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The Rookies of 2018

November 27, 2018

              A month or so ago I wrote a series of three articles called "Disappointments and Surprises", about rookies who either (a) didn’t have the careers we would have expected them to have, based on their rookie seasons, or (b) had far better careers than we would have expected them to have.  I had promised to make that a four-part article, the last part summarizing the rookies of 2018, but I didn’t get that done until now.  This is the fourth part of the series. 

              This series is about position players only, not including pitchers.  The series began by outlining a method to project the probable career value of a rookie, based on his age and his rookie-season performance.  This article applies those formulas to the 2018 rookies.

              First we have to identify the group.   The list here is all players who had 200 or more plate appearances as rookies in 2018.   There were 42 such players.   This is how they project, based on my formulas:


              42Hunter Dozier, Royals Infielder.  A big first baseman/third baseman, he was a near-regular but hit just .229 with a .278 on base percentage.  26 years old, 27 at the end of the season.  Defensively rated poor at both positions.   1 Win Share and negative 1.3 WAR.   A right-handed hitter, he held his own against right-handed pitchers, but didn’t hit lefties.  Hit .136 with runners in scoring position (11 for 81).   Expectation:  32 Career Win Shares in the major leagues. 


              41.  Ronny Rodriguez, Tigers second baseman.  26 years old, 2 Win Shares, negative .9 WAR.   Expectation:  36 Career Win Shares in the major leagues.

A decent minor league hitter, Rodriguez signed with the Indians at the end of the 2010 and was making good progress through the minors until he failed in his first year at Double-A, 2014.   He started hitting again in 2015 but didn’t figure in the Indians’ plans, and became a minor league free agent after the 2017 season.   Signing with Detroit, he hit .338 with 9 homers in 63 games at Toledo, and was in the majors the second half of the season, actually I think up and down a couple of times.  He has played more than 1,000 games in the minor leagues.

              Rodriguez hit just .220 in the majors with a .256 on base percentage.  Obviously he has to hit better, and obviously, as a 26-year-old rookie who was allowed to walk a year ago, he doesn’t project as an All Star.  But I’d be careful in saying that he isn’t.   He has hit consistently fairly well in the minors except for one season, and his low WAR in 2018 is influenced by poor defensive values at shortstop, third base and first base.   At his natural defensive position, second base, his defensive numbers were pretty good.   If they put him at second base and leave him alone it is possible he will hit .260-.280 with double figure home runs, and he could stick.  No notable speed and bad strikeout/walk data.


              40.  Johnny Field, Twins outfielder now with the Cubs (post-season).  26 years old, 3 Win Shares, 0.3 WAR.  Expectation:  36 career Win Shares in the major leagues. 

              A fifth-round draft pick by the Indians in 2013, he jostled around the Cleveland system for several seasons, hitting around .270 and never hitting more than 14 homers in a season.   He has been waived three times since July of this year, first by the Indians to the Rays, then by the Rays to the Twins, then by the Twins to the Cubs.   In the majors he hit .222 in 221 at bats or .221 in 222 at bats, I forget which, and had a 72-7 strikeout/walk ratio, but played OK in the field and hit 9 home runs. 


              39.  Christian Villanueva, Padres third baseman released post-season.  27 years old, 9 Win Shares, 1.8 WAR.   Expectation:  38 Career Win Shares in the Major Leagues.  I heard that he had signed with Japan, although Baseball Reference doesn’t say that at the moment.  Anyway, he’s another Launch Angle Idiot, hit 20 home runs with the Padres at the cost of a ghastly strikeout/walk ratio, but played well at third base.   With 1.8 WAR he ranked fifth on the team, and some people feel that the Padres made a mistake in letting him go. 


              38.  Tyler Austin, Twins first baseman-DH.  26 years old, 6 Win Shares, 0.5 WAR.  Expectation:  41 Win Shares in the Major Leagues.  In the Yankees’ minor league system seemingly forever, he could never get in a full season because of injuries, but hit for an OK average and with reasonable on base percentages and strikeout/walk ratios. He was traded in mid-season to the Twins as part of the Lance Lynn package. Having run out of time as a minor leaguer, he seemingly was bitten by the launch angle bug, and hit 17 homers in 69 games in the majors, but drew only 19 walks.   His OPS in the majors was .767, so he will have a major league career if he can just make marginal improvements in the on-base categories.


              37.  Daniel Palka, White Sox outfielder.  26 years old, 10 Win Shares, 0.6 WAR.   Expectation:  43 Win Shares in the Major Leagues.   He hit 27 homers as a rookie and had a 111 OPS+, so he cannot be regarded as a failure.    Otherwise he is the same story as all the other guys on this list up to this point:  signed a long time ago (2013) by another organization (Arizona), was traded by Arizona to Minnesota, claimed by the White Sox off of waivers.   He’s another launch angle guy; there’s a million of them and I don’t want them, but he is a little bit different in that that’s been his game for a long time, and he does have some chance to hit 40 bombs a year and stay around for a few years.  


              36.  Rosell Herrera, Royals outfielder-infielder.   25 years old, 3 Win Shares, 0.9 WAR.  Expectation:  44 Win Shares in the Major Leagues.    Hit .234 as a rookie with 1 home run, giving him a .602 OPS.  Switch hitter; was a prospect in the Rockies system after he had a big year in the South Atlantic League in 2013, but never progressed.  Used by the Royals mostly in the outfield, he doesn’t have the power or speed to indicate a successful major league outfielder, but in the minors he would walk 60+ times a year with less than 100 strikeouts.   Like all of these players (so far) he has bounced around; he was released by the Rockies, signed with the Reds and came to the Royals off of waivers.  He was completely overmatched by starting pitchers the first time he faced them in a game, hitting .113 (7 for 62), but adjusted and competed well later in the game. 


              35.  Phil Ervin, Reds corner outfielder.   25 years old, 4 Win Shares, negative 0.4 WAR.  Expectation:  44 Win Shares in the Major Leagues.   A first-round draft pick with the Reds, he is the first player we have come to here who reached the end of his rookie year without being traded or released.   A right-handed hitter with kind of a fire plug body, short and powerful; he had a reasonable .324 on base percentage as a rookie, needs to do better but at least he is starting out on the right side of .300.   Hit .252 with 7 homers, 31 RBI.  Has some power and some speed, but hit in the .230s in the minor leagues for three years before seemingly figuring it out a little bit. 


