It’s fair to say the 2019 MLB season has been the year of the rookie. All around the league, first-year players have burst onto the scene to make immediate impacts, and in some cases have become instant stars. Just look at what some of these guys have done:
The Mets’ Pete Alonso currently leads the majors with 47 home runs.
Before he got hurt, San Diego’s Fernando Tatis Jr. was hitting .317 with 22 homers and 53 RBI in only 84 games.
Houston’s Yordan Alvarez has crushed 22 long balls in only 240 at-bats.
Toronto’s Vladimir Guerrero Jr. hasn’t quite dominated the way he did in AAA, but he’s shown immense power and potential, and the show he put on at the Home Run Derby will be talked about for years.
Atlanta’s Mike Soroka is a legitimate NL Cy Young candidate.
The Pirates’ Bryan Reynolds is hitting .328 and could well win the batting title.
The list goes on and on. Keston Hiura, Christian Walker, Eloy Jimenez, Austin Riley, among others look like cornerstone everyday players in the big leagues.
This unprecedented wave of talented players making their debuts all around the same time got us thinking. Let’s take a look at 10 players who could make a similar rookie impact in 2020.
1. Luis Robert, OF, Chicago White Sox
The White Sox system has been strong for several years now, and while Yoan Moncada, Lucas Giolito and the above-mentioned Jimenez have already thrived in the big leagues, Robert figures to join them in the near future. The native Cuban dominated three separate minor league levels in 2019, hitting .328 with 32 homers and 92 RBI while stealing 36 bases and adding 31 doubles and 11 triples. He was recently named the minor league Player of the Year by USA Today, and it’s a reasonable assumption that he’ll be patrolling center field at Guaranteed Rate Field very early next spring.
2. Gavin Lux, IF, Los Angeles Dodgers
Lux’s status on this list is a bit tenuous, as he was just promoted to the big leagues this week, and it’s likely going to be close whether or not he accumulates 130 at-bats and loses his 2020 rookie status. Provided he doesn’t, he should be the hands-down favorite to win NL Rookie of the Year next season. In the minor leagues this season the 21-year-old slashed an astounding .347/.421/.607 while crushing 26 homers and driving in 76 runs. He’s a natural shortstop who has played second in his early exposure in the big leagues, a position that may become his ultimate home given the presence of Corey Seager. Regardless at what side of the second base bag he lines up defensively, Lux can flat out hit, and it’s no surprise the Dodgers wanted to give him a look down the stretch to see if he can make a push for a postseason roster spot.
3. Kyle Tucker, OF, Houston Astros
Houston has been waiting for the talented left-handed slugger to go from dominant minor leaguer to dangerous middle-of-the-order bat in the big leagues, and it seems fair to assume that transition will finally occur next season. With AAA Round Rock in 2019, Tucker hit .266 with 34 homers and 97 RBI — the third consecutive minor league season he drove in over 90 runs. Perhaps even more impressive is the 30 stolen bases he racked up, as no matter what level you’re playing in, it’s incredibly difficult to produce 30/30 seasons. Tucker’s blend of power and speed have long made him desirable to other teams in trade discussions, but the Astros have consistently hung up the phone before talks could get off the ground. His organization’s belief in him hasn’t been deterred, however, and it’s time for the 22-year-old to reward its patience.
4. Carter Kieboom, IF, Washington Nationals
The Nationals took Kieboom in the first round out of high school three years ago, and he’s done nothing but shoot through their system since. In 412 at-bats in AAA this year, the young infielder hit an impressive .303 with 16 homers and 79 RBI while also tallying 24 doubles and 203 total bases. Injuries necessitated a brief big league promotion in late April, and while he did hit his first two big league homers during that 39 at-bat stint, Washington shipped him back to Fresno when it got some veterans back. Next season, however, the Nats figure to have an opening at second base, as Brian Dozier signed only a one-year free agent pact last winter, and his performance has not warranted Washington doubling down, especially given the presence of Kieboom, who conceivably will team with shortstop Trea Turner to form this team’s long-term double play combination.
5. Casey Mize, SP, Detroit Tigers
Mountcastle is far from a perfect prospect, but his power potential is simply hard to ignore. In a little over 500 at-bats for Baltimore’s AAA affiliate in Norfolk, the 22-year-old hit .312 with 25 long balls and 35 doubles. His .527 SLG percentage finished sixth in the International League, and it’s easy to see why the Orioles are high on his bat. That said, Mountcastle does have things to work on. For starters, he doesn’t really have a defensive position. He played third base in 2018 and predominantly first this season while also mixing in some work in left field. A future as a big league DH could very well be in the cards. Plate discipline is also of some concern as the big right-handed slugger walked only 24 times all year, making his .344 OBP simply remarkable. All told, while Mountcastle is raw, the O’s are in no position to not take a flier, and if he gets consistent at-bats in 2020 it may just become too difficult to get him out of the line-up.
8. Ke’Bryan Hayes, 3B, Pittsburgh Pirates
The son of longtime major league third baseman Charlie Hayes, Ke’Bryan has blossomed into quite the hot corner prospect. In 110 games in AAA this season the Pittsburgh’s first-round pick from back in 2015 hit .261 with 10 homers and 55 RBI, but those numbers only tell some of the story. His 31 doubles, 13 steals and renowned defense at an important position help paint the picture of a solid player who can do just about everything on a baseball diamond. The Bucs have started Colin Moran or Jung-Ho Kang most nights at third base this season, and while Kang is no longer in Pittsburgh, Moran is not someone who should block the team’s best position player prospect. Hayes doesn’t profile as a can’t-miss star, but he should be an above-average everyday third baseman for a long time, potentially beginning as soon as next opening day.
9. Justin Dunn, SP, Seattle Mariners
Dunn came to Seattle in the much-discussed winter trade with the Mets that netted the Mariners outfield prospect Jarred Kelenic, and while that alone would seem to make the deal a heist for the M’s, the righty has the potential to make this one of the most one-sided trades of all time. In 25 starts in AA in ’19, the Boston College product worked to a strong 3.55 ERA with a 1.19 WHIP while punching out 158 hitters in 131.1 innings and limiting the opposition to a .236 batting average. Scouts don’t look at Dunn as a future big league ace or even a No. 2, but a strong showing in spring training would put him in discussion for a rotation spot, and it’s certainly feasible he could become a key cog in Seattle’s starting five sometime in 2020.
10. Nate Pearson, SP, Toronto Blue Jays
Toronto is a team to buy stock in, as with youngsters Vladimir Guerrero Jr., Bo Bichette and Cavan Biggio already contributing to the parent club, the organization’s farm system has more talent coming. Pearson paces that group. In 25 minor league starts this season the right-hander posted a 2.30 ERA in 101.2 innings while delivering an 0.89 WHIP and a .176 batting average against. He struck out well over a batter/frame while issuing only 27 free passes all season. And on a team with little to be excited about on the mound, particularly after Marcus Stroman was traded for New York, Pearson is quickly going to become a name to know among baseball fans in Canada.
By: Justin W Mears