MLB Rookies

The Rookie’s Rise to Stardom

In a game with one of the biggest learning curves in sports, rookies have surprisingly been doing well. Baseball has had a number of young players develop into stars in recent seasons.

To fully comprehend this shift in the game, we must first examine how players make it from being a prospect in the minor leagues to making it to the show.

From Prospect to Pro

MLB Rookies

Even top picks like Colorado’s Brendan Rodgers must pay their dues in the minors (GJ Sentinel).

Major League Baseball is vastly different from the NFL and NBA when it comes to rookies. While there is no limit to how long a player must wait to be signed professionally, baseball still averages the oldest rookies of all three of the major sports.

That is due to the way the game is played. To be successful in the majors, most players need to be at their peak of maturation, normally around 24 to 25 years old. Being fully developed allows baseball players to utilize their bodies to the fullest.

Unlike the NFL or NBA where players can rely on physical talent alone, baseball requires a honed set of skills. It doesn’t matter if you can hit a fastball 450 feet. If you can’t handle a breaking ball, you will fail in the majors.

That is why baseball has such an advanced minor league system. The combination of developing a player’s physical and mental capabilities to be successful in the majors takes time. The average rookie last year was 24 years old, giving credence to the time it takes to develop. However, what happens when players start breaking the mold, and advance beyond our wildest dreams?

2012: just the beginning

MLB Rookies

Mike Trout and Bryce Harper transformed the way rookies played in 2012 (nbcsports.com).

The Rookie of the Year award has always been the bar that rookies strive for. However, not all ROY winners are made the same.

From 2007-2011, ROY winners averaged 3.1 wins above replacement (WAR). Baseball Reference rates that as better than an average starter in the majors, proving that the ROY winners were truly something special.

Many have noted the increase of rookie production in the past few years, and the numbers certainly support that. From 2012-2016, ROY winners have averaged 5.4 WAR. That is a staggering jump in production, and evidence of a new age dawning in baseball.

This trend really began in 2012 with a pair of ROY winners: Mike Trout and Bryce Harper. Both players had been premium draft picks for their respective teams, but it was Harper that was seen as the next big thing in baseball.

Some players fold under such lofty expectations, but Harper flourished. He put up 5.2 WAR in his rookie year, topping all NL ROY winners since 2007 by at least 1.3 WAR. If Harper signaled a shift in the way rookies played, Trout was the zenith of their potential.

No one saw what Trout had in store. At 20 years old in his rookie season, he blew away the competition with a staggering 10.8 WAR. That is MVP type production, and earned him a second place finish in the 2012 AL MVP voting. While it may be unfair to compare Trout to other rookies due to his Hall of Fame trajectory, his fast start should not be diminished. Even so, Trout and Harper were only the beginning, setting the stage for other acts to follow.

continued success

MLB Rookies

Even Nolan Arenado, one of the games best young players, couldn’t take home the ROY award. (The Denver Post).

Since that fateful 2012 season, the way we view rookies has never been the same. That’s not just Trout and Harper’s doing either.

The rookies that have followed have helped carry their success into new seasons. Seemingly gone are the days when players like Dustin Pedroia could put up 3.9 WAR in 2007 and bring home the ROY award. Pedroia’s 2007 season would have been good enough for the third most WAR by a rookie in 2016. A new type of player is taking over the majors, and they are raising the bar of rookie performance.

Never before have we seen such young players perform so well so quickly. The NL has had two ROY winners in a row post seasons of 6.0 WAR or higher: Kris Bryant in 2015 (6.1 WAR) and Corey Seager in 2016 (6.0 WAR).

From 2007-2011, five of the 10 ROY winners posted WAR over 3.5 in their rookie years. From 2012-2016, eight of the 10 ROY winners have posted WAR over 3.5 in their rookie years. ROY of course is not the be all end all of the story of growing rookie dominance.

We saw 11 rookies post seasons of 2.5 WAR or higher last year, compared to the 2007 season in which only six rookies reached the 2.5 WAR milestone. Players like Nolan Arenado, Trea Turner, Francisco Lindor and Gary Sanchez all had rookie seasons of at least 3.0 WAR, and still weren’t able to bring home the ROY award. It will only become more difficult to bring home the ROY award with the rise in production of rookies.

