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Drafting rookies is always a tricky proposition. There are usually several first-year players who make a huge impact on fantasy teams, but they aren't always the ones we expect.

Last year's NL rookie class featured studs like Cody Bellinger and Rhys Hoskins, as well as solid producers such as Josh Bell and Ian Happ. On the other side of the ball, Rockies starters Kyle Freeland and German Marquez carved out a role in deeper mixed leagues.

2018 is likely to be more top-heavy in terms of NL prospects, but there are other lesser-known guys that have the opportunity to stand out. Here are some of the NL's most intriguing rookies for 2018:

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NL Rookies to Target in 2018

Ronald Acuna (OF, ATL)

Matt Kemp was expected to be the Opening Day LF for the Braves, but they shipped him off to the Dodgers in a deal earlier this offseason. The Braves did the Dodgers a favor by taking on $47.5MM in salary in 2018, and in return, they can now bring up 20-year-old wunderkind Ronald Acuña to begin the season as the team's starting LF.

Acuña shot up prospect boards after an impressive 2016 season in which he triple-slashed .311/.387/.432 as an 18-year-old in Single-A. He also added 4 HR and 14 SB, and keep in mind that this was only through 40 games in Single-A. People were intrigued by the tantalizing upside, albeit in a small sample size in short-season ball.

Acuña silenced the doubters in 2017 by triple-slashing a ridiculous .325/.374/.522 with 21 HR and 44 SB across three levels (High-A, Double-A, and Triple-A) and 139 games. Ronald wasn't done there, though; he hit .325/.414/.630 with a league-leading 7 HR in 23 Arizona Fall League games. He did this all as a 19-year-old.

There are two downsides to Acuña. The first is that he's not a very efficient base stealer (68.7% for 2017 and 70.5% for his career), so unless he can increase his efficiency on the basepaths, I'd expect the SB upside to be somewhat curtailed in the big leagues. The second is that there have been reports that he knows he is the next big thing. I don't expect his makeup to get in the way too much, but if he ends up being a diva, the Braves may demote him or take some playing time away so that he can learn to be a leader. All of that being said, he is still a 20-year-old with an immense amount of talent likely to begin 2018 in the majors. If you have Acuña in a dynasty, get ready for a fun 2018 season, and if you play in a redraft, look to target Acuña so long as his draft-day price does not get too lofty.

Alex Reyes (SP, STL)

Oh, what could have been in 2017. Reyes' 2017 season ended before it even started after he was diagnosed with a torn UCL in February. This was on the heels of a 2016 MLB cup of coffee that saw him pitch to a 1.57 ERA, 1.217 WHIP, and 10.2 K/9. Reyes has a career minor league K/9 of 12.1 and an ERA of 3.50. The 23-year-old can touch 100 with his plus-plus fastball, and he also mixes in a curveball that should develop into a plus pitch and an average change-up that he improved drastically before his injury.

Cards GM John Mozeliak indicated on Thursday that he envisions the month of April as a "rehab opportunity" for Reyes, but that does not guarantee that he will start the year on the DL. Even if he does, though, that should help redraft players because his draft day price will fall. Reyes is arguably the top pitching prospect in all of baseball, and he's going to make a name for himself in 2018 regardless of if he starts or closes.

Jesse Winker (OF, CIN)

Winker is proof that prospect growth is not linear. He opened the 2015 season as MLB Pipeline's #26 prospect, opened 2016 as the #34 prospect, and opened 2017 as the #67 prospect. In short, it looked like Winker was trending in the wrong direction. Over those three seasons where he fell down the prospect rankings, though, he improved his batting average in each of the three seasons. The power never really materialized, but he proved all he could in the minors. The Reds rewarded Winker with a full-time call-up in August of 2017 and he showed the Reds that he was worthy by quietly having a very solid two-month stretch.

Winker still has his rookie eligibility intact because he only had 121 ABs during the 2017 MLB campaign. In those 121 ABs, he hit .298/.375/.529 with 7 doubles, 7 HR, and very respectable strikeout and walk rates of 17.5% and 10.9%, respectively. Winker is going to be a bargain in this year's drafts and will make a great investment as a bench OF.

Dillon Peters (SP, MIA)

Peters doesn't have the strikeout upside of most starting pitching prospects. That's probably why he hasn't gotten a lot of love from top-100 prospect lists. Peters is projected to begin 2018 in the Marlins rotation which may be more of a comment on the status of the Marlins organization that Peters' talent. With that being said, Peters has quietly been dominating in the minor leagues since he was drafted in 2014. He has a career ERA of 2.40, career WHIP of 1.099, and a less inspiring but still very solid 7.6 K/9. Peters has excellent command of the strike zone as evidenced by his 1.9 BB/9 in the minors. What he lacks in strikeout upside he makes up for by not putting a ton of guys on base.

It must be noted that in his 31.1 innings last year, he struggled mightily. Whether he was actually dominating hitters in the minor leagues or he was just getting by because he was generally older than the average player at his level is not entirely clear. Peters is 25 and has as good an opportunity as any to make an impact as a rookie in 2018, so consider taking a flyer on him in the late rounds of your draft.

Magneuris Sierra (OF, MIA)

Yes, there are two Marlins on this list. Sierra, like Peters, is on this list primarily because of playing time. That is not to say that he is not talented, but the talent has not turned into results just yet.

The Cardinals recalled Sierra straight from High-A last season for a short stint in mid-May during which he mashed. He was sent back down to AA and then recalled later in the season on three separate occasions. Sierra doesn't have tantalizing power upside, but he very well could steal 30 bases in the big leagues if the Marlins are willing to give him the green light. The Marlins have literally three outfielders on their active roster and Sierra is one of them, so unless they are planning on giving Martin Prado or Derek Dietrich a shot in the outfield (it's pretty unlikely), Sierra will be a starter for the Marlins this season. He'll also likely hit towards the top of the order, and considering that the team might have trouble scoring runs, Sierra could be asked to manufacture them. Sierra has good SB upside for this upcoming season, so if you're short on steals at the end of the draft look at snatching him up.

Jimmie Sherfy (RP, ARI)

Yes, I am recommending a relief pitcher. It's not because I ran out of starting pitchers that will be ready to go in 2018, it's because Sherfy has the potential to develop into someone as valuable as his teammate, Archie Bradley. The main difference between Sherfy and Bradley is that Sherfy has been a reliever throughout his entire minor league career and Bradley was a failed starter. This actually helps Sherfy, though, because it means he has experience as a reliever heading into his full-time MLB career.

Sherfy was a 10th-round pick in 2013 and has done nothing but dominate opposing hitters out of the bullpen since being drafted. He has a minor league strikeout rate of 11.7 K/9 in 220.1 innings to go along with a 4.04 ERA, and 1.18 WHIP. The ERA leaves a little to be desired, but it should not be cause for concern considering he proved he could kick it in the bigs last year. In 10.2 IP last season, he gave up zero runs, had a 0.656 WHIP, 7.6 K/9, and a 4.50 K/BB. Granted, the sample size was quite small, but if that's a preview of what Sherfy can provide, he will be a valuable asset despite not having a clear path to saves. Sherfy is a must-get in holds leagues and can be picked up as a ratio buffer late in standard league drafts.

 

More 2018 MLB Prospects Analysis