10 hitters who made impressive debuts in '18

Statcast highlights what was special about these 1st-year players

December 18th, 2018

As prospects work their way through the Minor Leagues, we hear a lot about tools. One guy possesses huge power, another can run like the wind, and a third shows off a cannon for an arm.
When those prospects finally arrive in the Majors, the tools come to life before our eyes, and we can finally watch them blast 450-foot home runs, race around the bases, or throw a runner out at the plate.
There were many position players who gave fans an exciting first look at their standout skills in 2018. Statcast™, which tracks every movement on the field, was there to capture, quantify and contextualize.
Here is a look at 10 players who debuted in MLB this past season, and the stats that show why they bear watching moving forward. (Players are listed in descending order of games played in 2018).
, OF/DH, White Sox
Key stat: 28 batted balls of 110+ mph
Palka, selected off waivers from the Twins after last season, can really mash. Yes, his outfield defense suggested more DH time in his future, and he had five times as many strikeouts as walks. But when the big left-handed slugger connected at the plate, he did damage. Palka smacked 27 homers in 417 at-bats and slugged .484, on the strength of his top-tier exit velocity. Only , , Joey Gallo and ripped a higher percentage of batted balls at 110-plus mph than Palka (10.6 percent), who turned half of those into extra-base hits.

, 2B/SS, Yankees
Key stat: 18.8 degree avg. launch angle
A top-five prospect prior to his debut, Torres lived up to the hype by batting .271/.340/.480 as a 21-year-old middle infielder, making the American League All-Star team and finishing third in the Rookie of the Year Award voting. A big part of his success was his ability to consistently hit the ball in the air, helping him rank third among first-year players in homers (24). Among 228 batters who put at least 250 balls in play, Torres tied for the ninth-highest launch angle and ranked 19th in line drive/fly ball rate (57.5 percent).

Juan Soto, LF, Nationals
Key stat: .965 SLG to opposite field
Soto's season was unprecedented, as he forced his way to the Majors and batted .292/.406/.517, good for a 142 OPS+ that is the highest ever produced by a teenager with at least 300 plate appearances. It's hard to pick out the most impressive thing Soto did at the plate, including his discipline and ability to handle lefties. But the fact that he beat out Judge and J.D. Martinez as the top oppo slugger in the game is certainly notable, with Soto going 42-for-85 (.494) with 22 extra-base hits when going the other way.

, OF, Braves
Key stat: 46.6 percent hard-hit rate
Acuna, who turned 21 last week, knows how to make an entrance. In 111 games, he helped lift Atlanta to a surprising division title, and beat out Soto for NL Rookie of the Year, by batting .293/.366/.552 with 26 homers and 16 steals. Both Acuna's hard-hit rate and average sprint speed (29.6 ft/sec) ranked near the top of MLB. After the All-Star break, only , Manny Machado and made hard contact (95-plus mph exit velocity) more times than Acuna's 92.

, P/DH, Angels
Key stat: 16.0 percent barrel rate
The two-way star and AL Rookie of the Year delivered impressive numbers both on the mound and the plate. Focusing on the latter, Ohtani stood out for his loud contact. Of the 281 batters who put at least 200 balls in play, Ohtani was tied for 11th in average exit velocity (92.6 mph), third in average exit velo on fly balls and line drives (97.8 mph), 10th in hard-hit rate (50.2 percent), and sixth in barrel rate, which put him on a level with Judge and Martinez. (A barrel is a Statcast™ term for a batted ball with an ideal combination of exit velocity and launch angle). Ohtani backed it all up with a 28.4 ft/sec sprint speed, well above the MLB average of 27 ft/sec.

, RF, Padres
Key stat: 477-foot max HR distance
Reyes is listed at 6-foot-5, 275 pounds, and he looks every bit of it. Unsurprisingly, then, he can hit the ball a long ways when he makes solid contact. On Aug. 5 at Wrigley Field, Reyes did just that, crushing a pitch over the center-field batters eye and nearly off a TV camera perched above it. Projected at 477 feet, it was the seventh-longest homer of 2018. Reyes also hit two others at least 440 feet, and was one of nine players to homer multiple times with an exit velocity of 114 mph or higher.

, OF, Cardinals
Key stat: 22.7 percent barrel rate
O'Neill had significant trouble making contact, striking out in 40 percent of his plate appearances, while rarely drawing a walk. But with that major caveat, the contact he did make was special. O'Neill rarely hit the ball on the ground and averaged about a 92 mph exit velocity, helping him turn 17 of his 75 balls in play into barrels. That gave him the highest barrel rate in MLB -- albeit in a small sample -- edging out Gallo.

, CF, A's
Key stat: 321-foot throw distance
Laureano batted a nifty .288/.358/.474, but it was his defense that raised eyebrows the most. In only 48 games, he was worth plus-4 Defensive Runs Saved and, according to Statcast™, plus-3 Outs Above Average. A couple of plays in particular stood out. On September 11 at Baltimore, Laureano preserved a one-run lead in the eighth inning by using a sensational jump to cover 62 feet in only 3.5 seconds for a diving, five-star grab. And on Aug. 11 in Anaheim, he made one of the most memorable plays of the season by racing almost 80 feet into the gap to pick off a deep fly ball, then turning and firing a 321-foot, 92.1 mph strike back to first base for a double play. It was the longest tracked throw of 2018 that resulted in an out.

, C/IF/OF, Twins
Key stat: 9.5 percent whiff rate
The 5-foot-9 Astudillo is quickly reaching folk hero status after batting .355/.371/.516 over a 29-game debut, while appearing at pitcher, catcher, second base, third base, center field and left field. Part of Astudillo's charm is that in a Three True Outcomes world, he almost always puts the bat on the ball. Of the more than 500 players who took at least 100 swings this past season, none missed less often than Astudillo, and only put the ball in play more often. As a result, he struck out just three times in nearly 100 plate appearances.

, 2B/SS, Rockies
Key stat: 30.0 ft/sec avg. sprint speed
The Rockies' No. 4 prospect, Hampson has gone 123-for-146 (84 percent) on stolen base attempts in three Minor League seasons. He didn't get much opportunity over three short stints in Colorado this year but went 11-for-40 (.275) with a .796 OPS and two steals in two tries. It was just enough time for Hampson to show off an elite sprint speed that tied for seventh in the Majors, right behind and . On individual plays, Hampson got up to 31.6 ft/sec, when he went home to first in 3.71 seconds to beat out a squeeze bunt on July 27.