• Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.

MLB 2021: Randy Arozarena leads list of top 15 impact rookies

·6 min read
In this article:
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.

2021 is a deep rookie fantasy class. We got sneak peeks at several rookies in the abbreviated 2020 season who are poised to make an impact in 2021.

Playing time has a huge role in determining our rankings. Missing from our list is the top overall fantasy prospect, Rays shortstop Wander Franco, who should make his MLB debuts this season but won’t likely see enough playing time to put up big fantasy numbers.

FANTASY RANKINGS: Top 200 overall players in 2021

The top rookies on our list are favored to win opening-day assignments – though service time manipulation by any of these prospects’ organizations is always a possibility. But even in cases like that, the cost would be only the first several weeks of the season before they are up and contributing.

This year’s top 15 most impactful rookies:

After playing in just 23 regular-season games, Rays outfielder Randy Arozarena hit a playoff-record nine home runs in last year's postseason.
After playing in just 23 regular-season games, Rays outfielder Randy Arozarena hit a playoff-record nine home runs in last year's postseason.

1. OF Randy Arozarena, Tampa Bay Rays: Arozarena was a human highlight film during the 2020 playoffs, nearly carrying the Rays to the World Series championship. Don’t expect Arozarena, 26, to continue his postseason power onslaught in 2021.

Cheating on fastballs and swinging for the fences resulted in a high frequency of home runs for sure. But Arozarena’s below-average launch angle and heavy ground-ball tendency caps his regular-season production in the 20-25 home run range. Still, this is a bat capable of hitting for .270+ batting average and 20-plus home runs, while also stealing 15 or more bases in 2021.

2. 3B Ke’Bryan Hayes, Pittsburgh Pirates: Hayes, 24, made a splash in his small-sample MLB debut, showcasing an ability to make hard contact. The son of former MLB third baseman Charlie Hayes is a contact-oriented hitter with a slight uppercut swing trajectory and a knack for finding the sweet spot. His ground-ball percentage depresses big power potential, but an ability to find the gaps will help keep Hayes’ slugging high despite 15-22 home run production. Hayes also offers the potential to steal double-digit bases.

3. 2B Nick Madrigal, Chicago White Sox: His double-plus contact ability was on full display in his MLB debut. However, a shoulder injury, which required surgery, ended his season prematurely.

Expected to be healthy for the start of 2021, Madrigal, 23, should be a source for a .290+ batting average and 20 stolen bases, although with little home run power. Note that those in on-base percentage formats should be leery rostering Madrigal given his track record of poor walk rates.

4. 2B-SS Ha-Seong Kim, San Diego Padres: Kim, 21, comes to San Diego after a successful run in Korea. He broke out the power stick in 2020 with 30 homers and a .306/.397/.523 slash line in a hitter-friendly league. While the slugging percentage likely won’t translate to MLB, the hit tool and speed should. Kim stole 23 bases last season and can be expected to steal 20-plus in San Diego.

5. OF Leody Taveras, Texas Rangers: Taveras, 22, made an unexpected leap from Class AA to the big leagues. He was overmatched early, struggling with contact. However, as his season wore on, his bat improved.

Taveras’ 2021 value is tied to opportunity and speed. His excellent defensive ability should keep Taveras in a regular role despite an underwhelming offensive game. However, with playing time, 20 or more steals should be etched in stone.

2021 BURNING QUESTIONS: Impacts of 60-game season, deadened balls, more

Dylan Carlson looks like an everyday starter in right field this season after the Cardinals traded away veteran Dexter Fowler to the Angels.
Dylan Carlson looks like an everyday starter in right field this season after the Cardinals traded away veteran Dexter Fowler to the Angels.

6. OF Dylan Carlson, St. Louis Cardinals: Carlson, 22, struggled initially in his small-sample MLB debut but improved as the season came to a close. The underlying tool set should make him at least an average regular in 2021. Carlson has power to hit 20-plus home runs and maintain a solid average while also stealing 10 or more bases as a starting outfielder in St. Louis.

7. RHP Sixto Sanchez, Miami Marlins: Sanchez dazzled in his seven-start debut, helping pitch the Marlins into the playoffs. Sanchez, 22, brings top velocity, advanced command and tons of ground-ball contact to the table. However, strikeouts haven’t been a big ingredient in his success thus far, which limits his fantasy value some in 2021. The Marlins hope to find ways to improve Sanchez’s strikeout rate, though we are bearish on improved results this season.

8. RHP Ian Anderson, Atlanta Braves: Anderson, 22, is a bit unorthodox compared to many of today’s top pitching stars. Throwing from an over-the-top slot, Anderson relies more on angles, precision and extension than movement to achieve swings and misses with his three-pitch arsenal. After his six-start debut, Anderson is a fantasy SP3 right now.

9. OF Jarred Kelenic, Seattle Mariners: The Mariners will add a cornerstone player to their roster the day Kelenic, 21, is called up to the big leagues. He should perform out of the gate with an already average hit tool and above-average game power. Each should be plus tools at maturity. Kelenic does well to attack pitches out in front of the plate, exploding on middle-in pitches especially, and could hit 20-plus homers in his debut.

10. OF Alex Kirilloff, Minnesota Twins: With Eddie Rosario non-tendered, Kirilloff, 23, is the favorite to win regular playing time in left field for Minnesota. Kirilloff’s underlying hit tool transformed into a power-driven approach while working out at the Twins’ alternate training site in 2020, earning a postseason start that served as his MLB debut. Kirilloff has power to all fields with a knack for finding the barrel. He should be an average regular in 2021 once he feels out MLB pitching.

11. 1B Andrew Vaughn, Chicago White Sox: Vaughn, 22, is the only ranked 2021 rookie who didn’t debut last season. However, buzz around the White Sox suggests Vaughn is in line for regular at-bats. Fundamentally, his ability to hit for a high average and slug home runs should translate to MLB almost immediately.

12. 1B-OF Ryan Mountcastle, Baltimore Orioles: Mountcastle, 23, outproduced underlying metrics to post an impressive .333/.386/.492 line in his big-league debut. A regression candidate, Mountcastle benefited greatly from luck in 2020. Raw plus-power is tantalizing, but he’s likely a .250, 20-home run hitter, which doesn’t carry at either position.

13. RHP Triston McKenzie, Cleveland Indians: McKenzie, 23, impressed in his debut, showcasing an uptick in velocity and stuff. However, velocity gains were fleeting, bringing what looked like an SP2 role initially down a few pegs, making a 2021 role projection difficult.

2021 NAMES TO KNOW: 100 players ready to break out this season

14. RHP Spencer Howard, Philadelphia Phillies: Howard, 24, dealt with nagging ailments throughout his MLB debut. While the results were nothing special, he did show flashes of SP1/SP2 upside. The Phillies will likely manage his workload carefully, but there’s opportunity for success this season with an improved pitch mix and good health.

15. 1B-3B Bobby Dalbec, Boston Red Sox: Dalbec, 25, averaged a home run every 10 at-bats during his MLB debut in 2020. However, he struck out in nearly 50% of his plate appearances. Something has to give, and it is likely the strikeout rate that persists, which could crash his 2021 value. He has home run potential, but at a steep batting average cost.

Chris Blessing writes about the minor leagues for Baseball HQ. For more winning fantasy baseball stats and analysis, subscribe to BaseballHQ.com.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: MLB fantasy baseball preview: Top 15 impact rookies for 2021