The Top 10 Rookie Seasons in Chicago Cubs History
With so much talk in Cubs' camp this spring training surrounding top prospect Starlin Castro, I decided to take a look back at some of the top rookie performances in team history.
I went back as far as 1947, which was the first year that the Rookie of the Year Award was handed out. I only looked at the stats that the player posted during their rookie season when ranking them. Therefore, this may be the only list you will ever see Jerome Walton ahead of Ernie Banks.
With so much history, it is always possible that someone was over looked, and I implore you to let me know if I have excluded anyone.
No. 10: Mark Grace, 1988
Stats: .296 BA, 7 HR, 57 RBI, 65 Runs, 144 Hits, 23 2B
ROY Voting: 2nd (7-of-24 first place votes)
Grace is possibly the best value pick in Cubs drafting history, as the team managed to steal Grace in the 24th round of the 1985 Draft.
After hitting over .333 in the minor leagues in 1986 and 1987, Grace pushed the Cubs hand in 1988 as his quick progression led the Cubs to trade incumbent first basemen Leon Durham to the Reds.
Grace was edged out for Rookie of the Year honors by Reds third basemen Chris Sabo in one of the more controversial selections in recent history. Grace would have the last laugh though, as he had a much more lengthy and successful career.
In 13 seasons with the Cubs, Grace tallied 2201 hits and a .308 batting average, and although he was never the traditional power hitter at first base, that was offset by his terrific defense as he won four Gold Gloves in his career.
No. 9: Ken Hubbs, 1962
Stats: .260 BA, 5 HR, 49 RBI, 90 Runs, 172 Hits, 24 2B
ROY Voting: 1st (19-of-20 first place votes)
Hubbs story is among the saddest in team history, as he died in a plane crash at just 22-years-old in the off-season before the 1964 season.
He was the first rookie to ever win a Gold Glove, and while he did not hit all that well in his two seasons with the team, he was widely considered to be among the best second basemen in all of baseball even that early in his career.
Overall, Hubbs career is largely forgotten in the annals of Cubs history, but he would have no doubt been one of the best second basemen in team history had tragedy not struck.
No. 8: Bill Madlock, 1974
Stats: .313 BA, 9 HR, 54 RBI, 65 Runs, 142 Runs, 21 2B
ROY Voting: 3rd (1-of-24 first place votes)
Madlock started his career as a member of the Texas Rangers, playing in 21 games and hitting .351 BA, 1 HR, 5 RBI and cementing his place as the Rangers' top prospect.
After that season, the Rangers dealt Madlock and CF Vic Harris for legendary Cubs pitcher Fergie Jenkins who was 30 at the time.
After a strong showing his rookie season, in which his .313 average was good for fifth in the National League, Madlock followed that up with back-to-back batting titles hitting .354 and .339, respectively.
The Cubs then made the unwise decision to deal Madlock while his value was high, moving him to the Giants for an aging Bobby Murcer who had one productive season before showing signs of his age. Overall, one of the worst trades in team history.
No. 7: Mike Harkey, 1990
Stats: 12-6, 3.26 ERA, 126 ERA+, 1.221 WHIP, 94 Ks, 4.9 K/9
ROY Voting: 5th (no first place votes)
The Cubs drafted Harkey in the first round of the 1987 Draft with the fourth overall pick, and he immediately became one of their top prospects.
He made his debut the following season, starting five games and posting an impressive 2.60 ERA at just 21-years-old.
After missing all of the 1989 season due to injury, he was a full time member of the rotation in 1990 and quickly showed why the organization regarded him so highly as he went 12-6 and finished fifth in Rookie of the Year voting.
However, he would make just 11 total starts over the next two seasons as injuries were a constant issue. The 1993 season was his final year as a Cubs and he posted a respectable 10-10 record in 28 starts, but had a less than impressive 5.26 ERA.
He left for Colorado the following season as a free agent, finishing his Cubs career with a 26-21 record and falling far short of the lofty expectations many had for him.
No. 6: Ernie Banks, 1954
Stats: .275 BA, 19 HR, 79 RBI, 70 Runs, 163 Hits, 19 2B
ROY Voting: 2nd (4-of-24 first place votes)
Mr. Cub started of his career in rather modest fashion, as he finished a distant second in Rookie of the Year voting to the Cardinals Wally Moon who had a .304 BA, 12 HR, 76 RBI season. Hank Aaron received one vote as well as it was a fairly impressive rookie class.
However, Banks' numbers were anything but modest the following season as he went off for a line of .295 BA, 44 HR, 117 RBI and finished third in MVP voting.