              34.  Austin Slater, Giants outfielder-first baseman.  25 years old, 4 Win Shares and 0.2 WAR.  Expectation:  44 Win Shares in the Major Leagues.   Also had a reasonable .333 on base percentage as a rookie.  Played three years at Stanford, was drafted in the 8th round by the Giants in 2014, and made the majors after just 357 minor league games—not a huge number—and with a .313 minor league batting average.   Has no speed and not a lot of power, so he has to hit .300 with a .350+ on base percentage to make it in majors.  He may be in the wrong park for the kind of player that he is.   I’d sort of compare him maybe to Jason Werth or Trey Mancini, meaning that is the kind of player he has to be if he is going to have a career. 


              33.  Greg Allen, Indians center fielder.  25 years old, 5 Win Shares and 0.4 WAR.   Expectation:  44 Win Shares in the Major Leagues.   Defensive Runs Saved shows him at -4 in center field, but he played absolutely fantastic defense against us, the Red Sox; I mean, scary good.   He was like Pillar was three or four years ago, just frustrating because you couldn’t make a ball hit the grass in the outfield no matter how you hit it.   Very fast; stole 21 bases in half a season.  A switch hitter, and a sixth round draft pick with the Indians.  Never hit .300 in the minors and doesn’t have power; he was only playing center for the Indians because several other guys were hurt.   He will have to hit a little more than he did as a rookie (.654 OPS), but given his speed and defense, he’ll be a regular for a few years if he can hit .270. 


              32.  David Bote, Cubs third baseman.   Hit .239 with 6 homers.  25 years old, 6 Win Shares and 1.0 WAR.   Expectation:  54 Win Shares in the Major Leagues.   Drafted by the Cubs in the 18th round, he never had a big year in the minors but never failed a level, drifted steadily upward and played third for the Cubs while Bryant was hurt.  .727 OPS, 90 OPS+; needs to raise the OPS about 50 points to hang onto a regular job.   Has more power than speed, but doesn’t seem likely to hit 30 homers, either. 


              31.  Max Stassi, Astros catcher.   Has had trials with the Astros every year since 2013; finally got some actual playing time in 2018 and hit .226 with 8 homers.  Threw OK.   27 years old, 9 Win Shares and 1.0 WAR.  Seems likely to keep his playing time for a couple of years at least, and could develop into one of those catchers who has a 15-year career as a traveling backup.   Expectation:  55 Major League Win Shares.


              30.  Lewis Brinson, Marlins center fielder.  Played 109 games as a rookie due to the Marlins trading away all of their outfielders, but hit just .199 with a .577 OPS and negative WAR (-0.2).   24 years old and apparently fast enough to play center, but stole just two bases.  Hit .285 in the minor leagues but with some horrific strikeout rates.  A first-round draft pick by the Rangers, he was traded by the Rangers to Milwaukee and by Milwaukee to Florida, so at least he hasn’t been released yet.   Expectation:  56 Major League Win Shares. 


              29.  Victor Caratini, Cubs catcher.  A second-round draft pick of Atlanta, traded to Chicago in a minor deal.   A switch-hitting catcher who has hit for good averages in the minors but without power.  It might be overstating his speed to say that he has no speed.  24 years old, 2 Win Shares, negative WAR (-0.1).   Appears to be OK catcher, but would have to be Gold Glove quality to be a regular, and I don’t see it.  Expectation:  57 Major League Win Shares. 


              28.  Scott Kingery, Phillies shortstop.   A second-round draft pick in 2015, he was the Phils’ regular shortstop as a rookie but played bad on both sides of the ball, with negative O-War and D-War.  24 years old, 8 Win Shares, -1.5 WAR.    He has a little power, a little speed, a little defense and a lot of work to do, but might be able to save a career.   Expectation:  57 Major League Win Shares.


              27.   Renato Nunez, Orioles third baseman.   Another guy who has bounced around via the waiver wires, but played pretty well for Baltimore and ended the season in possession of a job.  Hit a respectable .258 with 8 homers in 236 at bats, .741 OPS and 103 OPS+.   He hit just .215 in his home park(s), no homers and OPS+ of 62, but hit .295 with 8 homers in road games, 140 OPS+.  The formula says that his Expectation is 57 Major League Win Shares, but intuitively I would put it quite a bit higher than that.  He’s got a job and he’s playing well and he’s only 24 years old; that’s a good foothold, although both Oakland and Texas put him on the waiver wires.  5 Win Shares, 1.3 WAR. 


              26.  Mitch Garver, Twins catcher.  A 27-year-old rookie who had a solid year with the bat but struggled behind the plate.  He hit .268 with 7 homers but had below-average numbers across the board as a fielder leading to an evaluation of -16 runs, half of that caused by poor pitch framing, although that might improve with experience.  11 Win Shares, 0.9 WAR.   Threw out only 18% of base stealers.   Minor league hitting numbers would suggest he may not stay at .268.  Still, in a universe of baseball teams desperate for catching, he’s not the bottom of the barrel.  Expected Major League Win Shares:  58.


              25.  Niko Goodrum, Tigers second baseman and utility player.  26 years old, 13 Win Shares, 1.5 WAR.  Kind of a Swiss Army Knife player, does a little bit of everything.   Has a little power, a little speed, not a horrible strikeout/walk ratio.  Switch hitter.  Drafted by the Twins in 2010, he served a full minor league apprenticeship with Minnesota and was signed by the Tigers as a free agent.  Played first base, second base, third, shortstop, left, right, DH, pinch hit and pinch ran.  In the minors he hit just .250 with just 42 homers in 674 games.  Expected Major League Win Shares: 59. 

