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MLB Rookie Report: Freshman Hitters

Matt takes a look at how this year’s crop of MLB rookie hitters stack up this week in Fantasy Baseball.

MLB: Minnesota Twins at Pittsburgh Pirates Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Prospects are possibly the most exciting part of the regular season in fantasy baseball. Everyone wants the shiny new toy that sparkles and has all the newest upgrades and gadgets. It feels good when you stash or pick up a rookie that makes an impact on your team, you feel like pulled one over on the league and you are the smartest man in the room. What if I told you that was a bad strategy? Most rookies fail, it’s a fact. The rookies that succeed? Most of them end up going through growing pains and not being useful in mixed leagues, even after a hot start. It is usually better to roster a reliable, boring veteran like Asdrubal Cabrera. However, sometimes you pick up Aaron Judge, Cody Bellinger or Matt Olson. They can win a championship for you. So what do you say we take a look at the current crop of rookie hitters so far this season and see who might be worth your time in fantasy baseball?

Shohei Ohtani Is Good

The Angels Japanese rookie phenom has taken major league baseball by storm. The real life Steve Nebraska (from the movie The Scout) can do it all. Ohtani can both pitch and hit like an All-Star, but for the sake of this article we are going to concentrate on the dual-threat’s hitting ability. If you take a close look at the stats there are two standout numbers that are eye opening, a zero percent soft-contact rate (yes, ZERO) and 93.8% Z-contact. That means that Ohtani makes contact on almost every pitch he swings at within the strike zone and he hits every single ball hard. Those numbers are backed up by a 212 wRC+, .483 wOBA, and a .400 ISO. The kid has been an amazing hitter. If you want to try and find a flaw, Ohtani does have a 52.2% ground ball rate which is not ideal and a 50% HR/FB ratio, which is ridiculously unsustainable. These numbers are all on a small sample size and things will start to normalize as the season goes on, but the eye test confirms what the stats show. Ohtani is not going to make contact on every pitch while hitting half of his fly balls for home runs, but he hits the ball hard and has a strong passion for the game. It will be interesting to see how big league pitchers adjust to him throughout the season and how Ohtani adapts afterwards. The bottom line is this, spring training meant nothing and Shohei Ohtani is legit.

It’s Pronounced More-an!

If you have not been following the Pirates, like most, you would assume that the Gerrit Cole trade has been a complete disaster for them. It may prove to be the way Cole is pitching but Pittsburgh was able to acquire two promising rookies from the Astros, SP Joe Musgrove and 3B Colin Moran. The young third baseman has already won the hearts of Pirates fans after hitting a first inning grand slam in their home opener. Moran has shown good patience at the plate so far with a 10% walk rate to a 14% strikeout rate, not bad for a rookie. He also holds a stingy 7.6% swinging strike rate and has shown the ability to hit to all fields (39.5% hits pulled and 42.% to the opposite field). His 39.5% hard hit rate compare to his 6.7% HR/FB ratio suggests that the youngster has a lot more power hidden behind his current stat line and soon more of those fly balls are soon to find their way over the fence. Moran is going to have a chance to shine as the Pirates’ everyday third baseman.

San Diego Youth Movement

The Sand Diego Padres are stacked with young talent and prospects. The major league roster is already stocked with youngsters like Manuel Margot, Hunter Renfroe and Austin Hedges. In 2017 they promoted outfielder Jose Pirela and second baseman Carlos Asuaje, who are off to promising starts. In the minor leagues they have standouts Fernando Tatis Jr. and Luis Urias waiting in the wings. Like I said, the Padres are stacked with young talent. Today are going to focus on two rookies that were promoted this season and are having an impact: Christian Villanueva and Franchy Cordero.

Villanueva has been maybe the best rookie so far this in fantasy baseball, outside of Shohei Ohtani (but that’s unfair). He is off to a .333/.423./822 start with six home runs and 13 RBI. The kid hits the ball hard, supported by a .489 ISO and limiting soft contact to 17.9%. The problem is Villanueva is a free swinger, as are alot of young players. He has chased 36.3% of balls out of the strike zone with a 32.7% strikeout rate. Villanueva’s minor league numbers show a more contact oriented player with strikeout rate closer to 15-18%. The numbers also show that the power is legit, hitting 20 home runs in his last two full seasons in the minors. The power is not going to continue at this level though. Villanueva is currently rocking a 40% HR/FB rate. That is almost certain to drop closer to league average, maybe between 12-15%, by seasons end. The kid is also a dead pull hitter and has been at every level. He is currently pulling 67.9% of pitches. That may fly in the minor leagues but major league pitchers and going to adjust to him quickly and defenses will likely behind to deploy a strong shift against Villanueva. He has been great so far, but the rookie is in for some growing pains around the corner and fantasy owners should be prepared to that possibility.

The brings us to Franchy Cordero, which first of all is an awesome name. The young outfielder has not been up for long but has had a quick impact hitting two home runs and stealing a base in just 22 plate appearances. In 2017 he showed a serious power jump in Triple-A posting a .277 ISO (compared to a previous high of .179 in A-ball), hitting 17 home runs while stealing 15 bags. Cordero does not walk much and is going to strikeout at a minimum 25% clip (31.8% so far), but he has an intriguing skill set for fantasy owners. In the minor leagues he hit well to all fields and has shown the ability to grow into a 15/15 ballplayer with room for grow into more. His 73.7% contact rate and 31.3% O-swing rate (swing he takes at pitches out of the strike zone) are good indicators that he can hang with major league pitching. Like all rookies, growing pains are coming, but I love the skill set of the young Cordero and would recommend picking him up in deeper mixed leagues if you have the roster spot.

