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?

Since the last hitter update, we’ve had a notable injury (Nick Madrigal) a couple of notable injury returns (Ke’Bryan Hayes, Jazz Chisholm), and the biggest prospect debut of the decade (Wander Franco). I’ll break down all the debutants as well as updates on the rookie ladder below!

 

PlayerTeamPos
Randy ArozarenaTBROF
Ke'Bryan HayesPIT3B
Jazz ChisholmMIASS
Wander FrancoTBRSS
Dylan CarlsonSTLOF
Alex KirilloffMIN1B
Ryan MountcastleBAL1B
Adolis GarciaTEXOF
Pavin SmithARI1B
Andrew VaughnCWS1B/LF
Yermin MercedesCWS1B/DH
Jarred KelenicSEAOF
Jonathan IndiaCIN3B
Akil BaddooDETOF
Bobby BradleyCLE1B
Zack McKinstryLAD2B/OF
Bobby DalbecBOS1B
Taylor TrammellSEAOF
Vidal BrujanTBR2B
William ContrerasATLC
Tyler StephensonCINC
Ha-seong KimSDPSS
Taylor WallsTBRSS
Owen MillerCLEUT
Kyle IsbelKCROF
Cristian PacheATLOF
Luis CampusanoSDPC
Geraldo PerdomoARISS
Tucupita MarcanoSDPSS
Julio RodriguezSEAOF
Nolan JonesCLE3B
Joey BartSFGC
Ka'ai TomOAKOF
Oneil CruzPITSS
Miguel AmayaCHCC
Lewin DiazMIA1B
Seth BeerARI1B
Drew WatersATLOF
Luke RaleyLADOF
Adley RutschmanBALC
Josh JungTEX3B
JJ BledayMIAOF
Bobby Witt Jr.KCRSS
Luke WilliamsPHIUTIL
Matt VierlingPHIOF
Josh PalaciosTOROF
Alan TrejoCOLSS
Nick MatonPHISS
Jose DeversMIA2B/3B
Nick MadrigalCWS2B

 

 

News and Notes

Randy Arozarena continues to be a Top-10 fantasy outfielder. Don’t worry about all the little blue bubbles on his Savant page. He’s on pace for a 25/25 season and is the best fantasy asset on this list.

Ke’Bryan Hayes has been super since returning from injury. His xwOBA of .384 shows you what a valuable real-life player he is. He also has enough pop and speed to be a five-category contributor.

Dylan Carlson has been a steady if unspectacular contributor for fantasy teams this season. I’d like to see him run more. While he’s not an elite burner, he definitely has the speed and athleticism to swipe double-digit bags early on in his career. His rolling xwOBA over both his last 50 and 100 PAs is spiking a bit, so keep a watch on him for a possible hot streak incoming.

Nick Madrigal is out for the season after suffering a torn hamstring that required surgical repair. He finished the season as a $3 fantasy player in 15-team mixed leagues.

Jazz Chisholm is back healthy and batting leadoff for the Fish. He’s moving ahead of Dylan Carlson in this week’s update as his upside potential given his batting position and speed is much greater than Carlson’s. Chisholm has been a $12 player in fantasy so far this season, with the upside to finish in the $20+ tier.

 

Adolis Garcia has predictably cooled way down. Given his plate approach, he’s going to be prone to cold snaps like this. However, the power upside alone is worth chasing, and Garcia has already made his fantasy owners look like geniuses for those early season FAAB claims.

Alex Kirilloff is heating up, and his xwOBA (.388, top 10% in MLB) to wOBA (.313) gap should tighten over the coming months. He can really hit, has shown off some power already (88th percentile barrel rate), and even stole a base this week. He’s moving above Adolis as I believe in his bat more for the remainder of the season.

Pavin Smith has found himself bumped back down the order. His YTD production is similar to Carlson and Kirilloff, but I think he just has less upside than either of those hitters.

Yermin Mercedes has gone catatonic since launching the 3-0 home run off Willians Astudillo back on May 18. He was hitting .364 on that day and has hit .167 since. His next stop might be Triple-A.

Andrew Vaughn moves above his teammate on the ladder. His rookie season has been impressive if for no other reason than how seamlessly he was able to handle LF duties out of the blue. However, there’s a glaring weakness in Vaughn’s game at the MLB level so far: he can’t hit right-handers. He has a .472 OPS against RHP this season compared to a 1.121 OPS against lefties. There’s plenty of upside potential for Vaughn if he gets more comfortable against righties, it just might take him some time to get there.

Jarred Kelenic is back mashing at Triple-A (5 HR, 4 SB, .247 ISO). I would not be surprised to see him come back to the MLB level again this year and have it click for him the second time around.

Zack McKinstry is back playing nearly every day for the Dodgers. His multi-position eligibility is nice, but he’s not adding much more fantasy value at this point.

Bobby Dalbec has still been a $2 fantasy player this season despite his .214 batting average and 37.2% K-rate. If he could just make a little more contact, there’s a lot of fantasy value lurking here.

Taylor Trammell is back with the big club and struggling mightily again with only one hit in his last ten appearances.

