Every year has its class of top rookies. This year, however, the class went above and beyond. The 2017 rookie class shattered records from coast to coast across both leagues, and many of the most hallowed rookie records no longer stand. Aaron Judge‘s 52 home runs broke Mark McGwire’s previous rookie record of 49. Judge’s 127 walks broke the modern record held by Ted Williams. Cody Bellinger hit 39 home runs, a new National League rookie record. Rhys Hoskins became the fastest player ever to hit 10 home runs (and 11, and 17, and 18, for that matter). Matt Olson became the first rookie ever with 15 homers in a 21-game span.
The accomplishments of the 2017 rookie class went beyond just power. Andrew Benintendi became the first rookie with a 20-home run, 20-steal season since Mike Trout. Paul DeJong posted the third-best OPS among shortstops, better than Corey Seager and Francisco Lindor. Manny Pina, Matt Chapman and Manuel Margot provided elite defense that ranked them among the Gold Glove award winners. And on the pitching side, playoff teams like the Rockies and Yankees benefitted greatly from the contributions of rookies on their staff.
It was such a deep year for rookies that many worthy candidates got squeezed off of the All-Rookie team. With the depth of first basemen and corner outfielders (Bellinger, Hoskins, Benintendi and Judge), Olson, Trey Mancini, Mitch Haniger and Yulieski Gurriel missed the cut despite excellent seasons. Promising starters like Antonio Senzatela, Dinelson Lamet, Jacob Faria, Sean Newcomb, Adalberto Mejia and Parker Bridwell also showed why they were so highly considered, but ultimately fell short of pitchers who had more complete seasons.
The rookie class of 2017 was record-breaking at the top, deep through the bottom and filled with top prospects showing flashes of their excellence. As time wears on, it will be no surprise if this rookie class stands the test of time as one of the best.
C Manny Pina, Brewers
Pina long had a reputation as a defensive stalwart in the minors, and the 30-year-old more than lived up to it in his rookie season. His .992 fielding percentage ranked top 10 among catchers, his four passed balls tied for the fewest among those with at least 90 games caught, and his 35.6 percent caught-stealing rate ranked 11th. As far as advanced metrics, Baseball-Reference credited Pina with 1.9 defensive WAR, fourth-most in the National League at any position. Even better, Pina delivered at the plate as well for the surprising Brewers, hitting .279 with 21 doubles, nine home runs, 43 RBIs and a .751 OPS.
1B Cody Bellinger, Dodgers
The 2013 fourth-rounder delivered a historic performance as soon as he was called up to Los Angeles on April 25. Bellinger became the fastest player ever to 21 homers, made the All-Star Game and Home Run Derby, and ultimately finished with 39 longballs, a new National League rookie record. More than just an all-or-nothing slugger, Bellinger hit .267/.352/.581, stole 10 bases and played quality defense at both first base and left field. His value to baseball’s best team was plain for all to see. The Dodgers went 91-41 in games Bellinger played, compared to 13-17 without him.
2B Ian Happ, Cubs
Happ homered in his ML debut on May 13 and never stopped hitting. The switch-hitting slugger finished fourth on the Cubs with 24 home runs despite spending the first six weeks of the season at Triple-A, and his .842 OPS was fourth as well. He was effective hitting from both sides of the plate (.863 OPS lefthanded, .789 righthanded) and showed himself capable of hitting anywhere from the top of the order (.939 OPS) to the middle (.892 as No. 5 hitter.) The 2015 first-rounder further contributed defensive versatility, seeing significant time in center field, second base and left field while also drawing starts in right field and at third base.
3B Matt Chapman, Athletics
Elite defense and big power have long been Chapman’s calling cards, and he showed them frequently in his first MLB season. The 2014 first-rounder bashed 23 doubles and 14 home runs in 86 games, and was every bit as impactful on defense. With athleticism, reliable hands and a cannon arm that has been revered since college, Chapman was credited with the best Total Zone Runs and Range Factor among American League third baseman by Baseball-Reference, and his 34 double plays turned at third base were fifth-most in the AL despite him spending the first two months at Triple-A.
SS Paul DeJong, Cardinals
DeJong never played shortstop—not even in college—until 11 games at the very end of last season at Double-A. DeJong took to it quickly, shored up some fine points at Triple-A, and took over the Cardinals everyday shortstop job by the end of June. DeJong’s .857 OPS was third highest among big league shortstops, behind only Carlos Correa and Zack Cozart, and he led the Cardinals in homers despite playing only 108 games. Advanced metrics were fond of his defense as well, with Baseball-Reference.com crediting DeJong with the fifth-highest Range Factor per Game mark among NL shortstops.
CF Manuel Margot, Padres
Margot came into the year known as an elite defender with speed and contact ability. He showed all that and added some pop as well. Margot hit 18 doubles, seven triples and 13 home runs despite missing over a month with a calf injury, and added to his offensive value with 17 steals in 24 attempts. The offense was a boost, but where Margot really shined was on defense. He led all National League center fielders in Total Zone Runs, and FanGraphs credited him with the sixth-most defensive WAR of any outfielder in baseball.
