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).