The best hitters in baseball are exceedingly young. Fernando Tatis Jr., Juan Soto, Vladimir Guerrero Jr., Bo Bichette, Ronald Acuna Jr. — arguably five of the top 10 hitters selected in a standard fantasy baseball draft — are all under the age of 25. With boffo production coming from such youthful performers, fantasy managers are always on the lookout for who’s next to take the baseball world by storm. This year, there is a large crop of talented rookie batters who appear ready to produce on the big stage. Here’s a collection of some of the best rookies to keep in mind during your fantasy baseball drafts.
Catcher: Adley Rutschman, Baltimore Orioles
Let’s begin with No. 1. The top prospect in the sport according to Baseball America and MLB, Rutschman is a complete catcher. For fantasy purposes, the switch-hitter is going to provide 20-homer pop as soon as he arrives in the Majors. He had 23 HRs and an .899 OPS through 123 games across Double-A and Triple-A last year. He also has a great plate approach; he draws a lot of walks and has never struck out more than 20% of the time at any level. Even though he may not start the season in Baltimore, Rutschman is being drafted as if a call-up will come soon after Opening Day. He’s the 11th catcher off the board in ESPN drafts. That’s pretty rich, but Rutschman’s bat will definitely provide value right away.
First base: Spencer Torkelson, Detroit Tigers
The No. 1 overall pick one year after Adley, Torkelson has lived up to the hype as well. He had a .552 slugging percentage and a .935 slugging percentage across three levels of the Minors last year. His bat packs a wallop as he crushed 30 homers in 2021, a number he could flirt with if he reaches Detroit early enough in the 2022 season. His average dipped at Triple-A, but his stellar plate discipline remained. He may not hit better than .250 as a rookie, but he will have a solid on-base percentage to go along with that legit power. He’s eligible at 3B on some fantasy platforms.
Second base: Nolan Gorman, St. Louis Cardinals
Gorman really grew into his 60-grade power in 2021 as he slammed 25 homers across two levels, including 14 HRs in a little more than 300 at-bats at Triple-A. There’s probably more to come, too, as he’s just 21 years old. He also hit better than .270 at each spot and finished with seven steals. Tommy Edman is handling second base in St. Louis right now, but he can also play in the outfield or move to shortstop in a pinch. If an injury occurs in the Cardinals’ middle infield early on, Gorman should be promoted and provide enough pop to be added in most fantasy leagues.
Third base: Jake Burger, Chicago White Sox
This spot would have belonged to the Rangers’ Josh Jung, but he is slated to miss nearly all of this season after he underwent shoulder surgery in February. Burger, like Gorman, isn’t really a draft commodity; he’s blocked by Yoan Moncada. However, he carries a very loud bat as he hit 18 home runs in just 82 games in the Minors last year. He was decent in his 15-game stint with the White Sox last year (.807 OPS), but he did have a 35.7 percent strikeout rate. You’ll have to deal with the swings and misses with Burger, but after bouncing back from two injury-marred seasons earlier in his career, he appears poised for even bigger things in 2022. He should get another shot in the big leagues at some point.
Shortstop: Bobby Witt Jr., Kansas City Royals
Expectations for Witt are already through the roof. He’s been drafted as a top-20 shortstop in ESPN leagues, ahead of Jazz Chisholm and Brandon Crawford. It’s a bold investment in a player without an MLB at-bat to his name. However, Witt could certainly be worth it and then some. He was fantastic at the plate in Double-A and Triple-A last year, posting a better than 140 wRC+ at each stop. A true five-tool player, he stole 29 bases, too. He isn't a patient hitter and will probably flail and fail against quality pitching early on in the Majors. But could he go 20-20 as a rookie? Yep.
Outfielder: Julio Rodriguez, Seattle Mariners
Will J-Rod be the first outfield prospect promoted in 2022? Definitely not. He’s played just 46 games above Single-A. And still, it feels like he is ready to pound MLB pitching right now. He’s the best hitting prospect in the Minors and proved it with a crazy .347/.441/.560 slash line last year. He was even better once he got moved up to Double-A as he recorded a .362 average, seven homers and 16 stolen bases in those 46 games. Speed was not a big part of Rodriguez’s game when he began his pro career, but the 21-year-old has worked hard to make himself a better athlete. Oh, and he also posted a 1.069 OPS for the Dominican Republic team during the Tokyo Olympics last summer. Again, the Mariners won’t roster him right away. But if he starts out hot in 2022 — and he should given his track record everywhere — the franchise would be doing everyone a favor by bringing this guy to the Majors. There may be no current prospect whose MLB debut is more anticipated.