Predicting MLB's Top 2018 Rookie of the Year Candidates at Each Position
After a 2017 season in which Aaron Judge and Cody Bellinger hit home runs in record-sized bunches, all Rookie of the Year candidates for 2018 have a hard act to follow.
Nonetheless, the top would-be contenders are worth knowing.
For both the American League and the National League, we're going to go through and name the top Rookie of the Year candidates at each position going into 2018. These are the guys who not only have talent—their MLB.com ranks will serve as quick-and-dirty guidelines—but who are also ready for Major League Baseball and have shots at significant playing time.
Let's get to it.
Catcher: Francisco Mejia and Jorge Alfaro
American League: Francisco Mejia, Cleveland Indians
MLB.com: No. 11 Overall, No. 1 Catcher
Although Chance Sisco has a chance to be behind the plate for the Baltimore Orioles on Opening Day, Francisco Mejia offers a distinct advantage: His upside goes a lot higher.
The 22-year-old first rose to prominence via a 50-game hit streak in 2016, and he stayed prominent with an .835 OPS in 92 games at Double-A last season. That earned him a cup of coffee with the Cleveland Indians in September, which effectively put him in the big club's plans for 2018.
The Indians will call on Mejia if they desire an offensive upgrade over Roberto Perez and Yan Gomes. Once that's done, Mejia can go ahead and hit his way to the AL Rookie of the Year.
National League: Jorge Alfaro, Philadelphia Phillies
MLB.com: No. 6 Catcher
Despite having 35 games and 131 plate appearances on his major league ledger, Jorge Alfaro does indeed still qualify for rookie eligibility. He's also slated to open 2018 as the Philadelphia Phillies' everyday catcher.
Alfaro, 24, will be tested in his ability to keep up with major league pitching. He had a strikeout habit in the minors that doesn't figure to get better anytime soon.
The power, however, will almost certainly be there. Alfaro was a steady source of home runs in the minors before providing five long balls and an .874 OPS in 29 major league games last year. Any more of that in 2018, and the NL Rookie of the Year voters will have something to think about.
First Base: Bobby Bradley and Ryan McMahon
American League: Bobby Bradley, Cleveland Indians
MLB.com: No. 6 First Baseman
With Yonder Alonso at first base and Edwin Encarnacion at designated hitter, the Indians don't have an obvious opening to slide Bobby Bradley into. Nonetheless, it's safe to assume they'll make room for him if he makes himself impossible to ignore.
The 21-year-old has topped 20 homers in each of the last three minor league seasons, so he has the power for the task. According to Paul Hoynes of Cleveland.com, Bradley also has Tribe manager Terry Francona's attention after dropping 30 pounds over the winter.
If that translates to athleticism that Bradley has thus far been missing, he might even surpass Mejia as Cleveland's biggest rising star.
National League: Ryan McMahon, Colorado Rockies
MLB.com: No. 41 Overall, No. 2 First Baseman
Ryan McMahon arrived to Colorado Rockies camp with the club's first base gig in hand. The only way that would change is if he did something to lose it.
It doesn't look like that's going to happen. McMahon has played in nine spring games and posted a 1.063 OPS with a homer.
So it goes for the 23-year-old. After damaging his prospect stock with a poor 2016 season, he bounced back with a .986 OPS at Double-A and Triple-A in 2017. A hot year like that giving way to a warm spring, with regular action at Coors Field to follow, portends a productive rookie season.
Second Base: Gleyber Torres and Scott Kingery
American League: Gleyber Torres, New York Yankees
MLB.com: No. 5 Overall, No. 1 Shortstop
Yes, Gleyber Torres is a shortstop by trade. But as long as Didi Gregorius is in the way, Torres' best hope of making an impact with the 2018 New York Yankees is by morphing into a capable second baseman.
Having his 2017 season cut short by Tommy John surgery didn't exactly speed up the process. And no matter how much progress Torres makes this spring, the Yankees are all but assured to start him in the minors so they can delay the start of his arbitration clock.
Once the 21-year-old arrives, however, he should waste little time in realizing his sky-high potential on both sides of the ball. In the end, the only question may be whether he can outperform a fellow rookie on the Yankees infield.
National League: Scott Kingery, Philadelphia Phillies
MLB.com: No. 35 Overall, No. 1 Second Baseman
The Phillies didn't draft Scott Kingery for his power—and indeed didn't get any in either of his first two seasons with the organization. He hit a total of eight homers in the minors in 2015 and 2016.
