ROOKIE RANKINGS: James Outman is back, Gunnar Henderson surging

September 6, 2023

The Major League Baseball season is through August and into the last full month of the 2023. The American League rookie of the year race is heating up and coming down to the wire. Corbin Carroll has all but locked that award up in the National League, but how close did others get?

Let’s dive into some numbers.  (Stats through September 4)

1. Corbin Carroll, CF — Arizona Diamondbacks

Compared to the rest of the year, Corbin Carroll had a bit of a pedestrian month of July (115 wRC+). That turned around in August, hitting .282/.365/.482 from August 1 to September 4. Good for a 129 wRC+ while somehow managing to only strikeout in 15% of his at bats. The Diamondbacks also turned things around as a result. After going just 8-16 in July, their record since is 14-17 and are now back in a wildcard position. The outfielder is sporting a 5.2 fWAR which is the most value of any rookie in MLB this year.

Carroll never got out of the drivers seat in the National League rookie of the year race and the finish line is now visible with other contenders now a few laps behind him.

2. Gunnar Henderson, 3B/SS — Baltimore Orioles

Henderson was always brimming with potential and the month of August showed us why. The strikeout rate came down (22.5% between August 1 and September 4, 26.2% on the year) and he hit .429 vs offspeed pitches for the month. The 22-year-old third baseman is now hitting .254/.330/.482 on the year with a 121 wRC+ and 23 home runs.

Look for him to be a fixture in Baltimore’s lineup for years to come, and possibly get enough votes to claim the AL rookie of the year award.

3. James Outman, OF — Los Angeles Dodgers

Outman has had a very up-and-down season at the plate. While he looks like a solid option defensively in centerfield for the foreseeable future, the bat has always been the question. After exploding on to the scene early in the year, he spent May 1 to July 31 hitting just .229/.329/.336 in 249 plate appearances with just five home runs.

Since then, Outman is blazing hot — slashing .275/.417/.462 in 115 plate appearances for a 147 wRC+. The strikeout rate is still high (above 30%) but the walk rate has also been high at 17%. The Dodgers lineup is already dangerous, Outman being hot makes them them all that much more difficult to stop.

4. Tanner Bibee, RHP — Cleveland Guardians

Drafted in the 5th round of the 2021 MLB draft, Bibee has been nothing short of spectacular in his rookie campaign. At just 24-years-old the right hander carries a 3.03 ERA with a 3.69 FIP and is striking out over nine batters per nine innings in 124.2 innings pitched. Opposing batters are hitting just .205 on the slider that he is throwing 28% of the time, and for good reason. It hosts 39.3 inches of vertical drop, and 10.4 inches of horizontal break. A deadly pitch that batters can look forward to continuing seeing plenty of.

Expect Bibee to be heavily in the running for American League rookie of the year.

5. Matt McLain, 2B/SS — Cincinnati Reds

Matt McLain is killing fastballs at an alarming rate. The UCLA product is hitting .316 with a .560 slug versus the fastball this year. It make one wonder why pitchers keep throwing the heater at him. Then, we see why when we look at what he’s doing versus breaking balls — .275 with a .431 slug. That doesn’t leave opposing pitchers with much of a choice, he is hitting everything. 

6. Josh Jung, 3B — Texas Rangers

Jung got off to a hot start in 2023 with a 134 wRC+ in his first 223 plate appearances. After a bump in the road, the 25-year-old third baseman seemed to be getting back on track in late July and early August before an injury took him out of the lineup. In 65 plate appearances between July 19 and August 6, the rookie hit .283/.323/.500 with a 120 wRC+. The Rangers hope to get Jung back just in time for the end of the season and what they hope will be the playoffs.

Jung was probably on track to win AL rookie of the year before injury, but its tough to see him winning it over healthier options.

7. Kodai Senga, RHP — New York Mets

A 30-year-old rookie, Senga has torched lineups across MLB with his vaunted Forkball. Opponents are hitting just .113 on a pitch he has thrown 566 times in 2023 and it’s garnering an eye-popping 60.2 whiff%. He leads all qualified rookie pitchers with a 3.1 fWAR. The upside is limited with his age, but Senga may not need it. The .407 slug against his fastball suggests opponents are hitting it hard — and they are (46.6 hard hit% against it).

Senga will need to find a way to limit the damage on his fastball to continue seeing the same amount of success.

8. Andrew Abbott, LHP — Cincinnati Reds

While Abbott has some concerning underlying numbers (like a 4.53 xFIP) he has managed to limit the run damage with an 83.5 left-on-base percentage. In 17 starts and 95 IP he has a 3.22 ERA and a 1.20 WHIP. The lefty throws his fastball over 50% of the time and opponents are still hitting just .232 on the pitch. The curveball hasn’t yielded great results (batters hitting .362 on it), but the changeup and sweeper have. We may see the curveball start to fade despite it being his most thrown pitch other than the fastball in 2023.

9. Elly De La Cruz, SS/3B — Cincinnati Reds

The uber-athletic De La Cruz has hit another slump since August 1. The slash line isn’t great (.202/.283/.379) but the strikeout percentage (38.8%) since then is of even more concern. The concern could be dampened if the raw power would play, but with just four home runs in his last 139 plate appearances the concern about the hit tool is starting to rear its ugly head.

The electric third baseman still contains some of the highest upside of any rookie in the league but will need to bring the K% down to have a real shot at realizing it.

10. Bryce Miller, RHP — Seattle Mariners

The fastball from Miller is absolutely electric. Rarely can pitchers get away with throwing a pitch 61% of the time and still see the type of success on the mound that Miller is. Batters are hitting just .241 on the fastball that sits in the 98th percentile in MLB in spin rate. The Texas A&M product does have a weakness — the off-speed pitches lack effectiveness. Hence, the need to throw the fastball 61% of the time.

If Miller can continue to develop his breaking pitches, look out.


Honorable Mention

Yennier Cano, RHP — Baltimore Orioles
Esteury Ruiz, OF — Oakland Athletics
Francisco Alvarez, C — New York Mets
Masataka Yoshida, OF — Boston Red Sox
Eury Perez, RHP — Miami Marlins
Blake Sabol, C/OF — San Francisco Giants
Spencer Steer, 3B — Cincinnati Reds

Watch Out For…

Cole Ragans, LHP  — Kansas City Royals
Brett Baty, 3B — New York Mets
Bobby Miller, RHP — Los Angeles Dodgers
Edouard Julien, 2B — Minnesota Twins
Maikel Garcia, 3B — Kansas City Royals
Casey Schmitt, SS/3B — San Francisco Giants
Patrick Bailey, C — San Francico Giants

Casey Bellon

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