2016 Major League All-Rookie Team
A year ago, the resurgent Cubs and Mets organizations rode a wave of talented rookies—a group that included Kris Bryant, Addison Russell and Noah Syndergaard—all the way to the National League Championship Series.
A number of teams this year go to battle in the postseason with rookies playing key roles, most notably the Dodgers with shortstop Corey Seager, the probable NL Rookie of the Year, and righthander Kenta Maeda, a 28-year-old Japanese import.
The Cubs' top rookie this year, catcher Willson Contreras, would have made our all-rookie team easily in most seasons, but this year he had to contend with historic performances from Yankees catcher Gary Sanchez and Rockies shortstop Trevor Story, whom we chose as rookie-team DH. Contreras, an 24-year-old converted third baseman, started 37 games behind the plate and 13 more in left field and hit .282/.357/.488 with 12 home runs in 76 games.
The Rockies entered the season with one of the very best farm systems in baseball, and they received immediate results from four first-year players who made our all-rookie team. The list includes righthander Jon Gray and outfielder David Dahl, the system's top pitching and position prospects.
While the Brewers didn't place anyone on the all-rookie team, two of their starting pitchers deserve mention. Righthander Zach Davies, acquired from the Orioles last year for Gerardo Parra, went 11-7, 3.97 in 28 starts, while well-traveled righthander Junior Guerra, a 31-year-old waiver claim from the White Sox, went 9-3, 2.81 in 20 starts.
The Cardinals and Astros would have been worse off without the contributions of shortstop Aledmys Diaz and third baseman Alex Bregman, though neither made this all-rookie team. Diaz, who did make the NL all-star team, hit .300/.369/.510 with 17 home runs in 111 games for the Cardinals. Called up on July 25, Bregman hit .264/.313/.478 with eight home runs in 49 games for the Astros, though his season ended prematurely with a hamstring injury.
C Gary Sanchez • Yankees
Huge power and incredible arm strength earmarked Sanchez's prospect case coming into the year, and he certainly made his point this season by blasting 30 home runs between Triple-A and the majors, including 20 in just 53 big league games. He also threw out 40 percent of basestealers at each stop and looks like a perennial all-star catcher. Sanchez needs to shore up his blocking ability, but he frames pitches well and even Yankees veterans respect his game-calling ability.
1B Tommy Joseph • Phillies
Drafted as a catcher by the Giants in 2009 and traded to the Phillies for Hunter Pence in 2012, Joseph put his catcher's mitt in storage this season after multiple concussions stalled his progress behind the plate. The move paid off handsomely, for Joseph launched 27 home runs between his time at Triple-A and in Philadelphia. He recorded a .248 isolated slugging percentage in the majors that ranked third among rookies who batted at least 300 times. To keep the good times rolling, Joseph now must contend for playing time in an organization teeming with power-hitting, righthanded-swinging first basemen, including Darin Ruf in Philly and Double-A slugger Rhys Hoskins, fresh off a 38-homer campaign.
2B Trea Turner • Nationals
The Nationals installed Danny Espinosa at shortstop this season to improve their defensive efficiency, but the move blocked Turner, a lifelong shortstop and the organization's top position prospect. Talent eventually won the day. Turner arrived from Triple-A Syracuse on July 10 with the ability to play two secondary positions: center field (44 starts in the majors) and second base (25 starts). He quickly established himself as a lineup fixture in Washington with his blazing speed and surprising power, and he hits the ball hard consistently enough to maintain a high batting average.
3B Ryon Healy • Athletics
"Priority prospect" was not a term applied to Healy in the minors this season. The 2013 third-rounder from Oregon played mostly first base in deference to Matt Chapman at Double-A and then Renato Nunez at Triple-A, yet still he hit .326 with 46 extra-base hits in 85 games to punch his ticket to Oakland. Healy kept on hitting in the big leagues—he led the Athletics with an .861 OPS—and soon supplanted Danny Valencia as the club's starting third baseman. He also launched a 480-foot home run in Kansas City on Sept. 15 that stands as the third-longest of the season hit outside of Coors Field.
SS Corey Seager • Dodgers
Seager appeared in 27 big league games for the Dodgers in 2015, plus four more in the National League Division Series, when he most often batted second in the order. He entered this season ranked as the No. 1 prospect in the game. In other words, Seager is no ordinary rookie—and it showed on the field, where he led all rookies in average (.308), on-base percentage (.365), slugging (.512), hits (193), doubles (40), runs (105), RBIs (72) and walks (54). What's more, Seager is the 19th rookie position player to amass at least six wins above replacement since the game integrated in 1947, according to Baseball-Reference.com.
CF Tyler Naquin • Indians
An injury to Michael Brantley and drug suspensions levied on Abraham Almonte and Marlon Byrd created a void in the Indians' outfield this spring, and Naquin ably stepped forward to claim the center-field job. While his strikeout rate spiked in the majors (30.7 percent), his production on contact grew in concert, to the point where Naquin recorded a .218 isolated slugging percentage that was bettered by just four rookies with at least 300 plate appearances. He hits the ball hard consistently, so while his home-run total may diminish if fewer fly balls leave the yard, he should remain productive.
