Kris Bryant of the Chicago Cubs and Carlos Correa of the Houston Astros were both integral parts of their respective clubs in 2015 – and their undeniable impact earned both Rookie of the Year nods.
Looking ahead to 2016, which young players are poised to separate from the pack and take home their own ROY honors once it’s all said and done? There are a handful of can’t-miss prospects spread across both leagues, and here’s a look at the ones most likely to be in the conversation.
Corey Seager, Los Angeles Dodgers
It’s all but a foregone conclusion that shortstop Corey Seager will be the NL’s Rookie of the Year this season. Seager, 21, came up toward the end of the 2015 campaign and showed folks just why the Dodgers were so dead-set on keeping him in the organization. In 27 games, Seager hit .337/.425/.561 with four homers and 17 RBI primarily at shortstop. Despite just a few weeks of MLB service, Seager’s presence was strong enough to earn him 1.8 WAR and a spot on the team’s Postseason roster.
With Los Angeles and new manager Dave Roberts looking to fend off the Giants and Diamondbacks in another highly competitive NL West this season, they’ll be relying on Seager to continue his maturation and be a dependable, productive middle-of-the-order hitter and anchor in the infield. He already showed everybody what he’s capable of doing with his few weeks of activity last season, now he’ll have the opportunity to do so for a full summer. If he does, he should be a shoo-in for Rookie of the Year by season’s end.
Byron Buxton or Jose Berrios, Minnesota Twins
The somewhat unassuming Twins were in the AL Wild Card picture until the final weekend of the regular season, and could contend again this year thanks to talented young players such as Byron Buxton. The second overall pick of the 2012 MLB Draft, Buxton is 22 and is expected to continue developing in the new year.
In 46 games for the Twins a year ago, Buxton hit just .209/.250/.326 in part-time duty after making the jump from Triple-A Rochester – where he hit .400/.441/.545 in 13 games. He’s a big part of the team’s future, and that ‘future’ could arrive soon if he puts it all together in 2016.
Jose Berrios, meanwhile, is on the precipice of ‘arriving’ in the MLB. He dazzled in Double-A and Triple-A in 2015, going 8-3 with a 3.08 ERA for Double-A Chattanooga and following that up with a 6-2, 2.62 ERA performance for Triple-A Rochester. A strikeout guy with an effective change-up, Berrios could very well get the call this season and make a big impact on the team’s pitching staff.
Trea Turner or Lucas Giolito, Washington Nationals
22-year-old Trea Turner, a former first-round pick by the San Diego Padres, is the full package. He hit well at both Double and Triple-A levels in 2015 before getting called up by the Nats and stumbling a bit, hitting .224/.295/.325 in 27 games. Despite his rough first cup of coffee, Turner is considered a premier prospect in the league and could benefit from having a longer look in 2016. He’s fast, too: he stole 31 combined bases in the minors and with the Nationals in 2015.
21-year-old pitcher Lucas Giolito has earned rave reviews at Nats’ Spring Training this month. Though he was sent to minor-league camp and won’t make the big-league roster in time for Opening Day, most around the team consider him all but ready for major league duty.
Though he hasn’t yet appeared at Triple-A, Giolito has the poise and stuff that has many pegging him for breakout status in 2016. In four spring appearances, Giolito logged just under seven innings of work allowing seven hits and three earned runs. He also baked a great-looking chocolate chess pie for ‘Pi Day’ back on March 14, so he does more than just pitch well:
Joey Gallo, Texas Rangers
For a while now, everyone’s heard a lot about Joey Gallo. The Rangers’ slugging prospect can absolutely crush the ball – when he makes contact, that is. He had issues doing that consistently with the Rangers in 36 games in 2015, striking out 57 times in just 108 at-bats…though he did hit six homers in that span.
With more minor-league seasoning under his belt, is Gallo ready to make the leap into full-time MLB duty in 2016? He might have issues getting a real shot with Josh Hamilton and Ian Desmond on the roster at the same time, but should anybody go down with an injury (and Hamilton is still recovering from offseason surgery), Gallo could step up and get an opportunity.
Steven Matz, New York Mets
Matz, 24, received some oh-so-valuable experience on the Mets’ Postseason roster in 2015. Pitching alongside fellow wunderkinds Jacob deGrom and Noah Syndergaard, Matz started a game in the NLDS (throwing five innings and taking the loss in Game 3 vs. the Dodgers), NLCS (pitching into the fifth inning against the Cubs) and the World Series (five innings of seven-hit, two-run ball vs. the Royals).
In six regular-season starts for New York, Matz was 4-0 with a 2.27 ERA – a strong debut that earned his spot on the Postseason roster. The NL Rookie of the Year battle may be Seager’s to lose at the moment, but Matz could put together an undeniably strong resume himself if he continues maturing at the rate he showed a season ago. If he does, it’ll go a long way toward giving the Mets another chance to make it back to October.