MLBTR’s Jeff Todd has recently taken a look at some potential impact rookies throughout the AL Central and AL West. Steve Adams handled the NL West. Now let’s move on to the NL East, which was one of the strongest divisions in baseball in 2019, with four teams finishing .500 or above. 2020 figures to be just as competitive. Perhaps a strong rookie season could be a difference-maker for one of these teams. Who could it be? Let’s take a look at some of the contenders.
The Braves already have a crowded outfield at the big league level. But if any kind of opportunity should present itself, Cristian Pache is going to be waiting in the wings. The 21-year-old has received more praise for his defense and speed than for his offense. But his bat seemed to turn a corner in 2019. Over 433 plate appearances at Double-A, he put up a slash line of .278/.340/.474, good enough for a wRC+ of 134. His Triple-A numbers aren’t as strong, with a line of .274/.337/.411 and a wRC+ of 92. That was over a smaller sample of 105 plate appearances, though, and he was only 20 years old.
Pache could have competition in the form of fellow outfield prospect Drew Waters, who is following a similar trajectory. Waters was also 20 last year and spent the bulk of the season at Double-A, where he managed a lofty 144 wRC+. He also had a cup of coffee at Triple-A, where his wRC+ dropped to 84 at Triple-A. While both Pache and Waters while played 26 games at Triple-A, Waters dwarfed Pache in the strikeout column, 43 to 18.
On the pitching side, the Braves have a pile of young arms who are slated to be in Triple-A to start the year, fighting to be the first one to get the call. The 24-year-old Kyle Wright has electric stuff but hasn’t been able to translate it into success at the big league level yet. It’s a similar story for 22-year-old Bryse Wilson. Ian Anderson is only 21 and isn’t on the 40-man, but he has already been bumped up to Triple-A after dominating in Double-A.
The rebuilding Marlins already have lots of promising youngsters on the roster right now, and there are more on the way. Sixto Sanchez hasn’t reached Triple-A yet, but after dominating in Double-A with a 2.53 ERA over 103 innings, it’s possible he won’t need too much time there. Same goes for Edward Cabrera, whose Double-A ERA was just a smidge higher at 2.56, though in a smaller sample of 38 2/3 innings. Evaluators are split as to which of the two should be ranked higher. If you’re the Marlins, that’s a good problem to have.
In terms of position players, the most exciting options are outfielders. Jesus Sanchez has a tremendous bat but lacks plate discipline. Monte Harrison’s defensive skills give him a decent floor. But the bat will need to take another step for him to reach his ceiling. He put up a decent line of .274/.357/.451 in Triple-A in 2019, good enough for a wRC+ of 97, just below league average.
The Mets’ rotation took a big hit when it was announced that Noah Syndergaard will undergo Tommy John Surgery. And while they may turn to veterans like Michael Wacha or Seth Lugo to pick up the slack, they could also look to some of the rookies they have in the minors. David Peterson hasn’t reached Triple-A just yet, but he threw 116 Double-A innings in 2019, with an ERA of 4.19 and 9.47 K/9. Franklyn Kilome missed all of last season after undergoing Tommy John surgery in 2018, but he was the Mets’ fifth-best prospect at that point. Stephen Gonsalves was once a highly-touted prospect in the Twins’ system, though an injury-plagued 2019 led to them losing him to the Mets on waivers. He’s still 25 and could be a wild-card factor if he can get healthy and regain his form.
As far as position players go, shortstop Andres Gimenez is an exciting prospect (mostly because of his speed and defense). The 21-year-old swiped 66 bags from 2018-19, so the big question is how he’ll do with the bat. Gimenez spent 2019 at Double-A, slashing a mediocre .250/.309/.387, but he’s still young. And since the Mets have plenty of middle infield options such as Amed Rosario, Robinson Cano, Jeff McNeil and maybe even Jed Lowrie, it will be difficult for Gimenez to contribute as soon as 2020.
For the Nats, the most important rookie is definitely Carter Kieboom, one of the best prospects in baseball. The infielder had an excellent 2019 at the Triple-A level, slashing .303/.409/.493 for a wRC+ of 123. The 22-year-old wasn’t able to carry those numbers into his MLB debut last season, but it was only an 11-game sample size.
With Anthony Rendon moving to California, there’s an opening for Kieboom to be the everyday third baseman. He’ll have to earn it because the Nats brought back Asdrubal Cabrera as a fallback option, but they’d surely prefer for the 22-year-old Kieboom to take the job. That would enable the Nats to use Cabrera in a utility role.
Alec Bohm’s calling card is his bat. As a 22-year-old in 2019, he played 22 games in A-ball and produced a wRC+ of 196. In A+, he played 40 games with a wRC+ of 165. In 63 games at Double-A, the wRC+ was 146. If he can keep hitting in Triple-A, the question will be where to put him. Bohm mostly plays third, but many evaluators feel that his defense is too weak for the hot corner and suggest a move to first. The Phillies would surely love for Bohm to prove those evaluators wrong because they have Rhys Hoskins entrenched at first. Their current plan for the rest of the infield is to deploy Jean Segura at third, Didi Gregorius at short and Scott Kingery at second. But since Segura can also play shortstop or second, Bohm could nudge his way into the picture if any one of them goes down with an injury.
On the mound, the big name to watch is Spencer Howard. Despite injuries limiting his total output in 2019, he still put up great numbers when healthy. In 30 2/3 innings at Double-A, his ERA was 2.35. And Howard, 23, capped off his season with 21 1/3 innings of 2.11 ERA ball in the Arizona Fall League. The Philly rotation is a bit flimsy, with guys like Vince Velasquez, Zach Eflin keeping a tenuous hold on back-end spots, so a healthy Howard could shove his way into the equation.