Image credit: Gunnar Henderson (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)
They finished it ranked one and two for most wins above replacement compiled by rookies this season.
Each is a virtual lock to win his league’s Rookie of the Year award and bestow his club—Carroll the D-backs and Henderson the Orioles—with a Prospect Promotion Incentive draft pick in 2024.
While the success of Carroll and Henderson was more or less expected, they were far from the only rookie position players entrusted with large MLB roles this season because of the value they contributed.
Rookie position players compiled 68 WAR this season, according to FanGraphs.com, a total topped only in 2015 in the past 123 years.
The batting plus pitching WAR total for rookies this season ranks third since MLB expanded to 30 teams in 1998. Here are the top five WAR totals for rookie classes in the 30-team era.
Year WAR Rookies of the Year
2015 126.9 Carlos Correa, Kris Bryant
2006 119.6 Justin Verlander, Hanley Ramirez
2023 114.5 Gunnar Henderson, Corbin Carroll
2012 112.1 Mike Trout, Bryce Harper
2021 102.3 Randy Arozarena, Jonathan India
This year’s rookie class had no shortage of standouts even beyond Carroll and Henderson. The BA all-rookie team also includes preseason Top 100 Prospects such as Triston Casas, Yainer Diaz and Josh Jung on the position side and Tanner Bibee, Bobby Miller, Eury Perez and Japanese import Kodai Senga on the mound.
The first-year class was so deep that a number of qualified contenders were squeezed off the all-rookie team, including:
• Athletics second baseman Zack Gelof, who shined in a half-season sample.
• The Twins’ trio of second baseman Eduoard Julien, third baseman Royce Lewis and outfielder Matt Wallner, who added punch to the AL Central division champions’ lineup when they needed it most.
• Red Sox outfielder Masataka Yoshida, who slumped down the stretch but still had the highest batting average of any rookie with more than 425 plate appearances.
The Giants turned over catcher to rookie Patrick Bailey and, while he didn’t hit much after a hot start, he was voted Best Defensive Catcher in NL Best Tools voting by league managers.
The same was true on the mound, where Royals lefthander Cole Ragans was a revelation after he came over from the Rangers in the Aroldis Chapman trade.
The pitching factories in Cleveland (Logan T. Allen and Gavin Williams), Houston (Hunter Brown and J.P. France) and Seattle (Bryce Miller and Bryan Woo) produced more than 700 innings of solidly above-replacement starting pitcher value, helping to explain how those organizations remain competitive year in and year out.
A number of top preseason prospects played regularly but exhibited flaws. Cardinals right fielder Jordan Walker produced offensively at a high rate but was borderline unplayable in the field. Mets catcher Francisco Alvarez hit for power and framed pitches well but hit just .209 with a .284 on-base percentage. Similarly, Yankees shortstop Anthony Volpe won a Gold Glove and topped both 20 homers and steals, but he hit just .209/.283/.383.
Reds shortstop Elly De La Cruz flashed insane power and earned 80 grades for his speed and throwing arm, but opposing pitchers figured out a reliable plan of attack after a hot start. Rockies shortstop Ezequiel Tovar showed the defensive prowess that made him famous as a prospect but struggled with his aggressiveness at the plate and posted a .287 on-base percentage.
Angels shortstop Zach Neto sped from the first round of the 2022 draft to Anaheim in about a year but was felled by a back injury that cut into his rookie production.
Neto’s trajectory figures to become even more common in the future, as the time from first pro contract to major league debut is further diminished.
C Yainer Diaz, Astros
Diaz split time with Martin Maldonado behind the plate but still had the most productive season of any rookie catcher. He hit .282/.308/.538 with 23 home runs, 63 RBIs and threw out 30% of attempted basestealers (15 of 45) to help the Astros win their third straight American League West title. He led all qualified rookie catchers in batting average, on-base percentage, slugging percentage, OPS, hits, doubles, extra-base hits and total bases, tied for first in runs scored and finished second in home runs in RBIs.
