- The same teams continue to shuffle around the top spots in our power rankings, but this week we shine a light on rookies you should know about in this young season.
Welcome to another week of Power Rankings! In this edition, we’ll be spotlighting rookies who have already been making a difference. (Don’t expect Vladito, though—these guys are all a little more under the radar.) Will all of these hot starts continue? Probably not. Are they all worth checking out right now? Definitely.
30. Miami Marlins (9-21, Last Week: 30)
There are not many bright spots on this team, as you can tell by the ranking and the record and the *gestures vaguely* everything. But there is Nick Anderson! In 13 innings of relief, he’s struck out 27, while walking just 2. In other words, Anderson’s K’ing batters at a higher rate than any pitcher except Josh Hader, and he has a bigger gap between his strikeout and walk percentages than anyone.
The 28-year-old has come, for all intents and purposes, out of nowhere; his last four seasons were spent climbing through the minor leagues for Minnesota, with some modest success, until the organization traded him to Miami in November. Anderson never made any prospect lists, and his fastball-slider combination has generally looked pretty standard, but as the slider has developed into a filthy out pitch this year (64% of swings are misses!), he’s become one to watch.
29. Baltimore Orioles (11-21, Last Week: 28)
28. Kansas City Royals (11-21, Last Week: 29)
The Royals’ bullpen is among the worst in baseball, with a negative WAR and 5.23 ERA. Jake Newberry, however, has not been a driving force in that. The 37th round pick didn’t do anything to distinguish himself during a cup of coffee in 2018, but he’s looked different in 2019. After struggling with walks in previous years, the righty has now issued just one in 10 ⅔ innings. Like Anderson, he’s seen the most development from his slider, which has generated three whiffs in every five swings. The result? A strikeout-to-walk ratio among the top five in the American League.
27. San Francisco Giants (13-18, Last Week: 21)
26. Los Angeles Angels (14-17, Last Week: 27)
The Angels’ pitching could use a serious upgrade (sensing a theme with the teams at the end of the list here?) but they shouldn’t have to change anything about Ty Buttrey. The righty briefly stepped into the closer’s role at the end of 2018; he’s worked most often as a set-up man in 2019, but he’s emerged as a sneaky good option there. Thanks to a sharp slider and a fastball that can touch triple digits, Buttrey has allowed just two runs in 16 IP, while striking out 21. He’s already surpassed his performance from last year, and he isn’t showing any signs of slowing down.
25. Oakland Athletics (14-19, Last Week: 18)
24. Cincinnati Reds (13-18, Last Week: 24)
23. Boston Red Sox (14-18, Last Week: 25)
Boston’s disastrous season has seen its playoff odds dip from 90% to 54%, but there’s still been at least one positive development here: Michael Chavis. The 23-year-old second baseman has shone in his first dozen games, pinch-hitting a double in his debut and only going up from there. He missed most of 2018 in Triple-A, first with an oblique injury and then with an 80-game suspension for PEDs, but he’s looked sharp so far in 2019. His 174 OPS+ (11-for-35, 3 HR) have made him one of the game’s strongest hitters at the keystone so far this year. The 2014 first-round pick has long been hyped as a prospect; his injury record and defensive concerns dulled his shine there over the last few seasons, but his initial major league performance has quieted those doubts (for now). And for Red Sox fans used to a diminutive presence at the position… Chavis is listed at only 5’10”.
22. Chicago White Sox (14-15, Last Week: 26)
Here’s one that’s not exactly conventional. Manny Banuelos may still have rookie eligibility, but he made his debut four years ago—and, until now, hadn’t pitched in the big leagues since. Originally a Yankees farmhand and top prospect, the lefty has now spent more than a decade in organized ball, going from ace-potential hype to Tommy John to back-of-the-rotation hopeful. The Yankees traded him to the Braves in 2015, seven years after they’d signed him out of Mexico, and he’s spent the last four years moving from them to the Angels to the Dodgers to, now, the White Sox. And here, finally, he’s found some small measure of success.
Banuelos has been working as a swingman, with two starts and four relief appearances; in 20 IP, he has a 2.70 ERA (166 ERA+), as he’s begun to see results from throwing his slider more than his fastball. Sure, Chicago’s focus right now is on its real youth movement (Eloy Jimenez, Yoan Moncada, Reynaldo Lopez), rather than 28-year-old unexpected rookies. Still—Banuelos just might be shaping up as one of the best stories on this team, finally hitting his stride, as so much of the rest of this young pitching staff experiences growing pains.
