Top NL Rookie Hitters

This week we’re taking a look at some of the top rookies in Major League Baseball in an attempt to ascertain who is the most deserving candidate for Rookie of the Year in both the American and National Leagues. Today, we’ll take a look at five rookie hitters in the National League who have a solid chance at the Rookie of the Year award. On Monday, we looked at the top rookie hitters in the AL and we looked at the top rookie pitchers in the AL yesterday.

Chris Coghlan, LF/2B, Florida Marlins

Coghlan was originally recalled to help out as a utility player and part-time outfielder right around the time that top prospect Cameron Maybin was demoted to triple-A. The former full-time second baseman (and college third baseman) has turned into a full-time left fielder for the Florida Marlins and he is second in OPS (.786) amongst all National League rookies with 220 or more at-bats. The left-handed hitter is having a nice season after getting off to a slow start when he hit below .200 in May. Overall, Coghlan now has a line of .288/.369/.418 with six homers in 292 at-bats. Oddly, he’s hitting much better outside Florida, with a road average of .329, compared to a home average of .248. Although he’s done a nice job filling in at an unfamiliar position in 2009, Coghlan’s lack of power makes him much more suited to second base, which is the role he could fill in 2010 if the club finally cuts ties with incumbent (and expensive) Dan Uggla.

Dexter Fowler, CF, Colorado Rockies

Fowler has more at-bats (345) than any other rookie in the NL this season. He also leads the youngsters in hits, doubles, runs scored, stolen bases, walks and strikeouts. Overall, the athletic outfielder is hitting .264/.362/.403 with 26 steals in 35 attempts. He has a solid walk rate of 13.8 BB% but his strikeout rate is alarmingly high at 28.1 K%. With his lack of power (.139 ISO), Fowler needs to trim his Ks. A switch-hitter, the 23-year-old Georgia native is hitting .301 versus southpaws but just .248 against right-handers. He has some work to do on his overall game, but Fowler is extremely intelligent and the sky is the limit for this rookie.

Andrew McCutchen, CF, Pittsburgh Pirates

The Pirates organization was extremely cautious with McCutchen, a former first round pick (11th overall) out of a Florida high school in 2005. The right-handed hitter spent parts of three seasons in triple-A before receiving his first taste of MLB action in 2009. He was well-deserving of the promotion after hitting .303/.361/.493 with 10 steals in 49 games. At the MLB level, McCutchen, 22, has hit .293/.359/.488 with seven homers and 12 steals (in 13 attempts) in 246 at-bats. His walk rate is a little low for a top-of-the-order hitter at 8.9 BB% but he has a solid strikeout rate at 18.3 K%. Although his game is mostly built around his speed, McCutchen has shown more power this year (.195 ISO in 2009 vs .115 in 2008) and he has a healthy line-drive rate at 18.5%. Defensively, he plays a solid center field but he is still learning.

Gerardo Parra, CF, Arizona Diamondbacks

Early on in his career, Parra was essentially considered a poor man’s Carlos Gonzalez (who is now in Colorado). Parra, though, is arguably having more success at the MLB level than his former teammate. The Arizona Diamondbacks organization promoted Parra to the Majors much sooner than expected due to a rash of injuries. Although he was expected to fill in for just a short time, the Venezuela native quickly made himself at home. He is currently hitting .290/.328/.427 with five homers, eight triples and five steals in 307 at-bats. The 22-year-old fielder has always hit for a good average, but he’s impatient at the plate (5.5 BB%) and he does not have the power (.137 ISO) necessary to play a corner outfield spot in the Majors on an everyday basis. He has split most of his time in the Majors between left field and center, where he’s been average at best. He does have a strong arm.

Colby Rasmus, CF, St. Louis Cardinals

Rasmus is having a nice, albeit inconsistent, rookie season for the St. Louis Cardinals. The center fielder has shown flashes of the talent that should one day make him an All-Star. However, Rasmus is hitting .248/.306/.412 with 11 homers in 330 at-bats. He has a walk rate of just 7.0 BB% and a respectable strikeout rate of 19.4 K%, but his BABIP is just .278. Rasmus had a nice month of June, but he hit .218/.291/.397 in July and is currently hitting .167/.300/.167 in August. A more patient approach at the plate, as well as a little more luck on batted balls, could really turn his numbers around.

Tomorrow, we’ll take a look at the top rookie pitchers in the National League.

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Marc Hulet has been writing at FanGraphs since 2008. His work focuses on prospects, depth charts and fantasy. Follow him on Twitter @marchulet.

44 Responses to “Top NL Rookie Hitters”

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  1. Whither Seth Smith?