1B Triston Casas, Red Sox
Casas emerged as a bright spot in an otherwise dismal season for the Red Sox. The 2018 first-round pick hit .263/.367/.490 with 24 home runs and 65 RBIs and had moved into the cleanup spot before right shoulder inflammation ended his season in mid-September. His .857 OPS ranked second behind only Corbin Carroll among rookies who made at least 425 plate appearances.
2B Matt McLain, Reds
McLain got called up on May 15 and changed the trajectory of the Reds’ season. The 2021 first-round pick hit .290/.357/.507 with 16 home runs, 50 RBIs and 14 stolen bases as a dynamic offensive threat played above-average defense at both shortstop and second base. The Reds were 48-41 with McLain in the lineup and 34-39 without him, an impact that became amplified when an oblique strain ended his season in late August.
3B Josh Jung, Rangers
After struggling in a September callup last year, Jung took over as the Rangers’ Opening Day third baseman and emerged as a key cog in the American League’s highest-scoring offense. The 2019 first-round pick hit .266/.315/.467 with 23 home runs and 70 RBIs in only 122 games and played well above-average defense at third base to help the Rangers return to the postseason for the first time since 2016. He finished tied for fifth among all rookies in both home runs and RBIs despite missing six weeks with a fractured left thumb.
SS Gunnar Henderson, Orioles
Henderson got off to a slow start but made the requisite adjustments to become a force by midseason. The 2019 second-round pick hit .255/.325/.489 with 28 home runs, 82 RBIs and 10 stolen bases to help lead the Orioles to the best record in the American League. He led all rookies in homers and extra-base hits (66) and finished second in RBIs, runs (100) and total bases (274) while playing exceptional defense at both shortstop and third base.
OF Corbin Carroll, D-backs
Carroll signed an eight-year, $111 million contract before the season, the largest contract ever for a player with less than 100 days of service time, and made it look like a bargain. The 2019 first-round pick hit .285/.362/.506 with 25 home runs, 76 RBIs and 54 stolen bases to lead the D-backs to their first playoff appearance since 2017. He became the first rookie to ever record a 25-homer, 50-stolen base season, led the National League with 10 triples and made only one error all season while playing more than 40 games at all three outfield spots.
OF James Outman, Dodgers
Expected to be part of a platoon entering the year, Outman instead seized the Dodgers’ starting center field job with a torrid start and remained one of baseball’s most productive rookies throughout the year. The Sacramento State product hit .248/.353/.457 with 23 home runs, 70 RBI and 16 stolen bases while playing solid defense in center to help the Dodgers cruise to their 10th division title in 11 years. He bounced back impressively from a midseason slump and finished third among rookies in runs scored behind only Corbin Carroll and Gunnar Henderson.
OF Nolan Jones, Rockies
Jones got called up May 26 and blossomed into one of baseball’s best rookies on both sides of the ball. The 2016 first-round pick hit .297/.389/.542 with 20 home runs, 69 RBI and 20 stolen bases in only 106 games while emerging as a franchise building block. His defense was equally, if not more, impressive. Jones led the majors with 19 outfield assists and averaged the hardest throwing velocity of any position player in MLB.
DH Spencer Steer, Reds
While a cadre of rookies electrified the Reds, Steer was the steadiest and most productive of them all. The Oregon product hit .271/.356/.464 with 23 home runs, 86 RBIs and 15 stolen bases while playing more than 40 games each at first base, third base and left field. He led all rookies in RBIs, tied for the lead with 37 doubles and finished third behind only Corbin Carroll and Gunnar Henderson with 63 extra-base hits and 270 total bases.
SP Andrew Abbott, Reds
While McLain, Steer, Elly De La Cruz and others bolstered the Reds lineup, Abbott did the same for their beleaguered rotation. The 2021 second-round pick went 8-6, 3.87 with 120 strikeouts and 44 walks in 109.1 innings after being called up in early June. He began his career with 17.2 scoreless innings and held opponents to two runs or less in 13 of his 21 starts.
