2018 Fantasy Baseball Super Sophomores: Boom or Bust?

by Dennis Sosic
2018 Fantasy Baseball Super Sophomores

Last season, we saw no shortages of rookies burst on the scene as potential building blocks for their respective teams and of course, fantasy rosters. Teams are more willing to quickly promote dynamic prospects who can help the big club immediately. Major League Baseball clubs which constantly burst out value from young players tend to give themselves a better chance to contend year-in and year-out.

Fantasy owners who target and hit on these rookies also give themselves more opportunity to win annually. Now that the rookies showed they can do it for one season, can they do it again?

I reviewed the most fantasy impact rookies from last season and made their cases on their accomplishments and also analyzed what to expect in the 2018 season. Who will fall victim to the sophomore slump? Who will continue to climb up the fantasy rankings? Find out those answers and more!

2018 Fantasy Baseball Super Sophomores

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Aaron Judge, OF, New York Yankees

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CASE:  Judge enjoyed a historic inaugural season. He established new rookie records in each of baseball’s three true outcomes-- home runs, walks, and strikeouts. He finished 2017 with 52 homers, 127 walks, and 208 strikeouts, tacking on 128 runs scored, 114 RBI, nine steals, and a 0.284/0.422/0.627 slash line. In addition to winning AL rookie honors, Judge finished second in the MVP voting. Judge struck out more than anyone else in baseball, but also led the AL in walks -- with a 0.422 on-base percentage that trailed only Joey Votto and Mike Trout.

Along with the newly acquired reigning NL MVP Giancarlo Stanton, all eyes will be on Judge once the regular season rolls around. He’s still getting back into playing shape after offseason shoulder surgery. It’s crazy to think that he could repeat or surpass his rookie season.  But in this lineup with all the star power surrounding him, I still expect him to be elite.

The most important factor in Judge’s future success will be his strikeout rate. It is common for a player to become less strikeout prone as he gains more experience in the big leagues. Sure you can expect the high number of strikeouts to continue, but at the end of the season, the production will be there. As 2017 progressed, pitchers made adjustments.

VERDICT: Judge is a three-category machine -- four-category in leagues that use on-base percentage in place of the standard batting average -- and will undoubtedly help any fantasy team this upcoming season and beyond. However, his propensity for strikeouts and major slumps makes the soon-to-be 26-year-old slightly more of a risk. Somewhere in the 13-18 range is reasonable for Aaron Judge, who is more valuable in Roto leagues given his ability to single-handedly carry a team in three categories.

Andrew Benintendi, OF, Boston Red Sox

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CASE:  Benintendi is coming off a second-place finish in American League Rookie of the Year Award balloting. He delivered on the hype that surrounded his first full MLB season, hitting 0.271/0.253/0.424 with 20 homers and 20 steals, 90 RBI, and 84 runs. Benintendi was one of only six players last season to post 20 HR/20 SB, and only one of four in that group to do so with an AVG over 0.270.

The scary part about Benintendi’s season is that his counting stats were somewhat limited as the Red Sox lacked a huge power threat in the middle of the order. Additionally, Benintendi hit the rookie wall at times throughout the season. Other ways Benintendi can improve is by hitting lefty pitching. Benintendi hit 0.232 with one HR, oppose to .280 and 19 HR when facing righties.

The Red Sox did improve their lineup by adding slugger J.D. Martinez to enhance the Red Sox offense. This offers Benintendi the opportunity to continue what he is doing now, but with even better-supporting stats which will only further the chances for a monster season.

Everyone saw Benintendi's potential scratch the surface last season. I believe he is capable of reaching yet another level. He looks to be a perennial 0.280/25 HR/90 RBI/20 SB threat for the foreseeable future. He is the perfect player to target in fantasy, as he will help in all five categories. I'm not sure he will ever rank near the top of the league in any category, but they will be above average in each which will go a long way in remaining competitive.

VERDICT:  Look for Benintendi to score 100 runs and drive in 100 while hitting 30-plus home runs. A player that you must target within the first two rounds of fantasy drafts in 2018.

Trey Mancini, 1B/OF, Baltimore Orioles

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CASE:  Trey Mancini finished third in the 2017 AL Rookie of the Year voting to aforementioned Yankees outfielder Aaron Judge, who won the award, and Red Sox outfielder Andrew Benintendi finishing second. He finished the year slashing 0.293/0.338/0.488 with 24 home runs, 65 runs, and 78 RBI in 147 games. He exclusively played first base in the minors, but after 88 games in left field and with Chris Davis still locking down first base, Mancini will start in left field for the Orioles in the 2018 season.

