Top Rookies for Each AL Central Team in 2024

While the AL Central lacks the rookie firepower of certain other divisions, a couple of big bats could shake things up in 2024.

Kyle Manzardo of the Peoria Javelinas rounds the bases after hitting a solo home run in the fifth inning during the 2023 Fall Stars Game between the American League Fall Stars and the National League Fall Stars at Sloan Park.
MESA, AZ - NOVEMBER 05: Kyle Manzardo #9 of the Peoria Javelinas rounds the bases after hitting a solo home run in the fifth inning during the 2023 Fall Stars Game between the American League Fall Stars and the National League Fall Stars at Sloan Park on Sunday, November 5, 2023 in Mesa, Arizona. (Photo by Norm Hall/MLB Photos via Getty Images)

It is no secret that the AL Central is likely to be the worst division in the majors this season. The Twins cut their payroll after winning the division crown. The Royals are rebuilding, the Tigers are young, the Guardians are a question mark, and the White Sox might lose 100 games. With that said, at least there will be plenty of opportunities for AL Central rookies to establish themselves as big leaguers in 2024.

Rookies can provide a glimpse into the future and show a fanbase what could be possible going forward. The Tigers and White Sox both have top-10 farm systems, according to The Athletic. The other three teams in the division rank 17th (MIN), 22nd (CLE), and 25th (KC). With that said, there are rookies on all five teams that should provide some excitement this coming season.

Most teams in the AL Central do not have a real shot at the World Series, so their fanbases need something to look forward to this season. One thing that can always drum up some excitement is a promising rookie. With that in mind, here are some rookie-eligible players from all five clubs who can potentially provide that excitement in 2024.

Chicago White Sox Top Rookie: Dominic Fletcher, OF

2023 MiLB Stats: .291/.399/.500, 10 HR, 120 wRC+

Ad – content continues below

2023 MLB Stats: .301/.350/.441, 2 HR, 113 wRC+, 0.6 fWAR

Earlier this offseason, the Chicago White Sox made a surprise move by acquiring Dominic Fletcher from the Diamondbacks. The deal sent top prospect Christian Mena to Phoenix for the big league-ready outfielder.

Fletcher enters his age-26 season with his rookie status still intact. He looks to be the starting right fielder but likely in a platoon with a right-handed hitter, until the lefty batter proves he can hold his own against same-handed pitching.

Last season, Fletcher appeared in only 28 games for Arizona, but his impact was felt. In those 28 games, he was able to accumulate 0.6 fWAR. Some quick math will get you to 3.5 fWAR when extrapolated over the course of a 162-game season. That’s not to say Fletcher will be a 3.5-win player, but he’s on the right path.

As I stated previously, Fletcher is likely going to be in a platoon and will mainly see right-handed pitching. In the minors last season, he struggled against lefties; he hit .325/.412/.555 against righties and .217/.328/.311 against southpaws. Those numbers against lefties came across 126 plate appearances, so he wasn’t exactly shielded.

Upon coming up to the majors, his splits got even worse. In those 28 games, Fletcher hit just .143 with a .422 OPS against lefties (30 PA). However, he mashed righties with a .946 OPS and 156 wRC+.

Ad – content continues below

Fletcher does look to be a solid defensive outfielder. In his cup of coffee last season he accumulated four defensive runs saved and two outs above average. It is a small sample but bodes well for the future.

While a platoon outfielder is not the most exciting rookie, Fletcher is going to play a part in this team’s future. With a solid farm system, the White Sox won’t compete in the AL Central right away, but they still have players to look forward to.

Cleveland Guardians Top Rookie: Kyle Manzardo, 1B

2023 MiLB Stats: .237/.337/.464, 17 HR, 19.3 K%, 13.3 BB%

Kyle Manzardo (Just Baseball’s No. 42 prospect) looks to break camp with the Cleveland Guardians to start the 2024 season. He will likely share time with Josh Naylor at first base as well as a designated hitter. If he clicks, Manzardo could provide the Guardians with a much-needed offensive boost. That boost could potentially be enough to help the Guardians push for the AL Central.

Manzardo was acquired by the Guardians last season, coming over from Tampa Bay in exchange for Aaron Civale. Up until last year, Manzardo had been one of the best bats in minor league baseball. However, during his time at Triple-A Durham (Tampa Bay) in 2023, he struggled and only produced a 95 wRC+. After the trade, Manzardo found his stride again and put up a 123 wRC+ in 21 games at Triple-A Columbus (Cleveland).

Manzardo fits the Cleveland mold, displaying the skills they often look for at the plate. With a plus hit tool as well as an aversion to striking out, he looks to fit in well. Once in the majors, he is certainly going to be capable of posting walk rates above 10% and strikeout rates under 20%. He also has 20-25 home runs in the tank.

Ad – content continues below

In Cleveland this season, Manzardo is likely to find himself in a platoon role. There was a stark contrast in his splits last season at Triple-A. When facing lefties, he hit .159 with a .595 OPS. In comparison, he posted a .273 average with an .899 OPS against righties.

Manzardo is a good enough hitter that he could develop into an everyday player, but it seems unlikely that happens this season.

Detroit Tigers Top Rookie: Colt Keith, 2B

2023 MiLB Stats: .306/.380/.552, 27 HR, 21.0 K%, 10.4 BB%

The Detroit Tigers are the only team on this list with more than one clear-cut impact rookie. Parker Meadows and Colt Keith both look to shake up the AL Central this season. However, I ultimately think Keith (Just Baseball’s No. 17 prospect) is going to be the best rookie on this Tigers team because of his bat.