OF Aaron Judge, Yankees
Records that stood for three decades or more fell as Judge laid waste to major league pitching and became not only Baseball America’s Rookie of the Year, but a leading contender for American League MVP. Judge’s 52 home runs broke Mark McGwire’s previous rookie record of 49 in 1987, and his 127 walks shattered the modern rookie record of 107 set by Ted Williams in 1939. Overall Judge finished first in the American League in homers, walks and runs (and, yes, strikeouts), and he ranked second in on-base percentage, slugging percentage and RBIs.
OF Andrew Benintendi, Red Sox
The game’s top-ranked prospect coming into the season was overshadowed by Judge in the AL East but put together a perfectly strong rookie campaign of his own. Benintendi became the first rookie to post a 20-20 season since Mike Trout and delivered a solid-across-the-board .271/.352/.424 slash line. He played a key role for the AL East champs, finishing second on the team in RBIs, stolen bases and walks (to only Mookie Betts), third in hits and fourth in home runs. His 11 assists from left field were also most in the American League this season.
DH Rhys Hoskins, Phillies
Just as Bellinger set records for fastest to certain home run milestones in April and May, Hoskins did the same in August. Hoskins hit 10 homers in his first 17 games, becoming the fastest to hit 10 homers in MLB history, and ultimately finished with 18 homers, which he got to in just his 34th game, also the fastest in MLB history. Hoskins did so while controlling the strike zone exceptionally well with 37 walks against just 46 strikeouts. He ultimately finished with a 1.014 OPS, second only to Judge among rookies with at least 50 games played.
SP Luis Castillo, Reds
The Reds acquired Castillo as one of three players for Dan Straily before the season, and it already looks like a steal for Cincinnati. Castillo made his ML debut on June 23 and quickly established himself as the Reds’ best pitcher, with a beautiful synchronization of electricity and production. With a fastball that averaged 98 mph and frequently touched 100, a plunging 87-90 mph changeup and improved 84-88 mph slider, Castillo led all rookie starters with a 3.12 ERA, allowed only 64 hits in 89.1 innings, and averaged just under 10 strikeouts per nine while maintaining a reasonable walk rate (3.2/9).
SP Kyle Freeland, Rockies
Freeland entered spring training as one of many trying to win a Rockies’ rotation spot, emerged victorious, and settled into a solid, durable rookie season to help get the Rockies to the playoffs. The 2014 first-rounder and Colorado native actually pitched better at Coors Field (3.72 ERA) than away from it (4.57), and was solid all-around as he held up over 156 innings. Freeland finished in the top five among rookie starters in wins, ERA and innings pitched, and memorably posted one of the year’s best starts when he came within two outs of a no-hitter on July 9 against the White Sox.
SP German Marquez, Rockies
Marquez, who was acquired from the Rays in the Corey Dickerson trade in 2016, received a callup on April 25 and stayed in the Rockies rotation for good. Marquez led all rookie starters with 147 strikeouts, was tied for first in wins and was second with 162 innings despite spending the first three weeks of the season in the minors. He handled Coors admirably (4.59 ERA) and performed on the road (4.19 ERA) too. Out of the quartet of Rockies rookie starters with Freeland, Senzatela and Jeff Hoffman, Marquez was the only one to remain in the rotation the entire year.
SP Jordan Montgomery, Yankees
The 2014 fourth-rounder, an ace at South Carolina, dominated down the stretch in 2016 at Triple-A, and he showed his stuff absolutely played in the majors with an excellent rookie campaign. Montgomery finished second among rookie starters with 144 strikeouts and finished in the top five in wins, ERA and innings. He was particularly strong down the stretch, going 2-0, 2.49 in his final five starts to help the Yankees secure a postseason berth. It was an especially encouraging finish after he was hit in the head by a foul ball during batting practice on Aug. 12.
SP Trevor Williams, Pirates
The 2013 second-round pick is rarely flashy, but was both more durable and productive than many bigger names as a rookie. Williams pitched to a 4.07 ERA over 150.1 innings, both top-five marks among rookies who made at least 15 starts, and was actually even better once added to the rotation. After beginning the year in the bullpen, Williams made his first start on May 8 and remained in the rotation the entire rest of the year, going 6-8, 3.96 as a starter.
RP Josh Hader, Brewers
The game’s top lefthanded pitching prospect entering the year, Hader started at Triple-A Colorado Springs but was brought up to Milwaukee as a reliever on June 10. Hader didn’t allow a run in 27 of his 35 outings, pitched multiple innings 10 times and gradually became a shutdown force late in games during the Brewers’ playoff push. With a fastball that averaged 95 mph and touched 99 and a vicious slider that opponents hit a mere .167 against, Hader struck out 12.8 batters-per-nine and allowed only 25 hits in 47.2 innings.