Mancini smashed his way to into the Orioles starting lineup with his success in May and June (.341 with 21 runs, nine HRs, and 31 RBI). His growth led to a starting job over the last three months of the season (0.279 with 37 runs, 10 HRs, and 35 RBI over 319 at-bats). In a professional baseball career that dates back to 2013, Mancini has never posted a batting average below 0.282. The BABIP (0.352) may be a bit unsustainable and his high strikeout rate may catch up to him. However, his power looks legit (especially at Camden Yards) and his dual eligibility is a plus.

Mancini crafted a 17-game hitting streak in September, the longest by a rookie in Orioles history. It also was the longest by any rookie in the majors and tied for the fifth-longest by any player.

VERDICT:  Mancini's career-long consistency at the plate and above average power make him a player who could add value to your Fantasy team.

Matt Olson, 1B, Oakland A's

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CASE:  Matt Olson barely registered on lists of Oakland A's prospects entering the 2017 season, that changed quickly after Olson hit 24 homers in only 59 Major League games in his rookie season. His breakout rookie campaign also included a rookie record 13 homers in September.  He finished the 2017 season with a slash line of 0.259/0.352/0.651, 24 homers and 45 RBI. Between Triple-A and MLB, he hit 47 homers in a span of 128 games last year! By isolated slugging, only four players in Major League history with at least 200 plate appearances in a season have finished with marks higher than Olson did in 2017.

The 23-year-old had extreme platoon splits, however. He posted a 1.081 OPS and hit 20 of his homers against right-handers. Against lefties, those numbers fell to four homers and a 0.758 OPS. He will need to improve his numbers against southpaws in order to establish himself as the A's everyday first baseman. Additionally, there are concerns about the enormous HR/FB rate, and he is unlikely to match his 0.392 ISO last season.

With such a small sample size, projecting from those raw numbers alone cries uncertainty. Even with every player seemingly enjoying career power seasons last year with a juiced ball (supposedly?!?), that does not mean that you can draft power hitters late in the draft while focusing on other categories early. His power is on a different power level.

VERDICT:  Olson currently ranks as FantasyPros No. 16 first baseman, and at that price tag, it is very good value. I project Matt Olson to enjoy a breakout season and finish as a Top 10 first baseman. He has the potential to lead the AL in home runs. Drafting Olson in the double-digit rounds is a fantasy home run!

Cody Bellinger, 1B/OF, Los Angeles Dodgers

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CASE:  Cody Bellinger did not make the Dodgers' Opening Day roster, but he was their cleanup batter in the World Series. He had an outstanding debut season, hitting 0.267/0.352/0.581 with 39 homers (set the NL rookie record for home runs), 97 RBI, 87 runs and 10 steals, while cruising to be the unanimous choice for the NL Rookie of the Year Award.

Bellinger was on fire at the beginning of last season. He started to slow mid-way through the season, readjusted, then slowed down again towards the end. The regression displayed how explosive Bellinger was at the start. By the postseason, Bellinger admitted he felt drained. His struggles continued into the postseason where he scuffled to a 0.219/0.254/0.453 slash line with three home runs and playoff record 29 strikeouts in 15 games. Furthermore, he batted 0.143 and struck out a World Series record 17 times in 28 at-bats.

He struck out in 26.6% of his plate appearances last season. His 13.5% whiff rate was the 19th-highest in the majors. Opposing pitchers seemed to exploit that as the season wore on, with Bellinger losing 60 points of OPS in the second half despite gaining 33 points of BABIP. Even with all that, he was the No.37 overall player in standard 5x5 leagues and the No.27 hitter.

VERDICT:  His current No. 26 ADP overall forces him to have another best-case scenario season to justify the price. However, he is too good to be a true bust. The power is real, and he hits in the middle of a strong lineup. Even if he experiences maximum regression, he’s likely to give his owners 30 homers and 10 steals while pushing 100 runs and RBI. That’s a great fantasy asset, but not a Top 30 player.

Paul DeJong, 2B/SS, St. Louis Cardinals

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CASE:  At the start of the 2017 season, DeJong was starting for the Triple-A Redbirds as a newly converted SS from third base. At the end of the 2017 season, DeJong served as the Cardinals' everyday shortstop. He finished second to the Los Angeles Dodgers' Cody Bellinger in National League Rookie of the Year voting last season. DeJong was a pleasant surprise for the Cardinals last season as he was called up in late May. He compiled a 0.285 batting average and 0.857 OPS with 26 doubles, 25 home runs, 65 RBIs, 55 runs scored and a 121 OPS+ in 108 games.

The Cardinal showed they believed in Paul DeJong as their starting shortstop by striking a deal that guarantees DeJong $26 million over six seasons and includes club options for 2024 and 2025. The question is "Should Fantasy owners believe in Paul DeJong?"

As we dig deeper, we see that his numbers were triggered by a 0.349 BABIP which compensated for his poor plate discipline. Through his first 108 major league games, he has an abysmal 4.7 % walk rate and an awful 28% strikeout rate.

