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Friday, October 18, 2019

10 MLB rookies who could have a big impact in 2018

Shohei Ohtani

Who’s going to win Rookie of the Year in the American and National League in 2018? It’s way too early to tell, but we can make some educated guesses as to who will land in the conversation.

Some candidates are obvious, while other potential top rookies are still in the minor leagues for various reasons, awaiting the call to the majors. That isn’t necessarily a hindrance, as we’ve seen players who started their seasons in the minors come up and win the award before.

Here are ten rookies who could certainly have a major impact at the MLB level in 2018.

1) Shohei Ohtani, Angels

Like it or not, Ohtani does qualify as a rookie, and he has to be the heavy favorite to win Rookie of the Year. His debut on the mound will have done nothing to hurt that notion. While he had some shakiness early on, he pitched well and looked impressive. The fact that he will also get the opportunity to hit can only help him. He got a hit in his first MLB at-bat, then homered in his first home at-bat as part of an impressive three-hit night. Ohtani does so much well that he has to be at the top of the list at this stage.

2) Ronald Acuna, Braves

Acuna isn’t even in the majors right now, with the Braves keeping him down to manage service time. Once he’s up, he may take the league by storm quickly. Arguably the top prospect in baseball, Acuna hit .325 across three levels of the minors last season, and he’s probably ready for the bigs now. There’s plenty of precedent for late arrivals to win Rookie of the Year, and Acuna could well be the latest if he comes up in May and starts hot.

3) Lewis Brinson, Marlins

Brinson may be the only compelling reason to watch the Marlins this season. Acquired in the Christian Yelich trade with Milwaukee, he’s off to a solid start, but his minor league numbers show his real potential. Brinson hit .331 at AAA last season, and he has power in his bat and the ability to steal bases as well. He’ll get a lot of playing time and stands very little chance of being demoted or losing his job, which should ensure a very impactful season.

4) J.P. Crawford, Phillies

Crawford has been a highly-regarded prospect for a long time, but hasn’t progressed as quickly as the Phillies would have hoped. In 2018, the team is finally giving in and letting him play shortstop. He has a .270 career average in the minors but has yet to hit much at the big league level, and he hasn’t flashed a lot of power. He plays sound defense which should ensure that he keeps the job for a while, which will definitely give him a chance to make an impact.

5) Scott Kingery, Phillies

Never as highly-touted a prospect as Crawford, Kingery may nevertheless end up having the better season. He posted a .304 average with 26 home runs in the minors last season, and that hit tool is showing early signs of translating to the majors as well. He’s versatile defensively as well. Even though he doesn’t have great on-base skills, he should get the chance to play a lot this season — and he may even shine.

6) Jack Flaherty, Cardinals

A late spring injury to Adam Wainwright ensured that Flaherty, a top Cardinals pitching prospect, would wind up with the chance to make an early impression at the big league level. Flaherty may not have the highest upside among St. Louis pitching prospects, but he has a pretty high floor. He looked good in his 2018 debut against Milwaukee. And in six otherwise unremarkable starts in 2017, he showed the ability to get strikeouts. If he can find his command and limit the hits against him, he may stick in the St. Louis rotation even after Wainwright gets healthy.

7) Willy Adames, Rays

The crown jewel in the return for David Price four years ago, Adames is close to the bigs. In fact, it may be only service time concerns keeping him down right now. As long as he doesn’t struggle — and current Tampa Bay shortstop Adeiny Hechavarria doesn’t dominate — Adames may be up by May, with the opportunity to seize the job. A hard-hitting shortstop, he may not give it up once he has it.

8) Miguel Andujar, Yankees

Andujar was called up pretty quickly after Opening Day, and while he’s blocked at third by Brandon Drury, the Yankees like his bat enough that they’re trying to find a spot for him. That spot could wind up being first base, where Greg Bird will be sidelined for a while and the Yankees have contemplated trying Andujar for a while. He hit .315 in the minors last year, looked good in a brief callup, and had a strong spring, so they know his bat plays. It’s just a matter of finding a spot on the field for him.

9) Victor Robles, Nationals

Robles is likely ready now, but the Nationals didn’t want to have him sit on the bench at the MLB level when he could instead be playing every day at AAA. Only 20, he got a brief taste of the majors last season after hitting .300 with 27 steals at the minor league level. If anyone in the Washington outfield struggles or gets hurt, we may see Robles very quickly. He could make a very big impact if he plays regularly.

10) Willie Calhoun, Rangers

Calhoun is good enough to hit at the MLB level right now, but the Rangers kept him in the minors to work on his admittedly poor defense. Acquired in the Yu Darvish trade, Calhoun probably profiles as a designated hitter down the line. He’s slugged .520 at the minor league level, so he could turn out to be a very good one. If the Rangers need a bat, he’s ready — they just have to find a spot for him. Odds are we’ll see him before the end of the season.



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