2018 Fantasy Impact: Rookie Outfielders

As the infancy stage of the 2018 season begins, rookie outfielders from across the league are reporting to camp with an eye to having a major impact on the 2018 season. Some of those hopes will come true, while others will stumble and face a frustrating campaign. Over the next week, we’ll take a look at the Top 10 rookie outfielders that this author feels have the best chance at impacting both their teams and the game in 2018.

*Shohei Ohtani was not considered a rookie given his professional experience in Japan

Ronald Acuna, CF, Braves: The path to playing time is always an important piece when discussing potential rookie impact. With Acuna, that is not an issue with the current crop of outfielders that the Braves 40-man roster possesses. Looking at the Braves depth chart at FanGraphs, only Ender Inciarte projects to be more than a one-win player, and the left-field picture is a giant suck hole. Now, the club may choose to delay Acuna’s arbitration eligibility by sending him down to the minors for a few weeks to begin the year (especially since they’re not going to challenge for a playoff spot) but it’s pretty clear that he fits prominently into the picture for the coming year. It’s possible, though, that he could struggle early like 2017 rookie shortstop Dansby Swanson. Despite his massive ceiling (20+ homers, 30+ steals), Acuna also showed some contact issues in 2017 and his impressive batting line was aided by a BABIP of .400. He might very well have the most long-term success of any of the 2018 rookie outfielders but I foresee solid but unspectacular numbers for the coming season in Atlanta.

Victor Robles, CF, Nationals: For me, Robles is a safer bet to a be a solid contributor at the big league level in 2018 than Ronald Acuna, above. However, the Nationals rookie will face stiffer competition for playing time with the likes of Adam Eaton, Bryce Harper and Michael Taylor all frolicking on the outfield grass — not to mention the presence of Howie Kendrick, Brian Goodwin, and Matt Adams. Robles isn’t a huge power guy but he makes good contact and has shown the ability to hit for a solid average. He has the ability to steal 20-30 bases but it would be nice to see him be a little more patient and take some more walks so he doesn’t have to rely quite so heavily on his batting average to get on base. If he is given an opportunity for the playoff hopeful Nats, Robles could be in the Rookie of the Year conversation.

Austin Hays, OF, Orioles: Hays rocketed his way through the minors after signing with the Orioles in 2016 and made his MLB debut late last year. The current outfield picture, as seen through the eyes of the FanGraphs depth chart, shows a pretty wide open opportunity for the rookie outfielder to secure a starting gig. He showed plus power potential in 2017 by slugging 32 home runs in the minors. The freshman outfielder has also shown the ability to hit for average and doesn’t strike out as much as the typical slugger. Unfortunately, he’s also a very aggressive hitter that doesn’t walk much (kind of like his teammate Mark Trumbo) which could limit his ceiling against more advanced pitching in The Show. Still, it could be another busy summer for fans seated in the outfield bleachers at Camden Yards with all the sluggers in the Orioles lineup. Hays should be good for 20+ homers if he plays every day.

Alex Verdugo, OF, Dodgers: Just 21, Verdugo is an advanced hitter for his age and could easily be a .300 hitter with his penchant for using the opposite field as often as he pulls the ball. He could also develop into the rare type of hitter that walks more than he strikes out (something he actually did at triple-A in 2017). The down side to Verdugo’s approach is that he has almost no loft in his swing and produces a modest fly-ball rate. The young hitter has spent a good chunk of time in center field in the minors but he’s not a clean fit there so he should be more of a corner guy in the majors. His unique profile, though, could be problematic — especially in the era of renewed power expectations.

Eloy Jimenez, OF, White Sox: Jimenez has just 18 games of experience above A-ball but the rebuilding Sox could find a spot for the rookie in the second half of the year. Looking at the White Sox depth chart, only Avisail Garcia has proven himself worthy of an everyday job. Just 21, he’s already built like a beast and has 30+ homer potential. He’s shown a willingness to take a walk. which increases his value. He’s been a .300 hitter in the minors — fuelled by unsustainable BABIPs, especially for a player with modest speed — but could still hit .280 in The Show. Jimenez will likely open 2018 in double-A but a strong start could push him to triple-A in May and into The Show this summer.

Check back soon for the next five outfielders.



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Marc Hulet has been writing at FanGraphs since 2008. His work focuses on prospects and fantasy. Follow him on Twitter @marchulet.

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tb.25
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tb.25

Thoughts on the Giants’ Duggar? Doesn’t ‘wow’ but will have ample chance to take over a platoon or starting role in CF. The organization is real high on him.

Anonymous
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Anonymous

Not a lot of category juice there. AT&T should devour his HR, Runs and RBI totals. Maybe some cheap speed if he takes a step forward there, but only if he’s not batting 8th.

dl80
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dl80

He’s already 24 and has barely gotten beyond AA. He was pretty good in a very small sample at AAA, but he needs more seasoning, I assume. He could turn out like my favorite overlooked prospect, the jack-of-all-trades-master-of-none Kole Calhoun.