21. Colorado Rockies (15-17, Last Week: 23)
20. Washington Nationals (13-17, Last Week: 17)
19. Texas Rangers (14-15, Last Week: 20)
18. Detroit Tigers (13-15, Last Week: 19)
The American League’s list of best rotations so far includes… the Tigers? Believe it. With a 3.51 ERA, the crew has jumped out to begin the season unexpectedly strong. (That’s decidedly unlike the offense, which has a 83 OPS+.) And a good chunk of this success has been driven by Spencer Turnbull, a 26-year-old righty who’d been regarded as a middle-of-the-road prospect right through his unexceptional introduction to the majors last season. In six starts this year, however, he has a 2.53 ERA (183 ERA+); in each of his last three starts, he’s allowed one run or less. Known for his sinker, Turnbull generates plenty of groundballs, which has helped him develop into one of the most productive pitchers on this staff.
17. Toronto Blue Jays (14-16, Last Week: 22)
The Blue Jays have plenty of hype around some other youngsters—both those on the roster and those on their way—but don’t overlook Rowdy Tellez. No, the lefty has not sustained the performance he had in his debut last September, when he burst out with a 154 OPS+ in 73 PA… but he never should have been seriously expected to, and what he’s done since has been pretty fun, too. Tellez has still been solid at the plate (120 OPS+ in 94 PA), and he’s made some promising adjustments (lifting the ball in the air more, making more hard contact) that should bode well for the rest of the season. Beyond that, if you can’t enjoy a burly slugger who goes by Rowdy (real name: Ryan), why are you even here?
16. Atlanta Braves (15-16, Last Week: 12)
15. Pittsburgh Pirates (14-14, Last Week: 10)
14. Cleveland Indians (16-13, Last Week: 15)
13. Milwaukee Brewers (17-16, Last Week: 16)
12. New York Mets (16-15, Last Week: 14)
11. Seattle Mariners (18-15, Last Week: 5)
10. San Diego Padres (18-14, Last Week: 13)
When you think of rookie pitchers in San Diego, you probably think of Chris Paddack, and you should—”The Sheriff” has jumped out to one of the best starts of any pitcher in the National League, and he comes complete with great hair and a catchy nickname. But Nick Margevicius deserves your attention, too. The 22-year-old doesn’t exactly have an overpowering arsenal. There’s no serious velo here (88 mph fastball, hello) and his secondary pitches aren’t wow-worthy.
In other words, there was little to endear him to prospect hounds, and he didn’t make it near the top of any preseason list. (In fact, he didn’t make it on most of those lists.) But Margevicius has strong command, which helped earn him a rotation spot, and so far, he’s been making the most of it: 3.23 ERA (125 ERA+) in six starts.
9. Philadelphia Phillies (17-13, Last Week: 11)
8. Arizona Diamondbacks (18-13, Last Week: 9)
Former Rays prospect Merrill Kelly left the organization in 2014 and headed to Korea, where he spent four seasons achieving decent success as a starter in KBO. Now, he’s back in the States, getting his first taste of MLB as a 30-year-old. He seems to have found his footing. In six starts, Kelly has a 3.60 ERA (125 ERA+). “This year’s Miles Mikolas” might seem like a weird title, but if you’re looking for the sweet story of an erstwhile prospect finding success after spending years overseas, Kelly is your best bet.
7. Chicago Cubs (16-12, Last Week: 8)
6. St. Louis Cardinals (20-11, Last Week: 7)
5. Minnesota Twins (19-10, Last Week: 6)
4. New York Yankees (17-13, Last Week: 4)
3. Houston Astros (18-14, Last Week: 1)
2. Los Angeles Dodgers (20-13, Last Week: 3)
Okay, this one is hardly under the radar. And, yet, with all the hype doled out to fresh call-ups and to young talent on, say, the Padres and Blue Jays… Alex Verdugo feels, if not under the radar, a little less on the radar than he should reasonably be! The Dodgers’ top outfield prospect—who had a lackluster debut in 2017 and a solid, if unremarkable, major league run in 2018—seems to have hit his stride in 2019.
In 76 PA, he has a 157 OPS+, with four home runs, and he’s cut down on the worrisome groundball rate that troubled him in his earlier major league stints. And he’s now in line for even more playing time, with AJ Pollock on the IL. Just about everything has been working for this Dodgers’ offense, tied for the best in the NL with a 112 OPS+, and Verdugo has been a key part of it.