(Photo by David Santiago/Zuma Press/Icon Sportswire)
Today’s feature is my ranking of the Top 25 Hitting Prospects for the 2018 season. Since the ranking is only for 2018, injured players, or players in the low levels aren’t under consideration. Several hitting prospects in 2017 reached the majors and made immediate impacts for us in Fantasy. I believe there are several players on this list that can continue this in 2018. Let’s get to it.
1. Ronald Acuna, OF, Braves, Arrival: April
Ronald Acuna played across three levels of the minors in 2017. He started the year in High A and finished the year in Gwinnett, playing for the Braves AAA organization. At each level he excelled and with each promotion he was better. His OPS rose from .814-.895-.940. He had 181 hits, 21 homeruns, 88 runs, 82 RBIs and 44 stolen bases. Its hard to find a flaw with the 20-year-old and so that is why he is a top of the rankings. He will contribute across the five categories, the only question is when that will happen. The Braves could keep him down to start the year as he only has 111 games at AA or above. They didn’t keep Jason Heyward down when he was the top prospect, so making the opening day roster isn’t out of the question.
2. Nick Senzel, 3B, Reds, Arrival: End of April
Despite being the 2nd pick in the 2016 MLB Draft, Nick Senzel signed for more money than the #1 Pick. It was believed he would move quickly through the minors, like Alex Bregman and Andrew Benintendi did from the 2015 MLB Draft. The Reds didn’t rush him as they put up their second 68-win season in a row. He has an elite bat, and above average power and speed. With the Great American Ballpark, Senzel should put up double digit homeruns to go with a very good average and 10+ stolen bases. He finished the year in AA and could be sent back to the minors to start the year, but he doesn’t have much else to prove. I expect him up by May.
3. Lewis Brinson, OF, Marlins, Arrival: ???
Lewis Brinson has had 107 games in AAA across three seasons hitting .283 with 18 homeruns, 18 stolen bases with 89 runs and 72 RBIs. In his 21 games at the MLB level, Brinson has been less impressive going 5 for 47. The stacked Brewers outfield, did not allow Lewis Brinson the opportunity to work through his struggles and those 21 games came from three different stints in Milwaukee. He was traded this offseason as the prize prospect in the Christian Yelich deal with Miami. In Miami, he should get the opportunity to work through his struggle and he will get plenty of at-bats. You can expect power and speed, but the average will be questionable. He has a streaky bat that can win matchup but also disappear for the week. The Marlins are tight with their money though and we could have a Yoan Moncada situation where the club keeps him down till July.
4. Willie Calhoun, OF, Rangers, Arrival: April
Despite his small stature, Willie Calhoun packs a lot of power. He hit 31 homeruns in the minors in 2017. He was the top prospect to arrive in Texas in the Darvish deal with the Dodgers. He does a very good job of making solid contact and had an absurd 42:61 BB: K rate in the minors. He has his limitations in the field and will strictly be a DH option first with the occasional LF start. He must produce at the plate to stay in the majors and so there is a lot of risk with drafting him, but the upside is a solid avg with 25+ homeruns.
5. Francisco Mejia, C, Indians, Arrival: June
Francisco Mejia started the 2017 year in AA, destroying the pitchers to a .336/.378/.541 slash line with 9 homeruns and 27 XBH in 60 games. He landed on the DL in July and wasn’t quite the same player post All-Star break hitting .220/.282/.390 with only 10 XBH, five for a homerun. He did get a September call up but only started one game going 1 for 4, and pinch-hitting in another 10 games where he had one hit. Mejia brings the most offensive potential at the catcher position for the Indians and could end the year as the top catcher displacing Yan Gomes. He will likely start the year in AA or AAA, with Yan Gomes and Roberto Perez splitting the duties behind the plate but if a cold bat emerges between them, Mejia could quickly be up.
6. Gleyber Torres, SS, Yankees, Arrival: July
The last time I wrote about Torres, the Yankees announced his DL Stint with a Hyper Extended Elbow which in fact turned out to be far worse with a torn UCL ligament that required Tommy John, ending his 2017 season. The good news is Torres is already playing again this spring, however He could start the year in AAA though to give him some more time to test his arm. With no named starter at 2B or 3B, Torres should eventually get plenty of at-bats in 2018. He has a very advanced approach for his age and has plus power. If he is at 2B, I really love him.
7. Scott Kingery, 2B, Phillies, Arrival: June
I first noticed Scott Kingery in 2016 as he met the criteria for my hitter criteria rankings in this reddit post. The one blemish in his profile was his power, only five homeruns in 2016 but he had 36 doubles and 3 triples which showed some gap power. He drove the ball more consistently in 2017 while hitting 26 homeruns, 29 doubles and 8 triples. He his .304 across AA and AAA and is widely considered the top second baseman prospect in the game.
