Best Of The Next

All across the game, rookies are having a monumental impact. It’s gotten to a point that nearly every contending team, in some form, has a rookie to thank for their success.

The Dodgers reached the 2017 World Series in part because of back-to-back National League rookies of the year Corey Seager and Cody Bellinger. The Yankees rode 2017 American League ROY Aaron Judge to within a game of the World Series.

The NL runner-up Cubs continued to debut an impact rookie yearly with Ian Happ. A trio of rookie pitchers—Kyle Freeland, German Marquez and Antonio Senzatela—helped guide the Rockies to their first playoff berth in nine years, and Andrew Benintendi finished among the team leaders in every offensive category for the AL East-champion Red Sox.

If the recent past is any indication, many of this year’s preseason top 20 rookies will make a similar impact on their team’s fortunes.

1. Shohei Ohtani, RHP/DH
Age: 23. Projected Rookie Role: SP.

Calling Card: The Japanese two-way legend boasts an upper 90s fastball that touches 100 mph, a devastating splitter and a plus slider. At the plate, his massive lefthanded power produced 30 home runs in his final 613 plate appearances in Nippon Professional Baseball.

2018 Outlook: Ohtani immediately becomes one of the Angels’ top starters and will serve as their designated hitter on some of his off days. Even if playing both ways proves too difficult, his pitching alone can make him elite.

2. Ronald Acuna, OF
Age: 20. Projected Rookie Role: LF.

Calling Card: An electrifying power-speed center fielder, Acuna won Minor League Player of the Year after hitting .325 with 21 homers, 44 steals and a .374 on-base percentage. His offensive ability is what makes him a standout, but he also boasts plus speed and a plus arm from the outfield.

2018 Outlook: With Ender Inciarte entrenched in center, Acuna is slated to be the Braves’ left fielder this year. He may begin the season in Triple-A for service time reasons, but should be in Atlanta before long as a cornerstone of their rebuild.

3. Gleyber Torres, SS  
Age: 21. Projected Rookie Role: 2B.

Calling Card: Torres hit .309 with a .406 on-base percentage at Triple-A before an awkward slide led to Tommy John surgery on his non-throwing elbow last summer, sidetracking an otherwise rapid ascent toward the majors.

2018 Outlook: Torres has to show he’s healthy and may even start back at Triple-A to get re-acclimated, but the Yankees’ second base job is his for the taking once he’s ready.

4. Lewis Brinson, OF  
Age: 24. Projected Rookie Role: CF.

Calling Card: The physical specimen hit .331 with 11 homers and 13 steals in just 76 minor league games last year while playing excellent outfield defense, and made his major league debut in June.

2018 Outlook: Brinson should get plenty of at-bats in the Marlins outfield. Staying healthy, which has been an issue in the past, is his only impediment to regular playing time.

5. J.P. Crawford, SS  
Age: 22. Projected Rookie Role: SS.

Calling Card: A gifted defensive shortstop with an excellent batting eye, Crawford posted a .356 on-base percentage in his big league debut after a September callup.

2018 Outlook: The trade of Freddy Galvis makes Crawford the Phillies’ everyday shortstop. His on-base skills and defense give him a chance to shine, and hitting in Citizens Bank Park could boost his power numbers.

6. Austin Hays, OF  
Age: 22. Projected Rookie Role: RF.

Calling Card: The first member of the 2016 draft class to reach the majors, the free-swinging, powerful Hays hit .329 with 32 homers in his first minor league season and earned a September callup.

2018 Outlook: The departure of Seth Smith creates an opening for Hays in right field. His 4.4 percent walk rate is concerning, but his big power and ability to get to it should get him plenty of at-bats.

7. Willie Calhoun, OF  
Age: 23. Projected Rookie Role: LF.

Calling Card: Calhoun’s long track record of hitting and hitting for power culminated in 31 home runs at Triple-A last year, and he made his big league debut for the Rangers in September after coming over from the Dodgers in the Yu Darvish trade.

