2024 First Pitch Rookie League

In 2016, we debuted the first inception of the First Pitch Arizona Rookie Draft. It was my inaugural First Pitch conference and it was my first chance to make a name for myself in the fantasy industry. Prior to the panel discussing the draft, I stopped by the Target near the Peoria complex and bought myself a toy WWE belt. During the panel, in a theatrical performance deserving of a Raspberry award, I declared myself the “Paper Champions.” The late great Lawr Michaels ran away with the real title, cashing in on Aaron Judge’s rookie season in 2017, trouncing the competition. I didn’t place. 

We didn’t run the rookie draft again until the 2022 conference. Eric Cross (Rotoballer, FTN Fantasy & The Toolshed Fantasy Podcast) was the winner of the league, which played out during the 2023 season. He beat out Matt Thompson (Prospects Live) and Chris Clegg (Dynasty Dugout & The Toolshed Fantasy Podcast), who finished 2nd and 3rd respectively.

With our draft becoming a popular event at First Pitch Arizona, we decided to bring this year’s competition to the website. The draft occurred last October, prior to the First Pitch Arizona conference. A panel discussion was held Friday, November 3rd

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1. Eric Cross – Rotoballer, FTN Fantasy & The Toolshed Fantasy Podcast
2. Matt Thompson – Prospects Live
3. Chris Clegg – Dynasty Dugout & The Toolshed Fantasy Podcast
4. Shelly Verougstraete – Rotoworld, Fantasy Feud Podcast & Minor League Baseball Analyst Contributor
5. Rob Gordon – BaseballHQ 
6. Sara Sanchez – Bleed Cubbie Blue, BaseballHQ, Fantasy Feud Podcast and Fans First Sports Network
7. Chris Welsh – Fantasy Pros and Prospect One
8. Chris Blessing – BaseballHQ and The Eyes Have It Podcast


Format: The league is using a traditional 5x5 scoring format. It is a draft and hold league for the 2024 season. 

Roster (No reserves): C, 1B, 2B, 3B, SS, OF, OF, OF, UT, P, P, P, P, P

Eligible Players: Any player retaining rookie eligibility entering the 2024 season. A player shall be considered a rookie unless he has exceeded 130 at-bats or 50 innings pitched in the Major Leagues. This league isn’t using service time as a determining factor for rookie eligibility to avoid non-eligible rookies falling through the cracks because MLB hadn’t resolved service time issues prior to our draft.

Position Eligibility: For position players, a player qualifies for a position by playing 10 or more games at said position between levels. All pitchers with rookie eligibility qualify.

Scoring Categories: This league only accumulates MLB statistics in 2024. Any statistics earned in the minor leagues do not count towards the standings. Utilizing traditional 5x5 scoring, here are the categories:
Batters Categories: R, BA, HR, RBI & SB
Pitchers Categories:  W, Sv, K, ERA & WHIP

Draft Board

Roster Grid

Manager Thoughts

I asked each manager the following question: 

With spring training winding down, how do you fell about your roster going into the season?

Defending Champion Eric Cross: In general, I'm still pretty happy with my team. However, I was really banking on Jordan Lawlar (SS, ARI) making the team out of spring to provide crucial immediate production. As of now, I'll have two pitchers providing production on opening day. That's not overly ideal, but many players on my team should be up early. Categorically, I like the balance of my team, especially offensively. And Mason Miller (RHP, OAK) moving to the bullpen was huge as it only takes a save or two to finish at or near the top of the category. 

Matt Thompson: I feel great about my Wyatt Langford (OF, TEX) pick at 1.1. He has made the Rangers Opening Day roster after a dynamic spring training. Masyn Winn (SS, STL) and Austin Wells (C, NYY) look to be locked in as starters, but all in all I'm a little worried about the depth on offense and being able to put up enough points. I'm confident in my guys seeing the big leagues but it's hard to speculate on playing time for the rest of them. On the pitching side, Jared Jones (RHP, PIT) looks like he's making the club out of camp and the other four arms should see the big leagues this year. I'm still worried about my depth here too. This will be a fun draft to follow.

Chris Clegg: At the moment, I do not feel great about my team, especially on the pitching side. Taking Shane Baz (RHP, TAM) early was something I thought would allow me to get a leg up on innings. I thought he would give a solid 120 innings with good counting stats. But Baz has been eased back and will slowly build up arm strength, leading to questions about when he will be on a big-league mound. On the hitting side, I do feel good about the hitting, especially with Colt Keith (2B/3B, DET) set to play every day and Ceddanne Rafaela (OF, BOS) and Wilyer Abreu (OF, BOS) both getting at-bats early. Pitching will be a big sticking point for this team to be competitive. 

