While it isn’t the class of 2015 that featured superstars Carlos Correa and Francisco Lindor at it’s head and Miguel Sano coming up a quick third, there are certainly some players of great interest in the American League’s 2016 rookie crop, the latest of which have come courtesy of the Yankees deciding to finally play for next year.
The most prominent example of this was when Aaron Judge and Tyler Austin made their debuts on August 13th, hitting back-to-back home runs in their first career at bats. Both have struggled since then, but the batter hitting behind them that day, another rookie named Gary Sanchez, has not. He came up for a few games in 2015 and a game this May, but didn’t get a permanent spot until August 3rd this year.
Unlike the other two Yankee rookies, Sanchez didn’t blast off on day one, but he was the highest rated of the three prospects coming into the year (#36 in all of baseball according to Baseball American and the starting catcher for the World team in the Futures Game this year), and is currently having the best season among them.
Coming into August 10th, Sanchez was hitting .217/.250/.348 in 23 at bats, but he turned it on that day by going 4 for 5 with his first MLB home run and hasn’t turned it off since. Starting with that game, he’s batted .457/.510/1.022 with eight home runs, pushing him among the rookie leaders despite having about 200 less at bats than the rest.
While Sanchez is currently the hottest hitter around, the other AL rookie hitters have had their time in the sun. Max Kepler of Minnesota currently leads all with 15 home runs, 53 RBI, and 33 walks, benefiting from extended playing time with another team that has their sights set on the future. While his overall numbers might not be as impressive as Nomar Mazara, Tyler Naquin, and Cheslor Cuthbert, his hot spells have been certainly interesting to say the least.
From July 2nd through the 10th, he hit five home runs and knocked in 18, despite batting .208 with almost all the games coming against the division leading Rangers. He had a similar stretch against the Indians, Astros, and Rays from August 1st through the 11th, when he hit four home runs and knocked in 14, only this time he batted .359. Since then, he has leveled off with more consistent play rather than extreme hot or cold spells.
Mazara has been starting for the Rangers for so long that it’s hard to believe he’s even a rookie anymore, and has generally had more consistent play than you would expect from a rookie. While he did have a rough patch of about a month from June 12th through July 17th where he batted .189/.243/.255, he has since pushed his average back above .280 and had decent power numbers. If there is an issue to watch for, it is that he has only walked 31 times in 447 plate appearances.
Unlike most of the players listed here, Naquin was not a top 100 prospect coming into this season or ever in his career, yet he is currently second among AL rookies with at least 200 at bats in average, home runs and doubles. His numbers have been buoyed by a BABIP of .419 that leads all of Major League Baseball with at least 200 at bats, but despite this, he has yet to come down from this cloud. In fact, he’s had very few peaks or valleys this season, although he certainly had an emotional peak last week when he won consecutive games with walk-off hits, including a walk-off inside-the-park home run against the Blue Jays on August 19th.
Naquin and Mazara both have starting roles on playoff-bound team as does Hyun Soo Kim, who has batted .317/.397/.432 in his first year in the Majors. While players like Sanchez, Kepler, and Judge bring excitement to otherwise disappointing seasons for their clubs, the rookies on contenders will be the more interesting to watch for the final stretch of the season.
With Naquin, Mazara, and Kim being three of the most consistent rookies this year and now being important members of their (likely) playoff bound clubs, they are under more pressure than ever to keep their play up. While their teams won’t live or die with the rookies, they could provide that spark that every veteran team needs as the long season comes to an end.