Over the past few seasons, it seems that the MLB rookie classes have been getting better and better. That’s been true halfway through the 2014 season. Many teams have been relying on coveted prospects to join their major league rosters and have an immediate impact on the team, with some making major contributions on both sides of the ball. You shouldn’t expect to see much of a change in this growing trend over the next few years, because many major league clubs feel that they receive much more value in their young talented stars on a league minimum deal then they do in signing a middling free agent to a much larger contract. Players such as Brock Holt, Gregory Polanco, Billy Hamilton and C.J. Cron have all been making exceptional impacts on their teams’ offenses and defenses, while the likes of Roenis Elias, Dellin Betances, Jake Odorizzi and Yordano Ventura have brought their contributions to the mound.
Along with top drafted prospects, there has been an increase in signings of big name international stars. A few of those stars have been the strength of the last few rookie classes. Players like Masahiro Tanaka (2.11 ERA 119 SO) and Jose Abreu (.280 BA 25 HR’s) are this year’s rookie class poster boys, having had no issue coming over to the MLB and having dominant rookie seasons. ( The pair will be headed to this year’s All-Star game in Minnesota.)
Each one of these players has proven that as first year MLB players that they too can help carry their team to the playoffs. Here are a handful of my top picks (in no particular order) for the most valuable impact rookies this season.
Billy Hamilton (Reds) .285 AVG, .319 OBP, 38 SBs
Hamilton had been one of the players to watch coming into the 2014 season, but with a slow start and a couple of bumps and bruises to begin the year, many began to doubt this speedster’s abilities. However over the last month, Hamilton is batting .324 with a .345 on-base percentage, 15 steals and has even managed to muster up a little power with three home runs. The tear Hamilton has been on lately certainly won’t last forever, but his electric speed and great defense in center field has helped him make a statement as being one of the best lead-off hitters in the whole league. Hamilton would be an asset to any team that has him at the top of the order.
Jose Abreu (White Sox) .292 AVG, 29 HRs, 73 RBIs
The 6’3″ rookie out of Cuba has been hot since the start of the season, clubbing home runs out of many ball parks. With not as much hype as a player with his type of power would typically have, Abreu has managed to be tied for the Major League lead in home runs and has himself high above the leader board in runs batted in as well as a slash line of .292/.342/.630, it’s no wonder Abreu has turned many heads and has become one of the front runners for this year’s AL Rookie of the Year.
Masahiro Tanaka (Yankees) 12-4 W-L, 2.51 ERA, 135 Ks, 19 BB
That’s right, 135 strikeouts to only 19 walks. Talk about command. Tanaka was a star in the Japanese league before ever throwing a pitch in the MLB, compiling a year which included 24 wins and 0 losses. His amazing year in his home country’s pro league lead to his 7-year, $155 million dollar contract with the New York Yankees, where he has yet to disappoint. Leading all AL pitchers in wins and ERA, Tanaka has adjusted well to the MLB and is already being considered for the Rookie of The Year and The Cy Young award. Tanaka will continue to cut hitters down with an outstanding splitter and a live fastball, making him one of the most valuable, if not the most valuable impact rookies over the past few seasons. (Update: Tanaka has a partially torn UCL but has not been slated for Tommy John surgery yet. He will attempt to work though the injury and rehab before going under the knife.)
Brock Holt (Red Sox) .327 AVG, .463 SLG, 18 2Bs
One of my personal favorite rookies this year is Brock Holt. Holt wasn’t considered a top prospect in the Red Sox organization, but when Will Middlebrooks went down with an injury, Holt stepped in and performed at a level no one had expected. Holt has shown his defensive versatility as a third baseman turned first baseman, left-fielder, right-fielder, and center-fielder. Being able to play so many positions as well as he has only increases his value to his team. Holt has also been one of the most consistent bats for the Sox this year while they have been struggling to find offense. He holds a .371 OBP with 18 doubles and 37 runs scored in only 61 games. Bouncing from position to position almost on a nightly routine has not affected his bat or his approach to the game, where fellow rookie teammate Xander Bogaerts has had a much more difficult time since being moved to third-base. If Holt continues to play as well as he has, I know that I will enjoy watching him play for the Sox for many summers.
Jake Odorizzi (Rays) 4.01 ERA, 101 IP, 116 Ks
Now to who I consider one of the most underappreciated rookies. Odorizzi was thrust into the lineup when the Rays had a significant amount of injuries to their starting rotation and has performed well with his opportunity. Odorizzi was considered one of the Rays’ top pitching prospects and (which says a lot since the Rays’ system seems to always have good young pitching these days) had his early struggles this season but has managed to find a solid groove lately allowing two or fewer earned runs in five of his last seven starts. The righty’s arsenal includes a fastball in the 90 mph range, a slurve and a split-change that’s gotten better over time. Those pitches have allowed him to cut down big leaguers in bunches. Based on his massively improved control, his 10.34 K per 9 innings and his durability, Odorizzi has a very high ceiling and the possibility to become a top of the rotation strikeout hammer.