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2019 MLB Rookies Review: Outfielders

When I first came up with the idea of doing this MLB rookies review piece, I originally was planning on doing it in one big article. Well, as I got started with the infielders, I quickly realized that having all the players in one article was going to make it an hour-long read. Nobody wants to sit here and ready an article for an hour. So, I then decided to break down this year’s rookie crop into infielders, outfielders, and pitchers. We went over infielders in part one of this mini-series, and today we head out to the green grass of the outfield where there were a ton of impact rookies this season, headlined by a man that might’ve been the American League MVP for the last four months of the season.

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MLB Rookies Review: Outfielders

Yordan Alvarez, Houston Astros

The rookie season of Yordan Alvarez was so spectacular, I’m not quite sure where to begin. Maybe I’ll start with the fact that his 1.067 OPS was 3rd in baseball (min 350 PA) behind Christian Yelich and Mike Trout, nearly 100 points ahead of the #2 rookie, and 126 points ahead of the beast known as Pete Alonso. That mark was also the highest ever by a rookie in MLB history. Stew on that little tidbit for a second. Baseball has been around for 150 years and had thousands upon thousands of rookies. NONE of them had a better OPS in their rookie season than Alvarez.

In addition to that sexy OPS, Alvarez added a .313/.412/.655 slash line, 26 doubles, 27 home runs, 78 RBI, and 58 runs scored in just 87 games with Houston. Combine that with his Triple-A numbers and you have a .325/108/50/149/2 line in 526 at-bats. He’s taking that whole “Everything is bigger in Texas” quote to a whole new level. Alvarez is already pushing my top-10 overall for both 2020 and in my dynasty rankings due to his four-category prowess. And if you want more on Alvarez’s greatness and why he’s already ranked this high for me, check out my deep dive on him from late-September.

Eloy Jimenez, Chicago White Sox

Some might say that Eloy Jimenez’s rookie season was a tad underwhelming. Sure, he was a universal top-5 prospect (#2 behind Vlad for me) heading into the season and more highly touted than Pete Alonso, but what Jimenez did this season as a rookie is nothing to scoff at. Everyone just needs to stop comparing his stats to Alonso’s and focus solely on the Jimenez’s body of work and the raw tools he possesses. In games, Jimenez slashed .267/.315/.513/.828 with 31 home runs (2nd amongst rookies), 79 RBI, and 69 runs scored in 468 at-bats. That’s right around a 40/100 pace as a rookie. Damn impressive.

There’s a reason Jimenez was ranked #2 for me in my 2019 pre-season prospect rankings. His combination of a plus hit tool and elite raw power hinted at a four-category offensive dynamo in short order. And nothing from his rookie season is steering me away from that projection either. Yes, the 30/134 BB/K ratio leaves a lot to be desired, but with Jimenez’s hit tool, I expect that to improve some moving forward. Ultimately, Jimenez’s long-term upside isn’t that far off from Alonso’s. It’s really not.

Victor Robles, Washington Nationals

Not too far behind Jimenez in my pre-season prospect rankings was a speedy outfield prospect from our Nation’s capital named Victor Robles. With a plus hit tool, double-plus speed, and budding raw power, many dreamed of .300/20/40 seasons for Robles. Let’s pump the brakes here. As you can see below, the elite speed was certainly there, but Robles didn’t pack much of a punch at the plate.

MLB Rookies Victor Robles

That exit velocity and hard hit% ranked nearly dead last in the Majors. Thankfully, even with the low metrics, Robles was still able to swat 17 homers to go along with 33 doubles, 28 steals, 65 RBI, 86 runs, and a .255/.326/.419/.745 slash line. All in all, that’s not bad at all. The 17 home runs are right in the neighborhood for what I would expect from Robles going forward, and from what I saw from him as a prospect, I’m expecting more SB and a higher average in the .280-.310 range. He’s a great buy-low target in dynasty leagues and still has top-10 outfielder upside in fantasy.

Aristides Aquino, Cincinnati Reds

When the 2019 season started, who would’ve thought that Aristides Aquino would’ve been a key player in an article like this? Certainly not I. And I’m sure all of you didn’t either. But after a small adjustment at the plate, Aquino took off and became one of the hottest rookies of the 2019 season. A late-season cold stretch took some of the luster out of his overall stat line, but a .259/31/19/17/7 line in 205 at-bats is still pretty damn good. As we head into the offseason, the question surrounding Aquino is how much of his 2019 breakout was for real?

