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Conventional wisdom dictates that you can't win your league at the draft. You definitely can't, but good drafting of under-the-radar guys and youngsters can put you streets ahead of your competition.

Last season gave us rookies in the American League such as Aaron Judge, Matt Olson and his teammate Matt Chapman, Mitch Haniger (until he got injured), and Jordan Montgomery. To expect any of the guys below to turn into Aaron Judge would be downright foolish, but that does not mean that we can't attempt to chase value later in the draft with rookies. The Olsons, Chapmans, and Montgomerys of the world are valuable, too.

Let's take a look at the rookies we're working with in the AL for 2018.

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AL Rookies to Target in 2018

Shohei Ohtani (P/OF, LAA)

Ohtani is technically a rookie, so I have to mention him. After perhaps the most ridiculous player sweepstakes ever, in which teams were required to compile answers to a questionnaire to be submitted to Ohtani and his agent, among other things, the Angels came away with the Japanese fireballer/slugger. Ohtani has a fastball that sits in the mid-to-high 90s and is capable of touching triple digits. In Ohtani's last full season as a pitcher in 2016 (he only threw 25.1 innings in 2017 due to an ankle injury), he posted a pretty ridiculous 1.86 ERA, 0.957 WHIP, 11.2 K/9, and 3.87 K/BB in 140 innings. This should be taken with a grain of salt because the talent in Nippon Professional Baseball is markedly less than that of Major League Baseball, but Ohtani was flat-out dominant. Dominance is dominance in any form, and Ohtani's numbers look eerily similar, perhaps even better, to those of Daisuke Matsuzaka, yet another Japanese pitcher that was quite heralded coming to the major leagues. For reference, Matsuzaka put up the following in his final season before coming stateside: 2.13 ERA, 9.23 WHIP, 9.7 K/9, and 5.88 K/BB in 186.1 innings. Ohtani is younger than Matsuzaka, which makes him all the more intriguing.

Perhaps even more intriguing, though, is the fact that Ohtani can handle the bat as well. In Ohtani's 2017 season, he hit .332/.403/.540 with 8 HR in 231 PA (65 games). The Angels are expected to utilize Ohtani primarily as a pitcher to begin, but he is likely to contribute as a hitter in some capacity this year. How websites are going to handle Ohtani's positional eligibility remains to be seen in many cases, but Ohtani will surely be a valuable asset for many teams this season, regardless of where he slots into fantasy lineups.

Miguel Andujar (3B, NYY)

Andujar is likely to be the starting third baseman for the Yankees on Opening Day, and sometimes opportunity provides more fantasy value than talent. Fortunately, Andujar has both. The Dominican stands about six feet tall and weighs in at around 215 pounds. He's hit .274/.323/.412 across six seasons in the minors, and he capped off his minor league career by launching 16 long balls and triple-slashing .315/.352/.498 in Double-A and Triple-A.

Andujar showed out last year in his cup of coffee in the majors, triple-slashing .571/.625/.857. It means virtually nothing given that it was only eight PA, but potential investors can take solace in knowing Andujar wasn't completely lost at the dish last year after being promoted to the bigs. He's not even being drafted in any leagues, so I think that for his price, Andujar is a no-brainer sleeper pick this year.

Brent Honeywell (SP, TB)

Honeywell took the minor leagues by storm in 2015 by posting a 3.18 ERA, 1.051 WHIP, 8.9 K/9, and 4.78 K/BB between Low-A and High-A. He entered the MLB Pipeline Top 100 (checking in at #43) prior to the 2016 season and hasn't stopped producing since. Many expected Honeywell to get the call at some point last season, but he never made it to the majors. It wasn't for lack of trying, though, as his numbers definitely warranted it. Honeywell pitched to a 3.49 ERA and a 1.237 WHIP with a 11.3 K/9 between Double-A and Triple-A in 2017, and he should continue getting great results at the MLB level in 2018. He likely won't begin the year in the rotation, but his talent will force the organization to feature him in the big leagues soon after the start of the season. Plus, he's got a pretty nasty screwball.

Austin Hays (OF, BAL)

Hays was selected in the third round in 2016 and the Orioles fast-tracked him to the big leagues. They placed him in Single-A to end 2016 where he hit a robust .336/.386/.514 in 38 games. He started 2017, his first full professional season, in Double-A, and ended it with a brief cup of coffee in the bigs. Hays compiled a very impressive .330/.370/.576 triple-slash over 716 minor league PA, and added 36 homers. He's done nothing but hit since turning pro, and now he will have the opportunity to be a regular in Baltimore, which is a very friendly park to hitters. He only hit .217/.238/.317 in 63 September PA last season, but his track record indicates that he should have success at the MLB level. He's also only 22 years old, so there is more development coming. Pick up Hays as a bench outfielder heading into 2018 and reap the benefits when he breaks out.

Michael Kopech (SP, CWS)

Kopech was a first round selection out of high school in 2014, so it's pretty incredible that he's going to make an impact in the majors in 2018. He has reportedly hit 105 on the radar gun and is capable of regularly touching triple-digits. He has extreme upside in strikeouts (11.5 K/9 in the minors) but it comes at a cost of a 4.5 career BB/9. If he can improve his control, he will likely develop into a #1 starter in the major leagues, but even if he can't curb the walks, he's pretty likely to develop into a lights-out relief pitcher.

This season Kopech should compete for a rotation spot out of spring training. Talent-wise, Kopech is far ahead of fellow youngsters Reynaldo Lopez and Carson Fulmer, but given that the White Sox will not be competing in 2019, they may opt to keep Kopech in the minor leagues so they can have extra team control over him in the future. Kopech will only be 21 on Opening Day, which would make him the third-youngest active pitcher in all of baseball (behind Luiz Gohara and Julio Urias). Regardless of where he starts the year, Kopech is going to make a mark in 2018, so scoop him up at the tail end of your drafts.

Francisco Mejia (C, CLE)

Mejia, though he has been a catcher throughout his minor league career, might get some action elsewhere in the 2018 season. In the Arizona Fall League this year, Mejia played third base, and on the Glendale website (the AFL team he played for), he was listed as an infielder, not a catcher. The Indians have made it clear that they want his bat in the lineup, and are willing to be flexible with his position in order to do so.

That bodes extremely well for fantasy owners because it means that not only will he have multi-positional eligibility at catcher and third base, but it also means that he will have regular playing time. Mejia broke out in a big way in 2016, triple-slashing .342/.382/.514 in 1o2 games at catcher. He was nearly as brilliant in 2017, triple-slashing .297/.346/.490 in 92 Double-A games before getting the call to the majors for a brief period of time. Mejia has a special bat, and he will reward his owners in 2018 with his great tool at a relatively weak catcher position.

 

To read more by Max, click here. You can follow him on Twitter @metsfanmax.

 

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