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Fangraphs Fantasy Friday: Rookie Hitters Update


Every Friday I will use the amazing website Fangraphs to pool together information that may or may not be useful to you in fantasy. Well, I certainly hope that it is useful, but maybe sometimes it's just for fun.

Today's Fangraphs article is mostly just for fun but that's only because the sample sizes are so small. So rather than look at things like FIP, xFIP, or BABIP, I want to point you into the direction of the page for MLB rookies. Fangraphs conveniently has sections devoted simply to pitchers and hitters that are in their first "official" major league season, or at least have rookie eligibility.

There are currently 30 rookie hitters in the majors (that have qualified via plate appearances, which is like six plate appearances) and it's surprising just how few of these guys I have heard of. And then it's not that surprising when you consider that there are 750 players in the major leagues RIGHT NOW. Seems like it would be way less than that but math don't lie.

When you have 750 players at any given time, and over a thousand during the season, you won't recognize every name. Many rookies aren't top prospects, but they are the Willie Bloomquist's of the world. They are utility role players and even Bloomquist has proven to be more than just a 50 at-bat wonder, having lasted in the league for years now and without reason.

So, what are the rookie hitters up to so far in this very short season?

Yoenis Cespedes and Zack Cozart currently lead MLB rookies in WAR at 0.6. That's right around the overall leaders as well, but this has not yet taken into account defense or the BsR baserunning statistic. Which is good for us, since we only care about how they are doing at the plate.

The Oakland Athletics' Cespedes has used the power of 3 home runs and a .773 SLG to vault himself up the boards but he has also struck out an astonishing 39.3% of the time. Cespedes actually hasn't been much of a free-swinger yet this year, only swinging at 47.6% of pitches and chasing at 39.6% of pitches outside of the zone but his 75% contact rate at pitches in the zone is really bad, as is his 59% overall contact rate.

Actually, to be fair, that contact rate is terrible. Mark Reynolds was last in the majors in contact rate last season among qualified batters, and he had a 65% contact rate. Cespedes won't ISO .500 all year, so will he cut his strikeouts down and make more contact? If not, then he is even more of a project than we thought.

On the opposite side of the "refined" spectrum is Reds shortstop Zack Cozart. He spent five seasons in the minor leagues after being a 2nd round draft pick and Baseball America rated him as the #75 prospect in the game coming into the year. A few of our writers picked him as the NL Rookie of the Year and he's taken the early lead without a doubt.

Cozart is hitting .370/.433/.704 with 6 R, 2 2B, 2 3B, 1 HR and 2 RBI. He's also struck out 6 times and walked twice. The Reds were the majority favorite at FakeTeams to win the Central thanks to their mix of veterans and rookies and Cozart has not disappointed in the early going. He hasn't stolen a base yet but he's got some speed in him, having stolen 30 bases in 136 games in 2010.

Teammate and fellow rookie Devin Mesoraco has split duties with Ryan Hanigan so far and is hitting .222/.300/.333 in 10 plate appearances. It could be awhile before he's a regular start in weekly-leagues because breaking in at catcher is just a bit tougher to do, and a bit tougher on the body. If Hanigan continues to hit .154 though, Mesoraco will get more playing time.

Then again, Dusty Baker?

Stop me if you've heard this one before: Steve Clevenger.

Hey, not a single one of you stopped me! The Cubs 26-year-old catcher is 6-for-9 with three doubles to start the year, giving him 0.4 WAR. Clevenger hit .407/.454/.570 in 25 AAA games last year but it would be rare to have heard his names around the prospect circles. He has almost no power but he's got very advanced plate discipline, striking out only 203 times in 543 minor league games and walking 181 times. If home runs aren't important in your league and strikeouts are: Steve Clevenger, maybe.

Finally, there are two top prospects that have struggled in the very early going: Yonder Alonso and Jesus Montero.

The Padres' Alonso, acquired for Mat Latos in the off-season to replace Anthony Rizzo (whom everyone was disappointed in once upon a time and I won't give it long before people give up on Alonso, too. Sigh.) is hitting .190/.308/.190 in 26 plate appearances.

The Good: An 11.5% walk rate, 15.4% K rate.

The Bad: 4 hits on the year and all of them have been singles.

Can Padres fans be upset with Alonso though? The Padres are hitting .179/.298/.274 as a team. This is what Padres do and if you didn't want to see this kind of hitting at first base, you should have re-signed Adrian Gonzalez. When Nick Hundley is 0-for-19, you can't exactly be mad at a rookie first baseman. He should have a very long leash. The highest batting average on the team with a minimum of 10 at-bats is Jason Bartlett's .250.

The Seattle Mariners' Jesus Montero was another off-season trade chip and given a chance to start right away. The biggest difference between Montero and Alonso, or Montero or anyone, is that Jesus Montero is 22-years-old. He could be a senior in college, smokin' dope and throwin' parties, but he's a major league DH that catches sometimes.

The Good: He's hitting .280 and it's hard to make much out of 7 games and he's 22.

The Bad: The power-hitting prospect hasn't hit for any power. Like Alonso, all of his hits are singles. (Hey, it works for the music business.)

Montero will have plenty of time to work things out and the Mariners return to the hitter-friendly Safeco Field tonight to face... the A's again. Oh wait, Safeco isn't hitter-friendly. It's the opposite. Oh crap! PANIC PANIC PANIC PANIC!!!!

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