Sophomore Year 2017: National League

As was the case in 2016, the 2017 season ushered in a class of rookies that offered anything from momentary excitement to the start of a potentially elite career. Rookies are always fun to talk about, but players entering their sophomore season already have a major league sample size for us to get way too excited over or way too down on.

We covered the American League edition yesterday, so let’s take a look at a handful of National League players who are heading into their second year.

Corey Seager, SS — Los Angeles Dodgers
It must be tough playing in the shadow of your brother. This could apply to either Kyle or Corey as the former suits up for another underrated, all-star caliber year while the latter is fresh off a Rookie of the Year win and a third-place finish in the National League’s Most Valuable Player voting. Seager was able to prove he could handle the defensive responsibilities of playing shortstop while only being the best offensive shortstop by wRC+ in baseball last year. His 137 mark placed him 15th in all of baseball.

While projecting another season around or in excess of 7.5 fWAR is difficult, the sky appears to be the limit for the 22-year-old. He should be able to maintain his healthy .308/.365/.512 slash line and may even be able to add to his 26 home runs. Seager will be a key cog in the Dodgers’ quest for the World Series as he looks to further establish himself among baseball’s very best.

Trea Turner, SS/CF — Washington Nationals
Depending on what you’ve read, Turner’s name is ready to be etched into a 2017 MVP trophy. Without much exaggeration, there’s certainly a case to be made. The 23-year-old debuted in 2015 with 44 plate appearances, but didn’t really come onto the scene untill June of last year. In 324 plate appearances, Turner posted a .342/.370/.567 slash line with a 147 wRC+. He added 13 home runs and picked up an impressive 33 steals all while playing an unfamiliar position in the outfield. And doing so well.

The Nationals made room at shortstop, his natural position, by dealing the incumbent Danny Espinosa this offseason. His tools played well enough in the outfield but should allow him to shine in the infield. His batting average last year was inflated some by his BABIP, but he shouldn’t have a problem falling in the .300 range with the potential for 30-to-40 steals. His power surge upon arrival in Washington was unprecedented based on his minor league numbers, so the jury’s out on whether or not it’s real. Even without elite power, he has all the makings of a a perennial All-Star. Not bad for a player that was ‘to be named later.’

Trevor Story, SS — Colorado Rockies
If Gary Sanchez was the second-half story among rookies, Trevor was the first-half story. Hitting ten home runs in April will make anyone front-page news and it welcomed the shortstop into the mainstream baseball audience. He held that place until he suffered a broken thumb in August that cost him the remainder of his season. Story’s season ended with a .272/.341/.567 slash line and a 120 wRC+. His 27 home runs had him tied for second among all shortstops and tops in the National League.

The concern for Story heading into 2017 would have to be whether or not the effects of the hand injury still linger. We have seen many cases where hitter’s struggle to regain their power or it takes longer than anticipated. Like others mentioned in this series, Story struck out a lot last year — 31.3 percent — and will need to continue working on his approach and discipline. All in all, the 24-year-old is a well-rounded player that should continue to shine. The sky is literally the limit for the home run totals he can produce given his home park of Coors Field.

Ryan Schimpf, 2B — San Diego Padres
Schimpf would probably be considered the odd one out among the 2016 class of rookies. Why? Because most rookies aren’t 28-year-old and for the few who are, there isn’t much confidence in the potential of a lengthy major league career. But after Schimpf was called up by the team in June, he put UP a .217/.336/.533 slash line with a 129 wRC+ in 330 plate appearances. His overall offensive numbers are boosted by his 20 home runs and remove some concern about the Mendoza-like batting average. The left-hander also paired a 31.8 percent strikeout rate with a 12.7 percent walk rate.

Age and pedigree are the obvious knocks against Schimpf so only time will tell what type of player he can become. The power is legitimate though and he doesn’t hit many ground balls, which creates an intriguing offensive profile. He isn’t terribly adept on the defensive side of the ball but can hold his own. The key for 2017 will likely be whether or not he can improve his consistently and avoid too many prolonged slumps. He looks like he can at least be an average player at second or third, and for a rebuilding club, that’s a plus.

Jon Gray, SP — Colorado Rockies
The presence of Story and Nolan Arenado in a loaded lineup isn’t the only reason many feel Colorado could be a sleeper team in the National League this year. The pitching could actually be good, too. Gray, the No. 3 overall pick in the 2013 draft showed well in nine starts back in 2015. In 2016 he made a name for himself. In 29 starts, 168.0 innings pitched, Gray posted a 4.61 ERA and a 3.60 FIP. The FIP is what has people excited since pitching at Coors Field will do a number on anyone’s ERA and Gray managed to have some success there. The right-hander also posted 9.91 strikeouts and 3.16 walks per nine innings pitched.

The first challenge for the 25-year-old will of course be his home park. But he also had some struggles on the road that pushed the ERA and FIP numbers upwards.His command could be a little better, too, but overall Gray has a solid batch of offerings that he commands well enough to be successful. He will be counted on to be more consistent atop the Rockies’ rotation and will need to take another step forward if the Rockies are to compete into September in a top-heavy National League West division.

Kenta Maeda, SP — Los Angeles Dodgers
It’s often fascinating to see how a foreign player performs in their first year pitching in North America. Maeda was a particularly interesting case given the contract he signed with the Dodgers: eight years, $24 million guaranteed, and a mountain of achievable incentives that could push the deal’s value towards nine figures in all. For a season in which the Dodgers’ rotation was devastated with injuries, Maeda was a bright spot making all 32 of his starts and throwing 175 and 2/3 innings. He posted a solid 3.48 ERA that was backed-up by a 3.58 FIP. He struck out more than a batter per inning and kept the walks around 2.5 per nine.

Perhaps the best news for the Dodgers was that the 28-year-old was able to stay healthy all season. This was a concern among many of his potential suitors last winter. Maeda has shown that he can pitch like a No. 2 or 3 starter and presumably still has a little more in the tank while he’s on the right side of 30. Whiffs and weak ground balls fuelled Maeda’s success in 2016 and should take place again this season. He may not become an ace, especially on a team with Clayton Kershaw, but he’s poised to join the tier of very good pitchers in the game today.

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