These 10 rookies have surprised for contenders

August 15th, 2023

It's no coincidence that some of the most successful squads this season are getting excellent contributions from some of the game's top rookies.

Gunnar Henderson, the preseason No. 1 prospect, has 19 homers for the Orioles. The Dodgers' Bobby Miller is coming off of one of his best starts in The Show. The Rangers’ Josh Jung started the All-Star Game at third base.

Those three are part of a group of preseason Top 100 prospects who have all made an impact on teams with their sights set on October. But many rookies who weren’t on that list have helped push their respective clubs closer to the playoffs, too. Let's give them some shine.

Here are 10 players who have really come up big for contending teams this season despite not being included among MLB Pipeline’s Top 100 prospects in March.

Stats updated through Sunday's games.

, Twins
Julien nearly didn’t qualify for this list; he wasn’t among the initial Top 100 prospects, but by the time he made his Major League debut on April 12, he had snuck in at No. 96. He stuck around for short stints in April and May, but since being recalled to Minnesota on June 10, Julien has been a fixture in the lineup and one of the best hitters in baseball. Over the past two-plus months, the Quebec native ranks among the top 20 in on-base percentage (.404) and wRC+ (152) to go with a strong 14.3% barrel rate. While established stars such as Byron Buxton and Carlos Correa have underperformed at the plate, Julien has picked up the slack for a team that’s charging toward an AL Central title.

, Dodgers
There didn’t appear to be a spot for Outman on the Dodgers’ Opening Day roster at the outset of the year, but he carved out a spot for himself with a strong spring and then backed up his preseason performance with an April that earned him NL Rookie of the Month honors. The lefty-hitting outfielder went through a swoon in May and June, but the Dodgers stuck by him, and he has rebounded to post a .317 average and a .954 OPS since July 1. He has also provided positive value on the bases and in the field. Among all Dodgers, only Freddie Freeman and Mookie Betts have seen more plate appearances this year than the 26-year-old Outman.

, Reds
There are two Reds on this list -- and really, we could have chosen more. Abbott makes the cut because he has been the club’s most effective starting pitcher, by far. After tallying 90 strikeouts in 54 Minor League innings this year, Abbott arrived in the Majors on June 5 and made history immediately. He didn’t allow a run until his fourth start and has contributed a 159 ERA+, the best from any rookie who has thrown at least 70 innings. His 2.95 ERA is almost a full run better than any other Reds starter. The club has a .769 win percentage when the 24-year-old takes the mound. That’s the second-best team win percentage in a pitcher’s starts this season (min. 13 starts).

, Giants
A 2020 first-round Draft pick, Bailey wasn’t among the Giants’ top 10 prospects this spring after he batted just .225 at High-A last season. The 24-year-old catcher may never be much more than a league-average offensive player -- a recent hot streak has raised his wRC+ to 101 -- but that’s perfectly fine since he is already elite behind the dish. 

Fielding run value? Phenomenal

Baserunners have to be on alert whenever Bailey is around. His cat-like quickness and cannon arm can literally decide a game.

, Astros
Right-hander Hunter Brown, the Astros’ lone Top 100 prospect in the spring, has helped Houston weather injuries to Luis Garcia and Lance McCullers Jr. But it’s France, a 14th-round Draft pick in 2018, who has been the rotation’s best newcomer. His 2.75 ERA is not only tops among rookies, it ranks fourth among all pitchers with at least 100 innings under their belt, behind only Clayton Kershaw (2.51), Blake Snell (2.63) and Nathan Eovaldi (2.69). The Astros announced last week that France will be a part of their six-man rotation moving forward. Three days later, he proved again why he belongs, tossing seven strong frames in a win over the Angels.

, Orioles
It was always unrealistic to believe that Cano would keep up his immaculate start to the year. And yes, after retiring 62 of the first 67 batters he faced across 21 2/3 scoreless innings this season, the 29-year-old was much more hittable in June and July.

But to repeat: He retired 62 of the first 67 batters he faced across 21 2/3 scoreless innings this season.

Cano was acquired by Baltimore last year seemingly as a throw-in to complete a trade with the Twins and is now one half of perhaps the best duo at the back end of any bullpen, alongside Félix Bautista. Cano, who has tossed 5 1/3 scoreless innings in August to nudge his ERA back down to a stellar 1.75, will be an integral part of the Orioles’ quest for their first division title since 2014.

, Brewers
Orioles fans can be forgiven for overlooking Cano when he first joined the roster, and you could say the same thing about Brewers supporters with Monasterio. The 26-year-old infielder spent parts of eight seasons in the Minors with the Cubs, Nationals and Guardians before he inked a Minor League deal with Milwaukee last December. He was called up on May 27, when shortstop Willy Adames landed on the concussion IL, and quickly solidified himself in the Crew’s everyday lineup. Since making his Major League debut, Monasterio is third on the team in hits (45) and OPS (.780) while manning second base, third base and shortstop.

, Reds
Before Elly De La Cruz, Matt McLain, Christian Encarnacion-Strand and the aforementioned Abbott, Steer was carrying the mantle for the rookie Reds. The club’s No. 5 prospect during Spring Training -- the other four were in the Top 100 -- Steer was Cincinnati’s Opening Day third baseman. By the end of the season’s second month, he was being feted as the NL’s top rookie. Among Senior Circuit rookies, Steer leads the way in hits (116) and RBIs (66), is tied for first in walks (48) and is second in extra-base hits (47).

, Cubs
Assad carried a 5.53 ERA into late June while mostly working multi-inning stints out of the bullpen in low-leverage situations. But over the past six weeks, hardly anyone has been able to do much damage against the 26-year-old. He has limited batters to a .162/.248/.243 slash line while registering a 1.09 ERA over his previous 11 games. Inducing a ton of soft contact, Assad has permitted only three barrels during this run, which is tied for the second fewest among all pitchers (min. 30 IP). Much of that work came out of the ‘pen, but he has made a couple of starts for the Cubs this month, including a seven-inning gem on Friday.

, Astros
Back in March,’s Jim Callis called Diaz the most underrated catching prospect in the game. Since the start of June, the 24-year-old has been doing whatever he can to make sure people know his name. Diaz has 13 dingers and a .561 slugging percentage since June 1 and leads all qualified rookies in slugging for the season (.514). He became the eighth rookie in franchise history to reach double-digit home runs by the All-Star break. Diaz has also flexed his muscle behind the plate, using his top-notch arm to cut down 39% of prospective basestealers.