The Cubs and Dodgers met in the National League Championship Series last year—perhaps not for the final time this decade. The two ascendant franchises have many things in common, but one linking trait is impossible to miss: both their systems have produced a steady stream of impact rookies.
The Cubs’ Kris Bryant claimed the Rookie of the Year award in 2015, and the Dodgers’ Corey Seager followed suit in 2016. Now our ranking of the top 20 rookies for 2017 forecasts that two more future stars will touch down in Chicago and Los Angeles. Each rookie’s seasonal age is included.
1. Andrew Benintendi | 22 | of | Red Sox
Calling Card: Benintendi hit .376 in his College Player of the Year season of 2015, then hit .312 with more extra-base hits (52) than strikeouts (39) in the minors in 2016, which earned him an August callup to Boston.
2017 Outlook: Benintendi kept hitting in the majors and homered in his first postseason at-bat, ensuring that he will start in left field for the Red Sox.
2. Dansby Swanson | 23 | ss | Braves
Calling Card: Swanson’s defensive reliability is the bedrock of his value—he led all minor league shortstops in assist rate per game last year—while plus hitting and running ability enhance his profile.
2017 Outlook: The Braves installed Swanson at shortstop last August, and the suburban Atlanta product might not relinquish that role for a decade or more.
3. Manuel Margot | 22 | of | Padres
Calling Card: Margot recorded more putouts (311) and assists (18) than any Triple-A outfielder last year, so his ability to patrol Petco Park’s spacious center field in is unquestioned.
2017 Outlook: Margot won’t produce much power early in his career, but he needs only to outproduce Travis Jankowski to merit full-time play in San Diego.
4. Josh Bell | 24 | 1b | Pirates
Calling Card: Bell hit a career-high 14 home runs at Triple-A last season, though the switch-hitter’s feel for the strike zone and hitting ability—he owns a career .303 average in the minors—are more advanced.
2017 Outlook: Bell’s encouraging big league debut last year makes him the prohibitive favorite to play first base for the Pirates—provided his surgically-repaired left knee holds.
5. Yoan Moncada | 22 | 2b | White Sox
Calling Card: A dynamic power-speed prospect who reached the majors briefly last year, Moncada claimed the Minor League Player of the Year award by hitting .294 with 15 homers, 45 steals and a .407 on-base percentage.
2017 Outlook: Moncada needs to rein in his strikeout rate at Triple-A, but when he does the White Sox will make room for him at second base, third base or possibly center field.
6. Tyler Glasnow | 23 | rhp | Pirates
Calling Card: With an outstanding fastball and curveball, Glasnow racks up strikeouts while limiting hits and home runs—though throwing strikes is the final hurdle.
2017 Outlook: Glasnow worked to improve the balance and tempo in his delivery, and he also focused on sharpening his two-seam fastball and changeup, all of which could lead to a major breakout.
7. Jharel Cotton | 25 | rhp | Athletics
Calling Card: Cotton throws one of the finest changeups in the game—it arrives 15 mph slower than his fastball—and he maximizes its value by working ahead of batters.
2017 Outlook: Cotton led the Pacific Coast League in strikeouts and opponent average last year and is ready for an expanded major league workload this year.
8. Jose De Leon | 24 | rhp | Rays
Calling Card: With an above-average fastball and a plus changeup, De Leon is exactly the type of pitcher with which the Rays tend to find success.
2017 Outlook: After striking out 33 percent of batters at Triple-A last year and not allowing a stolen-base attempt all season, De Leon won’t require much Triple-A time he’s ready.
9. Robert Gsellman | 23 | rhp | Mets
Calling Card: Gsellman unleashed a 93-95 mph power sinker following his August callup and it generated plenty of ground balls and swinging strikes.
2017 Outlook: Though Gsellman never truly dominated in the minors, he’s an athletic starter with an array of pitches that opposing batters struggle to lift.