              24.  Colin Moran, Pirates third baseman.   OK, we’re starting to pull away from the group a little bit here.   Moran, 25 years old, is a big left-handed third baseman who could be comparable to Travis Shaw.   Probably a pretty good hitter for a third baseman—he hit .277 as a rookie with 11 homers, 58 RBI, .747 OPS—but may be challenged defensively to stay at third.   He was NOT in clear possession of a job at the end of the year; the Pirates were experimenting with other third basemen.  He was a first-round draft pick of Miami, got traded to Houston and traded to Pittsburgh, so he hasn’t been released or on the waiver wires, as most of those listed above have.   13 Win Shares, 1.0 WAR.  Expected Major League Win Shares:  69.  Intuitively would go higher.


              23.  Victor Reyes, Tigers outfielder.  A tall switch hitter (6 foot 5) who can also run, was used 33 times as a pinch runner for the Tigers.  That was kind of the highlight of his season, as he didn’t hit a lick and didn’t impress in the field.   Hit .222 with 1 homer, .526 OPS, had 1 Win Share and negative .8 WAR.  Venezuela native, only 23 years old.   Projected Major League Win Shares:  70.   The projection of 70 is kind of the base line for a 23-year-old who is in the majors.   He didn’t really do anything impressive, but he is in the majors and he is only 23, so there is that. 


              22.  Dustin Fowler, A’s center fielder.   The Yankee super-prospect who had a devastating injury in 2017 before he got his first major league at bat.  He’s like Reyes; he didn’t actually do anything impressive as a rookie, but he is 23 years old and in the majors, so there is that.  3 Win Shares and Negative WAR (-0.9).  Hit .224 with 6 homers in 192 at bats, horrible strikeout/walk ratio.   Spent the second half of the season back in the minors, but did hit .341 for Nashville.  Hit a ton of triples in the minor leagues, 45 triples in 476 minor league games.   Will get another chance in the majors but needs to stop swinging at everything.  Expected Major League Win Shares:  70. 


              21.  Isiah Kiner-Falefa, Rangers catcher-third baseman.  Another 23-year old; played better than Reyes or Fowler and should be a regular in 2019 with Adrian Beltre’s retirement, but will have to add something to be a long-term regular.   Hit .261 with a strikeout/walk ratio (62 to 28) that could become one of the better ones in the majors with experience.  Not swinging for the fences, runs well for a catcher but not fast.  Defensively he played well at third base, not well at catcher.    Hawaiian kid; hit ZERO home runs—none—in the minors in 2013 (41 games), 2014 (79 games), 2015 (98 games) and 2016 (121 games); 339 minor league games without a homer.   Finally started reaching the seats occasionally in 2017.  5 Win Shares in 2018, 1.6 WAR.  Expected Major League Win Shares:  70, but I think that is low. 


              20.  Ryan McMahon, Rockies infielder.  Left-handed hitting first baseman, also played some at second and third, and could compete for DJ LeMahieu’s second base job.  Never had a clear position in the minors; was always bouncing around the infield, more third base than anything else.  Played well in 10 games at second in 2018.  Didn’t do anything with the bat, but he’s 23 years old and in the majors with a team looking for a second baseman.   4 Win Shares and 0.1 WAR as a rookie.  Expected Major League Win Shares:  70.   .297 minor league batting average with a lot of doubles.


              19.  Joey Wendle, Rays.   A longtime minor leaguer, 28 years old, who got a chance to play with the Rays and really made the most of it, hitting .300 with a .789 OPS, 118 OPS+, 7 homers and 61 RBI.   Drafted by Cleveland in 2012, he was traded to the A’s and then to the Rays.   Had not hit .300 since he was in the low minors in 2012.  His 4.3 WAR as a rookie was the highest in the majors, beating both Ohtani (3.9 WAR) and Acuna (4.1), also beating the Yankees’ rookies. 

              We have all seen guys do this before, and we know how the story usually goes from there; in the second season usually the magic is gone.   But you never know; if he can play every year the way he played as a rookie, he’ll be around a long time.  19 Win Shares as a rookie.  Expected Major League Win Shares:  73. 


              18.  Ronald Guzman, Rangers first baseman.   BIG left-handed hitting first baseman, hit just .235 as a rookie with strikeout/walk ratio of 121 to 33, but the Rangers seemed to like him a lot.  Good glove at first base; athletic for a big fella.  16 homers, 9 Win Shares, 0.7 WAR.  Long arms.   Could be Chris Davis type; hopefully will figure out that there is more to the game than hitting homers.   Expected Major League Win Shares:  78. 


              17.  Jake Cave, Twins center fielder.  Traded by the Yankees to the Twins in spring training for an arm, just a minor league guy who throws hard, he had at least superficially a terrific rookie season for the Twins, hitting .265 with 13 homers, 45 runs scored and 54 RBI in just 283 at bats.  We credit him with 10 Win Shares, 1.5 WAR, and he was 25 years old.   On a closer look there are some issues; his strikeout to walk ratio was 102 to 18, his ball-in-play batting average was unsustainably high (.369), and he’s not really a center fielder; he was a guy playing center field because Byron Buxton was hurt.  Drafted by the Yankees in 2011, he didn’t find his power stroke until 2017.   Still, playing well is better than not playing well.   An illusion of a good season is much, much better than no illusion of a good season.   Left-handed hitter; he could be a Jay Bruce/Nick Swisher type of guy, at his best.   Not likely to be quite that good.  Expected Win Shares:  80. 


              16.  David Fletcher, Angels second baseman-third baseman.   Made his major league debut in mid-June and played almost every day until an injury ended his season in mid-September.   Finished at .275, played very well at second base.   Not fast and no power; just does everything pretty well pretty much all the time, or at least did so as a rookie.  No caught stealing, only 34 strikeouts, only one error at second base (43 games) and one at third base (33 games).  Doesn’t have enough power to be projected as a third baseman, but could be a six-year regular at second.   24 years old, 8 Win Shares, 2.0 WAR.  Expected Major League Win Shares:  81. 


