In 2022, much of the rookie focus has been on highly touted guys like Julio Rodriguez, Bobby Witt Jr and Spencer Torkelson. This list is intended to shed light on other relevant fantasy baseball recruits who may be overlooked.
No one can deny the appeal of fantasy baseball rookies. With all the hype often comes missed expectations. A very effective fantasy baseball strategy is to target rookies that often go unnoticed or go unnoticed. There have been a handful this year that at least deserve to be on your radar.
Four fantastic baseball rookies flying under the radar
Alek Thomas – OF / Arizona Diamondbacks
(.333 / 3 HR / 5 RBI / 21.1% registrants)
Thomas may be freshly called, but he’s already a relevant fantasy baseball product. When he was a top hope in his own right (#24 overall according to fangraphs), its hot start received little attention. In 13 games, Thomas has all three home runs and five RBIs to go along with four doubles and an impressive 177 WRC+.
Confirmed: Alek Thomas is a major league hitter. pic.twitter.com/CwWXEFByuS
— Bally Sports Arizona (@BALLYSPORTSAZ) May 20, 2022
Dig a little deeper and it was even more impressive. Accounting for the small sample size, Thomas actually has a solid barrel rate of 9.1% and a hard hit rate of 39.4%. Both are well above league average. It has a less thrilling average exit speed of 86.9 MPH. This is topped by his all-court ability to hit the ball (37.9% pull rate, 34.5% opposite field) and excellent speed (94th percentile). Plus, he absolutely annihilates breakup throws (0.538 average, 1.077 SLG in 13 AB). Again, small sample but still a very positive sign for a young hitter.
As long as Thomas is still in the big leagues, he’s proven himself more than worthy of a spot on the list. 12 teams or bigger leagues should pick it up ASAP.
Brendan Donovan – 3B / St. Louis Cardinals
(0.293 / 1 HR / 5 RBI / 1.9% registered)
A big part of Donovan’s continued success and his ability to stay on this roster comes from the playing time he will continue to get now that Gorman has been called up. Luckily for Donovan, however, he performed more than well enough in the playing time he got.
Rookie Brendan Donovan raked for the Cardinals. And it’s hot pic.twitter.com/uXys4eYOW8
— Talkin’ Baseball (@TalkinBaseball_) May 14, 2022
What you get with Donovan is not someone who is going to blow your mind with strong numbers. What he excels at is getting on base and hitting for average. In his 108 minor league games in 2021, Donovan has put up 21 doubles, 12 homers, 66 RBIs and stolen 19 bases. He did all of this by hitting .304 and basing himself at a .368 clip. That’s the kind of production Donovan has carried over to the MLB level. He has a walk rate of 20.4%, which led to an excellent OBP of 0.463. He also has a below-league average chase rate at 25% and makes a very impressive 86% zone contact.
Donovan’s average exit speed (85 MPH) and barrel rate (3.2%) leave a lot to be desired. Despite this, he still has a hard hitting rate of 38.7 above the league average. So it’s something. Softer contact aside, it seems to do whatever it takes to still be effective. He limits his fly balls (16.1%) and has a solid line driving rate (25.8%). Donovan also uses all courts, shooting the ball just 32.3% of the time.
With Tyler O’Neill on the IL, there always seems to be a clear path to game time for Donovan. He’s already played five positions this year and is shaping up to be a great utility guy moving forward. As long as he’s in the lineup, he’s a decent fantasy addition in deeper leagues. Especially the points leagues.
Sheldon Neuse – 2B/3B/Oakland Athletics
(.262 / 2 HR / 14 RBI / 10.9% Listed)
One of the odd rookies who is sort of in his third major league season, Neuse seems to have finally stuck on the major league roster. Not only that, he also made himself one of the most promising recruits in fantasy baseball. Even though he hasn’t displayed much power yet, his minor league power numbers give plenty to be excited about. 13 doubles and 13 home runs in the 2021 Triple-A season and 31 doubles and 27 home runs in the 2019 season. While he can somehow land somewhere between those two numbers, he would be a staple in any format.
2022 was Neuse’s largest sample size in the majors and it comes with positive feedback. First, Neuse has the lowest strikeout rate of his career at the major league level (27.5%) as well as his highest walk rate (7%). This led to the highest OBP (.324) and OPS (.685) of his career. He doesn’t shoot the ball as much as I’d like to see him (3.3%) but he is still in hard contact. His average speed out (90.4 mph) and hard hit rate (41.8%) are both above league average.
Player A: 19 for 115 (.172 avg) 0 HR 8 RBI, 9 BB, 25 K’s, .446 OPS
Player B: 21 for 111 (.189 avg) 5 HR, 15 RBI, 12 BB, 36 K, .635 OPS
Player C: 32 for 110 (.291 avg) 2 HR, 14 RBI, 9 BB, 34 K, .755 OPS
Player A: Marcus Semien
Player B: Matt Chapman
Player C: Sheldon Neuse
— Green and Gold Weekly (@GreenGoldWeekly) May 13, 2022
One of Neuse’s biggest improvements this season has been his ability to hit the fastball. In 2021, Neuse only hit 0.182 fastballs. This season, Neuse is hitting a solid .293 out of them. He also hit a career-high .212 against break shots. While .212 isn’t usually exciting, when a player like Neuse shows such consistent hitting improvement across the board, it’s a great indicator of continued success. With three doubles, two triples, two homers and four stolen bases already this season, expect Neuse to be a viable multi-category contributor in fantasy for the rest of the season.
Juan Yepez – 1B / St. Louis Cardinals
(0.328 / 3 HR / 5 RBI / 21.2% registered)
One of the things that makes Yepez more appealing from the start is that he will soon be eligible for the outfield as well. Couple that with the fact that he absolutely lit up the pitch at the Triple-A level for the past two seasons before this year’s call and you have the makings of a player with immense potential. In his last 114 minor league games, Yepez hit .287 with 30 doubles, 31 home runs and 89 RBIs. Pretty impressive for less than a full AB season.
Juan Yepez’s 1st MLB home run has been CRUSHED! pic.twitter.com/uw8zrzFqSg
— St. Louis Cardinals (@Cardinals) May 8, 2022
The thing with Yepez is that it is completely free. It will either end up being his blessing or his curse. He is chasing a 37.5% shot average well above the league. Despite this, he makes 60.4% better league average contact on the pitches he chases. He also swings on 71.4% of the throws from the zone and swings on 54.2% of the throws he sees in general (47% league average). What’s nice, however, is that he makes great contact at 84.1% on area courts and only breathes 24.3% of the time.
The advantage is there. With him even getting somewhat consistent playing time in the Cardinals’ busy roster, he’s been fantasy-relevant since day one. With his 8.3% barrel rate and 90.5 MPH average exit speed, he does a good job of making solid contact. Its 16.7% line drive rate could use a bump, but its 15.7-degree launch angle indicates that will come with time. Look for him to continue setting up counting stats as the season progresses at bat in the heart of this Cardinals lineup. With men on base, Yepez beats .292 and I don’t see it slowing down anytime soon.
Yepez should be on all fantasy radars. The post-All-Star break, when he really got some major league time, could be monstrous.