The crux of my duties here at FanGraphs is to project prospects who happen to be in the news. In most cases, this involves writing about highly touted minor league players as they’re called up to the big leagues for the first time. There’s certainly been no shortage of players from that phylum in 2015. This year has often been labeled the “The Year of the Prospect,” and rightly so. From Kris Bryant to Carlos Correa to Noah Syndergaard to Lance McCullers, we’ve experienced a historic wave of young talent matriculating to the big leagues. Top prospects often turn into productive big leaguers, so nobody would be surprised if several of this year’s crop of rookies went on to be perennial All-Stars.
But not all impact major leaguers come out of this mold. As Jeff Sullivan uncovered this past February, about one-third of the players who produce three wins in any given season never even cracked a Baseball America’s Top 100 list. The purpose of this post is to analyze, or at least call attention to, a few rookie hitters on contending teams who weren’t ballyhooed as prospects, but have still acquitted themselves well in the big leagues. The four hitters below came to the big leagues with little fanfare, but have already made an impact on the division races this year, and more importantly, stand a good chance of remaining productive.
Randal Grichuk, OF, St. Louis
Although he was a first round pick, Randal Grichuk underwhelmed throughout his minor league career. His 113 wRC+ as a minor leaguer was more good than great, especially for a future corner outfielder. And up until this season, he was best known as the guy the Angels selected before Mike Trout. Grichuk’s put together an excellent performance for the Cardinals this year, however, belting 16 home runs in 92 games on his way to a 142 wRC+. Grichuk’s had some trouble making contact, but has made up for it by being extremely productive in those plate appearances that haven’t resulted in a strikeout.
Grichuk didn’t crack any top-100 lists heading into the year, but KATOH still thought he was an interesting prospect based on his minor league numbers. Although his overall .259/.311/.493 batting line was nothing special, especially for the Pacific Coast League, KATOH was still impressed by the power he demonstrated as a 22-year-old in Triple-A. My system projected him for 4.4 WAR through age 28, making him the 81st highest-ranked prospect. It’s no secret the Cardinals have a good team this year, and Grichuk has been a big part of that success. The one obstacle for the 23-year-old is an elbow injury, which has limited him to pinch-hitting duties of late. If healthy, though, Grichuk’s pop should continue to power the Cardinals lineup this October, even if his batting average comes back to earth a bit.
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