To answer this question, let’s look at his raw tools. Firstly, the power is legit. Maybe not 50-plus home runs legit as he showed at first, but over a full season you can pencil him in for 30-plus home runs. There’s also some speed here for the big man (6’4, 220) in the 10-15 SB range which is a nice little boost. The one area I’m not as confident in is the average due to the underwhelming contact metrics you see below.

MLB Rookies Aristedes Aquino

This looks like the profile of a .250ish hitter at best and the .259 average we saw in 2019 likely won’t get any higher without some mechanical adjustments. With all that being said, there’s plenty of value to be had here in a poor man’s Yasiel Puig type. If Aquino can put together a .250/35/10 season, like I believe he can, that’s a top-100 overall player.

Nick Senzel, Cincinnati Reds

From one Cincinnati rookie to another. For the most part, Nick Senzel flew under the radar as a 2019 rookie. In 104 games, Senzel .256/.315/.427/.742 with 20 doubles, 12 home runs, and 14 steals. An 18/21 pace is certainly nothing to scoff at for a rookie hitter, it just wasn’t as impressive as many of the other big-name prospects that debuted in 2019. And you know what? That’s okay. If anything, you can probably trade for him at a reasonable price in dynasty formats.

As a prospect, Senzel was always more of a high floor type than a high ceiling dynamo, displaying a plus hit tool and enough pop and speed to approach or exceed the 20/20 plateau. That’s still the case, and I’d expect that .256 to climb in 2020. There’s a little risk involved due to the Vertigo issues, but Senzel is a solid OF3 type in fantasy and he could move back into the infield at some point where he’d be even more valuable.

Austin Riley, Atlanta Braves

When it comes to the two extremes for a rookie hitter, Austin Riley experienced them both. Riley got a taste of the good life initially after his promotion from Triple-A, only to hit rock bottom shortly thereafter and find himself back in the minors. In 15 May games, Riley smashed seven long balls with a .356/.397/.746/1.143 slash line. That’s about as good a start to your career as you can hope for. Unfortunately, the rest of the season produced a gut-wrenching .191 average and 37.2% strikeout rate. The power didn’t disappear but his average dropped to .226 at season’s end. Even during his hot May, Riley’s strikeout rate was 33.3% and was an issue for him throughout his minor league career.

With easy plus raw power, Riley should have no problems reaching 30-homers in a season more often than not. But the problem is that the contact skills and swing and miss tendencies are going to suppress the batting average in a big way. For now, consider Riley a .240-.250 hitter with around 35 home runs. That’s got value, no doubt about it, but with power at an all-time high, there’s no need to reach on a guy like Riley in 2020. He’s more of a late mid-round target for the time being to round out your outfield or if you waited on a third baseman, which is Riley’s natural position and where he might move back to if Josh Donaldson doesn’t re-sign.

Kyle Tucker, Houston Astros

This is the last time we’ll be able to discuss Kyle Tucker as a prospect. The uber-talented Astros outfielder went past the 130 AB threshold on the last day of the regular season, sneaking in two final at-bats off the bench. He’s now just a normal Major Leaguer with a ton of talent trying to carve out a full-time role. Some injuries allowed Tucker to get some semi-regular time at the end of the season and he made the most of it, posting a .857 OPS across 72 at-bats.

We’ve yet to get a big sample size of Tucker at-bats at the Major League level to work with, but when you look at his minor league resume and raw tools, it’s tough to not get excited if you own him in dynasty leagues. With his combination of easy plus raw power and above-average speed, Tucker is a 30/25 threat waiting to happen. The hit tool isn’t quite as prominent, but Tucker has shown the ability to hit for a respectable batting average as well (.332 in 2018), likely in the .260-.280 range long-term. The total package is mighty enticing and the potential is here for him to develop into an early-round fantasy asset for years to come.

Bryan Reynolds, Pittsburgh Pirates

Did every Pittsburgh Pirates rookie fly under the radar this season? Seriously. If I told you that a rookie posted a .314/.377/.503/.880 slash line in 134 games, that would certainly pique your interest, right? Sure it would. What the holdup in buzz seems to be is the fact that Bryan Reynolds:

A) Was never a big-name prospect.

B) Plays in Pittsburgh.

C) Isn’t a big power/speed threat.

