2018 Fantasy Baseball Rookies (Bobby’s Top 20)

by Bobby Sylvester | @bobbyfantasypro | Featured Writer
Mar 6, 2018

Every year there are two to five rookies who go from mostly unheard of to superb fantasy assets seemingly overnight. You may get frustrated that the same manager in your league continues to find these players over and over before anyone else is able. What if I told you it was exceptionally easy? You might think I was boasting, but it has nothing to do with my knowledge, but rather what the data so clearly indicates. Below is a list of the hitters who finished the season as top 50 fantasy baseball hitters as rookies over the past decade:

Now, there are a few takeaways here:

  1. All of a sudden, rookie hitters are much more successful than in the past
  2. When rookies are polished, they can be total superstars from the get-go
  3. Every single hitter listed was either a foreign import or an exceptional prospect at the time of their debut (sans Judge and Sanchez)

There are a number of rookies who look like fantasy assets, but if you are planning on finding the next Corey Seager or Kris Bryant, you’d better look at the top of prospect charts. For whatever reason, analysts have done a significantly better job determining the best prospects than in years past, so it seems we can rely on their work for fantasy purposes. Now, the list for pitchers is substantially different:

Let’s take a look at the takeaways for the pitchers:

  1. A bunch of random no-namers that you would never draft like McHugh and Miley emerge as key pickups, meaning drafting pitchers is less important
  2. Notable aces like Kershaw, Sale and Scherzer are absent because many clubs are extremely careful with their young arms
  3. Asian rookies are bosses
  4. “Stuff” is king. Syndergaard, McCullers, Miller and Ventura all struggled in the minors, but something clicked and they immediately became terrific

What this tells me is that I can trust Ohtani to live up to expectations while Buehler and Kopech are all unlikely to make big splashes because of probable limitations on their innings. Meanwhile, power arms like Gohara and Alcantara could suddenly breakout, as could random nobodies like Yohander Mendez and Yonny Chirinos. To put it more directly, I wouldn’t bet on anyone outside of Ohtani. Rather, just wait and be ready to pick up whichever rookie becomes this year’s Luis Castillo when the time comes.

Now for the rankings:

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Rookie of the Year Front Runners

I have no doubt in my mind that Ohtani will be a top 10 pitcher in baseball in the coming years if he can stay healthy. That does not negate, however, the risk that he sees coming off a season with three different injuries. The Angels are expected to keep his innings limited to around 150, so while those may be electric innings, he won’t help you enough to outperform his ADP.

My concerns regarding Acuna are similar in that if he does play, he looks like a home run machine who should drive in plenty of runs, but as it stands now, his odds of cracking the opening day roster are about 50/50. Don’t get me wrong, I’d gladly take 25 HR and a .255 BA in the final four months of the season, but that isn’t enough to warrant picking in the top 110 like I’ve been seeing him go over the last week.

I’m all aboard on both Calhoun and Gohara, who you should be able to snag toward the end of your drafts. Calhoun likely won’t ever be a star, but don’t be surprised if he puts together a career and rookie season similar to Jason Bay.

Major Upside, Major Risk

Brinson has 20/30 upside as a rookie if he starts in center field for the Marlins and would be a near replica of Bradley Zimmer fantasy wise. As it is now, he and the others on this list are not draftable unless they are named the starter before your draft. Among the group, Robles has by far the biggest potential as a rookie, and I would argue even larger than Acuna. The Nationals’ five-tool outfielder is blocked, however, so we likely won’t see him unless and injury opens up playing time like it did for Cody Bellinger last season. Behind them is a trio of middling prospects with enough tools to challenge for National League Rookie of the Year if they get playing time and took big leaps forward in the off-season. Of them, Crawford is the most likely to start, but also the most likely to play like Aldaberto Mondesi as a rookie, so tread lightly. If Flaherty or Alfaro gets the opportunity, watch closely and pounce on the waiver wire as soon as they show flashes of being useful.

Draft and Stash

Every season we have a handful of guys who could make loud impacts from the moment they are called up. That is the what we have in the list above. If you have a large bench or are in a league that keeps 10 or more players each season, don’t hesitate to draft them now in anticipation of what is to come. If you play in a standard re-draft league, you are better off filling your bench with immediate help and watching Twitter like a hawk for when they get the call to the Big Leagues. Perhaps it happens in Spring Training where Kingery could force the Phillies to put him in the Opening Day lineup and become a 30/20 middle infielder. If that is the case, he must be owned and the same applies to each name on this list. Buehler and Kopech may be called up as relievers at first and obviously they wouldn’t be worth rostering, but if either is in the rotation, giddy up. In this grouping, Mejia has the most polished bat and could give you a .300 batting average while being catcher-eligible, but we should expect the Indians to let him get more seasoning in the minors before his call-up.

Deep Leagues Only

Each of these players are merely dark horses to breakout and have a big rookie campaign. Andujar is pushing Brandon Drury for work in New York, but 230 at-bats above Double-A and a limited ceiling. Winker is your standard Matt Carpenter like hitter who will help in on-base percentage leagues much more than he does in standard leagues. He obviously isn’t on Carp’s level quite yet otherwise he would be drafted in a similar spot, but he, like Carpenter, will never hit 30 homers or steal more than a handful of bases. The Braves currently have the closer job in Arodys Vizcaino‘s hands, who is more than capable, but if he were to slip up, Minter might be called upon and seeing that some have likened him to a young Craig Kimbrel, he is well worth monitoring. Finally, we get to Franklin Barreto, who I have compared in the past to Derek Jeter. He may win himself a few batting titles someday while stealing 30 to 45 bases and hitting 10 to 20 homers, but we shouldn’t expect that anytime soon as he is still fairly raw. With that said, the upside is there for him to surprise the public and morph into an MLB ready hitter like Francisco Lindor did several seasons back.

*Notable exclusions: Eloy Jimenez who shouldn’t get called up until September and Forrest Whitley who is now suspended for 50 games.

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Bobby Sylvester is a featured writer at FantasyPros. For more from Bobby, check out his archive and follow him @BobbyFantasyPro

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