Image credit: Masataka Yoshida (Photo by Billie Weiss/Boston Red Sox/Getty Images)
Believe it or not, we have passed the one-quarter mark of the 2023 season.
Every team has now played at least 40 games following the Tigers’ 4-0 win over the Pirates on Tuesday. Already, there has been a fair share of early-season surprises (Rangers, Pirates), disappointments (Mets, Padres) and potential history-makers: good (Rays) and bad (Athletics).
As usual, a collection of rookies has made an immediate impact and become critical parts of their teams’ success. Some of the early performances were expected, others less so, but already, the battle for the Rookie of the Year award in each league is shaping up to be exciting.
Here is who the top rookies in each league have been through the first quarter of the season, as well as who to keep an eye on for potential surges in the coming months. All statistics are through Tuesday.
1. Masataka Yoshida, OF, Red Sox
Yoshida quickly assuaged concerns that the Red Sox overpaid to sign him with his performance in the World Baseball Classic. He’s silenced the remaining doubters with his continued performance this season. Yoshida is batting .301/.381/.507 and leads all major league rookies in batting average, OPS and RBIs. While his contact and on-base skills have long been lauded, his power has exceeded expectations. Yoshida is second only to Rafael Devers in slugging percentage in a powerful Red Sox lineup and has reached that power without sacrificing his contact skills. Yoshida has struck out only 15 times all season, by far the fewest of any player with a slugging percentage over .500.
2. Hunter Brown, RHP, Astros
Brown’s stuff was never in question, but his spotty command led to concerns he would end up in the bullpen. Unsurprisingly given the Astros’ track record, Brown has found a way to dial in his command and flourish as a starter. The 6-foot-2 righthander has slotted seamlessly into the back of the Astros rotation and gone 4-1, 3.43 through his first eight starts of the season. He leads all major league rookies in innings pitched (44.2) and strikeouts (47) and has shown an impressive ability to pitch deep into games. Brown has completed seven innings three times already this season, more than Gerrit Cole, Shane McClanahan and Spencer Strider, among others.
3. Esteury Ruiz, OF, Athletics
Ruiz has been one of the few bright spots in an otherwise dismal season for the Athletics. The 24-year-old speedster is batting .267 with a major league-leading 20 stolen bases out of the leadoff spot and leads all major league rookies with 47 hits and 11 doubles. A converted infielder, Ruiz has struggled at times in center field and he hasn’t hit for much power, but his abilities to make contact and run have made him a dynamic weapon atop the A’s lineup. He delivered his second walkoff hit of the season Tuesday night, singling home the winning run in the bottom of the 12th inning to beat the D-backs, 9-8.
ON THE CUSP
Josh Jung, 3B, Rangers
Jung broke camp as the Rangers starting third baseman and has immediately been a difference-making power threat in the middle of the order. He is tied for the major league rookie lead with eight home runs and 26 runs scored and ranks second with 25 RBIs. The caveat is Jung has also struggled badly with strikeouts. Jung has struck out 53 times—fourth-most in MLB—against just nine walks in 40 games. He’s hitting just .250/.292/.438 as a result, a performance that will need to improve for him to jump into the top tier of the ROY field.
Zach Neto, SS, Angels
Neto showed his ability to adjust rapidly when he rushed from mid-major Campbell to the major leagues in just 10 months. He is continuing to adapt quickly at the game’s highest level. After an understandable adjustment period his first week in the majors, Neto has hit .276/.317/.408 in his last 22 games. He is starting to get into his power with four extra-base hits in his last seven games and has played a well above-average shortstop defensively, shoring up a major question mark for the Angels entering the season.
DON’T FORGET ABOUT
It’s been a slow start for two of the preseason ROY favorites coming into the year. Volpe is batting .213/.299/.381 and Henderson is batting .184/.340/.351. Still, there are reasons to be hopeful. Henderson is walking at an 18.2% clip (third-highest in the majors) and hitting the ball hard when he makes contact with a 91.5 mph average exit velocity. Volpe is finding his power stroke with three homers in his last seven games and has been one of the better defensive shortstops in the league throughout the year. The issue is both are striking out too often. Volpe’s 51 strikeouts are tied for ninth-most in the majors. Henderson’s 30% strikeout rate is ninth-highest in the American League. Both have the talent to surge to the top of the ROY field, but they’re going to have to make adjustments to make more contact.
