The 2014 MLB Draft is already shaping up to be one we'll talk about for years to come. Six first-rounders have made their Major League debuts, and they've combined for 8.2 rWAR in their brief careers. Pitchers Carlos Rodon of the White Sox, Aaron Nola of the Phillies, and Brandon Finnegan of the Reds (formerly Royals) have all made headlines for different reasons, and Kyle Schwarber of the Cubs and Michael Conforto of the Mets have been carrying the big sticks*.
These two lauded rookie bats have impressed and grabbed their share of headlines in the "Year of the Prospect", and each can stake a claim on being a major part of his respective team's return to the playoffs. You have to go back to the 2008 draft to find the last time two batters debuted the year after they were drafted (Gordon Beckham and Buster Posey in a September call up).
Schwarber, the fourth overall pick out of Indiana University, was the first of the pair to debut, coming up on June 16th against the Cleveland Indians. Not bad considering he finished the 2014 season by playing 44 games with the Daytona Cubs (now Tortugas) of the Florida State League.
He entered the 2015 season ranked the number four prospect in the Cubs system behind Kris Bryant, Addison Russell, and Jorge Soler according to Baseball America after crushing 19 home runs in his pro debut across three levels. After another 17 in 75 games in the minors, it was time for Schwarber to come up.
Upon his call up to the bigs Schwarber raked, hitting .330/.420/.621 with eight home runs in his first 31 career games, which were broken up with a brief return to Triple-A Iowa in late-June through mid-July. Entering Sunday in the 31 games he's played since, Schwarber has played more like a rookie just over a year out of college. He's hitting .165/.297/.405 with eight home runs. He's not being helped out by a dismal .161 BABIP.
In the current environment with pitching dominating the game, a .245/.351/.509 line from a rookie is nothing to bat your eyes at. Schwarber is mainly a catcher who has been playing in the outfield, so that offensive production looks better if he can stick back there, though there are questions if that's possible.
As good as Schwarber has been, the more polished of the two bats has belonged to Michael Conforto, who was taken 10th overall out of Oregon State. I was on a bus full of college baseball players en route to a game when the Mets drafted Conforto in 2014. I turned around and asked one of the pitchers, who plays for California St.-Northridge, who Conforto was.
"He's the best hitter in the country," the pitcher replied. I was sold.
Conforto finished last season playing in the Lo-A South Atlantic League and made the jump directly from Double-A to the majors in late July. Through his first 19 career games, Conforto struggled with the adjustment, hitting .222/.328/.407 with two home runs while being shielded from left-handed pitching. However, like most members of the Mets since mid-August, his bat has been on fire.
In his last 31 games, he's hit .316/.370/.582 with eight doubles and six home runs. This streak has coincided with him playing plus defense in left field. Conforto has settled in nicely with a .283/.355/.520 line as the lefty half of a left-field platoon for the Mets.
He has been so good in his limited stay in Flushing that he's tied for the third-most valuable Mets hitter by rWAR (2.2) with Yoenis Cespedes - trailing only Curtis Granderson (4.9) and Lucas Duda (2.8).
Meanwhile Schwarber (1.7) has been the fifth-most valuable Cub hitter by rWAR, trailing Anthony Rizzo (5.9), Kris Bryant (5.7), Addison Russell (3.0), and Dexter Fowler (2.4), all of whom have benefitted from playing at least twice the number of games as Schwarber.
What Schwarber and Conforto are doing this season is exceedingly rare, and in a year in which rookies have dominated the headlines all summer long these two deserve all the appreciation they get. The next question is can they continue their success in October?
Joe Vasile is a contributor for Beyond the Box Score and the Assistant General Manager and Radio Broadcaster for the Fayetteville SwampDogs of the Coastal Plain League. He also is the voice of UNC-Pembroke football and basketball. For assorted silliness, follow Joe on Twitter at @JoeVasilePBP.
*It should be noted that Trea Turner of the Nationals has made his debut as well but has found himself in Matt Williams' dog house for some reason. Also, Kris Bryant is a rookie making noise for the Cubs but was drafted in 2013.