Culling a winner from the 2015 National League crop of rookies was actually a much easier task than dealing with the Correa-Lindor debate in the junior circuit. Once Joc Pederson turned into a confused pumpkin following a torrid start, the show belonged to Cubs third baseman Kris Bryant. Bryant entered the season as everyone’s favorite pick for this award, and he didn’t disappoint despite enduring a mid-season slump that he was able to overcome with flying colors. I will now take a brief break to research where the phrase “with flying colors” came from in the first place.*
1. Kris Bryant/3B/CHI: .275/.369/488, 26 HR, .371 wOBA, 136 wRC+, 6.5 WAR in 650 PA
2. Noah Syndergaard/SP/NYM: 3.24 ERA, 3.25 FIP, 9.96 K/9, 1.86 BB/9, 46.5 GB%, 3.1 WAR in 150 IP
3. Matt Duffy/3B/SF: .295/.334/.428, 12 HR, .331 wOBA, 116 wRC+, 4.9 WAR in 612 PA
Bryant’s early call-up was a big reason why the Cubs had such an outstanding season, and his ability to adjust was on full display throughout the season. Just when he seemed overexposed, Bryant roared back for a big finish. Things are only going to get better from here for the 23-year-old, as he showed no real weaknesses in his game. His power was at times prodigious, he walked at nearly a 12% clip, and even his glove showed up to anchor the hot corner. While fellow Cub rookies Addison Russell and Kyle Schwarber also made their presence felt, it was Bryant who cemented his status as a fully-formed star.
Despite Matt Duffy easily being the second-most valuable rookie of the crop per fWAR, I have to take the outstanding Noah Syndergaard ahead of him. Syndergaard held his own with all of his fellow Met rotation mates, and that’s really saying something. His swing-and-miss stuff made the transition well, as “Thor” brought the hammer down on plenty of unsuspecting batsmen.
Duffy was much more of a surprise, playing the role of Giant-hitter-who-succeeds-thanks-to-contact-rates to a tee. Duffy is almost 25, and he’s never been seen as much of a prospect. He doesn’t draw walks, his power is minimal, and his rookie season is probably what we can expect his ceiling to look like. Given his high contact rate and above-average defense, he’s still a valuable commodity for the Giants if he can remain at this level, but I have to take Syndergaard above him based on the idea that the pitcher’s future is so much brighter.
There are several other near-misses worth discussing. Jung-ho Kang made the transition to MLB look rather easy, handling shortstop duties admirably and slugging .461 along the way. Odubel Herrera was a diamond in the toilet that was a modern Philadelphia Phillies season, flying all over the outfield while stealing bases and popping the occasional home run. The aforementioned Schwarber and Russell are headed for bright futures, while Randal Grichuk seems to at least have plenty of power if nothing else. Then there’s Joc Pederson, the Dodger who dodged what could have been a tremendous rookie effort. Nonetheless, Pederson tied Bryant for the rookie lead in homers, and he draws walks in bunches. Should he figure out his approach again, there is still plenty of time for him to become the star he looked like he was early on in 2015.
As I mentioned in my AL post, there were a near-unprecedented amount of quality rookie seasons last summer, and as a result there are seemingly countless youngsters worth keeping an eye on in 2016. This should make for some really interesting fantasy drafts going forward.
*Apparently, the phrase “with flying colors” relates to ship flags. That would have in no way been my guess. In my mind, it was something along the lines of the colors one would wear after winning a gruesome battle or something. Here’s the always reliable Wikipedia entry on the phrase.