MLB execs weigh in: Who will be top rookie in '24?

March 30th, 2024

Rookies played key roles for some of 2023’s most successful teams -- from Corbin Carroll’s impact on the eventual National League champion Diamondbacks to Gunnar Henderson’s contributions for the 102-win Orioles.

Both players were rewarded with Rookie of the Year Award honors in their respective leagues, but others such as Josh Jung, Tanner Bibee, Triston Casas, Anthony Volpe, Kodai Senga, James Outman, Nolan Jones, Matt McLain and Yainer Díaz made their presence felt throughout their debut seasons.

Baseball’s youth movement will continue in 2024, with a number of neophytes already showing the type of impact they can have on their respective teams. But which ones will be able to handle the grind of the long season, posting performances that will keep us talking about them for months?

We asked a number of executives around the league the following question: Which rookies will have the biggest impact on their teams this season? Fifteen players received votes, though one stood out above all the others.

1. , Rangers (7)
2. , Padres (4)
3. , Brewers (3)
4T. , Rangers (2)
4T. , Pirates (2)
4T. , Red Sox (2)
4T. , Pirates (2)
4T. , Dodgers (2)
9T. , Rays (1)
9T. , Orioles (1)
9T. , Giants (1)
9T. , Orioles (1)
9T. , Cubs (1)
9T. , Royals (1)
9T. , Angels (1)

Langford received the most mentions, which is hardly a surprise given his monster spring. The No. 4 pick in last year’s MLB Draft, Langford had six home runs and an MLB-high 20 RBIs in 21 games, posting a 1.137 OPS, the third-highest of the spring.

“We saw him all spring,” an NL executive said. “He’s already an above-average Major League hitter.”

“He has the potential to immediately step in and be a premier middle-of-the-order bat,” said an AL executive.

Langford, who won’t turn 23 until November, made Texas’ Opening Day roster and started at DH on Thursday despite playing only 44 games in the Minors -- including 12 at Double-A and five at Triple-A -- since being drafted last July.

“He’s looking like he should have gone 1-1 right now,” an AL executive said. “Even though they are the defending champs, the Rangers are going to have a tough battle with Houston again this year, so they’ll need his bat to stay hot.”

Carter -- another young Rangers slugger -- hit .306 with a 1.058 OPS in 75 plate appearances last September before batting .300 with a .917 OPS in 72 more plate appearances during the club’s World Series run -- received two votes, with one AL executive marveling at the fact that the reigning World Series champs now add both Langford and Carter to an already imposing lineup.

“It’s wild that they had such a good offensive 2023 and can add two studs,” the exec said.

Another rookie who captured a spot on his club’s Opening Day roster was Merrill, who found himself in the Padres’ season-opening lineup during the first two games in Korea.

Merrill’s spring stats -- two homers, six RBIs and a .333/.378/.548 slash line in 15 games -- weren’t as eye-popping as Langford’s, but he did enough to impress manager Mike Shildt and his staff to win a job.

“If he is good, it will make a huge positive impact,” an NL executive said. “But if he struggles, I’m not sure they have anyone to replace him, and it will detract from any potential playoff run.”

Merrill, who will celebrate his 21st birthday on April 19, was San Diego’s first-round pick (No. 27 overall) in the 2021 MLB Draft. An AL exec said Merrill possesses "the tools to shake things up in the NL West.”

MLB Pipeline had Merrill ranked as the No. 12 overall prospect in the game, and while he played 178 of his 200 Minor League games at shortstop, he started in center field -- a position he had never played professionally prior to this spring -- in both games against the Dodgers in Seoul.

“If he plays a full season, he’ll spend a lot of time in center field, which he has no experience,” an NL executive said. “That’s impactful to come up to the Majors and immediately play a new position every day; adaptability is huge.”

Chourio was the only other player mentioned by more than two executives, receiving three votes. Aside from Carter, four other players garnered two votes each: Jared Jones (RHP, PIT), Rafaela (INF/OF, BOS), Skenes (RHP, PIT) and Yamamoto (RHP, LAD).

Skenes, the No. 1 overall pick in last July’s MLB Draft, did not break camp with the Pirates, but one NL executive predicted that whenever he makes his debut, the towering right-hander “will step right in and dominate.”

“I don’t think Skenes will make his debut until at least the All-Star break,” another NL executive said. “But when he does, I think we won’t be disappointed, even if he’s only up towards the end of the year.”