The rookie class of 2015 may have been the best in baseball history and it is fair to say that the prospect prognosticators at Baseball Prospectus called it. At least it would seem so. There is always much fanfare when top prospect lists are created as top draft picks are lauded and baseball fans learn names never before heard. The focus is always on next year and even further down the line, but rarely do we look back at the top prospects of the past and see how they are doing so far.
Using Baseball Prospectus as a standard and going back five years, it is incredible to see the quick turnover on these prospects. Some became superstars within a year of initially being ranked and others have found themselves out of baseball in the same amount of time.
This was the debut of Bryce Harper and Mike Trout in the top ten (both Baseball America and Baseball Prospectus had them one and two that year) and the two already appeared can’t miss prospects. This was in fact the case as they were two of three players to accrue a WAR of at least 15 that were featured on the past five years of top ten lists. Both Trout and Harper were first round picks, although Trout was only ranked 53rd after his first partial minor league season in 2009.
Of course, more interesting than those who played as expected are those who didn’t. Eighth ranked prospect Jameson Taillon was taken one pick after Harper in 2010 by the Pirates, but had Tommy John surgery in 2014 and a hernia repaired in 2015, causing him to miss both seasons completely. Despite having not played in two years, Taillon was still ranked 26th prior to 2015.
It may have been unfortunate for Taillon to have so many delays, but he could still be better off than a couple players who were ranked higher in 2011, Jesus Montero and Domonic Brown. While Brown was a one-time All-Star and Montero had a decent 2012 season, both players have largely disappointed after being highly touted prospects not so long ago.
The rest of the prospect list from 2011 was pretty fairly called with Julio Teheran (5th, 8.6 career WAR), Aroldis Chapman (6th, 10.9 WAR), Mike Moustakas (7th, 8.9 WAR), Jeremy Hellickson (9th, 6.9 WAR), and Matt Moore (10th, 4.2 WAR) rounding out the top ten. Conspicuously missing were the top two Rookie of the Year finishers in the NL for Atlanta, Craig Kimbrel (56th in 2011) and Freddie Freeman (20th). Hellickson won in the AL.
After making his MLB debut in 2011, Moore somehow surpassed Trout and Harper in the 2012 rankings and while he had a nice season that year, he didn’t garner a single Rookie of the Year vote as Trout ran away with the award. Similarly, the second ranked Harper took the NL Rookie of the Year award, although the rest of the rankings didn’t look so good. In fact, the only other players to make a significant contribution to this point were the return of Julio Teheran at fifth along with newcomers Manny Machado (8th, 17.7 WAR), Gerrit Cole (9th, 7 WAR), and Shelby Miller (10th, 9.1 WAR).
Montero was back on the list in 2012, although he dropped to 7th with two newcomers joining at four and six in Jurickson Profar and Dylan Bundy. Profar looked like an incredible prospect when he made his debut in 2012, but injuries cost him all of 2014 and he was unable to make it beyond AA in 2015. There is still a chance that he could become a star, but he has been set back incredibly far compared to his contemporaries who are already out there winning MVPs.
Another player who missed a whole season, Bundy, made his debut and only MLB appearances in 2012 before missing all of 2013. He didn’t allow a run, but pitched just 1.2 innings and hasn’t been beyond AA since. Like Profar, Bundy played in the Arizona Fall League recently, a league generally reserved for high A and young AA players. Like Taillon, despite little to go off in the minors, Bundy has continued to be ranked among the best prospects year after year and was the 4th best in 2013 and 8th best in the 2015 despite only 63.2 innings in the minors since 2012.
With many of the players ranked previously debuting in 2012, the 2013 list saw a lot of new names, although Profar was number one and Cole number three. Again, BP picked the Rookie of the Year winners in both leagues in Jose Fernandez (ranked 6th, 8.9 career WAR) and Wil Myers (7th, 2.1 WAR) with previous top ten prospects Miller and Teheran finishing high as well. They did completely miss on Jose Iglesias, who went unranked and Chris Archer, who continues to dominate to this day and was ranked 29th in his final eligible season.
The only negative career WAR player from the 2013 draft is the most depressing story of all as Oscar Taveras of the Cardinals was ranked second in 2013 and third in 2014 before dying in a car crash in 2014 after just 80 Major League games in what looked like the start to a very promising career.
Finishing out the top ten were Zack Wheeler at five and three players we’ll see more of later, Byron Buxton, Taijuan Walker, and Francisco Lindor at seven through ten.
The incredible rookie class of 2015 was predicted in 2014 as Carlos Carrea and Addison Russell joined the three previously mentioned in the top ten. The actual rookie class of 2014 was almost completely ignored and no player who received a Rookie of the Year vote that year ever appeared in the BP top ten. That being said, it is hard to argue that players like Billy Hamilton, Matt Shoemaker, and Ken Giles are superior to this group. This is no insult to them or Jacob deGrom, who won the NL award, or any of the other players, but this was a truly strong class. Of them, only Javier Baez and Archie Bradley have a negative career WAR, and their careers are still quite young.
Considering they are just one year into the Major League careers for the most part, 60% of the 2015 class has produced at an incredible level. Correa and Lindor had a strong competition for the AL Rookie of the Year as they look to be part of a wave of shortstops unseen since Derek Jeter, Nomar Garciaparra and Alex Rodriguez all came up together. The biggest difference is that this pair can actually play defense. Almost more impressive was the latest joinee of this club, Corey Seager (ranked 7th) with the Dodgers who posted a 1.8 WAR in just 27 games.
While there was still the inexplicable inclusion of Bundy, particularly considering the dearth of talent further on including Miguel Sano (12), Joey Gallo (15), Blake Swihart (17), Joc Pederson (18) and Jorge Soler (19), in general, this group was as strong as could be. Another interesting inclusion, however, was Byron Buxton at number one for the second year in a row. Buxton is just 21, but there were multiple rookies on the Twins alone last year who outperformed him for the season. Of course, these rankings aren’t just about a player’s rookie year, but their entire projected career, so it is possible that Buxton will come back and be a more productive player than Correa, Lindor, and Seager, but it is hard to see that happening given the talent that these three have shown over the last year.
There were two players in the top ten who did not make their debuts in 2015 or earlier, Lucas Giolito of the Nationals and Julio Urias of the Dodgers. Both are pitchers who spent much of 2015 in AA and were ranked 13th and 35th respectively prior to this year. Despite being just 18, prospect rankings across the board are high on the Mexican native Urias who was signed as an international free agent. Giolito, on the other hand, was a first round pick in 2012 and is two years older, at least a half year behind Urias in his development.
Prospect list makers will have quite the job next year with so many players making the jump in 2015, but based on the overall accuracy considering the odds of the past five years (and before, with Stephen Strasburg, Matt Wieters, Jay Bruce, and Alex Gordon tanking number one the previous four years) they certainly seem up to the task. Despite a miss every once in awhile, given the thousands of players in minor league baseball that are constantly changing, it is incredible that a group of people is capable of putting together a list of players anywhere near this accurate. That is except when someone like Mike Trout or Bryce Harper makes everyone’s job easier by just being themselves.