The 2014 All-MLB Rookie Team at the Quarter Mark
With small sample sizes representing a lesser concern now that teams have played roughly 40 games, we're starting to get an idea about this year's rookie class.
International sensations Masahiro Tanaka and Jose Abreu have emerged as elite players with their tremendous starts to the season, while Yordano Ventura, Yangervis Solarte and Xander Bogaerts have each made it clear that the running for American League Rookie of the Year won't necessarily be a two-horse race.
And even though this year's class isn't nearly as deep in the National League, it has produced a pair of young up-the-middle talents in Billy Hamilton and Chris Owings.
But between both leagues, which rookies have been the best at their respective positions?
Here's a look at the 2014 All-MLB Rookie Team at the season's quarter mark.
*All statistics courtesy of FanGraphs unless otherwise noted.
*All videos courtesy of MLB Advanced Media.
Catcher: Josmil Pinto, Minnesota Twins
2014 Stats (30 games): .240/.358/.420, 3 2B, 5 HR, 11 RBI, 15.0 BB%, 21.7 K%, .349 wOBA, 0.5 WAR
Josmil Pinto raked as a September call-up last season, batting .342/.398/.566 with five doubles and four home runs in 83 plate appearances, and in the process he emerged as a potential candidate to replace Joe Mauer behind the plate in 2014 (and beyond).
But with only 21 major league games under his belt entering the season, the Twins decided to take some of the pressure off Pinto’s development and signed veteran Kurt Suzuki to a one-year deal. Suzuki’s red-hot start to the season has led to Pinto starting behind the plate in only 11 of Minnesota’s 40 games, but his potent bat has kept him in the lineup on a near-everyday basis as the team’s designated hitter.
The 25-year-old is among the league leaders for rookies in numerous offensive categories, as he currently ranks third in on-base percentage (.358) and wOBA (.349) and fourth in slugging (.420) and OPS (.778).
As expected, Pinto’s defense has been rather shaky so far, as he’s committed a pair of passed balls and is yet to throw out a base stealer (0-for-8). Luckily, Suzuki’s presence means Pinto will have time to refine his defensive chops before taking over full time in 2015.
Honorable Mention: John Ryan Murphy, New York Yankees
1st Base: Jose Abreu, Chicago White Sox
2014 Stats (42 games): .271/.320/.620, 28 R, 11 2B, 3B, 15 HR, 41 RBI, 7.7 BB%, 24.4 K%, .395 wOBA, 1.5 WAR
White Sox first baseman Jose Abreu has been the most productive first baseman in baseball through the first quarter of the season, and he’s already making his six-year, $68 million contract look like an absolute steal. In his first taste of the major leagues, the 27-year-old slugger set a new rookie record with 31 RBI in April, which led to him being named the American League Player and Rookie of the Month.
The right-handed hitter scuffled in the middle of April, batting .040 with 11 strikeouts over a seven-game stretch from April 11 to April 18. Since then, however, Abreu has hit safely in 22 of his last 25 games and posted a .317 batting average and 1.056 OPS with eight doubles, 11 home runs and 27 RBI in 105 plate appearances during that span.
Having played in 41 of 42 games this season, Abreu currently paces all rookies in runs scored (28), RBI (41), slugging (.620) and WAR (1.5), and he’s leading the major leagues in home runs (15) and total bases (103).
Honorable Mention: C.J. Cron, Los Angeles Angels
2nd Base: Jonathan Schoop, Baltimore Orioles
2014 Stats (33 games): .224/.268/.362, 7 2B, 3 HR, 14 RBI, 2.4 BB%, 27.6 K%, .281 wOBA, 0.0 WAR
With Manny Machado sidelined until at least early May, the Orioles decided to include Schoop, 22, on the Opening Day roster for his defensive versatility on the infield. Plus, batting .385/.432/.667 with seven extra-base hits and eight RBI in 22 spring games probably helped his cause.