All of a sudden, he then blasted 26 homers at Double-A and Triple-A in 2017. By swiping 29 bases in 34 tries, he also continued to show off speed that was already there.
The presence of Cesar Hernandez is blocking Kingery from joining the Phillies as their long-term second baseman. There are more insurmountable obstacles than that one, though, and Kingery has the goods to quickly make up for whatever lost time he accumulates until his turn comes.
Third Base: Miguel Andujar and Nick Senzel
American League: Miguel Andujar, New York Yankees
MLB.com: No. 65 Overall, No. 3 Third Baseman
Miguel Andujar is nothing if not a timely choice here. With a 1.579 OPS and four homers to his name, he's been one of the hottest hitters in spring training.
This isn't so much a random springtime fluke so much as the next logical step of Andujar's journey. The 23-year-old's previous step had involved going from a merely interesting prospect to a legitimately elite talent in 2017, as he finished with an .850 OPS and 16 homers at Double-A and Triple-A.
Mind you, his defense remains a work in progress. But his bat alone is good enough to put him at third base for the Yankees on Opening Day. From there, all he'd have to do is keep hitting.
National League: Nick Senzel, Cincinnati Reds
MLB.com: No. 7 Overall, No. 2 Third Baseman
Nick Senzel isn't even two years removed from being the Cincinnati Reds' No. 2 pick in the 2016 draft. He's also yet to travel higher than Double-A on his road to the majors.
The 22-year-old had plenty of polish on both sides of the ball even when the Reds drafted him, however, and has only continued to hone his craft since then. He's especially excelled at the plate, compiling a .315/.393/.514 slash line in 187 minor league games.
For now, Eugenio Suarez is blocking Senzel in Cincinnati. But since Jose Peraza is far from a sure thing at shortstop, the fix for that could be as simple as moving Suarez over and then calling on Senzel to fill his shoes at the hot corner.
Shortstop: Willy Adames and J.P. Crawford
American League: Willy Adames, Tampa Bay Rays
MLB.com: No. 22 Overall, No. 6 Shortstop
For any Tampa Bay Rays fans who are feeling down in the dumps about the club's latest rebuild, the arrival of Willy Adames is at least one thing to look forward to.
Of course, this can't happen until Adeiny Hechavarria is out of the way. But it helps that Adames is giving the Rays every reason to keep Hechavarria on a short leash. He's appeared in six games this spring and has made noise with a 1.152 OPS.
This is Adames, 22, showing off a stick that's been a solid weapon at Double-A and Triple-A. His other calling card is his glove. Combined, the two items have the potential to craft an impressive rookie year.
National League: J.P. Crawford, Philadelphia Phillies
MLB.com: No. 37 Overall, No. 7 Shortstop
To be sure, J.P. Crawford isn't as highly regarded as he once was. And among NL shortstops, he's probably going to play second fiddle to San Diego Padres wunderkind Fernando Tatis Jr. in the long run.
Crawford's big advantage, however, is that he's ready for major league duty right now. He has to be, as the Phillies have him penciled in as their everyday shortstop in 2018.
If all goes well, the 23-year-old will put his two-way talents to work and post a solid on-base percentage with a bit of power and strong defensive metrics on the side. That could be plenty good enough for Rookie of the Year consideration.
Left Field: Willie Calhoun and Ronald Acuna
American League: Willie Calhoun, Texas Rangers
MLB.com: No. 53 Overall
Ultimately, AL Rookie of the Year voters may have to overlook the same thing the Texas Rangers seem willing to as they prepare to make Willie Calhoun their regular left fielder: He can't defend.
Why do that? Because, man, can he hit.
Calhoun, 23, made a name for himself by slamming 27 homers for the Los Angeles Dodgers' Double-A affiliate in 2016. He then slammed 31 homers and produced a .927 OPS in 2017, all at the Triple-A level. With knacks for patience, contact and power, there's no reason he can't keep it up in the majors.
National League: Ronald Acuna, Atlanta Braves
MLB.com: No. 2 Overall, No. 1 Outfielder
Ronald Acuna is only 20 years old, yet he's already scorched his way to Triple-A and homered off of Masahiro Tanaka as part of a statement-making showing in spring training.
If that's not enough to get a sense of why he's considered The Next Big Thing, consider how there's really nothing he can't do on a baseball diamond. He's a five-tool talent who earns comparisons to Mike Trout.
