Rookies are a constant topic of vigorous discussion in fantasy baseball in both standard, keeper and dynasty formats. We’re all looking to catch lightning in a bottle, and many of us look to the minor leagues to find players who are overdue for a trip to the major leagues to find a boost for our fantasy squads. Hope springs eternal when it comes to rookie bats, and gaudy minor league stats can make fantasy owners drool all over themselves like a dog eyeing a slab of bacon.
Unfortunately, predicting how a rookie will fare in the major leagues is immensely difficult. Due to his pedigree, unbelievable success in the minors, and mature approach at the plate, many (including very sophisticated projection models) predicted immediate and profound success for uber-prospect Vladimir Guerrero Jr. (3B, Toronto Blue Jays), but that had not really been seen previously. He had a nice day at the plate on Monday, going 3-5 with a run, a double and an RBI, but has largely disappointed this season, slashing just .255/.322/.420 in his first 49 games at the major league level. The 19-year-old has fared a bit better over his last 12 games by putting together a .292 batting average, but power continues to elude him.
Other prospects, though, have flourished in the major leagues so far. Yordan Alvarez has put up incredible power numbers after being called up by the Astros a few weeks ago, and Mets slugger Pete Alonso has the second-most home runs in baseball with 27 through 78 games. While a deep dive could uncover a few explanations as to why Guerrero has struggled and why Alonso and Alvarez have not, for fantasy purposes, the best take-away is to recognize that immediate success from rookies is (and always has been) virtually impossible to predict.
That brings us to the prospect recently called up by the Indians—Bobby Bradley (1B, Cleveland Indians). He went 1-3 with a walk, a double and an RBI and now has a double in each of his first two contests. Bradley wasn’t exactly highly touted as a prospect due to his lack of speed and limited plate discipline, but he’s been able to put his power on display throughout his minor league career, hitting at least 23 home runs at every full-season league he’s played in so far, including 24 home runs in his first 67 games this season at AAA. Will he be able to translate that power into major league success? Will major league pitching quickly identify the holes in his swing and punish him accordingly? Can he adapt quickly to changes in the way pitchers approach him if he does get off to a hot start? All of these questions remain to be answered and are questions we have to ask for every single rookie that comes up. The transition to baseball’s top level is incredibly difficult and all players see unique and different circumstances when they arrive. If you’ve spent time scouting and studying a young player and believe in them, the best thing for you to do is to exercise caution. Mike Trout famously struggled in his initial trip to the majors, while guys like former NL Rookie of the Year Chris Coghlan found great success in their debut and failed to come close to that level of production ever again. Patience is a virtue when it comes to rookies, and most of the time, you just have to wait and see how it all shakes out.
Jackie Bradley (OF, Boston Red Sox)—1-2, R, HR, RBI, 3 BB. I’ve been talking about it for several weeks, but JBJ continues to excel at the plate. While his full season slash line is still a miserable .218/.322/.391, his 169 wRC+ since May 27th is 11th in all of baseball. He has five home runs and three steals in that stretch and is slowly climbing up the Red Sox batting order, batting sixth in this game for the first time this season. While I doubt he find himself much higher than sixth or seventh in the order, he can still produce counting stats from that spot if the Red Sox can get their offense moving a little bit as the season continues. He’s a fourth or fifth outfielder in 10- and 12-teamers if you need a mix of power and speed. Due to his double digit walk rate, he’s a bit more valuable in OBP formats.
Jean Segura (SS, Philadelphia Phillies)—4-6, 2 R, HR, 2B, 2 RBI. The speed is down from the last two seasons, but the power is up. Most folks who drafted him probably aren’t terribly fond of the trade-off, but at least he hasn’t been worthless. His high contact approach will keep his batting average high, and I expect it to continue to rise up from its current resting place at .277 up to maybe .285 or .290 by the end of the season..
DJ LeMahieu (2B/3B, New York Yankees)—4-4, 2 R, BB. I talked about him quite a bit yesterday, but a 4-4 performance can’t just be ignored. They were all singles and he had zero RBI, but getting on base five times helps you in every fantasy format.