2018 Outlook: Calhoun is slated to be the Rangers’ starting left fielder on Opening Day. He’s a defensive liability, but his bat is middle-of-the-lineup caliber.

8. Willy Adames, SS
Age: 22. Projected Rookie Role: 2B.

Calling Card: Adames is a promising hitter who batted .277 with a .360 on-base percentage as a 21-year-old at Triple-A last season, while showcasing a big arm and an improving glove at shortstop.

2018 Outlook: With Adeiny Hechavarria, Daniel Robertson and Joey Wendle as the Rays current middle infield options, it shouldn’t be long before Adames is starting in St. Petersburg.

9. Luiz Gohara, LHP  
Age: 21. Projected Rookie Role: SP.

Calling Card: The portly Gohara throws 97 mph heat and a devastating slider from the left side, which helped him rise from high Class A all the way to the majors last season.

2018 Outlook: Gohara still has to develop his third pitch and fine-tune his command, but he is a favorite to win a spot in the Braves’ rotation and has a chance to rack up loads of strikeouts.

10. Miguel Andujar, 3B
Age: 23. Projected Rookie Role: 3B.

Calling Card: Andujar consistently hits for average and shows growing power, which culminated in career-highs in doubles (36) and home runs (16) last year and his first major league callup.

2018 Outlook: The Yankees acquired Brandon Drury in the first days of spring training, but Andujar will get the chance to grab the third base job before long. He has the offensive ability to put up big numbers, although whether he has the hands for third base has been up for debate.

11. Ryan McMahon, 1B
Age: 23. Projected Rookie Role: 1B.

Calling Card: A bat-first infielder, McMahon hit .355 with a career-best 20 home runs across Double-A and Triple-A last year while cutting his strikeout rate from 30 to 18 percent, earning his first big league callup.

2018 Outlook: McMahon is tentatively slated to be the Rockies’ starting first baseman, and his penchant for hard contact could yield prolific offensive numbers in Coors Field.

12. Alex Reyes, RHP  
Age: 23. Projected Rookie Role: RP.

Calling Card: With a 96-100 mph fastball and knee-buckling curveball, Reyes was a frontrunner for the 2017 NL rookie of the year award before Tommy John surgery wiped out his season.

2018 Outlook: Reyes is expected to be back pitching in the majors by May, and if healthy can help the Cardinals as either a high-octane starter or flamethrowing closer.

13. Victor Robles, OF  
Age: 21. Projected Rookie Role: CF.

Calling Card: Robles’ graceful actions and elite speed make playing center field look easy, and he hit .300 with 10 homers and 27 steals in the minors before he was called up and kept on the Nationals’ playoff roster as a pinch-runner and late-game defender.

2018 Outlook: Robles will likely start the year in Triple-A, but as soon as injuries hit he’ll be up in Washington playing elite outfield defense and collecting stolen bases by the bunch.

14. Nick Senzel,  3B
Age: 23. Projected Rookie Role: 3B.

Calling Card: An elite hitter in every sense, Senzel hit .321 with 40 doubles, 14 homers and 14 steals in his first full minor league season while playing top-notch defense at third base.

2018 Outlook: Senzel will start the season at Triple- A Louisville, but talent like his has a habit of forcing a way into the lineup.

15. Scott Kingery, 2B  
Age: 24. Projected Rookie Role: 2B.

Calling Card: A unique power-speed middle infielder, Kingery had 26 homers and 29 stolen bases across Double-A and Triple-A in 2017.

2018 Outlook: Kingery lacks an obvious path to playing time without a trade of Cesar Hernandez or Maikel Franco, but he could force his way into the mix with a strong start at Triple-A.

16. Walker Buehler, RHP
Age: 23. Projected Rookie Role: RP.

Calling Card: With a fastball that comfortably sits 96-99 mph and two swing-and-miss breaking balls, Buehler rocketed from high Class A all the way to the majors last season.

