2016 MLB Rookies Already Going Toe-to-Toe with Historic 2015 Class

Jacob Shafer@@jacobshaferFeatured ColumnistJune 7, 2016

Los Angeles Dodgers shortstop Corey Seager.
Los Angeles Dodgers shortstop Corey Seager.Mark J. Terrill/Associated Press

The MLB rookie class of 2016 has a lot to live up to.

Last year's class, after all, was historically loaded. Let's just rattle off a list of names to refresh your memory: Kris Bryant, Carlos Correa, Francisco Lindor, Noah Syndergaard, Joc Pederson, Matt Duffy, Kyle Schwarber, Maikel Franco, Miguel Sano, Jung Ho Kang. Impact players, all.

In fact, as FanGraphsOwen Watson detailed in a piece published for Fox Sports, 2015's position-player rookies posted an average wins above replacement of 1.76—the highest tally since 1920. And that's not even taking Syndergaard and his 3.1 WAR into account.

And yet, 2016 is producing its own bumper crop of first-year studs. It's only June, so it's too early to declare anything definitively. 

If you like star rookies, however, this is a great time to be a baseball fan. 

Here's an overview of what we've seen so far and a glance at some shiny new players waiting eagerly in the wings.

Senior-Circuit Shortstops

Things began with a bang, as Colorado Rockies shortstop Trevor Story became the first player in MLB history to hit seven home runs through his team's first six games.

He's since leveled offhow could he not?but his 15 home runs put him on pace to break the all-time National League rookie home run record of 38, set by Wally Berger in 1930 and matched by Frank Robinson in 1956.

Not to be outdone, St. Louis Cardinals shortstop Aledmys Diaz tore out of the gate and hit .423 with a 1.186 OPS in April.

Diazwho won the job out of spring training after veteran Jhonny Peralta suffered a thumb injuryhas also come back to earth a bit and endured periodic lapses with the leather. But his .328 average and .906 OPS still pop off the stat sheet.

"He has a disciplined approach, and he's done a tremendous job of not letting a bad game or two get in his way. It's very impressive." sophomore Cardinals outfielder Stephen Piscotty said, per ESPN.com's Mark Saxon.

Aledmys Diaz posted a 1.186 OPS in April for the St. Louis Cardinals.
Aledmys Diaz posted a 1.186 OPS in April for the St. Louis Cardinals.Scott Kane/Associated Press/Associated Press

The best NL rookie shortstop, however, may reside in Southern California. 

After a strong late-season debut with the Los Angeles Dodgers in 2015, Corey Seager entered 2016 trailing bushels of hype and a blue-chip pedigree. So far, he's delivered.

Seager leads the Dodgers in home runs (14), RBI (35) and runs scored (38), and he rates as the game's third-best defensive shortstop.

"He's got a very sound, short swing and power to all fields," manager Dave Roberts said, per Mike DiGiovanna of the Los Angeles Times. "He can hit any pitch to any part of the ballpark. It's special. There's only a few guys who can do that."

Indeed, Seager's power married to his other skills, as FanGraphs' Corinne Landrey noted, "has helped him separate himself from the other rookies in the league in his quest to become one of the best shortstops in the game."

The Three M's

They're very different players, but let's group them here for alliterative purposes: Steven Matz, Kenta Maeda and Nomar Mazara.

Mazara, who didn't turn 21 until April 26, owns a .319/.370/.500 slash line with 10 homers for the Texas Rangers. And the young outfielder became the first player since 2003 to win AL Rookie of the Month honors for April and May.

There's a whole summer to slog through, but already Mazara is separating himself from other Junior Circuit Rookie of the Year contenders such as powerful Korean import Byung Ho Park of the Minnesota Twins, who has flexed his muscles but watched his average dip to .217.

Nomar Mazara didn't reach legal drinking age until April 26, but he's been gobbling up opposing pitchers.
Nomar Mazara didn't reach legal drinking age until April 26, but he's been gobbling up opposing pitchers.Tony Gutierrez/Associated Press

So far, we've been talking exclusively about position players. But there are strong arms in this 2016 rookie class as well.

Matz, who joined the New York Mets for the stretch run and playoffs last year, is off to a superb start.

Through 51.1 innings, the 25-year-old southpaw owns a 2.60 ERA with 53 strikeouts and 11 walks. In a rotation bursting with talent—including the dynamic trio of Syndergaard, Jacob deGrom and Matt HarveyMatz is quickly establishing himself as an ace-level stud.

"This guy's got a chance to be as good as anybody because of his stuff, his command and his confidence," manager Terry Collins said, per Dan Martin of the New York Post"If his health stays good, he's gonna win a lot of games."

Maeda arrived on U.S. shores having logged nearly 1,500 innings in Japan's Nippon Professional Baseball league. But the 28-year-old right-hander is a rookie in the eyes of MLB, and he's delivering for the Los Angeles Dodgers. 

After signing an eight-year, $25 million deal laden with incentives because of concerns over the health of his elbow, Maeda has been one of the winter's biggest bargains.

His 2.84 ERA and .211 opponents' batting average are both second-best among Dodgers starters after undisputed ace Clayton Kershaw, and he's fanned 56 through 63.1 innings.

More to Come

The rookie crop will grow as the year progresses. And while we can't say for sure how the new arrivals will perform, we can look forward to finding out.

Another Dodgers pitcher, 19-year-old left-hander Julio Urias, wobbled through his first couple of big league starts, coughing up eight earned runs in 7.2 innings. At the same time, he's the top pitching prospect in the game, according to Baseball America, and has flashed bat-missing stuff with seven strikeouts.

Touted Minnesota Twins right-hander Jose Berrios also got a rough first taste of The Show, surrendering 17 earned runs in 15 innings, and was sent down on May 17. Expect the 22-year-old to get another look at some point for the scuffling Twins.

Other exciting pitching prospects knocking on the door include the Pittsburgh Pirates' Tyler Glasnow and Jameson Taillon, and the Washington Nationals' Lucas Giolito. 

Speaking of the Nats, they gave shortstop Trea Turner another cup of coffee and watched him go 3-for-3 with a double before optioning him back to Triple-A.

Given Turner's skills and the lack of production Washington has gotten from the shortstop position this season, it's a safe bet the 22-year-old will be back.

Nationals shortstop Trea Turner went 3-for-3 during a brief big league call-up.
Nationals shortstop Trea Turner went 3-for-3 during a brief big league call-up.Alex Brandon/Associated Press

Also keep an eye out for the Philadelphia Phillies' J.P. Crawfordranked by MLB.com as the best position player in the minor leaguesthough Tom Housenick of the Morning Call recently reported the 21-year-old shortstop is "not close" to a call-up. If the rebuilding Phils keep sliding from relevance and Crawford continues his development, that could change.

We could go on, but you get the idea. Between the guys already in the big leagues and the talent knocking on the door, this rookie class is shaping up nicely. Whether it will challenge the overall depth and excellence of last year's group remains to be seen, though at this point, it feels like a stretch. Remember, that group was the most valuable by WAR since the Woodrow Wilson administration.

At the same time, some of last year's star rookies—including Duffy and Sano—are suffering sophomore slumps, and others—including Schwarber—have been knocked out by injury.

That leaves ample room for this year's group to make its mark. And many of the names listed above should be playing in the heat of pennant races as well.

Meet the new rookies. They aren't the same as the old rookies, to paraphrase The Who, but they've got a chance to be nearly as memorable.

All statistics current as of June 6 and courtesy of MLB.com and FanGraphs unless otherwise noted. 

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