11 rookies poised to electrify on postseason stage

September 26th, 2022

There's no bigger stage to make a name for yourself than the postseason. Here are the rookies who could become the next October stars in 2022.

The playoffs will be full of superstars who've been there before, from Aaron Judge to Jacob deGrom to Justin Verlander to Freddie Freeman. But the top rookies in baseball will be there, too.

Here are the 11 rookies we want to watch this postseason.

1. Julio Rodríguez, Mariners

Robbie Ray gets it. This is what J-Rod's teammate said about him: "Julio Rodríguez -- the kid needs to be in the playoffs. … The world needs to know who Julio Rodríguez is, and they're going to find out.”

Rodríguez is already one of the most electric players in the game. Although the Mariners' spark plug is currently on the injured list with a back strain, he has 27 home runs and 25 stolen bases, and was the first player in the Majors to reach the 25-25 mark this season. He's one of the fastest players in MLB, with a 29.7 ft/sec sprint speed and 77 "Bolts" (individual runs in the elite 30-plus ft/sec range). He plays highlight-reel defense in center field, with +6 Outs Above Average.

The 21-year-old already stole the show in the Home Run Derby. Let's see him do it in the postseason.

2. Spencer Strider, Braves

It's too bad we didn't get to see Strider overpower hitters during the Braves' World Series run last year. The National League Rookie of the Year favorite debuted late in 2021, but he didn't pitch at all in the postseason.

Atlanta is hopeful he will make his October debut this year after his regular season ended with an oblique injury. The 23-year-old has emerged as one of the most dominant pitchers in the Majors, with a 2.67 ERA and 202 strikeouts in 131 2/3 innings. His 16-K game against the Rockies on Sept. 1 is the season high in the Majors this season.

The coolest part to watch? Strider is an old-school power pitcher. His fastball averages 98.2 mph -- it's hit triple digits 77 times. And he loves to throw it. Strider throws his four-seamer over two-thirds of the time, the highest rate among starting pitchers.

3. Michael Harris II, Braves

If Strider weren't the Rookie of the Year favorite, Harris would be. He hits for contact, with a .305 batting average. He hits for power, with 19 home runs. He has speed, with 19 steals. He's great in center field, with +7 Outs Above Average. He's the closest thing the NL has to Julio Rodríguez … and he's the perfect complement to Ronald Acuña Jr. in Atlanta.

With the 24-year-old Acuña and the 21-year-old Harris, the Braves have two of the most dynamic young outfielders in the game. Acuña's first postseason as a rookie in 2018 included a huge grand slam off the Dodgers' Walker Buehler. Now it's Harris' turn.

4. Jeremy Peña, Astros

We all know what Carlos Correa can do on the postseason stage. Time to see what his replacement can do.

Peña has done a fine job inheriting the Astros' starting shortstop role from Correa. Even with some growing pains in his first big league season, the 25-year-old has 19 home runs and 11 stolen bases and has started 126 games at short for the AL West champs with +9 Outs Above Average.

Correa crushed 18 home runs in the postseason with Houston. Peña can start his own counter this October.

5. George Kirby, Mariners

The Mariners have one star rookie in the lineup and one in the rotation. Kirby, the team's top pitching prospect when he was called up in early May, is now one of the many up-and-coming young players driving Seattle's push to end its 20-year postseason drought. He even outdueled the ace of the defending World Series champs, Max Fried, in a playoff-type showdown a couple of weeks ago.

The 24-year-old has a 3.30 ERA and is striking out over a batter an inning over 23 starts. His success comes from great command -- Kirby walks fewer than one in 25 batters he faces, in the top 1% of the league -- as he attacks hitters with one of the most effective four-seam fastballs among Major League starters.

6. Hunter Brown, Astros

Justin Verlander will be the Astros' playoff ace again in 2022 ... and Brown is the mini-Verlander.

The 24-year-old righty idolized Verlander -- and Brown looks just like Verlander when he pitches.

The Astros' No. 1 prospect, who also features an upper-90s rising fastball, has a 1.13 ERA through his first four big league outings. If he can win a spot on Houston's postseason roster -- potentially as a reliever -- the Astros could have a Verlander in the rotation and a Verlander in the 'pen.

7 and 8. Guardians' Steven Kwan and Cardinals' Brendan Donovan

You know what goes up in the playoffs? Strikeouts. You know what Kwan and Donovan don't do? Strike out.

Kwan debuted this season as baseball's contact king -- he didn't swing and miss once in the first 116 pitches he saw in the big leagues. And he still ranks at the top of the league with an 8.8% swing-and-miss rate and 9.0% strikeout rate. The 25-year-old is batting .298 with more walks (60) than strikeouts (54).

For the Cardinals, Donovan has almost as many walks (55) as K's (67). His swing-and-miss rate of 15.3% is lower than 94% of the league, and his walk rate of 12.6% is higher than 94% of the league.

There are going to be big spots in the postseason when the Guardians or Cardinals need a competitive at-bat from someone who's not going to whiff. Kwan and Donovan are the type of hitter who can come through.

9. José Azocar, Padres

The 26-year-old outfielder is San Diego's fastest player (with Fernando Tatis Jr. out), with a 29.4 ft/sec sprint speed and 15 different runs above Statcast's elite 30-plus ft/sec threshold. Azocar is also right up there with Trent Grisham as far as outfield defense -- Azocar has +6 Outs Above Average and is 5-for-10 making plays with a 50% catch probability or lower.

Every postseason team needs a speed-and-defense specialist. Azocar can be that for the Padres.

10. Robert Suarez, Padres

A 31-year-old rookie? Absolutely. Suarez, who spent the last six years in Japan, is pitching in the Majors for the first time this season, and he throws gas. The righty reliever, who has a 2.49 ERA and 11.0 K/9, has topped out at over 101 mph this season, including a personal-best 101 mph strikeout of D-backs slugger Christian Walker on Sept. 15. It's going to be fun watching him bring the heat out of the San Diego bullpen.

11. Scott Effross, Yankees

The Yankees' trade for Effross from the Cubs makes him a prime candidate to be one of those relievers who comes out of nowhere to be a key postseason arm.

Effross' low sidearm delivery creates some unique movement on his pitches, especially his sinker. The righty releases the ball from just 3.63 feet off the ground, the fifth-lowest release point in the Majors, and 4.35 feet to the third-base side of the rubber, the second-widest release point in the Majors.

Sometimes, Effross' sinker breaks more than two full feet horizontally from left to right. His personal best is one that broke nearly 30 inches to get Jorge Alfaro to wave hopelessly for a swing-and-miss.