The American League is flush with rookie talent this year, led by two older prospects in 26-year-old Steven Souza and 27-year-old Cuban émigré, Rusney Castillo. Both are locked into starting roles and are being taken early in fantasy drafts. Assuming Dalton Pompey wins the centerfield role out of Spring Training, he has the speed, bat control, and the defensive chops to give both Souza and Castillo a run for their money for Rookie of the Year.
There are also a number of pitchers that could provide impact to their teams this year. My two favorite rookie pitchers are the Angles newly acquired lefty Andrew Heaney and the Twins 6-foot-9 power right-hander Alex Meyer. However, if Daniel Norris gets to Toronto by June 1st, watch out…he could easily move to the top of the list, much like Jacob DeGrom did in 2014.
Potential Impact Players
Steven Souza (OF, TB): 550 AB, 18 HR, 22 SB, .275, .340 OBP
Starts the season in Tampa.
I’ve been leading the Steven Souza bandwagon for two-years after seeing him school, yes, you heard me, school Kris Bryant and Jorge Soler before an Arizona Fall League game in batting practice. While it was clearly all in fun, the ball exploded off his bat and I was sold. He’s got speed, power and a nice short, quick stroke that should allow him to provide contribution in multiple categories on your fantasy team.
Rusney Castillo (OF, Bos): 500 AB, 11 HR, 28 SB, .260 BA, .330 OBP
Starts the season in Boston.
The $72 million dollar investment that the Red Sox made in Rusney Castillo should start to payoff in 2015. He’s got plenty of tools with the chance to hit double-digit home runs and steal 30 plus stolen bases. Provided he stays healthy, he has to be considered a strong candidate for Rookie of the Year.
Dalton Pompey (OF, Tor): 475 AB, 6 HR, 30 SB, .275 BA, .350 OBP
Starts the season in Toronto.
Dalton Pompey tore through four levels last year and wound up in the major leagues to end the season. The glove is ready and the bat is not that far behind. Don’t be surprised if he starts the season off slowly; as that has been his pattern in most new challenges. However, if the Blue Jays can weather this adjustment period, the talent should begin to shine through by mid-season.
Francisco Lindor (SS, Cle): 350 AB, 7 HR, 18 SB, .270 BA, .345 OBP
Called up on June 15th.
Francisco Lindor is the highest ranked prospect on this list at number five and is nearly big league ready. However, that might not be enough as the Indians will at a minimum keep him down to gain an extra year of team control, or even delay his promotion until mid-June to avoid making him a Super-2 player. The fly-in-the ointment could be Jose Ramirez. He’s a grinder and a nice little ball player in his own right. However, Lindor is the superior talent and will ultimately be Indians shortstop of the future.
Andrew Heaney (LHP, LAA): 170 IP, 155 K, 3.80 ERA, 1.22 WHIP
Starts the season in Los Angeles.
Heaney was traded twice in the off-season and wound up in a great situation in Los Angeles. He should enter the season as the fifth starter and while the stuff is that of a mid-rotation starter, it’s plenty good to impact your fantasy team and for him to challenge for Rookie of the Year.
Alex Meyer (RHP, Min): 150 IP, 145 K, 3.90 ERA, 1.27 WHIP
Starts the season in Minnesota.
Alex Meyer doesn’t need to post a Spring Training line of 14 IP, 18 K, and a sub 1.00 ERA to break camp with the Twins, he just needs to be solid. While Meyer’s long levers will continue to be a problem for him and that will show in his results, there is just a ton to like with the 6-foot-9 right-hander.
Daniel Norris (LHP, Tor): 90 IP, 100 K, 3.60 ERA, 1.24 WHIP
Potential call-up in June.
As we wrote in our pre-season Top 10’s, Daniel Norris has the talent to be the best left-handed pitcher in the game. The stuff is just flat-out nasty and his command and control took a huge step forward in 2014. He does need more seasoning but if Toronto believes he’s ready, he immediately jumps to top of the pitchers on the list.
Carlos Rodon (RHP, CHW): 30 IP, 35 K, 3.10 ERA, 1.10 WHIP
Potential call-up in July.
The talent of Carlos Rodon should easily put him in the Rookie of Year debate. When he demonstrates fastball command, he has three plus pitches. Unfortunately, the command is too inconsistent and he needs more seasoning. However, he makes the list because of the talent; just don’t be surprised if he pitches in the bullpen and not in the starting rotation once he’s eventually promoted.
Micah Johnson (2B, Cle): 350 AB, 1 HR, 25 SB, .260 BA, .330 OBP
Potential call-up in late May or early June.
Injuries limited Micah Johnson’s production in 2014 but assuming he’s fully healthy, he could be a significant fantasy contributor this year. While he will be given a shot to make the team out of Spring Training, I’m assuming the job will be split between Emilo Bonifacio and Carlos Sanchez. However, Johnson has the superior hit tool and should get the call sometime in May or June.
Dylan Bundy (RHP, Bal): 70 IP, 75 K, 3.40 ERA, 1.10 WHIP
Potential call-up in June.
I’m still a believer in Dylan Bundy and his call-up to the majors will be completely dependent on how he pitches early in the season. While you could say that about any pitcher, the Orioles need power arms and can’t allow Bundy to waste innings in the minors as his innings will be limited.
Other Players that could impact their clubs
Ryan Rua (OF, Tex)
Ryan Rua could easily start the year in left field for the Texas Rangers and with playing time, comes the chance to impact a fantasy team. He makes very good contact with a mature approach at the plate and enough pop to hit 15 plus home runs. He’s a 30-grade runner, so don’t expect any stolen base contribution.
Aaron Sanchez (RHP, Tor)
I’ve maintained for the past two years that Aaron Sanchez is a reliever with a chance to be a special closer. If the Blue Jays do not solve their closer situation by the end of Spring Training and Sanchez becomes the guy, he could easily move in the discussion for Rookie of the Year.
Nate Karns (RHP, TB)
If Karns can develop a feel for a change-up, he could be a real break-out candidate for 2015. I doubt he starts the season in the majors but could be an interesting injury call-up.
Brandon Finnegan (LHP, KC)
The Royals want Brandon Finnegan to be a starter and his college career clearly shows he has the pitchability and stuff to do that. However, don’t be surprised if the Royals use him again in the bullpen for 2015. However, if he starts the season in the rotation, he could make noise.
Eduardo Rodriguez (LHP, Bos)
If the arsenal improvement that Eduardo Rodriguez showed after he was traded to the Red Sox was real, then the lefty could be a real asset to the Red Sox in 2015. They’ll need it as their current rotation is made up of a bunch of number four and five starters.
Blake Swihart (C, Bos)
Blake Swihart has the kind of offensive tools that you don’t see very often. He’s athletic with great bat speed with 20 home run power potential. While he’s not quite in Christian Vazquez defensive class, he’s no slouch either. In fact, he could easily be a Top 10 defensive catcher once he gets acclimated to the big leagues.
Giovanny Urshela (3B, Cle)
Giovanny Urshela is my deep sleeper in the American League. He had a very productive season in 2014, smacking 18 home runs with an 86% contact rate across Double and Triple-A. He also kept hitting in the Venezuelan Winter League, posting a .929 OPS in 108 at-bats. To complete the profile, he’s a plus defender at third with good footwork and a plus arm. Unless you believe Lonnie Chisenhall has turned the corner and is the full-time answer at third for the Indians, Urshela could see significant playing time.