Comparing the Top MLB Rookies to Past and Present Stars

Joel Reuter@JoelReuterBRFeatured ColumnistAugust 15, 2020

Comparing the Top MLB Rookies to Past and Present Stars

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    Nam Y. Huh/Associated Press

    Comparisons are often drawn between MLB draft prospects and established MLB stars in an effort to give some context to a young player's long-term upside.

    Why not do the same with this year's rookie class?

    Ahead, we've provided comparisons to MLB stars both past and present for the 2020 MLB season's biggest rookie performers, including Los Angeles Dodgers right-hander Dustin May and Chicago White Sox center fielder Luis Robert.

    Think of the comparisons as what these young players could one day become rather than what they are right now in the early stages of their big league careers.

    The future is bright for these 10 up-and-comers.

Jake Cronenworth, IF, San Diego Padres

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    Kelvin Kuo/Associated Press

    2020 Stats: 41 PA, .325/.341/.675, 8 XBH (2 HR), 4 RBI, 7 R, 0.8 WAR

    Jake Cronenworth left the University of Michigan in 2015 as one of the best two-way players in the country, armed with an advanced hit tool and a mid-90s fastball.

    He hit .334/.429/.520 with 26 doubles and 10 home runs in 94 games at Triple-A last season while also striking out nine without allowing an earned run in 7.1 innings of relief work.

    The 26-year-old was traded from Tampa Bay to San Diego during the offseason, and an injury to Eric Hosmer opened the door for him to see regular playing time early in 2020.


    MLB Comparison: Jose Vidro

    Cronenworth is more hit than power, and his hit tool is a good one. He has a chance to be a .300 hitter who provides plenty of doubles. His defensive versatility also adds to his value, and he's seen time at first base, second base, third base and shortstop so far this year.

    Three-time All-Star Jose Vidro offered a similar defensive profile with a contact-driven offensive approach. He was a .298 career hitter and batted over .300 six times while topping out at 24 home runs.

    Cronenworth could be the second baseman of the future or a valuable utility piece in San Diego.

James Karinchak, RP, Cleveland Indians

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    Tony Dejak/Associated Press

    2020 Stats: 8 G, 1 SV, 1.04 ERA, 1.04 WHIP, 5 BB, 17 K, 8.2 IP, 0.4 WAR

    Armed with a lively fastball that clocks in at 95.6 mph and a hammer curveball that averaged 5.87 inches of break, Cleveland Indians reliever James Karinchak is downright nasty.

    The 24-year-old posted an absurd 22.0 K/9 in the minors last season, striking out 74 of the 125 batters he faced while tallying eight saves in 30.1 innings of work.

    He added eight more strikeouts in 5.1 innings following a September call-up and has quickly carved out a role at the back of the Cleveland bullpen. It won't be long before he supplants Brad Hand as the closer of the present and future.


    MLB Comparison: Craig Kimbrel (Atlanta Braves edition)

    Despite his struggles this season, Craig Kimbrel remains one of the most dominant relief pitchers in MLB history. At his peak, his fastball-curveball combination was borderline unhittable, and he took the mound with the same kind of electricity that Karinchak has these days in Cleveland.

    Another interesting comparison can be made between Karinchak and longtime New York Yankees setup man David Robertson. Robertson pitches off a cutter and doesn't throw as hard, but take a look at their curveballs:


Andres Gimenez, IF, New York Mets

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    Julio Cortez/Associated Press

    2020 Stats: 52 PA, .286/.327/.388, 3 XBH, 2 RBI, 7 R, 5 SB, 0.5 WAR

    The New York Mets aggressively pushed Andres Gimenez every step of the way during his time in the minors, and that's part of the reason he struggled to a lackluster .250/.309/.387 line in 117 games at Double-A last season.

    Still just 21 years old, he's been ahead of the developmental curve his entire career, and he's been a pleasant surprise in the early going this year while splitting time between second base, shortstop and third base.

    "It’s incredible what he can do out on the field," manager Luis Rojas told reporters. "This kid is a player."


    MLB Comparison: Rafael Furcal

    Strong defensively up the middle, plus speed and good bat-to-ball skills from an undersized frame sounds an awful lot like a former Atlanta Braves leadoff hitter and NL Rookie of the Year winner.

    Rafael Furcal hit .281, swiped 314 bases and earned three All-Star selections over the course of a 14-year playing career, never hitting more than 15 home runs in season.

    Likewise, Gimenez has little in the way of over-the-fence power, but he uses his speed well and his biggest contributions will likely come on the defensive side of the ball.

    He also profiles similarly to Joe Panik from an offensive standpoint, albeit with more athleticism.

Randy Dobnak, SP, Minnesota Twins

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    Randy Dobnak
    Randy DobnakKeith Srakocic/Associated Press

    2020 Stats: 4 GS, 3-1, 0.90 ERA, 0.90 WHIP, 5 BB, 11 K, 20.0 IP, 0.8 WAR

    Randy Dobnak has been one of the biggest surprises of the 2020 season, succeeding despite less-than-overpowering stuff and a 5.0 K/9 strikeout rate.

