Over the past three seasons, 745 players have made their major league debuts, an average of 248 per season and eight per team. The majority of these are September call-ups; a reward for a successful minor league season. Predicting which rookies will impact their teams straight out of the gate in April can be a difficult task. Only 49 players (6%) over the 2014-16 timeframe received at least one Rookie of the Year vote. The number of players who managed to play in 100 games or pitch 100 innings is even less; 17 and 12 respectively. So the odds of a rookie breaking camp are low.
There is a small number of players who received more than a taste of major league play in 2016, who remain rookie eligible and have a job locked down for this season. Boston left fielder Andrew Benintendi and Atlanta shortstop Dansby Swanson are the two most prominent names on this short but nonetheless important list.
When my editor Doug Hall asked for this list these were the guys he was interested in taking a look at. Not the guys in spring training trying to win jobs but the guys who already have one. Some, like the two mentioned above, are obvious, some are guesses. Hopefully, when the season is over we can look back and find we did a pretty good job.
National League East
Atlanta Braves: At this point, you’d have to say Swanson is the pre-season favorite for National League Rookie of the Year. He slashed .302/3/17 in 38 games for the Braves in 2016. While he didn’t play well defensively, the Braves are committed to him as their Opening Day shortstop.
Miami Marlins: With former All-Stars manning two of the three starting outfield spots and a future Hall of Famer filling the first reserve role, it doesn’t seem there would be room for a fifth outfielder. If you follow the Marlins, you know injuries have taken their toll in recent years. Especially with superstar Giancarlo Stanton, so carrying the extra outfielder is more of a need than a luxury. That role should be filled by 26-year-old Destin Hood, who made his major league debut with Miami in 2016. Hood is a right-handed hitter and thrower with the ability to play all three spots.
New York Mets: The Mets have two rookies who figure to make the Opening Day roster and they’re both pitchers; right-handed starter Robert Gsellman and lefty reliever Josh Smoker. Both saw major league time in 2016 and both pitched well, especially Gsellman, who seems a lock to break camp as the fifth starter. Smoker’s fate is dependent on whether the Mets decide to break camp with two lefties in the bullpen where he would join veteran Jerry Blevins.
Washington Nationals: The Nationals have depth throughout their projected 25 man roster with the exception of the bullpen. Righty Koda Glover figures to break camp after impressing during his 2016 debut.
Philadelphia Phillies: The Phils will break camp with a rookie in the backup catcher role, either Andrew Knapp or Jorge Alfaro. Starter Cameron Rupp had a breakout 2016 with 16 homers in 105 games, offense is his calling card. If the Phils want a late inning defensive guy then Alfaro would seem to have the edge, despite just six games of major league experience. Knapp is more of an offensive threat and has the most experience.
National League Central
Milwaukee Brewers: A rookie won the Brewers 2016 centerfield job in spring training, and there’s no reason to think history can’t repeat itself in 2017. While Keon Broxton is considered the starter as of this writing, stud prospect Lewis Brinson could take the job with a strong spring. Lefty Jorge Lopez also has a chance to break camp pitching out of the bullpen.
St. Louis Cardinals: Carson Kelly will break camp as the backup to Yadier Molina. The 2016 Minor League Gold Glove winner at catcher, Kelly hit a career-high .289 last season between AA and AAA but he’s going to stay in the majors based on his defense.
Chicago Cubs: Former Minor League Gold Glover Albert Almora will compete with free agent Jon Jay for the Opening Day centerfield job during the spring. Almora made his major league debut in 2016 and held his own with a .277 average in 47 games but defense is his calling card.
Pittsburgh Pirates: Josh Bell will be the Pirates’ Opening Day first baseman after a .273/3/19 slash line in 45 major league games in 2016. Tyler Glasnow figures to open the season in the rotation following up on his brief 2016 debut. Fellow starters Nick Kingham and Steven Brault should both open the season in AAA but both likely will see the majors at some point in 2017.
Cincinnati Reds: As it stands now, righty Robert Stephenson will break camp as the fourth or fifth starter with non-roster invite Tyler Mahle having a chance to earn a spot as well. Outfielder Jesse Winker could sneak onto the roster depending on how Billy Hamilton rebounds from his shoulder problems.
National League West
Arizona Diamondbacks: The depth in the Dbacks minor league system is so thin right now, they brought 28 non-roster players to camp just to add needed depth at AAA Reno. The most likely rookie candidate to impact the major league team is one of these players, lefty reliever Jared Miller. Miller was dominant during the Arizona Fall League season and struck out 80 in 61 innings over four levels during the season.