Schoop offered a glimpse of his power potential while serving as the Orioles’ primary third baseman during the first month of the season, cracking seven doubles and two home runs while driving in 10 runs in 82 plate appearances. At the same time, the youngster’s weaknesses also were exposed, as he batted only .241 with an ugly 26-1 strikeout-to-walk ratio and .268 on-base percentage during that span.
Schoop’s production from the bottom of the order led to him taking over everyday duties at second base earlier this month following Machado’s return from the disabled list. The right-handed hitter has cooled off at the plate since moving across the infield, as he’s batted .189/.269/.270 with one extra-base hit and eight strikeouts in his last 41 plate appearances.
Overall, Schoop’s done most of his damage this season with two outs, as he’s posted a .307/.375/.611 batting line with seven extra-base hits and 10 RBI in those situations. At the same time, he'll obviously need to make swifter adjustments at the plate to hold down an everyday role for a full season.
Honorable Mention: Brandon Hicks, San Francisco Giants
Shortstop: Xander Bogaerts, Boston Red Sox
2014 Stats (37 games): .257/.361/.353, 15 6, 8 2B, 3B, HR, 5 RBI, SB, 12.0 BB%, 23.4 K%, .327 wOBA, 0.6 WAR
Xander Bogaerts became a household name in last postseason, as the 21-year-old posted an .893 OPS with nine runs scored, four extra-base hits and six walks in 12 games while manning the hot corner. The impressive showing also convinced the Red Sox that he'd be ready to take over at shortstop in 2014.
While Bogaerts is batting only .257 through 38 games to begin the season, the rookie has continued to show his usual advanced plate discipline and feel for the strike zone (12.4 percent walk rate).
Meanwhile, his .361 on-base percentage ranks second among all rookies. The only knock on Bogaerts’ performance this season stems from his struggles to drive in runs. Hitting anywhere from second to seventh in Boston’s order (usually sixth or seventh), he's batting just .118 (4-for-34) with four RBI and eight strikeouts with runners in scoring position.
Bogaerts’ peripherals suggest he’ll pick up the pace offensively as the season unfolds, though there’s certainly nothing wrong with his .714 OPS thus far. He’ll have some stiff competition for the league’s Rookie of the Year award, but there’s no reason to believe he won’t still be in the mix by season’s end.
(Very) Honorable Mention: Chris Owings, SS, Arizona Diamondbacks
3rd Base: Yangervis Solarte, New York Yankees
2014 Stats (34 games): .336/.414/.521, 17 R, 10 2B, 4 HR, 23 RBI, 12.1 BB%, 11.4 K%, .407 wOBA, 1.3 WAR
And now for this year’s out-of-nowhere success story, Yangervis Solarte.
Signed by the Twins in 2005 out of Venezuela, Solarte spent the first six seasons of his professional career battling injuries while struggling to move up the organizational ladder.
2011 was Solarte’s first season playing more than 84 games at a full-season level, and, in retrospect, it isn’t a coincidence that it was also his breakout campaign. Playing in 121 games for Double-A New Britain, Solarte, 22 at the time, batted .329/.367/.466 with 46 extra-base hits (36 doubles) and a 38-24 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 497 plate appearances.
The Twins released Solarte following the season in spite of his impressive performance, and by the end of the month he was a member of the Rangers.
He spent the next two seasons at Triple-A Round Rock and continued to make strides offensively, batting .282/.332/.404 with 59 doubles, 23 home runs and 129 RBI in 233 total games. More importantly, Solarte played in at least 130 games in back-to-back seasons for the first time in his career.
Released once again following the 2013 season, the Yankees inked Solarte in January to build infield depth at the Triple-A level. However, the 26-year-old forced his way onto the Opening Day roster by batting .429 with a 1.061 OPS in 24 spring training games, and he’s yet to stop hitting.
Solarte entered Thursday leading the American League in batting average, but his 0-for-4 game against the Mets dropped him to second place behind Victor Martinez (.336). It also marked the end to his nine-game hitting streak, during which he’d batted .484 with four extra-base hits and 10 RBI.
