2020 Rookies in the Crystal Ball

Baseball fans have always been intrigued by Rookies. They bring hope during Spring Training to those franchises that have been floundering. Every team is undefeated until opening day.
The last 30+ years has changed the perception of rookies for two reasons…1) baseball cards and 2) Fantasy Baseball. Starting in the 1980’s, baseball card collectors became baseball card investors and their focus was on RC’s (Rookie Cards). Scores of collections come across my desk that have 50 Candy Maldonado cards from 1983 or 75 Gregg Jeffries cards from 1989. Hopefully, there might also be a smattering of 1984 Don Mattingly cards along with a few Ken Griffey Jr. cards from 1989. All of these collectors were scouting rookies of the day, and most of the time, they were wrong.
Those of us who began playing Fantasy (Rotisserie) Baseball at about the same time were also possessed about rookies. With no Internet and no real experts, we spent most of the off-season waiting for the next issue of “Baseball America
”. After all, this publication actually gave us the top ten prospects in each organization and we enthusiastically took it all in to get an edge on our competitors.
These days, card collectors and Fantasy Baseball aficionados are ahead of the curve. They’re looking for cards of a player who has never had a professional at-bat (Jasson Dominguez) or trying to add a 19-year old to their roster (Wander Franco).
The 2020 season was different in a myriad of ways and one of the most unique was the presence and performance of rookies. Did the 60-game season really give us insight into the skills of a first-year player or were some just the “flash-in-the-pan” variety? Let’s look at the top 20 rookies of this past season as determined by WAR (Wins Above Replacement). First the position players…
1)  Kyle Lewis, Mariners – The AL ROY posted solid numbers and his RC’s have been flying off the shelf. Might not be quite a finished product…be careful of that 29.3% K rate.
2)  Ke’Bryan Hayes, Pirates – Only 95 AB’s but his OPS was a spectacular 1.124. On the flip side, he’ll be hitting in a terrible line-up.
3)  Luis Robert, White Sox – Lots of hype and his potential makes his cards very popular. Curb your enthusiasm slightly, as his 32.2% K rate and .738 OPS are red flags.
4)  Sean Murphy, Athletics – Card collectors don’t generally get excited about Catchers and his .233 BA doesn’t help. Under the surface, he had the best Walk rate of any rookie at 17.1%, which brought his OPS to .821.
5)  Jake Cronenworth, Padres – 26 year-old rookies don’t get any attention, but he’ll probably carve out a nice spot as a multi-positional player.
6)  Willi Castro, Tigers – Only the #7 Bengal
prospect prior to the season, he surprised everyone with a solid performance. Should be the everyday 2B.
7)  Alec Bohm, Phillies – Not much power yet, but the pedigree and a .881 OPS makes the 3B job his.
8)  Andres Gimenez, Mets – He’ll need to improve a .398 slugging percentage, but Cano’s stupidity might give this 22 year-old more playing time.
9)  Randy Arozarena, Rays – Off-field news aside for the moment, his numbers are mind-boggling. OPS was over 1.000 and an EV (exit velocity) of over 90 mph. In the post-season, his OPS was over 1.200!
10)                    Ryan Mountcastle, Orioles – Not spectacular, but solid…could be the Bird’s everyday 1B.
Now for the Pitchers…
1)   Tony Gonsolin, Dodgers – A 2.31 ERA (and 2.29 FIP) tells you about the skills. Could be the 6th starter for the Blue Crew but the way they handle the staff might give him 12-15 starts.
2)   Justus Sheffield, Mariners – Ten productive starts in 2020, but the 7.8 K rate is somewhat scary.
3)   Devin Williams, Brewers – The NL ROY was the #20 prospect but pitched like no one in recent history. His ERA in 27 IP was 0.33 and he struck out 17.7 batters per nine. No, that isn’t a typo.
4)   James Karinchak, Indians – The Tribe waived the best Closer in baseball to give this guy the job. Also had a 17.7 K rate.
5)   Ian Anderson Braves – The #3 prospect and pitched like it…1.95 ERA & 11.4 K rate. With the additions of Smyly & Morton, he doesn’t need to be the ace…yet.
6)   Brady Singer, Royals – 12 starts from the #4 prospect. Needs to lower the HR rate to lower the ERA.
7)   Sixto Sanchez, Marlins – First taste of the big leagues at age 22 produced seven starts and an ERA of 3.46. The future ace of the Fish.
8)   Randy Dobnak, Twins – Had 6 Wins in 10 starts with a 4.05 ERA but there were some smoke and mirrors.
9)   Jesus Luzardo, Athletics – Nine starts with 4.12 ERA. The A’s #1 prospect will get every opportunity.
10)                    Keegan Akin, Orioles – The 4.56 ERA looks ugly but the 3.27 FIP says that he deserved better. The 12.3 K rate is impressive and the Birds don’t have anyone better.
 Rookie Pitchers don’t draw the same baseball card interest as hitters, but the younger guys like Anderson, Sanchez & Luzardo are popular.
Now, where are those Brandon Wood Rookie Cards?

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