Dan's Dugout: These Rookies Will Reign This Summer • Latino Sports


Dan’s Dugout: These Rookies Will Reign This Summer


With salaries spiraling into the stratosphere, baseball teams will bank heavily on rookies this season.

Their widespread belief is that rookies are cheaper, last longer, and have more motivation to succeed than veterans on guaranteed contracts.

Teams are even hiring managers with more potential than experience, from Aaron Boone in the Bronx and Mickey Callaway in Flushing to Alex Cora in Boston, Dave Martinez in Washington, and Gabe Kapler in Philadelphia.

Aaron Judge hit more homers last year than any previous rookie
Credit: Daniel Budasoff

Rookies had enormous impact on last year’s standings, with Cody Bellinger bursting onto the big-league scene with the Dodgers, who took the Astros seven games before falling in the World Series, and Aaron Judge jolting the American League with a rookie-record 52 home runs for the Yankees, also victims of the Houston machine in postseason play.

This year’s freshman class could have even more impact.

In addition to Minor League Player of the Year Ronald Acuna, Atlanta’s Venezuelan slugger, it includes Washington wunderkind Victor Robles, Tampa Bay third baseman Christian Arroyo, and Japanese import Shohei Ohtani (Angels), among others virtually certain to crack big-league rosters this season.

Here’s how they rate:

Future star Ronald Acuna (34) has speed. power. and youth
Credit: Dan Schlossberg

1. Ronald Acuna, Atlanta OF – The Braves believe he’s the second coming of the young Andruw Jones, a svelte speedster with power at the plate and in his throwing arm. Barely past his 20th birthday, he finished off a spectacular season in the upper minors by winning MVP honors in the Arizona Fall League. Like Jones, he’s a natural centerfielder more likely to play a corner because of a veteran incumbent (two-time Gold Glove winner Ender Inciarte). Gold Gloves and MVP trophies could be in Acuna’s future too, though he may not arrive before May as the Braves bid to add a year of service time to his record. They made room for him by dealing Matt Kemp and could do likewise with Nick Markakis, entering the last year of his contract.

2. Shohei Ohtani, Los Angeles (AL) P-OF – Aiming to regain a playoff berth after three straight misses, the Angels were active signers and traders over the winter. Their biggest acquisition was Shohei Ohtani, a righthander pitcher and lefthanded hitter most recently with the Nippon Ham Fighters. Just 23, Ohtani may only start once a week but can DH or play the outfield in between. The Angels got him at a cheap price, just $2.315 million in salary after paying his former club a $20 million posting fee.

A rare two-way player, Shohei Ohtani is an early AL Rookie of the Year pick

3. Victor Robles, Washington OF – It would be no surprise if this sweet-swinging Dominican starts the season in center field and bumps Michael Taylor to a backup spot. Like Acuna, he’s got a bright future ahead at age 20 though he can’t match his power. A righthanded hitter, Robles racked up 55 extra-base hits on two minor-league levels and even played 13 games for the varsity last year. The likely leadoff man will score lots of runs ahead of Trea Turner, Bryce Harper, and Ryan Zimmerman.

4. Vladimir Guerrero Jr., Toronto 3B – In a great baseball irony, Vlad Junior should breach the big leagues the same year his dad reaches the Hall of Fame. But he’ll have to count on a trade of veteran Josh Donaldson, entering the walk year of his contract, or assume duties as a designated hitter. Unlike his famous father, Junior walks more than he fans, making his power potential even more lethal. It won’t be long before this 19-year-old Dominican makes his mark.

5. Christian Arroyo, Tampa Bay 3B – The Rays would not have sent Evan Longoria to San Francisco without receiving Arroyo as the centerpiece of an attractive package. The 6’1″ righthanded hitter collected his first three home runs in limited action for the Giants but still fell five at-bats short of losing his rookie status. The rapidly-retooling Rays plan to rebuild around him.

The 2018 Yankees could have two rookie infielders

6. Gleyber Torres, New York (AL) 2B – A shortstop blocked by Didi Gregorius, Torres was clipping minor-league pitching at a .287 clip when felled by Tommy John surgery last June. A contact hitter with good plate discipline, he’s also capable in the field. But he faces competition from Ronald Torreyes, who hit .292 in 108 games but is projected as more of a utilityman.

7. Miguel Andujar, New York (AL) 3B – On a team known for favoring veterans, Andujar will have to show this spring that his defense warrants his presence in the Yankee lineup. With Brandon Drury joining the team from Arizona, Andujar has serious opposition. Plus his presence in the lineup would give the team two rookie infielders, along with Gleyber Torres at second. Perhaps Andujar’s power will tip the scales in his favor.

8. A.J. Minter, Atlanta LHP – Don’t be surprised if this control artist wrests the closer’s job from erratic holdover Arodys Vizcaino. A little lefty with a live arm, cut from the Billy Wagner cloth, he fanned 26 men in 15 major-league innings while walking only two.

9. Jorge Alfaro, Philadelphia C – On a team that plays in a bandbox but needs power badly, Alfaro has a good chance to become the No. 1 catcher. He hit five homers in limited playing time last year but will find his name in the lineup more often if he makes more contact and improves the defensive end of his game.

10. Austin Hays, Baltimore OF – With Adam Jones and a slew of fellow Orioles anticipating free agency, Austin’s arrival is welcome in Camden Yards. He already collected his first big-league homer, giving him a total of 33 last year when his minor-league numbers are added. Hays is a 6’1″ righthanded hitter whose batting average in the high minors was .329.

Austin Hays brings a heavy bat to Baltimore this season

11. Jack Flaherty, St. Louis RHP – It won’t be long before this 6’4″ control artist is the stud of the St. Louis staff. Throwing four pitches for strikes, he went 14-4 with a 2.18 earned run average in a season split between the two top levels of the minors, then made five starts with the Cards.

12. Tyler Mahle, Cincinnati RHP – With his first big-league win under his belt, this 6’3″ control pitcher surfaces just in time to claim a berth in a beleaguered rotation. He was one of six rookies tried as starters by the desperate Reds last year, when the club finished last in rotation ERA at 5.55. By contrast, Mahle’s minor-league mark shined: 10-7 and 2.06 ERA.

13. Ryan McMahon, Colorado 1B – A lefthanded slugger who throws righthander, McMahon should thrive in Coors Field, where the air is thin and the ball flies. After compiling a .355 average in the minors, he may challenge incumbent Ian Desmond this spring. He’s not likely to budge Nolan Arenado off third or DJ LeMahieu off second even though he can play both spots.

About Dan Schlossberg

Former AP sportswriter Dan Schlossberg of Fair Lawn, NJ has produced 35 baseball books, including autobiographies of Ron Blomberg, Al Clark, and Milo Hamilton. Also a broadcaster, he is the host and executive producer of Braves Banter and Travel Itch Radio and a contributor to Sirius XM.

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