This year's class is a not a particularly deep class of rookies. Most of the top rookies did not begin the season in the Major Leagues. Only one has as many as 500 plate appearances, and no American League rookie pitcher will reach even 170 innings pitched.
However that is not to say there haven't been some bright stars in more limited action. Detroit's Michael Fulmer not only leads all rookies in ERA, he leads the entire league, hoping to become the first rookie to win the ERA title since Mark "The Bird" Fidrych in 1976. He looked like a runaway choice for Rookie of the Year until the Yankees called up Gary Sanchez at the beginning of August. Only four hitters in baseball have hit more home runs in the second half than Sanchez, who has looked like Babe Ruth since donning Yankee pinstripes.
Those two are expected to compete for American League Rookie of the Year, but what about Royals rookies Whit Merrifield and Cheslor Cuthbert? Neither joined the team until later in the year, but both have had plenty of highlights to their inaugural season in the big leagues. Merrifield provided a spark in the lineup and hit .308 over his first 40 games before a slump got him demoted to the minor leagues. Cuthbert also got off to a hot start, hitting seven home runs in his first 42 games before he slumped through a late-season power outage.
Here are the top American League rookies, sorted by an average of WAR calculated by both Fangraphs and Baseball-Reference.
|Gary Sanchez, NYY||200||19||.330||.405||.722||3.3|
|Tim Anderson, CHW||395||7||.277||.301||.405||1.8|
|Max Kepler, MIN||425||17||.234||.309||.428||1.6|
|Alex Bregman, HOU||212||8||.260||.311||.480||1.4|
|Tyler Naquin, CLE||346||14||.298||.372||.528||1.4|
|Ryon Healy, OAK||254||12||.303||.336||.519||1.3|
|Whit Merrifield, KCR||305||2||.287||.321||.398||1.3|
|Byron Buxton, MIN||305||8||.220||.272||.404||1.2|
|Nomar Mazara, TEX||551||20||.273||.325||.430||0.9|
|Hyun-Soo Kim, BAL||329||5||.302||.380||.416||0.6|
|Dae-ho Lee, SEA||303||14||.253||.313||.431||0.4|
|Cheslor Cuthbert, KCR||492||11||.277||.322||.415||0.1|
|Michael Fulmer, DET||2.95||3.74||155.2||7.5||2.3||4.0|
|Chris Devenski, HOU||2.19||2.36||107.0||8.6||1.7||2.8|
|Ryan Dull, OAK||2.24||3.51||72.1||8.8||1.5||1.6|
|Sean Manaea, OAK||4.03||4.11||131.2||7.9||2.4||1.9|
Cuthbert is hurt largely by his defense, which has looked good at times, but suffers from inconsistency, particularly on throws. His offensive numbers are solid, but still behind many other rookie hitters. Cuthbert was on pace to become the fifth Royals rookie to hit 20 home runs in a season until he hit just four home runs over his last 80 games. He has done a decent job filling in for Mike Moustakas, but might actually benefit from some more seasoning in Omaha next year to work on his defense and power.
Whit has provided much more value, providing a nearly identical on-base percentage, but playing primarily a much more premium position at second base. He has been a positive on defense, unlike Cuthbert. He has also been a plus on the bases, currently second on the team in Baserunning Runs at 3.4, behind only Jarrod Dyson, while Cuthbert has been a liability at -3.9. At age 27 he is one of the oldest rookies, but he seems to have played his way into the running for the starting second base job next year, or at the very least, a valuable utility role.
The Rookie of the Year Award has not always been a predictor for success, especially winners in the Royals organization. Carlos Beltran won it in 1999 and went on to have a potential Hall of Fame career. Angel Berroa and Bob Hamelin won it and went on to infamy. This year's Royals rookies may not be the best first-year players, but they have exceeded expectations and provided some value and much-needed depth. What is more important than post-season awards is how they perform over the next few years, because the Royals will need their skills.