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ALDS Primer: Young Standouts Poised to Impact Playoffs

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Youth has taken over major league baseball. Which new faces are primed to give their teams a push in the postseason?

Houston Astros v Baltimore Orioles - Game Two Photo by Patrick McDermott/Getty Images

Seeing the next generation of stars on display has always been one of baseball’s biggest draws to me, and in today’s game young guns are impacting their teams at a rate higher than we have been accustomed to in the past. While the brightest rising stars are on the NL side, the junior circuit playoffs still sport a host of new faces that could impact postseason results.

New York Yankees

The Bronx Bombers’ young core has received deafening fanfare since their 2017 breakout season. While 2018 didn’t go quite as the Yanks hoped, they find themselves in the same position as last season heading into the divisional series- and that wouldn’t be the case without the help of several rookies who hit the ground running next to Aaron Judge, Giancarlo Stanton and the rest of the existing core.

Gleyber Torres, 2B - The farm system’s crown jewel coming into the season, Torres made good on his hype almost right away while manning the keystone. His plate discipline is still just middling, but Torres proved definitively that he can consistently hit major league pitching with authority in 2018, posting an eye-popping .209 ISO that fueled an outstanding 120 wRC+. Already a regular, Torres still has a lot of room for improvement and has the look of a true star if he can capitalize on his remaining potential on both sides of the ball. He will continue to give opposing pitchers headaches at the bottom of the Yankees’ stacked lineup in the postseason.

Miguel Andujar, 3B - It was another banner year for Yankees rookies, as Andujar was arguably even better than Torres in his rookie season. Unlike Torres, Andujar managed a very impressive contact rate in his first year, though he took roughly half as many walks which hampered his overall offensive value. Another drawback was Andujar’s shoddy defense, which ranked near the bottom of his position group. Even still, Andujar was nearly a three-win player as a rookie, and reminds me of a young Pablo Sandoval without the weight issue. He may not stick at third, but his bat is here to stay. He will test pitchers and defenses alike in the postseason with his high level contact ability and strength.

Stephen Tarpley, LHP - It wasn’t hard to see what made Stephen Tarpley a draft sleeper in 2013. The lefty has top-level athleticism and possessed huge projectability that he has since made good on. Perhaps most importantly, he was a product of Scottsdale CC, they of the famed “Fighting Artichokes” nickname. Since being drafted by Baltimore he has made his way to their division rival, and looks very promising as a lefty bullpen weapon. He is not a lock for the ALDS roster but has a fresh arm that can bring 93 from the left side with a hard slider. Don’t be surprised if he makes a big out at some point this October.

Luke Voit, DH - Voit is getting all kinds of buzz for his second half heroics, and he is still rookie-eligible. That said, Voit has enjoyed one of the luckiest second half runs in recent memory. While the slugger has a good approach and real power, his 40.5% HR/FB rate is one of the biggest outliers I have ever seen. He could halve that rate and it would still top the 2018 marks of Trevor Story and Matt Carpenter, and I don’t think we are witnessing a real breakout here. That said, he’s earned a spot on the playoff roster and could come through with a big hit thanks to his power.

Boston Red Sox

No rookies on postseason roster.

Cleveland Indians

Shane Bieber, RHP - Bieber fever! The memorably named righty enjoyed a very strong debut for the Tribe in 2018, perhaps deceptively so at first blush. Though his ERA ended at 4.55 (thanks in large part to one disastrous outing), the numbers surrounding it were strong more or less across the board. The 6’3” hurler leans on his fastball/curveball combo and had outstanding strikeout and walk rates as a rookie and was held back by his low strand rate and astronomical .356 BABIP against. He could start a game if the Indians get through the Astros, but most likely be used out of the pen in the first round, and sparingly considering his lack of relief experience.

Adam Cimber, RHP - A nice little pickup for the Indians at the deadline as the kicker in the Brad Hand for Francisco Mejia deal, the 28-year-old Cimber has been a revelation in his first taste of the major leagues. Though he does not strike out hitters at a rate typical of setup men, he has a knack for inducing weak contact as evidenced by his 57.2% ground ball rate, good for 11th among major league relievers this season. He will likely be used as a middle reliever in the postseason in front of the more dynamic Tribe relievers, and will seek to continue fooling hitters with his old-school sinker/slider combo. Think of him as Zach Britton with a little less heat.

Yandy Diaz, 3B - Diaz retained his rookie eligibility narrowly in 2017, and has shown modest improvements this season. The mammoth corner infielder offers all kinds of natural strength and has carved out a role as a platoon bat against righthanded pitching. Diaz’s batted ball profile has prevented him from making use of his significant raw power as he hits everything on the ground, but his 131 wRC+ against righties makes him a valuable little bench piece for Tito and co. as they seek to take down the defending champs.

Greg Allen, PR - The final rookie eligible player on the Cleveland roster, Allen accumulated 0.0 WAR in 2018 despite negative hitting and fielding value. He will be employed purely as a baserunning specialist in the postseason, and if he comes up to bat things have likely gone off-book for the Tribe.

Houston Astros

We don’t yet officially know the final roster for the Astros, and there is a chance no rookies will be carried. However, a handful of young guns have a chance to make contributions in October.

Max Stassi, C - 2018 was the fifth big league season that Stassi has participated in, but against all odds he is still a rookie by the book. The young backstop started the season on a tear with the bat but struggled as the season wore on, this could be because he has not played in this many games since 2015, or it could be a sign that he was playing over his head early on. After the acquisition of Martin Maldonado, Stassi’s path to a playoff roster spot became a lot muddier, and at this point it looks likely that he will be left off in favor of more versatile options.

Myles Straw, OF - One of the most overlooked players in the minor leagues, Straw is a hard-nosed, undersized outfielder who generates a lot of value with his baserunning and defense. The speed demon swiped 70 bags across Double and Triple-A, supported by his double-digit walk rate. Straw isn’t ready to help much with the bat but is capable if the situation forces it, and can provide value as a defensive replacement or pinch runner, premium roles in the postseason. As of now, I expect Straw to be the final position player on the roster.

Josh James, RHP - It would be hard to find a player who raised his stock more than Josh James in 2018. After addressing sleep apnea issues, James’ velocity went through the roof this season, and he now sits in the mid 90s will touching 101. This has made James a formidable, aggressive pitcher who shows promise as a potential starter in the future. If he is selected to the postseason roster, it will be as a reliever, where his triple-digit heat would play up beautifully. The Astros could use a bit more power in their bullpen, but selecting James would mean leaving a more experienced arm off the roster. I would like to see James carried in October, but experience may win out for A.J. Hinch.