At the beginning of the 2017 season, I wrote pieces reviewing the potential impact rookie hitters in each league for 2017. Today, we begin a semi-regular review of how those players are actually performing. The American League East is the first up for review with my original projected ranking.
1. Andrew Benintendi, OF, Red Sox: Benintendi has been as good as advertised. He’s third on the club in OPS behind Mookie Betts and Christian Vazquez(!). After striking out 21.2% of the time in his brief 2016 debut, the rookie outfielder has trimmed that by almost 10% to 12.7%. He’s playing solid defence, running the bases well and hitting. You can’t ask for much more from a freshman hitter on a club with high expectations.
2. Aaron Judge, OF, Yankees: Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you already know that Judge has been inhuman in the early going. The 25-year-old rookie has slugged 13 home runs in just 30 games — good for an Isolated Slugging rate of an unreal .430 (.200 is typically solid for a power hitter). He’s also getting pitched around a fair bit now and has a 13.6% walk rate which helps to take some of the sting out of his 26.4% strikeout rate. Judge has hit some balls a very, very long way so far this year but it’s interesting to see that his overall line-drive rate is lower than Andrew Benintendi’s (18.9% to 20.9%).
3. Trey Mancini, OF/1B, Orioles: I was one of a select few who was pumping up Mancini before the start of the year and he’s hit very well. The Orioles could do a better job of getting him regular at-bats but he’s responded with aplomb to the inconsistent playing time and has kept veteran slugger Pedro Alvarez stuck in AAA. Mancini has an unsightly 3-24 BB-K rate but his power output has been second only to Aaron Judge. The Orioles rookie has seven home runs in just 75 plate appearances — good for an Isolated Slugging rate of .352.
4. Jake Bauers, 1B/OF, Rays: Currently in triple-A, Bauers is off to a slow start. He’s hitting just .234 with two home runs and 31 strikeouts. On the plus side, he’s still taking lots of walks with 22 free passes in 29 games. The Rays have already seen the big league outfield depth tested in the early going so if Bauers can get back on track he could still help out in the second half of the year.
5. Sam Travis, 1B, Red Sox: After missing a good portion of 2016 due to injury, Travis got off to a slow start in triple-A. He’s heating up in May, though, and is hitting .333 with fewer swings-and-misses through his last 10 games. There are enough question marks around the 1B/DH picture in Boston to foresee Travis getting some playing in the second half of the year — especially if Hanley Ramirez continues to battle injury.
6. Jose De Leon, RHP, Rays: Acquired from the Dodgers in the offseason, big things were expected from De Leon in 2017 but he opened the year on the disabled list. Finally healthy in May, the right-hander made his first start on May 11 with mixed results. He allowed two runs in just 3.1 innings but he struck out seven. If the Rays continue to struggle, the club could be tempted to trade more pitching, which could benefit De Leon.
7. Jordan Montgomery, LHP, Yankees: Virtually unknown heading into the spring, Montgomery opened a lot of eyes and earned a shot to help the first-place Yankees. He’s arguably out-pitched C.C. Sabathia and Masahiro Tanaka so far with a 3.81 ERA and just 25 hits allowed in 28.1 innings. Also, every other Yankees starter has allowed at least six home runs, and Montgomery has given up just two. His command and control are still both works in progress but he looks like a keeper.
8. Rowdy Tellez, 1B, Blue Jays: Just 22, Tellez opened the 2017 in triple-A and might be there longer than originally thought. Veteran first baseman Justin Smoak has surprisingly been one of Toronto’s better hitters in the early going and the first base prospect stumbled out of the gate. The left-handed hitter has actually been quite good against right-handers (.282/.373/.465) but his overall numbers have been driven down by awful results against southpaws (.100/.229/.133). Toronto looks like it’s heading into a rebuilding phase but you have to figure the club will want Tellez to perform better against lefties before he gets an extended shot in The Show.
9. Willy Adames, SS, Rays: There was some hope early in the year that Adames wouldn’t need long in triple-A before coming up and contributing at the big league level. However, just 21, he’s struggled in the early going with 31 Ks in his first 28 games. His triple-slash line of .228/.305/.368 needs so helium before he gets that shot.
10. Chandler Shepherd, RHP, Red Sox: There have already been a number of opportunities to come up from the minors and aid Boston’s pitching staff but Shepherd has not been performing well in triple-A. Through eight games, he has a 6.39 ERA and has allowed two homers — and a plethora of hard, extra base hits — through his first 12.2 innings. He’s struck out 19 batters but needs to locate the ball better.
Marc Hulet has been writing at FanGraphs since 2008. His work focuses on prospects and fantasy. Follow him on Twitter @marchulet.