2018 Outlook: The Dodgers’ pitching depth keeps Buehler out of the rotation to start the year, but he figures to get starts as injuries hit and could serve as a power reliever in the interim.

17. A.J. Puk, LHP  
Age: 23. Projected Rookie Role: SP.

Calling Card: The lanky lefty brings a 94-97 mph fastball, a vicious side-to-side slider and an improving curveball and changeup, all of which led to him leading minor league starters with 13.2 strikeouts-per-nine.

2018 Outlook: Puk will begin in Triple-A, where he will continue to refine his control. He should see time in Oakland, where young pitchers figure to be coming and going all year long.

18. Jack Flaherty, RHP
Age: 22. Projected Rookie Role: SP.

Calling Card: Flaherty’s four-pitch mix with advanced command became more potent after his fastball jumped to 93-94 mph, and he moved into the Cardinals’ rotation as a September callup.

2018 Outlook: Flaherty may start in Triple-A but will be one of the first starters up as soon as injuries hit, and has every opportunity to settle into the back of St. Louis’ rotation.

19. Brett Phillips, OF
Age: 23. Projected Rookie Role: OF.

Calling Card: A speedster with a big arm, Phillips impressed at the plate by hitting .276/.351/448 in his first big league stint last season.

2018 Outlook: Phillips is talented enough to start for many teams, but is limited to a bench role by Milwaukee’s outfield log jam. He should still see playing time in all three outfield spots, with the chance to make an impact with his speed and defense at the least.

20. Yoshihisa Hirano, RHP
Age: 34. Projected Rookie Role: RP.

Calling Card: Hirano saved 60 games the last two seasons for Orix in Nippon Professional Baseball, with his 90-94 mph fastball and swing-and-miss splitter doing most of the work.

2018 Outlook: Hirano will compete with Archie Bradley and Brad Boxberger to be the D-backs’ closer, and has the chance to join Kaz Sasaki, Takashi Saito, Akinori Otsuka and Koji Uehara as the latest impact Japanese reliever to make it to the majors in his 30s.

Ten More Rookie Names To Know

  • Sandy Alcantara, RHP, Marlins: Alcantara brings triple-digit heat and tantalizing, but wildly inconsistent, secondaries. The Marlins’ shortage of arms gives him a chance to work out his kinks in their rotation.
  • Brian Anderson, 3B, Marlins: After popping 22 home runs and making his big league debut last year, Anderson stands to get plenty of at-bats as the Marlins start from scratch.
  • Steven Duggar, OF, Giants: Duggar already shows the center field defense, speed and baserunning of an everyday big leaguer. If he takes steps as a hitter, the Giants center field job is likely his.
  • Dustin Fowler, OF, Athletics: If Fowler proves he has recovered from his grisly knee injury, the A’s center field job is there for the taking.
  • Michael Kopech, RHP, White Sox: The 100 mph flamethrower made enormous strides with his control at the end of last year and finished strong in Triple-A, putting him in prime position to ascend to Chicago.
  • Chris Shaw, 1B/OF, Giants: Shaw is coming off back-to-back 20 home run seasons and possesses the lefthanded power the Giants need.
  • Chance Sisco, C, Orioles: Sisco still needs to make defensive strides, but his offensive upside is superior to Caleb Joseph and Andrew Susac.
  • Alex Verdugo, OF, Dodgers: His excellent contact ability, strong defense and cannon arm make him an intriguing option for the Dodgers, but Verdugo has a group of veterans ahead of him on the depth chart in both center and left field.
  • Jesse Winker, OF, Reds: Winker hit .298 with seven home runs in his big league debut, but at-bats could be tough to come by behind Adam Duvall and Scott Schebler in the Reds outfield.
  • Brandon Woodruff, RHP, Brewers: After debuting in August and making eight starts as Milwaukee chased a playoff berth, Woodruff is primed for a larger role.

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