8. Willy Adames, SS, Rays, Arrival: June
Its hard to tell how good Willy Adames is. He has posted back to back seasons with an ops north of .775, 45+ XBH and double-digit homeruns and stolen bases. His best asset is his fielding, but his bat isn’t far behind. With an advanced approach, Adames does a good job of working the count and makes solid contact, He reminds me of Elvis Andrus with more pop but less speed. He will battle with Christian Arroyo for the next up should the Rays need an infielder.
9. Victor Robles, OF, Nationals, Arrival: July
A breakout season by Michael Taylor in 2017 could be an issue for Victor Robles call up timeline. With Adam Eaton and Bryce Harper flanking Taylor, its hard to imagine Robles breaking camp on the MLB roster. He might be the most athletic player on this list, with elite speed and defending. His bat looks very good as well having hit .300 in the minors last season. He has good pop and will be a five-category player when he does get the chance.
10. JP Crawford, SS, Phillies, Arrival: April
Last year, I had Dansby Swanson ranked #2 because I thought he would get the most at-bats of any player on the list. The rookie I believe will have the most at bats in 2018 is J.P. Crawford. 2017 was a tale of two halves for JP Crawford as he had a slash line of .211/.328/.330 in the 1st half and a .287/.385/.513 line in the 2nd half of AAA. He has one of the most patient approaches on this list with 311 walks to 340 strikeouts in 533 minor league games. He is a future top of the line up player with some pop. A lot of people will be down on him coming into 2018 but he’s continuing the hot 2nd half of 2017 into spring training going 4 for 7.
11. Ryan McMahon, 1B, Rockies, Arrival: Mid-April
In 2016 we had two first basemen promoted and destroy the cover off the ball in Rhys Hoskins and Cody Bellinger. Ryan McMahon could be that player in 2018. He struggled in 2016 hitting .242 and striking out 161 times in AA but he fixed his swing and hit .355 across AA and AAA with 20 homeruns and 63 XBHs. He has loft to his stroke and should hit plenty of homeruns. He is a late rounder I would target because he could start the year in Colorado instead of Albuquerque.
12. Dustin Fowler, OF, Athletics, Arrival: April
A freak accident ruined Dustin Fowler’s debut. A season later he is in Oakland, coming over in the Sonny Gray trade. He has very good speed and will be able to utilize that more in Oakland. He makes a lot of hard contact but don’t expect a plethora of homeruns. The centerfield position is his to lose.
13. Franklin Barreto, SS, Athletics, Arrival: June
We have been hearing about Franklin Barreto for quite some time as he was the prize piece of the Josh Donaldson deal between the Athletics and the Blue Jays. He has been a successful minor leaguer at every level but struggled in his brief appearance in the show, hitting .197 through 25 games. He is off to a hot start in Spring training this year going 4 for 14 with two triples and a homerun He is battling Jed Lowrie, and Chad Pinder for the 2B position so he needs to keep up the hot spring. I see him starting the year back in AAA as Chad Pinder gives the Athletics a better defensive glove and more roster flexibility.
14. Jorge Alfaro, C, Phillies, Arrival: April
With Gary Sanchez and Wilson Contreras providing fantasy owners a lot of value from the catcher position, its easy to think Alfaro could join them. Few prospects have the top prospect longevity that Jorge Alfaro has had, he’s been ranked by a publication since 2012. His defensive make up is unquestionable but the bat still need developing. He did his .318/.360/.514 in 29 games in the big last year, but that’s a significant step up then his AAA slash line of .241/.291/.358. The bat does miss but he does make solid contact when he does connect. He should get the primary catching job out of camp.
15. Austin Meadows, OF, Pirates, Arrival: August
Austin Meadows battled through several injuries last season and posted his worst season in his professional career with 5 HRs, 11 SB, 46 RBIS, 53 Runs and a .261 avg through 81 games in the minors. He has looked much healthier this spring and has destroyed the cover off the ball going 5 for 8 with 4 XBH, a walk and no strikeouts. When healthy he has potential to hit for avg, power and has the speed to swipe some bags. He is blocked in the Pittsburgh by Polanco, Marte and now Dickerson, but he should get a chance in the 2nd half of 2018.
16. Miguel Andujar, 3B, Yankees, Arrival: July
Andujar is smashing the ball in Spring Training, going 7 for 17 with 2 doubles and 4 homeruns. He put up solid numbers in 2017 hitting .315 with 16 hrs, 66 Runs, 82 RBIs, and 5 SB in 125 across AA and AAA. Despite his success, the Yankees have traded for Brandon Drury and it appears Andujar will start the year back in AAA. He has the arm and fielding skills to stick at 3B and is likely the Yankees third baseman of the future.
