Bryant, Correa live up to heavy hype en route to Rookie of Year awards
A season that earned the nickname “The Year of the Prospect” has reached its logical conclusion with two of the top prospects in baseball, Astros shortstop Carlos Correa and Cubs third baseman Kris Bryant, receiving their respective leagues’ Rookie of the Year awards on Monday night. The top pick in the 2012 draft, Correa edged out the previous year’s No. 8 pick, fellow shortstop Francisco Lindor, for the American League award, receiving 17 of the 30 first-place votes to Lindor’s 13. Bryant, the second pick in the 2013 draft, won the National League award unanimously.
The combination of Correa and Bryant represents one of the most highly regarded pairs of Rookie of the Year recipients in the award’s history. Prior to this year, just five players taken with one of the top two picks in the amateur draft had won the Rookie of the Year, with no two doing so in the same year. Here are the players drafted No. 1 or No. 2 to win Rookie of the Year:
Prior to Correa and Bryant, the Rookie of the Year combination that boasted the highest average draft position came in 1998, when Kerry Wood, the fourth pick in the 1995 draft, and Ben Grieve, the second pick in the '94 draft, won in the NL and AL, respectively. In terms of prospect status, the highest-ranking pair of Rookies of the Year since Baseball America began its annual top-100 prospects list in 1990 was Mike Trout (3) and Bryce Harper (1) in 2012. Bryant and Correa, who were ranked first and fourth, respectively, prior to this season, tie Grieve (1) and Wood (4) for second-best in the last 26 seasons and are now two of just eight Rookie of the Year winners to have been ranked fourth or better by BA coming into their Rookie of the Year season.
Here are the players ranked among Baseball America’s top four prospects who won the Rookie of the Year that same year:
Bryant seemed like a lock to win this award even before he made his major league debut. Indeed, I speculated about his chances as far back as last August. Drafted out of the University of San Diego, Bryant destroyed minor-league pitching at every level, climbing all the way to high A in 2013 and hitting an absurd .325/.438/.661 with 43 home runs and 110 RBIs last year in just his first full professional season, which was split between Double and Triple A.
Bryant was so good in spring training this year that it actually led to controversy, with service-time rules compelling the Cubs to force Bryant to open the season in Triple A despite having hit .425/.477/1.175 with league-high nine home runs in 14 spring training games. That was the right decision for the Cubs then: Delaying Bryant’s debut until April 17 meant he would not get credit for a full year of service time this year and would remain under team control for an extra season. It remains the right move now, as Chicago, thanks in large part to Bryant’s performance, made it all the way to the NLCS despite playing without Bryant for the first eight games of the season and still has six years of team control over him remaining.
That controversy made Bryant’s debut even more hotly anticipated than it already would have been. He went 0 for 4 with three strikeouts under that white-hot spotlight against the Padres at Wrigley Field, but once things returned to normal, he went 9 for 18 with four doubles and six walks in his next five games. Shockingly, Bryant didn’t hit his first major league home run until his 21st game, but, having done so, he hit six more in his next 16. Bryant slumped a bit through the middle months of the season, batting .219/.316/.408 in June and July, but nonetheless made the All-Star team as an injury replacement for Giancarlo Stanton, appearing as a defensive replacement in leftfield and drawing a walk off Dellin Betances in his lone plate appearance in the game.
Bryant finished strong over the season’s last two months, hitting .323/.400/.567 with 12 home runs over his final 58 games. In doing so, he played a central role in the Cubs’ surge to the postseason, as Chicago posted the best record in baseball after July 31 and finished with 97 wins, a whopping 24-win improvement over 2014, capturing the second NL wild-card spot. Among Bryant’s 12 home runs during that stretch was one measured by Statcast as the longest hit in the major leagues this season: That 495-foot shot hit more than two-thirds of the way up Wrigley Field’s new leftfield scoreboard, an edifice which will surely endure significant abuse from Bryant’s blasts over the years to come.
In addition to his outstanding production at the plate (.275/.369/.488 with 26 home runs and 99 RBIs), Bryant proved more-than-capable not only at third base but also in spot starts in the outfield corners, grading out at six runs better than average in the field according to Defensive Runs Saved. He also proved to be an above-average base runner, stealing 13 bases at a solid 76% success rate and taking the extra base in 47% of his opportunities (compared to a major-league average of 39%).
Correa’s emergence was a bit more surprising, as he topped out at high A in 2014 and didn’t turn 20 until September of that season. He made quick work of Double A to start the 2015 season, however, hitting .385/.459/.726 in 29 games at the level, then proved capable enough at Triple A that the Astros, unexpectedly finding themselves in first place in early June, called up and installed him at shortstop on June 8. Though the second-youngest player in the majors, Correa took to the big leagues like a duck to water, beating out an infield single off Chris Sale for his first major league hit and going 5 for 16 with a pair of home runs in his first four games.
In his first 25 games, he hit .315/.339/.593 with seven home runs. He would endure a normal series of ups and downs over the remainder of the season, but he never fell into a severe slump, going three straight games without a hit just once all season, and proved to be exactly the sort of five-tool player we had been led to expect. What’s more, he quickly emerged as a leader on an Astros team that entered September in first place and ultimately claimed a wild-card berth, snapping a nine-year playoff drought. Correa finished the season with a .279/.345/.512 line, 22 home runs and 68 RBIs, with 14 stolen bases to boot, then hit .292/.320/.583 with a pair of home runs across the Astros’ six postseason games (all of which took place after the Rookie of the Year votes were submitted).
Though Correa did indeed have an outstanding season—one that should signal the start of a great career—I was of the opinion that Lindor, drafted eighth in 2011 and ranked ninth on Baseball America’s preseason prospect list, was more deserving of the AL award due in large part to his superior fielding. I was not alone in that opinion: This year’s AL result was the closest Rookie of the Year voting in either league since Ryan Braun beat Troy Tulowitzki by just two points in the 2007 NL voting. Correa won this award by a mere 15 points over Lindor, and it seems very likely that the two will continue to battle for awards and honors as rival shortstops for years to come.