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?
The calendar has flipped to June, and we’ve had some movement on the ladder over the last month of the MLB season. I’ll break down all the debutants as well as updates on the rookie ladder below!
|Bobby Witt Jr.||KCR||SS|
News and Notes
I said this during the last update and I’ll say it again for this one: Randy Arozarena has been just fine for fantasy. He’s projected to be a $24 player in 2021 according to the FanGraphs Auction calculator, making him a Top-10 outfielder for fantasy purposes so far this year. And, he hasn’t even really hit the ball that well, as he’s whiffing a ton and has only posted a 19th percentile xwOBA this season. This means that the ceiling for Randy’s fantasy production is probably even higher than this. He’s in firm control of the top spot on the rookie hitter ladder.
28-year-old Adolis Garcia is having a full-on Bull Durham breakout with the Texas Rangers, and he’s still ‘rookie eligible’ despite his journeyman status. He’s been the 2nd most valuable fantasy outfielder after Ronald Acuna Jr. in 2021. Massive Whiff and Chase rates combined with a low BB% likely means that we’ve seen Adolis’s best production already. But man, it’s already been a fun and profitable ride.
Ke’Bryan Hayes should be activated off the injured list this week. He has really tested the patience of his fantasy managers this season.
Dylan Carlson has been a steady real-life performer thus far. But for fantasy purposes, he’s been playing like a $5 player in 15-team leagues. He has been relatively hot over his last 50 PAs according to his rolling xwOBA, so maybe he can unleash some more pop as the summer weather heats up.
Carlson’s former high school teammate, Nick Madrigal, has been doing the usual Nick Madrigal things. He has a Top-10 fantasy 2B profile right now just based on his batting average and playing time. The next fantasy gear for Madrigal is to steal some bases, at which point he becomes a Top-5 2B. He doesn’t have elite speed, but he’s posted an 82nd percentile sprint speed score so far this year. The White Sox are just a middle-of-the-road team in terms of stolen base attempts (0.60 per game). If Madrigal played for Kansas City, you might see SB totals (and overall fantasy value) in a similar territory as Whit Merrifield. But the biggest recent Madrigal news is that he’s hit a home run since our last update!
Nick Madrigal – Chicago White Sox (1) pic.twitter.com/4mQG6rYbrW
— MLB HR Videos (@MLBHRVideos) May 18, 2021
Jazz Chisholm is finally back in the lineup and batting leadoff. Here’s hoping his layoff won’t cool off his performance too much.
Pavin Smith has been a fine fantasy replacement-level guy so far this year. His Statcast page features a lot of positives right now and his rolling xwOBA has picked up steam over both his last 50 and 100 PA samples. If he heats up there’s no reason he can’t finish the season more valuable than even Dylan Carlson. It looks like his days hitting near the top of the order are over for now though.
Yermin Mercedes has cooled off since “Hall of Fame person” Tony LaRussa publicly threw him under the bus for taking a Willians Astudillo 3-0 curveball to the cheap seats. He still presents a solid contact and power profile, he’s just going to be prone to streakiness given his overactive (1st percentile chase rate) approach at the plate.
Yermin’s teammate Andrew Vaughn has impressed us more this season with his glove than with his bat. He’s clearly been a better left fielder so far in his career than Eloy Jimenez ever was. He has a solid bat, but he’s going to have to get cooking in the power department to turn a profit for his fantasy owners in 2021. So far he’s been a sub-replacement level OF in 15-team mixed leagues.
Inconsistent playing time and a 36.0% strikeout-rate has been the story of the season for Bobby Dalbec so far. He just hasn’t got going so far this season.
Taylor Trammell went absolutely bananas during his time in Triple-A, and the club called him back up to the big club after Kyle Lewis went down with a meniscus injury in his right knee. He should get regular playing time once again. He needs his Triple-A hot streak to translate to making more consistent contact on pitches in the strike zone at the MLB level, where he’s struggled mightily in 2021 (68.6% zone contact rate).
Zack McKinstry is back from the IL. I’m sliding him up above Dalbec and Trammell, as I believe that McKinstry’s bat is just more consistent than either of those guys.