              15.  Jorge Alfaro, Phillies’ catcher.   25 year old catcher, 12 Win Shares and 1.2 WAR.  Columbian national, signed by Texas and traded to Philadelphia in the Cole Hamels trade.  Decent superficial batting numbers hide a wide array of problems.   He hit .262 with 10 homers, 37 RBI in 344 at bats, but struck out 138 times in 108 games with 18 walks.  His in-play batting average was over .400, which is obviously unsustainable.   He was hit by pitches 14 times, which helped his on base percentage; if it wasn’t for the hit batsmen, he would have had an in-play batting average over .400 but an on base percentage under .300, which would be quite a remarkable combination.   His major league batting average at this time (.270) is eight points higher than his minor league batting average, .262 in 634 minor league games.  Led National League catchers in Errors (11), Passed Balls (10), and Stolen Bases Allowed (59).  In spite of these things Baseball Info Solutions rates him as an average defensive catcher based on his pitch framing, but that seems pretty speculative to me.  He runs well for a catcher and is not a bad baserunner. 

              There is at least a temporary shortage of quality catchers around, and Alfaro would have to rank as one of the better catchers of 2018, in spite of which it seems very much in doubt as to whether he (a) can hold on to a job, and (b) is good enough defensively to be a guy who stays around as a backup.   I think his batting average is probably going to drop to the .220s.   Expected Major League Win Shares:  84. 

              14.  Harrison Bader, Cardinals outfielder, mostly center field.   A homegrown player from the 2015 draft, he has some power, some speed and no history of failure.  Finished sixth in the National League Rookie of the Year voting.   Hit .364 as a rookie on balls in play; may not be able to sustain that.  The question about him is whether his pitch recognition will improve enough to offset his regression to the norm in BABIP.  Grounded into only one double play as a rookie, and he was usually hitting 7th/8th, which are spots where there are quite a few double plays.   24 years old, 13 Win Shares, 3.8 WAR as a rookie.  Expected Major League Win Shares:  97.


              13.  Lourdes Gurriel Jr., Blue Jays middle infielder.    The younger brother of Yuli Gurriel, he had a very good rookie season at bat but an absolutely terrible rookie season in the field and as a baserunner.  At bat he hit .281 with 11 homers in 249 at bats, although he struck out almost once a game and drew only 9 walks, but then, he’s a rookie; if you hit for power and average, that’s good.   In the field he was OK at second base (197 innings) but dreadful at shortstop, charting at negative 15 runs in 351 innings.   On the basepaths he scores at -10; that’s -10 bases, rather than -10 runs, but it’s still bad; he was below average at going first-to-third on a single, below average at scoring on a double, and really bad about running into outs on the bases.  24 years old, 8 Win Shares but 0.1 WAR.   Expected Major League Win Shares:  103.    Still has star potential, but has not proven that he belongs in the majors. 


              12.  Jake Bauers, Rays first baseman.   Only 22 years old, bats and throws left.  Kind of the opposite of Gurriel, he hit just .201 but actually wasn’t half bad.  His in-play batting average was just .254.  Over half of his hits were for extra bases (35 of 65) and his strikeout/walk ratio (104 to 54) was very good for a rookie in this era.  His secondary average was .368, meaning that he was producing runs despite the low batting average.  Defensively he was OK at first base, and played some in the outfield without embarrassing himself.   He’s probably lucky he is playing in the 21st century.   Thirty years ago, that .201 batting average would have ended his career.   9 Win Shares, 0.6 WAR.   Expectation:  114 Major League Win Shares. 

              11.  Jeff McNeil, Mets second baseman.   I’m not saying he IS, but he LOOKS for all the world like the new Daniel Murphy.   26 years old, he was drafted in 2013 and hit .311 in the minor leagues with good strikeout/walk ratios, but was stalled several times by injuries.  Finally making the majors after the All-Star break in 2018, he hit .329 with a very good strikeout rate.  Runs well; he hit 6 triples in 63 games with the Mets and was 7-for-8 as a base stealer.  Left-handed bat.  For some reason his photo on Baseball Reference shows him wearing what looks like a Red Sox hat, which I don’t understand because he is from California and has never been in the Red Sox system.   Maybe it is a Binghamton hat; I don’t know.   Anyway, his ability to play second on a continuing basis is unproven and he is probably not really a .329 hitter, but then, that’s what we said about Wade Boggs when he came up; at this point the league has to prove that he ISN’T a .329 hitter.  

              I ran a Twitter poll about him, asking fans whether they thought McNeil was (a) a great player, (b) an All-Star, (c) a decent player, or (d) a washout.  7% said a great player, 12% an All Star, 67% a decent player, 14% a washout.   I’d probably take the high side of that bet.  11 Win Shares in 2018, 2.4 WAR.  Expectation:  114 Major League Win Shares. 


              10.  Willy Adames, Rays shortstop.   Just 22 years old, he struck out 95 times in 85 games but otherwise had a very impressive rookie season.   He hit .278, with 31 walks for a pretty good .348 on base percentage.   Hit 10 homers in 278 at bats.   Played OK at shortstop.  A Dominican player, big for a shortstop.  Originally signed by Detroit, he came to Tampa Bay as part of the David Price/Drew Smyly trade.  Played over 600 games in the minor leagues, which is a lot.   Drew as many as 77 walks in a minor league season, never struck out more than 132 times.   8 Win Shares as a rookie, 2.0 WAR.  May be a third baseman, rather than a shortstop, but he’s probably going to make a lot of money as a major league player.  Expectation:  115 Major League Win Shares. 


              9.  Franmil Reyes, Padres right fielder.   22 years old, he hit 16 homers in 261 at bats in the majors, covering up a pretty good array of flaws.   His strikeout/walk ratio was 80/24, which is not terrible by 2018 standards but not great, either.   He has NO speed, no triples and no stolen base attempts.   He played OK in the field; seems to have a right fielder’s arm, plays a deep right field.   Another Dominican, like Adames, who played a lot of minor league games (698) although he is still very young.  His major league batting average, .280, was higher than his minor league career average, .268.  In the face he looks quite a bit like John Mayberry, the Royals’ star of 40 years ago.   His ability to have a big major league career depends on his continuing to reach the seats regularly, and his home park (San Diego) is not going to help him with that.   8 Win Shares as a rookie, 1.6 WAR.   Expectation:  122 Major League Win Shares.  Intuitively I would much rather have Adames than Reyes. 


