2018 Sophomores: Expect Improvements Over 2017

Followers of Aaron Judge and Cody Bellinger may now have unrealistic expectations for freshman performances. It’s not supposed to be quite so easy to acclimatize to the big leagues. And we can see proof of this from the same 2017 campaign — which saw a number of prospects struggle with the move to The Show. Today, we’re going to look at a few rookies from 2017 that should be better than they showed last year as we move into 2018 and beyond.

Jose Osuna, 1B/OF, Pirates: Osuna spent the majority of 2017 in the majors and appeared in 110 games but he managed just 227 at-bats. The rookie was put in the difficult position of pinch hitting in roughly half of his appearances and he hit just .120/.154/.200 in that role. If you look at the numbers he produced when playing the field, he displayed well above average power and a solid ability to hit for average. He just needs to be more patient. And, if he’s going to take advantage of the new juiced ball era, Osuna is going to have to make swing adjustments to hit more balls in the air. The Pirates seem intent on finding a way to keep the sophomore on the roster in 2018 as he’s seen time at third base this spring to go along with his ability to play first base and both corner outfield positions. However, it will be difficult for him to find regular playing time with the current roster, including the presence of veteran David Freese who will be without a position if rookie Colin Moran wins the third base gig.

Phil Maton, RHP, Padres: You may not recognize Maton’s name because he threw a lot of low-leverage innings out of the bullpen for a not-very-good Padres team but his value is on the upswing nonetheless. The right-hander has a dominant fastball despite averaging just 93 mph thanks to top-of-the-charts spin rate. He backs that up with solid slider, which helped him strike out batters at a 26% rate in 2017. He also finds the strike zone consistently and walked less than 8% of the batters faced. The problem with Maton’s 2017 season was that he was quite vulnerable to the home runs (26% HR/FB) so adjustments will need to be made to have better success in 2018. A good start to the 2018 season could help Maton earn more high-leverage innings and perhaps the manager’s trust when closer Brad Hand is unavailable.

Amir Garrett, LHP, Reds: Known for having plus athleticism for a pitcher, Garrett struggled mightily in 2017 with a 7.39 ERA in 16 appearances (14 starts). The biggest red flag was the 23 home runs in just 70.2 innings but he struggled with a hip injury that made it difficult for him to finish his pitches. Now healthy, the early spring returns have been promising for the big lefty who has struck out 11 hitters in 7.0 innings (and has allowed just one homer). With his focus on basketball as an amateur (and a large frame to learn to control), Garrett is still a little behind most 25-year-old big league hitters so peaks and value should continue to be part of his game for a while but he’s much better than he showed in 2017. Pitching in the Reds’ homer-friendly stadium, Garrett will always be prone to the homer as a fly-ball pitcher (and the juiced ball) but he still has third-starter potential with increased maturity (although I’ve always thought he’d make an excellent high-leverage reliever).

Mark Leiter, RHP, Phillies: Leiter was a valuable arm for the rebuilding Phillies in 2017 by splitting his time between the starting rotation and the bullpen — filling any role necessary. His overall numbers were skewed by a late-season meltdown that saw him allow eight homers after Sept. 1. Unaccustomed to pitching such a long season, he might have just been tired. Or maybe he’s not well suited to pitching as a starter in The Show. Or a combination of both. Either way, it will be interesting to see how the 2018 season plays out. He held batters to a .196 average and allowed just four homers in 30 innings out of the ‘pen in 2017. Leiter was murdered by the home run ball as a starter (14 in 60.2 innings) and produced an overall HR/FB rate of 21.7%. He has a fringe-average fastball but a plus splitter and might be better suited to trimming his five-pitch repertoire down to focus on three offerings.



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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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Brad Johnson
Member

Leiter discovered an actual weapon last season – his splitter. Previously, he threw a bunch of junk – barely any of which could be described as average. None of it was better than average. Since his command didn’t help the repertoire to play up, finding the splitter was key to becoming a useful MLBer.

A multi-inning, once-through-the-order role seems like the best fit for him.

Cole
Member
Cole

Second this^. I’m hoping the Phillies realize it too so I can scoop him up where multi inning relievers in a points league with a starts cap are nice pieces to have.