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  2. Rob says:

    The lack of Casey McGehee is just wrong

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  3. Isaac says:

    He hasn’t had all that many AB’s(128 thus far5), but Jake Fox has been the best rookie hitter in the NL, and it’s not very close. 914 OPS!!

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  4. Isaac,

    I fear that the second number you post (.914 OPS) has a lot to do with the first number (only 128 ABs).

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    • Isaac says:

      Care to explain why? His numbers don’t seem to be out of line from what was expected of him after the last couple of years in the minor leagues. His hit rate is fine, perhaps a tad bit high, but nothing alarming. He doesn’t walk very much, but he makes enough contact to hit for at least a decent average. Oh, and his power is very, very legitimate. His wOBA is better than any of the players listed in this article. I believe he is a fine hitter.

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      • BlackOps says:

        Explanation: sample size.

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      • Isaac says:

        Sample Size(alone)=poor explanation, especially when the subject at hand was the best hitter in the minor leagues, age non-withstanding, bar none.

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      • scott says:

        best hitter in the minor leagues?

        Jason Heyward
        Gordon Beckham
        Mike Stanton

        All those hitters are twice the hitter Jake Fox is. In addition to the SSS, he literally has no position you could say he’s remotely good at.

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      • Isaac says:

        Title: Best rookie hitters. Position and defense be damned, this is about hitting.
        2009 stats
        Fox: AAA: .409/.495/.841, over 164 AB’s.
        Beckham: AA: .299/.366/.497, over 147 AB’s.
        AAA: .464/.448/.679, over 28 AB’s.
        Heyward: A+:.296/.369/.519
        AA: .405/.485/.730
        Stanton: A+: .294/.390/.578
        AA: .243/.323/.477

        Heyward comes (kinda) close, but Fox is way ahead.

        I never said Fox will be better than the players you listed, but he did hit better than all three in the minors. That’s indisputable.

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      • It’s not just sample size, it’s also that as he gets more AB’s his weaknesses become more exposed. I could be wrong (it’s happened lots before) but I think that if Fox plays full-time he’ll get more exposed and his rate stats will come down.

        But I don’t dispute that rate-wise, he deserves to be on that list. I just question his ability to keep up those rates over a larger sample and with more exposure.

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  5. Travis G. says:

    Ryan Hanigan?

    Hitting .280/.371/.345 over 339 PA and, according to some analysts, the best defensive catcher in MLB.

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  6. WY says:

    Rasmus has shown a little more patience lately, but it’s been an odd season for him. His best month power-wise coincided with a stretch of about 100 ABs without a walk.

    As for his BABIP, he has good speed, but also hits a lot of fly balls, so it doesn’t surprise me that his BABIP is a bit low.

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  7. Derek says:

    McCutchen as a 2.2 WAR!!!!! Name another rookie who even comes close??

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  8. PhilliesPhans says:

    where is J Happ

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  9. Marc Hulet says:

    Casey McGehee is having a nice year, but he’s got 100 ABs fewer than the top guys, so we’ll probably include him in the list next month (Sept) when I look at the races again… As for Hanigan, he falls a little short in at-bats for my consideration… It’s kind of crazy that he only has 8 RBI.

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  10. DavidA says:

    Seth Smith had 123 PAs in 2008, so I’m not sure if he qualifies for rookie status this season or not. But if he does, I don’t see how he isn’t on this list. .386 wOBA and plays good defense too. 2.1 WAR through this point in the season.

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  11. Marver says:

    Too bad Everth “The Future” Cabrera couldn’t get a mention. If he’s not the most exciting rookie to watch in the NL this season, I’ll eat my shoe.

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  12. Bill says:

    Technically Rasmus doesn’t lead NL rookies in HR, Garrett Jones does.

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  13. Matt says:

    I love how this article insults Carlos Gonzalez despite him finally figuring it out in the MLB level (2nd highest average since the All Star break)

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    • Not David says:

      Yes, obviously insulting. Oh, and hurray for that 54 PA sample.


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      • bluecaboose says:

        as much as i agree with the small sample size comment, he did end up hitting something like .320/.384/.608 after the break, good enough to equalize that overall line out to .284/.353/.525.

        I’d call that better than Parra.

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  14. Chris M. says:

    I’m surprised Rasmus hasn’t shown more of the speed he did while in the minors. 1 SB in 1 attempt is kinda underwhelming.

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  15. ineedanap says:

    Just out of curiousity, why do you say that Fowler is “extremely intelligent”?

    Not disputing it, just thought there might be an interesting story behind it.

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  16. Ryan says:

    Almost went to Harvard for college and to play basketball.

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  17. rrod repair says:

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  18. Nice post mate, I love your blog, thanks for sharing it :)

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