By now you’ve probably seen and/or read about the Statcast exploits of White Sox outfielder Luis Robert and Dodgers right-hander Dustin May, two of the more exciting young players in baseball.
Robert, MLB Pipeline’s No. 3 overall prospect, has showcased some of the best all-around tools in the game early in his big league career, posting elite exit velocities and sprint speeds while serving as a catalyst for a potent White Sox offense. May’s starts have become must-watch TV, with the 22-year-old seemingly defying physics with multiple pitches every time he takes the mound.
Of course, Robert and May aren’t the only rookies to emerge as Statcast sensations during the 2020 season. Here’s a look at eight other rookies who have stood out this season and why, with all data coming from either Statcast or Baseball Savant and reflecting games through Aug. 10.
Jake Cronenworth, INF/RHP (Padres No. 19 prospect)
Cronenworth, whom San Diego acquired from the Rays along with Tommy Pham during the offseason, has been a bright spot on both sides of the ball. A .344/.364/.750 hitter with a pair of homers through his first 33 plate appearances, the 26-year-old has generated an exit velocity of 100 mph or better on 10 of his 27 batted balls and has an average exit velocity of 90.8 mph, the 58th-best mark in baseball (min. 10 batted balls).
He also has shown a knack for squaring up the baseball early in his career, with a barrel rate (18.5%) that’s nearly three times better than league average (6.3%) and sweet-spot rate (63%) that’s roughly double the league norm (32.7%). What’s more, Cronenworth, an excellent athlete who’s versatile enough to play just about anywhere on the diamond, can really run, as his average sprint speed of 24.7 feet/sec this season puts him in the 95th percentile among Major Leaguers.
Monte Harrison, OF (Marlins No. 10)
While Harrison has struggled offensively following his callup on Aug. 4, going 2-for-16 with nine strikeouts over his first six games, the 25-year-old outfielder’s athleticism and tools have been on full display. He has already recorded two of the 25 hardest throws by an outfielder -- 94 mph (22nd) and 93.9 mph (25th), both on sacrifice flies -- this season and ranks in the 96th percentile in sprint speed on the bases, with a top speed of 30.1 ft/sec (27 ft/sec is considered Major League average) that properly reflects his elite wheels. Defensively, Harrison’s top sprint speed of 31.7 ft/sec as an outfielder is the ninth-best mark by any player this season.
Jordan Romano, RHP (Blue Jays No. 30)
Romano posted uneven results (7.63 ERA in 15 1/3 IP) during his first big league audition last year, but it was also the first year that he had pitched exclusively out of the bullpen after being developed as a starter the previous three years. This year, however, the 27-year-old righty has come into his own in the new role, opening the season with seven straight hitless appearances during which he’s posted a strikeout rate of 41.7 percent as well as a .202 xwOBA, both of which rank in the top five percent in the Majors.
So, what’s fueling Romano’s breakthrough? For starters, his average fastball (96.4 mph) and slider (88.3 mph) velocities are both up compared to 2019, when he averaged 94.6 mph and 84.7 mph respectively. On top of that, he enhances his velocity by averaging 7.5 ft of extension with his fastball and 7.3 ft with his slider, both of which rank third among all pitchers in 2020. Altogether, those improvements have enabled Romano to improve his chase rate (36.2%) as well as his whiff rate (39.1%), with the latter representing a near 10 percent increase compared to his ‘19 mark.
Josh Staumont, RHP, Royals
Staumont, 26, has long possessed elite raw stuff, but never showed that he could harness it before this year. That certainly was the case in his first taste of the Majors in 2019, when he posted a solid 3.70 ERA but also a 15/10 K/BB across 19.1 frames while averaging 95.9 mph with his electric fastball. This year, however, Staumont has averaged 98.5 mph with his four-seamer -- a mark that’s tied for second in baseball with Jacob deGrom and Dustin May -- and topped out at 101.5 mph, the hardest-thrown pitch of the 2020 season. He pairs his heater with a similarly elite curveball, a pitch that averages nearly 3,000 rpm and with which he’s posted a 70.6-percent whiff rate (up from 43.2 percent in ’19). Together, the two offerings have enabled Staumont to rank in the 96th and 97th percentile in strikeout rate (43.8 percent) and whiff rate (42.1 percent), while posting a 14/3 K/BB over his first 7 2/3 frames.
