A lot can change in a short time.
Pinpointing baseball's award winners a year in advance is tilting at windmills, and predicting the best rookies is tougher still. Even at the beginning of the 2017 season, neither Aaron Judge nor Cody Bellinger were considered candidates, but eight months later they both won unanimously.
Looking ahead, let's use the handicap that no player will be considered unless he's at least reached Triple-A. Here's who we like best to be the top of next year's rookie class:
Victor Robles, Nationals
Robles' MLB debut was unremarkable, making only 27 plate appearances across 13 games in 2017. Through the minors, he's shown himself to be a high contact machine with bundles of speed, slashing .324/.394/.489 with three home runs and 11 stolen bases in 37 Double-A games before getting the call to the bigs. His role could blossom, though it may be contingent on finding a fit with Bryce Harper, Adam Eaton, and Michael A. Taylor still around.
Alex Verdugo, Dodgers
Access to playing time is a must, so Verdugo gets the edge over young starting pitcher Walker Buehler who figures to have a tough time cracking the rotation - though, if the Dodgers see as many injuries in 2018 as in 2017, he's in the conversation. If Adrian Gonzalez's role continues to diminish, and Bellinger takes over primarily at first base, Verdugo is the man. He hit .314/.389/.436 in Triple-A before making a brief appearance in the majors.
J.P. Crawford, Phillies
A former top-five prospect, the shine on Crawford has dulled over the last couple years. Batting .243 through two Triple-A seasons will do that to a young player. The encouraging part of his offense is his ability to get on base in spite of that. He hit .243/.351/.405 over 127 games with Lehigh Valley in 2017 and walked 16 times in 87 plate appearances with Philadelphia upon his late-season call-up.
Carson Fulmer, White Sox
The sexy pick in Chicago is fireballer Michael Kopech, who could make the trip to the majors in 2018. Fulmer is already there. While a bullpen role isn't out of the question, Fulmer sparkled over three September starts (ignoring the one when he was pulled after three batters). Fulmer went 2-0 with a 1.56 ERA in 17 1/3 innings down the stretch. He'll be a contender as long as he can improve his command.
Chance Sisco, Orioles
Cleveland Indians' Francisco Mejia may be considered the top backstop prospect, but Sisco has something he doesn't: a clear path to start. This could change after free agency, but until it does - or Sisco bombs in spring training - the job is his. He's generally been seen as a top hitter in the minors, and looked solid through 10 games with Baltimore in 2017.
Willie Calhoun, Rangers
A key piece in the Yu Darvish trade, Calhoun rocked pitching throughout the Pacific Coast League in 2017, hitting .300/.355/.572 with 31 home runs and 93 RBIs. He's a swing first, ask questions later kind of player, so don't expect a lot of walks, but the power is potent. With Rougned Odor entrenched at second - for better or worse - Calhoun will have to hit his way into the Rangers' lineup. A spot in the outfield could open up if they can deal Shin-Soo Choo in the offseason.
(Photos courtesy: Getty Images)
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