By: Michael Bondy

After Cody Bellinger and Aaron Judge set the baseball world on fire last summer with their historical rookie seasons, everyone will be heading into the 2018 season looking for the next big thing that can make an immediate impact on their rosters. In a league where a talented first-year player can become a staple in the center of a lineup, grabbing young talent on the verge of breaking out can be a massive boost to your roster as the fantasy season plays out. Below are a few new players who should be in their respective team’s lineup early in the season and on your fantasy radar:

Ronald Acuna – OF – Braves

2018 Projections:
GP: 135 | H: 136 | R: 60 | HR: 15 | RBI: 58 | SB: 28 | AVG: .253 | OBP: .298 | SLG: .404 |

The most glaringly obvious of breakout rookies will likely not even be in the Opening Day lineup. Ronald Acuna of the Atlanta Braves is a 20-year-old superstar on the edge of superstardom. He is more than ready to make the jump to the big leagues, but that does not mean his contract necessarily is as well. That is not due to his lack of talent or readiness to be there. Taking a page out of the Chicago Cubs’ book in 2015 with Kris Bryant and gaining an extra year of control on his entry-level contract, the Braves will wait until mid-April to display their prized prospect for all the fans at SunTrust Park to see. It is to be expected that from that day forward, Acuna will be the young, fresh face of a rebuilding Atlanta franchise and a phenomenal bat next to superstar Freddie Freeman.

The true definition of a five-tool player, Acuna amassed 44 steals, while knocking in 82 runs with 21 home runs across three levels in the minors (A+ to AAA). At the young age of 20, Acuna may be the closest we, as fans, get to a super rookie like the previous season.

With the developing, weak line up around him, he will also be given the keys to drive the Braves’ bus and lead their line up alongside Freeman. Similar to the failed experiment we saw from top prospect Dansby Swanson a season ago at shortstop; the Braves will be hoping for more success this season from their latest top prospect. For fantasy owners that are worried they are going to miss out on production due to Acuna starting the year in the minors , fear not. In 2015 when the Cubs decided to hold Bryant in the minors for the first few weeks of the season, it barely caused a hiccup in the young superstar’s game as he missed a minuscule 11 Major League games, before building a Rookie of the Year campaign that fell one RBI short of 100.

Expect a near similar route for Acuna, the soon to be Venezuelan star, as he enters this year a clear R.O.Y favorite in what may be a fairly stacked rookie pool.

Rafael Devers – 3B – Red Sox

2018 Projections:
GP: 139 | H: 153 | R: 73 | HR: 23 | RBI: 78 | SB: 6 | AVG: .277 | OBP: .332 | SLG: .471 |

Devers may only be 20 years old, but he swings the bat like a 15-year MLB veteran. After a 58-game stint in 2017 which saw the youngster bypass all learning curves, the third basemen amassed 10 home runs and 31 RBIs while holding an impressive .284 BA. With his appetizer-like, preview season out of the way and a full 162 game schedule in his sights for the 2018 season, expect the Dominican Republic native to put himself directly into the talks as one of the top offensive third basemen in the American League.

David Ortiz may have retired a few years ago but Devers kind of looks like his second coming in third base form. With a sure spot in the Red Sox Opening Day line up, Devers is expected to hit around the six or seven hole to begin the year. Although not the most attractive position in any order, the Red Sox possess one of the most lethal lineups on paper consisting of elite talents like Mookie Betts, J.D. Martinez, Xander Bogearts and Andrew Benintendi. With such talent around him and consistently on-base in front of him, driving in runs should not be an issue and expect Devers to work his way up the line up as he matures into the MLB superstar many expect.

Willie Calhoun – OF – Rangers

2018 Projections:
GP: 122 | H: 125 | R: 59 | HR: 20 | RBI: 66 | SB: 2 | AVG: .271 | OBP: .331 | SLG: .469 |

Feared by many minor League pitchers, Willie Calhoun, the main piece moved in the Yu Darvish deal last summer came to Texas with very high expectations after establishing himself as one of the hardest hitting infielders in the MiLB. With 31 HRs and 91 RBIs with Oklahoma City (AAA) in 2017, Calhoun proved there was little left for him to prove in the minors, opening the door wide open to a starting job in the Rangers outfield this season. (Calhoun was optioned to Triple-A Round Rock to “work on the defensive side of his game,” according to Rangers manager Jeff Banister. 

Calhoun has never been known as an exceptional hitter for average but is also expected to be a
slight upgrade in the BA department over the likes of Judge. If there is one rookie this season that
looks most likely to match the power of last year’s breakout superstars, it is Calhoun. Mix in a spot in the lineup night-in and night-out and Calhoun becomes an extremely intriguing first-year fantasy option. With such dominate minor league numbers for a long stretch (27 HRs in AA in ’07), one has to imagine the early success at such a young age will only transfer positively over to the majors. At 23, Calhoun seems miles ahead of other hitters of the same age.

As one of the less talked about rookies this year, Calhoun should make for an extremely sneaky steal late in drafts who may fall closer to a Joey Gallo like season from a year ago (41 HRs, .209 BA).

Gleyber Torres – SS – Yankees

2018 Projections:
GP: 104 | H: 90 | R: 46 | HR: 12 | RBI: 45 | SB: 11 | AVG: .245 | OBP: .341 | SLG: .401 |

The New York Yankees are going to be undeniably dangerous this year and almost all hitters, one through nine deserve some immediate fantasy attention. Although they are dangerous and full of massive names, the Yankees will still be welcoming some new, exciting faces into their everyday line up.

After moving Chase Headley to the Padres early in the offseason, the Yankees seemed to make it very clear that the time ha finally come for their second baseman of the future to make the leap to full-time Yankee. However, they brought Neil Walker in late in spring and sent Torres back to the minors for now.

Regardless, it may only be a matter of time before Torres gets the call from the ‘Bronx Bombers.’ He had a rough spring, but if he gets off to a start anywhere close to the way he finished last year, Torres owners might not have to wait long: he hit .309 over his final 23 Triple-A games last season before Tommy John Surgery.

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