The switch-hitter has done more damage from the left side of the plate, evidenced by his 1.039 OPS, nine extra-base hits, 15 RBI and a 7-15 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 70 at-bats; as a right-handed hitter, Solarte has fanned 10 times and is yet to jump the yard in 70 at-bats, but he still owns a solid .302 batting average.
It’s hard to imagine Solarte maintaining his current level of production for the entire season, but I suppose most of us said the same thing after spring training, no?
Honorable Mention: Nick Castellanos, Detroit Tigers
Outfield: Billy Hamilton, Cincinnati Reds
2014 Stats (33 games): .260/.297/.385, 16 R, 4 2B, 3 3B, HR, 6 RBI, 12 SB, 4.4 BB%, 16.7 K%, .299 wOBA, 0.7 WAR
The Reds announced over the offseason that Billy Hamilton would serve as the team’s leadoff hitter and center fielder this year, a decision that was expected after he took baseball by storm last September with a .368 batting average and 13 stolen bases.
After a strong spring in which he showed across-the-board improvements and further convinced the Reds he was ready for the gig, the 23-year-old switch-hitter struggled mightily out of the gate, batting just .140 through his first 12 games.
However, Hamilton has rebounded the dismal start to his rookie campaign over the last month—he was limited to pinch-hitting and –running duties from May 1 to May 10 after injuring the knuckles on his left hand while making a diving catch—to emerge as one of the game’s more productive leadoff hitters.
In his last 21 games (15 starts), Hamilton is batting .333 with six extra-base hits, 14 runs scored and 12 stolen bases, as well as a manageable 9-3 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 77 plate appearances during that span.
Honorable Mention: Jackie Bradley, Boston Red Sox
Starting Pitcher: Masahiro Tanaka, New York Yankees
2014 Stats (8 GS): 6-0, 58 IP, 2.17 ERA, .214 BAA, 1.09 BB/9, 10.24 K/9
To say that Masahiro Tanaka has exceeded expectations doesn’t do justice to his ridiculously impressive start to the season.
The 25-year-old fired a four-hit shutout (the first of his career) against the Mets on Wednesday night, as he struck out eight batters without issuing a walk while throwing a season-high 114 pitches. He also picked up his first career hit, a ninth-inning single against Jose Valverde.
Through his first eight starts in the major leagues, Tanaka owns an unblemished 6-0 record to go along with a 2.17 ERA, 0.91 WHIP and stellar 66-7 strikeout-to-walk record in 58 innings.
Other than Tanaka, the Yankees’ starting rotation has been a major disappointment—though no one could have predicted the crushing early-season injuries to Ivan Nova (elbow) and CC Sabathia (knee)—with a 4.16 staff ERA that currently ranks ninth in the American League. The rotation’s ERA would sit at 4.83 without the right-hander’s eight starts. It now goes without saying that Tanaka is the Yankees’ ace.
The sky is the limit for Tanaka, and despite his overwhelming success thus far, it still feels like the best is yet to come.
Honorable Mention: Yordano Ventura, RHP, Kansas City Royals
Relief Pitcher: Dellin Betances, New York Yankees
2014 Stats (15 G): 2-0, 22.1 IP, 1.61 ERA, .154 BAA, 4.03 BB/9, 15.7 K/9
It's taken eight seasons in the Yankees’ system, but Dellin Betances has finally carved out a role in the major leagues.
Betances, 26, made the team’s Opening Day roster after a strong spring training, and he’s quickly emerged as one of the game’s premier high-leverage relievers with his tremendous start to the regular season. The 6'8" right-hander has pitched in 16 games thus far and recorded multiple strikeouts in 13 of them, including eight appearances with at least three strikeouts. Meanwhile, his 15.7 K/9 in 22.1 innings is the second highest rate among all qualified AL relievers behind Wade Davis.
Honorable Mention: Kevin Siegrist, LHP, St. Louis Cardinals