Here is a prospect question that applies to those of us who play in redraft, keeper, and dynasty leagues: Which rookie hitter will be the most valuable fantasy player in 2021?
We are over three weeks into the season now and will continue to see plenty of movement on the ladder in the coming months as players move around and new players hop on the bottom rungs. I’ll break down all the debutants as well as updates on the rookie ladder below!
|Bobby Witt Jr.||KCR||SS|
News and Notes
Randy Arozarena has come out of the gate a bit slow, and a lot of his struggles I think can be boiled down to his difficulties making contact in the zone. His 66.3% zone contact rate is well below both his prior levels and the MLB average (82.2%). It could be something as simple as Randy working on his timing early in the year. His average launch angle is also below career norms, down to 1.2 degrees, so he might just not be locked in yet. Look for both of these underlying metrics to improve.
Ke’Bryan Hayes is still out with a left wrist injury, but he was swinging a bat this week. According to Pirates’ GM Ben Cherington, he will need “a game or two” at the alternate site before rejoining the club.
Dylan Carlson has been really good, sporting a 147 wRC+ and playing some usable defense in center field. He’s not jumping above Arozarena or Hayes yet, but don’t be surprised if he eventually does.
Nick Madrigal has only struck out twice and is sporting a .350 OBP. He’s likely going to spend the season mired in the bottom third of the batting order though, so I think this ladder position is his peak.
Bobby Dalbec has been a bit unlucky. His contact rate has improved some over his 2020 performance, and his xSLG is currently .618 while his actual slugging percentage is only .378. A power breakout could be on its way.
Pavin Smith moved into the leadoff spot for a banged-up Diamondbacks lineup. His 54.8% hard-hit rate is in the top 10% of the MLB right now.
Taylor Trammell has improved his zone contract rate recently, but his Whiff% is still an unruly 38.7% (MLB average is 24.4%). He did take a 99mph Dustin May sinker yard to deep center this week though. The Mariners’ outfield situation is getting cloudier with Kyle Lewis returning to the team and Jarred Kelenic punishing baseballs at the alternate site.
Ryan Mountcastle is struggling to make contact and still chasing a lot. He’s also sporting a 12.2% barrel rate early on in the season, so he’s punishing the ball when he connects. He could go either way.
Andrew Vaughn simply can’t get regular playing time right now, as Tony LaRussa is trying to press every combination of buttons with the White Sox lineup at the moment. It’s too early to say much about his performance, and it’s going to be hard for him to get going if he’s sitting every other day.
The Mariners still haven’t called up Jarred Kelenic, and Kyle Lewis is back from the IL. The team has gone past the “extra year of control” date with Kelenic, so he could theoretically be called up at any time. But the playing time situation in front of him is a mess right now.
Jazz Chisholm vaults into the top 5. He’s been a revelation this year while holding down the regular 2B job for the Marlins. The big scouting concern with Jazz was that his free-swinging approach would prevent him from hitting for average and getting on base. But when you dig into the numbers he’s actually been quite selective at the MLB level, with below-average swing and chase rates. While you can expect some clawback on the batting average and OBP, his xBA is still .280, so his all-around floor might be much higher than I was giving him credit for.
Jonathan India is playing every day and putting the ball in play, but he’s struggling to hit it very hard (26th percentile Hard Hit rate so far this season). The defense at second base hasn’t been very good yet either. I slid him above Isbel but I’d still be more interested in rostering Kelenic and Franco as stashes ahead of India for this season.
Yermin Mercedes continues to rake and his 89th percentile xwOBA agrees that it’s probably not a fluke. Moving him into the top 10 ahead of teammate Andrew Vaughn, as I think Mercedes is the better bet for regular playing time at the moment.
Akil Baddoo is moving up into the top 20 but I’m hesitant to go much further. He’s really struggling to make contact (58.6% zone contact, 31.8% chase contact, 46.3% whiff rate), and rarely takes walks, so while he’s hitting it hard, there’s a potential OBP landmine waiting here.
Alex Kirilloff got called up as the extra man for the double-header on April 14th, but hasn’t been back up on the active roster since.
Zack McKinstry was an omission on the initial ladder, and he’s punishing me for that mistake, posting a 142 OPS+ so far this season. The Dodgers seem to just will these productive left-handed bats that can cover multiple defensive positions into existence. The Dodgers are using him in 2B, LF, and RF, and he’s appeared in 17 games for the club in 2021.
Ka’ai Tom was DFA’d by Oakland and re-claimed by Cleveland.
Josh Palacios – OF – Toronto Blue Jays
The Blue Jays called up Josh Palacios to cover in the OF while Teoscar Hernandez and George Springer deal with injuries. Palacios, 25, was a 4th round pick out of Auburn University in the 2016 MLB draft. He’s been a serviceable stopgap for the club but I don’t think he’s in for much playing time when the rest of the Toronto outfield comes back online.
Palacios profiles more as a slash-and-dash 4th outfielder than a run producer. He’s shown above-average speed at the MLB level in his debut, logging an 80th percentile sprint speed. His power metrics have lagged, however, and he’s only posted a 4.8% barrel rate in his brief debut. My Estimated Barrels metric for Palacios in his time in Double-A in 2019 puts his barrel rate at 7.8%, so I just don’t think there’s much pop in the bat here to look forward to.
Get that baseball!
Josh Palacios flies down the line to secure his first career hit and even helps the ump out with the call. pic.twitter.com/Kdk3Njicre
— MLB Pipeline (@MLBPipeline) April 11, 2021
Luke Raley – OF – Los Angeles Dodgers
Would you look at that, it’s another Bull Durham left-handed-hitting prospect that the Dodgers have produced! The Dodgers drafted Luke Raley in the 7th round of the 2016 draft out of Division II Lake Erie College, which sounds like a made-up school in a low-budget horror film. He was traded to Minnesota in 2018 as part of the Brian Dozier deal. Then, he was traded back to the Dodgers in 2020 as part of the Kenta Maeda deal.
He’s appeared in eight games for the Dodgers since being called up on April 9th. Raley is a player that my Estimated Barrels metric really liked in 2019. He posted a 13.5% estimated barrel rate in the International League in 2019, 23rd best among all hitters with at least 100 PAs. So there’s some pop here. He’s more of a journeyman than an impact bat, but he could still get some opportunities to figure it out at the MLB level as the Dodgers continue to deal with injury issues.
Alan Trejo – SS – Colorado Rockies
Alan Trejo was called up by the Rockies on April 10 to cover shortstop for an injured Trevor Story. This San Diego State University product grew up not far from Dodger Stadium, which was also the scene of his first major league hit:
Alan Trejo's 1st Major League Hit pic.twitter.com/NSN2mYrmAC
— RoxGifsVids (@RoxGifsVids) April 16, 2021
Trejo is unlikely to have relevance for fantasy baseball. He can do a little bit of everything at an average level and probably has just enough glove to cover shortstop in a pinch. Basically the definition of a Quad-A guy that every real-life organization needs, but can do very little for you unless you play in an extremely deep format.
Nick Maton – SS – Philadelphia Phillies
Nick Maton was a 7th round selection by the Phillies out of Lincoln Land Community College in Springfield, IL. Maton’s a glove-first prospect who can probably play an average shortstop at the MLB level. He has two hits and has driven in a run in two games so far for the Phillies.
His best OPS in the minor leagues was a .738 mark in the Florida State League while being old for the level in 2019. His speed scores aren’t off the charts either, so he’s not going to be a big stolen base threat. He’s very unlikely to be fantasy relevant except in the deepest of dynasty formats.