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Assessing the Dynasty Value of 2023’s Surprising Rookies

Predicting the Dynasty value of 2023's surprise rookies.

The 2023 rookie class was nothing short of special. Corbin Carroll and Gunnar Henderson dominated the headlines, putting together excellent years for competing teams. Anyone could have predicted that these two would break out and become stars, but there were a handful of players who put together excellent years seemingly out of nowhere.

A surprise breakout rookie is exciting for fans and team executives alike. The idea that an undervalued player could be an in-house fix to a position of need is a dream come true. These players did exactly that, carving out roles for their teams that few expected them to take on coming into the 2023 season. Whether they were complete surprises or highly ranked prospects who were just ahead of schedule, these players have asserted themselves within their organizations.

Going into 2024, these rookies will have the chance to build off of their impressive starts to their careers.

 

Edouard Julien (1B/OF, Minnesota Twins

2023 Stats: .263 AVG | .381 OBP | .459 SLG | 16 HR | 3 SB | 31.7 K% | 15.7 BB%

Julien burst onto the scene seemingly out of nowhere when he was called up after 38 games at AAA. The Twins’ first baseman has demonstrated an elite eye at the plate and can hit for power as well.  In 109 games at the big league level, Julien established himself as a reliable everyday hitter in a lineup that sorely lacked consistency in 2023. Just five hitters for Minnesota reached the 400 at-bat threshold last season, and Julien led them with a 2.8 WAR. The 24-year-old registered a 136 wRC+ in his debut season, which ranked 17th in Major League Baseball, ahead of Austin Riley, Julio Rodriguez, and Paul Goldschmidt.

There is no doubt that Julien will start 2024 at the top of the Twins lineup. Julien will act as a table-setter for the more established power threats behind him like Carlos Correa, Max Kepler, and Carlos Santana. The inevitable call-up of Brooks Lee will crowd the infield on the Twins’ big league roster, but Julien’s hit tool should be enough to keep him in an everyday role. His ceiling is a high average, 20+ home run hitter that will have plenty of run-scoring opportunities. Even if he doesn’t come close to these lofty expectations, he’s still a safe bet to be a solid points scorer.

 

Nolan Jones (OF, Colorado Rockies)

2023 Stats: .297 AVG | .389 OBP | .542 SLG | 20 HR | 20 SB | 29.7 K% | 12.5 BB%

I wish I had been writing about baseball back when Nolan Jones was traded to Colorado because I would have been screaming from the rooftops to target Jones in fantasy leagues. The former infield prospect turned corner outfielder has seen his value skyrocket since his move to the Rockies, as he put together a stellar 2023 season. Twenty home runs and 20 steals is impressive on its own from a rookie in his first full season, but the adjustments he made throughout the season were what caught my eye.

Jones fell into a slump in July, hitting just .193 and striking out 24 times in 18 games. Many young hitters would have hit the panic button and allowed the slump to get worse, but not Jones. He hit .316 throughout the rest of the season, adding 11 long balls and drastically increasing his walk rate (5 walks in July, 34 in the final two months). Jones’s ability to bounce back is one of the things that makes him incredibly valuable in fantasy.

Jones has established himself as one of the premier hitters in a below-average Rockies lineup. NFBC has Jones ranked as the 14th outfielder by ADP, but another strong season could land him in the top ten.

 

Tanner Bibee (SP, Cleveland Guardians)

2023 Stats: 142.0 IP | 2.98 ERA | 141 SO | 1.18 WHIP

Tanner Bibee has been filthy everywhere he’s pitched. Ever since being selected in the fifth round of the 2021 draft out of Cal State Fullerton, Bibee has shoved. In just two seasons in the minors, Bibee registered a 2.13 ERA in 148 innings, striking out 186 hitters. The story was no different in his first foray into Major League Baseball, as he hit the ground running and didn’t stop. Of all MLB pitchers with more than 140 innings last season, only five had a better ERA.

Bibee’s stuff isn’t overwhelming, but his arm slot allows him to fool hitters by tunneling his offspeed stuff with his 95-mile-an-hour fastball. His changeup and slider have been his most effective weapons to date, with the changeup especially yielding good results. He was able to put up a 35.5% CSW on that offering in 2023, which ranked 10th in the Majors out of all changeups. He only threw it 17% of the time, so some approach changes may warrant even better results.