              8.  Yairo Munoz, Cardinals shortstop/utility player.  Another Dominican, 23 years old, 2018 performance comparable to Adames but a hair better with the bat in 2018.   His season was a surprise; he came to the Cardinals from the A’s in the Piscotty deal, and generally played better with the Cardinals than he had in the minors.  Hit .276 with 8 homers, 42 RBI, decent strikeout/walk ratio giving him a nice .350 on base percentage.  Played second base, third base, short and all three outfield positions.  At shortstop he was fair on double plays, completing 25 in 42 opportunities, but had a lot of trouble with plays in the hole; overall he was negative 7 runs as a shortstop, so he may not be a shortstop.  His major league batting average (.276) was better than his minor league average (.268), and also his strikeout/walk ratio was better in the majors, which may indicate actual learning or unsustainable performance.   11 Win Shares but 0.2 WAR as a rookie.   Expectation:  126 Major League Win Shares.  I would take the low side of that, but I think that when he finds his defensive position he’s probably going to have a regular job for several years. 

              7.  Jesse Winker Wanker, Reds corner outfielder.   24 years old but had a .405 on base percentage (!!!) as a rookie, hitting .299 with 49 walks, 46 strikeouts.   Good minor league hitting record, also had on base percentages consistently around .400 in the minor leagues.   Major league hitting record was completely consistent with his minor league numbers.   Doesn’t have a ton of power, but should hit 15-20 homers in a full season.   Left-handed bat. 

              In the field. . .well, that’s an issue.  He really can’t play right field, although he was out there in 2018, and he may not be able to play left field passably.  He may be a DH.   He is not fast and not a good baserunner.  But his bat looks terrific.   12 Win Shares but negative WAR (-0.1) due to poor fielding performance.  Expectation:  135 Major League Win Shares.  Edgar Martinez syndrome.  His true value probably won’t emerge until his teams accept his defensive limitations. 

              6.  Brian Anderson, Marlins third baseman/right fielder.  Played third base for the Marlins until April 25, moved to right field in late April but moved back to third base on August 15.  One way or another he was in the lineup all year, and led all major league rookies in Win Shares, with 27, and was close to the lead in WAR, with 3.9.  He hit .367 with runners in scoring position (44/120), and .337 in the late innings of close games. He played very well in right field, battled third base to a draw, but at this point should probably be considered a third baseman.   Had easily more playing time than any other major league rookie.  He had a good strikeout/walk ratio by modern standards (129/62), and was hit by pitches 16 times (5th in the league), giving him a pretty good .357 on base percentage with his .273 average.  He is 25 years old, a right-handed hitter and not fast, but not painfully slow at this point.   Minor league batting average was just .264.   Does not project as a star at this time, but should add value to his teams for several years.   Expectation:  176 Major League Win Shares.  


              5.  Miguel Andujar, Yankees third baseman.   23 years old, 21 Win Shares and 2.2 WAR.  Intuitively, I like him a lot, maybe more than two of the four guys listed ahead of him.  His "value" as a rookie was sharply reduced by his team playing him at third base.  He’s obviously not a third baseman and basically he stunk at third base, but I think he’s probably one of the 2-3 best hitters of the next ten years, more valuable as a hitter than his team’s superstars, looking forward.  His strikeout/walk ratio (97-25) is not good, but (a) 97 strikeouts is a LOW number in modern baseball, given his at bats, and (b) I’m betting on the walks to double within three years, giving him a better-than-league strikeout/walk ratio.   He’s a scary hitter.  He can do a lot of different things with a lot of different pitches. 

              In the original articles in this series, we saw a large number of players who under-achieved as rookies because their teams were trying to play them at third base and they weren’t third basemen; it was a theme of the series.  Steve Garvey, Paul Konerko, Tony Perez, etc.   Teams are always trying to make a young player into a third baseman when he isn’t.  Miggy wasn’t on that list, but they tried him as a third baseman for several years, and also Pujols.  I’m not saying that Andujar is as good as Cabrera or Pujols, but there’s a lot of similarity.  He’s going to lead the league in RBI several times.   Expected Major League Win Shares:  201.   And I’m taking the over. 


              4.  Shohei Ohtani, Angels first baseman.  23 years old, 20 Win Shares including 4 as a pitcher, 3.9 WAR.  The biggest thing that people miss about this story is that it is actually not that unusual for a player to have ability both as a pitcher and a position player.   There are actually a substantial number of players who could make it either way.   Brandon Belt could have been a major league pitcher, and Mark McGwire could have.  Andrelton Simmons could have.  Certainly Zack Greinke could have been a major league position player, and probably Madison Bumgarner could have.  Rick Ankiel has done both.  There are a lot of guys in the majors who could have gone the other direction and succeeded.  A lot of what it takes to be successful one way is just as relevant the other way—the love of the game, the dedication to training habits, the deep understanding of the game, the persistence and the ability to work through obstacles.   You draft one or two players every year who might be a pitcher or might be a position player, and you just have to decide which way you’re going with him. 

              What is unusual about Ohtani is not that he has that ability as much as it is that the issue has been left up in the air all of these years.  The Japanese, as you probably know, are pretty much obsessed with high school baseball.  Almost every Japanese boy goes out for the high school baseball team and is on a team of some level, the teams train 365 days a year—literally—and some high school baseball games are televised nationally with huge audiences.   Because of this unusual interest in high school baseball; I shouldn’t say it is unusual, it is just not American.   Because of this interest in high school baseball, Ohtani came out of high school as a superstar, and went into the Japanese major leagues with this issue of whether he was a pitcher or a hitter unresolved.  He did a little of both, was pretty good each way, and when he came to the majors he was in position to, and did, insist on doing both. 

              Well, OK, I’m not complaining about it, but when we acquire a player in the majors through normal channels, we have to make a decision with which way we are going with him.  Of course you listen to what the player wants to do, and of course you have respect for his input, but it’s not his decision; it’s the team’s decision.   The team ultimately tells the player "You’re a pitcher" or "you’re a shortstop."  This may seem harsh, but think about it:  do YOU have the opportunity to pitch in the majors?  Do YOU have the opportunity to play shortstop?"  No, you don’t, because it is the team’s decision whether to extend that opportunity to you or not, and for 99.99% of you, we don’t.   The exceptional player is extended one opportunity or the other, not both. 