The way the game is being played is changing. Younger, less-experienced players are taking over the game. Don’t let their lack of experience fool you. These young studs will dominate the game for years to come. The youth movement in baseball is upon us, and it doesn’t show any signs of slowing down soon.

 

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Greatest Rookie Fantasy Baseball Seasons

Greatest Rookie Fantasy Baseball Seasons Since 2000

Rookies are an anomaly in fantasy baseball, as it is difficult to predict their value due to a lack of minor and major league experience. In order to qualify as a rookie, a player must not have conceded 130 at bats or fifty innings pitched in the majors, and also must have fewer than 45 days on the active roster. Rookies tend to be undervalued in redraft leagues and over valued in keeper and dynasty formats, although in either format, they can make or break your fantasy season.

One rookie, Michael Conforto, who looked to contribute as a starting outfielder for the New York Mets in 2016, and after battling through injuries and demotions, finished the year as the 121st outfielder in fantasy. Conforto’s average draft position of 211, was much too high compared to his performance, as you could have waited and selected top 50 outfielders Odubel Herrera, Nick Markakis or Carlos Beltran.

There is always risk involved when drafting rookies, but the rewards can be plentiful.

In 2016, rookie short stops Corey Seager, Trevor Story and Aledmys Diaz exploded onto the scene, all finishing as top 10 short stops, while commonly being drafted 60th or later, occasionally going undrafted, depending on the date and number of teams in the draft.

AL Rookie of the year Michael Fulmer was another undrafted contributor, as he finished as a top 28th starting pitcher in 2016, after winning 11 games in 26 starts.

After being called up in June, Trea Turner of the Washington Nationals played in only 73 games, but managed to finish as the 10th second basemen, after batting .342 with 13 home runs and 33 stolen bases.

Many owners believe rookies are too risky to take chances on, especially in re-draft leagues, Even though the 2016 rookie class shined, many owners will continue to shy away from drafting rookies over established talent. In order to persuade owners to take a few more chances on rookies in 2017, they must understand what rookies are truly capable of.

Below are the greatest fantasy baseball seasons by a rookie at each position since the year 2000.

Notable rookies to keep your eye out for in 2017 include: Andrew Benintendi (BOS), Yoan Moncada (CWS), Dansby Swanson (ATL), Hunter Renfroe (SD), Tyler Glasnow (PIT), Aaron Judge (NYY), Yulieski Gurriel (HOU), Willson Contreras (CHC), Lucas Giolito (CWS), Bradley Zimmer (CLE), and Ozzie Albies (ATL).

 

Catcher: Geovany Soto, Chicago Cubs, 2008

Greatest Rookie Fantasy Baseball Seasons

2008 National League ROY, Geovany Soto, looks to break camp with the Los Angeles Angels in 2017. (Courtesy of Getty Images)

Honorable mentions include: Bengie Molina 2000 (ANA), Buster Posey 2010 (SFG), Wilson Ramos 2011 (WAS), Wilin Rosario 2012 (COL), and Gary Sanchez 2016 (NYY).

Geovany Soto, was selected by the Chicago Cubs in the 11th round of the 2001 MLB draft. After totaling 25 home runs in six years of minor league baseball, Soto broke out, batting .353 with 26 home runs and 109 RBI’s for the Iowa Cubs of the Pacific Coast League in 2007.

The Chicago Cubs finished first in the National League Central in 2007, unfortunately getting swept by the Arizona Diamondbacks in the NL Division Series. The Cubs backstop remained a question mark heading into 2008, as veterans Michael Barrett and Jason Kendall departed. This was Soto’s chance.

His transition from the minors to the majors went smoothly, as he batted .285 with 23 home runs, 66 runs, and 86 RBI’s. Soto was named the NL’s starting catcher in the All-Star game, and was also awarded the 2008 NL Rookie of the Year while finishing 13th in NL MVP voting.

Unfortunately for Soto, injuries derailed his career. He has failed to surpass his career high of 141 games, which occurred in 2008.

The 12-year veteran has gone on to bounce around the American League, having brief stints with the Texas Rangers, Oakland Athletics, Chicago White Sox, and currently the Los Angeles Angels.

