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Prospects are one of my favorite aspects of fantasy sports. You get to cheer for young men who are striving to be the best they can in all facets of their chosen occupation. It is fun to track their progress and to prophesize over which prospect will be the next great player. Often times minor league players will struggle just to become a major league regular.

Getting called up to the big leagues is a challenge in of itself. However, producing at an elite level against superior competition makes things even tougher. For every Bryce Harper that made the ascension look easy, there is a Byron Buxton that continues to struggle to live up to the hype.

Let's take a look at a few players who, as rookies, not only earned their promotion but also justified their presence on the big league roster with an undeniable exclamation mark. We also take a slight look towards expectations in 2019. If you have any thoughts on other prospect gems or any dynasty questions, reach out at Twitter to @EllisCan2.

Editor's Note: Stay on top of our MLB off-season news and fantasy analysis all year round. Read our daily fantasy columns about MLB prospects, dynasty outlooks, player outlooks and much more. It's always fantasy baseball season here. Let's Go!

 

Prospects Who Shined  

Juan Soto (OF, WAS)

Few players’ minor league stats could more accurately indicate Major League performance any better than Juan Soto. In 494 plate appearances, he hit 22 HR, 70 RBI, and, surprisingly, stole five bases. He also had a slash line of .292/.406/.517. From these stats, we can see just how successful Soto really was, particularly in on-base percentage. His .406 OBP ranked fourth amongst the entire majors among hitters with at least 450 plate appearances. He accomplished all this with a high ground ball rate (53.7%), on which he had a .259 average.

Soto’s success stems from his elite plate discipline. He only had a 7.6% swinging strike rate and maintained his composure to only chase pitches outside the zone 21% of the time. Finding any amount of success at the plate is tough for rookies, let alone one so young. Yes, he managed to have a 16% walk rate and a 20% strikeout rate.

If you have doubt about his stats and want to learn more on the scarce negatives in his profile, keep in mind that he is only 19 years old. Ok, ok, he did turn 20 on October 25th. Regardless of his age, Soto has demonstrated that he should be the National League Rookie of the Year and will be taken seriously in 2019 drafts.

Ronald Acuna (OF, ATL)

The hype is real. Explosiveness. Power. Speed. It’s all there in an Atlanta Braves 20-year-old phenom, Ronald Acuna. While every Acuna owner finished the season with great spirits and confidence in the young outfielder, he didn’t give you that warm toasty feeling all season long.

He started off the season strong in the first month; however, injuries contributed to a reduction in performance for the rest of the first half. It was almost demoralizing with below-average results of seven homers and .249 average in 169 at-bats. It wasn’t until the second half that the expected performance came to fruition.

He finished the year with 26 HR, 16 stolen bases (tied for first among rookies), and a .293 batting average. Acuna also led all rookies in Slugging (.552), among those with at least 400 plate appearances. The name, the hype, and the possibility of great power/speed will lead Acuna to a first-round selection in most 2019.

Miguel Andujar (3B, NYY)

Andujar was not the most hyped Yankees prospect coming into the 2018 season. However, he clearly performed as the best rookie, not only on the team, but arguably in the American League. Andujar hit 27 HR with 92 RBI and a .297 batting average. His 47 doubles ranked third in the majors, tied with Mookie Betts. This achievement also set a Yankee record for doubles hit by a rookie, which was previously held by Joe DiMaggio (44).

Andujar accomplished these feats with an aggressively successful approach at the plate. He only saw 3.52 pitches per plate appearance. He proved he could control the strike zone with a 91% contact rate, which led to an excellent 16% strikeout rate.

Andujar has a slight chance to gain some positional flexibility as well. If the Yankees do, indeed, pursue a high-profile free agent this offseason (Manny Machado…cough…cough), some current players could find themselves in new spots. In a scenario like this, there is a distinct possibility that Andujar could move to first base.

Franmil Reyes (OF, SD)

Franmil Reyes made his presence felt quickly upon his arrival to the majors. After an up and down season, literally, he finished the 2018 season on a strong note. In 285 plate appearances, he had 16 homers with 31 RBI and a .280 batting average. When he first came up, Reyes elevated his game with six homers but ultimately, he fell off resulting in not only a .222 average but also a demotion back to the minors. He must have fixed something because he found his stride upon his return to the majors. In the second half, he had a .315 average with 10 homers and 23 RBI.

While expected, Reyes’ same-sided splits are drastically low with a .247 batting average against right-handed pitchers but he has an excellent .349 average against lefties. Also, he was not as productive with men in scoring position (.204) as he was with the bases empty (.315). Regardless of these deficiencies, Reyes has likely secured a starting outfield spot thanks to his second-half resurgence. Therefore, he should be considered as a late draft choice for your team.

Walker Buehler (SP, LAD)

Buehler left you with a positive impression thanks to his post-season performance. No, I’m not talking about the F-Bomb. That is what it is. I’m talking about his utter dominance in Game 3 of the World Series. He pitched seven scoreless innings allowing only two hits and striking out seven batters without a single walk. He did not get the win but that was out of his control. Let’s not forget his start against the Rockies in the tiebreaker game that allowed the Dodgers to progress in the playoffs. He allowed one hit in 6 2/3 scoreless innings with three strikeouts and three walks.

Let’s look at his regular season, so you’re not thinking it was merely an excellent year based on playoff performance. Buehler had an 8-5 record in 23 starts in 2018 with a 2.62 ERA. He finished with 151 strikeouts in 137 innings and only 37 walks. To put it into perspective, he had a very good K/BB of 4.08.

In 2019, the 24-year-old Buehler will continue to demonstrate why he is an up-and-coming ace. The Dodgers and Clayton Kershaw have agreed to a contract extension, which gives Buehler the advantage of learning from another top-of-the-rotation pitcher. Thanks to his recent spell of excellent play, he will likely be drafted as one of the top-15 pitchers in 2019.

Jack Flaherty (SP, STL)

We might already be looking at the next ace of the Cardinals rotation and he is only 23 years old. That isn’t necessarily a knock on St. Louis’ pitching staff as much as it is a credit to Flaherty’s talent. Carlos Martinez should still be given that title but his recent performance now calls that into question. Flaherty’s season was headlined with 182 strikeouts in 151 innings and a 3.69 ERA with a great 1.11 WHIP. His strikeouts were good for a 10.85 K/9.

Counting his minor league innings, he pitched 182 innings total in 2018, which was only a slight increase from the number of innings he pitched in 2017 (170). He is gradually, and smartly, progressing in usage without unnecessary strain on his body. Thus, Flaherty should not have to be concerned with skipped starts due to any innings restrictions or even to make room for elder starters like Adam Wainright, as occurred in 2018.

Flaherty did not finish his season on a strong note. In the month of September, he had a 5.34 ERA and walked more batters (18) than he did in any other month. However, he has done enough to put him in the SP2 range in 2019.

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