Thursday, December 28, 2017

And NOW, The 2017 Topps All-Star Rookie Team

I realize I am skipping ahead in the order here, but a set from Topps Now of the 2017 Topps All-Star Rookie Team arrived, so I'm going to have a little fun with it. These guys may or may not have been selected by the Youth of America as was the case in the 1960s, but the rookies this season were impressive. Thinking back on all of the selections of years' past, I thought it might be fun to try to find some comparable players to this year's team.

Catcher - Manny Piña
Manny was a 30 year old rookie for the Brewers, which is more common than you might think when it comes to catchers. He had a decent year behind the dish as the team's primary backstop, slugging 9 homers and hitting a respectable .279 with 30 extra base hits.  

For his comp, I picked Bob Geren, who had a similar journey to the majors, though he was initially a first round pick of the Padres back in 1979. Geren also had 9 homers in his rookie campaign and hit .288, playing in a total of 5 major league seasons. Geren went on to a career as a manager and coach, and was the Oakland A's skipper for 5 seasons.

First Base - Cody Bellinger
The National League Rookie of the Year smashed expectations of what a rookie could do, and he did it in style. His 39 Homers were even more impressive considering he was not called up until the end of April. In addition to playing First Base, Bellinger was able to move to the outfield and provide solid defense at all three positions.

I am pretty much stumped for a quality comp for Bellinger, as there are very few rookie seasons that come close to matching his 2017 campaign. I thought about Mark McGwire, but other than the power numbers, it just didn't seem like that close of a comparison. So, instead, I'm picking Willie McCovey,  who managed to live up to the hype and like Bellinger had a deadly swing from the left side.

Second Base- Ian Happ
He's listed as a second baseman, but Happ played all over the diamond for Joe Maddon, like a young man's Ben Zobrist. Happ also brought some impressive power numbers, crushing 24 homers and a .253 average.

For a comp I decided to go with the versatile and powerful Ron Gant, who came up as a second baseman before transitioning full time to the outfield. I could see a similar career path for Happ. Gant's rookie year - 19 homers and a .259 average. Both guys are 6 feet even and roughly 200 lbs. I also considered Gregg Jefferies, but I decided that his rookie season came with a lot more hype than Happ's, Gant was similarly under the radar.

Short Stop - Paul DeJong
Just about any other season, we'd probably be talking about Paul DeJong's ROY trophy. The Redbird's short stop hit .285 with 25 homers and was already a key contributor as a rookie to a veteran team with playoff aspirations. The team didn't quite reach their goal, but they did find their SS of the future, going as far as trading away the promising Aledmys Diaz this offseason to keep DeJong's path clear.

For a comp I toyed with the idea of Nomar, but felt that might be a little too lofty to start. Troy Tulowitzki had a similarly impressive rookie season, but also came in second place for Rookie of the Year, losing out to Ryan Braun, who had one of the better Rookie seasons of all time to beat him. Tulo had 24 homers and 99 RBI his rookie year.

Third Base - Rafael Devers
You can't deny that Devers made quite the impression in a small sample size this season. Like many of the players on this list, hitting homers came quite easily to Devers, who launched 10 bombs in just 58 games, including a memorable shot off Yankees relief ace Aroldis Chapman. He turned a 103 mph fastball into a laser beam heading the other direction, leaving the yard in a hurry. The real impressive number? Devers is just 20 years old.

There have been plenty of young sluggers to come up and make an immediate impression with raw talent (Gary Sheffield came to mind), but I chose Richie Allen as a comp just based on reputation alone. Will Devers become Richie Allen? Maybe not, but there were few third basemen on the list that could match the kind of excitement of Devers at a young age. Allen had a tremendous rookie year at the age of 22, leading the league in Triples and runs scored while hitting 29 homers, including 2 on the final day of the 1964 season.

Outfield - Aaron Judge
This guy. YIKES. I won't waste your time with tales of the longest homers, the hardest hit homers, the most homers by any rookie in the history of baseball. You already know by now. Judge was an absolute beast in 2017.

