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Why Prospects Matter

A view of baseball’s most impressive rookies

MLB: Baltimore Orioles at New York Yankees Andy Marlin-USA TODAY Sports

Last week Yankees catcher Gary Sanchez became the first rookie in league history to win back-to-back AL Player of the Week awards, reminding us that a talented and well-prepared prospect can make an immediate and significant impact in the majors. Indeed, Sanchez’s surge coincides with New York’s recent ascent in the AL East standings. Today the Yanks sit 3.5 games out of a wildcard spot.

Meanwhile, Sanchez’s historic fortnight also highlights the sheer number of prospects who already have made an impact in 2016. With more rookies on the way thanks to MLB’s September 1 roster expansion, late August seems like the best time to take stock of 2016’s youthful infusion and to remind ourselves once again of why prospects matter so much.

First, consider the simple numbers. With eight or nine lineup spots per team, there are 255 professional hitters who qualify as major-league regulars, 120 in the National League and 135 in the American League thanks to the DH. Assuming that all 30 MLB teams use a five-man rotation, there are 150 starting pitchers who also qualify as regulars. At any given moment, therefore, there are a total of 405 regular starters, hitters and pitchers, across the major leagues.

As of today--at least by my count--55 of those 405 regulars began the season as prospects. This total does not include injured players such as Colorado’s Trevor Story, who made a very immediate and very significant impact in 2016 but at the moment does not occupy one of those regular lineup spots. It also does not include prospects who started a few games in the majors but since have been demoted, such as LHP Dillon Overton and RHP Daniel Mengden of the Oakland Athletics. No doubt the total number of rookies who have appeared in an MLB box score at any point in 2016 would be a good deal greater than 55.

In any case, those 55 players who began the season as prospects represent nearly 14 percent of MLB’s current regulars. With few exceptions, that 14 percent did not appear on the first page of preseason fantasy baseball cheat sheets. Yet here they are in large numbers, ready to help decide both MLB and fantasy playoff races.

Second, consider who those 55 players are and what they have accomplished to-date. Dodgers shortstop Corey Seager (.320-23-62) opened the year as baseball’s #1 prospect and looks to be the frontrunner for NL Rookie of the Year. Adam Duvall, Cincinnati’s soon-to-be 28-year-old OF, ranks fourth in the NL with 29 homers. Washington CF Trea Turner, a converted shortstop, has hit .341 and ranks sixth in the NL with 34 runs scored since the All-Star Break. In that same timeframe, Pittsburgh RHPs Chad Kuhl and Jameson Taillon rank fourth and seventh, respectively, in WHIP. In the American League, Detroit RHP Michael Fulmer ranks eighth in ERA among qualified starters.

Regardless of their statistics to-date, many rookies now appear poised to play key roles in their team’s run to the postseason. This group includes Turner, Mets LHP Steven Matz, Cubs C Willson Contreras and 3B Javier Baez, Cardinals RHPs Alex Reyes and Luke Weaver, Taillon, Kuhl, and Pirates 1B Josh Bell, Seager and Dodgers LHP Julio Urias, Orioles RHP Dylan Bundy, Sanchez, Indians OF Tyler Naquin, Fulmer, Rangers OF Nomar Mazara, Astros SS Alex Bregman, 1B A.J. Reed, OF Teoscar Hernandez, and RHP Joe Musgrove. If you have followed Domenic Lanza’s wonderful “Moving On Up” series on faketeams.com, then you already know who many of these players are--and how good they are likely to be.

Finally, consider that those 55 players are distributed relatively evenly across the teams and leagues. Only the veteran-laden Blue Jays, Angels, and Giants lack a 2016 prospect among their current regulars.

In a few months the prospect team at faketeams.com will begin putting together the 2017 lists. We do not yet know who will make those lists, but if history is any indication we do know that many of those players will have a significant impact on the 2017 season.