    The secret to his success? An absurd 66.7 percent ground-ball rate that leads all qualified starters.

    To put that number into perspective, Dakota Hudson (56.9%) and Luis Castillo (55.2%) were the only qualified starters with a ground-ball rate north of 55 percent last year.

    Dobnak throws his terrific sinker 41.4 percent of the time, keeping hitters honest with a solid slider and changeup pairing.


    MLB Comparison: Brandon Webb

    At his peak, Brandon Webb was one of the best pitchers in baseball, winning NL Cy Young honors in 2006 and finishing runner-up in 2007 and 2008.

    With one of the best sinkers in recent memory, he logged a 64.3 percent ground-ball rate over the course of his injury-shortened, seven-year career with the Arizona Diamondbacks.

    That may seem like a lofty comparison, but Dobnak has a 2.73 FIP on the year and has yet to allow a home run, so his sinker is working at a similar level right now.

Brady Singer, SP, Kansas City Royals

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    Orlin Wagner/Associated Press

    2020 Stats: 4 GS, 1-1, 4.50 ERA, 1.30 WHIP, 8 BB, 22 K, 20.0 IP, 0.3 WAR

    Brady Singer was in the conversation to go No. 1 overall in the 2018 draft before an inconsistent junior campaign caused him to slip to No. 18 overall.

    He made his MLB debut after just 26 minor league appearances and has looked right at home through his first four starts in the big league rotation.

    The Kansas City Royals have done an excellent job drafting pitching over the past few years, and Singer has a chance to be an integral part of their rebuilding efforts.


    MLB Comparison: Chris Archer

    Philadelphia Phillies ace Aaron Nola is a popular comparison for Singer, and there are a lot of similarities there in terms of mechanics, arm slot and general upside.

    However, in terms of pitch repertoire, an interesting comparison can be drawn to Chris Archer.

    The two-time All-Star has thrown his slider 37.7 percent of the time over the course of his career, leaning heavily on that plus breaking pitch in support of his mid-90s fastball.

    Similarly, Singer has thrown his 60-grade slider 34.0 percent of the time in his brief MLB career. He sprinkles in the occasional changeup but relies mostly on a sinker-slider combo.

Nate Pearson, SP, Toronto Blue Jays

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    John Bazemore/Associated Press

    2020 Stats: 3 GS, 0-0, 5.11 ERA, 1.46 WHIP, 9 BB, 11 K, 12.1 IP, -0.2 WAR

    Despite getting knocked around a bit in his most recent start (2.1 IP, 5 H, 4 BB, 4 ER), the future remains incredibly bright for Nate Pearson.

    With an imposing 6'6", 250-pound frame and a high-octane fastball that has touched 104 mph and regularly reaches triple digits, he's the definition of a power pitcher. He's also more than just a one-trick pony with a lethal wipeout slider, plus changeup and solid overall command of his entire repertoire.

    The 23-year-old had a 2.30 ERA and 0.89 WHIP with a 119-to-27 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 101.2 innings in the minors last year, and he remains the future ace of the Toronto Blue Jays staff.


    MLB Comparison: Noah Syndergaard

    Noah Syndergaard has a similar build (6'6", 242 pounds) and a similar repertoire with a fastball that can hit triple digits and a power slider.

    He also has better command than the average power pitcher, which—despite the nine walks in 12.1 innings so far this year—is a trait Pearson should share once he settles into life in the big leagues.

    For the Blue Jays, the similarities should stop short of trading Pearson to the New York Mets for an aging knuckleballer like they did with Syndergaard in the R.A. Dickey blockbuster trade prior to the 2013 season.

Kyle Lewis, CF, Seattle Mariners

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    Elaine Thompson/Associated Press

    2020 Stats: 84 PA, .338/.405/.514, 5 XBH (4 HR), 14 RBI, 13 R, 0.9 WAR

    Power has been the loudest tool for Kyle Lewis dating back to his otherworldly junior season at Mercer University when he hit .395/.535/.731 with 20 home runs and 72 RBI in 61 games.

    Injuries slowed his development after he went No. 11 overall in the 2016 draft, but he debuted with a bang last September, hitting six home runs in 18 games, and he has been one of the most productive hitters in baseball so far this year.

    That said, he has cooled considerably after a red-hot start, hitting .244/.333/.415 with three extra-base hits in 48 plate appearances since the calendar flipped to August. He has also posted a 32.7 percent strikeout rate in 37 career MLB games.

    It's tough to nail down his long-term profile, but he looks like a legitimate 30-homer threat if nothing else.


    MLB Comparison: Nelson Cruz (Texas Rangers edition)

    Former Baltimore Orioles star Adam Jones was a popular comparison for Lewis when he was first drafted, but Lewis has more raw power and he's much more willing to work a walk than Jones ever was during his career. He's also not the same Gold Glove-caliber defender in center field and probably fits best at a corner long-term.

    Instead, he may wind up being a similar player to what Nelson Cruz was during his time with the Texas Rangers before he took his offensive game to another level last in his career.