I thought about McGwire again here, the obvious reason being that Judge passed him for the Rookie home run record, but I think I will go with another outfielder instead, the Bash Brother from another mother, Jose Canseco. I feel the same sort of disgust (and amazement) watching Judge murder baseballs against my favorite teams that I felt watching Canseco as a kid. There's something intangible about these two dudes that just changed the mood at the ballpark whenever they came to the plate.

Outfield - Andrew Benintendi
Similar to DeJong in the National league, Benintendi will go down as the guy who came in second place to a runaway freight train. There's no shame in his season, which saw excellent returns at the plate along with a fearless approach to outfield defense. His sprawling catch against the short wall at Tropicana Field will be shown in highlight reels for years to come.

Benintendi's instant classic reminded me of another reckless left fielder, Washington Senator Bob Allison. Of course, he made his mark in Minnesota and the famous catch came years later in the 1965 World Series, but the mix of power at the plate and superb defense sure seems familiar to me. Maybe could have gone with fellow BoSox phenom Fred Lynn here, but I felt Bob was more apropos.

Outfield - Trey Mancini
Geez, another guy with 20+ homers in their rookie year? Mancini played both corner outfield positions as well as spending some time at first base. His defense didn't exactly set the world on fire, but his bat more than made up for it.

The first guy I thought of was Jay Buhner, but I think I'll go with Jim Rice- beefy power at the expense of speed seems about right here.

Right Handed Pitcher- German Marquez
Well, with all those homers, you'd expect the pitching to be a little harder to find. Marquez had a fine season, and of course pitched in the worst environment for pitchers, let alone rookies, as his home field. He had a respectable 114 ERA+, making him slightly better than league average. He didn't strike out a ton of batters, and did give up 25 homers, though 15 of those came at home in Coors Field.

It took a little research to find a righty rookie All-Star with similar numbers, but Mark Leiter had a similarly solid season in 1991 for the Tigers, sporting an ugly ERA of 4.26 (which was exactly league average that year) and a low strikeout rate. I could also have gone with another Rockie, Jason Jennings, who had a very good career in a very tough ballpark.

Left Handed Pitcher - Jordan Montgomery
Jordan Montgomery was the best of a less than stellar crop of lefty rookie starters in 2017. The opposition was tough! Lots of homers and it can be very difficult for rookies to adapt to that kind of aggressive and unforgiving landscape. He gave up his share of longballs (21), but he kept traffic on the basepaths to a minimum, walking 51 in 155 innings pitched. 

The best comp I could find was Woodie Fryman, the Pirates lefty who had excellent control. Fryman would go on to have a dependable role in bullpens and the middle of rotations throughout the league. He didn't strike out a ton of batters, but was very stingy with walks as well.

Relief Pitcher - Josh Hader
He only pitched 47 innings in 2017, and he wasn't the Brewers' closer at any point, but he was probably their best bullpen weapon. The lefty was devastating to opposing lineups, striking out 68 batters in those 47 frames to the tune of a 2.08 ERA.

The other lefty fireballer that comes to mind? Billy Wagner, who torched the league in 1996 - striking out 67 batters in 51 innings. He would slide into the closer role the following season and never looked back, racking up 422 career saves over 16 seasons.

Let me hear it in the comments if you agree or disagree with these comparisons!


  1. I like the Ron Gant and Ian Happ comparison. Fun read!

  2. I hope this doesn't mean the disappearance of the rookie cup on 2018 cards.

  3. Really great concept here. I enjoyed all the comparisons and I appreciate your research.

  4. Good read. I was a little surpised at Happ's selection since he jumps positions a bit like you mentioned. But I "Happ"ily picked up the single on ebay. Ok, I'll see myself out...

  5. I wonder if they'll bring back the Strasburg rule, where ASRs get a cup card and s plain one so they cram another Judge up our behinds.