Mr. Anderson

Martin Prado’s recovery from knee surgery has opened the door for Marlins’ prospect Brian Anderson to take over at hot corner for Miami. Anderson has always been a strong defensive player but had a disappointing stint in the majors to end 2017, hitting zero home runs, that left many experts down on the kid heading into this season. Anderson was able to hit 22 home runs between Double-A and Triple-A in 2017 with a .263 ISO before being called up, so the power is there. He alleviated some skepticism this spring by batting .275 with four home runs and four doubles over 51 at-bats in March. Anderson got off to a hot start this year, hitting .289 with a home run and four doubles over the first 10 games. He has since cooled off a bit but still holds a .345 wOBA with a 14.1% walk percentage to a 12.7% strikeout percentage. Not bad. Batting everyday is a poor Miami lineup is not going to help his long-term fantasy value and starting pitchers have already started to pitch around him. Good thing Justin Bour has started to heat up. Anderson makes for a interesting player in NL-only leagues but is better off being left on the waiver wire in mixed leagues for now.

Monster Among Men, Daniel Vogelbach

Daniel Vogelbach is a beast. A six foot, 250 pound beast who can absolutely destroy a baseball. The Mariners’ rookie is slugging .516 with two home runs and two doubles in 34 at-bats this season. Vogelbach holds a 50% hard hit rate in his time in the majors between 2017-18 and the eye test confirms that the kid is scary. He is currently striking out a 38.2% percent clip and while we can’t expect it to drop to his minor league average of 19% as a rookie, we can reasonably expect it to improve over the season. Playing time may prove to be an issue once Ryon Healy and Nelson Cruz are back to perfect health, but with the way he is currently hitting the Mariners will have to find a place for Vogelbach to hit. There are a lot of power hitters on the waiver wire in mixed leagues which may decreases Vogelbach’s initial value, but he has elite power that bears monitoring. He absolutely needs to be owned in all AL-only leagues.

Meet Tyler Austin

The Yankees injury-prone first baseman Greg Bird is out until may after having ankle surgery at the end of March. Many thought that would create a large hole in the Yankees’ lineup, especially after releasing veteran Adam Lind using spring training. However, o those who follow prospect Tyler Austin, it was an opportunity to pick up a talented youngster in AL-only leagues. The 26-year-old looked fantastic in a short stint in the majors last season and is off to an equally good start in 2018. Austin currently hold a .260 ISO with two home runs and four doubles through 38 at-bats so far supported by a 163 wRC+. His current .409 BABIP may be a red flag to some but Austin carried a pretty high BABIP during his entire minor league career. He held a .400 BABIP for his entire stay at Triple-A in 2016. I am not entirely sure that Austin isn’t a flat out better player than Greg Bird. Period. It is a good problem to have if you are the Yankees I suppose, but for fantasy owners it is a matter of league size. First base is stocked with options and it is hard to fit in a player that may lose his job in May. Austin is a solid hitter that needs to be played in AL-only leagues for as long as he is playing and I would’t mind playing him at corner infield in deeper mixed leagues.

Coming Soon to a Stadium Near You

Nick Senzel

The Reds starting playing their stud prospect at third base, leading everyone to believe he would have been called up over the weekend to replace the injured Eugenio Surarez. That did not happen. The Reds feel the #7 prospect in baseball could use more seasoning in Triple-A. “The most important thing is to make sure we’re all convinced that he is ready to be here and playing productively,” Reds general manager Dick Williams said on Monday. Iy may be the right move considering how bad the Reds are. Why rush the kid? The Reds can finish in last with or without him. Although that is not the news fantasy owners wanted to hear. Stay patient, he will be up soon.

Ronald Acuna

The Braves super prospect smoked the ball in spring training to the tune of a .432/.519/.620 slash line with four home runs and four stolen bases. This led most to believe that the number one prospect in baseball would be up as soon as this past weekend. That did not occur. This is likely due to Acuna’s 5-for-36 start in the minors with only one extra base hit. Again, this is not what fantasy owners wanted to see. Acuna is a legitimate stud talent that went early in mixed league drafts and every single day he remains in the minors makes his ADP more damaging to the team that took him. Fantasy owners will again need to be patient here. Acuna will get on a hot streak soon and be up to the majors for good.

Gleyber Torres

The Yankees top prospect is currently smashing Triple-A pitchers in 2018. The 21-year-old went 1 for 3 on Sunday and is hitting .385/.405/.564 so far this season. Yankees’ manager Aaron Boone cryptically hinted at the stud shortstop being called up in the near future. It might not be a bad idea to pick him up in mixed leagues if you are hurting at the middle infield spot.

Willie Calhoun

The top Rangers prospect admitted that starting the season in Triple-A “felt like it was a slap in the face,” according to milb.com. That is a strong statement. It also surprised fantasy owners that drafted the speedy outfielder with the intention of him starting the year in the majors. Mouthing off and showing up the front office is never smart move and Calhoun may suffer some consequences for it early in the year, but it makes little sense to keep in in Triple-A as he has nothing left to prove. He may need to wait until June and the Super-Two deadline to pass.