B/R's 2014 All-MLB Rookie Team at the Midseason Mark
With small sample sizes representing a lesser concern now that Major League Baseball teams have played over 70 games in the 2014 season, 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 due to their tremendous starts to the season, while Yordano Ventura 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, we have seen the rise of promising 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 midseason mark.
Catcher: Robinson Chirinos, Texas Rangers
2014 stats: 168 PA, .237/.274/.408, 6 HR, 22 RBI, 3.6 BB%, 22 K%, .298 wOBA, 5 DRS, 47.6% CS%, 1.1 fWAR (46 games)
Unfortunately, there’s no logical choice for the top rookie catcher thus far. Travis d’Arnaud has underperformed in Toronto with a 56 wRC+, while Josmil Pinto (106 wRC+) was displaced and sent to Triple-A Rochester after Minnesota signed Kendry Morales—and he’s now on the disabled list with a stiff hip, per LaVelle E. Neal III of the Star Tribune.
Therefore, I have no choice but to go with 30-year-old Robinson Chirinos of the Texas Rangers—he played in only 33 games over the last three years heading into the season—as he currently leads all rookie backstops with a 1.1 fWAR.
Even though Chirinos has shown decent power this season, with six home runs and a .408 slugging percentage in 168 plate appearances, most of his value stems from his strong defense behind the plate, as he’s already saved five runs and is throwing out opposing base stealers at an outstanding 47.6 percent clip.
First Base: Jose Abreu, Chicago White Sox
2014 stats: 280 PA, .276/.325/.615, 23 HR, 61 RBI, 5.7% BB%, 25.0% K%, .396 wOBA, 2.4 fWAR (65 games)
White Sox first baseman Jose Abreu has been the most productive first baseman in baseball through the first half of the season, and he’s already making his six-year, $68 million contract look like an absolute steal.
Abreu, 27, took baseball by storm to open his major league career, as he was named AL Player of the Month after setting a new rookie record for home runs (10), RBI (32) and total bases (71) through March and April. He currently leads all rookies in runs scored (41), home runs (23), RBI (61) and slugging percentage (.615)—and basically every other production-based metric out there.
Heading into Thursday, Abreu ranked second among all qualified hitters in home runs and slugging percentage as well as third in RBI.
He likely would rank at the top of all the aforementioned categories if not for a stint on the 15-day disabled list in May due to ankle soreness. Since being activated on June 2, Abreu is batting .310/.352/.655 with eight home runs, five doubles and 19 RBI in 21 games.
Second Base: Rougned Odor, Texas Rangers
2014 stats: 120 PA, .282/.316/.445, 3 HR, 17 RBI, 2.5% BB%, 17.5% K%, .333 wOBA, 0.6 fWAR (36 games)
Rougned Odor wasn’t expected to reach the major leagues this year—at least not in early May. However, the news that Jurickson Profar would likely miss the entire season due to a shoulder injury forced the Rangers hand, and so they called up the 20-year-old Odor from Double-A Frisco on May 8.
Despite being the youngest player in the major leauges, Odor leads all rookie second basemen in most offensive categories, including batting average (.282), slugging percentage (.445), wOBA (.333) and wRC+ (104). Furthermore, his 0.6 fWAR has him tied with the Brandon Hicks for the highest total among rookies at the position, though Odor has amassed the value in only 36 games compared to Hicks’ 65 with the Giants.
Though Odor’s respective strikeout (17.5 percent) and walk (2.5 percent) rates as well as his .322 batting average on balls in play suggests he might not hit .282 for the entire season, he hasn’t looked overmatched against major league pitching and has shown the ability to make swift adjustments at the plate.
Shortstop: Chris Owings, Arizona Diamondbacks
2014 stats: 254 PA, .277/.313/.458, 6 HR, 21 RBI, 7 SB, 4.7 BB%, 19.7 K%, 336 wOBA, 1.8 fWAR (72 games)
Chris Owings opened eyes last season as a September call-up, batting .291/.361/.382 in 61 plate appearances while stealing five bases. The performance, along with a strong showing during spring training, gave the 22-year-old the upper hand at shortstop over Didi Gregorius heading into the season, and since then Owings has emerged as baseball’s top rookie at the position.