Los Angeles Dodgers: Andrew Toles is penciled in as the Opening Day left fielder coming off his .314/3/16 debut over 48 games in 2016.
San Francisco Giants: Right-hander Ty Blach will battle Matt Cain for the fifth starter role in the spring. With Cain returning from injury the Giants will be cautious. If Cain wins the spot it’s possible Blach makes the team, pitching out of the bullpen, where he’ll be ready right away if the need arises.
San Diego Padres: The Padres will rely quite a bit on rookies in 2017 as they continue with their rebuild. Hunter Renfroe is penciled in as the starting right-fielder. Manny Margot will battle Travis Jankowski for the centerfield job and Rule V pick Luis Torrens figures to be the backup catcher.
Colorado Rockies: One of German Marquez and Jeff Hoffman will break camp as the fifth starter and Tom Murphy will break as the backup catcher.
American League East
Toronto Blue Jays: With almost all of Toronto’s minor league depth at the lower levels, it’s hard to project them getting any significant contributions from rookies in 2017. Lefty starter Sean Reid-Foley and lefty reliever Chad Girodo seem to be the most likely candidates to make their debuts but won’t be enough to make note of.
Baltimore Orioles: The re-signing of Mark Trumbo knocked Trey Mancini out of the starting DH role but he should make the roster as the backup to Chris Davis at first. Lefty reliever Chris Lee has an outside chance at a bullpen spot. The Orioles have three Rule V picks battling for the fourth outfield spot with Joey Rickard, Aneury Tavarez, and Anthony Santander. Tavarez has the most experience and is the better defender so the odds would appear to favor him as the most likely to stick.
Tampa Bay Rays: The Rays best options for rookie contributions in 2017 will likely come from right-handed starters Brent Honeywell and Jaime Schultz although both will start at AAA.
Boston Red Sox: Based on the various Top Prospect lists, left-fielder Andrew Benintendi tops the list and is the pre-season favorite for AL Rookie of the Year.
New York Yankees: Aaron Judge will battle Aaron Hicks for the right-field job. If Hicks wins the battle, Judge will start the season at AAA with Mason Williams potentially becoming the fourth outfielder.
American League Central
Cleveland Indians: Reliever Shawn Armstrong is the most likely candidate to break camp as he earned his stripes coming down the stretch during last year’s Division race. Lefty starter Ryan Merritt has a shot but appears ticketed for AAA to start the season.
Kansas City Royals: Lefty Matt Strahm will battle for the fifth starter role during the spring. With no lefties on the Royals bullpen depth chart, he could stick there with a good spring.
Detroit Tigers: The Tigers do not project to have a rookie make an impact early in the season. As the year progresses reliever Joe Jimenez and shortstop Dixon Machado appear to be the most likely candidates for the majors.
Minnesota Twins: The most likely candidates for an early season role are relievers Trevor Hildenberger and J.T. Chargois. The Twins have no position players close enough to consider.
Chicago White Sox: The Sox killed it in the off-season, picking up four top prospects in trades but were unsuccessful in dealing the incumbents they were acquired to replace. So this means Yoan Moncada, Lucas Giolito, Michael Kopech and Reynaldo Lopez will all begin the season in the minors. Out of their holdover group, the most likely to break camp is Carson Fulmer. Fulmer is a righty starter by trade who struggled during a 2016 tryout out of the pen.
American League West
Los Angeles Angels: Six foot nine righthander Alex Meyer can only pitch himself off the opening day roster.
Houston Astros: Righty reliever James Hoyt has a chance to break camp out of the pen. Lefty hitting Colin Moran has a shot as the backup at the two corner infield spots.
Oakland Athletics: Jharel Cotton has a rotation spot locked up. Lefty hitting Matt Olson will battle righty Mark Canha for the backup corner outfield spot. He would appear to be a good bet, as he is the only lefty in the mix for DH at bats as well.
Seattle Mariners: Mitch Haniger is penciled in as the opening day right fielder. Ben Gamel has the inside track on the fourth outfield spot and Dan Vogelbach could make the roster as the lefty first base/DH option.
Texas Rangers: Outside of lefty reliever Andrew Faulkner, there doesn’t appear to be much room for rookie contributors to the Rangers in 2017, especially early on.