In every season, there are rookies that will be productive or even break out for your team and bring you home the title. Which rookies and/or prospects are the leading candidates to do that for your fantasy team in 2018?
I came up with the top 10 fantasy prospects that I will be watching and highlighting on my draft cheat sheet for my upcoming Fantasy drafts. Please keep in mind that the following players are not the best overall prospects. They are the 10 best prospects that will make fantasy impacts in the 2018 season.
How long can I wait until I need to draft one of these prospects? Will all of these prospects actually get drafted? Each of these questions and more can be answered by participating in mock drafts.
2018 Fantasy Baseball Top 10 Prospects
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Shohei Ohtani, SP, Los Angeles Angels
As Shohei Ohtani is entering his age-23 season, he retains his prospect status despite the five years of experience he accumulated in Nippon Professional Baseball. He hopes to become the first full-time, two-way player in the majors since Babe Ruth. Ohtani is a right-handed power pitcher whose fastball clocks into triple digits. He posted a 2.69 ERA in Japan, striking out 624 batters in 543 innings. He is also a left-handed power hitter who had a .500 career slugging percentage.
The Angels’ plan is to adopt a pitching rotation similar to what Ohtani was familiar with in Japan—a six-man rotation. The idea behind it is that Ohtani, who has never pitched more than 160.2 innings a year, will be able to adjust more smoothly into the major leagues. When Ohtani is not scheduled to pitch, he would most likely be the designated hitter.
His workload is going to be interesting to monitor. His innings' count will be lower than traditional MLB pitchers. Also, his production as a hitter will drop as pitchers start to figure him out. Add in the natural fatigue of a huge MLB workload, and look for his production across the board will start fading in August.
So what do you do as a fantasy owner? A lot depends upon the scoring format in your specific leagues. Ohtani represents a scoring dilemma that has never been seen in fantasy baseball. Who will take the plunge and at what cost? He is currently being drafted as the 20th SP off the board, which seems fair to me. I will jump on the "Babe Ruth of Japan" bandwagon, especially in dynasty formats. In seasonal leagues, if he starts off hot and you can get a king's ransom for him, I would hit accept!
Ronald Acuna, OF, Atlanta Braves
Ronald Acuna is regarded as the top prospect in baseball and, the Braves hope, their next franchise player. He’s the five-tool talent teams dream about. Acuna went from good to great between three levels last year, including Class AAA. He hit .325/.374/.522 along with a .896 OPS. In addition, he slugged 21 home runs and stole 44 bases.
His rapid rise paired with the success he has had at each level sure makes a strong case for him to spend the 2018 season in Atlanta. Acuna seems to be one of the"cant-miss" prospects. MLB.com ranks Acuna second behind Japanese import Shohei Ohtani. Baseball America listed him first, ahead of Ohtani. On ESPN.com, Keith Law also listed him first, saying he has a "Mike Trout-ish" profile.
He is uber-talented, does not have a lot of competition blocking him in Atlanta. The Braves do have three outfielders that are scheduled to start in 2018. Ender Inciarte continues to be solid in center, and Nick Markakis is average at best in right field. Preston Tucker, who is still trying to prove that he is not a bust, is currently slotted to play Left Field. Well, that's until Ronald Acuna joins the big leagues.
Ronald Acuna will not be in the Braves' opening day lineup. The Braves can get an extra year of control by waiting, approximately around two weeks, before the Braves call up Acuna.The logical steps would be for Acuna to start the season in Triple-A for a month or so, then get promoted to the majors. He has the best pure talent to debut since Mike Trout, and the skillset to be a fantasy stud. Ronald Acuna is ready and is the early favorite for Rookie of the Year.
Gleyber Torres, 2B, New York Yankees
Gleyber Torres, who was acquired from the Chicago Cubs in the Aroldis Chapman trade in 2016, is the Yankees No. 1 prospect and the No. 5 prospect in all of baseball, according to MLB.com. If he remained healthy last season, Torres likely forces himself into the Yankees lineup down the stretch. However, an injury to his non-throwing elbow resulted in season-ending surgery. He screams potential, hitting .287/.383/.480 split between AA and AAA.
We will find out in Spring Training if the Yankees think Torres is big-league ready as a 21-year-old with just 81 Triple-A bats and only 11 minor-league games at second base. Even if he has a great spring, he still might wind up back in Triple-A, due to rust and not playing since June. Secondly, they could keep him in the minors for just 16 more days. They will then gain an extra year of team control.
