We are a week away from my favorite part of the MLB season, the All-Star Break. Not only is it an exciting time for players to feature in the All-Star Game, but as fans we get to tune in to the MLB Futures Game and Home Run Derby. In 2003, I was lucky enough to attend all the events at the then U.S. Cellular Field. It’s up there with some of my favorite memorable sports moments as a fan. With the All-Star Break a week away, I wanted to shift my focus to rookies. Each season, regardless of the fantasy sport, we dive deep into player rankings and free agent lists in hopes of rostering a rookie, or handful, that will help us throughout the season. This week I want to take a look at nine position player rookies that have paid huge dividends in “That’s Amore!” 2019 Rookie All-Stars.
Pete Alonso – New York Mets .278/28 HR/62 RBI
Alonso has positioned himself on the NL All-Star roster. The National League has a long list of worthy first basemen to make the roster, and Pete Alonso did everything possible to earn a spot. Entering Sunday, he ranks first among MLB rookies is home runs, runs batted in, runs scored, and ISO. He’s been a bright spot in a Mets roster that has had their fair share of ups and downs. Not only has Alonso been among the league-leaders in terms of rookies, but he’s also among MLB league-leaders in home runs (second to Christian Yelich’s 29 home runs) and RBI (tied for fifth). He was a middle-to-late round draft pick entering this season, and he’s arguably going to end the season as a reliable keeper selection and is the clear front-runner for the National League Rookie of the Year. Add in the chance to win this year’s Home Run Derby, and it could be an award-filled rookie season for Alonso.
Fernando Tatis Jr. – San Diego Padres .335/11 HR/28 RBI
Entering the season, Tatis Jr. was on the radar of every fantasy baseball player. After a solid spring, it remained to be seen if the Padres would add him to the Opening Day roster or keep him in the minors playing the control game. Tatis Jr. made the decision difficult, and the Padres did the right thing by having him break Spring Training with the Big League club. Tatis Jr. started hot out of the gate and besides a brief injured list stint he’s been as good as advertised. Entering Sunday, Tatis Jr. was second among rookies in BABIP (.440), first in stolen bases (12), and second in batting average (.335). He was drafted in nearly every league, and like Pete Alonso, he will be a mainstay in keeper/dynasty leagues for years to come. Not only has Tatis Jr. provided solid production for fantasy teams, but he gives the Padres a solid one-two punch alongside Manny Machado for the foreseeable future. With the Padres having played just over half their 2019 schedule, Tatis Jr. has a solid chance of reaching the 30/30 mark.
Austin Riley – Atlanta Braves .280/14 HR/37 RBI
When the Braves brought in Josh Donaldson this past off-season, I wasn’t sure how long it would be before we saw Riley in Atlanta. After tearing up Triple-A pitching in the first few months of the season, Riley finally got his call. Prior to Atlanta calling for his services, Riley was slashing .299/.377/.681 with 15 home runs and 39 RBI. Entering Sunday, Riley has slashed .280/.333/.596 in 140 at-bats. With the Braves leading the NL East by 6.0 games, Riley will be a mainstay in left field, and is on the early track of ending the season with 30+ home runs. Among his rookie counterparts, Riley sits tied for fourth in home runs, tied four fourth in RBI, and third in slugging percentage. Earl Williams holds the Braves rookie record for home runs with 33 set in 1971. This record could finally be surpassed after 47 years. Chipper Jones retired after the 2012 season, and it looks like the Braves have found the heir apparent third base replacement for years to come.
Dan Vogelbach – Seattle Mariners .248/20 HR/48 RBI
At 26 years-old, Vogelbach is older than his rookie counterparts. The former 2011 second-round pick by the Chicago Cubs has always showed signs, but there was always the question of where he’d play. When the Cubs acquired Anthony Rizzo, Vogelbach was destined for a trade, and more than likely to an American League team. In 2016, Vogelbach was sent to the Mariners with the chance to finally crack the Major League roster. He finally got his chance to be an everyday regular entering 2019. While he’s seen his share of ups and downs through the course of this season, he’s shown the power that we’ve seen throughout his minor league career. Entering Sunday, Vogelbach was behind only Pete Alonso for the rookie lead in home runs and RBI. After starting the season with a bang, the Mariners find themselves in the cellar of the AL West division. Vogelbach has not only been a bright spot for the Mariners, but for fantasy teams that have looked for power on their roster.
Brandon Lowe – Tampa Bay Rays .275/15 HR/47 RBI
Brandon Lowe has been one of my favorite rookies through the halfway point of the 2019 season. During fantasy drafts, and after, I had numerous rosters with holes at the second base position. When it became clear Lowe would break camp with the Rays, I quickly scooped him off waivers in nearly every league. What makes Lowe appealing to fantasy owners is the fact that he carries multiple position eligibility (1B, 2B, OF). Any player that carries such versatility will always be appealing in fantasy baseball. Entering Sunday, Lowe trailed only Pete Alonso and Dan Vogelbach for the rookie lead in home runs and runs batted in. If he continues to produce, by season’s end he has a great chance to be part of a rookie class that has had the most 30+ home run hitters in Major League history. In his first full season in the Majors, Lowe is already on pace to surpass the most home runs he ever hit in the minors (22).
