Corbin Carroll (National League) and Gunnar Henderson (American League) were named the 2023 Rookies of the Year after putting together tremendous seasons for the D-backs and Orioles, respectively. But there were several other rookies from last year who showed flashes of what could make them stars in the future.
These rookies may have had strong starts before fading later in the season, or perhaps they excelled in one facet of the game while struggling in another. But they have a chance to take a big step forward during their sophomore campaigns in 2024.
Here’s a look at 10 players entering Year No. 2 with an eye toward doing just that:
But the phenom cooled off considerably after that. From June 24 through the end of the season, he posted a .643 OPS with a 35% strikeout rate. De La Cruz, who just turned 22 earlier this month, has all the makings of a superstar — he had an average arm strength of 95.9 mph in his rookie campaign, and his Sprint Speed was 30.5 feet per second, tied with Bobby Witt Jr. for the best in the Majors.
If De La Cruz can figure things out at the plate, he could become one of the best players in the game.
Hunter Brown, Astros
Brown was fantastic over his first seven Major League appearances in 2022, posting a 0.89 ERA over 20 1/3 innings. He started off strong in his first full big league season, pitching to a 2.37 ERA last April. He showed some inconsistency through the remainder of the season’s first half, but still owned a 3.64 ERA through June.
From there, things started falling apart. Brown began to exhibit command issues and was potentially fatigued as he crossed the 100-inning threshold (he had never thrown more than 126 1/3 innings in a single season as a professional to that point). Over his final 16 appearances (14 starts), his ERA was 6.95.
With a full MLB season behind him, Brown — Houston’s top pitching prospect when he debuted in 2022 — could take a big step forward in 2024, particularly given his arsenal. With a fastball that reaches 99 mph and an assortment of effective secondary offerings, we could see a breakout sophomore campaign.
Jordan Walker, Cardinals
Walker, the Cardinals’ No. 1 prospect heading into last season, was sensational to begin his MLB career in ’23, tying Eddie Murphy’s 1912 record of 12 consecutive games with a hit to start a career by a player 20 years old or younger. But Walker hit just .192 over the next eight games and was optioned to Triple-A Memphis.
Upon Walker’s return in June, he began to heat up again at the plate. He hit .338/.427/.549 that month before posting a .756 OPS the rest of the season. As he heads into the 2024 campaign, he’ll look to have a more consistent sophomore season in which he isn’t bouncing back-and-forth between Memphis and St. Louis. That, in itself, could lead to a much better performance in ’24.
Anthony Volpe, Yankees
Volpe was the Yankees’ No. 1 prospect heading into last season, and while some of his numbers at the plate left a lot to be desired, his stellar defense at shortstop earned him a Gold Glove Award for his rookie campaign.
While he hit only .209 with a .666 OPS, Volpe did launch 21 homers and steal 24 bases in 2023. That bodes well for the 22-year-old going forward. And that .209 batting average involved some bad luck — according to Statcast, Volpe’s expected batting average last year was .230.
Year 2 could bring a significant stride forward for the young shortstop who grew up in New Jersey wanting to be a Yankee someday. After a 3.3-bWAR performance in 2023, ’24 may have some big things in store for Volpe.
Francisco Alvarez, Mets
Alvarez made quite the impression with the Mets in 2023. After smashing a 439-foot home run for his first MLB hit on the penultimate day of the 2022 regular season, he belted 25 more last year. Only three catchers in AL/NL history hit more than 25 homers as a rookie: Mike Piazza (35 in 1993), Matt Nokes (32 in 1997) and Wilin Rosario (28 in 2012).
The impressive slugging notwithstanding, Alvarez was a below-average hitter overall. He finished with a .721 OPS (95 OPS+), which leaves plenty of room for the 22-year-old backstop to get better. The key will be for him to cut down on the strikeouts — he struck out 26% of the time last season. His hard-hit rate (45.1%) and barrel rate (12.8%) were strong. If he connects more often in 2024, that should lead to better results across the board.
