Best rookie star to build around? Take your pick

June 19th, 2023

The 2022 rookie class seemed like it was going to be tough to top, with young studs such as , , , , , and bursting onto the scene.

However, 2023 has brought another sensational collection of impact newcomers to MLB, including some potential franchise cornerstones.

With so many talented choices, deciding which rookie would be the best to build around long term is no easy call. But we asked seven writers to take their pick (draft style!) from this year’s crop in an attempt to answer this question: Which rookie would you take if you were starting a franchise? (Note: Only players who have reached the Majors and still have rookie eligibility were considered.)

Here are the results. (All stats below are through Saturday.)

1. , OF, D-backs
Whenever a rookie generates MVP buzz, it’s noteworthy. Carroll finished third in our latest MVP poll for the NL, and deservedly so. He is second in the Majors in OPS, behind only Shohei Ohtani, and he’s only 22 years old. Only one rookie has led his league in OPS since 1900: Fred Lynn in 1975, when he became the first player to win Rookie of the Year and MVP in the same season. The only other player to join that multi-award list since is Ichiro Suzuki in 2001. A prospect who had been heralded for his speed and defense has shown he is a lot more than that -- while also excelling there as well. The present is already outstanding for Carroll and the future is very bright.

-- Sarah Langs

2. , 3B/SS, Orioles
You weren’t really giving up on Henderson after a rough (.180/.336/.342 through May 15) start, were you? Not after the impressive late-2022 debut that showed him post a 125 OPS+ with a 53% hard-hit rate and a 91st percentile sprint speed, right? Henderson has turned it around and then some, hitting .310/.355/.586 since May 16, and he doesn’t even turn 22 until the end of the month. In his short career, he’s got a 122 OPS+ while playing decent if unspectacular infield defense -- and this year, he’s hitting the ball almost as hard as Mike Trout. There are going to be flashier names to come on this list, with louder tools. But they come with a great deal more risk, too. Just about 100 games into Henderson’s career, we already know he’s going to be a big leaguer for years to come.

-- Mike Petriello

3. , SS, Reds
If you followed De La Cruz in the Minors or saw what the rookie did over his first handful of games in the Majors, this pick won’t require much of an explanation. For everyone else, here’s a crash course on what he can do. The short of it: De La Cruz is a 6-foot-5 switch-hitter who absolutely mashes from both sides of the plate, can run like the wind and has a rocket for an arm. And, oh yeah, he’s still just 21 years old. The youngster has made an immediate impact for the Reds, helping the club go 8-2 in his first 10 games. So while his long-term position may be in question and his lofty strikeout rate is a concern, I’m taking Elly and not thinking twice.

-- Thomas Harrigan

4. , OF, Cardinals
There are a lot of negative narratives surrounding the Cardinals this season, one of which enveloped Walker when he was sent back to the Minor Leagues after some early season success (including a historic 12-game hitting streak to begin his career). But don’t let that detract from the fact that this is a much-hyped 2020 first-round Draft pick who is the No. 1 prospect on MLB Pipeline’s Top 100 list and currently sports a .295/.353/.467 line (124 OPS+) … as a 21-year-old in his first taste of The Show.

A 6-foot-6, 245-pound goliath, Walker hits the ball hard consistently, as shown by his 53.2 percent hard-hit rate, which checks in among the top 25 in MLB. Sure, he needs to address his launch angle (2.6) in order to lift the ball more, and his defense (especially in the outfield) remains a work in progress, but those are similar criticisms that were levied at Vladimir Guerrero Jr. a few years ago, too. Despite the areas to improve, Walker’s ability with the bat at such a young age -- he’s hitting .327/.400/.571 since coming back up in early June -- portends an offensive upside that is too good to pass up.

-- Jason Catania

5. , 3B, Mets
I'm betting on Baty becoming the next David Wright over Francisco Alvarez becoming the next Mike Piazza. He hasn't really turned it on yet in the big leagues after tearing up the Minors, but Baty's got a sweet lefty swing and he's shown flashes of what it can do. Baty can rip a baseball -- his max exit velocity is 113-plus mph in both seasons of his young career, putting him around the top 10% of Major League hitters in both 2022 and 2023. A player's ability to reach the top end of exit velocity is a meaningful sign for his offensive ceiling. In other words: Baty has the skill of being able to hit the ball very hard, and that bodes well for his potential to develop into a future star hitter. A lot of the franchise players in Major League Baseball are third basemen. Baty could be that cornerstone for the Mets, who haven't had one at third since Wright.

-- David Adler

6. , SP, Marlins
He’s 6-foot-8 and weighs 220 pounds with an average fastball velocity of 97.4 mph, which is fourth in the Majors behind Jacob deGrom, Hunter Greene and Sandy Alcantara. That heater can touch triple digits and is complemented by a devastating changeup, as well as a slider and a curveball. He owns a microscopic 0.43 ERA over his past four starts. Oh, and he’s only 20 years old.

When you think “franchise cornerstone” to build around, you often think of young position players who have “superstar” written all over them. But don’t sleep on the impact of a young franchise starting pitcher like the one Pérez could become for the Marlins. With his physical strength and maturity beyond his years as evidenced by how smooth his transition to the big leagues has been after just 44 Minor League starts, MLB Pipeline’s top-ranked pitching prospect has all the makings of a dominant ace for many years to come.

-- Manny Randhawa

7. , SP, Dodgers
Miller, baseball’s No. 19 prospect as ranked by MLB Pipeline, is five starts into his Major League career, so, admittedly, this is incredibly premature. But it isn’t just his numbers we’re going on -- although they don’t hurt, because he’s pitching to a 2.83 ERA with a 1.01 WHIP and almost a strikeout per inning. This is all about his potential.

Miller debuted with a five-pitch arsenal, and all five, so far, look like they play at the big league level -- no small feat for a 24-year-old rookie. But even without any polish, his stuff would be ridiculous. He has a combined average fastball velocity of 98.8 mph, and his slider, which has maxed out at 94.7 mph in the Majors, looks like a legitimate strikeout pitch. As young arms go, Miller is a scout’s dream – so if you wanted to go off the beaten path and build a team around a pitcher, there’d be no reason not to pick this one.

-- Shanthi Sepe-Chepuru