We could see a rookie season similar to Soto’s soon, as young catchers Gary Sanchez and Willson Contreras begin to emerge.

 

First Base: Jose Abreu, Chicago White Sox, 2014

Greatest Rookie Fantasy Baseball Seasons

Jose Abreu continues to torment pitchers in the AL Central. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)

Honorable mentions include: Mark Teixeira 2003 (TEX), Ryan Howard 2005 (PHI), Prince Fielder 2006 (MIL), Joey Votto 2008 (CIN), Gaby Sanchez 2010 (FLA), Eric Hosmer 2011 (KC), and Freddie Freeman 2011 (ATL).

The Cuban first basemen signed a six-year deal with the Chicago White Sox worth $68 million, in 2013, which was the largest deal in club history.

In a Cuban professional league, Abreu batted .316 with 19 home runs and 60 RBI’s over an 83-game span. The White Sox took a risk, believing that his numbers in Cuba would translate to production in the American League.

The 27-year-old took over at first base for Chicago legend Paul Konerko in 2014, becoming a new corner stone of the White Sox lineup. Abreu didn’t disappoint, batting .317 with 36 home runs and 107 RBI’s. The 2014 All-Star managed to also win the AL Rookie of the Year and Silver Slugger awards, while finishing fourth in the AL MVP voting.

Abreu has remained an elite first basemen throughout his three-year career, having a 162-game average of .299, 32 home runs, and 109 RBI’s. His rookie season remains nearly unrepeatable.

 

Second Base: Dan Uggla, Florida Marlins, 2006

Greatest Rookie Fantasy Baseball Seasons

Dan Uggla looks to make an MLB comeback in 2017. (Courtesy of Onlineathens.com)

Honorable mentions include: Robinson Cano 2005 (NYY), Dustin Pedroia 2007 (BOS), Danny Espinosa 2011 (WAS), and Trea Turner 2016 (WAS).

Dan Uggla remains one my favorite players to this day. He mashed 21 home runs in 2005 at the AA level for the Arizona Diamondbacks affiliate, the Tennessee Smokies. Fortunately for Uggla, he failed to make the Diamondbacks 40-man roster in 2005, and was drafted by the Florida Marlins in the rule-5 draft, forcing the Marlins to keep him on the 40-man roster.

The 5-foot-11, 210-pound second basemen took this opportunity and ran with it, hitting 27 home runs with 90 RBI’s while batting a very respectable .287. The 26-year-old made his first of three All-Star appearances in 2006, while finishing third in NL Rookie of the Year.

Uggla’s career remained explosive, as he managed to hit 30 or more home runs in his following five seasons, finishing 17th in NL MVP voting in 2010.

After two and half inconsistent seasons with the Atlanta Braves from 2011-2013, he has bounced around the minor leagues. The 35-year old is coming off of stints with the San Francisco Giants and Washington Nationals, as he continues to try to make an impact for a big-league club in 2017.

 

Third Base: Ryan Braun, Milwaukee Brewers, 2007

Greatest Rookie Fantasy Baseball Seasons

Ryan Braun’s rookie season remains unmatched. (Courtesy of Youtube.com)

Honorable mentions include: Eric Hinske 2002 (TOR), Garrett Atkins 2005 (COL), Ryan Zimmerman 2006 (WAS), Evan Longoria 2008 (TB), Kris Bryant 2015 (CHC), and Matt Duffy 2015 (SFG).

Ryan Braun was the 5th overall pick by the Milwaukee Brewers in 2005. From 2005-2007, he batted .313, while hitting 32 home runs in 165 minor league games. The highly touted prospect had matching expectations when he was called up to take over for veteran Jeff Cirillo in May of 2007.

The 23-yaer-old impressed, batted an astounding .324, with 34 home runs, and 97 RBI’s. Braun went on to win NL Rookie of the Year, while finishing top 25 in NL MVP voting. The fact that Braun only played in 113 games goes completely overlooked, as he was on pace to hit 41 home runs and 118 RBI’s over a 600-plate appearance season. Although there have been some stellar rookie seasons by third basemen in the last two decades, Braun’s stands alone.

