Last week, I took a look at the early contenders for the American League Rookie of the Year. While there’s a clear favorite going into that race, the National League appears to be a bit more wide open. Dansby Swanson has been in the news more than most of the others on this list (thanks Dave Stewart!), but there are others who can certainly keep pace.
The players described below have as diverse backgrounds as you’ll see in baseball. Some teams did well with high draft picks (Phillies), others traded for even higher-drafted players (Braves via the DBacks). The international community is also represented on this list (Raimel Tapia). Regardless of how the NL RoY race ends, the thrill of the chase should provide fans the opportunity to see some excellent young talent on both sides of the ball.
In one of the most puzzling moves in recent baseball transaction history, the Diamondbacks selected Swanson with the No. 1 overall pick in June of 2015, only to trade him to the Braves six months later for an underwhelming return of Shelby Miller and Gabe Speier.
Swanson is listed as Baseball America’s top NL prospect and No. 3 overall. Born in Kennesaw, Georgia, he will have a homecoming as he becomes the full-time Atlanta shortstop. He’ll benefit from the Braves not competing for the playoffs anytime soon, and should slate in for 150+ MLB games this year.
Swanson posted excellent numbers in Double A last year, earning him an August call-up to the Show. In only 38 games, he hit .302/.361/.442, though he was a beneficiary of an artificially high .382 BABIP.
Although FanGraphs’ KATOH is a little more down on him than others on this list, he’s a good defensive shortstop who has the upside to hit double-digit home runs and maintain an above-average batting average and OBP. Swanson is one of the favorites to walk away with some rookie hardware.
One of two rookie-eligible outfielders for the Padres — more on Hunter Renfroe below — Manny Margot has the higher floor but probably lower ceiling of the two. Signed by the Red Sox as a teenager, he arrived in San Diego as part of the Craig Kimbrel trade.
Baseball America ranked Margot the Padres mid-season prospect (in an admittedly shallow farm system). He is a good defender with excellent speed. At the plate, he is a contact-first hitter who struck out only 64 times in nearly 550 Triple-A plate appearances. While he’s not going to put on a show of 20 home runs, daily production will add up in the long run.
Despite playing the entire season in the minor leagues, Crawford is likely to be a spring call-up as the Phillies current have Freddy Galvis listed as their Opening Day starter at shortstop. So it goes for a team that is still in rebuild mode, and does not look close to contending this season, they can give more PAs to Crawford than Galvis if they want.
At Double-A Reading, Crawford posted a 128 wRC+ and managed more walks (30) than strikeouts (21) over 166 plate appearances. After a promotion to Triple A, his bat took a step back and he performed 10 percent below league average (by wRC+).
An excellent defender at short, Crawford’s bat will determine whether people will mention his name when discussing the current plethora of excellent shortstops in MLB. If he hovers around .240/.330/.390 with plus defense, he’ll be an above-average shortstop. If he can get the average and OBP up 25-30 points, it will make all the difference.
Position: Starting Pitcher
Glasnow made his MLB debut in 2016 after a strong performance through the minors. In four starts, he tossed 23.1 innings, striking out 22.9 percent of batters he faced. Though he was largely league average in his cup of coffee, Glasnow has the upside to be a major factor in a PIrates run for the pennant.
Glasnow has an imposing stature that gives his 94-97 MPH fastball excellent downward plane. With an excellent swing-and-miss curveball, it is perhaps the secondary pitch that will determine Glasnow’s success. Big-league hitters will not chase too many breaking balls out of the zone, and when they get on base, they can wreak havoc on a pitcher who has never picked off a runner in his professional career. For Glasnow to make a run at RoY, it will be incumbent on him to improve his 12.4 percent walk rate and limit baserunners in 2017.
Others of note
The Rockies are firmly planted in the camp where if things go exactly right, they can make a run, and if things go poorly, they may finish quite a bit under .500. In either of these scenarios. It’s worth keeping an eye on Raimel Tapia. In an outfield with potential trade-bait Carlos Gonzalez and oft-injured David Dahl, Tapia may have more of an opportunity to play. The main issue for Tapia will be OBP; in 22 games last year, he walked just twice.
Hunter Renfroe has the interesting distinction of being a contact-first slugger. While he rarely walks, he also strikes out less frequently than one would expect from someone with 30-home run power. Eric Longenhagen’s mixed review highlights his high-contact upside and odd mechanics. Slated in the RF slot for a middling Padres team, he’ll have his opportunity to shine in 2017.
Josh Bell is positioned as the everyday first baseman in Pittsburgh. The switch-hitting outfielder/first baseman got the call to the bigs last summer. Opinions vary on Bell, as he has the potential to harness raw power into game power, but has yet to do so, particularly as a right-handed batter. Bell is 24 years old, so there’s a chance a lightbulb goes off, and he hits 20+ home runs. If that’s part of a successful Pirates 2017, Bell may earn himself the award.
Editor’s Note: A previous edition listed JP Crawford as the Phillies opening day shortstop. The current Philly depth chart lists Freddy Galvis.