Baseball fans have always been intrigued by Rookies. They bring hope during Spring Training to those franchises that have been floundering. Every team is undefeated until opening day.
The last 30+ years has changed the perception of rookies for two reasons…1) baseball cards and 2) Fantasy Baseball. Starting in the 1980’s, baseball card collectors became baseball card investors and their focus was on RC’s (Rookie Cards). Scores of collections come across my desk that have 50 Candy Maldonado cards from 1983 or 75 Gregg Jeffries cards from 1989. Hopefully, there might also be a smattering of 1984 Don Mattingly cards along with a few Ken Griffey Jr. cards from 1989. All of these collectors were scouting rookies of the day, and most of the time, they were wrong.
Those of us who began playing Fantasy (Rotisserie) Baseball at about the same time were also possessed about rookies. With no Internet and no real experts, we spent most of the off-season waiting for the next issue of “Baseball America”. After all, this publication actually gave us the top ten prospects in each organization and we enthusiastically took it all in to get an edge on our competitors.
These days, card collectors and Fantasy Baseball aficionados are ahead of the curve. They’re looking for cards of an 18 year-old player who has only had 206 professional at-bats (Jasson Dominguez) or trying to add a 21-year old (Bobby Witt) to their roster hoping he’ll be in the opening day line-up for 2022.
The 2021 season was different in a myriad of ways and one of the most unique was the presence and performance of rookies. Did the Covid dominated landscape and the injury plagued season give more youngsters a chance? Let’s look at the top rookies of this past season as determined by WAR (Wins Above Replacement). First the position players…
- Jonathan India, Reds (3.9) – Only a top 50 prospect in ’19, he turned in a great season and won the NL ROY with 21 HR’s, 12 SB’s and a .376 OBP.
- Randy Arozarena , Rays (3.3) – Followed up a sensational 2020 post-season with a solid 20 HR & 20 SB campaign to claim the AL ROY.
- Adolis Garcia, Rangers (2.9) – A 28 year-old rookie who must still prove himself after a spotty second half. However, 31 HR’s & 16 SB’s shows the potential.
- Dylan Carlson, Cardinals (2.8) – May have just touched the surface of his upside at age 22, he posted 18 HR’s and a .780 OPS.
- Wander Franco, Rays (2.5) – The fact that Tampa Bay signed him to a 12-year contract after half a season in the majors tells you how he’s perceived.
- Patrick Wisdom, Cubs (2.3) – Another late-bloomer at age 29, he hit 28 HR’s with a .823 OPS
- Frank Schwindel, Cubs (2.1) – The Cubbies cornered the market on older rookies, as this 29 year-old contributed 13 HR’s & 40 RBI’s in only 56 games.
- Tyler Stephenson, Reds (2.0) – Catchers who add offense are like gold and this youngster looks like the real deal. A .797 OPS is impressive for a first-year backstop.
- Daulton Varsho, D’Backs (2.0) – Made up for a slow start with a solid second half. He’s a Catcher and CF who shows power and speed.
Now for the Pitchers…
- Trevor Rogers, Marlins (4.2) – A casual fan might not know the difference between Taylor, Trevor & Tyler but this 23 year-old started 25 games for the Fish and had a 2.64 ERA.
- Luis Garcia, Astros (3.1) – This 24 year-old helped Houston to the Fall Classic by going 11-8 in 28 starts.
- Shane McClanahan, Rays (2.5) – Another 24 year-old, he stepped right in to the rotation and went 10-6 in 25 starts.
- Logan Gilbert, Mariners (2.2) – Began the year at AAA but made 24 starts for Seattle’s over-achieving squad.
- Tanner Houck, Red Sox (2.2) – A 1-5 record may not look impressive but 87 K’s in 69 IP gives you a hint of the upside.
- Emmanuel Clase, Guardians (2.2) – The WAR calculation isn’t always kind to Closers but at age 23, he’s already a force in the bullpen. How about 24 Saves and a 1.29 ERA?
- Cole Irvin, Athletics (2.1) – Had 10 Wins and didn’t miss a start. The K rate is somewhat suspect but he’s a solid member of the rotation.
- Alex Manoah, Blue Jays (2.0) – 9-2 with a 3.22 ERA in 20 starts. Nothing but upside in this profile.
17 rookies who produced at least 2 additional Wins for their teams…quite impressive.
Now, where are those Brandon Wood Rookie Cards?