SP Tanner Bibee, Guardians
Bibee emerged as the latest product of the Guardians’ pitching factory before hip inflammation ended his season in mid-September. The Cal State Fullerton product went 10-4, 2.98 with 141 strikeouts and 45 walks in 142 innings for Cleveland. He tied for the lowest ERA of any rookie starter and ranked third in strikeouts.
SP Bobby Miller, Dodgers
Miller received his first callup in late May and helped stabilize a decimated Dodgers rotation. The 2020 first-rounder went 11-4, 3.26 with 119 strikeouts and 32 walks in 124.1 innings, ranking second to only Clayton Kershaw in ERA, strikeouts and innings on the team. He also recorded a 1.10 WHIP, lowest of any qualified rookie starter.
SP Eury Perez, Marlins
The Marlins strategically limited Perez’s workload, but the 20-year-old thrilled when he was on the mound. Armed with a 97-99 mph fastball and trio of vicious secondaries, Perez went 5-6, 3.15 with 108 strikeouts and 31 walks in 91.1 innings to help the Marlins reach the playoffs just the fourth time in franchise history. He limited opponents to a .214 batting average, second-lowest among any qualified rookie starter, and allowed two earned runs or less in 13 of his 19 starts.
SP Kodai Senga, Mets
The $75 million Japanese import lived up to his contract and more in his rookie season. Senga went 12-7, 2.98 with 202 strikeouts and 77 walks in 166.1 innings, providing a glimmer of hope in an otherwise disastrous season for the Mets. Armed with his exceptional “Ghost Fork”, Senga not only led rookies in almost every pitching category, but finished fourth in the majors with a .208 opponent average and had the fifth-lowest ERA of any qualifying starter.
RP Yennier Cano, Orioles
Acquired from the Twins at last year’s trade deadline, Cano blossomed from a virtual unknown to one of MLB’s top relievers in his first full season. The 29-year-old posted a 2.11 ERA in 72 appearances and opened the season with 21.2 consecutive scoreless innings. He quickly became the Orioles setup man and moved into the closer role followed Felix Bautista’s season-ending injury.
Baseball America 2023 MLB All-Rookie Team
|C||Yainer Diaz, Astros||.282||.308||.538||355||51||100||22||0||23||60||11||74||0|
|1B||Triston Casas, Red Sox||.263||.367||.490||429||66||113||21||2||24||65||70||126||0|
|2B||Matt McLain, Reds||.290||.357||.507||365||65||106||23||4||16||50||31||115||14|
|3B||Josh Jung, Rangers||.266||.315||.467||478||75||127||25||1||23||70||30||151||1|
|SS||Gunnar Henderson, Orioles||.255||.325||.489||560||100||143||29||9||28||82||56||159||10|
|OF||Corbin Carroll, D-backs||.285||.362||.506||565||116||161||30||10||25||76||57||125||54|
|OF||Nolan Jones, Rockies||.297||.389||.542||367||60||109||22||5||20||62||53||126||20|
|OF||James Outman, Dodgers||.248||.353||.437||483||86||120||16||3||23||70||68||181||16|
|DH||Spencer Steer, Reds||.271||.356||.464||582||74||158||22||1||23||86||77||170||15|
|SP||Andrew Abbott, Reds||8||6||3.87||21||21||109.1||100||47||44||120||.244||1.32||9.9|
|SP||Tanner Bibee, Guardians||10||4||2.98||25||25||142||122||47||45||141||.230||1.18||8.9|
|SP||Bobby Miller, Dodgers||11||4||3.76||22||22||124.1||105||52||32||119||.226||1.10||8.6|
|SP||Eury Perez, Marlins||5||6||3.15||19||19||91.1||72||32||31||108||.214||1.13||10.6|
|SP||Kodai Senga, Mets||12||7||2.98||29||29||166.1||126||55||77||202||.208||1.22||10.9|
|RP||Yennier Cano, Orioles||1||4||2.11||72||72||72.2||60||17||13||65||.226||1.00||8.1|