Last season was filled with a great rookie class and truly a historic one. Shohei Ohtani made his major league debut and grabbed everyone’s attention as he was the first successful two way player the game has seen in a while. It’s unfortunate that his season was cut short due to Tommy John surgery but he does have a bright future ahead of him.
Ronald Acuna Jr. brought home NL Rookie of the Year after an impressive first campaign as he was a big part in leading the Braves to the postseason. The Yankees were treated to two stunning rookie performances in the form of Miguel Andujar and Gleyber Torres who finished second and third in the AL rookie of the year voting respectively. Juan Soto was the bright spot for the Nationals last year and looks to be a big part of the franchise in their attempt to move on from Bryce Harper. Some may expect him to be able to fill the role that Harper once held with the team so it will be interesting to see how he can fill those big shoes. Walker Buehler was a big part of the Dodgers success and will probably take over as the teams ace in a changing of the guard type season.
Many other rookies left an impact last year including Jack Flaherty, Brian Anderson, Harrison Bader, Joey Wendle, and Jeff McNeil. News around Jack Flaherty has been buzzing this spring with impressive strikeout numbers that he has been posting. The Cardinal’s future is looking up with the recent acquisition of Paul Goldschmidt paired with the young talent of Jack Flaherty and Harrison Bader. Last year’s rookie class was a more than impressive one but who is the most prone for a sophomore slump?
Ronald Acuna Jr. has great statcast numbers. His average exit velocity ranks in the 86th percentile and his Barrel% lies in the 91st percentile. He hits the ball hard and often, both of those numbers show that. No red flags seem to come up when evaluating Acuna Jr. and I think he could be even better in the 2019 season. Juan Soto is in the same boat with Acuna. His statcast numbers aren’t as impressive, but he walks often. His BB% ranks in the top two percent of the league which is a great indicator for hitting value. As he adjusts more to the league, I think his other numbers could increase as he is only twenty years of age. An increase in home runs and slugging percentage are soon on the horizon for the young star who has a long career ahead of him.
Gleyber Torres and Miguel Andujar are both future assets for the Yankees but one of the two is my choice for a sophomore slump. Andujar had a better season of the two last year but his sucess won’t last for long. Andujar is a talented hitter but that’s it. His average exit velocity and barrel% lie around the average but he banks his success on his ability to make contact often. This hitting approach does result with a low K% and a high batting average but he doesn’t walk. So, it’s only a matter of time before he can’t continue to make contact as often as he currently does and drops off in performance. I think that he will slightly regress in the 2019 season and continue to do so for the next few seasons. His walk rate is low and the difference between his batting average and on-base percentage is abysmal. His OBP looks fine by itself but because his batting average is so high, it makes his OBP look good. His lack of walks isn’t his only problem either.
Miguel Andujar is also a poor fielder. In the 2018 season he ranked fifth worst in the league among qualified players in defensive runs above average. That metric takes a player’s defensive ability and adjusts it so that their defensive value can be compared to players at different positions. It is also included in the calculation of WAR. Overall, it is simply put one of the best algorithms as measuring defensive ability out there right now. The inability to walk paired with poor defense seems like the perfect indication that the future for Miguel Andujar isn’t looking great.
You can make the argument that Andujar’s poor defense won’t limit his career length, when he could just be put as a designated hitter. I think that argument is definitely a valid point but when Andujar doesn’t continue his contact numbers like last year, there won’t be an argument to keep him in the lineup. His defense isn’t an asset to the Yankees, it’s a liability. He may not even regress significantly in 2019, but he will in due time. He will regress in 2019 in some form of way, most likely being an increase in strikeouts and from there, it will only build. His inability to walk paired with poor defense makes me believe that finishing second in rookie of the year voting will be the biggest accomplishment of his career.
Sources include Fangraphs, Baseball Savant, and Baseball Reference