Michael Conforto (OF, New York Mets)—3-4, 2 R, HR, 2B, 2 RBI, BB. As one of the many 30-home run hitters out there, Conforto separates himself from the pack through his walk rate and OBP. The five stolen bases so far has been a pleasant surprise, though I don’t think you can count on him keeping that up going forward. He should rack up close to 90 RBI in the heart of the Mets order and is a valuable outfielder in all formats.
Maikel Franco (3B, Philadelphia Phillies)—3-4, 2 R, HR, 3 RBI, BB. I really want to care about his excellent plate discipline this season, but believing in Franco is a fool’s errand at this point. He’s disappointed fantasy owners and their expectations so consistently that the best thing to do is to ignore him in all but the deepest of leagues. He hasn’t quite found his power strike despite the gains at the plate and is prone to prolonged slumps as well. I’ll pass on the guy hitting eighth for the Phillies.
Scott Kingery (SS/3B/OF, Philadelphia Phillies)—3-6, 2 R, RBI, SB. He disappointed in his rookie year, but time has been kind to Kingery, and he’s exceeded any and all expectations so far in 2019. The power and speed make him a worthwhile add in 12-teamers, but I ultimately expect the batting average to come down to earth a bit due to his aggressive approach. Even if he only hits .250 or .260 the rest of the way, he should have value. Be careful in OBP leagues, though—the kid doesn’t like to walk much and could post a sub-.300 OBP for an extended period.
Yoan Moncada (2B/3B, Chicago White Sox)—2-3, 2 R, HR, 2 RBI, BB. Yet another player who disappointed initially but who has found a way to turn it around. He is obliterating the baseball this season, evidenced by his 93.3 mph average exit velocity and .518 expected slugging. As I’ve mentioned before, I don’t mind that he’s walking less because he’s also striking out much less. It has to do with how he’s handling pitches at the edge of the zone. He took the majority of those pitches last year to his detriment, taking an unusually high number of called strikes. By becoming more aggressive, he’s avoiding the called strikes and turning them into hits. It’s paying off remarkably well and he should end the year with 25 home runs and 15 steals with a strong batting average.
Dominic Smith (1B/OF, New York Mets)—2-5, 2 R, HR, 2B, RBI. He can’t find consistent playing time yet, but he’s a worthwhile streamer when facing a right-hander like he did on Monday night. He has legitimate power and would have been the first baseman of the future for the Mets had it not been for some guy named Pete. I hope he can eventually carve out a full-time role in the outfield or get traded to a team that needs him, but it’s hard to get your hopes too high.
Jose Ramirez (2B/3B, Cleveland Indians)—2-2, R, 2 2B, RBI, 2 BB. Hope springs eternal, folks. There’s life in there. Keep believing.
Eduardo Escobar (SS/3B, Arizona Diamondbacks)—1-3, 2 R, BB. Last night I learned that Escobar is afraid of cats and I just wanted to share that with everyone in case there’s someone out there who needed a reminder that baseball players are humans and that humans can be pretty weird.
(Photo by Frank Jansky/Icon Sportswire).
A deep dive would not provide any insight as to why any rookie has or has not struggled. It would just be hindsight which is worthless. All you would end up doing is meaningless additional quantification of what we already know or some meaningless xAnalysis which doesn’t provide any real insight (can’t help but think of the piece on A Rosario from a month ago). That is why rookies are generally a bad stock to own – they don’t have any meaningful track record and you just don’t know what you will get. Often times we sink way too many resources into a guy that ultimately could have been a streaming spot in a redraft or a trade piece in a keeper. That said, Bobby Bradley was a highly touted prospect several years ago – he just lost all of his shine and his flaws are now well known. He probably won’t hit enough to have value, but his elite power could play in the juiced ball era – certainly worth a watch. You never know when someone is going to take a step forward developmentally. I actually no longer believe that the transition to baseball’s top level is particularly difficult. Younger players succeed more than ever before – its anecdotal, but its also pretty clear. Heck, there is a 20% chance that the other team’s starting pitcher is their 5th best RP and probably a 50% chance that the team you are playing is not trying to win the game. MLB aint what it used to be which is good news for hitters with problems.