Ryan Mountcastle has given little glimpses of promise with stolen bases and a 113 mph max exit velocity. But, his K-BB% is nearly 30% this season, which is basically unusable for any Major Leaguer not named Javier Baez.
Wander Franco has been solid at Triple-A as a 20-year-old. But when the Rays traded Willy Adames to Milwaukee, it was Taylor Walls who got first crack at the MLB roster spot.
Jarred Kelenic got the call, and with Kyle Lewis going on the IL, he’s going to be Seattle’s everyday centerfielder. It’s very early, but it’s also clear that Kelenic will need to adjust to MLB pitching. Especially breaking stuff, which he’s posted a measly .167 xwOBA against so far this year.
Alex Kirilloff is back from his wrist injury and seems to be hitting the ball fine. I think he has as much promise as any hitter on this list and could go on a heater sometime this summer. He won’t give you stolen bases from a fantasy perspective, but he could finish the season as a Top-50 outfielder even with all the time he’s missed.
Jonathan India is holding on to the starting 2B job, but hasn’t done much of anything else to make a move up the ladder.
Kyle Isbel remains at Triple-A.
Akil Baddoo can still punish mistakes, but his contact-rate is simply too bad to count on him as a consistent fantasy contributor.
Cristian Pache is dealing with groin tightness during his Triple-A rehab assignment.
Vidal Brujan has done a little bit of everything that’s fantasy-relevant at Triple-A so far. Do we see him promoted to MLB before Wander Franco? I think there’s a good chance that happens. And if it does happen, he’s the type of player with a power/speed profile that can turn things around for your fantasy team quickly. He’s high up my personal stash list for redraft leagues.
William Contreras has shown a propensity for hitting the snot out of the ball (84th percentile max EV). He’s already a positive contributor for those of you in two-catcher leagues, and probably should be monitored even in single catcher setups.
Owen Miller – UT – Cleveland Indians
Owen Miller was traded to Cleveland as part of the deal that sent Mike Clevinger to the Padres. He’s a high-floor player with both a polished approach at the plate and a polished glove that can play all over the diamond. At Triple-A this year, he was hugely productive with the bat (.466 wOBA). However, his statistical line was really pumped up by a .500 BABIP at the level early on.
Miller got everyday reps out of the gate, appearing at each infield spot and DH in his first week in the Show. He’s struggled to hit MLB pitching so far, so he’s likely going to be relegated to a super-utility role in the event he can stick on the active roster. I don’t forsee him becoming fantasy-relevant in any format outside of deep dynasties.
— MLB Pipeline (@MLBPipeline) May 25, 2021
Taylor Walls – SS – Tampa Bay Rays
Taylor Walls was Tampa Bay’s 3rd round draft pick out of Florida State in the 2017 draft. He’s impressed throughout his professional career, so much so that he made Willy Adames expendable at the MLB level for the club. Since his promotion, Walls has been the team’s everyday shortstop and generally hits sixth in the batting order.
In a lot of ways Taylor Walls, 24, is a similar prospect to Owen Miller. Both are high-floor guys due to their polished approach at the plate as well as their ability to sling the leather on the infield dirt. Walls has looked like a more dynamic offensive threat at times at the minor league level, so if you’re looking for cover for a shortstop or middle infield spot during the 2021 injury plague, I think Walls is the better bet of the two players.
What a solid debut series for Taylor Walls. He sprayed hard hit balls all over the field and from both sides of the plate.
— Rays Metrics (@RaysMetrics) May 25, 2021
Trevor Larnach – OF – Minnesota Twins
Trevor Larnach, 24, was Nick Madrigal’s college teammate at Oregon State University. Minnesota popped him with the 20th overall pick in the 2018 MLB draft. Since being called-up on May 8th, Larnach has appeared in 21 games for the Twins, seeing time primarily in left field.
Similar to his rookie ladder teammate Alex Kirilloff, Larnach has a great feel for hitting. He’s patient (below-average chase rate) but not passive (above average zone swing %), and can absolutely squash a baseball when desired (his 116 mph max exit velocity this season is good for 98th percentile among all MLB hitters). He should be able to hold down a lineup spot while contributing HRs, Runs, and RBIs for your fantasy squad for the remainder of the season.
— Bally Sports North (@BallySportsNOR) May 29, 2021