Year of the Prospect: Why 2015 does not set the Precedent

You’ve heard it by now in some fashion. The 2015 season was the so-called Year of the Prospect in Major League Baseball. And you won’t find many who would argue any different.

But should we expect to see this as a trend moving forward in MLB?

No.

Baseball fandom was gifted a season to remember, as a plethora of youngsters got their chance at an MLB gig and knocked it out of the park. Literally.

Whether pushing 30, or not yet old enough to drink alcohol, it seemed like prospect after prospect came up and excelled, baseball was being supported by a guild of newcomers.

It all started before the season began.

Kris Bryant, the Chicago Cubs’ future third baseman and Baseball America’s No. 1 prospect, had an unforgettable spring.

OK, ‘unforgettable’ certainly has to be hyperbole … right?

Bryant led every player to appear in spring training by belting 9 HRs, sporting a herculean slash line of .425/.477/1.175/1.652 —I promise that is not a typo — and it all came in just 14 games. He did strike out 14 times, but added 15 RBIs in his eye-widening opening act.

Decide for yourself.

But that wasn’t quite good enough for the Cubs to carry him on their 25-man Opening Day roster. OK it probably was, but off-the-field business quirks kept Bryant in AAA for the Cubs’ first eight games. Then it was go time!

Bryant set the stage for the rest of the rookie class by having a five-day MLB welcome in which he went 8-for-18, three doubles, six RBIs, and actually walked more times than he struck out. He was hitting .444 with a .611 SLG percentage.

He eventually cooled off before finishing with a .275 AVG, 26 HR, 99 RBIs, and .858 OPS, a trip to the All-Star game, and a Rookie of the Year award.

But what set 2015 apart from any season before, and any season to follow, is the depth that the rookie class displayed.

Bryant was one of five rookies to hit 20+ HRs, one of 17 with at least 100 at-bats (18 if you include Corey Seager and his 98 ABs) to boast an OPS of .800+, and one of seven with at least 60 RBIs.

Joc Pederson also began with a torrid start to the season, earning himself a trip to the ASG, ultimately finishing with 26 HRs. A harsh slump to end the season led to Pederson seeing the bench as he finished with a .207 AVG, but his early-season surge was huge, nonetheless, for the Dodgers.

Carlos Correa and Francisco Lindor, both shortstops, each helped carry their respective teams in the season’s second half. Correa led the Astros, as a 20-year-old, to the American League Division Series where they lost to the eventual World Series Champion Kansas City Royals. Correa slashed .279/.345/.512 (an .857 OPS) with 22 HRs, 68 RBIs, and stole 14 of 18 attempted bases. In his six postseason games, he hit .292 with a 1.081 OPS and two HRs.

Lindor took the Indians from irrelevancy to a legitimate shot at a postseason trip and a final record above .500. Lindor did this while slashing .313/.353/.482 with 12 HRs, 51 RBIs and 12-of-14 on stolen base attempts.

Correa and Lindor played 99 games each.

There were also 14 rookie pitchers to start at least 20 games. Five won at least 10 games and two relievers registered 20 and 13 saves, respectively.

Roberto Osuna, a 20-year-old, had yet to see time above High-A, before spending the entire 2015 season with Toronto. All he did was carry baseball’s afterthought to the American League Championship Series before, too, losing to the WS Champion Royals in six games. He did this sporting a 2.58 ERA, 0.919 WHIP, striking out more than a batter per inning and notching 20 saves.

Noah Syndergaard highlighted the starters with 166 Ks in 150 IP across 24 starts. Thor, as he has been nicknamed, maintained a 3.24 ERA and a 1.047 WHIP and led the New York Yank… oh, uh, Mets to the playoffs. Yes, those Mets in those playoffs. Once more, for good measure, they were eliminated in five games by the Kansas City Royals in the World Series.

OK we get it, the Royals were good. Moving on.

Enough with batting and earned run averages, let’s examine what really set the tone for this rookie crop.

According to Baseball America’s 2015 Top 100 Prospect preseason list, eight of the top nine prospects in baseball saw time at the major league level in 2015. Twenty-one of the top 30 (if you include Raul Mondesi who appeared in the World Series for Kansas City) and 32 of the top 50 also earned MLB time in 2015.

That’s more than 60 percent of the game’s best 50 prospects playing for a major league club at some point in 2015. That’s leaving out Jung Ho Kang, a 28-year-old rookie for the Pirates, who eventually earned a chance at an everyday role once Jordy Mercer went down, and finished third in the NL RoY voting, while hitting .287 with 15 HRs.

Toss in a couple players just outside the top 50, Maikel Franco (ranked 56), Raisel Iglesias (58) and Eduardo Rodriguez (59) and this class looks better and better the deeper you look.

And you can get a second one free if you call RIGHT NOW! But wait! There’s more!

As I bow my head in shame, let me also point out that 25 rookies sported a WAR of at least 2.0 which is considered to be of “starter” quality. Seager and Kyle Schwarber just missed the mark for hitters, while Nate Karns, Aaron Nola and Luis Severino each registered a 1.9 WAR.

Others who did not make the cut include a pair of 27-year-olds. Justin Bour who launched 24 HRs and 84 RBI and Chris Heston who pitched 183 innings across 31 starts, sported a sub-4 ERA and won a rookie-best 12 games in 2015. Anthony DeSclafani, 25, led with 36 starts and 217 2/3 innings pitched.

Not to leave out those who have tipped 30, Steven Wright of the Red Sox pitched in 26 games, started 11 and had a 3.95 ERA, while Adonis Garcia of the Braves hit .277 with 10 HRs.

What does all of this tell you?

The 2015 MLB rookie class had a decade’s worth of talent, including an enormous bundle of elite talent, all propel themselves to the major-league level, with a substantial amount proving they belong.

Whether it’s cornerstone pieces like Carlos Correa and Noah Syndergaard, solid regulars like Jorge Soler and Eduardo Rodriguez, surprising performers like Randal Grichuk and Chris Heston, potential role players like Billy Burns and Kendall Graveman, or flash-in-the-pans like Mark Canha and Chris Bassitt, the 2015 rookie class did really have it all.

The hoopla was warranted, it seemingly got better as the season progressed, and baseball has a litany of newbies ready to become the face of a franchise.

But one thing’s for sure, baseball and its fans need not get their hopes up as the insanity-filled 2015 season will be hard-pressed to find its superior descendant any time soon.

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