Ryan Mountcastle is on a heater. He’s making more contact and plenty of it has been hard contact (114.6 mph max EV, 10.7% barrel rate). He’s been a $15 player in 2021 thus far, and he might even have the upside to climb into the $20 tier if his contact rate continues rebounding back toward career norms. Multi-position eligibility is another nice feature here. He’s ascending the ladder this week.

Vidal Brujan didn’t get the call yet. I would have bet on him making his MLB debut before either Taylor Walls or Wander Franco, but that just wasn’t in the cards. He’s still going to be a very valuable fantasy asset.

William Contreras really gives you plenty of value as a young catcher. He’s posted a $5 fantasy season thus far, and he has the power potential (114.2 mph max EV) to be a long-term Top-5 asset at the position in dynasty leagues.

Akil Baddoo has made adjustments! He’s making more contact, being more patient at the dish, and has now posted a .364 OBP through 55 games as a 22-year-old rookie. He also has the power and speed tools to be a fantasy asset even in redraft leagues this season ($7 player so far in 2021). The Tigers’ have also been sitting him frequently against LHP, which is necessary as he’s striking out against them 40% of the time with a .280 OPS. Still, in deep and/or daily moves leagues he’s a must roster guy. Moving up the ladder this week.

Jonathan India’s rolling xwOBA is on a rise over his last 100 PAs. His power+speed production has made him a $6 player in 2021 so far. If he gets on a heater, that value could rise over the rest of the season. He’s climbing the ladder this week.

Taylor Walls doesn’t look like a big-time fantasy asset, but his ability to draw walks and play strong defense at shortstop should keep his bat in the lineup.

Cristian Pache is striking out at a 41% clip at Triple-A on his ‘rehab assignment’.

Ha-Seong Kim now has 5 HR + 5 SBs on the season. However he’s still only been a replacement-level fantasy player in 15-team mixed leagues this year. He’s currently day-to-day with a finger injury.

Bobby Bradley has smashed 5 home runs in 55 PAs with a 114.2 mph max EV. It sucks that it took Cleveland so long to call him up, but he’s here and he’s fantastic!

New Debuts

 

Wander Franco – 3B/SS – Tampa Bay Rays

We’ve been treated to two MEGA prospect debuts in 2021 so far. First, it was Jarred Kelenic with the Mariners, now it’s Wander Franco with the Rays. Franco has been the consensus #1 overall prospect for some time now, steamrolling older competition throughout the minor leagues during his professional career so far. Still just 20 years-old, Wander is the first player born in 2001 to make his MLB debut. Tampa will likely play him at multiple positions across the infield, giving Wander another extra boost in fantasy value.

I watched a fair amount of Wander’s videotape throughout his pro career this offseason. In their book ‘Future Value’, Eric Longenhagen and Kiley McDaniel make the point that the ‘hit tool’ is a tool of historical progression. It’s best viewed at multiple points throughout a player’s career. Well, after watching video of Wander throughout his career, I can tell you that his hit tool is really elite. It’s a combination of a superb batting eye, pitch recognition, hand-eye coordination, bat plane flexibility, and bat speed that should be productive no matter who is pitching to him.

I still have my doubts as to whether Wander will be an “elite” ($40+) fantasy asset. I’m not sure that he will both hit enough home runs and steal enough bags to be in the 1st overall pick conversation with Mike Trout, Ronald Acuna Jr., and Fernando Tatis Jr. However, the flip side of that is Wander is a potential $30+ fantasy asset as soon as this season. And he should be reliable in that range throughout his career. I think his best fantasy comp is Jose Ramirez, with the caveat that Wander has more raw power and can probably get to more home run power in games without relying on the JoRam ‘pulled flyball’ trickery.

 

Matt Vierling – OF – Philadelphia Phillies

Matt Vierling was the Phillies 5th round choice out of Notre Dame in the 2018 MLB draft. He didn’t do much early on in his professional career, but started the 2021 campaign scorching the competition in Double-A. He earned a brief three-game promotion to Triple-A, and then got called-up by the Phillies to provide extra outfield depth with Bryce Harper nursing a back injury.

In 24 games at Double-A, Vierling posted a .387 estimated xwOBA with a 13.0% estimated barrel rate. He’s a patient hitter with enough power to drive mistakes. He’s also been strong against both LHP and RHP this year, making him a good depth option for the Phillies. It will take a long-term injury to a major contributor for Vierling to have redraft relevance in 2021, however.

 

Luke Williams – 2B/3B/SS/OF – Philadelphia Phillies

The mega-versatile Luke Williams was called-up to be a primary bench piece for the Phillies. Since being called-up on June 8th, Williams has played 2B, 3B, SS, LF, CF, and RF while hitting in seven different positions in the batting order. And he’s been really productive, posting a 146 wRC+ in his first 12 MLB games.

Williams’ profile screams ‘better in real life than fantasy’. He can give your team some versatility on the bench, but he’s unlikely to hit for enough power to be a big fantasy asset. That being said, Williams did manage 30 stolen bases over 125 games in Double-A ball in 2019. And he’s posted an 88th percentile sprint speed in his time in the Bigs in 2021. So, if he gets enough green-lights, he’s a potential speed option if your team is in need of steals.