Yup, A plus B plus C equals a good value pick for 2020 and likely beyond. Reynolds possesses an above-average hit tool and enough power to have some 20-25 homer seasons. He only stole three bags in five attempts to go along with his 16 home runs this season and likely isn’t going to surpass the 5-10 SB range annually. However, when you put the whole package together, Reynolds is a high-floor outfielder to target in the middle rounds of fantasy drafts.

Oscar Mercado, Cleveland Indians

During his days as a prospect, Oscar Mercado was a toolsy yet unfinished product. There was plus speed but the baserunning skills needed a lot of refinement. For his minor league career, Mercado swiped 210 bags in 626 games, but at only a 71.4% success rate. Granted, that rate went up over time. Mercado was successful on 75.5% of his 49 attempts in 2018 and 82.4% on 17 attempts before his promotion to Cleveland this season. Certainly much better than the 62.3% and 66.7% he was at in 2016 and 2017 respectively. During his time with Cleveland this year, that rate stayed high at 78.9%.

So, we’ve established the speed upside here is finally coming to fruition, but what about the rest of the package? Mercado never was a big power guy during his minor league career but did flash average raw power that should translate into the 15-20 range more often than not with maybe some seasons in the low 20’s. The hit tool was what lagged behind, grading out at a 45. That’s due to his subpar contact skills. The approach isn’t too bad and Mercado has kept his strikeout rate under 20% in the minors, but I’m still not sure he exceeds the .250-.260 range in the Majors. But still, .250/15/30 is a nice little package to target in the middle rounds with the potential for a little more category juice as well. Just don’t go hog wild on him in dynasty formats.

Mike Yastrzemski, San Francisco Giants

As a Red Sox fan, the name Yastrzemski will always hold a special place in my heart, even if Yaz retired before I was born. Now we have his grandson making a name for himself on the other side of the country. I’m not sure any of us imagined that Mike Yastrzemski would break out for 21 home runs in 107 games as a 28-year-old rookie. His previous career-high was 15 in 101 games back when he was still in the Baltimore system.

Baby Yaz was one of those prospects that stalled in the high minors. He reached Double-A back in 2014 but then spent the next four years splitting time between Double-A and Triple-A before getting the call to San Francisco. As productive as his rookie campaign was, and how nice a story it was, I’m not investing heavily in Yastrzemski longterm. He has the skills to hit .270 or so with 25 home runs, but that’s a profile you can find quite easily these days.

Sam Hilliard, Colorado Rockies

Oh great, another Colorado rookie. I know what you’re thinking. Trust me, I know. The recent track record in Colorado is not great. At least, not initially. Both Ryan McMahon and Garrett Hampson struggled to find their footing in the Majors, both in terms of playing time and production. It’s just now that both of them are starting to really make an impact. Sam Hilliard wasn’t on the same level as these guys, including Brendan Rodgers, as a prospect, but when looking at his offensive tools, there’s plenty to like. Combined between Triple-A and the Majors, Hilliard cranked 42 dingers and stole 24 bags. That power/speed profile has always been there throughout his minor league career with the power really coming on this season. Yes, during the power revolution happening around the baseball universe.

While Hilliard hinted at more raw power before his power breakout, let me be clear about something. This is not a 40-homer guy. In my eyes, his raw power is plus and he’s been elevating the ball to his pull side, but the contact skills and swing and miss tendencies will likely keep him in the 25-30 homer range rather than approaching/exceeding 40. His speed has also been on the decline as he’s added power, to the point where he’s likely only a 50-grade runner. If he can find a full-time role in Colorado’s outfield moving forward, I can see him being very similar to Mercado in terms of their overall value, just with the power and speed switched around.

Trent Grisham, Milwaukee Brewers

Speaking about breakout performances, one of the biggest came from the prospect formerly known as Trent Clark. After a mostly mediocre minor league career, Trent Grisham had a career-year in 2019, slashing .300/.407/.603/1.010 with 26 home runs and 12 steals combined between Double-A and Triple-A. Grisham really took off in the PCL, hitting .381 in 34 games. As I’ve mentioned in previous articles, it was really about Grisham being more aggressive this season than he was in the past. Grisham always posted strong walk rates, but was mostly too patient, not taking advantage of his raw power and looking for pitches to drive. If that approach continues, Grisham can have some sneaky-good value in 2020.

Jake Fraley, Seattle Mariners

If you weren’t paying close attention, you probably missed that Jake Fraley got time with Seattle this season. It was only 40 at-bats without much impact, but the long-term outlook here is promising. Fraley’s hit and speed profile got a little more intriguing in 2019 with some added power throughout the season. That wasn’t just PCL/Triple-A boosted either as over half of his time came at Double-A where the power breakout started. Fraley slugged 19 home runs in the minors this season to go along with 27 doubles, 22 steals, and a .298/.365/.545/.910 slash line.