    In his five seasons as an everyday player with the Rangers from 2009 to 2013, Cruz hit .272/.331/.511 while averaging 29 doubles, 27 home runs and 81 RBI. That seems like a reasonable ceiling for Lewis' full-season production.

Dustin May, SP, Los Angeles Dodgers

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    Gregory Bull/Associated Press

    2020 Stats: 4 GS, 1-1, 2.75 ERA, 1.17 WHIP, 5 BB, 17 K, 19.2 IP, 0.3 WAR

    Dustin May made his MLB debut last season, posting a 3.63 ERA and 1.10 WHIP with 32 strikeouts in 34.2 innings spanning four starts and 10 relief appearances.

    The 22-year-old wound up being the Opening Day starter for the Los Angeles Dodgers after Clayton Kershaw was a late scratch, and he has turned heads this season with the mind-boggling movement he gets on a two-seam fastball that is pushing triple digits.

    With back-to-back quality starts under his belt, he has all the tools needed to join Walker Buehler at the top of the rotation for years to come.


    MLB Comparison: Jacob deGrom

    Among starters with at least 10 innings pitched this season, deGrom (99.0 mph) and May (98.2 mph) lead the way in average fastball velocity, according to FanGraphs.

    The secondary stuff is different. May backs his heater with a cutter and a curveball, while deGrom leans heavily on a power slider while mixing in a quality changeup.

    However, they have the same kind of absurd life on their max-velocity fastball, and both pitch from tall, lanky frames with May standing 6'6" and 180 pounds and deGrom checking in at 6'4" and 180 pounds.

    May has a long way to go to get to deGrom's level, but he offers that type of upside thanks to his elite mix of velocity and movement.

Jesus Luzardo, SP, Oakland Athletics

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    Ben Margot/Associated Press

    2020 Stats: 4 G, 2 GS, 1-0, 2.60 ERA, 1.15 WHIP, 7 BB, 17 K, 17.1 IP, 0.3 WAR

    After an injury-plagued first half of the 2019 season, Jesus Luzardo was finally given a clean bill of health and made his MLB debut in September, posting a 1.50 ERA with two saves and 12.0 K/9 in 12 innings of work to earn a spot on Oakland's postseason roster.

    The 22-year-old threw more fuel on the hype fire with three shutout innings of relief in the AL Wild Card Game against the Tampa Bay Rays, and after starting the 2020 season in the bullpen, he has finally moved into a spot in the Athletics rotation.

    "He's a terrific talent and doesn't have to have his best stuff, even against a team like that, to go out and perform at a high level. This is a guy who is going to excel here and we're really excited," manager Bob Melvin told reporters after Luzardo earned his first career win last Sunday against the Houston Astros.


    MLB Comparison: Johan Santana

    Luzardo throws a mid-90s fastball that can touch 98 mph, a 65-grade changeup that called "one of the best changeups of any pitching prospect in baseball" and a quality curveball-slider combination that helps further keep hitters off balance.

    Former Minnesota Twins ace and two-time AL Cy Young winner Johan Santana had one of the best changeups in recent history, and he used it to post one of the best peaks of any pitcher so far during the 21st century.

    Beyond the lethal changeup, Santana (6'0", 210 pounds) and Luzardo (6'0", 218 pounds) have similar left-handed builds and throw with similar mechanics from a nearly identical arm slot.

    If he can stay healthy, Luzardo has Santana-level upside.

Luis Robert, CF, Chicago White Sox

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    Charlie Riedel/Associated Press

    2020 Stats: 79 PA, .274/.329/.425, 7 XBH (2 HR), 9 RBI, 10 R, 4 SB, 0.6 WAR

    Luis Robert showed off the entire toolbox last season in the minors, hitting .328/.376/.624 with 31 doubles, 11 triples, 32 home runs, 92 RBI, 108 runs scored and 36 steals in 122 games.

    The Chicago White Sox avoided any potential service time manipulation by signing him to a six-year, $50 million extension during the offseason, and he has looked right at home at the MLB level in the early going this season.

    It's less a question of whether he'll be a star and more a question of just how good he'll be.


    MLB Comparison: Eric Davis

    Players are often touted as the "next 40/40 player" in reference to the exclusive list of just four playersJose Canseco, Barry Bonds, Alex Rodriguez and Alfonso Sorianowho have tallied 40 home runs and 40 steals in the same season.

    It's the ultimate power-speed accomplishment, and Robert certainly has the tools to be part of that conversation.

    However, he might be a better bet for an even more prestigious club.

    Eric Davis (37 HR, 50 SB in 1987) and Barry Bonds (33 HR, 52 SB in 1990) are the only players to ever achieve a 30/50 season, and Robert has the elite speed to become the third.

    White Sox executive vice president Ken Williams has already drawn the comparison to a young Davis, according to Alden Gonzalez of ESPN, and there is perhaps no higher compliment for a budding power-speed threat.


    All stats courtesy of Baseball Reference and FanGraphs, while pitching data comes via Brooks Baseball unless otherwise noted. Stats accurate through Thursday's games.