OF David Dahl • Rockies
A frightening outfield collision at Double-A in 2015 cost Dahl half of that season and also his spleen, after he had elective surgery to remove it so that he could return to the field more quickly. He showed no ill effects from lost time or lost organs this season by hitting 18 home runs and stealing 17 bases to go with a .963 OPS at two minor league stops to earn a July 25 callup. Dahl promptly collected a hit in his first 17 big league games, tying a major league rookie record, and established himself as an outfield fixture in Colorado, probably in center after Charlie Blackmon departs.
OF Nomar Mazara • Rangers
With an assist from Coors Field, Rockies batters accounted for four of the seven longest average home-run distances this season. Mazara (417 feet), Billy Butler (421) and Giancarlo Stanton (422) recorded the other three, and the young Rangers right fielder finished as one of six rookies to hit at least 20 home runs, an unsurpassed total in baseball history. Long home runs will be a mainstay of Mazara's milieu, but with experience he should be able to maintain an even higher batting average and on-base percentage.
DH Trevor Story • Rockies
Jose Reyes' domestic-violence suspension cleared the way for Story to claim the Rockies' regular shortstop job, and he seized the opportunity by hitting .340 with six home runs in spring training. The longball barrage continued well into the summer months, and Story slammed a rookie-best 27 home runs despite not playing a game in August or September because of a torn thumb ligament. (The rookie shortstop record for homers is 30 by Nomar Garciaparra in 1997, by the way.) Story also led rookies in hard-hit rate (44.9 percent of batted balls), strongly suggesting that his power output is quite repeatable.
SP Tyler Anderson • Rockies
A first-round pick from Oregon in 2011, Anderson claimed Texas League pitcher-of-the-year honors in 2014 but then missed all of 2015 with a stress fracture in his elbow. While we don't know what the Rockies expected from the lefthander this season, they probably didn't expect to see such sharp control and an ability to miss bats and keep the ball on the ground with a steady diet of fastballs, cutters and changeups.
SP Jon Gray • Rockies
While Gray still has the mid-90s heat that made him attractive to the Rockies as the No. 3 overall pick in the 2013 draft, his mid-80s slider has become one of the most ferocious weapons in the game. Opponents hit just .171 with two doubles against Gray's slider this season, and that helped him lead all rookies with 185 strikeouts. He must improve his fastball command and feel for his below-average changeup to lower his ERA and approach frontline-starter status, but 2016 was a big step in that direction.
SP Michael Fulmer • Tigers
The Mets made Fulmer a supplemental first-round pick in 2011 but traded him to the Tigers in 2015 for Yoenis Cespedes. While neither side can complain about the early returns of the deal, Fulmer is on the short list of the best pitching prospects to be traded this century. Scouts salivated over his 95 mph fastball and plus-plus slider when he claimed Eastern League pitcher-of-the-year honors last season, and he helped stabilize a Tigers rotation this season behind ace Justin Verlander. The biggest developmental touch for Fulmer this season came when he loosened the grip on his changeup and began locating it low in the zone, and the pitch now plays as plus.
SP Kenta Maeda • Dodgers
Like the 20-something Japanese aces to precede him in the U.S.—Daisuke Matsuzaka (2007), Yu Darvish (2012) and Masahiro Tanaka (2014)—Maeda had no trouble meeting expectations in his first year. He led all rookies with 16 wins, a 3.48 ERA and 175.2 innings, and his 179 strikeouts ranked second only to the Rockies' Jon Gray. Maeda relied on his plus slider in Japan, and the low-80s pitch—which he actually threw more often than his 90 mph fastball—played exceptionally well in the U.S. The weighted value of Maeda's slider was similar to that of Clayton Kershaw, Chris Archer and Corey Kluber.
SP Steven Matz • Mets
Matz, who turned 25 early this season, made six major league starts in 2015, plus three more for the Mets that October, so he wasn't nearly as green as other rookie starters. His experience level showed as he poured in first-pitch strikes, often with a low-90s fastball, to set up batters for his outstanding secondary weapons, including a plus changeup and plus breaking ball. For the second straight season, injuries claimed a chunk of Matz's season. The lefthander didn't pitch after Aug. 14, then had October surgery to remove a bone spur from his elbow and a platelet-rich plasma injection to relieve a shoulder impingement.
RP Chris Devenski • Astros
Devenski doesn't throw 100 mph like the Mariners' Edwin Diaz, who struck out 15.3 batter per nine innings, and he didn't save 19 games like the Cardinals' Seung Hwan Oh, the outstanding 34-year-old Korean import. All he did was pitch the most effectively, among rookie relievers, in the highest-leverage spots. Devenski, whom the Astros picked up in 2012 when they traded Brett Myers to the White Sox, likes to get ahead of batters with a low-90s fastball before finishing them off with either an outstanding changeup or slider, both of which sit at 80-82 mph. In his 43 relief appearances, he struck out 83 in 84 innings and recorded one save while allowing a .194 average and 0.81 WHIP.
Fantasy Greats Between The All-Star Breaks
Before embarking on the second half we pause to review the fantasy standouts between all-star breaks.