Keith made headlines this offseason by agreeing to a six-year extension worth $28.6 million. The contract includes club options and escalators that will cap the deal at $82 million over nine years. The Tigers were willing to give Kieth this deal because of how safe his bat is.

Keith put together a really strong season in the minors last year between Double and Triple-A. He posted a 163 and 119 wRC+ at each stop, respectively. While his offensive numbers in Triple-A were not quite as strong, he was able to drop his strikeout rate and increase his walk rate. His ability to be more selective after jumping a level bodes well for his performance in the majors this season.

Ad – content continues below

Overall, his Triple-A numbers are very promising. A 90th-percentile exit velocity of 104.4 MPH and a 41.5% hard-hit rate clearly display his ability to impact the ball. Almost every one of his offensive metrics is above average.

One of Keith’s few metrics that is not above average is his zone contact rate, which sits at 81.5%. That would have ranked 90th in the majors (among qualified hitters), right between Michael Harris II and Ian Happ. Regardless, Keith should be very successful in the batter’s box this year.

Image courtesy of @TJStats on X
Image credit to Thomas Nestico (@TJStats): X Link

Honorable Mention: Parker Meadows

As stated previously, the Tigers have two rookies that should make an impact this season. So, I wanted to show Meadows some love.

Meadows should be around league average in the box but looks to make an impact on the basepaths and in the field. In just 37 games last year, Meadows swiped 8 bags in 9 attempts (he also went 19 for 21 in Triple-A). In addition, he played a solid center field in those contests, accumulating three defensive runs saved and four outs above average.

Kansas City Royals Top Rookie: Matt Sauer, RHP

2023 MiLB Stats: 68.1 IP, 3.42 ERA, 4.30 FIP, 10.93 K/9, 3.82 BB/9

The Kansas City Royals are the toughest team in the AL Central on which to pinpoint an impact rookie. Thanks to the many signings that they made this offseason, it looks as if there will be limited opportunities for first-year players.

Ad – content continues below

The Royals brought in veteran position players like Hunter Renfroe, Adam Frazier, and Garrett Hampson, blocking their best rookie candidates. Players such as Nick Loftin and Tyler Gentry are now more likely to see very limited action.

In an attempt to identify the rookie who is going to make the biggest impact for the Royals in 2024, I elected to go with Matt Sauer.

Sauer was a Rule 5 draft pick from this past offseason. Up until this winter, the 2017 second-round selection had spent his entire career with the Yankees.

The 25-year-old has struggled to climb up the ranks but showed some promise at Double-A in 2022 and ‘23. In 2022, despite a 7.84 ERA, he posted a 2.86 FIP and had a game in which he struck out 17 batters over eight innings. In 2023, he found success over a larger sample with a 3.42 ERA in 14 games.

Sauer is likely going to be relegated to the bullpen for much of the year but could see a start or two if needed. Out of the bullpen, his stuff could play up a tick. He has a fastball that sits around 94 MPH but can touch 96 MPH. As well, he has a sharp breaking ball in the high 80s and a changeup in the low 80s. The stuff should play, and to this point, he has not had issues with command as far as walks are concerned.

Sauer could be an exciting rookie and a piece for the Royals moving forward. This team desperately needs young and improved pitching, and if Sauer reaches his potential, he could certainly be a mainstay at the back of the Royals rotation after this season.

Ad – content continues below

Minnesota Twins Top Rookie: Brooks Lee, INF

2023 MiLB Stats: .275/.347/.461, 16 HR, 16.1 K%, 9.9 BB%

Similar to the Royals, the Minnesota Twins do not appear to have a clear-cut rookie looking to make an impact. Thanks to the moves they made this offseason, it is unlikely they enter the 2024 season with a rookie on the roster. With that said, there is certainly a possibility that a rookie comes up and makes an impact during the season.

The two most likely candidates to come up and do just that are Brooks Lee (Just Baseball’s No. 28 prospect) and Austin Martin. Martin likely stays in St. Paul for most of the year unless there is an injury to Byron Buxton or Manuel Margot and an outfield spot needs to be covered. Lee, on the other hand, could quickly make his case as an upgrade over Kyle Farmer or Willi Castro in a utility role.

Farmer is likely to see a good amount of playing time early in the year, given the lineup rotations the Twins are set to use. For instance, Carlos Correa and Royce Lewis have fairly poor injury histories and are unlikely to play every day.

If Lee can show that he is clearly an upgrade over Farmer in a utility role, he should be able to crack the big league roster.

Lee is a very well-rounded and mature hitter. He has an above-average hit tool and should be able to tap into above-average power, all while limiting strikeouts and walking at a solid clip. However, Lee’s performance at Triple-A last season and his splits are likely holding him back from an Opening Day spot.

Ad – content continues below

The lefty batter faced his first real challenge in Triple-A last season. He posted the worst offensive marks of his short career, with just a 78 wRC+ and .731 OPS in 38 games. He also really struggled against southpaws. His .608 OPS against lefties was dwarfed by his .860 OPS against righties.

If Lee can right the ship during his first couple of months in Triple-A this year, he could get the call sooner rather than later. He could end up being a key for the Minnesota Twins as they strive to retain their AL Central crown.