Although only a handful of top-ranked prospects cracked their respective team’s Opening Day roster, a host of promotions over the last month has led to an influx of young talent in Major League Baseball.
Rookies rarely make the type of immediate impact we’ve seen from Shelby Miller and Yasiel Puig over the first half of the season. Instead, it usually takes most highly touted call-ups considerable time to adjust to the more advanced level. Therefore, there is reason to believe that this year’s top rookies have only scratched the surface in terms of overall potential.
Here’s a look the five young players expected to make the greatest impact during the second half of the season.
1. Yasiel Puig, OF, Los Angeles Dodgers
To think that Puig will single-handedly guide the Dodgers into the postseason is nuts. At the same time, it’s clear that he’ll be a major part of whatever type of postseason run the team does ultimately makes.
Through the first 21 games of his career, Puig has been everything the Dodgers could ask for and then some by batting .420/.453/.716 with seven home runs. More importantly, the 22-year-old has helped pull the organization out of a season-long tailspin and, in general, created a "Fernandomania"-like buzz in Los Angeles.
But now that both Matt Kemp and Hanley Ramirez are healthy, it’ll be interesting to see how their presence in the everyday lineup influences Puig’s dynamic. My guess is that he continues to do what he does best: pulverize the baseball. The batting average will obviously normalize, but he’s going to be one of the top run-producers in the National League for the remainder of the season.
2. Shelby Miller, RHP, St. Louis Cardinals
Through the first 12 weeks of the season, Shelby Miller has been the National League's Rookie of the Year.
The 22-year-old right-hander has been a force at the back end of the Cardinals’ impressive starting rotation and leads all rookie pitchers in essentially every statistical category. Through 15 starts this season, Miller owns a 2.35 ERA and 1.00 WHIP and has allowed only 72 hits in 92 innings. His command of three pitches—especially his fastball—has been outstanding and led to a dazzling 101/20 K/BB.
The only concern with Miller moving forward is his workload. While the Cardinals did an admirable job in letting him build up innings and endurance in the minor leagues, he’s only logged more than 150 innings once in a season (last year between Triple-A and the majors). So while he’s been outstanding so far, it’s important to remember that he’ll be entering uncharted territory over the final two months of the season.
3. Wil Myers, OF, Tampa Bay Rays
It was an impressive first week in the major leagues for Wil Myers.
Since going 0-for-4 in his big-league debut—in the first game of a day-night doubleheader—against the Red Sox on June 18, Myers has collected a hit in eight consecutive games. He’s also hit two home runs so far. The first of many in his career was a two-out, opposite-field grand slam against CC Sabathia at Yankee Stadium; the other came in his first plate appearance at Tropicana Field. Meanwhile, seven of his eight RBI have come with two outs and runners in scoring position.
The 22-year-old outfielder gives the Rays some much-needed right-handed power (other than Evan Longoria), and creates more flexibility in their left-handed-heavy lineup. Myers has been a streaky hitter since adopting a more power-oriented approach last season and, like most young sluggers, will pile up his share of strikeouts. And while he shouldn't be expected to hit for a high batting average, Myers' power potential and knack for driving in runs should play a major role in the Rays' success over the second half of the season.
4. Gerrit Cole, RHP, Pittsburgh Pirates
Despite three impressive starts to begin his major league career, the Pirates may be forced to send Cole back to Triple-A once A.J. Burnett, Wandy Rodriguez and Jeanmar Gomez all return from the 15-day disabled list. However, there’s no question that he’s pitched well enough to remain in the team’s starting rotation with a 3-0 record, 3.44 ERA, 1.04 WHIP and 8/1 K/BB in 18.1 innings.
In reality, Cole being sent back to the minors isn’t a terrible idea. The right-hander logged 132 innings last season in his professional debut and, although he’s more durable than the average 22-year-old rookie pitcher, will presumably face an innings cap later in the year. Since he’s already thrown 86.1 frames so far between both levels, the Pirates likely will try to limit him to around 150-170 innings this season.
With that said, the team’s success and fragile starting rotation will partially dictate Cole’s usage; they will likely need him more over the final months of the season than they do now. Therefore, it wouldn’t be a surprise if the organization temporarily demoted him to Triple-A so as to monitor and control his workload.
Regardless, Cole’s immediate success with Pittsburgh and enormous potential moving forward should make him the Pirates’ X-factor for the remainder of the season.
5. Anthony Rendon, 2B, Washington Nationals
After filling in for an injured Ryan Zimmerman at third base earlier in season, Anthony Rendon returned in early June as the Nationals' second baseman.
Due to Danny Espinosa’s lingering wrist injury and overall lack of production, the organization decided to shift Rendon across the infield so as to get his bat back in the everyday lineup. And while the 23-year-old has had his share of errors so far, it’s important to keep it in context, as he’s basically learning the position on the fly.
As the team envisioned when he they recalled him for a second time, Rendon’s bat has offset his occasional defensive miscues. Through 17 games this month, he’s batted a robust .371/.397/.529 with nine runs scored, eight doubles and one home run. Between both stints in the major leagues, he’s posted an .852 OPS with 32 hits and 17/8 K/BB in 25 games.
If Rendon can stay healthy, he has the potential to be one of the top hitters in the game at maturity—no joke, the bat is that good. Therefore, even if Espinosa, who was demoted to Triple-A after returning from the disabled list, finally heats up in the minors, don’t expect the Nationals to hastily offer him playing time (or even a promotion).
Rendon’s production as a second baseman has seemingly fixed a glaring weakness in the team’s offensive profile, and he should only solidify his future at the position over the second half of the season. The position is his to lose, and there have been no signs of him relinquishing the gig anytime soon.
Other players who received consideration: Jurickson Profar (Rangers), Trevor Rosenthal (Cardinals), Julio Teheran (Braves), Kevin Gausman (Orioles), Zack Wheeler (Mets), Jedd Gyorko (Padres) and Nolan Arenado (Rockies).