Crossed Up: Analyzing Early Rookie Leaders (6/12)


The 2024 MLB season has seen dozens of exciting prospects debut already, with plenty more on the way. Many of these prospects were near the top of many sets of rankings including my own. However, many of the top names such as Wyatt Langford, Jackson Holliday and Jackson Chourio haven’t performed as hoped, while other less-heralded prospects have exceeded expectations so far.

That second grouping is the one I’ll be focusing on in this week’s edition of Crossed Up. Let’s dive into the rookie leaders through the first two and a half months of the season and discuss who’s legit and who is more of a sell high.

wRC+ Leader: Joey Ortiz, 2B/3B, Milwaukee Brewers

Ortiz is a player I discussed in last week’s Crossed Up, so you can check out my thoughts on him there. In short, I’m a fan and buying everywhere in dynasty.

AVG Leader: Masyn Winn, SS, St. Louis Cardinals

During his days as a prospect, Masyn Winn was easily one of the most difficult players for me to rank. Whenever I’d move him down my rankings, he’d start hitting well. And then I’d move him up and he’d start struggling. It’s almost as if he was doing it to spite me or something. To little fanfare, Winn is currently the top dog in the rookie batting average department, hitting .306 with a .355 OBP, .435 SLG, 3 home runs and 8 steals.

When you look into Winn’s profile at his contact metrics, you’ll see why he’s hitting above .300. Winn currently has an 86.5% zone contact rate, 83.7% overall contact rate and an 18.1% strikeout rate. He might not put a charge behind the ball with quality-of-contact metrics all in the 13th percentile or lower, but Winn makes plenty of contact and should continue hitting for a higher average to go along with 20+ steals annually. That won’t win you any championships, but there’s definitely value to be had here with Winn.

Hits Leader: Jackson Merrill, OF, San Diego Padres

It might help that he’s played more games than any other rookie, but Jackson Merrill currently leads the way with 62 hits in 66 games. You can’t be mad about a .281 AVG given how other rookies have performed, but Merrill has been a bit of a disappointment in the power department and 50 of his 62 hits have been single. At least, on the surface. While Merrill has only racked up eight doubles and a trio of home runs, he does have a 90.1 mph AVG EV and 43.9% hard-hit rate.

Merrill has also been a standout in many contact and approach metrics, currently sitting with a 14.8% strikeout rate, 86.9% zone contact rate, and 82% overall contact rate. Sure, he’s a bit aggressive with a 35.6% chase rate, 54.9% swing rate and 5.1% walk rate, but Merrill makes more than enough contact to make it work.

Overall, Merrill has been worth rostering this season, but he’s going to need to contribute more in the power department if he’s ever going to rise up past just being a low-end value fantasy player.

HR Leader: Michael Busch, 3B, Chicago Cubs

There aren’t any rookies separating themselves from the rest of the pack in the power department, but your current rookie home run leader is Michael Busch with eight. Busch has posted an AVG EV and hard-hit rate just a tick above league average, but where he stands out is with his 13.4% barrel rate and 42% sweet spot rate which ranks among the best in all of baseball. Given the power and batted ball profile we saw from Busch in college and the minors, this type of power production is what I expected from him. As long as he’s playing regularly, 25-plus home runs annually is realistic for Busch long-term.

But what will he provide outside of power? Busch has never been one to provide any steals, so he’s going to have to give us something in the AVG and OBP departments where he’s currently posting a .242 and .341 mark respectively. Busch has always posted higher walk rates and has continued that trend in the Majors with a 12.6% walk rate this season. However, Busch also has a 34.1% strikeout rate, 75.9% zone contact rate, and a 67.5% overall contact rate.

If those metrics stay where they are, Busch will likely stick down in the .240 range and provide a bit more value in OBP formats. A .240/20+ hitter can still provide value for our fantasy teams, and I’m willing to buy in dynasty leagues as Busch’s upside is a .260/30 bat and his perceived value and subsequent price tag aren’t too high at the moment.

SB Leader: Jacob Young, OF, Washington Nationals

Who saw this one coming? Certainly not me, and anyone with their hand up right now is a stone-cold liar. Young has swiped 17 bags in just 54 games this season and is hitting a respectable .267. But that’s where the positives end.

Outside of the steals, Young provides no power whatsoever with zero home runs in 184 plate appearances to go along with a .309 SLG, .042 ISO, 1.5% barrel rate, 83.4 mph AVG EV and 25.6% hard-hit rate. You should only roster and/or start him if you need a saves boost, and there’s minimal to no long-term appear here past 2024.

Red Sox Rookies

Wilyer Abreu, OF, Boston Red Sox

Unfortunately, Wilyer Abreu is on the injured list with an ankle injury at the moment, but the 24-year-old has been one of the best rookies for fantasy purposes this season. In 189 plate appearances, Abreu has six home runs, seven steals, and a .272/.344/.485 slash line. This coming after a solid 85-plate-appearance debut last season.

Abreu ranks in the 75th percentile or higher for AVG EV, barrel rate and hard-hit rate and has made minor improvements to his contact, walk and strikeout rates as well. This profile has me encouraged that Abreu’s performance so far isn’t a fluke and that he could settle in as a 20/20 threat annually if he remains a starter. I’d be looking to buy in redraft and dynasty leagues moving forward.

Ceddanne Rafaela, OF/SS, Boston Red Sox

When you watch Ceddanne Rafaela play, especially in center field, it doesn’t take long to realize that he’s an exceptional defender and all-around athlete. And on the surface, Rafaela has put together some solid counting stats this season. But when you dig deeper into the profile, Rafaela’s 2024 campaign becomes a mixed bag.

If you looked solely at Rafaela’s savant sliders, the blue balls would make your stomach turn. As would Rafaela’s .210/.237/.358 slash line. However, Rafaela is also on pace for 73 runs, 17 home runs, 90 RBIs and 19 steals, all while batting primarily in the bottom-third of Boston’s order.

Rafaela is a phenomenal defender in center field and an elite runner. Even with the incredibly low walk rate and below-average quality of contact metrics, Rafaela still has a chance at going 20/20 this season. That’s probably always going to be the case as long as he’s playing regularly. However, metrics such as his 72.8% zone contact rate, 65.9% overall contact rate, 45.2% chase rate and 3.3% walk rate will continue to limit him to being more of a top-200 player than someone pushing top-100 value. Do I think the contact rates can improve? Yes. But Rafaela has always been aggressive with a lower walk rate so I’m not sure I can see him hitting higher than .250 or having an OBP above .300 unless significant improvements happen.

David Hamilton, 2B/SS, Boston Red Sox

Due to all of the injuries in Boston, especially in their middle infield, David Hamilton has racked up more plate appearances already than I thought he’d have for the entire 2024 season. Hamilton currently ranks second among rookies with 13 steals and has a solid .289/.344/.446 slash like and three home runs in 131 plate appearances.

As was the case with Rafaela, Hamilton possesses below-average quality of contact metrics, but has enough pull-side juice to be a 10- to 12-homer bat over a full season. A full season of playing time would likely result in 30-plus steals as well, maybe even exceeding 40. But is Hamilton a player that will still see regular time once everyone is healthy? That still remains to be seen. I’d buy for 2024, but I’m not ready to call him a decent long-term dynasty investment.

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