Alex Verdugo – Los Angeles Dodgers .311/9 HR/32 RBI
The former second round pick (2014) is finally getting everyday at-bats, and has he ever produced. While others on this list may have better numbers in terms of home runs and RBI, there’s no doubting Verdugo’s role in the Dodgers lineup. Entering Sunday, Verdugo was fifth in at-bats, fourth in hits, tied for third in doubles, fourth in OBP, and has the lowest number of strikeouts among Dodgers starters. Among his rookie peers, Verdugo has the lowest K% (9.7%) among qualified players. He’s given them another solid bat in the outfield, and The Dodgers are in the hunt for a third-straight World Series appearance, and Verdugo will play a role in making this feat play to fruition. After a much anticipated arrival to Chavez Ravine, Verdugo has produced solid numbers for fantasy owners.
Carson Kelly – Arizona Diamondbacks .282/9 HR/26 RBI
If I were to predict the rookie All-Stars prior to the season’s start, there was zero chance I would’ve seen Kelly make my list. With guys such as Vladimir Guerrero Jr., Eloy Jimenez, and Victor Robles primed for solid seasons how could I? Still, Kelly, one of pieces in the Paul Goldschmidt trade, has become a staple behind the plate for the Diamondbacks, and he’s produced very well. While it’s hard to expect a catcher, let alone a rookie, to be among the leaders in numerous categories, Kelly has performed admirably. While he isn’t among rookie leagues in any particular category other than slugging (fifth) and wOBA (T-fifth), he’s stood toe-to-toe with his catching counterparts. Entering Sunday, Kelly sits 13th in hits, 15th in runs scored, tied for eight in home runs, and 15th in RBI among MLB catchers. At times, it’s difficult getting production out of the catching position, and after names such as Gary Sanchez, Willson Contreras, J.T. Realmuto, and Yasmani Grandal it’s a crapshoot. However, Kelly has been a steady source of production for owners that didn’t get their hands on one of the four catchers named earlier. Other than Realmuto having more runs scored and RBI, there hasn’t been much discrepancy between Kelly and Realmuto through the first half of the season.
Michael Chavis – Boston Red Sox .267/14 HR/44 RBI
Prior to the 2019 season, Chavis found himself on my minor league rankings. I stated 2019 would be a make-or-break season if Chavis were to reach the Majors. On April 19th, Chavis got the call and he’s been one of the best free agent pickups through the first half of the season. While only Brandon Lowe has a higher K% (33.8%) than Chavis’ 33.0%, he has been among the top rookie leaders in home runs (T-fourth), runs scored (T-sixth), and RBI (T-fourth). A lot like Brandon Lowe, besides strikeouts, Chavis carries multiple position eligibility at first, second, and third base. While he came out hot in the first month of the season, we did see regression in May. However, he did turn it up in June and entering Sunday, Chavis has slashed .375/.444/.875 with two home runs, seven RBI, and a strikeout percentage of a minute 18%. The Red Sox are chasing the Rays and Yankees, and if Chavis continues to produce, and hurdle minor struggles, he gives the Red Sox another solid option in a very potent lineup.
Bryan Reynolds – Pittsburgh Pirates .357/6 HR/28 RBI
I get it, you’re probably thinking, “Who?!” I could’ve easily added Vladimir Guerrero Jr., Eloy Jimenez, Nick Senzel, Dwight Smith Jr., and Rowdy Tellez to this list, but I didn’t. We are talking rookie All-Stars, and while the other players may have more eye-popping numbers, Reynolds has been on a tear in his own right. On April 20th, the Pirates called up rookies Cole Tucker and Bryan Reynolds, and while Tucker was the higher ranked player, Reynolds has been the better performer. Of his rookie peers, Reynolds has been the top player in BABIP (.442) and batting average (.357) while tied for second in wOBA (Pete Alonso) and fourth in slugging percentage. He’s still owned in only 37% of fantasy leagues, but he’s getting everyday at-bats for a Pirates team that is only half a game better than the last place Cincinnati Reds in the NL Central division. While there’s no doubt the other players on this list will end with more home runs and RBI, Reynolds could end up finishing the season winning the batting title among rookie players. With players hitting the IL every other hour, and Reynolds being available in nearly 63% of leagues, why not take a shot on a player that has made a living off Major League pitching, and a player that was a second-round pick only three seasons ago? I’m telling you now, Reynolds will hit 20+ home runs come next season. Power usually comes later, and Reynolds is locked in, and we will see more balls leave the field by season’s end.