Fantasy baseball roundtable: Which rookie will make the biggest impact?

The powerful bat of Andrew Vaughn could add even more thunder to an already scary White Sox lineup. Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Building a fantasy roster around too many rookies is a risky approach, but finding one or two young players who come up big can also be a game-changer.

Here are Eric Karabell, Tristan H. Cockcroft, AJ Mass, Kyle Soppe, Todd Zola and Mike Sheets to discuss which rookies they like most in 2021.

Eric: As the top Nelson Cruz and Clayton Kershaw defender in the group, chances are strong it will not be me coveting the rookies, but it depends on what others do and how drafts/auctions fall. For where Tampa Bay's Randy Arozarena likely goes in drafts, hard pass. If Seattle's Jarred Kelenic is available 10 rounds later, which might be folly now, sign me up. Same with Cardinals outfielder Dylan Carlson. I can argue these three belong in any order, but they certainly will not be in any order in ADP. Based on ADP, I would say I end up with Kelenic and Carlson in several leagues, while also avoiding the starting pitchers (too much risk), but it is also a bad idea to invest heavily in unproven players on any one fantasy team.

Tristan: My top-ranked "rookie" -- using the league's eligibility requirement -- is Arozarena, but I'll put him aside for this, and I'm excluding Ian Anderson, Carlson, Ke'Bryan Hayes, Ryan Mountcastle and Sixto Sanchez as my pick, because each has already experienced some peak-fantasy-impact success in the majors. Picking from the relative newbies, it's a tough call balancing raw skills and the likelihood of a 2021 role, which is why, while I'm all-in on Wander Franco for his exceptional ability, I'm not sure he's going to see enough big-league time to be my pick.

I'm going with Kelenic: The nasty service-time debate that resurfaced in February might only have increased scrutiny on his 2021 role, to the point that I think he'll indeed need to join the Seattle Mariners' everyday lineup by Tax Day, and it's not like his skill set is a far cry from Franco's. Kelenic has the requisite power and speed to manage 25-homer, 15-steal numbers immediately, and as his hit tool earns high marks and his plate-discipline numbers as a pro are solid, I think he'll adapt fairly quickly.

Todd: Like Eric, my honest answer is none, but what fun is that? I'm intrigued with Jared Oliva as he appears to have a pathway to playing time in the Pirates outfield and he runs. Better yet, his plate skills are palatable. In 287 minor league games, Oliva was 84-for-106 stealing bases, a tidy 79% success rate. He'll compete with Anthony Alford for left field, but if Oliva wins out, he's a great course of cheap speed, always a welcome asset, but even more so this season.

AJ: Four more at-bats and he wouldn't be eligible for discussion here, but I'm going to roll the dice on Mountcastle. Perhaps not even Orioles fans noticed that he hit .333 with a near-8.0% walk rate in 2020. His manager (Brandon Hyde) has said that while he expects opposing pitchers to have a far better book on Mountcastle this time around, he was "really impressed" with his discipline at the plate. Impress the manager, continue to play. And, on a team that's not likely to be in the spotlight, the pressure to win isn't going to force him to the bench if he does happen to have a shaky stretch. I'll be happy to take a late flier on Mountcastle and get better value out of him than those who reach way too early to grab the likes of Hayes, Carlson or Kelenic.

Kyle: As a manager, I share a belief with Eric in that I'm much more likely to hang onto a player a year too long than jump on a prospect a year too early. That said, Andrew Vaughn profiles as a dice worth rolling in a White Sox offense that I expect to be potent. In mid-February, GM Rick Hahn indicated that Eloy Jimenez will be the team's everyday left fielder and that opens up playing time potential either at DH for Vaughn or at first base should Jose Abreu fill the DH role. This batting order is quite deep and this ballpark favored hitters last season, so if he carves out a near everyday role, why can't he be Anthony Rizzo?

Mike: If I'm going to stash a prospect at the end of my bench in redraft leagues, I want there to be a clear path to potential playing time, or at least some word from the organization that an early call-up is expected. No matter how good Franco is going to be, there's no guarantee he's going to be in the majors in the first half of 2021. The Rays typically aren't very aggressive with their prospects, and Franco has yet to play above High-A. In leagues that have only three or four bench spots, it's really hard to keep a guy like Franco around for multiple months. Thus, if I'm targeting a prospect who has yet to reach the majors (in the regular season, anyway), Alex Kirilloff is a name that stands out. The Twins believed in Kirilloff enough to promote him and start him in Game 2 of the Wild Card series against Houston in October, and they currently have an opening in left field, suggesting he could make the team out of Spring Training, or be promoted soon after. The former first-rounder has plus power and strong bat-to-ball skills, never striking out more than 18.5% in the minors. That's a strong profile that could see success in the majors right away. Kirilloff might not have the same fantasy ceiling as a guy like Kelenic, but he has a later ADP and is a good bet to be a fantasy contributor sooner.