Even the most casual of a baseball fan is aware of the Bronx rookie phenom, Yankee star Aaron Judge. The massive 6’7″ right fielder put on a display of power at the recent Home Run Derby held prior to the All-Star Game in Miami last week. Let’s take a look at some of the other rookies that could make some noise this season, and could be on their way to becoming household names.
15. Dansby Swanson, Atlanta Braves
Atlanta picked up Dansby Swanson in December of 2015 from the Diamondbacks. The Braves invited Swanson to spring training and was sent to the Carolina Mudcats. He was shortly promoted to the Mississippi Braves Class AA Southern League in April of 2016, after hitting .333/.441/.526 in 21 appearances at Carolina. Swanson was then named to appear in the All-Star Futures Game, soon after having played the Southern League All-Star Game. On August 16, the Braves announced that Swanson would be promoted to the major leagues the next day. Swanson then went 2-4 in his MLB debut, including his first career hit off of Minnesota Twins pitcher Kyle Gibson. Swanson finished the year at the major league level, recording a .302 batting average, .361 on-base percentage and a .803 on-base plus slugging percentage. In 2017, Dansby had a solid June raising his batting average 43 points. However, he took a tailspin shortly before the All-Star break by going 4-34 over those last 11 games. He’s only received several starts since the start of the second half and is struggling, but as the #1 Prospect in the Braves organization watch for some shaking in the lineup in an attempt to bring Swanson back into the swing.
14. Manuel Margot, San Diego Padres
The Padres haven’t won a lot this season and thanks to the Giants woes are managing to stay out of the cellar of the AL West, but a rebuild around young, future stars like Manuel Margot is where they’ve placed their bets. Margot hit five extra-base hits in his first six games of the 2017 season, including two home runs in consecutive plate appearances against San Francisco Giants starter Matt Cain on April 8, and two doubles off of Giants starter Madison Bumgarner on April 9. After a stint on the disabled list, Margot went 1-for-4 with his 10th stolen base of the season in a 2-1 win over the Phillies. His hot return from the DL has slowed and over his last five contests, he collected just two hits in 20 at-bats. The 22-year-old has understandably been up-and-down during his rookie campaign, but the potential for steals makes him definitely a player to keep tabs on as the season winds down, and the future.
13. Jose Osuna, Pittsburgh Pirates
The Pittsburgh Pirates signed Jose Osuna as an international free agent in December 2009. After the 2016 season the Pirates added him to their 40-man roster, and promoted Osuna to the major leagues in April of 2017. On April 21st, he tabbed his first major league hit, a triple, off of CC Sabathia. Osuna has played both corner outfield spots and first base this season, but Gregory Polanco blocks him in right, and Josh Bell at first. The return of Starling Marte will soon block left field, and the rookie from Venezuela may find a new home at Third base. Despite a .286 on-base percentage, Osuna has been productive this season, with five home runs, 10 doubles and three triples, good for a .468 slugging percentage. He had 147 plate appearances in 60 games in the first half of the season. Pirate manager Clint Hurdle has indicated Osuna seeing action at the hot corner could become a long-term situation, a spot they worked on during spring training.
12. Jose Martinez, St. Louis Cardinals
The Cardinals’ Jose Martinez was the feel-good story of spring training and the first couple of weeks of the season before suffering a groin injury. He was hitting .280 in part-time duty with five homers and 17 runs batted in. Martinez, now 28, had spent most of the last 10 years in the minors and broke from camp on a big-league club for the first time this year. He has continued to generate solid offensive production despite a part-time role. Martinez has also provided some decent pop with 12 extra-base hits (six doubles, one triple, five home runs), and although his strikeout rate (22.1 percent) remains elevated compared to those he’s typically posted in his minor-league stops, this season does represent his first extended exposure to major-league pitching. Martinez took a shot to the temple against the Cubs, and was under observation this past weekend. Look for Martinez to slip back into the fourth outfielder role once cleared, with Stephen Piscotty on the disabled list with a strained groin.
11. Antonio Senzatela, Colorado Rockies
Rookie right-hander Antonio Senzatela jumped from Double-A into the rotation to start the 2017 season, cruised to a 7-1 record and a 3.19 ERA through the first seven weeks, earning him NL Rookie of the Month honors for April. He peaked with an outing of eight scoreless innings against the Cardinals at Coors Field on May 26. But after a loss to the Diamondbacks on June 22, as he fell to 9-3 with a 4.79 ERA, the Rockies took measures to get Senzatela back on track. After a quick stint to Triple-A Albuquerque under his belt, he returned to the Rockies rotation for a start last week against San Diego, giving up four runs — three earned — on four hits and three walks while striking out just two to pick up the win. Senzatela’s ten wins this season are tied with teammate Kyle Freeland for the most among rookies in the majors. Senzatela has been bouncing around between the bullpen and Triple-A in recent weeks to keep his innings in check. With some momentum, he could find himself solidly in the rotation for time to come.
