Every MLB season brings a new crop of impressive rookies and 2016 was no exception. In the case of a few, we’re seeing budding superstars whose respective careers are in their infancy. Meanwhile, it’ll be interesting to watch the development of others take place over the next few years, mainly to see if they can establish the high level of play which they established this year.
Those chosen to represent their position below for the 2016 MLB All-Rookie Team (as it is, according to myself) were chosen primarily based off of WAR, with plate appearances and offensive output helping to serve as something of a tiebreaker in close cases. For pitchers, given the extensive gray area involved, I elected to go with only one starter and one reliever, as there is a fair amount of ambiguity involved with their output, seemingly across the board.
Catcher: Gary Sanchez, New York Yankees
I may have tuned into Yankee games during the second half of the season more than I have in my entire 26-year life because of Gary Sanchez. The 53 games in which he appeared are the lowest of any of the top 20 rookie position players, and his 229 plate appearances ranked 38th among rookies overall.
Yet he managed to finish third in WAR among first-year players, trailing only Corey Seager and Trea Turner, both of whom are also on this list. He did so with a combination of power (.358 ISO and 20 home runs) and play behind the plate, where he caught 13 of 32 attempted base stealers. In terms of WAR, only one other rookie catcher was even close, with Willson Contreras and his 2.2 mark coming in second. Contreras had a fine season in his own right, flashing the arm, the power, and the athleticism, but Sanchez’s very loud second half gets him the edge here.
First Base: Tommy Joseph, Philadelphia Phillies
Believe it or not, there were not too many candidates to grace first base for this column. The highest WAR of any player at the position came from Anaheim’s Jefry Marte. But Joseph outplayed him offensively, maintaining an edge in average (hitting .257) and ISO (.248). He trailed Marte in on-base by only two percentage points, finishing with a .310 OBP, and came up short against Marte in wRC+ by only one, with a 113 mark. He was a slightly above average player offensively, even with his defensive shortcomings. He’ll likely want to cut down on the strikeout rate (21.6% K-rate), but there will also be an uptick in the “luck” factor, as he posted a paltry .267 BABIP. He’s an intriguing piece for the rebuilding Phillies moving forward.
Second Base: Trea Turner, Washington Nationals
Turner flashed some versatility for Washington, and he actually appeared in more games in the outfield than at second, but nobody who qualified at the second base position really held a candle to Turner’s production. His slash line featured a .342 average and .370 on-base percentage, both no doubt aided by a .388 BABIP. He didn’t walk much at all, with an extremely low 4.3% walk rate, but didn’t strike out a bunch either (18.2%). The speed also factored in, with 33 swipes on the year. He was every bit what the Nats could have hoped for.
Shortstop: Corey Seager, Los Angeles Dodgers
It’s unfortunate for Trevor Story and Aledmys Diaz that Seager is obliterating all rookies in almost every single regard. He’s not only one of the easiest Rookie of the Year decisions in recent memory, he’s also a candidate for National League MVP.
His 7.5 WAR trumped every rookie in baseball, as his numbers were nothing short of elite. He posted a 137 wRC+, while reaching base at a .365 clip. He walked at a rate of almost eight percent, while maintaining a reasonable strikeout rate under 20 percent. His defense also factored in positively, with a 17.8 Def rating from FanGraphs. While many waited for the Joc Pederson-like slump in the second half, it never came. It seemed that every overwhelmingly positive prediction about him in the preseason came to fruition.
Third Base: Ryon Healy, Oakland Athletics
Healy didn’t get a ton of publicity outside of the Bay Area, and while he finished third in WAR among rookie third sackers, he was offensively superior to all of his counterparts at the position. He walked hardly ever (4.2%), but maintained a solid .337 OBP throughout. He was especially impressive in the second half, closing his campaign with a September that featured a .355 average, nine doubles, and seven homers that could very well catapult him to AL Rookie of the Year accolades.
Outfield: Tyler Naquin (Cleveland Indians), Keon Broxton (Milwaukee Brewers), Travis Jankowski (San Diego Padres)
It’s interesting that this group doesn’t include Byron Buxton or Nomar Mazara, but the three represented here were at least the most consistent in their performances throughout 2016, even if the latter two project better moving forward.
Naquin ended up being an essential piece on an injury-riddled contending Cleveland squad. He struck out a ton, but reached base at a rate above .370. He was a nice complementary offensive piece for an Indians team that sorely needed it. There are few outside of Milwaukee who are bigger fans of Keon Broxton than I am. He rode a high BABIP to a .354 OBP, flashing his ability to make things happen on the basepaths, with 23 steals in only 75 games. His defense is also impressive, as he’s a rangy centerfielder. He’s a piece for Milwaukee moving forward. Travis Jankowski gets on here because of his defensive prowess more than anything. He got on base at a reasonable rate and stole 30 bases, but brings very little power. At the same time, he brings a solid glove to a tough San Diego outfield, where he finished with a 13.5 Def rating.
Starting Pitcher: Jon Gray, Colorado Rockies
There were only a handful of rookie starters that made at least 25 starts (five to be exact). In the case of Gray, a 3.60 FIP helps his 4.61 ERA look quite a bit better, while stacking up much better against his fellow starting pitchers. He struck out 9.91 per nine, one of the higher marks among rookie starters. It’s his 16-strikeout performance that really stands out as the cream of the crop among rookie hurlers and helps to earn him this spot. You’d like to see him increase groundball usage and cut down on walks moving forward, but his development continues to be an intriguing one for the Rox.
Relief Pitcher: Edwin Diaz, Seattle Mariners
There were others that finished with a lower ERA, but Diaz finished with the lowest FIP (2.04) and highest K/9 (15.33) among the rookie reliever group. He also finished with 18 saves, which came in second by just one. Armed with a high-90s fastball and a devastating fastball, Diaz has exactly the combination that you covet from a late-inning reliever. An under-the-radar type before the season began, he certainly isn’t that anymore.