Torres future is undoubtedly bright, and the Yankees believe Torres, a natural shortstop, is a better fit for second base. His greatest strength will be his ability to get on base, as he owns a career on-base percentage of .360 over four minor-league seasons.
Imagine the stats that he would produce hitting first or second in front of Aaron Judge, Giancarlo Stanton, and Gary Sanchez. Torres is not a power threat but he will be a good source of runs with 100-plus potential, .260-270 average, and 20+ stolen bases. Additionally, he will be a stud in value in a league that includes an on-base percentage. ZiPS projections have the 21-year-old hitting 17 homers with a .247 average and 12 steals in 100 games with the Yankees. He is the perfect target in a keeper league because of this upside in this lineup.
Ryan McMahon, 1B, Colorado Rockies
Ryan McMahon enters Spring Training as the Rockies' starting first baseman. Despite struggling in his first taste of the majors last year -- going just 3-for-19 in a September call-up -- the 23-year-old excelled in the upper minors. McMahon absolutely raked last year hitting .326/.390/.536 at Double-A and then hitting a more impressive .374/.411/.612 at Triple-A.
All indications are that McMahon is ready for the big leagues. A lot of this success is not surprising when you look at his impressive line drive rates, low infield fly ball rates, and strikeout rates. This ability to make a consistent amount of quality contact should help him become an asset in batting average for fantasy teams this season.
McMahon is a “buy” because his hit tool and raw power profile to be a .280-290 hitter with 25-30 home run potential. The Rockies have had a lot of breakout stars in recent seasons. McMahon may just join that group in 2018.
Willie Calhoun, 2B/OF, Texas Rangers
The Rangers will give Willie Calhoun every chance in spring training to win at least a platoon job in left field. There is nothing left for him to accomplish in the minors. The 5-foot-8 second baseman has incredible power. Calhoun has hit 52 doubles, 58 home runs and drove in 181 runs in his past two seasons in the minors.
He does have the inside track for the position, but he needs to prove he can handle the position defensively. The 23-year-old has only played 36 professional games in left field after moving there from second base last season. If he cannot prove himself defensively, he will have to fight for his plate appearances as an occasional outfielder and designated hitter.
He may not have the ideal hitter's frame, but his hit skill is outstanding. Calhoun had an 11.4 percent strikeout rate last season. That would have tied him with Jose Ramirez and Mookie Betts for the sixth-best in baseball. He would be in a great ballpark for his power and should be a fixture for 30-plus home runs once he gets an everyday job.
Willie Calhoun has the look of a middle-of-the-lineup hitter. With his lack of strikeouts, he will have a decent batting average and 25-30 HR pop in his bat.
Eloy Jimenez, OF, Chicago White Sox
As the next group of talented prospects moves through the White Sox farm system, the player who will be watched most closely is 21-year-old outfielder Eloy Jimenez. He was the prize return in the White Sox trade of Jose Quintana to the Cubs last season. Jimenez is a consensus top-five prospect in baseball. He hit .312 with 19 homers, 65 RBI, and aa .947 OPS in 369 plate appearances across two levels in 2017 when he finished the season at Double-A.
The raw power of the 6-foot-4, 215 pound Jimenez is what stands out to so many. Some scouts believe that he's not done growing, and that's a very scary thought. Jimenez is penciled into the White Sox outfield of the future and was rated as the number two outfielder in MLB Pipeline's list of the game's top 10 outfield prospects.
Eloy Jimenez is an elite prospect with massive raw power. The White Sox continue their rebuild and with no one in the outfield is really blocking his path, Jimenez should make a fantasy impact in 2018. Looking for someone to hit 25 to 30 home runs with a .280 average and won't cost you in your draft? I present to you, White Sox outfielder Eloy Jimenez.
Lewis Brinson, OF, Miami Marlins
Lewis Brinson was an integral part of the Christian Yelich trade. He was a 2017 All-Star Future game participant, a former first-round pick and top-100 prospect according to MLB Pipeline for the last three years.
Brinson dominated Triple-A in 107 games, batting .349/.409/.574 with 18 homers and 18 steals. Unfortunately, that production did not translate during his MLB debut. In 21 games, he batted .106/.236/.277, 30 wRC+ while striking out 30.9 percent of the time. However, there were flashes of brilliance that certainly bode well for being a productive piece in the Marlins lineup.