VERDICT:  Will he make the necessary adjustment going forward? Did we just witness his peak season? Although DeJong is being drafted as the 15th Shortstop, I am not willing to draft him to find out.

Josh Bell, 1B/OF, Pittsburgh Pirates

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CASE:  Josh Bell was a bright spot during a mostly disappointing year for the Pirates. The switch-hitter had a slash line of 0.255/0.334/0.466 with 26 home runs and a team-high 90 RBIs in 159 games. He set an NL record for most home runs by a switch-hitting rookie and ranked among the top rookies in most offensive categories.

As good as he was in the summer, he struggled through May (0.198/0.265/0.415, 21.4 percent strikeout rate) and slowed down in the season's final month (0.221/.302/.337, 24.5 percent strikeout rate).Although his overall 18.9 percent strikeout rate was his highest since 2012, his 10.6 percent walk rate made him valuable in OBP leagues.

VERDICT:  Heading into this season, Bell is firmly planted at first base. He has developed into a reliable defender and he has shown improvement overall. Fantasy owners should look for Josh Bell to be a starter at first base in deeper leagues.

Ian Happ, 2B/OF, Chicago Cubs

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CASE: Ian Happ earned a promotion based on the virtue of his versatility and of course, his hitting. Happ took significant reps at second base and all the outfield positions in the minors, putting him in position to slide into a Chicago lineup that looked different nearly every day last year. This versatility is also valuable in fantasy since Happ heads into 2018 with 2B/OF eligibility in ESPN fantasy formats.

After 115 games last season, he finished with a 0.253/0.328/0.514 slash, 24 home runs, 68 RBI, and 62 runs scored. In addition, he also stole seven bases. The switch-hitter displayed serious power, with a 0.261 isolated slugging percentage that ranked first on the Cubs. On top of that, Happ finished in the top 20 in baseball with a barrel on 13.3% of his batted balls, a similar figure to players like Freeman, Donaldson, and Trout.

One issue that Happ struggled with was strikeouts. He K’d in 31.2% of his plate appearances and backed that up with a 16.1% swinging strike rate, which was top 10 in baseball. Happ never had a strikeout rate about 23.6% in the minors, so I suspect we’ll see the strikeout rate decline below 30% this season, which will help his entire stat-line.

For a player like Happ, who will likely drag on batting average, to provide value they need to produce in other categories. Fortunately, Happ has the ability to swipe double-digit bases, which, when combined with 30-35 homers, begins to show a very valuable fantasy player. With his positional flexibility, we should see a larger increase in playing time in 2018.

VERDICT: Happ is a legit 30-home run talent who I project will have an 80 R/35 HR/90 RBI/15 SB/.260 average. Ian Happ will have THE breakout season in 2018!

Rhys Hoskins, 1B/OF, Philadelphia Phillies

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CASE: Philadelphia Phillies 1B/OF Rhys Hoskins continued the success that he had at every minor-league stop on his way to Philadelphia. He is coming off a stellar rookie season which featured 18 home runs and 48 RBI spanning 50 games and 212 plate appearances. He tied a rookie record with home runs in five straight games and finished August with a 0.747 slugging percentage, 11 homers, and 25 RBIs.

Despite his never-before-seen production over his first 34 career games (0.314/0.442/0.805), Hoskins failed to keep up with the rapid production over his last 16, going homerless with a 0.135/0.292/0.192 slash. He called this dealing with struggle a "learning experience". Hoskins hit the rookie wall and it showed. Hoskins is entering the 2018 season with high expectations of him. New manager Gabe Kapler will place Hoskins somewhere in the middle of his lineup, shaping his batting order around Hoskins.

He played first base for his entire minor-league career before moving to left field just before he was promoted. That move was thought to be temporary, but it became permanent when the Phillies added first baseman Carlos Santana in free agency. While his defense leaves room for improvement his bat continues to evolve into a bonafide power hitter. Expect Hoskins and Santana to fill the second and fourth spots in the lineup, which Kapler believes, are the most crucial.

Hopefully, Hoskins can exhibit the patient and maturity as a hitter he had last season when he seemed fearless in two-strike counts (0.267 BA with a 0.933 OPS when facing a 1-2 count) and walked 37 times in 212 PA.

VERDICT: I do believe he will have another very impressive season hitting the long ball. In that lineup, Hoskins can reach the 100 RBI plateau while hitting approaching 30-plus home runs.


Luis Castillo, SP, Cincinnati Reds

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CASE: Luis Castillo was the Reds' number-eight prospect in 2016. He made the jump from Double-A to the major leagues after 14 starts with the Pensacola Blue Wahoos. A 4-4 record and a 2.58 ERA with 81 strikeouts in 80 innings catapulted Castillo into the promotion to the big leagues. Castillo made his debut on June 23 against the Nationals, surrendering just two earned runs over five innings. He notched his first career win a week later. He punched out nine while allowing two runs through 5.2 IP.

