Without any other great ideas for this next-to-last in-season Strike Zone, I’ve decided to rip off Jim Callis’s Monday column for MLB.com in which he ranked this year’s rookies in terms of future value. I’ll stick with Callis’s ground rules and exclude players who will still qualify as rookies next year, which rules out Gavin Lux and the like. This is intended as an MLB list, not a fantasy list, but of course I’ll talk a little fantasy in the comments.
They’re obviously Nos. 1 and 2 in some order. I assume most would argue for Tatis at this point, and I would have gone with him first, too, had he remained healthier this year. However, three significant injuries in a 13-month span (thumb, hamstring, back) is enough to give me some pause here. Guerrero has had some injuries, as well, but his body hasn’t broken down the way Tatis’s has. Anyway, I’ll be writing more about these two in future weeks.
3. Mike Soroka - SP Braves
Callis played it safe and went hitters in his first eight spots, which is probably the smartest way to do it if you want to project long-term value. That’s not as much fun, though. Soroka isn’t Greg Maddux, but he definitely has some Maddux-like qualities, which I think would be apparent even if he didn’t pitch for the Braves.
4. Yordan Alvarez - DH Astros
It’s not ideal to rank a born DH this highly, but Alvarez just turned 22 in June and is hitting a ridiculous .315/.417/.667 in 331 major league plate appearances. He’ll likely be No. 1 in this group in my fantasy rankings next year, just ahead of Guerrero.
5. Chris Paddack - SP Padres
Paddack still has some questions to answer as far as durability, but with elite command of a quality fastball and an excellent changeup, he looks like a legitimate top-of-the-rotation guy from here.
6. Pete Alonso - 1B Mets
While the 48 homers trump everything else, it’s also extremely encouraging that Alonso has turned out to be a perfectly adequate first baseman this year; from the sound of things while he was coming up, he was expected to be a significant liability there.
7. Bo Bichette - SS Blue Jays
I wasn’t as optimistic as others going into the season, but it looks like Bichette will keep hitting for both average and power and he should be able to last at shortstop for the first half of his career anyway. That’ll be good enough for a couple of All-Star appearances, at least.
8. Alex Verdugo - OF Dodgers
Work ethic has been a question with Verdugo, but judging by the obvious improvement in his defense this year, he has to be doing something right. He’s a terrific contact hitter, and he should keep adding power over the next couple of seasons.
9. Keston Hiura - 2B Brewers
Hiura is probably going to last as a 30-homer guy even if they unjuice the ball, and his defense at second base hasn’t been as bad lately as it was in his first month in the majors. I still worry some about the glove and plate discipline, and I think he might spend his career rather overrated yet still very good.
10. Victor Robles - OF Nationals
Robles’s exit velocity numbers rank right at the bottom of the league, but it hasn’t stopped him from collecting 32 doubles, three triples and 17 homers this season. Still, I’m not sure he gets a lot better than he is right now. Because of his defense, he is a shoo-in to have a long career as a solid regular.
11. Eloy Jimenez - OF White Sox
Yordan Alvarez is the player we were all hoping Jimenez would become a few months back. While Jimenez has been a solid enough hitter as a rookie, coming in at .259/.309/.489 in 459 plate appearances, and has been especially productive lately, his contact issues have been disappointing; he has a 121/28 K/BB ratio this year after coming in at 69/32 in the same number of plate appearances in the minors last year. He still figures to turn into a top-notch power hitter, but since he’s a DH (or an atrocious left fielder), he’s going to need an excellent OBP if he’s going to rate as a star.
12. Zac Gallen - SP Diamondbacks
Gallen has fanned 96 in 80 innings as a major leaguer, yet his upside is still going to be questioned because his velocity isn’t great. He’s gotten fine results with his fastball thus far, and his changeup is excellent. He’s at least a No. 3 starter and probably more like a No. 2.
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13. Nick Senzel - OF Reds
After all of the hype, Senzel was below average both offensively and defensively this year before succumbing to another season-ending injury. To be fair, he was learning a new position on the fly, and it’s entirely possible he would have done more with the bat had the Reds just left him alone at second base. The plan appears to be to keep him in center next year, even though second base should be open in Cincinnati. I’d rather the Reds return him to the infield.