Tanner Bibee, RHP, Guardians
Bibee has only made four starts since getting called up April 26, but he’s shown enough in that limited time to establish himself as a potential ROY contender. Bibee’s 3.22 ERA is the lowest of any rookie starter with at least 20 innings pitched and his 1.03 WHIP is the lowest of any qualified rookie pitcher, starter or reliever. He’s pitched at least five innings and allowed two runs or fewer in three of his four starts.
1. James Outman, OF, Dodgers
Outman homered on Opening Day and has remained a force since. The 25-year-old outfielder is batting .257/.350/.529 and leads all NL rookies in triples (3), home runs (8), RBIs (23), extra-base hits (19), total bases (74), slugging percentage and OPS. He’s done that while taking over as the Dodgers’ primary center fielder and ably playing both corners as needed. Outman’s 34% strikeout rate is a concern and he has slumped recently, but he’s still the early frontrunner as the NL rookie leader in most offensive categories.
2. Corbin Carroll, OF, D-backs
Outman holds the early edge, but Carroll is closing the gap fast. The 22-year-old speedster has heated up in recent weeks and is batting .279/.365/.478 with 10 doubles, five home runs and 10 stolen bases, showcasing his power-speed potential and electrifying all-around game. Carroll recently overtook Outman for the NL rookie hits lead with 38 and leads all NL rookies in batting average and on-base percentage. At the rate Carroll is going, it may not be long before he moves into pole position as the NL’s top rookie.
3. Kodai Senga, RHP, Mets
Senga’s control has been a major issue, but he’s still been the best of a weak NL rookie field behind Outman and Carroll so far. Senga is 4-1, 4.14 and leads all NL rookie pitchers with 43 strikeouts in 37 innings. On the flip side, his 23 walks are also the highest among NL rookie pitchers. Senga is going to have to throw more strikes to fulfill expectations and be the No. 3-caliber starter the Mets signed him to be, but for now, he’s treading water even with his strike-throwing issues.
ON THE CUSP
Blake Sabol, C/OF, Giants
Sabol hasn’t gotten as many plate appearances as most of his fellow NL rookie contenders, but he’s made the most of the at-bats he’s had. Sabol is batting .267/.320/.467 and is tied for second among NL rookies with five home runs in only 97 plate appearances. His .767 OPS is third-highest among qualified NL rookies behind only Outman and Carroll, and he keeps climbing as one of baseball’s hottest hitters in recent weeks. The Rule 5 pick is batting .327/.375/.558 since April 20 and has asserted his place as one of the best hitters in the Giants lineup.
Miguel Vargas, 2B, Dodgers
Vargas drew plenty of walks early, but he struggled to hit the ball hard after suffering a broken right finger in spring training and getting hit on the right thumb by a pitch during the first week of the season. Now that his hand is fully healthy, he’s become a different hitter. Vargas is hitting .267/.313/.622 with nine extra-base hits in his last 12 games, including three of his four home runs on the year. He hit three doubles in a game on May 2, homered in back-to-back games on May 9-10 and ripped doubles at more than 100 mph off the bat in each of his last two games. Now that Vargas is fully healthy, he’s impacting the ball and showing signs of being the impact hitter long predicted.
DON’T FORGET ABOUT
Francisco Alvarez, C, Mets
It’s been a slow start for Alvarez, just as it has been for the Mets as a whole, but he’s been hitting better recently. After batting .194 with a .494 OPS and a 35% strikeout rate in April, Alvarez has hit .237 with an .826 OPS and a 23% strikeout rate in May while getting the lion’s share of the reps behind the plate for the Mets. Alvarez’s overall season numbers (.216/.275/.392) remain underwhelming, but he’s moving in the right direction and will rise if he keeps it up.
Jose Hernandez, LHP, Pirates
The Pirates took Hernandez from the Dodgers in the Rule 5 draft and are reaping the rewards. The 25-year-old lefthander has posted a 3.31 ERA in 15 appearances to emerge as one of the Pirates’ most reliable bullpen options and arguably the top rookie reliever in the NL. Hernandez has 17 strikeouts against just three walks in 16.1 innings and has been especially dominant against lefties. Same-side hitters are batting just .158 with a .191 on-base percentage against Hernandez this season.