Top MLB Prospects for 2017: The Hitters (Part 2 of 2)

Over about a two week period I’m going to be reviewing 12 rookie hitters and 12 rookie pitchers that could make signifiant waves in Major League Baseball in 2017. Last week, I took a look at the first six hitters and today I’ll be reviewing the final six.

Potential Impact Rookie Hitters for 2017 (continued):

Lourdes Gurriel, OF/IF, Blue Jays: Perhaps the biggest sleeper on this list, Gurriel — a Cuba native — hasn’t even played professionally in North America after signing with the Jays in the offseason. But he’s also one of the more intriguing prospects to come out of Cuba and should open his career in double-A or triple-A. A strong athlete, Gurriel could end up at any number of positions but the Jays’ greatest needs are likely in the outfield, although an injury to an infielder (Josh Donaldson, I’m looking at you and your calf) could change that in a hurry. Reports suggest he can do a little bit of everything on offence and his floor might be something along the lines of Sean Rodriguez. In truth, we won’t really know what the Jays have in Gurriel until he starts playing but the Jays’ lack of upper level depth (and lack of well-rounded athletes) could expedite his timetable.

Ian Happ, IF/OF, Cubs: Chicago has a deep lineup so a lot of things will have to go wrong for Happ to make an impact at the big league level in 2017 but it could happen. The 2015 first rounder reached double-A in his first full season in pro ball in ’16 and he can do a little bit of everything at the plate. He has a chance to hit for a high average, he gets on base at a strong clip, he can hit 15+ homers and produce double-digit steals. Also value — especially in fantasy baseball — is his ability to play multiple positions… both the infield and the outfield. Continued contact issues by Javier Baez could be the easiest way for Happ to slide into the Majors but it could also come via an injury to a key performer like Ben Zobrist or Kyle Schwarber.

Tyler O’Neill, OF, Mariners: My pick for the player that might come up to the Majors and surprise everyone with how good he is… is O’Neill. The jump from high-A to double-A is generally considered the toughest adjustment to make and this young Canadian outfielder made huge strides at the upper level in 2016 – and he didn’t turn 21 until June. His strikeout rate was still high at 26% but it dropped 4% from the previous season and he maintained his above-average power output. O’Neill also increased his walk rate from 6.5 to 10.8%. He has a chance to be an on-base machine with 25+ homer pop. The Mariners have lined up an impressively skilled defensive outfield at the big league level but the young slugger’s offensive potential could soon turn Jarrod Dyson or Mitch Haniger into a fourth outfielder this summer.

Dansby Swanson, SS, Braves: The first overall pick during the 2015 draft, Swanson appeared in 38 big league games in ’16 and should battle Pittsburgh’s Josh Bell for rookie of the year in ’17. The young shortstop should hit near the top of the order — and with his speed — could score a lot of runs during the coming season. Swanson, 23, is still growing into his power but he could hit double-digit homers during his rookie campaign. However, he likely won’t hit .300 again unless his trims his strikeout rate a bit (23.4% at the MLB level in ’16). Swanson has everything he needs to be a star at the big league level and he has no real competition for the starting shortstop gig in Atlanta in 2017.

Jesse Winker, OF, Reds: Perhaps the least recognizable name next to Lourdes Gurriel, Winker is a player with a high floor but perhaps a lower ceiling than a lot of the names on this list. The Reds currently appear ready to provide the left and right field jobs to a couple of unproven players in Adam Duvall (who admittedly is coming off of a pretty decent — and surprising — 2016) and Scott Schebler. Non-roster spring invitees Desmond Jennings and Ryan Raburn also represent a threat to take a roster spot with a strong spring. Winker cannot match the power potential of the two incumbents (He hit just five home runs in 110 games in 2016) but he’s a much better overall hitter with the ability to hit .300 and also walk as much — if not more — than he strikes out and produce an excellent on-base percentage. The left-handed hitting Winker — who isn’t a stolen base threat — is a bit of an oddity as an outfielder but, nonetheless, he could surprise a lot of people if given the chance.

Bradley Zimmer, OF, Indians: Rookie outfielder Tyler Naquin was a godsend for the Indians in 2016 but his success was also highly BABIP fuelled so it’s quite possible that he could come crashing down to earth in 2017. And that could come at the benefit of Zimmer, who is probably the better all around player — both in the field and at the plate. Like Naquin, the 24-year-old outfielder has contact issues and may not hit for a great average but he takes a ton of walks and will spend a lot of time on the base paths — where he also has 30+ stolen base potential. Toss in double-digit home run potential and you start to understand where the intrigue lies. With serious question marks looming over Michael Brantley’s health, Zimmer could be the early beneficiary if the veteran is unable to go early in the year.

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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Thought I’d see Gillaspie here. It seems like LoMo is the only thing standing between him and a full time gig. Being a switch hitter, and LoMo coming off season ending surgery, there’s a good chance we see a lot of him this year. You spoke of Jake Bauers in the previous installment, but if LoMo is bad again, or hurt again, Gillaspie seems the clearer choice (and probably the better hitter, though worse at everything else).