Every season, without fail, one or more MLB rookies arrive on the scene and quickly emerge as massively impactful fantasy assets. Of course, the rookies who make the biggest splashes are not always the ones we endlessly hype in the preseason — as with Vladimir Guerrero Jr. last year — but it’s an absolute lock that various first-year players will erupt, contributing to fantasy titles, as Yordan Alvarez did in 2019.
Today, our mission is to identify 10 prospects/rookies who have clear shots to assist the fantasy community in the season ahead (which will eventually open. Obviously the situation is complicated and fluid).
Let’s begin with perhaps the buzziest fantasy prospect in the player pool …
Luis Robert, OF, Chicago White Sox
Robert, in a nutshell, is absurd. He hit 32 bombs and swiped 36 bases across three minor league levels last season, slashing .328/.376/.624 and delivering 74 extra-base hits. He raked at every minor league stop, too; half of his home runs were hit at Triple-A, in just 202 at-bats. Robert opened spring training going 10-for-27 with five XBHs and three steals, so the 22 year old is making a rock-solid case for a spot in Chicago’s opening day lineup. He’s a potential five-category star who deserves to be the first prospect off the board for fantasy purposes.
And just in case anyone doubts his power:
That thing cleared the bull by a mile, people. Robert is simply a monstrous talent.
We should note that the White Sox were not a particularly aggressive base-stealing team last year, swiping only 63 total bags despite respectable team speed. So perhaps we can’t reasonably expect a 30/30 campaign from Robert, but he clearly has the talent to go, say, 25/20 (or 30/15, or something useful). His Yahoo ADP is hovering just inside the overall top-100, but, realistically, you’ll need to use a top-80 pick in the savviest and most competitive leagues.
Jesus Luzardo, SP, Oakland Athletics
Luzardo has been nearly unhittable this spring, elevating himself to the top of the fantasy pitching prospect ranks. He’s stuck out 13 batters over his first 8.1 spring innings, allowing just one walk, one run, and four hits. The 22-year-old lefty features a mid-to-high-90s fastball, a diving change and … well, just watch:
He’s silly. The talent is obvious. Workload could be an issue, but his innings should be of the highest quality. Mixed leaguers, you want him.
Gavin Lux, 2B, Los Angeles Dodgers
The Dodgers have incredible positional flexibility on their roster, thanks to the versatility of players like Max Muncy, Chris Taylor, and Enrique Hernandez. So Lux will need to rake early in the season in order to establish a firm hold on the everyday gig at second base. Few players were as dominant as Lux in the high minors last year, as he hit .347/.421/.607 across two levels (including a ridiculous .392/.478/.719 stretch at Triple-A). He cleared the fence 26 times, stole 10 bases and generally demonstrated that he’d mastered minor league baseball. Lux has appeared to be untouchable during trade negotiations over the past year, too. He’s a terrific mid-to-late option at a talent-scarce roster spot.
Dylan Carlson, OF, St. Louis Cardinals
Carlson is making it very difficult for the Cards to shuffle him off to Memphis to open the season. Over his first 10 spring games, he’s gone 10-for-28 with four XBHs and more walks (6) than Ks (4). Carlson hit .292/.372/.542 with 26 homers and 20 steals in the high minors last season, including an 18-game binge at Triple-A in which he delivered a 1.099 OPS. He’s a clear 20/20 threat in his first MLB season. We don’t yet know where Carlson will open the year, but it’s clear we’ll see him soon enough.
Shogo Akiyama, OF, Cincinnati Reds
At 31-years-old, perhaps we shouldn’t actually refer to Akiyama as a prospect. But he’s a need-to-know player with fantasy relevance making his MLB debut in 2020, so he and other new arrivals from Asian leagues belong in this discussion. Akiyama displayed exceptional on-base skills in Japan, slashing .303/.392/.471 last season and .323/.403/.534 the year before. He hit 20 or more homers in three consecutive seasons and drawn at least 70 walks in four straight. The Reds have an abundance of quality outfielders at the moment, but we can at least expect Akiyama to bat leadoff against right-handed pitching. He’s very much on the radar in OBP leagues and should be a solid contributor in run-scoring and average.
A.J. Puk, SP, Oakland Athletics
Puk is dealing with a shoulder malfunction at the present time, which is obviously no small thing for a pitcher. He’s begun throwing again, so it’s hardly a worst-case scenario. Puk isn’t likely to open the year in Oakland’s starting rotation, but he should be a devastating bullpen weapon over the first month or two. He’s a gigantic lefty (6-foot-7) with high-90s velocity and strong secondary stuff. He can assist fantasy managers regardless of his role.
Jo Adell, OF, Los Angeles Angels
An ankle injury caused Adell to miss the early weeks last season, but he still managed to thrive at Double-A upon returning (.308/.390/.553), then held his own at Triple-A Salt Lake at age 20. Exceedingly toolsy, he has a clear shot to deliver double-digit power/speed totals if he arrives in Anaheim by mid-season. Strikeouts are definitely a concern with Adell — he’s K’d 13 times in 25 spring at-bats — but raw ability is not. He’s worth a stash in fantasy leagues with substantial bench space; in dynasty, he should be long gone.
Yoshitomo Tsutsugo, 3B/OF, Tampa Bay Rays
Tsutsugo is very much a three-true-outcomes variety of slugger. Over the past four seasons with Yokohama, he’s averaged 35 HR, 87 walks and 117 Ks per year. We shouldn’t expect him to hit for average, but his on-base skills and power should translate to the big leagues. He’s 28 years old, essentially in his prime, and likely to see consistent playing time against RHPs. Assuming 450 or so plate appearances, he’s a good bet for 25-plus bombs.
MacKenzie Gore, SP, San Diego Padres
Gore is widely considered to be at or near the top of MLB’s best pitching prospects and he’s coming off a minor league season in which his numbers were obscene: 101.0 IP, 1.69 ERA, 135 Ks, and 28 BB. We won’t see him with the Pads on opening day, but we’re sure to see him at some point this season assuming good health. Gore has four swing-and-miss pitches and mid-90s heat. His ceiling is as high as that of any player on this list.
Kwang-Hyun Kim, P, St. Louis Cardinals
Kim signed a modest two-year deal with the Cardinals following a stellar season in Korea: 190.1 IP, 17-6, 2.51 ERA, 180 Ks, and 38 BB. He’s had an outstanding spring thus far, striking out 11 batters and walking just one in 8.0 frames, allowing only five hits and no runs. Here’s a taste:
Kim is the clear favorite for the final rotation spot in St. Louis at this stage. It should go without saying that he won’t match his spring dominance when the real games begin, but his stuff will clearly play. He’ll do his pitching in the right league, in a friendly park. Kim belongs on the radar for mixed leaguers.