17. Alex Verdugo, OF, Dodgers, Arrival: July
If you followed the Stash articles last year, you will know I am a fan of Alex Verdugo. There is something special about a 21-year-old in AAA that walks, 52, more than he strikes out, 50. The major question mark regarding Verdugo is his power, only six homeruns in the minors in 2017, but he has a plus plus bat and will hit for a solid average. He is competing for the LF position this spring but will likely start the year in the minors.
18. Jesse Winker, OF, Red, Arrival: May
Another one of my favorite from the stash articles, Jesse Winker’s rookie eligibility remain intact as he had 121 at-bats in 2017, just 9 short of the cut off. He performed remarkably in the 47 games he saw action in hitting .298 with 7 HRs, 1 SB, 21 runs, and 15 RBIs. I don’t believe Winker will maintain his .231 ISO Power going forward, as he only had 5 homeruns in AAA through 191 games. However, Louisville is a tough park to hit in for left-handers, and the Great American Ball Park should help him with a few more dingers. He will be a solid average player that has some power and by the end of the year, should hit in the top or middle of this Red’s line up.
19. Tom Murphy, C, Rockies, Arrival: April
A lot of fantasy owners had Tom Murphy as their sleeper coming into 2017. A fractured arm kept him out until June and what we saw, was nothing compared to his 2016 self. He has an above average bat for the position and plus power, but it looks like he will be playing second fiddle this season behind Chris Iannetta.
20. Brendan Rodgers, SS, Rockies, Arrival: August/September
Last year I ranked Cody Bellinger a bit lower than I wanted because he was completely blocked with Adrian Gonzales at 1B and a stacked Dodgers OF. Bellinger performed and got the call when Gonzales went down with an injury, and when Gonzales came back, the Dodgers found ways for their prize prospect to still get at bats. This year, I feel Rodgers is in a similar situation. Brendan Rodgers is completely blocked in Colorado with the Rockies middle infield of Story and LeMahieu. LeMahieu is in the last year of his contract though and should the Rockies fall out of the race by July, Rodgers could be playing 2B by August. Or an injury could propel Rodgers up. Either way the talent of a plus bat and top-notch power means Rodger is one to watch in 2018.
21. Jake Bauers, 1B, Rays, Arrival: May
I have owned Jake Bauers in one of my dynasty league the past four seasons. The Rays have always pushed his development and he always responded. He will likely begin 2018 in the minors but should be up mid-April after the Rays gain another year of control. He doesn’t have the typical power you want in a first baseman, but he will have a solid average and will see plenty of action as the Rays cant possibly think CJ Cron is the answer at first base. He is a good dynasty pick up for leagues with OBP as he walked 78 times in AAA last season, a league whose average player is six years older than him.
22. Christian Arroyo, 3B, Rays, Arrival: June
I don’t know what to think of Arroyo. He has a minor league career batting average of .300 but a career .134 ISO. He doesn’t have much pop or speed and so he is reliant on having a high average to be fantasy relevant. He will likely start the year in AAA with Matt Duffy penciled in at 3B, Daniel Robertson at 2B, and Hechavarria at SS. He is battling Adames as the next up should one of these players get off to a slow start.
23. Colin Moran, 3B, Pirates, Arrival: April
The Gerrit Cole trade had several people scratching their heads but the Pirates might have their third baseman of the future in Colin Moran. Injuries have hampered his development and he is now with his third organization. The former 6th overall pick in the 2013 MLB draft out of North Carolina, Colin Moran had a very good 2017, .301/.369/.532, after a tough 2016 campaign, .259/.329/.368. He can hit for an average and is capable of hitting 15-20 homeruns a season.
24. Austin Hays, OF, Orioles, Arrival: July
With Trumbo at DH, and Chris Davis at 1B, Trey Mancini is stuck in LF, and Colby Rasmus should be the RF on opening day. That likely means that Austin Hays will be in the minors to start the year and with a couple tough teams in the AL East, it might be best to leave Austin Hays in the minors for the foreseeable future. It makes more sense for the Orioles to keep him down and gain another year of service in the future from their #1 prospect. Austin Hays has plus power, bat, fielding and average speed. He had 67 XBHs last year in the minors in 128 games but He struggled in his MLB stint hitting .217.
25. Chance Sisco, C, Orioles, Arrival: July
I really like Chance Sisco. He has a career minor league line of .311/.290/.426 in 455 games. He has a plus bat for his position and has enough power to hit 15 homeruns or more a year. Unfortunately, I believe he will be back in AAA to start the year and could stay down for most of the year. Like Austin Hays situation, Sisco is blocked by Caleb Joseph and Andrew Susac. When he does get the call, he would be an interesting add for teams in need of a catcher.