              We don’t give players the opportunity to do both, because we generally believe that it’s not workable.  It is a fulltime job requiring tremendous dedication to do either one.   It’s not reasonable to try to do both.  

              So, is it reasonable for Ohtani?  No, not really; not in my opinion.   You can talk about it all you want to, you can hold off making a decision as long as you want to, but ultimately, he is one or the other, and if he tries to do both he’ll have half of a career.  He’ll wind up as Rick Ankiel.  

              This analytical system that I am using here is set up to deal with position players, not pitchers, and including Ohtani in it is awkward.  The system is based on Win Shares, and he does get credit here for his Win Shares as a pitcher, but the Win Shares are adjusted to 145 game equivalents, so we are in effect adjusting his pitching Win Shares to a full-time everyday schedule, which is logically questionable.   But the result, the scoring for Ohtani, seems reasonable enough, so I’m OK with it.  Expectation: 302 Major League Win Shares.  


              3.  Juan Soto, Nationals outfielder.  19 years old, 15 Win Shares, 3.0 WAR.   Drew 79 walks in 116 games, giving him a .406 on base percentage as a rookie.   Possibly the greatest 19-year-old hitter of all time; only Mel Ott and Tony Conigliaro would be comparable.  Didn’t turn 20 until after the season ended.  Expectation:  336 Major League Win Shares. 


              2.  Gleyber Torres, Yankees Second Baseman.   21 years old, 19 Win Shares, 2.9 WAR.   Bat faded badly the second half of the season, but that’s probably a normal rookie fatigue thing, plus he had an injury in July, a hip strain that put him down for a couple of weeks.   Hit .495 when he pulled the ball, only .254 when he hit to the opposite field.  Expectation:  344 Major League Win Shares.


1.        Ronald Acuna Jr., Atlanta Braves left fielder.   20 years old, 19 Win Shares, 4.1 WAR.   It is

certainly unusual to have two young left fielders in a league of the quality of Soto and Acuna.  Comparing the two, Soto is ten months younger and far ahead in terms of command of the strike zone.  Acuna is much faster, but Soto actually was a better baserunner, as a rookie.   Acuna was 12 for 28 going first-to-third on a single, 43%; Soto was 13-for-29, almost the same, but Acuna ran into 8 outs on the bases, whereas Soto ran into only 3.  Acuna has more power; Soto hit 22 homers and 30 long fly outs; Acuna hit 26 homers but also 49 long fly outs.   Soto has a better arm, and Acuna made 5 errors in the outfield compared to Soto’s two, but Acuna has better range relative to the opportunities.  Soto being a left-handed hitter could be a big advantage over time.  Although their listed weights are almost the same, Soto looks heavier in the legs, and one would guess that in a few years he will be significantly slower.   Basically, Acuna ranks a little ahead of Soto because he had almost the same OPS and better defense in a tougher park for a hitter, but in all honesty I think I would choose Soto.   Expected Major League Win Shares for Acuna:  440.   The three players in the 2018 rookie class most likely to have a Hall of Fame career are Acuna, Soto and Gleyber Torres. 



COMMENTS (39 Comments, most recent shown first)

Bill (or anyone else) have you done an article on how the future Win Shares are projected? I’d love to see it
12:14 PM Dec 8th
A Larry Parrish mention---I always liked him, I remember his nice year in 79 for the Spos, and for the Rangers he did crank. He doesn't get name checked all that much, but he wasn't bad.
3:42 PM Dec 1st
Mark: Maybe best to do a "Hey Bill" note, even not being sure it hasn't been covered there (I'm not either; I think it might well not have been), because he might not still be looking at this page.
12:14 PM Dec 1st
Maybe you've already beaten this to death, but I can't find the search button for the "Hey Bill"s, so I'll ask anyway: can you elaborate on what you don't like about the launch angle approach to hitting? I get what you're driving at but I wonder if you could give a little more detail. And then could you tell it to the Phillies' front office?
1:59 PM Nov 30th
RE Maris on the Yankees and Red Sox: certainly, a franchise that both has quite a few really good young players and has the ability to obtain first-rate veterans is in an ideal situation. That's Boston, NY, and Houston. A team that is losing 90+ games and has no one near the top of Bill's list is in real trouble.
1:25 PM Nov 30th
Several Brewers fans were dismayed when they gave up Brinson to acquire Christian Yelich (I was not one of them). Looks like David Stearns made the right move.
8:50 AM Nov 30th
....In case it raises any eyebrows that I included Rafael Devers (who was 'sort of' a rookie, not nearly technically of course, but in essence) in that possible scary 'nucleus,' let me share this thing that's on his page: his top 'age-comps.'

I know that he had a disappointing 2018, including in the field. I don't know much detail on any of it (except the obvious things from his numbers), and I know that this thing doesn't prove anything, but it's a thing I often use as an indicator -- mostly, actually, for players that I do know pretty well but feel I can't be objective about, and I use this to get some objective enlightenment; like, I see Aaron Judge all the time and I love Aaron Judge, but I think his list of age comps is a better indicator of how good he 'really' is than my own impression from watching and loving.

Devers' list of most-similars for his age is awfully interesting. If that's anything like how good he 'really' is, he sure belongs in any fantasizing about a Red Sox nucleus:

Harlond Clift
Ron Santo
Juan Gonzalez
Ken Keltner
Cal Ripken
Willie Mays
Jose Canseco
Larry Parrish
Bill Dahlen
....and, this guy of recent Hey Bill fame: Dick Kokos.

BTW, Judge's list is far less good.
I do trust my watching-loving view enough to say confidently that he's probably better than that, but it does give pause.

I'd guess similarly that Devers is a bit less good than the average guy on that list. But less good than the average guy on that list could still be a star. The worst guy on that list is still a "nucleus" guy.
11:50 PM Nov 29th
.....but, about the Red Sox having therefore having their hands full: I think the Red Sox have the makings of a "dynasty," and while of course I'll be pulling big-time for the Yanks against them, I have to say that this is a dynasty I'll admire and like if it happens. I think their outfield plus their left side of the infield could be a helluva nucleus, for many years.
7:45 PM Nov 29th
arne: Please make that, the Yanks have 2 in the top 5!

