How can you not be impressed with the wave of young talent in baseball?? Several of MLB’s preseason top 100 prospects made their way into the big leagues in 2015, and nearly every one was productive right away. For me, this makes 2016 even more exciting – will these youngsters continue to produce? Will there be yet another wave of talent coming up from the minors? But, it also makes deciding on this award much more difficult than it has been in recent years. Most years, there are 2 or 3 rookies that separate themselves from the group, and they clearly are in the running. Not so, this year. Compared to typical rookie production – both leagues had several outstanding performances, which makes this year’s ROY award a challenge to determine. Well, sorta. In the AL, at least. Since there are so many great rookies to choose from, we’ll consider the top 5 in each league. So, here they are, in order…
- Francisco Lindor (CLE)
- Carlos Correa (HOU)
- Miguel Sano (MIN)
- Carson Smith (SEA)
- Lance McCullers (HOU)
Let’s start at the bottom. McCullers had a very good year in 22 starts. But, his season mirrored the success of the Astros. His first 13 starts were excellent (5-3, 2.48 ERA, 1.11 WHIP, .207 BAA), but from August 1st on, he struggled (1-4, 4.38 ERA, 1.30 WHIP). He definitely looks like he has the potential to be a top-of-the-rotation starter, and if he refines his game (he’s just 22), Houston will be pleased.
Quick . . . show of hands . . . if you aren’t a Mariners fan, how many of you have heard of Carson Smith?? Anybody? He’s the perfect example of just how deep this rookie class is. No one that I’ve heard even noticed the 25-year-old reliever who made 70 appearances for Seattle. He’s the reason the Mariners didn’t mind trading away their closer. He stepped in, and picked up 13 saves, along with a sparkling 2.31 ERA, 2.12 FIP, 1.01 WHIP, a staggering 11.83 K/9 and just 2.83 BB/9.
And, now we come to the offensive onslaught of rookies. There wasn’t even room on this list for the likes of Devon Travis, Gregory Bird, etc. etc. What’s most impressive about the top three candidates is that none of them appeared in even 100 games this year. Miguel Sano looks like a beast at the plate – 18 HR, 52 RBI, .530 SLG, and all in just 80 games. The AL Central better be on notice – this guy looks a lot like a young Miguel Cabrera.
Deciding between Lindor and Correa at the top was not easy. Correa clearly has the better power (22 HR, .512 SLG), and is going to be a middle-of-the-order bat for the rest of his career (68 RBI in 99 games). Their baserunning looks to be nearly identical (12 steals for Lindor, 14 for Correa). But, if this postseason (or, really, the last 2 postseasons) has taught us anything, it’s that power should not be the decisive offensive stat. And, with that in mind, Lindor leads Correa in batting by more than 30 points, and OBP (in spite of the fact that Correa walked 15 more times), and he strikes out less often. And, what else have we learned the last two years from the Royals? Defense matters! Not that Correa is a poor defensive shortstop, but the defensive metrics show that he’s only average. Meanwhile, the argument could be made that Lindor is already the best defensive SS in the AL (led the league in UZR & DRS – and Alexei Ramirez being a finalist for a gold glove over Lindor is preposterous!). So, when I had to make a choice, I see that their offensive skills even out: Correa being the power guy, and Lindor being the on-base guy. But, Lindor is clearly the better defensive player, which gives him the edge for the award.
I want you to take a moment to think about who isn’t even on this list. Names you probably know. Names like Conforto, Schwarber, Pederson, Matz, Heston, etc. Names that are likely to be impact players the rest of their careers. It’s incredible to think about the level of talent that rose to the majors this year. But, these ended up being my top 5, in spite of hefty competition. Kang split time between 3B and SS, as the Pirates had a series of injuries to the left side of their infield. And, Kang took advantage, making himself a bat the Pirates couldn’t take out of the lineup. Before being injured in mid-September, he was the spark in the middle of Pittsburgh’s offense. His stat line was .287/.355/.461, with 15 HR and 58 RBI.
Grichuk burst onto the scene in St. Louis, and had an immediate impact on the offense of the division winners. In just 103 games, he slugged 17 HR, and drove in 47, with a nice .877 OPS. His defense isn’t stellar, but it isn’t a liability either. Through the end of June, there were many suggesting that Duffy was the frontrunner for ROY honors. And, with an .825 OPS, he was looking to be a significant threat. But, as the season wore on, his numbers began to decline. He still finished with a nice .295/.334/.428 stat line with 12 HR and 77 RBI. Plus, his defensive metrics are excellent.
But, the decision in the NL came down to either the best pitcher or the best hitting rookie in the league this year. Syndergaard had an excellent year, going 9-7 with a 3.24 ERA, 1.05 WHIP, 9.96 K/9, and an incredible 1.86 BB/9. But, as nice as those numbers are, the award has to go to Bryant, who is likely to get some MVP votes after the year he had (in terms of WAR – which some people still lean heavily on – he was the 5th best position player in the NL). Bryant led all NL rookies in OBP (.369), runs (87), RBI (99), and was tied for the league lead in HR (26). He also finished 2nd in OPS (.858), 3rd in stolen bases (13), and is an above-average fielder at 3B. In a year when there were a plethora of talented rookies, Bryant is the clear choice in the NL.