Behind many surprise playoff teams is a robust rookie class. Often, the youngsters can help a veteran team take the next step.
The 2017 Yankees benefited from historic rookie Aaron Judge and his 52 homers and also starter Jordan Montgomery. The Rockies received 93 starts from rookies in 2017—the ninth-highest total since the 1994 strike—as they claimed a National League wild card.
The Cubs and Mets met in the 2015 NL Championship Series, thanks in part to contributions from impact rookies Kris Bryant and Addison Russell for Chicago and Noah Syndergaard and Michael Conforto for New York.
Here we highlight six teams who project to have strong rookie classes in 2018 that could push them into contention.
New York Yankees
The Yankees already are competitive, you say? Well, then they deserve extra credit for a projected rookie class that includes Gleyber Torres (No. 3 rookie) and Miguel Andujar (No. 11), who could finish the year as the club’s primary second and third basemen—even if New York begins the season with placeholders. Additionally, righthander Chance Adams and lefthander Justus Sheffield are Top 100 Prospects with upper-levels experience who could debut in 2018.
A deep rookie class is what should be expected from the No. 1 farm system in baseball, which boasts eight Top 100 Prospects. Outfielder Ronald Acuna (No. 2) and lefthander Luiz Gohara (No. 10) should claim prominent roles with the Braves early in the season, while lefthander Max Fried and righthander Mike Soroka could also receive extended rotation looks if Atlanta needs extra arms. Third baseman Austin Riley could be a hot first half away from the big leagues.
Tampa Bay Rays
Despite top prospect Brent Honeywell's injury, the Rays still boast a good rookie class. Shortstop Willy Adames (No. 9) should see plenty of time in St. Petersburg this season, and first baseman Jake Bauers could join them midway. The duo all starred at Triple-A Durham last season as the Bulls won the International League. The Rays excel at identifying pro position players from other organizations, and both Adames (David Price) and Bauers (Wil Myers) are products of trades.
Bats To The Future
The Braves have a surplus of young pitchers, but the key for them going from rebuilders to contenders has been the development of young star hitters Ronald Acuna Jr. and Ozzie Albies.
The Phillies need an injection of talent on the pitching side, but that wave is probably still a year away. They will have to “settle” for a new-look middle of the field that includes shortstop J.P. Crawford (No. 5), second baseman Scott Kingery (No. 16) and catcher Jorge Alfaro. The best chance for a pitching infusion could come in the form of 21-year-old lefthander JoJo Romero, who finished last season at high Class A and could enter the picture in the second half.
St. Louis Cardinals
What the Cardinals lack in obvious Rookie of the Year candidates, they make up for in volume. Three-time No. 1 prospect righthander Alex Reyes (No. 13) should impact the pitching staff, while the core of last year’s outstanding Triple-A Memphis club could make its mark, from righthander Jack Flaherty (No. 19) to catcher Carson Kelly to outfielders Harrison Bader and Tyler O’Neill.
While the Marlins won’t compete for anything this year except the No. 1 overall pick in the 2019 draft, those low expectations will allow rookies to run amok. Most promising among the new crew will be outfielder Lewis Brinson (No. 4), righthander Sandy Alcantara and third baseman Brian Anderson. Outfielder Magneuris Sierra also could work his way into the outfield picture thanks to his outstanding speed and defense.