2020's top rookie? We asked MLB execs

January 10th, 2020

Pete Alonso smacked a rookie-record 53 homers and Yordan Alvarez helped slug the Astros to within a victory of a World Series championship en route to near-unanimous selections as league Rookies of the Year in 2019. Several other first-year players stood out as well, with Mike Soroka placing fifth in the Majors in ERA and Vladimir Guerrero Jr., Fernando Tatis Jr. and Eloy Jimenez showing why they ranked as the game's top three prospects entering the year.

Which rookies will make the biggest impact in 2020? Not only did we present a leading candidate for each of the 30 teams last month, but we also surveyed front-office officials for their opinions as part of our 2020 Pipeline Poll, the results of which we'll reveal over the next few days.

Among other topics, we asked the executives, "Which prospect will contribute the most in 2020?" Here's what they had to say:

  1. Gavin Lux, SS/2B, LAD, (35% of votes)
  2. Jesus Luzardo, LHP, OAK, (19%)
  3. Brendan McKay, LHP/DH, TB (15%)
  4. Jo Adell, OF, LAA (8%)
  5. Sean Murphy, C, OAK (8%)
  6. Luis Robert, OF, CWS (8%)
  7. Bobby Dalbec, 3B/1B, BOS (4%)
  8. MacKenzie Gore, LHP, SD (4%)

L.A.'s Lux leads the way

Besides winning the poll, Lux garnered 90% of the votes given to National League prospects. The 20th overall pick in the 2016 Draft hit .347/.421/.607 with 26 homers and 10 steals between Double-A and Triple-A last season, becoming the first middle infielder age 21 or younger to post a 1.000 OPS in the upper Minors since Gregg Jefferies in 1987. He also came within .001 of on-base percentage of leading all Minor League shortstops in all three slash stats for the second straight year.

Lux has made consistent contact from the left side of the plate since he entered pro ball, and he began to take off once he got stronger and began using his legs more in his swing. He's a solid to plus runner who has the tools to get the job done at shortstop, though he has had issues with his throwing accuracy in the Minors and some scouts believe he profiles better at second base. That's probably where he'll play with the Dodgers, who have Corey Seager at shortstop and whose best second baseman last year (Max Muncy) is better suited for first base.

Los Angeles showed enough faith in Lux to give him 19 starts during a September callup and three more in the NL Division Series after he pinch-homered in the opener against the Nationals. He became the youngest player to hit a playoff pinch-homer in MLB history and the youngest Dodger (surpassing Cody Bellinger) to homer in the postseason.

Southpaws will duel for top spot in AL

Our survey respondents were split between two left-handers as the top rookie candidates in the American League, with Luzardo nosing out McKay by a single vote. Luzardo wouldn't even be in this discussion if rotator-cuff and lat strains hadn't shut him down for much of 2019, though he did make it to Oakland in September and was spectacular (1.50 ERA, .119 opponent average, 35 percent strikeout rate) in his first taste of the Majors.

Luzardo owns a pair of well above-average pitches in his power sinker and fading changeup, while both his curveball and slider are solid offerings. His pitchability is as good as his stuff, enabling him to reach the big leagues at age 21 despite having Tommy John surgery as a high school senior in 2016 and not being fully turned loose in pro ball until 2018. The A's also placed him on their postseason roster in October, and he provided three scoreless innings against the Rays in a wild-card loss.

McKay went No. 4 overall in the 2017 Draft as the first player who could have been a top-10 pick as both a hitter and a pitcher since Dave Winfield in 1973. Though his pitching has proven more advanced than his hitting in pro ball, the Rays continue to envision him as a legitimate two-way player. He needed just 165 innings in the Minors before debuting in Tampa Bay, where he logged a 5.14 ERA with 56 strikeouts in 49 innings and went 2-for-10 with a homer before serving a relief role in the AL Division Series.

His path to an Opening Day roster spot is less clear than those of Lux and Luzardo, but McKay is big league-ready with a solid four-pitch repertoire (highlighted by his fastball and cutter) and quality command. He also has a ceiling of .275 hitter with 25 or more homers per season, though he's further away from that than he is at reaching his upside as a No. 3 starter.

Best of the rest

Baseball's two best outfield prospects each got 8% of the votes, as did one of its top catching prospects. Adell and Robert have some of the best all-around tools in the Minors, showing 30-30 potential as well as the ability to stick in center field (though Mike Trout figures to push Adell to a corner in Anaheim). Murphy stands out most with his work behind the plate, but he also possesses plus raw power and homered four times during a September callup.

Two more players received votes: the game's best pitching prospect and a guy who hasn't quite cracked the MLB Pipeline Top 100. Gore presents the possibility of four plus pitches with precision and a deceptive delivery as well, not to mention he's left-handed. Dalbec offers well above-average raw power and arm strength, and despite solid defense at the hot corner he won't displace Rafael Devers and instead will compete for the Red Sox's first-base job.