Shelly Verougstraete: After the draft, I thought I would have six active players, Junior Caminero (3B, TAM), Max Meyer (RHP, MIA), Garrett Mitchell (OF, MIL), Hunter Goodman (C/1B, COL), Sawyer Gipson-Long (RHP, DET), and Joe Boyle (RHP, OAK) to start the season. Unfortunately, it looks like I'm starting the season with only Mitchell and Boyle. Not great, Bob! Overall, I still like my team, especially with Dylan Crews (OF, WSH) and Chase DeLauter (OF, CLE) making a great case to break camp with their respective teams, but it might be too little, too late due to the massive stats hole I could be in for during the first couple or so months.

Rob Gordon: Definitely some swings and misses as we inch closer to opening day. Evan Carter (OF, TEX) was my 1st pick and was kind of a no-brainer. He'll have to do some heavy lifting on offense for me. Marco Luciano (SS, SF) struggled this spring and will now have to fight for playing time while Jace Jung (3B/2B, DET), Everson Pereira (OF, NYY), and Roman Anthony (OF, BOS) will start the year in the minors. On the pitching side, Kyle Harrison (LHP, SF) looks ready to roll and will be a mid-rotation starter with huge upside. Gavin Stone (RHP, LA) and DL Hall (LHP, MIL) also look to have secured rotation spots. The hope was that Andrew Painter (RHP, PHI) might be ahead of schedule in his recovery from Tommy John surgery, but in retrospect, it seems like a wasted pick. Hopefully, I can rack up enough stats early in the year while waiting for some much-needed reinforcements to come up later in the season.

Sara Sanchez: Losing my second-round pick, Ronny Mauricio (3B/OF, NYM), to a torn ACL in the Dominican Winter League after this draft hurt my team a lot. However, I feel good about this roster because of two key words, "playing time." Top prospect Jackson Holliday (2B/SS, BAL) looks ready for the show. Davis Schneider (2B, TOR) has two home runs this spring and Parker Meadows (OF, DET) still looks like the leadoff man in Detroit. Catcher, first base and closer struck me as the three most difficult positions to fill going into this, and with Iván Herrera (C, STL) nabbing the backup job for the Cardinals, Abner Uribe (RHP, MIL) potentially in the mix for saves in Milwaukee and Joey Loperfido (IF/OF, HOU) making the absolute most of his spring with the Astros, I am cautiously optimistic. My weakest area heading into Opening Day is starting pitching, but the guys I took are close, all starting in Triple-A and most importantly, healthy. I'm cautiously optimistic there's hope for my pitching stats over the entire season.

Chris Welsh: Looking back on the team, I'm ecstatic at the hitting deals I got. Jackson Merrill (SS/OF, SD) was a main target, who paid off big. Graham Pauley (OF, SD) was a sleeper of mine, and getting him from day one was huge. Kyle Manzardo (1B, CLE) didn't break camp, but I believe he will prove to be one of my main offensive sources this year. The pitching is going to be a massive struggle. Ricky Tiedemann (LHP, TOR) seems he may come up soon. However, I may only get two of my five pitchers up in the first half. I will need some pitching luck. Overall, I believe this team will be a mid-season bloomer. I will probably sit in the bottom half until mid-year, with hopefully a late-season run. 

Chris Blessing: I’m going to level with everyone. This draft is looking bad right now, like I was accumulating names and nothing more. Taking Noelvi Marte (SS/3B, CIN) with my 1st pick was a no brainer. Then, he got suspended for PEDS. Only Colton Cowser (OF, BAL) looks to have made the MLB roster of my first 5 picks. In the 10th round or later, I plucked 4 guys likely to be contributors to begin the season, Brayan Rocchio (SS, CLE), James McArthur (RHP, KC), Sixto Sanchez (RHP, MIA) and Quinn Priester (RHP, PIT). I may have salvaged the draft with those late picks.

Learning Lessons from the Rookie League

Rookies are the riskiest subset of players. We perform this exercise at First Pitch every fall to shine a spotlight on eligible rookies who could contribute during the next season, which helps attendees prepare for their drafts. This year, we’ve decided to dissect the process as the season progresses on the website. We’ll check in with the draftees and the teams at the end of June and ask each manager their thoughts about how the season is going, lessons they have learned and who they expect to carry their team in the second half.