What you said is also true. But just saying. :-)
7:42 PM Nov 29th
The Rays have three players in Bill's top 20, and the Yankees have two players in his top 10. The Red Sox should have their hands full the next few years.
5:09 PM Nov 29th
There are a lot of guys in the majors who could have gone the other direction and succeeded...What is unusual about Ohtani is not that he has that ability as much as it is that the issue has been left up in the air all of these years.

Well, even if there are a non-trivial number of players who "could have" gone either direction -- let's call this category A -- there must be far fewer in category B: players who could have been *excellent* MLB players in either role. There also must be far fewer in category C: players who could have gone in *both* directions and succeeded in both. And as far as we know, category D -- players who could be excellent while performing in both roles -- consists of one living player. I would count that as unusual.

9:11 AM Nov 29th
Launch Angle Idiots would be a great name for an indie rock band.
7:53 AM Nov 29th
Like, here's what some thumbnail write-ups might be that we see elsewhere:

Joe was hitting in bad luck last year but his sweet swing augurs well for the future. His baserunning is strictly station-to-station but he occasionally will take the extra base. Word is he is working on his launch angle over the winter. Expect him to have a better OPS if he can improve his on-base and slugging. Will be the opening day starter unless team moves him or trades for an upgrade.
1:42 AM Nov 29th
Oh yeah, this stuff is just the best, Bill thumb-nailing his way through 50 guys or 15 historical baseball situations. It's such a pleasure.
11:54 PM Nov 28th
Besides the fine points we're discussing, I thought somebody ought to say (and I'm SURE there's just about unanimous company on this)....

This article is a wonderful collection of thumbnail sketches of these players.
11:48 PM Nov 28th
That's interesting, whenever I see Bauer pitch, I make a point of getting there early enough to see him do his warm-up routine. I love it. I got to see him do it twice this year. I had no idea that it was in any way controversial or disliked by the teams.
11:26 PM Nov 28th
So, Tom we are ready for a CNLI whenever you have time to figure it. Contract Negotiating Leverage Index.
8:39 PM Nov 28th
The difference between Ohtani and everyone else is that he was a quasi-free agent and the others are subjected to signing with one particular team or not at all. It's a question of leverage.

If you remember with Trevor Bauer, teams did not want him to have 400 foot long throws as part of his training program. If he were a free agent, he'd simply set the terms, and we wouldn't even have heard about it as an issue.
8:17 PM Nov 28th
After the top 7 it really drops off. I like the colorado guy the best.
7:38 PM Nov 28th
I am just overcome with joy that the top two projected players (Acuña, Torres) are from Venezuela.
5:53 PM Nov 28th
To THINK it was, or might be?
Sure, at least a little -- to the extent that what he was doing involved an unusual kind of exertion, and that it can't be ruled out.

Nobody said they think it's probable.
You can't say it's not fairly possible.
5:10 PM Nov 28th
Is there a reason to think Ohtani's injury was somehow a function of his DH duties? Starting pitchers who throw 100 MPH nearly all end up needing TJ surgery and/or struggling with other serious injuries (Verlander is the sole exception who comes to mind). So the existence of the injury by itself doesn't necessarily shed light on the merits of Ohtani's decision. But if there is evidence that his playing DH contributed to the injury in some way, then sure, that could argue for specialization.
2:12 PM Nov 28th
Replying to Guy 123

I think the argument that Ohtani's decision is "not reasonable" would be more convincing if he were, say, 19 years old and playing in AA. But he is playing in MLB, and is already pitching as well as Greinke and hitting almost as well as McGwire. What reason is there to think he can't continue to perform at these levels?

He is playing in MLB AND INJURED. Seriously injured. That would seem to me to be a relevant part of the discussion.

On an unrelated note, if you Kiner-Falefa, shouldn't you go to a Doctor?
1:48 PM Nov 28th
Not to contradict Bill but rather add some context. Nobody in Japan expects to hit and pitch as a pro. Ohtani didn't. He figured he had to give up the bat to turn pro.

The gimmick was that it was part of the package the Fighters used to sell him on staying in Japan instead of signing with a big league club as he intended. It was born out of necessity.

I would, however remind Bill of something he wrote in a 2016 "Hey Bill" answer about Ohtani being forced to choose one or the other when he moves to the States, and pardon me if my memory is not precise. Bill n essence said "who makes us so smart that we know what is best for each individual player?"

My feeling is that despite his love of pitching, he's eventually going to be a hitter because it's more sustainable for his body. He said last week. He expects the choice to come naturally. It's perhaps not the optimal way, but again who are we to know what's best for him?

I do know that it's fun to see him do both. And damn it, baseball should be fun.

12:11 PM Nov 28th
I think the argument that Ohtani's decision is "not reasonable" would be more convincing if he were, say, 19 years old and playing in AA. But he is playing in MLB, and is already pitching as well as Greinke and hitting almost as well as McGwire. What reason is there to think he can't continue to perform at these levels?

Bill suggests that he is performing two "fulltime" jobs, but is pitching 6 innings once every 5-6 days and serving as a halftime DH really so unreasonable? Is that a tougher workload than, say, catching five MLB games a week and batting 22 times? We call that job "catcher."

It may be that injuries will curtail Ohtani's pitching career. Or it may be that his hitting will prove so good that it makes more sense to have him do it full time. But so far, it appears he is most valuable performing both jobs.

12:08 PM Nov 28th
You could be right, Maris. I thought I detected in Bill's statement that is wasn't reasonable in his opinion for Ohtani to pursue both batting and pitching a hint of criticism, but perhaps I'm reading too much into Bill's comments.

Clearly, Ohtani marches to his own drummer. It also wasn't reasonable for him to shift from Japanese to US baseball last off-season in terms of the impact on his career earnings, but he did it anyway. Viva la difference.
11:35 AM Nov 28th
MWeddell: I agree -- but I didn't think we were talking about whether it should be celebrated, but whether it's a good idea and is likely to hold up.....
11:12 AM Nov 28th
Please refresh my memory ... 300 win shares is a borderline Hall of Famer, right? If so, the projection of 440 for Acuna is pretty impressive.

