For a Major League Baseball team to experience success, it’s necessary to receive contributions from all 25 men on the active roster. However, because of injuries, lack of production or a combination of the two, it normally takes even more than that to reach the postseason and contend for a World Series title.
That’s why those under-the-radar signings in the winter are so important. You know what else is important? The contributions from rookies, who began their season in the minor leagues, but are ready and able to make a significant impact at the big-league level.
The following seven rookies are in the future plans for their respective organizations, but may have not been expected to do a whole lot in 2016 after starting the year in the minors. Upon getting promoted, they’ve done one of two things:
- Fortify the roster for an expected playoff run in October.
- Help those far-fetched dreams of reaching the postseason not seem so crazy.
Alex Bregman, 3B, Houston Astros
2.5 games out of final AL Wild Card spot
It seemed as though the Astros came to life once Carlos Correa made his 2015 debut and entrenched himself in the middle of that lineup. As Houston slowly dug out of the early-season hole they put themselves in this year, there was hope another rookie would do the same upon getting promoted, and that man was Bregman.
His big-league career couldn’t have gotten off to a worse start. Through his first 10 games, the third baseman struggled to a .053/.143/.053 line with 10 strikeouts in 38 at-bats. Since that point, he’s looked like a completely different hitter, slashing .323/.369/.592 in 130 at-bats.
Looking at his overall stat line (.262/.317/.470) doesn’t do him justice, either. This dude went from a -53 wRC+ in six July games to a 118 mark in 28 games during August and currently boasts a 230 wRC+ in September.
It also doesn’t hurt that his hard-hit rate improved from 17.7 percent in July to nearly 34 percent since the start of August.
Tyler Naquin, OF, Cleveland Indians
6.0-game lead in the AL Central
Alright, Naquin was on Cleveland’s Opening Day roster, but this is an exception because he was definitely not a long-term solution for 2016.
They hit on one of those two, so they’re batting .500. Napoli has posted an .831 OPS with a career-high 31 homers, but Brantley was limited to just 11 games before being shut down. That’s why Naquin’s production has been such a boon for Cleveland’s outfield.
A .317/.338/.413 line through his first 63 at-bats was solid, but he wasn’t hitting for much power. He was demoted in the middle of May for two weeks, and as August Fagerstrom of FanGraphs points out, he completely changed his approach at the plate. Naquin began swinging less, drastically decreased his strikeout rate, drastically increased his walk rate and supplied a ton of power.
Since returning to the majors on June 2, he’s posted a .297/.369/.598 line with 14 homers and 38 RBI in 209 at-bats. Naquin has not only given the Indians much-needed depth in the outfield, he’s also forced himself into the American League Rookie of the Year conversation.
Michael Fulmer, SP, Detroit Tigers
1.0 game back of the final AL Wild Card spot
The Tigers came into 2016 knowing they’d hit, but were unsure as to how well they’d pitch. Jordan Zimmermann started off great, but has been on and off the disabled list. Anibal Sanchez and Mike Pelfrey have mostly been forgettable, leaving Justin Verlander as the lone veteran needing a buddy to form a formidable one-two punch.
That’s where Fulmer comes in. Through 22 starts, the young right-hander has gone at least six innings 13 times and has allowed three earned runs or less 18 times. He displayed how dominant he could be with a 33.1-inning scoreless streak in May and June, which was the longest streak for any Detroit pitcher since 1961.
The Tigers must be careful since Fulmer has already thrown a career-high 136.2 innings, but they’ve been monitoring his level of fatigue for a while. As long as he doesn’t implode this month, the AL Rookie of the Year award is likely his to lose.
Willson Contreras, C, Chicago Cubs
16-game (!!) lead in the NL Central
That opened the door for Contreras, who was the proud owner of a 1.035 OPS through 204 Triple-A at-bats prior to his promotion. He’s adjusted well to the big leagues, hitting .264/.338/.449 with nine homers and 29 RBI through 216 at-bats. The 24-year-old is also versatile enough to play first base and the outfield, allowing manager Joe Maddon to keep his bat in the lineup when he’s not catching.
Over the last month or so, Maddon has mostly kept Contreras behind the dish, leading us to believe he’ll get a majority of the playing time once October rolls around. As much as the Cubs like this kid, they probably weren’t expecting that back in April.
Trea Turner, OF, Washington Nationals
8.0-game lead in the NL East
The Nationals were already a good ball club, but they went to the next level when manager Dusty Baker began putting Turner at the top of their order. Chatter in Spring Training surrounded whether or not he’d unseat Danny Espinosa at shortstop, but he instead proved athletic enough to play a decent center field and solidify what was a black hole between Ben Revere and Michael Taylor.
Definitely not how Washington drew it up, but they’ll absolutely take it.
Turner’s walk rate has whittled down to just 3.1 percent, but he’s still getting on base at a .364 clip because of his ability to put the bat on the ball. He’s recorded at least two hits in nearly half the games he’s played (25 of 51) and his 21 stolen bases leads the team.
When Espinosa went on a power surge in June, it was debatable as to whether Turner would make any kind of big-league impact in 2016. Now that he’s adjusted so well to center field, Washington’s lineup wouldn’t be complete without him setting the table.
Gary Sanchez, C, New York Yankees
2.0 games out of the final AL Wild Card spot
Of all the minor leaguers the Yankees promoted after selling off veteran parts at the trade deadline, Sanchez has been the most consistent performer. Of course, he’s started things off at a historic pace, and is a big reason behind New York still being in the playoff chase.
Obviously, there’s going to be some regression from the .389/.458/.832 triple slash he posted in 95 August at-bats and he’s feeling it right now in September (.411 OPS in 20 at-bats). But just a couple months ago, there was no space for him on the roster – Brian McCann was catching while Alex Rodriguez and Carlos Beltran mostly occupied the designated hitter spot.
Once August 1 came and went, an opportunity presented itself and thank goodness for that. Without his dominant stretch, the Yankees are already making offseason plans instead of thinking they have a shot at the Wild Card.
Edwin Diaz, RP, Seattle Mariners
4.5 games out of the final AL Wild Card spot
Sometimes, you just need a closer who can blow hitters away when the game is on the line. Diaz has what the Mariners needed all year – an upper-90s fastball paired with a mid-80s slider that’s missing a ton of bats.
The 22-year-old only has 40 big-league innings under his belt, but owns a ridiculous 16.02 K/9 ratio. Seattle has cooled off after surging back up in the standings during the month of August, but they’re still on the fringes of the Wild Card race.
If they do make one more run, every late-game lead is precious. With Diaz at the back of the bullpen, those leads appear to be in safe hands. That would’ve seemed ridiculous at the start of this season since he didn’t even make his debut until June 6.
Which one of these in-season rookie call-ups do you think is the most crucial to their team’s success?