MLB Rookie Rankings: James Outman, Corbin Carroll, Hunter Brown lead ROY race through April

Major League Baseball is a game of failure, but it’s also one dominated by young stars. Every year a new crop of potential franchise faces arrive in The Show. It’s no different in 2023, and several of them are off to impact starts to their seasons and careers.

Here are the top rookies from the first month of the season.
(Stats through April 30, 2023).

1James OutmanOFDodgers

Outman all rookies in fWAR (1.5) and slugging (.615) as he looks to replace the punch lost from the Dodgers’ lineup when Trea Turner, Justin Turner, and Cody Bellinger left via free agency. So far, so good for the 25-year-old Outman, who has blasted seven homers and played good defense in center to sit atop these rankings.

The one thing to watch? Outman’s contact rates. He’s drawing walks at a 10.1% clip, but his 33% strikeout rate and 14.7% swinging strike mark aren’t exactly shining examples of sustainable success to the level he’s had thus far.

2Corbin CarrollOFDiamondbacks

Carroll entered the season the favorite to win the NL Rookie of the Year, and he’s done nothing to suggest he can’t come through. In 29 games for the Arizona Diamondbacks, Carroll is batting .309/.374/.536 in 28 games, including four homers and 10 stolen bases. He’s playing left field, where he’ll be plus, but is more than capable in center, where Alek Thomas is positioned at present.

Carroll, 22, has posted hard-hit rates in the mid-40s through the first month of 2023, and his contact rates are above-average. He’s pulling the ball a little more than may be ideal, but his swing has stayed true to who he is and the hits keep coming. The left-handed hitter also doesn’t seem to have issues with left-handed pitching.

3Hunter BrownRHPAstros

The Astros needed Brown to step in, step up, and produce big, and he’s answered the bell for the defending champs. In five starts through the end of April, Brown posted a 27-8 K/BB ratio, a very solid 3.60 xFIP, and a 3.04 xERA to support his elite 2.37 ERA and 2.56 FIP.

The right-hander has thrown more sliders this season, nearly tripling its usage from a year ago, and the league has batted just .190 with two extra-base hits off it.

4Grayson RodriguezRHPOrioles

The 23-year-old Rodriguez wasn’t sharp in spring training, but that seems like a distant memory at this point. He’s overcome som hard-hit blues in five starts to miss bats at an elite level, and in his last two outings (10 IP) hasn;t allowed a run on seven hits.

He’s missing bats with three pitches — fastball (25% whiff), changeup (36.2%), and slider (32.4%), and batters haven’t handled his cutter (.143 AVG), giving him four weapons, including high-end velocity (96.1 moh).

We’ve seen what he’s capable of his last two outings (15 Ks, 4 BB), and he’s built like a future 200-inning Cy Young winner with no ceiling in sight.

5Josh Jung3BRangers

Jung, 25, has stepped in and done the job and then some for the Texas Rangers this season. The right-handed batter has six homers and owns a .270/.324/.500 slash in 26 games, and had eight multihit efforts in April.

Jung projects as an average or better defensive third baseman, too, and has been solid to date, offering the Rangers stability in 2023, but a potential impact player from their system for the foreseeable future, something that hasn’t happened much the last several years in Arlington.

6Taj BradleyRHPRays

Bradley has made just three starts, but he’s been very good, yieding six earned runs in 15.1 innings, and logging 23 strieouts to just two bases on balls.

The former fifth-round pick has dominated with a four-seamer and cutter, and finished off batters with an upper-70s curveball (42% putaway). He also has a changeup with good swing-and-miss results, but hasn’t had to use it much yet.

The heater is up to 100 mph mph and averages just under 96, and when he stays on top and finishes out front, he creates plane and deception, and tunnels the fastball and slider well.

Bradley was optioned back to Triple-A last week, but this won’t be the last of the right-hander in 2023.

7Anthony VolpeSSYankees

Volpe is batting just .217/.333/.337, but has held down shortstop defensively very well, and since April 12 has batted .262/.375/.410.

The Yankees’ top prospect has also swiped eight bases and has six extra-base hits, five since his 11-game slump to start his career. Everything has crept north the last three weeks for Volpe, including hard-hit rates and barrels.

8Miguel Vargas2BDodgers

Vargas, a natural shortstop with some defensive limitations, has been the second baseman for the Dodgers early, and by way of on-base percentage has provided terrific value, despite a low batting average.

He has made a lot of contact (19% K rate), giving him a chance to hit .250 or so, and there is fringe-average power in the swing which has produced seven extra-base hits and an isolated power result of +125, an acceptable number for a young middle infield bat. His plate skills lead the way here, but he’ll have to find more hits to stay in the Top 10.

9Mason ThompsonRHRNationals

Thompson got a taste in 2022, tallying 24.2 innings in 24 appearances with mixed results. But he’s been oustanding early for the rebuilding Washington Nationals.

Thompson has issued just one walk in 19 frames and 69 batters faced through April, and his mid-90s four-seamer gives him value when his sinker doesn’t, allowing him to get to his strikeout pitch, an above-average mid-80s slider.

Prior to his most recent outing April 27, Thompson had allowed just two earned runs all season, and has gone two or more innings five times, including recording 7 or more outs on three occasions.

He may have a tough time staving off other hitters and rotation arms from here on out, but he’s earned his way onto these rankings through the first month of 2023.

10Yennier CanoRHROrioles

Like Thompson, Cano may find himself pushed out of the Top 10 by hitters and starting pitchers as the year progresses, but in 11 innings the 29-year-old has been ridiculous.

Cano has made nine appearances about as valuable as possible for a reliever, having yet allowed a run OR HIT. He’s also avoided the based on balls thus far.

The right-hander is a three-pitch arm, led by a mid-90s two-seamer, and a power changeup he uses as his out pitch (53% whiff, 61.5% putaway). He also throws a solid slider (37.5% whiff).

Cano wins with movement and deception generated by a low three-quarter slot and consistent arm speed, but he commands his plus changeup well, and it dances late and to his arm side, mirroriing his sinker.

Honorable Mention

Luke Raley, OF — Rays
Ryan Noda, 1B — Athletics
Joey Wiemer, OF — Brewers
Garrett Mitchell, OF — Brewers
Esteury Ruiz, OF — Athletics
Alex Call, OF — Reds
Huascar Brazoban, RHR — Marlins
Gregory Santos, RHR — White Sox

Watch Out For …

Gabriel Moreno, C — Diamondbacks
Brett Baty, 3B — Mets
Masataka Yoshida, OF — Red Sox
Mason Miller, RHP — Athletics
Jordan Walker, OF — Cardinals
Curtis Mead, 3B/1B — Rays
Bryce Miller, RHP — Mariners

Jason A. Churchill
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