- Associated Press - Monday, March 26, 2018

CHICAGO — Aaron Judge. Cody Bellinger. Andrew Benintendi. Paul DeJong. The list goes on and on.

Last year’s rookie class was one of the best in baseball history. Topping that group of sluggers will be quite a chore, but here is a closer look at some touted prospects hoping to make a name for themselves this year:

Ronald Acuna, outfielder, Atlanta Braves: The future is now for the crown jewel of Atlanta’s loaded farm system after Matt Kemp was traded to the Dodgers in December. The 20-year-old Acuna will begin the season at Triple-A Gwinnett, pushing back his eligibility for arbitration, but it’s only a matter of time before he is up with the Braves after he hit .325 with 21 homers, 82 RBIs and 44 steals over three minor league stops last year.

Shohei Ohtani, pitcher and designated hitter, Los Angeles Angels: The 23-year-old Ohtani is trying to become the first player in nearly 100 years to play regularly as a pitcher and hitter, but he had mixed results during spring training. Ohtani spent the previous five seasons with the Nippon Ham Fighters, showing off a big fastball and a powerful bat.

Victor Robles, outfielder, Washington Nationals: Robles, another athletic 20-year-old outfielder in the NL East, made his major league debut last September and got into two playoff games in the first round against the Cubs. The Nationals have Bryce Harper, Adam Eaton and Michael A. Taylor in the outfield, but Robles could get into the mix if there are any injuries.

Eloy Jimenez, outfielder, Chicago White Sox: Jimenez, who was slowed this spring by left knee tendinitis, is widely regarded as baseball’s top hitting prospect. He was acquired in last summer’s Jose Quintana trade with the crosstown Cubs — destined to be a barroom debate in Chicago for years to come — and batted .312 with 19 homers and 65 RBIs for three minor league teams in 2017.

Francisco Mejia, catcher, Cleveland Indians: Cleveland loves Mejia’s bat so much it is trying the catcher in a couple different spots to help carve out a place for him in the majors. He played third base in the Arizona Fall League and will begin this year with Triple-A Columbus so he can spend time in the outfield. The Indians have a strong catching tandem with Roberto Perez and Yan Gomes, but Mejia could be back in the majors this summer if he shows the ability to play multiple positions.

Alex Reyes, pitcher, St. Louis Cardinals: The 23-year-old Reyes could return in May after he hurt his elbow in spring training a year ago, leading to Tommy John surgery. Whether he works as a starter or reliever, he could provide a big lift for St. Louis after he went 4-1 with a 1.57 ERA and 52 strikeouts in 46 innings in his first major league action in 2016.

Gleyber Torres and Miguel Andujar, infielders, New York Yankees: Not a lot of room in New York’s infield after the Yankees traded for Brandon Drury and signed Neil Walker, but Torres and Andujar could help at some point this summer. Torres hit .309 in 23 games with Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre last year before he was shelved by a season-ending elbow injury, and Andujar looked great this spring.

Walker Buehler, pitcher, and Alex Verdugo, outfielder, Los Angeles Dodgers: The hard-throwing Buehler and Verdugo will begin the year with Triple-A Oklahoma City, but they could play a role as Los Angeles tries for its sixth straight NL West title. Buehler had a 7.71 ERA in eight relief appearances as a September call-up for the Dodgers, and Verdugo also made his major league debut last year.

Jesse Winker, outfielder, Cincinnati Reds: The 24-year-old Winker hit .298 with seven homers and 15 RBIs in 47 games in his first major league action last summer. The rebuilding Reds have a bit of a crowd in the outfield with Adam Duvall, Scott Schebler and Billy Hamilton, but they are going to want to see if Winker can deliver on his potential.

Austin Hays, outfielder, Baltimore Orioles: Hays, who was hampered by a shoulder injury this spring, was promoted to the majors for the first time last September and hit .217 with a homer and eight RBIs in 20 games. The 22-year-old Hays, a third-round pick in the 2016 draft out of Jacksonville University, has big-time power, belting 32 homers in the minors last season.


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