 

Short Stop: Hanley Ramirez, Florida Marlins, 2006

Greatest Rookie Fantasy Baseball Seasons

Hanley Ramirez may be back in Boston, but no one forgets his MVP caliber days in Florida. (Photo by Joel Auerbach/Getty Images)

Honorable mentions include: Jimmy Rollins 2001 (PHI), Angel Berroa 2003 (KAN), Troy Tulowitzki 2007 (COL), Alexie Ramirez 2008 (CWS), Carlos Correa 2015 (HOU), Francisco Lindor 2015 (CLE), Corey Seager 2016 (LAD), Trevor Story 2016 (COL), and Aledmys Diaz 2016 (STL).

The former and current Boston Red Sox, Hanley Ramirez, signed with the team in 2000 as an amateur free agent. He began to soar up the ranks, making his way from low-A minor league ball to the majors in only three years. Ramirez was traded to the Florida Marlins in November of 2005, in a deal involving World Series champs Josh Beckett and Mike Lowell.

As a 22-year old, Ramirez won the 2006 NL Rookie of the Year, batting .292 with 17 home runs, 119 runs, 59 RBI’s, and 51 stolen bases. Hanley’s production goes unmatched, as the only other rookie to score over 115 runs in the modern era is Ichiro Suzuki.

Hanley’s career has been an interesting ride so far, as he has battled through some serious injuries that has caused him to lose his MVP form. He has transformed from a perennial .300 hitter with 20 plus steals to a .270 hitter with single-digit steals, which, along with his improved power stroke, is still a very productive player.

 

Left Field: Albert Pujols, St. Louis Cardinals, 2001

Greatest Rookie Fantasy Baseball Seasons

Albert Pujols is the greatest player of his generation. (Courtesy of Lehighvalleylive.com)

Honorable mentions include: Hideki Matsui 2003 (NYY), Jason Bay 2004 (PIT), Chris Coghlan 2009 (FLA), Yoenis Cespedes 2012 (OAK).

Arguably the greatest player of his generation, Albert Pujols was drafted in the 13th round of the 1999 MLB draft by the St. Louis Cardinals. He accelerated up the minor-league ladder, batting .314 with 19 home runs and 96 RBI’s in 133 games at three different levels in 2000.

The Machine exploded onto the scene in 2001, batting .329 with 37 home runs, 112 runs, and 130 RBI’s. Pujols went on to become an All-Star, win Rookie of the Year and Silver Slugger awards, and finish top five in NL MVP voting. Prince Albert’s 2001 campaign sparked a hall of fame career which included three MVP’s and two World Series rings.

 

Center Field: Mike Trout, Los Angeles Angels, 2012

Greatest Rookie Fantasy Baseball Seasons

Mike Trout or Micky Mantle? (Courtesy of the Huffington Post)

Honorable mentions include: Terrance Long 2000 (OAK), Rocco Baldelli 2003 (TB), Scott Podsednik 2003 (MIL), Willy Tavares 2005 (HOU), Jacoby Ellsbury 2008 (BOS), Austin Jackson 2010 (DET), and Billy Hamilton 2014 (CIN).

This generations Mikey Mantle began as a first-round selection by the Los Angles Angels in 2009. In three minor league season Trout batted well over .300, but lacked the power that we are all used to seeing today, as he hit only 23 home runs in 291 games.

Trout started his rookie season after being called up in April of 2012. He went on to play 139 games, batting .326, while mashing 30 home runs, scoring 129 runs, driving in 83 RBI’s, and stealing 49 bases in 56 attempts.

The two-time MVP had the highest WAR ever by a rookie, with 10.0. It may be a long time until we see another 30/40 season by a rookie.

 

Right Field: Ichiro Suzuki, Seattle Mariners, 2001

Greatest Rookie Fantasy Baseball Seasons

Ichiro refuses to quit as he enters his 17th Major League season. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)

Honorable mentions include: Hunter Pence 2007 (HOU), Jason Heyward 2010 (ATL), Bryce Harper 2012 (WAS), Yasiel Puig 2013 (LAD), and Nomar Mazara 2016 (TEX).

The 27-year old rookie was purchased from the Orix BlueWave for $13 million in 2000. In nine seasons in Japan, Ichiro batted .313, with 658 runs, 118 home runs, and 508 stolen bases. After winning seven batting titles and three MVP awards in Japan, Ichiro decided to make the transition to the MLB.