Re: Segura – I am not sure why you wouldn’t project .300 AVG the rest of the way – he has done it three straight years. His BABIP is down a bit and he isn’t King more – he is probably still a .300 hitter. He is one of those good hitters from the DJ L mold that is undervalued by contemporary analysis.
Re: Franco – Just keep hoping for a trade! I really do like him as a hitter but PHI prefers his as the scapegoat. He rarely starts – I wouldn’t say he hits 8th. Even when he was largely carrying them this year he still hit 8th. He has demonstrated many times that he is very poor in a part time role. He hits well when he plays every day.
Couple things here, Kraken:
On knowing why rookies struggle, a deep dive can potentially uncover specific flaws that help us understand how fixable something might be. For example, some rookies struggle with the breaking ball on arrival to the big leagues. While we can’t predict when/if they will correct this, at least we know how broken they are, which is valuable. Batted ball profiles, plate discipline, and other things can be very informative, even if they are only historical or have small samples.
On Jean Segura, I actually do project a .300ish batting average going forward, which should push him up into the high .280s or .290s by the end of the season.
On Franco, the real issue is that even if he does “break out”, where do we rank him? I’m not sure I see anything better than a 30-home run hitter with a .275 average, and that’s his peak. That’s MAYBE close to the 15th best third baseman? It’s relevant for sure and would be a HUGE bargain based on his current price, but it’s ultimately not very special unless he keeps the nearly 1-to-1 strikeout and walk ratio while also improving his quality of contact.
Another good and informative “Batter’s Box” article. Many thanks! Need to add RBI, Runs and SBs to my offense. Would you advise adding Jackie Bradley, Jr. and Alex Verdugo for that?
10 team, roto, keeper, Saves + Holds league…
C – McCann
1B – Rizzo
2B – Murphy
SS – Tatis
3B – Machado
CI – Voit
MI – JoRam
OF – Acuña, Dahl, Eloy & Trout
U – H. Dozier & Eaton (the a-hole, LOL!)
BN – Pederson & Riley
IL – Yandy
SP – Alzolay, Bieber, Boyd, Gallen, Lynn & Heaney (added yesterday)
RP – Colomè, Nerris, Pressly & Smith
IL – Treinen
NA – Cease
In 5th place after bottom feeding MOST of the season!! Please advise.
Thanks Chelsa! As much as I like Verdugo and JBJ, I’m just not sure either of them would crack your top 4 OF spots. I suppose you could swap Pederson out for one of the two (probably JBJ, who plays every day), but that’s about it.
In a shallower format like yours, guys like this are hard to latch on to. There’s just so much talent in the starting rosters that any slump from a guy like JBJ is devastating.
With Springer back, I need to drop one of the following today, 6×6 OBP
Laureano, O Mercado or CJ Cron.
Cron has been the one trending the wrong way, while the other two are nearly copies of each other.
Way say you, Chu?
Assuming you have someone else to plug into the 1B spot, I’d probably ditch Cron. He’s a decent power hitter, but there are TONS of those out there. Speed guys like Laureano and Mercado are far less common and I’d rather hold on to them, even if it’s just so that no one else can have them.
Liked the Madonna hit title from yesterday, good job!
Selling due to a down year. Trea Turner my most valuable piece, signed $8 through 2020.
Considering shipping him though for a nice prospect haul. Get Kelenic, L Urias, and 2020 1st round minors pick for Turner and a throw in rental.
Firstly do you like Kelenic and Urias, and 2nd would you do it? Prospects are very valuable in our league for a few reasons I won’t bore you with haha. It’s the best offer I’ve gotten and I want to cash in on him (OBP league so he suffers a bit there too).
Thanks Dan! I do like both prospects, though I’m hesitant to get rid of Turner. He’s still pretty young and I’m sure he’s a premium player in your format. I’d keep shopping him aggressively. I’d also be willing to be patient as I doubt his value changes much between now and next March.