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Sunday, February 4, 2018

2018 FANTASY BASEBALL ROOKIE REPORT

Often running parallel to the fantasy baseball sleeper, first-year pitchers and hitters are some of the more sought-after commodities at the draft table.  The untapped potential and upside they bring forth always get the juices flowing for those taking part in the draft and we are all guilty of going overboard in what we were willing to pay in order to have that promise anchored onto our rosters.  With Major League Baseball farm systems becoming a media industry in and of itself, it is always important to have a clear idea who could be arriving each season to usher in the future of the game.  So as we move toward 2018 fantasy baseball drafts, these are the top rookies to be aware of and their expected ETA’s (expected time of arrival) are included. 

1.  Ronald Acuna (OF):  When it comes to fantasy baseball-friendliness with regards to prospective numbers, there is not a more talented prospect in all of baseball than Atlanta Braves outfielder Ronald Acuna.  Having turned just 20 this past December, Acuna has the extreme power/speed/average skills that make those who take part in fantasy baseball drool all over their computers.  At Single-A and Double-A combined last season, Acuna hit 12 home runs and stole 43 bases; which was a performance that earned him the top prospect billing for 2018.  Already possessing top-tier youngsters in Ozzie Albies and Dansby Swanson, the Braves are the envy of baseball when it comes to their stable of young hitters.  Also the Braves cleared the way for Acuna to make the team out of spring training but dealing away Matt Kemp to the Los Angeles Dodgers last winter.  Reach for the stars here. 
ETA:  June 2018

2.  Victor Robles (OF):  No matter how many teams mentioned his name in prospective trades during the last two years, the Washington Nationals always came back with a quick rejection when it came to possibly trading top outfield prospect Victor Robles.  That would be the right call as Robles has top-shelf potential that could eventually turn him into the next big power/speed dynamo.  Right now Robles’ stolen base prowess is quite a bit ahead of his power/overall hitting skills but the 20-year-old has the inside track on a starting outfielder’s job with Jayson Werth not expected to return in free agency.
ETA:  April 2018 

3.  Shohei Ohtani (OF/SP):  While he is not your classic rookie due to playing professionally in Japan, Los Angeles Angels outfielder/pitcher Shohei Otani will be a central storyline right from the jump this season considering the massive hype that accompanied him to the States.  One can understand that hype when you see that Ohtani carries monstrous power and also a fastball that approaches triple digits.  These combined skills will cause the hype to reach unprecedented levels in drafts this spring; to the point that Ohtani could be tabbed as early as the second round.  Whether paying such a price is worth it or not is up for debate but what is not to be argued about is the sizzle Ohtani will bring to the majors this season.  This should be fun to watch. 
ETA:  April 2018 

4.  Gleyber Torres (SS):  Of all the potential health setbacks that could strike down top New York Yankees shortstop prospect Gleyber Torres in 2017, Tommy John elbow surgery would not even be in the conversation given the fact he is not a pitcher.  However, it was UCL damage in the elbow that led to Torres going under the knife and ultimately losing a precious year of development.  Having turned just 21 this past December, Torres retains sky-high upside with regards to possessing rare hitting ability being combined with speed at the shortstop position.  Expected to be 100 percent for spring training, the only question now is where the Yanks will deploy Torres since Didi Gregorious is entrenched at short and Starlin Castro remains solid at second. 
ETA:  June 2018

5.  Francisco Mejia (C):  The next great hitting catcher is now upon us in the form of Cleveland Indians prospect Francisco Mejia.  After hitting .297 with 14 home runs and 7 stolen bases in just 383 at-bats while at Double-A last season, the Indians promoted Mejia last September to give him a look.  While Mejia was pretty much a spectator, there is no doubting the monstrous upside he brings as a very rare catcher who can hit and also pick up some steals.  Think J.T. Realmuto with more power and that alone will get the interest piqued from the majority of the fantasy baseball community.  Also, Mejia could gain third base eligibility as he will prep there during the Arizona Fall League. 
ETA:  April 2018 