In 2001, he set the record for the most hits ever by a rookie with 242. The Rookie of the Year finished the season batting .350, while scoring 127 runs, driving in 69 RBI’s, and stealing 56 bases. He was subsequently rewarded the AL MVP.

Suzuki’s career is well known as he has surpassed the 3000-hit plateau and has a career average of .313. Ichiro will remain with the Miami Marlins in 2017, where he will continue to add to his historical career.

 

Starting Pitcher: Jose Fernandez, Miami Marlins, 2013

Greatest Rookie Fantasy Baseball Seasons

Jose Fernandez, what could have been?(Findagrave.com)

Honorable mentions include: Rick Ankiel 2000 (STL), Roy Oswalt 2001 (HOU), Dontrelle Willis 2003 (FLA), Francisco Liriano 2006 (MIN), Daisuke Matsuzaka 2007 (BOS), Edinson Volquez 2008 (CIN), J.A. Happ 2009 (PHI), Jaime Garcia 2010 (STL), Jeremy Hellickson 2011 (TB), Yu Darvish 2012 (TEX), Wade Miley 2012 (ARI), Shelby Miller 2013 (ATL), Hyun-Jin Ryo 2013 (LAD), Julio Teheran 2013 (ATL), Matt Shoemaker 2014 (LAA), Jacob deGrom 2014 (NYM), Noah Syndergaard 2015 (NYM), Michael Fulmer 2016 (DET), Kenta Maeda 2016 (LAD), and Jon Gray 2016 (COL).

In 2013, the late, great, Jose Fernandez, managed to out-perform all other rookie starters since the year 2000. After being selected as the 14th pick of the 2011 MLB draft, Fernandez pitched one full season in the minors, going 14-1 with a 1.75 ERA, while striking out 158 batters in 134 innings pitched.

The young hurler started 28 games in his rookie season, going 12-6 with a 2.19, while striking out 187 batters in 172.2 innings. The 20-year old lead the league in hits per nine in 2013, which helped him earn the NL Rookie of the Year award, his first All-Star appearance, and a 3rd place finish in NL Cy Young.

In 2016, Fernandez lead the league in K/9, with 12.5, as he had 253 strikeouts in only 182.1 innings. Unfortunately, Fernandez’ life was cut short in boating accident, so we can only speculate to what could have been. Rest in peace.

 

Releif Pitcher: Craig Kimbrel, Atlanta Braves, 2011

Greatest Rookie Fantasy Baseball Seasons

Craig Kimbrel may be in a new uniform, but his antics remain as they did in Atlanta. (Courtesy of Jeffschultz.blog.myajc.com)

Honorable mentions include: Kazuhiro Sasaki 2000 (SEA), Huston Street 2005 (OAK), Jonathan Papelbon 2006 (BOS), Andrew Bailey 2009 (OAK), and Neftali Feliz 2010 (TEX), Jordan Walden 2010 (LAA), Dellin Betances 2014 (NYY), Roberto Osuna 2015 (TOR), Edwin Diaz 2016 (SEA), and Seung-hwan Oh 2016 (STL).

After being drafted by the Atlanta Braves in the 33rd round of the 2007 MLB draft, Craig Kimbrel decided to forgo the MLB, and attend Wallace State Community College in Hanceville, Alabama. He finished the 2007-2008 collegiate season with a 2.89 ERA, while striking out 123 batters in 81 innings.

Kimbrel went on the be re-drafted by the Braves in the third round of the 2008 MLB draft. He had some slight struggles in the minors, sporting a 3.97 ERA in 70.1 innings pitched at four different levels in 2009, but recovered in 2010, where he had a 1.62 ERA at the AAA level.

Kimbrel received the official call up in 2010, where he recorded 46 saves, struck out 127 batters, and lead the league in games finished with 64. The 23-year old went on to win NL Rookie of the Year, make his first All-Star appearance, all while receiving votes for the Cy Young and MVP.

The flamethrower has managed to improve on his rookie season, as he has had an illustrious seven-year career with a career ERA of 1.86 and over 250 career saves.

 

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