After more than five long months of waiting, the day is finally here: happy Opening Day everyone! If you’re reading this there’s probably at least one Loupe breaker live with some Topps or Bowman available, so celebrate the right way and rip some baseball cards (after reading this blog post, of course).
Today, I’m continuing my weekly series of which rookies to collect on each team with the NL Central. While not every team is poised to have rookies make an impact in 2021, the ones that do have some of the best young players in baseball. Let’s get into it.
Chicago Cubs: C Miguel Amaya
Generally, when I do these posts, I’m going to try to stick to players who have a sure road to significant playing time in 2021, but that’s not necessarily the case with Amaya. There’s a good chance he could play himself into at-bats later in the season, but it’s not a guarantee that’ll come with the Cubs.
I’m collecting Amaya because of the potential he has to be a franchise catcher, which is why his situation with the Cubs is so interesting. There have been trade rumors in the past regarding Chicago’s current star catcher Willson Contreras, and if that comes to fruition prior to the trade deadline, it opens the door for Amaya to take over that role. Conversely, if the Cubs are more competitive than many think and elect to keep Contreras, Amaya offers a lot of trade value as a consensus top 100 prospect at a premium position. Regardless, Amaya’s value is relatively low right now, and when he gets his opportunity I don’t see that remaining the case.
Cincinnati Reds: IF Jonathan India
Now let’s get into rookies who will be guaranteed to get playing time this year and discuss Jonathan India, who was officially named the Opening Day 2B for the Reds. Without a minor league season in 2020 it was tough to judge the development of guys like India from the outside, an early first-round pick who hadn’t played a ton above high-A ball. Cincinnati spoke highly of him throughout, and clearly they meant it because his strong Spring Training earned him a spot in the starting lineup.
India isn’t necessarily a power hitter, but in an infield that also includes Eugenio Suarez and Mike Moustakes he doesn’t need to be. His three home runs in 48 Spring Training ABs were promising, however, and his glove and batting average should be enough to make his rookie year a successful one. Obviously India doesn’t have a Topps rookie yet, but scoop up those 2018 Bowman 1sts of the former top prospect while you can!
Milwaukee Brewers: OF Corey Ray
Truth be told there’s no great answer to this question for the Brewers; while they have plenty of talent in their farm system, almost literally all of it is still years away from the bigs. Without any younger or more promising players poised to make an impact any time soon, I’ll go back to a familiar name for anyone who follows MLB prospects: Corey Ray.
The now 26-year-old former top prospect hasn’t lived up to the hype since being drafted 5th overall in 2016, and if his MLB debut is happening in 2021 it won’t be today. Ray struggled for most of Spring Training and didn’t break camp with the Brewers. So why am I collecting a player who isn’t on the big league roster and has already been labeled a bust by many? Simple: there are a ton of Corey Ray cards on the market at a very low value, and the Brewers don’t have many better options. If Ray gets called up and taps into even some of his potential he could find himself plenty of playing time in Milwaukee.
Pittsburgh Pirates: 3B Ke’Bryan Hayes
I’ll be writing these blog posts every week until we cover every division in baseball, but I promise you there’s no more surefire rookie to collect on a team than Ke’Bryan Hayes on the Pirates. After slashing a ridiculous .376/.442/.682 and finishing 6th in Rookie of the Year voting in just 24 games last season, Hayes one-upped himself and posted a .431/.463/.745. To put it simply, this man is the absolute truth.
Hayes is a five-tool guy who’s already far and away the best player on the Pirates. Even after his insane partial season last year, his rookie status is still intact and he’s an overwhelming favorite to win Rookie of the Year in the NL. The only deterrent from collecting Hayes is that his value is already so high. If he struggles at all this season you could try to buy a dip, but with Hayes’ potential to be one of the best young players in baseball there’s no guarantee that’s coming.
St. Louis Cardinals: OF Dylan Carlson
How about ending this week’s blog post with somebody who actually has a base rookie card in Topps Series 1? If Ke’Bryan Hayes doesn’t win NL Rookie of the Year, the position player who probably has the next best chance is his division rival from St. Louis. Dylan Carlson, who will likely play a mix of CF and RF, is one of the best outfield prospects in all of baseball who’s guaranteed to make an impact in 2021. With 35 regular season games and three postseason starts under his belt you’re not going to find many more experienced rookies than Carlson, which is all the more reason why he’s poised to break out in his first full season.
Carlson had a slow start to Spring Training, but his recent success going into the season is more than enough to ease any concerns. Even if Carlson doesn’t take home Rookie of the Year honors this season, the Cardinals always know how to make some noise and find their way into the playoffs, and a successful postseason is the best way for a rookie’s value to skyrocket. Whether you’re going for his Bowman cards from his draft year of 2016 or his shiny new Topps Series 1 rookie card, I’m all in on Carlson this year.