MLB season preview: The big-impact rookies of 2018

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  • Shohei Ohtani
    Shohei Ohtani

Editor’s note: From now until opening day, Yahoo Sports will be getting you ready for the 2018 MLB season with a series of previews and roundtable discussions with our writers. We’ve already talked about breakout teams, disappointing teams, teams that didn’t do enough and pace of play. Today, we’re talking about the impact rookies of 2018.

There’s one rookie in Major League Baseball this season whose name you know well, but we’re not here today only to talk about Shohei Ohtani, who has dominated baseball’s offseason chatter.

Yes, Ohtani — the Japanese star who is attempting to be a two-way player for the Los Angeles Angels — is the most fascinating rookie in MLB this season. But he’s hardly the only impactful rookie worth your attention. Especially when you consider his spring training results haven’t been fantastic.

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Ohtani makes our list of impact rookies of the 2018, but there are lesser-talked-about youngsters in Cincinnati and Philadelphia and St. Louis that also warrant your time. As does star-in-the-making Ronald Acuna, who the Atlanta Braves sent down to Triple-A on Monday despite a big spring.

Yahoo Sports MLB experts Jeff Passan and Tim Brown pick their impact rookies of 2018 in the video above, and the Big League Stew writers offer theirs below. Proof positive that there are players beyond Ohtani to keep an eye on.

Cincinnati Reds’ Nick Senzel hits against the Los Angles Angels during the first inning of a spring training baseball game Monday, March 12, 2018, in Tempe, Ariz. (AP Photo/Matt York)
Cincinnati Reds’ Nick Senzel hits against the Los Angles Angels during the first inning of a spring training baseball game Monday, March 12, 2018, in Tempe, Ariz. (AP Photo/Matt York)

CHRIS CWIK: Nick Senzel
It’s rarely the obvious choice, right? The popular pick in the National League is likely to be Ronald Acuña, but Senzel could surprise people if he gets the call. That’s the big question. Senzel was drafted in 2016, and has just hit the stuffing out of the ball everywhere he goes. In limited time in Double-A, he hit .340 last season. There’s no question about the bat … or really the defense. His natural spot is third, but the Reds thought so highly of him that they let him play short a bit in the spring. Players rarely move up this quickly, but Senzel has yet to struggle. It would be an aggressive move, but if it happens, he’s got a shot to be good right away.

MARK TOWNSEND: Victor Robles
This isn’t a Rookie of the Year prediction. Robles might not get enough playing time to put himself in that mix. But at some point this season he’s going to play an important role on a really good team, and that will give him plenty of chances to shine on a big stage. Like Trea Turner did two seasons ago, Robles could add another dimension to Washington’s lineup with his mix of power, speed and exceptional defense. If the Nationals outfield is plagued by injuries again. Well, then Robles could become a household name.

Alex Reyes will return from Tommy John surgery for the Cardinals in 2018. (AP)
Alex Reyes will return from Tommy John surgery for the Cardinals in 2018. (AP)

MIKE OZ: Alex Reyes
For St. Louis Cardinals pitcher Alex Reyes, the coming out party was supposed to be last year. He was the No. 1 prospect in baseball, according to some rankings and a star-in-the-making. But then the worst kind of injury came along — Tommy John surgery. Reyes missed all of 2017, but is almost ready to return. The question now is when and in what capacity. Reyes projects as a No. 1 starter, but the Cardinals might bring him back as a bullpen arm at first to shake off some of that Tommy John rust. That makes sense, because their bullpen needs help. But the rotation does too. So maybe Reyes becomes part of the rotation later in the year. Maybe he becomes bullpen weapon. Point is: He has a path to make an impact in St. Louis and he certainly has the skills, so don’t forget his name.

LIZ ROSCHER: Scott Kingery
There’s no guarantee that 24-year-old Scott Kingery will make it to the majors within one month of the season starting, and it very well could be two or more before he sees his first major league at-bat. But that’s not because he’s not ready. It’s because there’s currently nowhere for him to play. The Phillies’ infield is crowded, and his best chance of being promoted is by playing out of position at third base. But if he can handle that, the world is his oyster. He’s so talented, and last year he really came to his own. He spent all but one month at Double-A in 2017 and just hit the cream cheese out of the ball, to the tune of a .313/.379/.608 triple slash. A swing adjustment helped him increase his power, which led to a big home run improvement: from five in 2016 to 26 in 2017. He’ll start the season at Triple-A, where he spent just a month in 2017, but what happens from there is up to him. If he can handle third base, and continues to clobber the ball like he did all last year, the Phillies won’t be able to keep him there for long. Kingery’s something special, and I’m so confident that I don’t think it’s going to matter when he debuts, he’s going to wow people regardless. (Liz Roscher)

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Mike Oz is a writer at Yahoo Sports. Contact him at or follow him on Twitter!

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