Devin Williams, RHP, Brewers
A former second-round pick (2013) who moved to the bullpen after a myriad of injuries, including Tommy John surgery that cost him all of 2017, which stunted his development as a starter, Williams has been nothing short of a force out of Milwaukee’s ‘pen this season, posting a 1.69 ERA in five appearances and a 48.8-percent whiff rate that puts him in the 100th percentile in all of baseball. At the heart of the 25-year-old righty’s success is a changeup that’s one of the best in the game.
The pitch serves as a perfect complement to his upper-90s fastball and is elite by all measures. Compared to the average Major League changeup, Williams’ features 8.0 more inches of vertical movement (2nd-best among qualified pitchers); 4.6 more inches of horizontal movement (tied-4th-best); 25 percent more vertical drop (3rd); and 35 percent more break (3rd). Overall, Williams has recorded an absurd 64.7-percent whiff rate with his changeup, inducing eight of his 10 strikeouts so far with the pitch.
James Karinchak, RHP (Indians No. 16)
The 2017 ninth-rounder set a modern Minor League record last year for strikeout rate (22.0 per nine innings) and has 21 strikeouts in 12 2/3 innings with the Indians over the past two seasons. He’s been nearly untouchable out of the Indians’ bullpen in 2020, posting an unblemished ERA with three hits allowed and 13 strikeouts over 7 1/3 frames. Beyond the raw numbers, Karinchak ranks in the 99th percentile in strikeout rate (50 percent), the 98th percentile in hard-hit rate (10 percent) and the 92nd percentile in whiff rate (43.8 percent).
Statcast tells us that Karinchak’s four-seam fastball and curveball are both elite pitches, albeit in different ways. His heater, which averages 95.3 mph, is particularly unique in that it averages the most rise (3.6 inches compared to the Major League average for that pitch) and the least vertical movement (9.8 inches) among all big league hurlers. His curve is also relatively straight by league standards, ranking 195th in drop (48 inches) and 258th in break (2.3 inches). Yet, that similarity in Karinchak’s two pitches, along with his deceptive, high-effort delivery, is exactly why hitters struggle to make contact against him, let alone find the barrel.
Cristian Javier, RHP (Astros No. 6)
Javier struggled for the first time recently in his third start for Houston, giving up five earned runs in three innings against Oakland on Aug. 9, but otherwise the 23-year-old hander has been a solid addition to the Astros’ injury-plagued rotation, posting a 4.02 ERA and 16/4 K/BB over his first 15 2/3 frames in the big leagues. That follows a breakout 2019 campaign in which he led the Minors in ERA (1.74), strikeout rate (13.5 per nine innings) and opponents' average (.130) while advancing from Class A Advanced to Triple-A.
But unlike most of the other hurlers on this list, Javier doesn’t have a dominant fastball and has averaged just 92.4 mph with an 11.8-percent whiff rate with his four-seamer in the Majors. His slider, a pitch that he throws with 14.3 inches of horizontal movement (20th-best in baseball), has been very effective, though, resulting in a 40 percent whiff rate and .059 opponents’ slugging percentage. He’s enjoyed similar success with his curveball. Together, Javier has induced a whiff 40.7 percent of the time when he’s thrown either of his two breaking balls. Opposing hitters, meanwhile, are a paltry 1-for-19 with 11 strikeouts against the two pitches.
Kris Bubic, LHP (Royals No. 7)
One of the many standout college hurlers taken by the Royals in their 2018 Draft haul, Bubic hasn’t looked overmatched in the big leagues in two starts this season even though he entered the season having never pitched above the Class A Advanced level. The sample size is especially small for the 22-year-old southpaw -- 10 innings, to be exact -- but two things are already clear: Bubic has an outstanding straight changeup and he’s naturally tough to square up.
Hitters have produced a .188 average with a 30.8 percent whiff rate against Bubic’s changeup, which he’s thrown more than 33 percent of the time in the big leagues. The pitch features a roughly 12 mph speed differential compared to his four-seam fastball, while his highly deceptive delivery makes it especially difficult to recognize out of his hand. That’s true for everything Bubic throws, too, and it speaks to why the young lefty currently ranks in the 94th percentile among all big league pitchers in opponents' exit velocity (83-mph average) and in the 87th percentile in hard-hit rate (23.1 percent).
Mike Rosenbaum is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter at @GoldenSombrero.