Defensively, there’s room to improve his blocking and particularly his throwing — he threw out 13% of runners attempting to steal, well below the league average of 19%. His framing was excellent as a rookie, with his 9 catcher framing runs ranking fourth in baseball.
Grayson Rodriguez, Orioles
Baltimore’s top pitching prospect entering 2023, and the No. 2 prospect overall in the organization, Rodriguez made his debut with the Orioles last April and struggled during the first half of the season. But he turned things around dramatically, posting a 2.26 ERA over his final 12 starts.
Rodriguez, who stands 6-foot-5, showed what he could do despite a rough start. His changeup and slider were particularly effective, with run values of 7 and 8, respectively. Opponents hit .201 against the changeup and .155 against the slider, and the latter generated a 34.1% whiff rate.
With a four-seamer that averaged 97.4 mph and also a curveball and cutter he mixes in from time to time, the 24-year-old appears to have a bright future ahead of him. And that begins with the 2024 campaign, in which Rodriguez is primed to make major strides.
Joey Wiemer, Brewers
Wiemer, among several top prospects who made their debut with the Brewers last season, struggled to a .645 OPS in 410 plate appearances during his rookie year. He did hit 13 homers, but his swing mechanics seemed to be detrimental to his timing against big league pitching. He has reportedly worked some things out mechanically, which could lead to better results in 2024.
Despite his issues at the plate, Wiemer was very good defensively, finishing with 7 Outs Above Average in the outfield to put him on par with the likes of Michael Harris II and Alek Thomas in that department. If he can straighten things out at the plate, Wiemer could become a valuable all-around threat for Milwaukee.
Ezequiel Tovar, Rockies
When Tovar made his MLB debut as Colorado’s Opening Day shortstop last season, his reputation as an excellent defender preceded him. How well he would fare at the plate was uncertain.
While the altitude of Coors Field makes evaluating that somewhat challenging, his offensive production was pretty much what you might expect — the 22-year-old hit .253/.287/.408, although he did have 37 doubles and 15 homers.
The defense was fantastic. Tovar’s 13 defensive runs saved were fourth among MLB shortstops, and his 16 Outs Above Average tied him for sixth in baseball among all position players.
Is there more in the bat? Tovar showed flashes of impressive pop, particularly to the opposite field during his rookie season. He also had an above-average Sweet Spot rate, putting the ball in play within an optimal launch angle range 36.4% of the time. For that to really help him, though, he’ll have to raise his hard-hit rate of 36.2%.
Tovar is certainly going to be a Gold Glove Award candidate going into his sophomore season. If he can add some value at the plate, he’ll take a big step in the right direction in 2024.
Patrick Bailey, Giants
Bailey was one of the best defensive catchers in baseball in 2023 — not bad for a guy who had never caught in the big leagues before making his debut on May 19. He led all MLB backstops with 16 catcher framing runs, per Statcast.
He was also second only to the D-backs’ Gabriel Moreno with a Caught Stealing Above Average score of 6, and tied for second with an average pop time on throws to second base of 1.87 seconds.
Offensively, Bailey is a work in progress. He wasn’t a slugger in the Minors, but he showed the potential to be a better hitter than his rookie slash line of .233/.285/.359 would indicate. His 10% barrel rate and 36.2% Sweet Spot rate certainly give him something to build on at the plate.
Year 2 for the 24-year-old could be big for him if his defense only gets better with more experience and his hitting starts to come along, too.
Davis hit .213/.302/.351 with seven homers in 255 plate appearances in his first taste of the Majors. This offseason, he’s been working with Driveline to enhance his performance at the plate, and as far as improving behind it, he’s been catching bullpens at the Pirates’ Spring Training complex in Bradenton, Fla.
One of those bullpen sessions was with another No. 1 overall pick in the Draft by the Pirates, hard-throwing right-hander Paul Skenes, MLB Pipeline’s No. 1 overall pitching prospect. Skenes could be in the Majors sometime this year, and the first time he and Davis combine to form Pittsburgh’s battery could be a seminal moment.