6.  Vladimir Guerrero Jr. (3B):  Yes the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.  Just like his superb future Hall of Fame father, Vladimir Guerrero Jr. mashed everything in sight during the 2017 season as he batted .323 with 13 home runs and 76 RBI at Low-A/Single-A combined.  Not even turning 19 until March, Guerrero Jr. will likely need another year of seasoning before the next generation revives the family tradition of torturing major league pitching. 
ETA:  May 2019

7.  Eloy Jimenez (OF):  While the present has been quite difficult, the future is very bright for the Chicago White Sox due to their massive stable of top-shelf minor league talent led by outfielder Eloy Jimenez.  Still raw at the age of 21, Jimenez will begin 2018 at Double-A where his obvious power will likely reach another level.  Having the profile of a future 30-home run masher, Jimenez is one to watch toward the end of 2018 in terms of possible promotion. 
ETA:  September 2018

8. Michael Kopech (SP):  The Chicago White Sox possess a Noah Syndergaard clone in the form of 100-mph righty pitcher Michael Kopech.  Originally the 33rd overall pick in the 2014 MLB Draft, Kopech was one of the prime pieces that went to the White Sox from Boston in the deal for Chris Sale.  The righty stands an imposing 6-3 and will be a strikeout machine from the moment he steps onto a major league mound.  Of course, Kopech is still a work in progress as his control can be brutal at times but the kid will be an instant waiver wire addition the second he gets called up. 
ETA:  June 2018

9.  Kyle Tucker (OF):  The other half of the potential two-headed outfield monster (along with Derek Fisher) that headline the Houston Astros minor league system, Kyle Tucker went nuts in the minor leagues in 2017 by hitting a total of 25 home runs and stealing 21 bases at two different levels (Single-A/Double-A).  Like with Fisher, Tucker has to shore up some strikeout issues to fully realize his vast potential but he already is worthy of a promotion to the Astros despite being just 21 when the 2018 season gets underway. 
ETA:  July 2018 

10. Fernando Tatis Jr. (SS):  Like with Vladimir Guerrero Jr., there are potent MLB bloodlines when it comes to Fernando Tatis Jr.  While both Tatis generations can hit for power, junior has speed his father never possessed and thus has more MLB upside.  Having put up insane numbers at A-Ball last season (21 homers, 29 steals, .281 average), Tatis Jr. will likely need most or all of 2018 at Double-A before a possible promotion since he will be just 19.    
ETA:  2019

11.  Nick Senzel (3B):  Only a mysterious bout of vertigo kept Cincinnati Reds third base prospect Nick Senzel from dominating opposing pitchers last season.  The number 2 overall pick in the 2016 MLB Draft went to town both on A-Ball (.329, 7 HR, 15 SB) and Double-A (.305, 4 HR, 9 SB) pitching throughout the year and already the Kris Bryant comparisons are flowing.  Also like with Bryant, Senzel could be knocking on the MLB door earlier than anticipated. 
ETA:  June 2018 

12. Willie Calhoun (OF):  Serving as the headliner piece the Texas Rangers received from the Los Angeles Dodgers in the Yu Darvish deal, outfielder prospect Willie Calhoun has an excellent shot at being a starter come Opening Day 2018.  While there is not much in the way of speed (just 4 steals last season in the minors), Calhoun has immense power (32 totals homers between Triple-A and a 13-game September debut with the Rangers) that will play well in his new home ballpark.  25 home runs right out of the gate are possible.    
ETA:  April 2018 

13. Brent Honeywell (SP):  Count on the Tampa Bay Rays reserving a rotation spot for the polished Brent Honeywell to begin the 2018 season as the kid’s arsenal is way too potent to waste on minor league hitters any longer.  Honeywell looks like a future MLB ace as he recorded immense K/9 rates over 11.00 at both Double-A and Triple-A last season; while also showing uncanny control for someone who throws so hard.  This is one sleeper who should be put in bold letters on your cheat sheets this spring. 
ETA:  April 2018

14. Bo Bichette (2B, SS):  There were potent offensive numbers coming out of all directions when it came to Toronto Blue Jays infield prospect Bo Bichette during the course of the 2017 season.  In a year split between two levels of A-Ball, Bichette hit a combined 14 home runs, stole 22 bases, and batted over .300 at both stops.  With Devon Travis unable to kick the injury bug, Bichette could be in line to take over at second base for the Blue Jays before too long.
ETA:  2019