Owings picked up where he left off in 2013, batting .313 with a .764 OPS over 28 games in the season’s first month. Though he’d cool off in May and bat just .217 with a 21/4 K/BB in 24 games, Owings did show more power with three home runs and five doubles.
June has been Owings’ most productive month of the season, as he’s batted .317/.333/.635 with three homers, three triples, five doubles and 12 RBI in 20 games.
Owings also has impressed with his glove this season, as his defense already has saved the Diamondbacks eight runs.
Third Base: Xander Bogaerts, Boston Red Sox
2014 stats: 317 PA, .256/.338/.388, 6 HR, 19 RBI, 8.8 BB%, 23.0 K%, .325 wOBA, 1.2 fWAR (75 games)
Xander Bogaerts became a household name last October, as the 21-year-old posted an .893 OPS with nine runs scored, four extra-base hits and six walks in 12 postseason 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.
However, Boagerts was shifted back to third base after playing 54 games at short to open the season, as the Red Sox decided to bolster their infield with the signing of veteran Stephen Drew.
While Bogaerts is only batting .256 through 75 games the season, the rookie has continued to show his usual advanced plate discipline and feel for the strike zone with a .338 on-base percentage and 8.8 percent walk rate.
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 batted just .134 (9-for-67) with three doubles, 10 RBI and 17 strikeouts in 76 plate appearances with runners in scoring position.
Furthermore, the 21-year-old numbers are weighed down by a recent slump that’s seen him bat .100/.141/.150 with one extra-base hit and a 16/3 K/BB in his last 16 games.
Outfield: Billy Hamilton, Cincinnati Reds
2014 stats: 280 PA, .270/.304/.390, 39 R, 4 HR, 31 SB, 4.6 BB%, 17.9 K%, .305 wOBA, 9 DRS, 31.9 UZR/150, 2.6 fWAR (72 games)
The Reds announced during 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 from the dismal start to his rookie campaign and currently leads all rookies with a 2.6 fWAR. Meanwhile, his 31 stolen bases are more than double the next-highest total among rookies: 14, compiled by Seattle’s James Jones.
Hamilton has been red-hot since recovering from an injury to the knuckles on his left hand in early May, batting .284/.318/.420 with 25 runs scored, three home runs, nine doubles, three triples, 18 RBI and 20 stolen bases in 41 games.
On the other side of the ball, Hamilton has emerged as one of baseball’s premier defensive center fielders, as he currently leads the major leagues with a 31.9 UZR/150 (range factor per 150 games) and ranks second with nine runs saved, per FanGraphs.
Starting Pitcher: Masahiro Tanaka, New York Yankees
2014 stats: 11-2, 106.2 IP, 2.11 ERA, 2.77 FIP, .217 BAA, 1.43 BB/9, 10.04 K/9, 3.0 fWAR (15 starts)
To say that Masahiro Tanaka has exceeded expectations doesn’t do justice to his ridiculously impressive start to the season.
According to FanGraphs, the 25-year-old currently leads all qualified pitchers in the American League in wins (11), ERA (2.11) and strand rate (85.9 percent), and he’s also tied for third in fWAR (3.0) and fifth in FIP (2.77).
Tanaka also has worked at least six innings without allowing more than three earned runs in each of his 15 starts this season, while eight of his outings have featured eight-plus strikeouts. He’s registered double-digit strikeouts on five occasions, including in two of his last three starts.
If not for Tanaka’s dominance this season, the Yankees' collective starters ERA would currently sit at 4.69; instead, they own a 4.08 ERA through 77 starts.
The sky is the limit for Tanaka, and despite his overwhelming success thus far, it still feels like the best is yet to come.
Relief Pitcher: Dellin Betances, New York Yankees
2014 stats: 4-0, 44 IP, 1.43 ERA, 1.08 FIP, .133 BAA, 2.66 BB/9, 14.73 K/9, 1.8 fWAR (32 games)
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 this year after a strong spring training, and he’s quickly emerged as one of the game’s premier high-leverage relievers over the first half of the season.
The 6'8" right-hander has pitched in 32 games thus far and recorded multiple strikeouts in 26 of them, including 12 appearances with at least three strikeouts. Additionally, Betances’ 14.73 K/9 and 1.08 FIP both rank first among all rookie pitchers, per FanGraphs, while his 1.8 fWAR is first among relievers and second overall, only to teammate Masahiro Tanaka.