Every spring training hope runs high in MLB clubhouses as teams excitedly prepare their fresh young prospects for their first chance at big league action. While many rookies struggle to acclimate themselves to the high-pressure lifestyle of the majors, some thrive upon their first taste. This season, Kris Bryant has dazzled with immense raw power, Archie Bradley has flashed his high heat despite an almost devastating injury, and Joc Pederson has seemingly become the second-coming of Matt Kemp in Los Angeles (circa 2011). Along with the aforementioned trio, here are the top rookies up to this point in 2015 who have shined in their short stints, and look poised to continue their success.
At this point, not much needs to be said about Cubs third baseman Kris Bryant. The young slugger possesses 80 grade power and profiles as a superstar capable of anchoring any lineup. After mashing 43 home runs at Double-A and Triple-A in 2014, it became clear to baseball enthusiasts and casual fans alike that the Cubs had something special. While Bryant didn’t start the season with the Cubs due to the Super Two deadline – a wise move in the long run for the Cubs – it was clear that after his nine home runs in Spring Training, the guy was ready to play.
Upon his call-up to the majors in April 17th, hope ran high for the Cubbies. Throughout his first few weeks in the majors, Bryant showed why he is widely considered a superstar in the making. One problem – he didn’t hit a single home run after 20 games. The world was over! The curse of the billygoat had continued.
Since hitting his first home run on May 10th, Bryant has hit three more to go along with very solid .290/.421/.467 slash line. Bryant is showing no signs of slowing down, and should have no issue establishing himself as one of the best third basemen in the game.
Another young Cub set on making a name for himself in 2015 is Cuban outfielder Jorge Soler. After signing what should be a team friendly nine-year deal worth $30 million back in 2012, Soler quickly worked his way through the minor leagues. During his three seasons in the minors (621 plate appearances), Soler managed to hold a solid batting average of .307, but struggled to consistently find his power stroke (28 homers).
Despite his inconsistency in the power department, Soler is projected to be a major contributor in every aspect as a hitter. Through 37 games in 2015, Soler has a slash line of of .265/.337/.388 to go along with three home runs. Sure, the power is a bit underwhelming – but Soler has been forced to constantly make adjustments as opposing teams had a full offseason to develop a scouting report on the young outfielder. Expect big time production from Soler going forward this season.
Despite missing nearly two weeks after an almost devastating injury where he was hit in the face by a line drive, Archie Bradley has established himself as one of the best young pitchers in the National League. One of the Diamondbacks’ top prospects since being drafted in 2011, Bradley’s major league arrival has been long awaited. Heading into the season without much hope to make the playoffs, the Diamondbacks rolled the dice on their young righty – and so far, he’s been worth the gamble.
Up until his injury on April 28th, Bradley had a 1.87 ERA and a stifling 0.96 WHIP. In his first start back from injury on May 16th, Bradley struggled his way through two innings before being removed, raising his ERA to a still impressive 3.27 in the process. This should only be a blip in the radar, though, as Bradley possesses the talent to continue his ascent up the loaded 2015 National League rookie class. Look for Bradley to return to form in his next few starts and stay in contention for Rookie of the Year until season’s end.
The Los Angeles Dodgers’ decision to trade Matt Kemp this past offseason looked like a good move from the start – and looks even better with Joc Pederson’s play in early 2015. The young outfielder tore up opposing pitching in the hitter friendly Pacific Coast League in 2014 – sporting a dominant .303/.435/.582 slash line to go along with a whopping 33 home runs and 30 steals. While many questioned his ability to translate those numbers to the big leagues because of the hitter-friendly nature of the PCL, Pederson has silenced those doubters during his brief major league stint.
Sure, his batting average has dipped a bit after a scorching hot start in which he hit six home runs in a seven game span, but his other numbers support his bid for Rookie of the Year. Pederson is currently owner of a .235/.395/.538 slash line and a 157 OPS+. Along with his fantastic on-base and slugging percentages, Pederson has 10 home runs – good for tops among all rookies. With only two steals on the year, Pederson hasn’t looked like the 30-30 threat he was last season in Triple-A, but his speed should translate to the base paths as he gains experience. Look for Pederson to raise his batting average and steal more bases going forward in 2015, all while winning games with a loaded Los Angeles squad.
While the Toronto Blue Jays rotation was expected to dominate the league behind top left-handed pitching prospect Daniel Norris, it was the other rookie, Aaron Sanchez, who has stepped up in a big way. Ranked the Blue Jays’ number one prospect heading into the season after a brief stint in the bullpen in 2014, Sanchez wasn’t expected to contribute to the big league club at a high level until later this year – at best. Things changed quickly though for Sanchez as he won a job in the rotation out of Spring Training and has solidified his spot with a solid start to the season.
With eight starts on the young season, Sanchez owns a 4.17 ERA and 5.15 FIP. While these aren’t eye-popping, or really impressive numbers, Sanchez’s true impact lies in the strides he’s made in developing his off-speed pitches through only 45 1/3 innings pitched. Kyle Matte of Capital Jays discusses the improvements Sanchez has made with his secondary pitches, mainly his change-up, and the idea that Sanchez can find more consistent success at the big league level if he properly utilizes his full repertoire.
Using secondary pitches and cutting down on walks is something Sanchez must do as right now he has more walks than strikeouts (32 and 30, respectively). Sanchez has enjoyed varying levels of success in the Jays rotation so far in 2015, but look for him to better understand his game moving forward – leading to success not only for him, but for the Jays as well.
While the beginning of the Toronto Blue Jays’ season was expected to feature headlines like “Donaldson Wows in Debut” or “Daniel Norris Proves Van Living Translates to Major League Success”, the unexpected happened – new rookie second baseman Devon Travis exploded onto the scene with an impressive first month. Originally acquired over the offseason in a trade that sent once heralded outfield prospect Anthony Gose to Detroit, Travis wasn’t expected to have much of an impact, if any, in the majors this season. However, after winning the Opening Day job, Travis took off.
Through 21 games in April, Travis managed to hit .342/.405/.658 with six home runs and looked like a lock to win Rookie of the Year in the American League. That statement still reigns true – although Travis is now owner of a slightly less impressive .271/.336/.504 slash line, no other American League rookies have made an impact quite to the extent of Travis. With the starting job locked up North of the border, Travis looks poised to lock up his place as Rookie of the Year.
The 2015 MLB rookie class has featured an unparalleled amount of hot starts from National League players, and a dearth of production from their counterparts in the American League. With Rusney Castillo on the brink of a call-up and Daniel Norris primed to perform up to expectations in his second big league stint at some point this season, expect the American League rookies to give the National League a run for their money.
Credit all authors of images used in both article and as cover image : Nick Fustor