Despite the dozens of scouts watching, the thousands of MLB players who have played a substantial amount of games in the Minor Leagues, and the overage of statistics on every AAA player, it’s still incredibly hard to project a prospect’s MLB career before it happens. Although the top prospects, Shohei Ohtani and Ronald Acuna, won the 2018 Rookie of the Year awards, there are always surprises such as Joey Wendle and Harrison Bader, as well as disappointing rookie seasons such as Scott Kingery and Lewis Brinson.
At this point in the offseason, it is slightly premature to look at what prospects will make the biggest difference in the upcoming season. Nobody has shown off in Spring Training, top prospects can still be traded, and a number of free agents have yet to sign and could ultimately take away a starting role from a rookie that currently slots into the lineup. Nonetheless, rookies can make a huge and unexpected impact on any team’s season, and it is important to know who can make a name for themselves.
Baltimore Orioles: DJ Stewart, RF
Stewart has never been ranked among the top prospects, and none of his tools particularly stand out. However, he’s been productive at every level, including a short 17 game stint in the MLB. He’s currently projected by Roster Resource to be the team’s starting right fielder. He won’t be a great defender as scouting reports say, but his bat is intriguing as a three-true-outcomes type hitter.
Stewart had walked over 10% of the time in each of the last 3 minor league seasons, and although he strikes out more than the average player, it has never been at unbearable rates. In his short MLB stint, Stewart had a 12.1% whiff rate, which is certainly playable. Considering his plate discipline and the fact that he sprays the ball all over the field, Stewart’s hit tool may translate better to the MLB than many had previously thought.
Whether Stewart’s raw power translates as well will make or break his career. He showed off his power with 3 home runs in his first 43 MLB plate appearances. His average batted ball distance in September of 2018 was 195 feet, and although that’s not always the best predictor for future home runs, it is notable that he sits around Jose Ramirez, Daniel Murphy, and Matt Kemp.
The Orioles are expected to play plenty of rookies this season, as they won’t be making a strong attempt to compete so they will put an emphasis on development. Not many of their top prospects will play a large portion of the season on the MLB roster, especially if they choose to manipulate the service time as many teams choose to do with their prospects.