10. Albert Almora | 23 | of | Cubs
Calling Card: Almora doesn’t produce much power or draw many walks, but he’s an above-average hitter and outstanding defensive outfielder with Gold Glove potential.
2017 Outlook: Almora picked up 10 postseason at-bats last year and will open the season in a center-field timeshare with free agent import Jon Jay.
11. Hunter Renfroe | 25 | of | Padres
Calling Card: Renfroe led the Pacific Coast League with 30 home runs, 69 extra-base hits and 297 total bases last year, and power has always been his signature skill.
2017 Outlook: The Padres will give Renfroe a long leash, but few corner outfielders walk as infrequently as he does, so perhaps big league pitchers will exploit his aggressiveness.
12. Aaron Judge | 25 | of | Yankees
Calling Card: The 6-foot-7 slugger has delivered power in each pro season, though the rest of his offensive game often requires a season of repetitions at a new level to catch up.
2017 Outlook: The Yankees are counting on Judge to be a key source of righthanded power along with veteran Matt Holliday and phenom Gary Sanchez.
13. Reynaldo Lopez | 23 | rhp | White Sox
Calling Card: With a live high-90s fastball and tight curveball, Lopez can generate swings and misses in the strike zone—the key will be finding the zone more often.
2017 Outlook: The Nationals carried Lopez as a reliever in the postseason last year before trading him to the White Sox, a club that will give him every chance to start.
14. J.P. Crawford | 22 | ss | Phillies
Calling Card: Strike-zone control didn’t desert Crawford last year even as his average plummeted to .250, and he still profiles as a plus defender at shortstop.
2017 Outlook: Crawford has more than half a season at Triple-A under his belt, and incumbent Freddy Galvis won’t stand in his way when the Phillies deem him ready.
15. Francis Martes | 21 | rhp | Astros
Calling Card: Martes combines prototype major league stuff, including a mid-90s fastball and power curve, with a short—but sturdy—frame for a righthanded starter.
2017 Outlook: With the Cardinals’ Alex Reyes out with Tommy John surgery, Martes is the top healthy pitching prospect in the game, and the Astros could use a power arm.
16. Yulieski Gurriel | 33 | 1b | Astros
Calling Card: A 15-year Cuban veteran, Gurriel required just 15 games in the minors last summer before debuting with the Astros, where he showed intermittent power.
2017 Outlook: Gurriel signed a $47.5 million deal with the Astros that takes him through age 36, and Houston has cleared a path for him to play first base.
17. Mitch Haniger | 26 | of | Mariners
Calling Card: Haniger revamped his swing to produce more power in 2016, his fifth pro season, when he hit 25 homers and led the minors with a .999 OPS.
2017 Outlook: This offseason the Mariners dealt Taijuan Walker to acquire Haniger (and Jean Segura), and they plan to install the 26-year-old in right field.
18. Luke Weaver | 23 | rhp | Cardinals
Calling Card: Weaver’s outstanding changeup caught the Cardinals’ attention in the 2014 draft, and he rode sharp command to the majors two years later.
2017 Outlook: Alex Reyes’ elbow injury greatly enhances Weaver’s chance to see significant big league time, and if he can throw strike one more consistently, his stuff will play.
19. Cody Bellinger | 21 | 1b/of | Dodgers
Calling Card: Bellinger delivers big power from the left side and is patient enough to wait for his pitch while being athletic enough to be an asset defensively.
2017 Outlook: Blocked by Adrian Gonzalez at first base, Bellinger’s best shot at playing time will come on an outfield corner, where Andrew Toles and Yasiel Puig stand in his way.
20. Ozzie Albies | 20 | 2b | Braves
Calling Card: The Southern League batting title winner last year uses his speed to beat out infield hits, leg out extra-base hits and steal bases.
2017 Outlook: While Albies will open at Triple-A, the Braves will want to sync him with double-play partner Dansby Swanson as they look forward to contention in 2018.
