Reviewing the Rookie Hitters — Through May 13, 2023

Last week, I reviewed a number of rookie starting pitchers. Now let’s flip over to the hitters. I’ll begin by reviewing some of the top prospects before switching over to the top performers that weren’t top prospects in an effort to cover everyone you care about.

Rookie Hitters
Masataka Yoshida 0.307 0.390 0.504 0.197 0.389 0.383
Corbin Carroll 0.283 0.355 0.488 0.205 0.366 0.335
Gunnar Henderson 0.175 0.341 0.340 0.165 0.312 0.337
Anthony Volpe 0.210 0.298 0.364 0.154 0.295 0.319

After seven seasons in Japan, 29-year-old Masataka Yoshida signed with the Red Sox to make his MLB debut. He was that rare type who seemed like he may be a better real-life player than fantasy one, as he seemingly didn’t own massive power, only possessed a touch of speed, and is exceptional plate patience is typically not valued as highly in fantasy leagues unless you play in an OBP league or a points league that directly scores points for walks. It’s also always a question of how well a foreign league player’s power will translate to the Majors.

So far, I think he’s performed as strong as anyone could have hoped for. With a wOBA that nearly matches his xwOBA, no luck has been involved here either. His .197 is solid enough, but that comes with a better than expected 20% HR/FB rate, and his maxEV of 112.3 MPH is well above average. He’s even walked exactly as often as he has struck out, and he has only struck out 10.3% of the time. That’s fantastic. The major concern right now is his batted ball distribution. It’s extremely light on line drives and heavy on grounders, which isn’t optimal for his power potential. I think his FB% is going to be the real key on how strong a home run contributor he’ll be the rest of the way.

Corbin Carroll was a fantasy player’s dream, as he hit 27 home runs and stole 33 bases last year between Double-A, Triple-A, and the Majors. A potential 30/30 rookie?! YES, PLEASE! During last year’s cup of coffee, he significantly overperformed his xwOBA, and while the gap has significantly narrowed this year, he has continued the overperformance. I think a lot of that is due to a batted ball profile light on liners (just like Yoshida), but has still produced a .341 BABIP. Carroll has always posted strong BABIP marks in the past, but has never posted such a low LD%.

His power looks good though, with a maxEV of just under 114 MPH and a Barrel% just into double digits. A 14.7% HR/FB rate actually looks like there’s still additional upside from there. He has also cut down on his strikeouts and even pushed his SwStk% into single digits. That’s a great sign. Finally, he has been running wild, having already swiped 10 bases, to go along with his five homers. While I think there might be a bit of batting average downside and I’m not sure he’ll really steal the 40+ bases he’s currently on pace for, he looks like the fantasy star we thought he would be.

Gunnar Henderson was the league’s top prospect heading into the season, so expectations were quite high. Unlike Yoshida and Carroll, Henderson has been a disappointment so far, at least from a results perspective. There’s some real positives inside his metrics though. First, he’s become a walk machine, taking a base on balls 19.4% of the time. This, as a 22-year-old! That’s incredible plate patience and dramatically boosts his value in OBP leagues. Second, despite a relatively high strikeout rate, his SwStk% isn’t anything to be concerned about, so he’s not striking out because of an inability to make contact. Instead, he’s just not swinging as often as the league, as his Z-Swing% is well below the average. You might argue that his plate patience has been too strong and leading to too many called strikeouts. In fact, his called strikeout rate of 32.4% is well above the 23.6% league average. Dealing with a hitter who has been a bit too passive and patient is far better than one who swings and misses too frequently.

His power has been perfectly acceptable, albeit not great, and he has made good use of it by posting a 42.4% FB%. The biggest problem stems from the fly ball rate combined with a low LD%, which oddly every rookie so far on this list has dealt with. That has resulted in a weak .226 BABIP, which has pushed his batting average well below the Mendoza Line. However, with a .341 OBP, his value skyrockets in OBP leagues. He has also only swiped one base, which is quite disappointing as well, given that he swiped 23 between Double-A, Triple-A, and the Majors last year. Overall, I see a lot I like here and think this is a great opportunity to buy low. This is especially true in a keeper league, particularly if he’s at a cheap keeper price.

I was quite surprised that Anthony Volpe won the starting shortstop job for the Yankees after posting just a .320 wOBA at Triple-A last year over 99 PAs. That’s not normally the type of performance that wins you a starting job, especially for a wealthy team like the Yankees who could afford to promote their rookies when their performance is deserving. Sure enough, Volpe has posted a weak .295 wOBA so far, which isn’t far off from what should have been expected. The bizarre thing is that he became the team’s leadoff hitter, despite a .298 OBP, until finally getting dropped back to seventh in the order. Suddenly the Yankees thought they were the Royals, putting a fast guy at leadoff, despite the fact he can’t get on base.

Luckily for fantasy owners, his weak batting hasn’t prevented him from delivering value via a combo of power and speed. He’s on pace for something like a 20 home run, 50+ steal season, essentially pulling what a healthy Adalberto Mondesi might do. I think his batting average is due to improve, but it makes no sense for the Yankees to move him back to the leadoff slot, which will cut into all his counting stats. It’s hard to believe that an extended slump could potentially earn him a demotion to the minors, but I wouldn’t completely rule it out. For now, enjoy the steals with a sprinkling of homers.

Mike Podhorzer is the 2015 Fantasy Sports Writers Association Baseball Writer of the Year. He produces player projections using his own forecasting system and is the author of the eBook Projecting X 2.0: How to Forecast Baseball Player Performance, which teaches you how to project players yourself. His projections helped him win the inaugural 2013 Tout Wars mixed draft league. Follow Mike on Twitter @MikePodhorzer and contact him via email.

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11 months ago

Thoughts on Outman? Lots of K’s lately

11 months ago
Reply to  shep

I’ll begin by reviewing some of the top prospects before switching over to the top performers that weren’t top prospects in an effort to cover everyone you care about.”

Outman wasn’t a top prospect. I would assume he comes tomorrow