Castillo finished the 2017 season with a 3-7 record in 15 starts which is not pretty. However, he recorded a 3.12 ERA and struck out 98 batters across 89.1 innings. More impressively, more than half of his outings resulted in quality starts for the Reds. In his 15 appearances, he managed to last six innings without permitting more than three runs eight times.

He used his stellar arsenal of three plus pitches to strike out 27% of batters he faced. He did so while keeping his walk rate admirable. Additionally, he had a solid ground-ball rate (58.8 percent) and held opposing hitters to a 0.202 average with lefties hitting only 0.185 against him.

VERDICT: Luis Castillo will be a lock at the top of the Reds' rotation this season and will be this year's, Luis Severino.

German Marquez/Kyle Freeland, SP, Colorado Rockies

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CASE: Fantasy owners have always treated Colorado Rockies' pitchers as radioactive. The Rockies' pitchers were of zero fantasy significance and disregarded in fantasy circles. That is, until now.

German Marquez finished fifth in NL Rookie of the Year voting last season, posting a 4.39 ERA and 4.40 FIP. He led the Rockies in starts (29), innings pitched (162) and strikeouts (147). He also tied for the team lead in wins with 11. Marquez struck out 21% of the batters he faced in his first full major league season.  In spite of playing in Coors, he only had a 4.39 ERA or if you want to be more careful use him on the road where he sported a 4.19 ERA.

His ceiling may be the highest of any member of the rotation. Marquez has a chance to be a "top of the rotation" pitcher, according to Manager Bud Black.

VERDICT: The youngest of the group, the 23-year-old Marquez was tabbed as a dark horse Cy Young candidate in 2018 by MLB.com’s Richard Justice. Currently, he is being drafted as the 101st SP and 346th overall according to FantasyPros. I will be praying that Marquez lasts that long in any of my drafts - that's highway robbery.

Left-hander Kyle Freeland was probably the most consistent of the Rockies starters last season. He posted a 4.10 ERA and 4.57 FIP in 156 innings. He joined German Marquez and Antonio Senzatela to record 10 wins last season, marking the first time in franchise history that three rookie pitchers each posted double-digit victories.

Freeland did strike out just 6.2 batters per nine innings last season. However, he remains in contention for a rotation spot with fellow second-year starter Antonio Senzatela.

VERDICT: Freeland will be best utilized as a streaming pitcher for Fantasy owners in 2017.

Jordan Montgomery, SP, New York Yankees

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CASE: Last season, the Yankees' rotation lacked enough bodies at the start. However, it was rounded out by the surprise performance of left-hander Jordan Montgomery. The southpaw took advantage of the opportunity and helped the Yanks to a breakout 91-win season. He finished sixth in the Rookie of the Year voting. He posted a 9-7 record with a 3.88 ERA, 1.23 WHIP and an 8.34 SO/9  in 155.1 innings pitched (29 starts), in spite of a brief demotion to Triple-A Scranton in August.

Despite his efforts and overall productive rookie season, the Yankees has openly explored rotation help this past off-season. The Yankees were linked to almost every veteran starter, but what about Jordan Montgomery? Montgomery led all rookie pitchers with strikeouts in 2017. His O-Swing percent of 3.32 ranked him among starting pitchers at ninth with the likes of deGrom and Kershaw. The southpaw ran a swinging strike rate of 12.2 percent, which ranked him 15th among all starting pitchers.

In his limited action so far this spring, the second-year pitcher has proven that his rookie season wasn't a fluke. He looks extremely confident on the mound and his highlighted by his 1.04 ERA and 1.038 WHIP while striking out 11 batters through 8.2 innings pitched. The decision that Montgomery deserves a spot in the rotation was an easy one. Jordan Montgomery was officially named as the fifth starter in the Yankees rotation.

VERDICT: Look for Montgomery to continue his progress which will lead to double-digit wins with good strikeout numbers. With the uncertainty surrounding the Yankees rotation, look for Montgomery to be a mainstay in the rotation. He has the chance to surprise Fantasy owners similarly to the way he surprised the Yankees last season.

2018 Fantasy Baseball Position Previews
CatcherFirst BaseSecond BaseThird BaseShortstopOutfieldStarting PitcherRelief PItcher

Check out the rest of our great Fantasy Baseball content as the 2018 season approaches.

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Monday, March 19, 2018 - Fantasy Baseball Links - FantasyRundown.com March 19, 2018 - 10:40 am

[…] looks at the top second-year players and wonders whether they will be fantasy booms or […]


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