hit around .280 with a .340 on-base percentage. Unfortunately, as we see with so many of these young sluggers, he will not help in the stolen base category.
- Brent Honeywell RHP Tampa Bay Rays
The Rays lost Alex Cobb to free agency and have been listening to trade proposals on several of their other veteran starters. Honeywell is ready to step into their starting rotation this year. He was 13-9 combined at Double and Triple-A last year and racked up a staggering 172 batters in 136.2 innings. Here is what Erik Neander, the GM of the Rays told me about Honeywell: “Brent is a bit of a throwback personality, has some edge and really cares about the game. Confident and very competitive. Versatile approach that can adapt to the hitter profile. He has the ability to pitch with power but can also break speeds and move the ball around to provide different looks and angles. He is a high-percentage strike thrower and loves to challenge [hitters]. From a development perspective, he needs to improve his strength and stamina for the expected major-league starting pitching work-load, continue to improve the crispness of both breaking balls and finally transitioning good control to good command.” Of course, if he does all three of those things, we’ll probably see him at the All-Star Game. UPDATE: Honeywell suffered a torn UCL during spring training and has undergone Tommy John surgery. He will not be available until close to the second half of the 2019 season.
- Michael Kopech RHP Chicago White Sox
Kopech was one of the key pieces coming back to the White Sox in the Chris Sale trade with Boston and has the potential of developing into an ace. He has a dominant 100-mph fastball with a wipeout slider and average change-up. His delivery will have to continue to smooth out more for his command and control to improve enough to allow him to reach that potential. When, and if, he hits, he could be near the top in the league in strikeouts. Wins and WHIP will be a problem for a couple more years, though.
- Ronald Acuna OF Atlanta Braves
This spring, Acuna will be given the chance to start the year in the outfield for the Braves, now that they dealt Matt Kemp back to the Dodgers. He will compete with Lane Adams, but the raw skill-set is there for him to win the job outright. Acuna is a tremendous center fielder with great angles and jumps. He has a chance to be an impactful fantasy player because, although he’s still learning, he could end up being a 30 stolen base type player with 20 home run power. He profiles to be a table setter and would sit in the top part of the order, so with Freddie Freeman and others hitting behind him, his runs scored should be strong, leading him being a significant contributor in three categories; four if he can keep the average and on-base percentage up. The only question remaining is when the Braves will give him that major league opportunity. If it is this year, have him on your draft sheets.
- Eloy Jimenez OF Chicago White Sox
When the White Sox traded Jose Quintana to their cross-town rivals, Jimenez was the centerpiece of the return package. Theo Epstein, the Cubs President, told me he felt Jimenez would develop into a middle of the order impact bat in the range of former big league outfielder Carlos Lee. He also said he had one scout who compared him to a young Miguel Cabrera. In my opinion, he doesn’t have the “hit” tool to be put in a Cabrera class but a 30-35 home run power hitter is definitely who he’ll be in the future. He should start the year in the minor leagues but could get elevated to the bigs not long into the season.
- Victor Robles CF Washington Nationals
Robles is one of the most exciting center field prospects in baseball right now. He’s an above-average hitter who can flat-out fly and eventually should be a 30-steal, high run-scoring, top of the order type player for the Nationals. He’s also an elite defender with great range and his glove will surely be a reason to keep him in the lineup every day as well. He should develop into having average major league power, his physical tools are off the charts and throughout his time in the system, has always been regarded for a great work ethic and being a strong clubhouse leader. He’ll start the year in Triple-A, but should force his way onto the big league roster as early as June.
- Francisco Mejia C/3B Cleveland Indians
Mejia, a 21-year old catcher/infielder, slashed .315/.359/.486 with 23 doubles, 18 home runs and 68 RBI this past season in the minor leagues. These stats should translate to the majors once he’s given 500 or more plate appearances. Fantasy owners should appreciate that the Indians have not given up on him catching thanks to a tremendous arm, desire to learn and high-end raw tools. However, they are also playing him at third base where he could win the starting job if Jose Ramirez stays at second base. Mejia has special energy and enthusiasm and a quick bat with 15-20 home run power. If he starts at third base for the Indians and gets enough games behind the plate to qualify as a catcher as well, his fantasy stock could soar up draft boards.