Kyle Lewis, Seattle Mariners

Long before Jarred Kelenic, Julio Rodriguez, or Jake Fraley, Kyle Lewis was the outfield prospect of note in this Seattle farm system. However, a vastly inconsistent minor league career dulled some of that prospect shine, especially over the last two years. Even this season at Double-A, Lewis wasn’t really excelling at the dish with a .263/.342/.398/.741 slash line and 11 home runs in 122 games. But still, with Seattle out of the playoff hunt and dealing with some injuries, Lewis was snatched from the Texas League, bypassing Triple-A entirely.

The profile isn’t overly sexy here, but there is some value to be had with Lewis’ above-average to plus raw power. Even if his contact skills keep him in the .250 range, which they likely will, he should be able to add 25-plus homers to that as a likely #5 or #6 hitter in the lineup. Again, not a profile you get excited about drafting, but a solid target in the later rounds.

Josh Naylor, San Diego Padres

Hey Padres, please trade Josh Naylor to an Americal League team. Or any team for that matter. I’d love to see what Naylor could do with an everyday role. Something that has been tricky for Naylor to obtain in San Diego due to their outfield clog. Seriously, it’s like that clog of hair you pull from the shower drain. Naylor has the skills to become an above-average offensive presence, but not the opportunity.

Throughout his minor league career, Naylor has displayed an above-average hit tool, sound plate discipline, and above-average to plus raw power. His batting average has never dipped below .264 in any season and has been above .280 for the last three seasons, peaking at .314 in the PCL this season. Until he gets the chance to showcase those skills regularly, he’s merely an NL-Only target in fantasy leagues. Keep an eye on him and be ready to pounce if that chance arises.

Adam Haseley, Philadelphia Phillies

Now we’ve reached the part of this list where the excitement begins to dwindle. Don’t get me wrong, Adam Haseley is a solid ballplayer that will likely play in the league for a decade or more. But when his offensive ceiling is Nick Markakis, that doesn’t give you that tingly feeling like the players above do. One reason you would target Haseley is for the batting average. Haseley possesses an above-average hit tool, can draw walks (8.4% in minors), and doesn’t strike out a ton (16.2% in minors). You’re likely going to get a .280ish batting average and a solid amount of runs scored as he’s likely going to settle in near the top of the order. Just don’t expect a ton of power or speed to go with it as he’s capped at around 15 for each.

Alex Verdugo, Los Angeles Dodgers

Although Alex Verdugo was a much more highly-regarded prospect, in reality, and fantasy, he’s not that far off from the man we just finished talking about. Verdugo is going to hit for a high average close to .300, post strong OBP numbers, and doesn’t have much category juice to go along with it. As he’s gotten older, however, the power has been trending ever so slightly upwards while the speed has trended in the opposite direction. Maybe, just maybe, he’s an annual 20/10 type, but not much more than that. And like Naylor, Verdugo has had a difficult time breaking into the Dodgers outfield on a regular basis.

Harold Ramirez, Miami Marlins

I’m not going to lie, the first time I saw “H. Ramirez – MIA”, it made me think Hanley Ramirez was back in Miami. That would probably be more interesting for fantasy purposes. When it comes to Harold Ramirez, not much garners excitement offensively. Sure, the contact skills should land him in the .270 range, but he doesn’t walk much, his speed has disappeared from the level it was at in the low minors, and the raw power is average at best. He’s merely an NL-Only or deeper mixed league target moving forward.

Christin Stewart & Travis Demeritte, Detroit Tigers

Let’s combine these two as neither are exciting for fantasy right now and beyond. At one point, Stewart did have a profile worth targeting. But with power up across baseball (even without a juiced ball), Stewart’s .260/25 upside is something you can find from a ton of hitters in today’s game. A whopping 68 players hit 25 home runs in 2019 with 56 of them also hitting .250 or higher. Add in three more that hit .259 and you get nearly 60 hitters with a profile equal or better than Stewart’s ceiling. I’m not saying to ignore him in fantasy, but he’s not anything more than a late-round target.

Photo/Video Credit: Leslie Plaza Johnson/Icon Sportswire, FanGraphs, Baseball Savant, MLB Stats, San Francisco Giants, Fox Sports MLB.

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