10. Kyle Freeland, Colorado Rockies
Considered a top prospect for the 2014 Major League Baseball Draft, the Colorado Rockies selected Kyle Freeland in the first round that year, with the eighth overall pick. Freeland spent 2014 with both the Grand Junction Rockies, and the Asheville Tourists, where he posted a combined 3-0 record with a 1.15 ERA between both teams. In 2016, Freeland began the season with the Hartford Yard Goats, and was promoted to the Albuquerque Isotopes in June, posting an 11-10 record with a 3.89 ERA between the two clubs, starting 26 games. On April 7, 2017 Freeland made his major league debut with the Rockies against the Los Angeles Dodgers, and earned his first win. Recently, he returned to the rotation after a quick stint in the bullpen following the All-Star break, and in a 13-3 victory at Coors Field helped to blast the Rockies back into serious contention in the division race Freeland logged six effective innings, aided by four Colorado home runs, including three in one inning, and the Rockies won a second consecutive series. Freeland, who was born and raised in Denver, also had a no-hitter broken up with one out in the ninth inning of during a 10-0 win over the White Sox at Coors Field in early July.
9. Josh Bell, Pittsburgh Pirates
Josh Bell began the 2016 season with Indianapolis, and after batting .324 with a .407 on-base percentage in 83 games for the Indians, the Pirates promoted Bell to the major leagues in July. He made his MLB debut as a pinch hitter, and hit a grand slam in his second MLB at-bat on July 9. On February 1, 2017, Bell underwent left knee surgery, and has recovered strong, as the converted outfielder has been a staple of the Pirate infield this season, starting 91 of their 100 games at first base so far this season. Recently, Bell went 3-for-5 with an RBI double against the Giants and is slashing .364/.400/.652 with three homers and 17 RBI in his last 70 plate appearances, lifting his batting average to its highest mark (.253) since May 24. Bell’s recent hot streak started after his only off-day of the season July 4. With 18 homers and an .818 OPS, and if not for the Dodger’s Cody Bellinger, the Pirate first baseman might be positioned for an NL Rookie of the Year nod.
8. Manny Pina, Milwaukee Brewers
Manny Piña has been around, and after a lengthy minor league career riddled by injuries, on December 10, 2015, the Tigers traded Piña to the Milwaukee Brewers as the player to be named later in the Francisco Rodríguez trade to complete the deal. In 2016, he hit .254 with 2 home runs and 12 RBIs in 33 games with the Brewers, and began the 2017 splitting playing time at catcher with Jett Bandy. Recently Piña went 2-for-4 with a double and a run scored in a loss to the Pirates and has had a pleasantly surprising season at the plate. He’s raised his batting average to .294 and his OPS to .785 and with Stephen Vogt (knee) sidelined until mid-to-late August, Pina seems to be in line for primary catching duties, a role he likely won’t relinquish to Jett Bandy if he continues to hit like this on a regular basis. With the Brewers battling for the top-spot in the NL Central, Piña could play a pivotal role as Milwaukee gears up for a pennant run.
7. Mitch Haniger, Seattle Mariners
The Milwaukee Brewers selected outfielder Mitch Haniger as a supplemental draft pick at the end of the first round of the 2012 MLB Draft — the 38th overall selection. In July, 2014, the Brewers traded Haniger to the Arizona Diamondbacks and was assigned to the Mobile BayBears of the Southern League. Haniger began the 2015 season with Mobile and spent the 2015 season retooling his batting stance and swing to focus on generating more power. The Diamondbacks called up Haniger to the major leagues in August, 2016 and he played his first major league game against the New York Mets on August 16, becoming the first Diamondbacks player to have a triple as his first major league hit. Haniger also set a record as the first player in Diamondbacks history to tally three RBIs in his inaugural game. In November, 2016, the Diamondbacks traded Haniger to the Seattle Mariners. After posting strong numbers in April, many were calling Haniger a dark horse Rookie of the Year candidate. His numbers have slipped since returning from the disabled list but expect some adjustments to find Haniger back to producing again from the plate.
6. Yulieski Gurriel, Houston Astros
In February 2016, Yulieski Gurriel and his brother defected after competing in the Caribbean World Series in the Dominican Republic. In June, Major League Baseball declared Gurriel eligible to be signed by a major league team as a free agent. In July, 2016, Gurriel signed a five-year, $47.5 million contract with the Houston Astros. After making his American debut in July with the Gulf Coast Astros of the Rookie-level Gulf Coast League, he rapidly made his way through the Astros farm system and was recalled from Fresno to the major league roster on August 21. In his first 19 games with the Astros, he batted .344 with three home runs and eight runs batted in, playing mostly first and third base defensively. Recently Gurriel went 1-for-5 with a two-run homer against the Orioles, blasting his 13th homer of the year starting a five-run rally in the sixth inning that led the Astros to victory. He’s homered in consecutive games and is sitting on a .293 batting average along with a .488 slugging percentage.