- Gleyber Torres SS/3B/2B New York Yankees
Torres is the Yankees best prospect and they’ll give him a chance to win the third base job right out of spring training at the age of 21 should they opt not to re-sign Todd Frazier. Last year, the right-handed hitter had a .383 on-base percentage for the Yankees Double and Triple-A teams combined and had seven home runs and seven stolen bases in just 235 plate appearances. He profiles out to be a 15-20 home run, 10-12 stolen base type performer and is an above-average defender. At the plate he’s a pull hitter with exceptional bat speed. He has good hand/eye coordination and has shown he can handle elite breaking stuff at times. He doesn’t have a quick first step, but runs well once underway. He also has a plus arm which obviously helps his defensive prowess, a quality fantasy owners love in a youngster, especially if it means keeping his bat in the lineup regularly.
- Franklin Barreto SS Oakland Athletics
Barreto was the return-headliner in the blockbuster deal that sent Josh Donaldson to the Toronto Blue Jays a few years back. Last season, he had a solid year playing for Nashville in the Pacific Coast League, the A’s Triple-A affiliate, as he slashed .290/.339/.456 with 15 home runs and 15 stolen bases over 510 plate appearances. As he develops, most scouts think he’ll end up being a 20 home run/20 stolen base type player. He got a cup of coffee with Oakland last year and failed miserably hitting just .197 in 76 plate appearances, but has a strong work ethic which will only drive him to get better. He should improve the next time around and is an interesting middle infield prospect for fantasy purposes.
- Walker Buehler RHP Los Angeles Dodgers
Buehler is the Dodgers’ top prospect in their organization and the one player in their farm system they will not even talk about in trades. Josh Byrnes, their Vice President of Scouting and Player Development, gave me this scouting report on him: “He’s very twitchy and athletic. Fastball is consistently in the 95-100 mph range. When he’s on, he shows very good command and also gets a lot of swings-and-misses on his fastball. His power curve ball is also of the plus variety. After the Tommy John surgery, he is still regaining the feel for his slider and change-up, but should become a power-pitcher with four distinct offerings and above-average command. He is smart and extremely competitive”. Bottom line is when the command of his secondary pitches arrive, so will Buehler.
- Nick Senzel 3B Cincinnati Reds
Senzel is a good athlete whose hit tool makes him special. A lot of scouts question how much power he will have, but not me. I think he’ll end up being a consistent 20-25 home run hitter especially since he’ll be playing half of his games at Great American Ball Park. He’s a good defender at third base with a strong lower half. He’s behind Eugenio Suarez on the Reds depth chart at third base, so like so many other rookies on this list, he’ll have to wait his turn. I could see the team sliding Suarez over to shortstop, in lieu of Jose Peraza, so if that seems even more evident once they start playing games this spring, consider Senzel a real nice late-round stash.
- Scott Kingery, 2B Philadelphia Phillies
Kingery was the Phillies second-round pick back in 2015 and although he’s been slow to develop, he seems to have finally figured it out. This past year, the breakout surfaced as he slashed .304.359/.530 with 29 doubles, 26 home runs and 29 stolen bases between Double and Triple-A. He is a fascinating second base prospect for fantasy because of the power/speed combo and the terrific bat path he displays. The question is when will he be able to beat out Cesar Hernandez and finally get his every day-chance with the Phillies. The Angels and Phillies have been talking trade regarding him and their second base inventory, so keep a close watch on any potential movement. Kingery could be a legit middle infielder for fantasy purposes if things break right and he sees a larger opportunity.
- Alex Verdugo OF Los Angeles Dodgers
The 21-year old Verdugo is a gifted hand/eye athlete. He can really conduct an at-bat. He’s very calm, very patient and can hit deep in the count. He’s incredibly advanced with hitter’s rhythm and has a great feel to handle various pitches and locations. He’s also a really good defender with a plus-plus arm which is a real weapon. The only question is can he beat out Joc Pederson, Kiki Hernandez and the other Dodgers alternatives in left field. Considering his raw talent and their shortcomings as every-day players, he doesn’t seem to be long for the minors.
Other potential 2018 arrivals include:
Austin Hays, OF Baltimore -- It actually looks as if the Orioles are going to give Hays a shot to win the starting right field job right out of spring training. The 22-year old cruised through the team's farm system after batting .328 with 16 home runs at Class-A and then .330 with another 16 dingers at Double-A en route to the majors, bypassing Triple-A entirely last season. His 2017 cup of coffee in the majors wasn't exactly fruitful, but that was more a matter of him being rushed than anything else. He's obviously got strong power potential and while he tends to be more of a pull-hitter, he's learning to spray the ball more to all fields. If he can improve on his pitch recognition and learns to hit the breaking stuff better, he could be a strong asset as early as Opening Day.
