Rookies are a lot like kids: they’re meant to be seen and not heard. They’re the guys who haul the bags onto the bus, get treated like dress-up dolls by the vets and, if they’re lucky, get put into the game long after the outcome has been determined. At least, that’s the way it used to be.
This year’s rookie class has flipped the script through exceptional performance and heady play. First-year stars like Cody Bellinger and Aaron Judge have been breaking records on a monthly basis, and are already among the game’s elite. Less heralded players like Bradley Zimmer and Ian Happ have been putting together impressive highlight reels of their own while keeping their respective teams in the playoff hunt. Everywhere you look, rooks are driving the conversation and capturing the hearts and minds of fans.
Yesterday, we counted down the best rookie seasons in MLB history. Today, we’re shifting the spotlight to 2017 and counting down the ten best rookie performances of the year, complete with props and odds on future accolades and production. If you’re keen to wager on Aaron Judge for MVP, head to any of the sportsbooks on our list of recommended gambling sites. If you want to bet on Manny Margot reaching double-digits in triples, apologies, but you’ll have to do that with your buddies.
10. MANNY MARGOT (PADRES)
Manny Margot was Baseball Prospectus’ 18th-ranked prospect entering the 2017 season, and it’s easy to see why. The Dominican center fielder has a rare combination of speed and power that makes scouts salivate like Pavlov’s dog. Margot’s skill set was particularly evident from July 24-30 when he went 12-for-24 with two doubles, a triple, three home runs, and a steal. The offensive outburst earned him NL Player of the Week honors and gave fans across the country a glimpse of things to come. It also gave San Diego fans (both of them) a reason for optimism in a year when the rebuilding Padres forgot how rebuilding works.
Over/Under triples for Manny Margot in 2017: 6
9. BRADLEY ZIMMER (INDIANS)
Bradley Zimmer’s name may be near the bottom of Major League Baseball’s index, but his aggressive play has put him atop the list of the game’s best fielders. The 6’5” La Jolla native is shockingly quick for a man his size and has an absolute cannon of an arm, currently ranking third among all AL center fielders in outfield assists and double plays. Since being called up in May, his defensive prowess has helped Cleveland stay atop the Central. Look for the mountain of a man to become all the more valuable when his already decent hitting (.263/.329/.433) progresses in the years to come.
Over/Under career Gold Gloves for Bradley Zimmer: 3.5
8. IAN HAPP (CUBS)
It isn’t easy for a rookie to find playing time on a defending World Series champion, but Ian Happ has become an integral part of the Cubs thanks to his versatility. The 22-year-old has already manned all three outfield positions and has flashed some solid glove work at second base while filling in for Javier Baez. Happ’s high strikeout rate (nearly 30%) remains problematic, but his 14 home runs and 37 RBIs (in just 71 games) have been worth the occasional whiff at the plate.
Odds Ian Happ will be the Cubs opening-day center fielder in 2018: 9/2
7. MATT DAVIDSON (WHITE SOX)
Something magical happens every 14 times Matt Davidson steps up to the plate: the White Sox DH goes yard. Davidson’s home run rate of 13.7 is tenth in the American League and it’s one reason why Chicago fans are feeling bullish about the team’s future. Davidson’s recent wrist injury will sideline him for a spell, but South Siders can look forward to plenty of souvenirs from their favourite rookie as soon as he returns.
Over/Under on Matt Davidson’s AB-per-HR rate in 2018: 12.5
6. HUNTER RENFROE (PADRES)
One of the oldest players on our list, Hunter Renfroe spent four years in the minors before finding a permanent spot in San Diego’s lineup in 2017. It’s unlikely he’ll get booted out anytime soon thanks to his tantalizing displays of power. The 25-year-old right fielder has already clubbed 20 home runs and recently hit a 462-foot bomb off Jacob DeGrom that’s likely still rolling around in San Diego’s Gaslamp Quarter. It was one of the few bright spots in an otherwise dismal year for the Padres.
