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.