Although it’s still early in the 2018 offseason, it’s never too early to get started analyzing next year’s draft. For those of us that play in dynasty leagues, this means that not only do we likely have a supplemental draft, but also a first-year player or rookie draft. This kind of draft is always my personal favorite, as it can really make or break your team’s future. As always, you need to consider your team’s standings, rules, and minor league proficiency when determining your draft picks. So if you’re loaded on pitching, maybe you can skip Kyle Wright and go after that hitter you think is the next Mike Trout.
Let’s take a look at the top-five first-year players going into the draft next year.
1. Shohei Ohtani, SP – DH, Unsigned
The general consensus this season is that Shohei Ohtani is the No. 1 pick off of the board, and you can count me in that camp, as well. I could argue (and will) that there are players with higher ceilings available in this draft class, but with Ohtani’s young age and success overseas, he’s a good pick for both teams competing this year and those that are a few years away from contention. Despite missing chunks of the season with a myriad of injuries, he still managed to put up solid numbers as both a pitcher and a hitter for the Nippon Ham Fighters. He hit for power, average, got on base, and put up a solid 10.3 K/9 rate in his 25 innings. Most teams aren’t scared off by the injuries, so you shouldn’t be, either. One thing to watch is how your league will allow you to utilize him. Some leagues are choosing to split him into “two players” by allowing one to be a hitter and one to be a pitcher, and if that’s the case I would rank him much, much lower on the list. However, if your league chooses to make him eligible for both spots, then by all means draft away (and pay attention, Brendan McKay owners).
2. Luis Robert, OF, Chicago White Sox
In my opinion, Robert offers the greatest upside of this draft. He has true five-tool player potential and is going to draw plenty of comps to one of his future teammates, Yoan Moncada. I see a 20-20 guy with the potential for a lot more in the future. Robert really hit the ground running last year with his first taste of professional baseball, as he compiled a 1.027 OPS and 12 stolen bases in his 28 games. Robert has the raw speed and athleticism to naturally correct any struggles or flaws that show up in his game, and I don’t see many struggles in his future. He is just now 20, and with the White Sox a few years away from attempting to contend, he may not reach the majors for a few more years. That said, one important thing to never forget is that his name value will be enough to swing a solid trade for your major league team if you’re in contention this year, so don’t let his proximity to the majors scare you away. He will retain immense value in every dynasty league.
3. Mackenzie Gore, SP, San Diego Padres
For a pitcher to be placed so high on a list like this speaks volumes to what Mackenzie Gore has to offer. He has quite the funky leg kick, but he manages to repeat it flawlessly due to extreme athleticism. The lefty is one of the rare top pitching prospects to project for plus command and solid velocity (he touched 96 mph this year, and as his frame grows, the velocity could, as well). In his first go-round with rookie ball, Gore threw 21.1 innings while amassing a 14.34 K/9, 2.95 BB/9, and a 1.27 ERA. Advanced run metrics peg that as largely accurate, as his FIP and xFIP clock in at 2.14 and 2.49, respectively. Hunter Greene may get more love elsewhere, but Gore’s ceiling projects as that of a bona fide ace. He may only be 18, but he will quickly ascend the ladder and may find himself pitching at Petco sooner rather than later.
4. Royce Lewis, SS, Minnesota Twins
Taken first overall in the 2017 Rule 4 draft, Royce Lewis was a bit of a surprise to come off the board for the Minnesota Twins. He was largely regarded as a “safe” player, with a low floor but capped ceiling. However, after this first trip through the minors, it’s looking like the pick paid off. Lewis was actually promoted from rookie ball to Single-A, and he showed an ability to perform at both levels. The power may not be prodigious, but it’s not a non-factor, as he should be able to provide plenty of 15-20 homer seasons when he hits his stride. The speed played up really well, as he went 12-14 on stolen base attempts, and the hit tool is above-average. All of this should combine for a 15-30, .275/.350/.435 line Lewis’ his peak years. Scouts agree that he’s a good shortstop and will remain there for the long term, and his teammates and coaches rave about his work ethic and personality. He’s pretty much the only real middle infielder to be an elite prospect in this draft class, and a good rule of thumb is to always target those guys in your drafts.
5. Jo Adell, OF, Los Angeles Angels
With a sub-25% strikeout rate and solid bat-to-ball skills, Adell largely silenced critics who were wary of his hit tool. He’s likely several years away from The Show, but early Matt Kemp comps make this the kind of guy to target for your fantasy team. Adell’s pitch recognition needs some work if he’s going to post decent on-base numbers, but the power and speed are both above average and the fielding prowess and arm strength mean he’s going to be a good defender, as well. He’s raw, so that means there are going to be bumps in the road, but you just might be looking at a perennial first-rounder once he makes his debut. The Angels snagged him at 10th overall, and most scouts consider that to be a nice bargain for a minor league system that sorely needs some talent. That lack of depth might bode well for Adell, as the Halos might need to call on his services much sooner than expected. No matter how it shakes out, this kid is going to be exciting to watch.
Well, that does it for the top five first-year players. Keep an eye out soon as we round out the top-10, looking for upside and consistency with players like Kyle Wright, Hunter Greene, Keston Hiura, and more.