J.P. Crawford, SS Philadelphia -- The 23-year old, slick-fielding Crawford will be given every chance to win the starting shortstop job this spring and has an awful lot of promise. He's shown strong plate discipline throughout the different minor league levels but still needs to prove he can hit with consistency in the majors. The power is developing, so don't expect any major flashes of power early, however, he can become an effective line-drive hitter and potential on-base horse down the road. He may not be a fantasy stud right away, but if he can grab hold of the job and stay on the 25-man roster, he'll have some decent long-term value.
Lewis Brinson, OF Miami -- I'm not as high on his as most people are, but now that he's with the rebuilding Marlins, he stands a much better chance of seeing every-day at-bats this season. His hit tool could use some work, but his athleticism is very evident and if he can actually put it all together, he could develop into a decent 20-20 player. We just need to see him hit with consistency at the big-league level before I start to change my opinion.
Brendan Rodgers, SS Colorado -- While drafted as a shortstop, Rodgers is being viewed by the Rockies as a potential replacement at second base for impending free agent D.J. LeMahieu. He actually profiles better as a third baseman, but while a shift to the keystone may be a waste of his arm strength, he's not supplanting Nolan Arenado. His power potential profiles him as a future middle-of-the-order impact bat, but he'll need to improve his plate discipline and learn to draw more walks before getting his shot. If he does and the Rockies look to move LeMahieu near the deadline, Rodgers could be an interesting add for the second half of the season.
Anthony Alford, OF Toronto -- He's the Blue Jays leadoff hitter of the future and could be a very interesting late-season addition, especially if it's speed you covet. He's posted a career .375 OBP throughout his time in the minors and has 75 stolen bases over 91 attempts. Defensively, he's outstanding and has tremendous range, though his arm is a little on the weak side. If he can continue to stay on his current path, then the rebuilding Jays should have no problem giveing him an opportunity down the road once they officially fall out of contention.
Ryan McMahon, 1B Colorado -- Unless the Rockies bring back Carlos Gonzalez and are forced to move Ian Desmond to first base, McMahon could be the team's starting first baseman as early as Opening Day. Last season, between Double and Triple-A, McMahon slashed a combined .355/.403/.583 with 20 home runs, 88 RBI and 11 stolen bases in 19 attempts. Obviously the ballpark will help him put that power on full display and if he can hold down the job early in the season, the team will have no reason to move him off. The power will be as expected, but when your first baseman can also swipe double-digit bags, your fantasy team gets a major boost.
Luiz Gohara, LHP Atlanta -- The young southpaw displayed some serious swing-and-miss stuff and strong command during his late-season call-up in 2017 and now it looks like the Braves will give him the opportunity to compete for a rotation spot this spring. He's got mid-to-high 90s heat, a hard, wipeout slider and continues to improve on his changeup. You can expect him to be on a strict innings-limit, but if he continues to improve the command and control, he'll prove to be an incredibly effective fantasy producer for most of the regular season.
A.J. Puk, LHP Oakland -- The former No. 1 pick is expected to open the season at Triple-A, but with a mid-90s fastball that can sometimes touch 99 mph on the gun, an above-average slider and a developing changeup, he could find himself in line for a second-half call-up. He's been honing his delivery and has found a more-consistent release point which has helped him improve his command and control, so if he can really further improve and command that strike zone with consistency, he'll get his shot.
Jack Flaherty, RHP St. Louis -- Armed with a low-to-mid 90s fastball, an above-average slider, a plus changeup and what we like to call a "show me" curve, Flaherty could find himself in the Cardinals rotation relatively quickly this season if he doesn't push for a back-end of the rotation spot this spring. He's got a strong command of the strike zone, solid mound poise and can change eye levels as he adds and subtracts on a number of his pitches. Watch him this spring and keep him on your radar. Even if he opens the year in the bullpen or in Triple-A, he's got the talent to step up in the very near-future.
Other top rookie candidates who didn’t make the above list only because their ETA is closer to 2019:
Our rookie coverage will continue to expand the further we move into spring as paths should either open or close more once the majority of the free agent movement is complete. That’s why it’s the Living Draft Guide!