5. Matt Davidson, Chicago White Sox
The Diamondbacks traded outfielder Matt Davidson to the Chicago White Sox for pitcher Addison Reed in December of 2013. Davidson spent two seasons playing for the Charlotte Knights of the Class AAA International League in 2014 and 2015, and began the 2016 season with Charlotte and was promoted to the big club in June, 2016. In his first game with the White Sox, he fractured his foot. On April 6, 2017, Davidson hit his first career-triple at his first at-bat since breaking his foot in 2016 against the Detroit Tigers, and followed with his first home-run for the White Sox, a three-run blast in the fourth inning. He finished the game logging two hits, two runs, and three RBIs. On June 13th, 2017, Davidson hit his first-career Grand Slam against the Baltimore Orioles with the Chicago White Sox. Monday, Davidson went 1-for-4 in the White Sox 3-1 victory over the Cubs, launching the longest home run at Wrigley this season, 3rd-longest since statcast started tracking.
4. Andrew Benintendi, Boston Red Sox
Outfielder Andrew Benintendi was drafted by the Boston Red Sox with the seventh overall selection in the 2015 Major League Baseball draft and signed with the club, receiving a $3.6 million signing bonus. He began the 2016 season in the Class A-Advanced Carolina League with the Salem Red Sox, and was quickly promotion to the Portland Sea Dogs of the Class AA Eastern League in mid-May. The Red Sox promoted Benintendi to the major leagues in August of 2016 straight from Double-A, only 421 days after being selected in the draft. He made his major league debut on August 2 against the Seattle Mariners as a pinch hitter and recorded his first major league hit off of Hisashi Iwakuma on August 3. Benintendi started the 2017 season as part of the Red Sox’ Opening Day Roster, hitting in the two-slot as the Red Sox defeated the Pittsburgh Pirates by a score of 5-3. On July 4, against the Texas Rangers, Benintendi went 5-for-5 with 6 RBI, two home runs, and a double in the 11-4 victory.
3. Ian Happ, Chicago Cubs
Second baseman and outfielder Ian Happ was considered one of the top prospects in the 2015 Major League Baseball Draft, and the Chicago Cubs selected Happ in the first round with the ninth overall selection. Happ began his professional career with the Myrtle Beach Pelicans of the Class A-Advanced Carolina League to start the 2016 season and began playing second base regularly. Happ was promoted to the Tennessee Smokies of the Class AA Southern League during the 2016 season and finished 2016 batting .279 with 15 home runs and 73 RBIs. Happ began the 2017 season with the Iowa Cubs of the Class AAA Pacific Coast League and was quickly promoted to the major leagues on May 13. In grand fashion, Happ’s first hit of his Cub career was a towering 413 ft. blast off Cardinal pitcher Carlos Martínez.
2. Cody Bellinger, Los Angeles Dodgers
Even with a verbal commitment to play college baseball at the University of Oregon, Cody Bellinger was selected by the Los Angeles Dodgers in the fourth round of the 2013 Major League Baseball Draft and was signed for a $700,000 signing bonus. Bellinger was assigned to the Double-A Tulsa Drillers in the Texas League to start the 2016 season and hit .263 with 23 homers In 114 games for Tulsa, earning him a late-season promotion to the Triple-A Oklahoma City Dodgers. After a stint with the Glendale Desert Dogs of the Arizona Fall League he participated in the Fall Stars Game of top prospects in the league. Bellinger began the 2017 season with Oklahoma City and was quickly called up to the majors for the first time on April 25, 2017. Bellinger started in left field in his debut the same day and posted one hit in three at-bats against the San Francisco Giants and had one hit in three at-bats, with an intentional walk. Bellinger’s first major league hit was an infield single off Neil Ramirez and blasted his first major league home run on April 29 off Zach Eflin of the Philadelphia Phillies and followed up by hitting a second home run in the same game, this one off Héctor Neris. Named the National League Rookie of the Month for May, Bellinger went on to compete in the Home Run Derby, advancing to the second round before falling to the eventual champion Aaron Judge. Recently, on July 15 he hit for the cycle against the Miami Marlins, the first rookie in franchise history to do so.
1. Yoan Moncada, Chicago White Sox
Cuban second baseman Yoan Moncada left Cuba in June 2014 with permission of the Cuban government to pursue a career in Major League Baseball. In February of 2015, the Boston Red Sox reportedly agreed to terms with Moncada, for a signing bonus of $31.5 million and the contract was finalized shortly after. Entering the 2016 season, MLB.com ranked Moncada as the 5th best prospect in Major League Baseball, and he was called up and made his major league debut in September of 2016 against the Oakland Athletics. He earned his first major league hit the following day finishing the 2016 MLB season with a .211 batting average. On December 6, 2016, the Red Sox traded Moncada to the Chicago White Sox for Chris Sale. At the time considered the top minor league prospect in MLB, Moncado was called up from Triple-A Charlotte on July 19, 2017 after the White Sox traded Todd Frazier to the New York Yankees. He worked a walk in his first at bat against Kenta Maeda. Moncada stepped to the plate with the bases loaded and two outs in the third inning against the Royal, and despite falling behind in the count 0-2 against right-hander Ian Kennedy, he hit the third pitch to left field for a three-run triple and a 5-1 Sox lead.