Evan Carter hit No. 3 or No. 4 in the lineup of every World Series game. Josh Jung hit .308 in the playoffs. Corbin Carrol led the Diamondbacks into the postseason. Rookies had major impacts not only on the World Series, but also the postseason success (or futility) of multiple ball clubs.
Here, we’ll rank the top 10 rookies for the 2023 season as a whole and review the two rookies of the year. If you remember correctly, back on October 2 we did an end of regular season rookie rankings. It just so happens my top two ranked on that list ended up winning rookie of the year in their respective leagues. I’m not bragging.
Who are we kidding? Of course I am! We’ll start this list with the same two baseball players at the top.
1. Corbin Carroll, OF — Arizona Diamondbacks
Despite a postseason that saw a more quiet Carroll at the plate than we are used to seeing, he still hit for a 110 wRC+ in 78 plate appearances. Striking out just 16.7% of the time and walking at a solid 11.5% clip. The Diamondbacks certainly could have used the 133 wRC+ version of the 23-year-old outfielder that we just during the regular season, but it’s not like he was bad in the postseason, just not spectacular. For an underdog Diamondbacks team, they needed spectacular.
This takes away nothing from the 6.0 fWAR season that Corbin Caroll put together in his first season in the majors. That is the sixth most valuable player in the National League, and more fWAR than names like Juan Soto, Fernando Tatis Jr., Austin Riley and William Contreras. The Diamondbacks have their franchise cornerstone for years to come.
2. Gunnar Henderson, 3B/SS — Baltimore Orioles
Since the Orioles were swept in the American League Divison Series, Henderson only got 13 plate appearances in the postseason before being sent home. In those 13 at-bats, he hit .500/.538/.750 with a home run and was not shy in the limelight.
The 22-year-old infielder finished the season with 622 plate appearances and hit .255/.325/.489 for a 123 wRC+ and 28 home runs. The power is playing. The defense is above average. The athleticism is obvious. The strikeout rate is hovering around 25%. This guy has potential superstar written all over him. If this was a list solely based on potential, Henderson may be sitting in the pole position.
3. Tanner Bibee, RHP — Cleveland Guardians
I realize that Bibee missed some time with injury and did not pitch after September 16, but the guy simply dominated in his 25 starts for the Guardians. 2.98 ERA, 24.1 K%, 7.7 BB% and limited home runs to 0.82 HR/9. The Guardians likely still trade Aaron Civale during the season but with Bibee breaking out, they felt much more comfortable doing so.
The slider, changeup garnered whiff% over 30%, and the fastball (thrown 47.1% of the time) garnered just a .243 batting average from opposing hitters. Speaking of the aforementioned Aaron Civale, check out who baseball savant has listed as similar pitchers to Bibee in 2023.
4. James Outman, OF — Los Angeles Dodgers
Despite a strikeout rate north of 30%, Outman still put together a 118 wRC+, 4.4 fWAR season with plus defense in center field. The ceiling might not be much higher for the 26-year-old Sacramento State product, but it doesn’t have to be for this to be a really good ball player. However, if Outman can bring down the 43.3 whiff% on breaking balls, there is potential to unlock more hits for average and drive up his value.
The concern here is that Outman will likely start out 2024 seeing far more off-speed and breaking pitches than fastballs. Every team is going to have that in their scouting report, and he will have to adjust at the plate. This already began in 2023, which is why we see such inconsistency at the plate. That being said, there aren’t many players that are capable of the time of rookie season James Outman just put together.
5. Josh Jung, 3B — Texas Rangers
If Jung hadn’t missed a solid chunk of time with injury (he played in just 122 games), he likely would have had a really good shot at AL Rookie of the Year. With the type of postseason he had, he shoots up three spots in my rankings since the beginning of October. That postseason performance — 70 plate appearances, 128 wRC+ with three homers — aided the Rangers in their bid to win the World Series. It isn’t rare that rookies make that kind of postseason impact, but it never ceases to be impressive.
Plus defense in the hot corner, pummeling the fastball and solid power (23 home runs on the season) are what drove Jung’s 2.5 fWAR season. The four win player potential is there if the 2019 first-round draft pick can stay healthy.
6. Nolan Jones, OF — Colorado Rockies
This guy figures to be a plus bat for the Rockies for years to come, barring that they don’t trade him. .297/.389/.542 with 20 home runs in 424 plate appearances for a 135 wRC+ on a 3.7 fWAR season. That fWAR makes him the No. 4 most valuable rookie offensive player in baseball in 2023.
There is some concern with the near 30% strikeout rate and the 38% whiff% on breaking balls. But he still hit .317 against the 444 breaking balls that were thrown at him. If he isn’t striking out, he’s getting hits. He had a slug over .500 on fastballs, off-speed and breaking pitches. If Jones can bring the strikeout rate down, look out.
7. Kodai Senga, RHP — New York Mets
We know about the age (30) but Senga was just too good to keep off this list. By fWAR (3.4) he was the most valuable rookie pitcher in MLB, and No. 21 among all qualified starters in the majors. 2.98 ERA and 3.63 FIP with a 10.93 K/9. The ghost-forkball is something of legend and a 59.5% whiff percentage on the pitch says the ‘ghost’ part of that pitch name isn’t an exaggeration.
If Senga can improve on issuing four walks per nine innings, this is a potential Cy Young candidate in 2024. If the Mets manage to sign Yoshinobu Yamamoto in international free agency, the top of this rotation will be extremely fun and deadly.
8. Matt McLain, INF — Cincinnati Reds
McLain ended up having to miss significant time with an oblique injury, but it didn’t stop him from reaching an fWAR over three in his rookie season. That’s due to a 128 wRC+ and 16 home runs in 403 plate appearances. A bit over shadowed by the electric Elly De La Cruz, it took some time for fans to realize how good of a year McLain was putting together. The Barrel% (10.8) is solid and the 47% hard hit rate on the fastball is impressive.
McLain has some adjustments to make on the breaking ball, as the hard hit rate drops to 32% on the slider and 26% on the curveball. But those are adjustments talented hitters like McLain are typically able to make after a full season in the majors.
9. Bobby Miller, RHP — Los Angeles Dodgers
It was a solid 22 starts for the 2020 first-round draft pick. 3.51 FIP and fastball that ranked in the 98th percentile in the majors in velocity, averaging 99.1 miles per hour. However, that fastball garnered just a 20.5% whiff rate and was knocked around quite a bit (.262 BA against and .373 slug against). The curveball and slider garnered better results, both earning a batting average under .230 against them.
Look for Miller to mix in the breaking pitches more often in 2024 as he gets more comfortable throwing them more often. This should help the fastball be more effective.
10. Evan Carter, OF — Texas Rangers
This may come as a surprise as Carter certainly wasn’t in the top-10 in value for the season given he had just 75 regular season plate appearances and 72 postseason at-bats, but the results were spectacular. .306/.413/.645 on the season (cheers to fun small-sample numbers) and in the postseason batting in the top of the already potent Rangers lineup he hit .300/.417/.500 for a 155 wRC+. I think that might have helped Texas win the world series, don’t you? Regardless of how the remainder of Carter’s career pans out, that type of performance in the playoffs and World Series are unheard of for a guy with just 75 plate appearances in the majors prior.
The swing-and-miss is real, striking out 32% of the time, but with more plate appearances under his belt, that number should improve. He still walked 16% of the time and had a mature approach at the plate. This is an exciting guy to watch for in 2024.
That will wrap our Rookie Rankings series for the 2023 season. I’ll be back with a Rookie preview for the 2024 season this spring. Enjoy the offseason!
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