Banks played a total of 19 seasons in his career, all for the Cubs, and he managed to post a career line of .275 BA, 512 HR, 1636 RBI on his way to first ballot Hall of Fame induction.
No. 5: Dick Drott, 1957
Stats: 15-11, 3.58 ERA, 108 ERA+, 1.437 WHIP, 170 Ks, 6.7 K/9
ROY Voting: 3rd (3-of-24 first place votes)
While Drott is far from a household name, he was amazing as a 20-year-old rookie in 1957, as he managed to win 15 games despite pitching for a Cubs team that went 62-92. He also earned MVP consideration, despite being a rookie on a poor team.
The next season, his ERA ballooned nearly two full points, and he had a paltry 7-11 record. Following that season, arm problems set in and he was used primarily out of the bullpen for the remainder of his career.
In five seasons with the Cubs, Drott finished with a 24-34 record with an ERA of 4.68. He was then selected by the Houston Colt 45's in the 1961 MLB Expansion Draft, and two years later he was out of baseball all together.
No. 4: Jerome Walton, 1989
Stats: .293 BA, 5 HR, 46 RBI, 64 Runs, 24 SB
ROY Voting: 1st (22-of-24 first place votes)
Walton was the Cubs second round pick in 1986, and he hit over .300 in three consecutive minor league stops before being named the starting center fielder for the 1989 season.
Walton hit leadoff all season, and he along with fellow rookie Dwight Smith were instrumental in the Cubs playoff run, as the team won an impressive 93 games.
Not only was Walton a consistent speed threat at the top of the lineup all season, but he also went on a 30-game hitting streak as he became the talk of baseball.
The 24 steals and the hitting streak were enough to not only win him Rookie of the Year, but he also received a number of MVP votes as he finished 13th in voting.
The years to come were not as impressive for Walton, as he spent just three more seasons with the team and hit a combined .236 BA, 7 HR, 39 RBI, 22 SB in 717 at bats.
Walton spent time with five other teams, mainly as a fourth outfielder, before retiring in 1998 with a career line of .269 BA, 25 HR, 132 RBI, 58 SB.
No. 3: Billy Williams, 1961
Stats: .278 BA, 25 HR, 86 RBI, 75 Runs, 147 Hits, 20 2B
ROY Voting: 1st (10-of-16 first place votes)
Williams began his stellar career as a member of the Cubs in 1961, and he didn't waste any time establishing himself as one of the game's top hitters.
He was one of four players to hit at least 20 home runs for the Cubs during the 1961 season, and he spent the majority of the year hitting in the fifth spot in the lineup, as he was immediately counted on to be a run producer and leader for the team.
Williams went on to spend 16 seasons with the Cubs, and two more with the Oakland A's as he posted a career line of .290 BA, 426 HR, 1475 RBI and was named to the Hall of Fame in 1987.
No. 2: Geovany Soto, 2008
Stats: .285 BA, 23 HR, 86 RBI, 66 Runs, 141 Hits, 35 2B
ROY Voting: 1st (31-of-32 first place votes)
After an impressive late season call-up in 2007 when he hit .389 BA, 3 HR, 8 RBI and was named to the postseason roster, starting two games and homering in the playoffs, Soto quickly put his name on the map as one of the game's top prospects.
He opened the next season as the unquestioned starter, and picked up right where he left off, as he became the first rookie catcher to start an All-Star game for the National League.
While his sophomore season was a disappointment, he is poised for a comeback this season as he showed up to camp in great shape and with a renewed dedication to the game.
No. 1: Kerry Wood, 1998
Stats: 13-6, 3.40 ERA, 128 ERA+, 1.212 WHIP, 233 Ks, 12.6 K/9
ROY Voting: 1st (16-of-32 first place votes)
No question, Wood made by far the biggest impact of any rookie in Cubs history, as he took the baseball world by storm as a 21-year-old flame thrower.
Obviously, the pinnacle of Wood's fantastic rookie season was his 20 strikeout, one-hit shutout of the Houston Astros on May 6th, 1998. It was just the fifth start of Wood's career and he didn't just strike out 20 hitters, but he made the hitters look absolutely foolish in the process.
The great season Wood had went beyond just that one start, however, as he was a big reason why the Cubs made the playoffs for the first time in nine years in 1998, as he gave the team the ace arm they needed to push them over the top.
While his fantastic rookie season ended early with elbow soreness and subsequent Tommy John surgery, Cubs fans will not soon forget how incredible Wood was as a rookie.