Dynamic Rookie Duos
If Red Sox outfielder Andrew Benintendi and Braves shortstop Dansby Swanson win Rookie of the Year awards in the American and National leagues, as we predict they will, then the dynamic rookie duo will tie the class of 2012 for the highest average ranking on our Top 100 Prospects list for the season in question. Benintendi ranks No. 1 and Swanson ranks No. 3 on the 2017 list.
The following 12 rookie duos averaged a combined ranking of at least 30 on the Top 100 Prospects list in the same year that both won ROY awards.
||AL ROY (Top 100)
||NL ROY (Top 100)
|2012||OF Mike Trout (3)||OF Bryce Harper (1)||2.0|
|1998||OF Ben Grieve (1)||RHP Kerry Wood (4)||2.5|
|2015||SS Carlos Correa (4)||3B Kris Bryant (1)||2.5|
|2013||OF Wil Myers (4)||RHP Jose Fernandez (5)||4.5|
|2010||RHP Neftali Feliz (9)||C Buster Posey (7)||8.0|
|1997||SS Nomar Garciaparra (10)||3B Scott Rolen (13)||11.5|
|2006||RHP Justin Verlander (8)||SS Hanley Ramirez (30)||19.0|
|1993||OF Tim Salmon (5)||C Mike Piazza (38)||21.5|
|2016||RHP Michael Fulmer (47)||SS Corey Seager (1)||24.0|
|2008||3B Evan Longoria (2)||C Geovany Soto (47)||24.5|
|1996||SS Derek Jeter (6)||OF Todd Hollandsworth (44)||25.0|
|2001||OF Ichiro Suzuki (9)||3B Albert Pujols (42)||25.5|
In case you’re wondering, 40 of the 54 ROY winners since 1990 also ranked among the Top 100 Prospects in the same season. That’s 74 percent.
Our ROY success rate jumps to 81 percent (34 of 42) since 1996, with the eight Top 100 exclusions being Kazuhiro Sasaki (2000), Eric Hinske (2002), Jason Jennings (2002), Angel Berroa (2003), Dustin Pedroia (2007), Andrew Bailey (2009), Chris Coghlan (2009) and Jacob deGrom (2014).
Mets righthander Robert Gsellman and Athletics righthander Jharel Cotton gained a firm foothold on big league rotation spots for 2017 because they dominated the competition in brief 2016 callups. The same is not true for all of this year’s top rookie starters who debuted last year.
Gsellman produced the highest total of wins above replacement, according to Baseball-Reference.com, of the past 10 seasons for a first-year starter who did not top 50 innings in his debut. Cotton ranks seventh on the list. The most effective first-year pitchers since 2007 who retained rookie eligibility:
|6||Clay Buchholz||2007||Red Sox||22||23||303||1.0|
Steven Matz, James Paxton and Taijuan Walker remain promising young pitchers who could ascend to star status, but the rest of the list illustrates the perils of drawing firm conclusions from small samples, particularly those samples concentrated during the month of September.
The Young Face Of Major League Middle Infields
A similar phenomenon exists at second base, where Rougned Odor, Javier Baez and Jonathan Schoop were the three youngest regulars in 2016. Regulars here are defined as those players with at least 400 plate appearances.
In fact, major league teams have not been as youthful at either middle-infield position in the past 21 years. The median ages for regular shortstops (26) and second basemen (27) last season made them the youngest positions on the diamond. That’s one reason why we included young middle infielders Ozzie Albies and J.P. Crawford on our top 20 rookies ranking.
Just seven seasons ago, in 2009, both shortstop and second base had a median age for regulars of 29 years old. The median age at both positions has decreased in linear fashion since then.
Talent in baseball tends to run in cycles. The last time shortstop featured so many young stars was 1999, when Nomar Garciaparra, Derek Jeter, Edgar Renteria, Alex Rodriguez and Miguel Tejada helped drive the position’s median age down to 26.