15. Brendan Rodgers (2B):  When you are the third overall pick in any MLB draft, expectations are understandably high.  That was the status of Colorado Rockies infield prospect Brendan Rodgers who was picked third overall in 2015 and comes off a terrific year in A-Ball when he hit .387 with 12 home runs and 2 stolen bases.  With DJ LeMahieu currently blocking his path, Rodgers is more of a story for the 2019 season. 
ETA:  2019 

16.  Derek Fisher (OF):  The Houston Astros certainly know how to develop top-end hitting talent from their minor league system (George Springer, Jose Altuve, Carlos Correa) and in 2018 they figure to fully unveil another gem in power/speed outfielder Derek Fisher.  The third overall pick in the 2014 MLB Draft did struggle badly during his cup of coffee debut with the team in 2017 (.212, 32.5 K/9) but Fisher also posted a 21/16/.318 line at Triple-A that shows how high the ceiling could go here.  There are strong similarities to Springer as both guys can hit for power and run; while also falling prey to strikeouts.  However, Fisher stands an excellent chance of breaking camp with the team and so he should be drafted in almost all leagues this spring.  Of course teammate prospect Kyle Tucker could impact that timeline as well. 
ETA:  April 2018 

17. MacKenzie Gore (SP):  There is some crazy heat coming from the lefty arm of San Diego Padres pitching prospect MacKenzie Gore; with the fastball often touching 100 mph.  With just 21.1 professional innings under his belt, Gore will use the 2018 season to get his stuff in gear before making a charge for a 2019 roster spot. ETA:  2019 

18. Forrest Whitley (SP):  It already has been established that the Houston Astros churn out hitting prospects with the best of them but they also possess a serious talent on their hands in the form of righty pitcher Forrest Whitley.  Having posted K/9 rates over 13.0 at two different levels of A-Ball in 2017, Whitley is on the fast track toward making a push for a rotation spot before too long.  While it will more likely be 2018 before we hear from the kid, any injury issues in the Astros rotation could push that timeline up a bit. 
ETA:  2019 

19. Austin Meadows (OF):  While the Pittsburgh Pirates outfield remains quite crowded, top outfield prospect Austin Meadows is waiting in the wings to become part of the next generation at the position.  Of course, Meadows stalled a bit in 2017 as he endured a rough season offensively (.250, 4 home runs in 312 at-bats) but the former 9th overall pick in the 2013 MLB Draft retains solid long-term ability both in the power and speed games. 
ETA:  August 2018 

20. Scott Kingery (2B):  With the power finally showing up in 2017, the already solid prospect status of the Philadelphia Phillies’ Scott Kingery went up another level.  The smooth-fielding second baseman has underrated speed to go with the power and ultimately posted a 26/29 split in homers/steals at two levels (Double-A/Triple-A) last season. 
ETA:  May 2018 

21. Ryan McMahon (1B, 2B):  A brutal 2016 campaign at Double-A in 2016 (.242 average) called into question the abilities of Colorado Rockies second base prospect Ryan McMahon but the kid came back with a terrific 2017 to quiet those talks.  How about hitting .326 at Double-A and then posting an even more scorching .374 in 70 games at Triple-A as clear evidence the proverbial light bulb went off for McMahon last season?  Right now there is no clear path to the majors as McMahon is blocked at the infield positions on the Rockies but he should be heard from at some point in 2018. 
ETA:  August 2018 

22. Jeimer Candelario (3B):  Getting away from the Chicago Cubs system was big for third base prospect Jeimer Candelario since he will no longer be blocked by arguably the best player at his position at the major league level in Kris Bryant.  While Candelario has struggled at times with the bat during his minor league career, he figures to get a prime opportunity with the rebuilding Detroit Tigers sometime in 2018. 
ETA:  May 2018 

23. Walker Buehler (SP):  The Los Angeles Dodgers refused to surrender hard-throwing pitching prospect Walker Buehler in a deal for Yu Darvish last summer and one can understand why as he posted some crazy strikeout numbers both at Double-A and Triple-A throughout 2017.  The control is a clear work in progress but Buehler could get a shot to contribute at least out of the bullpen at some point during the summer.
ETA:  July 2018 


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