Bibee has locked down one of the Guardian’s rotation spots for 2024. Barring injury, there is very little reason to see him as anything less than a third starter for Cleveland behind Shane Bieber and Triston McKenzie. The Guardians lack much starting pitching depth in the Minor Leagues. The team is surely counting on Bibee to handle a heavy workload in 2024.

 

Reese Olson (SP, Detroit Tigers

2023 Stats: 103.2 IP | 3.99 ERA | 103 SO | 1.12 WHIP

Few expected Reese Olson to break out in the manner that he did, especially after a dreadful start to the 2023 season in AAA where he posted a 6.38 ERA in ten starts. The Tigers kept the faith in him, and he proved them right. In 18 starts, Olson cut his walk rate in half (5.40 BB/9 in AAA, 2.98 in MLB) and showed off some nasty stuff.

Olson relies on a sweeper (31%) and a four-seam fastball (29%) that have both garnished positive results. The sweeper is especially effective at creating whiffs, primarily for right-handed hitters. The fastball has been good at limiting hard contact, as hitters only managed a .196 average against it last season. He also mixes in a sinker/changeup combo that plays off the fastball, and a curveball that separates from the slider. These pitches act as complimentary offerings that set up or enhance the effectiveness of his two primary pitches.

Olson’s spot in the rotation in 2024 is much more doubtful than Bibee’s. The Tigers significantly improved their staff before the 2024 season, adding Jack Flaherty and Kenta Maeda to the incumbent core of Tarik Skubal and Matt Manning. Olson is in a position to lay claim to the final rotation spot, but strong springs from Casey Mize or Wilmer Flores could cast a shadow of doubt over Olson’s fantasy value.

 

Javier Assad (SP/RP, Chicago Cubs)

2023 Stats: 109.1 IP | 3.05 ERA | 94 SO | 1.23 WHIP

Entering 2023, Assad’s role in the Cubs rotation was far from clear. However, a strong outing in the 2023 World Baseball Classic (5.2 IP, 0 RA)  convinced the Northsiders that he was worth an Opening Day roster spot. The 26-year-old rewarded their faith by being one of the most consistent performers in the Cubs pitching staff. Assad bounced between being a starter and a reliever for the entire year and was excellent in both roles.

His outlook for 2024 is very different though. The Cubs have made significant moves to upgrade their staff, adding Shota Imanaga to the rotation, and Hector Neris and Yency Almonte to the bullpen. Assad will likely start the year in the bullpen but will get spot-start opportunities as the season progresses. There is no reason to believe that Assad will regress in ’24, but there are doubts that he will be afforded as many opportunities as he was last season.

 

Zack Gelof (2B, Oakland Athletics)

2023 Stats: .267 AVG | .337 OBP | .504 SLG | 14 HR | 14 SB | 27.3 K% | 8.7 BB%

I wasn’t sure whether to include Gelof, as a strong season from a former #3 prospect isn’t necessarily surprising. That said, I don’t think very many people expected the 24-year-old infielder to be as good as he was in 2023. In just 69 games in Major League Baseball, Gelof led the A’s with a 2.9 WAR, nearly a full win ahead of the runner-up Brent Rooker. Gelof has quickly become a focal point of an otherwise barren Oakland lineup. One of the most impressive factors with Gelof is his consistency, as, throughout his entire rookie season, he was adding over a run per 100 pitches.

Gelof will be a top-of-the-order bat for the A’s in 2024, acting as a table-setter for Rooker and Seth Brown behind him in the lineup. With a full season, Gelof’s fantasy potential is sky-high. He is a potent power and stolen base threat. Playing in Oakland affords him plenty of time to make adjustments in the event he does struggle. Gelof is currently the 12th-best second baseball according to the NFBC. However, with a repeat performance, he could vault into the top-five option at the position.

 

 

Jack Mueller

Jack Mueller is a senior undergraduate student at Miami University studying Journalism and Sport Management. Before joining PitcherList, Jack worked for the Orleans Firebirds (Cape Cod Baseball League) and the Chicago Dogs (American Association) as an advance scout and data analyst.

2 responses to “Assessing the Dynasty Value of 2023’s Surprising Rookies”

  1. Matt Gansen says:

    My opinion on Nolan Jones is very hesitant His BABIP was the highest of all qualified hitters, he outperformed his xAVG by .043, low LD%, Fl&B%, Solid%, and SS%. Any thoughts on if this screams regression, or are these all issues addressable by such a young player?

  2. Babbo B says:

    “There is no reason to believe that Assad will regress in ’24” – what about his 4.41 SIERA last season (not to mention a 4.49 PLA) compared to the 3.05 ERA?

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