Then again, major-league baseball baseball produces at least one future Hall of Fame member each season, right? If so, based on projects and the 300 win-share threshold, we have one slamdunk HOFer (Acuna) and three others who might be on the cusp.​
9:27 AM Nov 28th
The Ohtani discussion reminds me of Bo Jackson. If a player feels that strongly that he wants to have two partial careers and has found the unique opportunity to insist on it, then I rather feel like celebrating the unique career.
8:35 AM Nov 28th
Jeff McNeil is wearing a Binghamton Mets (team name through 2016 season, now Binghamton Rumble Ponies) cap in his Baseball Reference photo. The logo picture is a bee, I would guess from the team being referred to as the B-Mets.
2:53 AM Nov 28th
What Bill says here about Ohtani is (IMO) right on target. (As luck would have it, I've been saying the same.)

Bill emphasizes aspects of the question which I think are under-appreciated and (as far as I've seen) rarely noted. Mostly people discuss Ohtani's 'dual' prospects just in terms of whether he has the ability to both hit and pitch. It's not just that; there's also the devotion, preparation, practice, and focus (etc. etc. etc.) that is presumably needed in order to do either thing at a major league level. While of course it's not impossible that Ohtani could somehow give enough of all that stuff to such two different things simultaneously, or that he's such a 'genius' (or whatever we should call it) at both that he can keep doing them well without the amount of devotion, preparation, practice, and focus (etc.) that the other major leaguers are giving it, I think the odds are way against him.

And oh -- there could well be an additional fly in the ointment.

This might seem to come dangerously close to me saying that I think the reason he got hurt this year was that he was doing both. I'm not saying that, but then again I'm not not saying it.

Hitting and pitching are completely different kinds of physical endeavors. When you're a pro athlete, you condition yourself in certain kinds of ways, tailored to what you're doing. While I don't know for sure that this next thing is true (that's not modest enough; I don't know at all), it seems like the specifics of what you do toward this end are quite different according to if you're a hitter or pitcher, and I'd guess further that it's not like you can condition your body in such a way to be optimally fit for both. There are going to be compromises; maybe even some of what you do to optimize yourself for pitching could make you more vulnerable for hitting, and vice versa. While it could be countered that all pitchers do some hitting, and we don't see them maiming themselves, and we see lots of position players pitching, and they don't maim themselves either, I'd say there's a big difference between the occasional and somewhat casual hitting and pitching of those players, and doing both regularly and trying to be world class at them.

Cliff's Notes: Even if Ohtani were to be fully capable of doing both despite each normally being (as Bill put it) "a fulltime job requiring tremendous dedication to do either one," he'd be far more vulnerable to injury, to an extent which IMO blows the whole idea out of the water, in itself.
9:33 PM Nov 27th
I'm an Indians fan, I well remember Allen's defense in that midsummer series against the Red Sox, he made several remarkable plays. Towards the end of the last game of that series, maybe, he made yet another heroic play (or got a big hit) and Tom Hamilton, the Indians' great radio man, cried, "Boy, it sure seems like the Indians have found a solution to their center field problem!!"

It did seem that way at that time. But that series was pretty much the last time any Indians fan saw Allen do anything. He just disappeared, and no injury was ever mentioned that I am aware of. Truly puzzling.​
8:44 PM Nov 27th
Cardinals fan here. Munoz was a nice surprise. Some pop, defensive versatility, and a little attitude. Tough at-bats, too. Pitchers often tried to bust him in and he'd foul balls off himself to stay alive; there was one at-bat against Arizona I think where he must have fouled five or six balls off himself. The stats all inevitably say he's poor at short; I didn't notice anything that particularly stuck out. Even though he's a little pudgy-looking he seems very fast and agile. He may in fact be bad at short, or it may just be a blip; it wasn't like a Dexter Fowler situation where we all dreaded the ball being hit to him. He may not be a long-term regular but he could be an exceptional utility guy.

Bader is a little like Peter Bourjos with the speed, pop, and weird issues making contact, but he's already as good as Bourjos's best was and has exceptional makeup and drive to improve by all accounts. I think his high BABIP had a lot to do with him beating out so many infield hits with his speed. If his pitch recognition gets a little better he could be an All Star; you could say that about a lot of other guys, but Bader is not someone I'm comfortable betting against. Defense seemed to regress slightly after people started raving about it, but even so, wowee is he fun to watch out there.

8:20 PM Nov 27th
About Miguel Andujar and 3B: I wonder if it might be tougher than it was with those others because he has clear skills for the position: pretty regularly he makes spectacular plays, of the kind that I think we associate with good third basemen. Admittedly I'm not sure this didn't apply to most or all of those others but my guess/impression is it didn't. On the other hand he did botch a lot of plays, plus he often seemed not to have a good mental instinct for the position, plus he had poor defensive stats in the minors.

BTW, I haven't understood why the discussion of moving him to a different position seems always to involve 1B (or, of course, DH). I've wondered why there doesn't seem to be the slightest thought of the outfield. Maybe there is, but I haven't heard it.
I do know it's possible that a guy just can't catch a fly ball....
6:04 PM Nov 27th
Just a stray comment relating to the format of the article:

I always read things like this BACKWARDS -- I want to start at the top (which begins at the bottom) and work my way down (i.e. up).

....which in this case was a slight extra challenge because it's written with cross references that assume we're reading it normally. :-)
5:25 PM Nov 27th
Thanks for the comment on Reyes.
5:07 PM Nov 27th
Padres fan here and I thought I'd comment on Reyes. He was terrible when the first called him up striking out like crazy and not walking at all. They sent him back down and then called him back up after the Padres had a terrible run right before the all-star break. When he came back up, he had tightened his swing and controlled the strike zone much better. 41/6 k/bb in 105 pa first callup, 39/18 in 180 pa in his second. He's a bad of. We will see if it's just randomness or that he figured something out. My sense is he figured something out, but I think he's a DH.
4:53 PM Nov 27th
Muchas gracias, Senor James.
4:35 PM Nov 27th
About Scott Kingery: I wonder if the Phillies’ insistence on moving him from shortstop from second base might have flummoxed him a bit. (They also gave him time in the outfield and third base.) Until this year, he’d been pretty much exclusively a second baseman, playing a total of 6 games at other positions.
4:11 PM Nov 27th
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