Not only were Carroll and Henderson the best rookies in terms of 2023 performance, they surpassed all others in predicted career value, a project we’ve undertaken for the last nine seasons. Nothing we do annually at MLB Pipeline draws more ire than our long-term rookie rankings, which provoke fans who don’t differentiate between current and future projection.
We’ve had a number of tough calls for the No. 1 spot over the years: Corey Seager vs. Alex Bregman (2016), Ronald Acuña Jr. vs. Juan Soto vs. Shohei Ohtani (2018), Vladimir Guerrero Jr. vs. Fernando Tatis Jr. (2019), Julio Rodriguez vs. Adley Rutschman (2022). Carroll vs. Henderson is another interesting debate in the same vein.
Carroll is one of the fastest players in the Majors and the first rookie ever to combine 25 homers with 50 steals. Henderson has more power and also more defensive value as a quality infielder at either third base or shortstop. They both were 22 years old as rookies.
The call here is Henderson because he should provide as much offense as Carroll while staying on the dirt, though we won’t truly know the answer for at least another decade.
In our rankings below, we consider past track record, present-year performance and future projection. The age at which a player arrives in the big leagues and becomes a star correlates strongly with his future value, and we factor that in while noting each player’s seasonal age as of July 1 in parentheses. Position players are less volatile than pitchers, so that matters too.
Our list only considers players who graduated from rookie status by exceeding 130 at-bats, 50 innings or 45 days of active service time in the Majors. Evan Carter may have starred in the postseason and helped the Rangers win the World Series, but he still counts as a rookie and a prospect. So do other phenoms such as Orioles outfielder Colton Cowser, Reds third baseman Noelvi Marte and Cardinals shortstop Masyn Winn, who came close but didn’t quite exceed the rookie limits.
1. Gunnar Henderson, 3B/SS, Orioles (age 22)
MLB Pipeline’s top-ranked prospect entering the season, Henderson led all rookies with 28 homers. The only left-side infielders to hit more as rookies in the last five decades were Ryan Braun (34 in 2007) and Nomar Garciaparra (30 in 1997).
2. Corbin Carroll, OF, D-backs (age 22)
In addition to his historic 25-homer, 54-steal season, Carroll led the D-backs to their second World Series appearance in franchise history.
3. Eury Pérez, RHP, Marlins (age 20)
Miami’s best pitching prospect since the late José Fernández, Pérez offers a unique combination of size (6-foot-8), stuff and precocious polish. He reached the Majors at the same age as Fernández and averaged more strikeouts per nine innings (10.6 vs. 9.7) as a rookie.
4. Jordan Walker, OF, Cardinals (age 21)
Though he got sent down for five weeks in late April, Walker finished strong and became just the second rookie in Cardinals history age 21 or younger to hit 16 homers, joining Albert Pujols (37 in 2001).
5. Francisco Alvarez, C, Mets (age 21)
Not only did Alvarez become just the sixth rookie catcher to bash 25 homers, he was much better than expected behind the plate and graded as one of baseball’s best framers.
6. Grayson Rodriguez, RHP, Orioles (age 23)
After sporting a 7.35 ERA in his first 10 big league starts, Rodriguez reclaimed his command in Triple-A and showed a dominant changeup and slider while posting a 2.58 ERA over his last 13 outings with Baltimore.
7. Elly De La Cruz, SS/3B, Reds (age 21)
No player on this list has a higher ceiling or louder tools than de la Cruz, who may have more speed and arm strength than anyone in the Majors, but also comes with significant swing-and-miss issues.
9. Anthony Volpe, SS, Yankees (age 22)
While his .666 OPS may have been underwhelming, Volpe became the second rookie shortstop to win a Gold Glove (joining Jeremy Peña) and the third with a 20-20 season (following Garciaparra and Bobby Witt Jr.).
10. Josh Jung, 3B, Rangers (age 25)
Another player who had been slowed by injuries, Jung became the first rookie to make the All-Star Game and win a World Series since Hideki Okajima in 2007.
11. Triston Casas, 1B, Red Sox (age 23)
Casas combines hitting ability, power and patience at first base, and his 1.034 OPS after the All-Star break was the fourth-best in baseball (min. 200 plate appearances) behind Shohei Ohtani, Matt Olson and Acuña Jr.
12. Bobby Miller, RHP, Dodgers (age 24)
Miller’s fastball, changeup and curveball all played among the best in baseball, giving him an arsenal that could make him the Dodgers’ next ace.
13. Taj Bradley, RHP, Rays (age 22)
Bradley’s combination of stuff and strikes resulted in the best strikeout rate (11.1 per nine innings) and third-best K/BB ratio (3.3) among rookies (min. 100 innings), though he did get hit harder than expected.
14. Ezequiel Tovar, SS, Rockies (age 21)
A Gold Glove finalist, Tovar has bat-to-ball skills and some sneaky pop but undermined them both by losing his discipline at the plate. Time is still on his side because he’s one of the youngest players on this list.
15. Logan O'Hoppe, C, Angels (age 23)
A torn labrum in his left shoulder limited O’Hoppe to 182 at-bats, but among catchers with at least as many trips to the plate as a rookie, his home run percentage (8 percent) ranks fourth all-time behind Gary Sánchez (2016), Rudy York (1937) and Will Smith (2019).
The next 20:
16. Sal Frelick, OF, Brewers (age 23)
17. Zack Gelof, 2B, Athletics (age 23)
18. Matt McLain, SS/2B, Reds (age 23)
19. Hunter Brown, RHP, Astros (age 24)
20. Tanner Bibee, RHP, Guardians (age 24)
21. Gavin Williams, RHP, Guardians (age 23)
22. Bo Naylor, C, Guardians (age 23)
23. Brandon Pfaadt, RHP, Diamondbacks (age 24)
24. Zach Neto, SS, Angels (age 22)
25. Edouard Julien, 2B, Twins (age 24)
26. Kodai Senga, RHP, Mets (age 30)
27. Tyler Soderstrom, C/1B, Athletics (age 21)
28. Brett Baty, 3B, Mets (age 23)
29. Miguel Vargas, 2B, Dodgers (age 23)
30. Endy Rodríguez, C, Pirates (age 23)
31. Henry Davis, OF, Pirates (age 23)
32. Yainer Diaz, C, Astros (age 24)
33. Bryce Miller, RHP, Mariners (age 24)
34. Andrew Abbott, LHP, Reds (age 24)
35. Nolan Jones, OF, Rockies (age 25)