The Top 25 Baseball Stories of 2015 — #3 Rise of the Rookies

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We’re a few short days away from 2016 so it’s a good time to look back at the top 25 baseball stories of 2015. Some of them took place on the field, some of them off the field and some of them were creatures of social media, fan chatter and the like. No matter where the story broke, however, these were the stories baseball fans were talking about most this past year.

Every year there is a rookie or two who makes an impact. We note their promotion, admire their performance, give them a Rookie of the Year Award, pat them on the head and send them on their merry way. Rarely, however, do a whole BUNCH of rookies make an impact and rarely the sort of impact a whole bunch of them made in 2015.

Baseball America ranks the top 100 prospects in baseball before each season. Of those 100 prospects for 2015, 49 made their major league debut this year, including 30 of the top 46, 16 of the top 21 and all six of the top six prospects: Kris Bryant, Byron Buxton, Addison Russell, Carlos Correa, Corey Seager and Joey Gallo (hat tip to Cliff Corcoran of SI for pointing that out). In addition to those rookies, Jung-Ho Kang, late of the KBO, made his debut for the Pirates.

But it wasn’t just about making mere appearances. Many of these rookies made big impacts. In fact, 18 rookie hitters compiled 2.0 bWAR or more, which is the most in major league history (further hat tip to Cliff). Bryant himself posted a WAR of 5.9, with a batting line of .275/.369/.488 (OPS+ 133) with 26 homers and 99 RBI. In the American League Correa batted .279/.345/.512 with 22 home runs, 68 RBI, and 14 stolen bases over 99 games (he didn’t debut until June). His .857 OPS was the best among all MLB shortstops (min. 300 PA). He didn’t even turn 21 until September.

Why so many rookies this year? A number of factors, I suppose. On a very basic level, there were a LOT of talented rookies. Throw in the fact that there is a lot of parity in baseball right now along with two wild cards and we’re at a place where even one good player could mean the difference between playing in October or not, giving teams stronger incentives to make incremental moves or to promote young players than there used to be.

It’s also the case that, in the age of drug testing and front offices who are loathe to spend as big for veterans as they used to, younger, cheaper players are simply more valuable than they used to be. We may not always see rookie classes like the one we saw in 2015, but we’ll certainly see more rookies playing key roles than they used to. We’ll also likely see more service time manipulation in an effort to keep that good young talent as cheap as possible for as long as possible, but that’s another topic altogether.

In the meantime, youth is served.