The only catch is that Acuna probably won't break in as a center fielder while Ender Inciarte is around. Luckily, the Atlanta Braves have a left field job that's pretty much up for grabs. If Acuna doesn't claim it by Opening Day, it should be his shortly after.
Center Field: Dustin Fowler and Victor Robles
American League: Dustin Fowler, Oakland Athletics
MLB.com: No. 5 for Oakland A's
There's a notable shortage of MLB-ready center fielders among the top outfield prospects in the American League. Dustin Fowler, though, is a guy who can't be easily brushed aside.
His major league debut with the Yankees last June was over as soon as it began, as he suffered a nasty knee injury that sidelined him for the rest of the year and begat a lawsuit against the Chicago White Sox.
Before that, the 23-year-old was a fast-rising prospect who'd earned his call to the majors with an .871 OPS at Triple-A. Now with good health and a shot at Oakland's starting center field job, Fowler may not need anything else to restart his Rookie of the Year pursuit.
National League: Victor Robles, Washington Nationals
MLB.com: No. 6 Overall, No. 3 Outfielder
What Acuna is to the Braves, Victor Robles is to the Washington Nationals: a hyper-talented young outfielder who'll be hard to keep in the minors.
Robles got his first taste of the majors last September and, in turn, gave the Nats a taste of what makes him so special. He's an electrifying talent who can hit hard and run fast. And while he tallied six strikeouts against zero walks, he also packs an advanced hitting approach.
With Bryce Harper in right field, Adam Eaton in left field and Michael A. Taylor in center field, Washington's outfield is full-up. But even if one of them doesn't get injured, the Nats may decide they'd rather have Robles' upside than Taylor's experience in center.
Right Field: Austin Hays and Lewis Brinson
American League: Austin Hays, Baltimore Orioles
MLB.com: No. 23 Overall, No. 6 Outfielder
Austin Hays went all the way from High-A to the majors in 2017. In 2018, only Colby Rasmus and Joey Rickard stand between him and an everyday gig as Baltimore's right fielder.
It might seem too good to be true for a guy who was a mere third-round pick in 2016. But the 22-year-old really is that promising. His bat produced a .958 OPS and 32 homers in the minors last year. He also profiles as an above-average defender in right field.
A shoutout is owed to Eloy Jimenez, who has a shot at bringing his light-tower power to the Chicago White Sox this season. But by the time his debut comes, Hays could already be well on his way to the AL Rookie of the Year.
National League: Lewis Brinson, Miami Marlins
MLB.com: No. 27 Overall, No. 7 Outfielder
Of all the prospects the Miami Marlins acquired during their offseason fire sale, Lewis Brinson is at once the best of the bunch by far and their only real hope for a Rookie of the Year winner.
Although the 23-year-old's production has tended to come and go, there's never been any denying that he boasts a marvelous collection of tools. Likewise, there's no denying the fantastic numbers he put up with the Milwaukee Brewers' Triple-A affiliate over the last two years.
For a while, Brinson seemed ticketed to be Miami's everyday center fielder in 2018. But with Cameron Maybin now in town, he's likely to spend most of his time in right in his quest for the NL Rookie of the Year.
Pitcher: Shohei Ohtani and Jack Flaherty
American League: Shohei Ohtani, Los Angeles Angels
MLB.com: No. 1 Overall, No. 1 Pitcher
Whether it's right to call Shohei Ohtani, a 23-year-old veteran of five Nippon Professional Baseball seasons, either a prospect or a rookie is debatable. But technically, he's both.
And realistically, his combination of talents make him the most exciting prospect to come along since...well, maybe ever. He can throw 100 mph and also features a nasty splitter and slider. He can hit the ball 500 feet. He's even a pretty fast runner.
Because Ohtani's pitching is ahead of his hitting, it's likely to be his arm that spearheads his Rookie of the Year pursuit. His bat will help, though, and that could turn the competition into a rout.
National League: Jack Flaherty, St. Louis Cardinals
MLB.com: No. 38 Overall
Of all the top pitching prospects in the Senior Circuit, Jack Flaherty isn't the one with the most upside. Instead, what he has is a fair shot at a job and the polish to make the most of it.
Flaherty, 22, has enough lightning in his arm to get his fastball up into the mid-90s. But what really makes him strong is the reality that he doesn't have any glaring weaknesses. He has a couple of solid breaking balls, a usable changeup and sharp command of all his offerings.
These things produced a 2.18 ERA at Double-A and Triple-A last season. Once a spot in the St. Louis Cardinals starting rotation opens up, they could produce an NL Rookie of the Year in the majors.