He will most likely start the season in center field and be the Marlins' best outfielder this season. The PECOTA projections generated the following season stats for Brinson entering spring training: .252/.312/.442, 24 HR, 16 SB, 2.5 WARP. That last figure—Wins Above Replacement Player—factors in his strong defense in center field.
Lewis Brinson is a true 25/25 threat this season and has tremendous upside. Fantasy owners should not hold the fact that he is playing for the Marlins against him.
Nick Senzel, 3B/OF, Cincinnati Reds
Over two seasons in the minors, Senzel is hitting .315 with a .908 OPs. In AA last season, he hit 10 HR with a .340/.413/.560 slash line. In addition, he has 32 stolen bases over his minor league career. The power/speed/average combo is fairly apparent here with Nick Senzel. Since the Reds are in full rebuild mode, he has an excellent chance of producing numbers this season.
Nick Senzel has hit at every level and there's every reason to believe that will continue as he progresses throughout his professional career. The Reds have to find a spot for Senzel. The 22-year-old has been playing in the outfield this Spring Training to speed up the process and enhance his value with multi-position eligibility.
The floor looks like it is quite high for this prospect. He has the tools to be 20/20 player with a .280 batting average and high on-base percentage. Those type of numbers places him in the top 10 at third base. Fantasy owners should take note of Nick Senzel on their cheat sheets.
Michael Kopech, SP, Chicago White Sox
Kopech is a super talented White Sox prospect who could potentially join Lucas Giolito and Reynaldo Lopez by mid-season to form a young pitching rotation with plenty of dominant potential. Kopech will likely start the season at Triple-A. He has electric stuff, including a fastball that tops out at 100 MPH with late- breaking action and a slider that has a real swing and miss potential.
He posted a 2.88 ERA and 1.17 WHIP with 172 punch outs in 134.1 innings between Double-A and Triple-A in 2017. Kopech is knocking on the door of big league stardom. However, he did walk 4.4 hitters per nine. While that's something to be concerned about, he got gradually better in that regard as the season went along. He amazingly dropped to a respectable 2.8 per nine in the second half.
Despite the dominance in the minors, he'll likely begin the 2018 season in the minor leagues for the rebuilding Chicago White Sox because of baseball's service-time rules.The White Sox won't be able to keep him or his triple-digit heater there for long. We should absolutely expect to see Kopech with the White Sox in 2018.
If he can continue to minimize his walks to begin the season, I would grab him immediately if available. Astute fantasy owners will view the strikeout potential and the ace stuff too much to pass on late in their drafts. He can be a true game-changer for the White Sox and your fantasy rosters.
Francisco Mejia, C, Cleveland Indians
Francisco Mejia, 22, has reached the fantasy radar quickly in his professional career. He was acquired by the Indians in 2013 and progressed to the Double-A level in his fourth full season. He had a slash line of .297/.346/.490 with 14 home runs and 52 RBIs for Akron last year. Mejia’s bat is for real, as shown by his 50-game hit streak in the minors in the 2016 season.
The switch-hitting Mejia made his Major League debut for the Indians last year during fall call-ups but didn’t fare too well. He put up a .154/.214/.154, slash line in 14 plate appearances. However, he is unquestionably the real deal, and his minor league track record speaks for itself. Additionally, in his small sample last season, his average exit velocity was about seven mph above the MLB average.
Despite the depth of the Indians' roster, it's clear that the Indians' are already factoring its top-rated prospect into its plans. Currently, that plan is for Mejia to remain at catcher. Although third also appears to remain an option with Yan Gomes and Roberto Perez still present in the Cleveland clubhouse. Gomes and Perez have proven to be tremendous defensive catchers. What they lack at the plate, they make up for behind it.
Francisco Mejia is expected to open the 2018 season with Triple-A Columbus, but his time is going to come in the majors. He is being targeted as a potential well-above-average hitter at the position. His isolated power is steadily increasing. His bat is such a weapon that the Indians had him experiment at third base to enhance versatility and get his bat to the majors sooner. Mejia is going to make himself a fantasy presence in the 2018 season. You need to buy into him now!
|2018 Fantasy Baseball Position Previews|
|Catcher||First Base||Second Base||Third Base||Shortstop||Outfield||Starting Pitcher||Relief PItcher|
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