These 11 rookies have exceeded expectations

June 18th, 2022

Fewer than three months into this season, it has already been a fruitful year for rookies in Major League Baseball. The quartet who led off MLB Pipeline's preseason list of the Top 100 prospects -- Bobby Witt Jr., Adley Rutschman, Julio Rodríguez and Spencer Torkelson -- are all in the big leagues. Same goes for No. 7 Gabriel Moreno. No. 9 CJ Abrams spent much of the first month in the Majors, and No. 5 Riley Greene is on the way.

Outside the top 10, you've got Alek Thomas, Hunter Greene, George Kirby, Nolan Gorman -- the list of early success stories from the preseason Top 100 is a lengthy one.

And this article about standout rookies will go in depth about none of them. That's because once you go beyond the Top 100, there are a bevy of players who are proving that they belong. Here are 11 of the best rookies you wouldn't have found on that list.

Note: All statistics are through Thursday's games.

Jake Burger, White Sox
Chicago's offense hasn't lived up to its preseason billing, largely due to a spate of injuries that have seen many of their best bats sidelined. Starved for offense, that's what Burger has provided since being recalled from Triple-A on May 24. He has hit six homers, driven in 16 runs and produced a 1.062 OPS in 17 games since that date. His .689 slugging percentage is sixth best in MLB during that span while his 199 wRC+ ranks eighth.

It's quite a turnaround for Burger, who had posted a .628 OPS and a 35.1% strikeout rate in 21 games prior to his demotion to the Minors. That K rate has fallen to 22.4% since his recall.

Brock Burke, Rangers
The Yankees' Clay Holmes has solidified himself as one of the best relief pitchers in the game. His 0.29 ERA is the best among all pitchers with at least 30 innings this season. Who is second on that list? Yeah, it's Burke with his 0.83 ERA over 32 2/3 innings. He also hasn't given up an earned run in 12 appearances (21 innings) since the start of May.

Burke was a starting pitcher during a short stint with the Rangers in 2019, recording a 7.43 ERA through 26 2/3 innings that year before a shoulder injury forced him to miss all of 2020. Back in the Majors as a multi-inning arm out of the bullpen, he's leaning on a fastball that has ticked up 3 mph on average from '19 and is limiting hitters to a .253 slugging percentage.

Brendan Donovan, Cardinals
On May 10, the Cardinals sent struggling shortstop Paul DeJong to the Minors. To that point, Donovan was a bench player who hadn't done much through 10 MLB games. But he got the start at short that day vs. the Orioles and clocked his first Major League homer. Donovan hasn't gone deep since, but he's done just about everything else at the plate, hitting .362 with more walks (21) than strikeouts (18).

Donovan's walk and strikeout rates rank in the top 10 percentile among qualified hitters, and that keen strike-zone judgment is a key reason why he owns a National League-best .471 on-base percentage since May 10. Donovan has also provided defensive versatility as he has played every position except pitcher, catcher and center field.

Alexis Diaz, Reds
Diaz opened the season with a stretch in which he allowed only one run through 17 1/3 innings, racked up 21 strikeouts, and notched a landmark save with family ties. Diaz's high-spin fastball, which he throws 70% of the time, is a dominant pitch that has silenced hitters to the tune of a .104 average and .179 slugging. His swinging-strike rate (15.7%) is the seventh best in MLB among pitchers with at least 30 innings. Even with some recent stumbles, his 2.40 ERA ain't too shabby, so perhaps Edwin won't be the only Diaz brother in Los Angeles for next month's All-Star Game.

Jhoan Duran, Twins
All apologies to fellow Twin Gilberto Celestino, who is hitting .330 through 103 at-bats this season, but when in doubt, go with the pitcher who averages 100.5 mph. Duran is the only player this season who has thrown multiple pitches at 103 mph, and he has paired that fastball with a low-90s curveball to make hitters look foolish.

It's no shock that he has one of the best strikeout rates in the game at 36%, but Duran has also shown great command of his powerful repertoire. His 31.5 strikeout-minus-walk rate is tied for fourth best among all pitchers with at least 20 innings under their belt. Duran has been scored upon only once over his previous 14 outings and is 3-for-3 in save opportunities during that span.

Alex Faedo, Tigers
Faedo had a very forgettable start Wednesday vs. the White Sox, but that was the first slipup in what had been a historic beginning to his career. Making his MLB debut on May 11, Faedo tossed at least five innings and gave up no more than two earned runs in each of his first seven outings. According to Elias Sports Bureau, Faedo is one of only three AL/NL pitchers since 1893 to post seven such outings to open their Major League career.

This consistency is even more impressive when you consider that Faedo missed all of 2021 as he recovered from Tommy John surgery. His mid-80s slider has generated only one extra-base hit, a .277 opponents' slugging percentage and a 38.4% whiff rate.

Luis González, Giants
González's baseball future was a mystery just a few months ago. Designated for assignment by both the White Sox and Giants last year, the 26-year-old re-signed with San Francisco as a free agent on Dec. 1. Now he ranks inside the top three among qualified NL rookies in myriad categories, including hits (42), doubles (11), RBIs (21), on-base percentage (.363) and OPS+ (122). Never hitting better than .286 at any level from 2019-21, González is batting .302 through 139 at-bats and boasts a strikeout rate of less than 20%.

Christopher Morel, Cubs
Excitement. Power. Showmanship. That's how you could have described Morel after just one at-bat in Majors. He sent a ball out onto Waveland Avenue in his first career plate appearance and showed off an 80-grade bat flip to boot.

Morel has gotten real comfy at the "Friendly Confines" since that first night. Heading into Friday's game at Wrigley, he's reached base safely in each of his first 18 home games, slashing .304/.372/.565. Morel's 22-game on-base streak to start his career set a Cubs franchise record, and his 141 wRC+ since his May 17 debut is second best on the club. The entertainment often continues when Morel reaches base as his seven steals are the most among all rookies on the Senior Circuit.

Jeremy Peña, Astros
Although Peña didn't crack the preseason Top 100, he was the Astros' No. 1 prospect entering the season and immediately tasked to fill some big shoes. Although Houston didn't necessarily need him to be the next Carlos Correa, Peña has done a pretty effective impersonation of the two-time All-Star.

The 24-year-old got off to a torrid start, registering a 1.014 OPS through his first 10 games. Even though his bat has come down to Earth a bit since then, his overall .805 OPS and 134 wRC+ are not far behind Correa (.829, 142). And the rookie has far outshined him on defense; Correa has totaled minus-4 outs above average while Peña is tied for the lead among all shortstops with six. A plus baserunner as well, Peña has been at or near the top of our Rookie of the Year poll through the first two months.

Spencer Strider, Braves
No matter the situation -- Minors or Majors, starting or in relief -- Strider has been one of the best strikeout pitchers in the game since entering pro ball in 2021. His K rate has been no lower than 35% at each of the five levels he's played, including his 38.6% mark this year in the big leagues. That is the best strikeout rate among all pitchers who have thrown at least 40 innings. He overpowered hitters as a bullpen arm for the first six weeks of the season and has now limited opponents to a .155 average and a .513 OPS through four starts since May 30. Coming off an 11-strikeout performance against the Nationals on Wednesday, Strider just seems to be getting stronger with every appearance.

Juan Yepez, Cardinals
Before Cards fans fell head over heels for Donovan, it was Yepez who was taking Busch Stadium by storm. Through his first 14 MLB games, Yepez collected six extra-base hits, three homers and a .945 OPS. He has hit a rut since then, but his 122 OPS+ is plenty serviceable. He doesn't strike out much (20.9%) and went deep as part of a three-hit effort Sunday.