14. Will Smith - C Dodgers
Not only is Smith slugging .576 as a major leaguer, but his defense behind the plate has looked perfectly fine and he’s graded out as above average as a framer. He still has Keibert Ruiz to worry about in L.A., but he should be a fine long-term regular and an excellent fantasy catcher.
15. Brendan McKay - SP/1B Rays
I’m still not sure about McKay’s ultimate upside as a starter; the minor league numbers were stellar, but he lacks any truly outstanding offerings. I think he might settle in as more of a No. 3 than a two or a one, and it doesn’t look like we’ll see a whole lot of his bat going forward.
16. Luis Urias - 2B/SS Padres
Urias seemed ready after hitting .296/.398/.447 in Triple-A last season, but he’s been a disappointment in 60 major league games this season, batting .219/.332/.320. He tried to become more of a power hitter in Triple-A and it worked great in the PCL - he hit .315/.398/.600 with 19 homers in 339 PA - but most of his flyballs in the majors have come up well short of the wall. Fortunately, he’s just 22, he has a history of exceptional OBPs and he’ll likely prove to be a strong defensive second baseman in time.
17. Griffin Canning - SP Angels
If health was less of an issue, Canning would be higher here; he leapt over many other pitching prospects this year while showing an excellent four-pitch mix and decent control in just his second year as a pro. Unfortunately, he succumbed to elbow inflammation last month, and he’s pitching for an organization that has a terrible track record when it comes to keeping pitchers healthy.
18. Bryan Reynolds - OF Pirates
Reynolds’ emergence as a Rookie of Year candidate this season was a stunner, but he had a remarkably solid profile entering the season ... it was just the lack of home run power holding him back. He’s still not going to be a big home run guy once the baseball returns to normal, but between his ability to hit for average, his doubles power and his plus defense in a corner, he’s going to last as a quality player.
19. Mitch Keller - SP Pirates
The new Tyler Glasnow? Keller hasn’t been quick to reach his potential in the Pirates system - it took him five years to get a shot in the majors, though he’s stayed pretty healthy - and he’s currently sporting an 8.29 ERA through nine major league starts, even though he has a 51/12 K/BB ratio in 38 innings and a 3.61 FIP. Stuff isn’t a question, but one wonders if the Pirates are the right team to help him along.
20. Dylan Cease - SP White Sox
Cease has always walked a few too many, and it was safe to assume that wouldn’t change in his first major league stint. What’s disappointing is that he’s given up a whopping 15 homers in 67 innings. It’s mostly a result of him leaving too many fastballs in bad spots. Cease has ample velocity and strikeout ability. He still seems like a fine bet to turn into a good starter, but greatness probably isn’t on the way anytime soon.
21. Brandon Lowe - 2B/OF Rays
Lowe was never hyped much as a prospect, but he had a solid debut in 2018 and the Rays knew what they had in him when they gave him a $24 million deal in the spring. Lowe hit .276/.339/.523 before getting hurt this year, and he’s proven perfectly solid at second base while also demonstrating the ability to play other positions. The strikeout rate needs to come down some, but he should continue to offer plenty of power.
22. Luis Arraez - INF/OF Twins
Arraez doesn’t have a position and he’s totaled nine homers as a pro, but he’s batting .350 with more walks (33) than strikeouts (27) in 323 plate appearances as a major leaguer and there doesn’t seem to be anything fluky about it. It doesn’t look like he’ll last as a middle infielder, but he might be fine at third and if that doesn’t work out, he could still play left field. Regardless, he figures to remain a strong OBP guy and he should add a little more power as he ages.
23. Austin Riley - OF/3B Braves
Riley had seven homers and a 1.192 OPS through 14 major league games. He has 10 homers and a .672 OPS in 60 games since. The power is legit, and he’s adapted quite well to playing left field on the fly. Because of a lack of on-base ability, he might be more of a No. 5 or No. 6 hitter than a legitimate cleanup man. Still, he’s going to have some 35-homer seasons.
24. Francisco Mejia - C Padres
Mejia’s exceptional arm hasn’t provided a quality defender, and his bat hasn’t developed as hoped, though he did hit .348/.394/.606 in 71 PA last month before getting shut down with an oblique strain. There’s still plenty of offensive upside here, and he’s not so bad behind the plate that it wouldn’t be worth living with him there if his bat takes off. There still seems like a wide range of possible outcomes here, and it doesn’t help matters that the Padres have arguably the game’s best defensive catcher splitting time with him and no real opening for him in an outfield corner or at first base.