Odds Hunter Renfroe will take part in the 2018 Home Run Derby: 5/1
5. TREY MANCINI (ORIOLES)
The man they call “Ice Trey” has had one seriously cool season. Mancini hit the ground running in his first full year with Baltimore by becoming just the third player in Major League history to hit eight homers in his first 17 games. The 6’4” slugger has jacked ten more taters since to go along with 102 hits and 58 RBIs. Mancini’s production has earned the attention of fans, but his teammates have been just as impressed by his maturity and composure.
Odds Trey Mancini will lead the Orioles in home runs in 2018: 2/1
4. YULI GURRIEL (ASTROS)
Yuli Gurriel broke Judge’s stranglehold on the Rookie of the Month award in July after leading all first-year players in hits, doubles, RBIs, slugging percentage, and OPS. He also tied for first in runs, and finished second in batting average. Gurriel’s offensive explosion is hardly surprising for anyone who has followed his career closely. The 33-year-old first baseman (not a typo) spent over a decade playing in the Cuban National Series and Japan, posting a .335 average and hitting 250 home runs over 925 career games before arriving in the Majors. It’s unclear how much more Gurriel has left in the tank after logging so many innings, but Houston will happily take every extra-base hit he can muster as they make their push towards the AL pennant.
Over/Under on Yuli Gurriel’s 2017 home run total: 21.5
3. RAFAEL DEVERS (RED SOX)
Rafael Devers has been in the Majors for less than a month, but he’s already pounded his way into the history books after becoming just the fifth 20-year-old in Red Sox history to record a four-hit game. It’s an impressive feat for any rookie, but especially one who spent only nine games in Triple A before getting called up to the Show. He hasn’t been a one-night wonder, either, batting .319 with an OPS nearing 1.000 in his first dozen games. Any Boston fans who were disappointed the team didn’t make a splashy move at the deadline should be relieved since Devers was the top target for every potential trade partner.
While his poise and patience at the plate are his calling card, he’s also shown solid footwork at third. He’ll never be a Gold Glover, but he will man the hot corner for years to come, providing the Sox with a degree of consistency they haven’t had since Kevin Youkilis.
Over/Under on Rafael Devers’ 2017 home run total: 11.5
2. AARON JUDGE (YANKEES)
It isn’t easy standing out in a city like New York, but Judge has had all eyes on his every move since August 13, 2016, when he made his Big-League debut against the Tampa Bay Rays. It helps that he has the dimensions of a small sedan, of course, but Judge has more than just sheer size on his side. He also possesses a shockingly powerful and compact swing that has allowed him to pulverize pitches at will. Ten of his AL-leading 35 home runs have travelled further than 435 feet and he became the first player to clear the Yankee Stadium bleachers when he hit a 495-foot missile off of Logan Verrett in June.
Judge’s post-All Star break struggles have been well documented, but the 6’7” power hitter still leads the AL in home runs, OPS and slugging percentage, and ranks third in WAR. Get used to seeing his name at the top of those categories for many years to come.
Odds Aaron Judge will win the 2017 AL home run title: 2/3
1. CODY BELLINGER (DODGERS)
Cody Bellinger may not cast as long a shadow as Judge — hell, most high rises don’t cast as long a shadow as Judge — but the 22-year-old first baseman has the potential to have an even better career. He is a bona fide two-way player with phenomenal instincts and understated athleticism. His plus range and exceptional hands allow him to hoover up balls with ease at first, and his fierce uppercut swing makes him a threat to go deep every time his name is called. Bellinger presently leads all NL rookies in home runs, RBIs, OPS, and slugging percentage, and is second in walks and OBP. Not bad for a guy who wasn’t called up until April 25th. Bellinger is the real deal and his legend should only grow as he leads a historically snake-bitten Los Angeles team deep into the postseason.
Over/Under on Cody Bellinger’s 2017 RBI total: 103.5
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