Five Rookies Affecting Pennant Races

Labor Day has come and gone, and so has the minor league season. The playoffs have begun and the annual September promotions have happened. There are a few top prospects remaining on minor league rosters here and there – most likely readying themselves for a playoff series or a trip to the Arizona Fall League – but the majority have been promoted to the big leagues, where they will help their clubs try to make, and succeed, in the MLB postseason. Who are these new kids on the block?

Gary Sanchez, Catcher, New York Yankees

After failing miserably to secure a roster spot during spring training, Sanchez earned his promotion early in August and he won both the AL Rookie of the Month and AL Player of the Month awards for his first 100 at-bats as a “True Yankee.” The catching prodigy has been nothing short of spectacular, blasting 11 homers and putting up a .351/.429/.730/1.159 line in 126 plate appearances through Sept. 5. His minor league pedigree suggests this is not a fluke – while Sanchez figures to cool off a bit from his current Ruthian pace, there is every reason to believe a superstar has arrived. This is exactly the boost the Bombers needed after a depressing summer of retirements and languid performance in the standings. The future is bright in New York, starting with Sanchez.

Yoan Moncada, Third Baseman, Boston Red Sox

An already enviable core of young stars led by home run hitting machine Mookie Betts added another piece with the promotion of Moncada, an expensive Cuban import who arrived in the American League last weekend at the age of 21. Moncada played (mostly) second base in the minors and has been entrusted to play third with the parent club after just 12 games of experience. However, it is his power and his speed that have earned him playing time for the Red Sox during the pennant race. The hope is that the young switch hitter can apply his obvious athletic gifts both at the plate and on the basepaths while learning to field at the big-league level. The concern for Boston fans is the potential for lots of strikeouts – Moncada has shown a penchant for swinging and missing as he has climbed the minor league ladder (30.7 K% in Double-A and 21.1 K% in Single-A).

Jose De Leon, Starting Pitcher, Los Angeles Dodgers

This 24-year old righty earned some accolades right out of the gate, as after he was promoted he told reporters: “I wanted Vin Scully to call my games.” What a ray of sunshine. Anyway, the fireballer has had a remarkable season, racking up 11.57 K/9 and and a 2.61 ERA on the stat sheet in Oklahoma City, earning his way to Dodger Stadium with his performance at AAA this season. De Leon is a welcome addition, given the tenuous status of trade deadline acquisition Rich Hill’s ongoing blister problem.

Alex Reyes, Starting Pitcher, St. Louis Cardinals

After spending 50 games on the suspended list thanks to a positive marijuana test, Reyes shook off the rust with a 14-start stint in Triple-A Memphis. The heavily-hyped righty has arrived in the nick of time for the injury-plagued Cardinals and their precarious Wild Card hopes. Reyes tossed 9 ⅓ scoreless innings over five big league bullpen appearances before being shifted into the starting rotation. Reyes sports a 1.35 ERA and 10.80 K/9 through 20 innings, bringing an upper-90s fastball, a changeup, and a curveball to the party for the stretch run. The curve, in particular, can be devastating:

Trea Turner, Second Baseman/Center Fielder, Washington Nationals

Turner hasn’t been as dominant as Sanchez – but the comparison is closer than you’d think. The infielder-turned-outfielder made his MLB debut with the Nationals in Cincinnati to cover for Ryan Zimmerman’s paternity leave in June, but was sent back to Syracuse after three games. He would receive his permanent call July 10, and thus isn’t a big factor in an NL ROY race dominated by Corey Seager. However, it is hard to make the case that any rookie has made, or will make, as big an impact on the MLB Playoffs as the Nationals’ leadoff hitter. Turner has posted 22 extra-base hits, 20 steals, and a .343/.362/.539 line in 213 plate appearances thus far – but more importantly, he has stabilized and lengthened Washington’s lineup in a significant way. Setting the table in front of Bryce Harper has moved the Nats from an inconsistent offensive club to one that is capable of big innings at any time.

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Featured image courtesy of Kelley L. Cox.

About David R. McCullough 87 Articles
David R. McCullough is founding editor of SoSH Baseball. He has a B.A. in journalism from Antioch College, where the lack of a football team is proudly proclaimed on shirts sold in the bookstore, and might someday finish his M.A. at Boston University. He lives in the Boston area with a toddler and a very understanding, patient wife.

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