25. Danny Jansen - C Blue Jays
Jansen was horrible at the plate for three months, but he’s come in at .247/.310/.487 with 10 homers over 168 plate appearances in his last 46 games. He’s a terrific defensive catcher, and he’ll almost certainly hit well enough to last as a long-term regular.
26. Alex Reyes - SP Cardinals
Technically, Reyes lost his rookie eligibility with those three innings he threw for the Cardinals this year (he threw 46 innings in 2016 and four in 2018, putting him right at the cutoff). His two injuries this season were a fractured pinkie (sustained punching a wall) and a strained pectoral muscle, so nothing there will be a factor in 2020, and he’s way too talented to be ignored here. However, since he missed 2017 and threw a total of 27 innings in 2018 and 40 this year, he’s still not going to be ready to undertake a starter’s workload next season.
27. Cavan Biggio - 2B Blue Jays
Biggio wasn’t typically thought of very highly as a prospect, and he didn’t crack Callis’s top 30, even though he’s hit a perfectly respectable .221/.356/.399 as a rookie. He’s awfully passive at the plate, which is mostly responsible for his high strikeout rate (28.5%). Still, he has legitimate pop and it looks like he’ll post solid OBPs. He might not age very well, but I’d be fine having him as my second baseman for the next three or four years and I especially like him for fantasy purposes.
28. Adam Haseley - OF Phillies
Haseley might not offer as much upside as one would want from a guy picked seventh overall in the draft, but he has a strong enough all-around game to make it as a regular, even if he’s not a particularly exciting one.
29. Adrian Houser - SP Brewers
Houser actually made his major league debut way back in 2015, but the breakthrough came this season, three years after Tommy John surgery. He emerged as an intriguing reliever in the first half, only to prove more than up to the task once asked to step back into the rotation. Houser’s new slider still needs some more polish, and he might wind up in the pen for the long haul if his command doesn’t hold up. However, he has real potential as a starter.
30. Michael Chavis - INF Red Sox
Chavis’s swing is a little long, and strikeouts will always be a problem for him. Still, he did a nice job in a season in which he wasn’t expected to contribute, hitting .254/.322/.444 and playing a solid second base, despite never having set foot at the position previously.
31. Josh James - SP/RP Astros
James was knocked out of the Astros’ rotation competition by a strained quad this spring, and he never really settled into his relief role, though he’s struck out 95 in 57 1/3 innings anyway. I’d still like to see what he could do as a starter, but even if he doesn’t get that opportunity, there’s plenty of time left him to turn into a dynamite reliever.
32. Kevin Newman - SS Pirates
Newman was a career .287/.343/.387 hitter in the minors, so seeing him at .318/.364/.453 in 480 plate appearances for the Pirates this year is a really nice surprise. His exit velocity stats are ugly, but he seems to have a really good idea of what he’s doing at the plate. Unfortunately, he’s a little lacking in the range department at shortstop and he’ll probably require a move to second base in a couple of years.
33. Yusei Kikuchi - SP Mariners
I recommended staying away from Kikuchi this year, largely because I wondered how he’d adapt to the MLB schedule, and it’s been quite a struggle for him. However, I expect things will get better next year, and he’ll settle in as a solid, mid-rotation starter for a few years.
34. Isan Diaz - 2B Marlins
It was really encouraging the way Diaz both upped his power production and cut his strikeout rate in Triple-A this year, but it hasn’t carried over to the majors, as he’s hit just .153/.248/.260 in 149 plate appearances. I worry about ranking him this low, since I wouldn’t be stunned to see him breakthrough in a couple of years, but I’m not optimistic about him for the short term.
35. Darwinzon Hernandez - SP/RP Red Sox
It’s hard to leave a guy with 56 strikeouts in 29 1/3 innings off the list. Hernandez probably belongs in the pen for the long haul, though it will be tempting to give him another shot at starting next year just in case his command comes along.
36. Oscar Mercado - OF Indians
Mercado has been a league-average hitter as a 24-year-old rookie and also at least average defensively in center field. I don’t see him getting much better than this, and he might settle in as more of a quality fourth outfielder on a good team, though it’s not likely that the Indians will spend money to try to upgrade over him this winter. With 15-homer and 20-steal ability, he should remain a fine fantasy outfielder.