Rookie Watch List for 2018 Fantasy Baseball Drafts

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As we move closer to the 2018 MLB season, it is important to see what players are next up for the spotlight in the rookie ranks. It sure would have been nice to draft Aaron Judge, Cody Bellinger, Andrew Benintendi, or Josh Bell at this point last season or to know about breakout young studs like Paul deJong, Rhys Hoskins, and Trey Mancini before they became waiver wire studs.

This is not to say that we will go through the top minor league players and give their forecast for 2018 (although some players will be top MiLB stars), but this list will outline some players that could combine opportunity and skills to create fantasy stardom.

These are the top five rookies to watch for draft day and one deep sleeper.

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

 

Top Rookies to Monitor

Shohei Ohtani (P/OF, LAA)

Los Angeles Angeles pitcher/outfielder Shohei Ohtani is a potential SP2 this season with a true opportunity to contribute as a hitter as well. That is well known and there is very little else to go through from there, but what does need to be considered is where Ohtani will go in drafts and how do his statistics translate. In 2017, Ohtani hit .332 in 65 games, posting a .942 OPS while finishing 3-2 with a 3.20 ERA and 29 strikeouts in 25 1/3. While this was a pedestrian season for the 23-year-old, he was 10-4 with a 1.86 ERA in 2016, clubbing 22 home runs and striking out 174 batters in 140 innings. Ohtani has never pitched more than 160 2/3 innings in professional ball (which might be a good thing as he is a five-year veteran in Japan, even though he is so young). It is not wise to overpay for Ohtani, especially since it is highly likely that you will lose his hitting statistics, but he has value as a top-25 SP. Fantasy owners also need to be aware that he is coming off of ankle surgery, but Ohtani says that the injury should not hinder his 2018 performance.

Gleyber Torres (2B/3B/SS, NYY)

When the Yankees traded Aroldis Chapman to the Cubs in 2016, they insisted on Gleyber Torres from Chicago and Yankees' fans will soon see why. After missing the most of the 2017 season due to Tommy John surgery, Torres will likely start the season at Triple-A Scranton Wilkes-Barre, but should not stay there for long. With Todd Frazier a free agent, New York may have a vacancy at the hot corner that Torres can fill. Starlin Castro was also traded in the Giancarlo Stanton blockbuster, opening a spot at second base for Torres. The 20-year-old was had an .863 OPS in 55 games between Double-A Trenton and Scranton Wilkes-Barre last season and was the 2016 Arizona Fall League MVP with a .403 batting average and eight extra-base hits in just 18 games. There are questions on whether Frazier will be back for the Yankees, and even if prospect Miguel Andujar will take over at third if Frazier does not return, but Torres' skills will be utilized in the Bronx very soon either way. An added bonus for the consensus top-five prospect is that he can play all over the infield (he was drafted as a shortstop and can play second as well as third), so fantasy owners should make stashing him a priority.

Ronald Acuna (OF, ATL)

A teenager that played in all three levels last season, finishing with Triple-A Gwinnett, Atlanta Braves outfield prospect Ronald Acuna is making a strong case to make the 2018 Opening Day roster. As an 18-year-old, Acuna had a strong 2016 season where he batted .312 in 42 games before capping the season with a .375 batting average in Australia. He truly broke out with a .325 batting average, 21 home runs and 44 stolen bases last season. Acuna had 60 extra-base hits in 138 games in a season that started with High-A Florida and ended with a .940 OPS in 54 games with Gwinnett. He was caught stealing 20 times last season, so he does have something to learn as a stolen base threat, but his 1.053 OPS and seven home runs in the Arizona Fall League were enough to make him the league's MVP. The Braves actually have a strong outfield with Nick Markakis and Ender Inciarte in place, but, with Matt Kemp traded, Acuna should be the starter in left field. His profile is very attractive to fantasy owners looking for multiple categories from one player and he should be considered the early favorite for NL Rookie of the Year.

Francisco Mejia (C, CLE)

Cleveland Indians catcher Francisco Mejia has already made his MLB debut, going 2-for-13 in 2017, but he is coming off of a season where he had a .297 batting average with Double-A Akron. Mejia followed up his 2016 season, where he hit .342 in Low-A and High-A, with 37 extra-base hits in 92 games for Akron and also had a .365 batting average in the Arizona Fall League. A 21-year-old catcher with batted ball skills like this is very valuable. He also stole seven bases last season, showing that he can sneak a steal for a position that usually does not run. With Roberto Perez and Yan Gomes the only things stopping Mejia from being the everyday starter in Cleveland, there is a chance that Mejia breaks Spring Training as the starting catcher for the Indians. If he is able to start for the Tribe, there is immediate top-10 catcher potential for Mejia.

Michael Kopech (SP, CHW)

Chicago White Sox pitcher Michael Kopech was one of the key pieces of the trade that sent Chris Sale to Boston, but his 2017 season showed that Chicago may have received an ace of their own. Kopech dominated Double-A batters while with Birmingham, striking out 155 batters in 119 1/3 innings and holding batters to a .184 batting average. He struggled a bit in Triple-A (20 baserunners in 15 innings), he still closed the season with 172 strikeouts and a 2.88 ERA in 134 1/3 innings. With a sub-.200 batting average against in his MiLB career (.196), Kopech's high-velocity artillery is very tough to hit, but he has walked 4.48 batters per nine in 269 1/3 minor league innings. While Kopech may need a bit more time in Triple-A, he will likely be in the White Sox rotation by early May at the very latest. Dylan Covey is currently holding the final spot in the White Sox rotation, and the team will likely do everything to move veteran James Shields as well, so Kopech has a real opportunity for 25 or more starts this season. With huge strikeout potential, Kopech could be a SP3 this season.

D.J. Stewart (OF, BAL)

After picking five of the safest players that could be picked (sorry for pointing out the obvious), here is the wildest wild card that you will find. Baltimore Orioles outfield prospect D.J. Stewart is coming off of a season with Double-A Bowie where he hit .278 with 21 home runs and 20 stolen bases, making him one of the only 20/20 players in a single league last season. Stewart's 21 home runs are a career-high, going from six in his maiden season to 10 in 2016 before seeing his OPS jump from .776 to .859 last season. Like Mancini in 2017, Stewart is a college star (Mancini was from Notre Dame and Stewart is from Florida State) and he had 65 walks and 87 strikeouts last season, posting a .378 OBP and showing his advanced skills. None of the other players on this list have college experience like Stewart does and he can break into an Orioles outfield that currently sees Joey Rickard as the projected starting right fielder. It is likely that Stewart will need time in Triple-A Norfolk, so he might not be the type of player to look at for shallow leagues. Do not be surprised if he breaks into the Orioles lineup this summer and is an impact player like Mancini. Those in leagues with minor league slots or ones with a lot of keepers should continue to monitor Stewart's progress this spring.

Hope you enjoyed learning about the new wave for 2018 and best of luck in your drafts to come!

 

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