Examining the 2016 National League Rookie of the Year Candidates

These six players are at the top of the NL rookie class heading into 2016. Is there a clear front-runner?

Last year was kind of a ridiculous year for rookies in Major League Baseball.

There were 16 Major Leaguers who put up at least 2.0 wins above replacement according to Fangraphs (fWAR). In total, 31 players put up at least 1.5 fWAR. 

In 2014, only seven rookies put up at least 2.0 fWAR, and 17 had an fWAR of 1.5. Eight rookies put up a 2.0 fWAR or more in 2013, and 17 had an fWAR of 1.5. And this was typical as you go back through the years. 

In other words, there were so many rookies who had an impact last season that it is impossible for that to happen again this season. Still, there are a number of first-year players that will have an impact in 2016. The six below are the ones most likely to challenge for the NL Rookie of the Year Award this season.

Corey Seager, Los Angeles Dodgers

Honestly, it would be a major upset of Corey Seager doesn't win the Rookie of the Year in the National League this season. He is the odds-on favorite after his brief cup of coffee last season, in which he put up 1.5 fWAR in just 27 games and 113 plate appearances. That's insane. He coupled that by hitting .337/.425/.561 with 4 homers, 8 doubles and a triple, walking 12.4% of the time and striking out just 16.8%. 

And throughout his minor league career, the guy has always hit, putting up a wRC+ of at least 126 everywhere he's been since 2014 except in 105 games at Triple-A last year in which his wRC+ was 106.

We project Seager to hit .265/.335/.437 with 17 home runs, 73 runs, and 70 RBI.

Steamer projects Seager will hit .265/.315/.423 with 16 dingers, 64 runs scored and 65 RBI, with an fWAR of 2.7 and a wRC+ of 104 in 575 plate appearances. Frankly, I think these projections are low, and he'll be a three-to-four win player for L.A. this year.

Kenta Maeda, Los Angeles Dodgers

The second Dodger on this list, Kenta Maeda is the top pitching candidate to win the Rookie of the Year. L.A.'s Japanese import has logged a lot of innings in his career, more than 1,500 in nine seasons playing in Japan, but went 97-67 with a 2.39 ERA and a WHIP of 1.048 during his time there. 

The Dodgers, clearly concerned about the 28-year-old's elbow and the mileage already on it, signed him to a ridiculously friendly eight-year, $25 million deal, and have lined him up as the team's number-three starter this year and are depending on him staying healthy this season. 

We project him for a strikeout rate of 19.2% and a walk rate of 6.9% over 167.2 innings, culminating in a 3.84 ERA.

Steamer's projections see him earning an fWAR of 2.6, which would be a good number for a first-year pitcher.

Steven Matz, New York Mets

Another pitcher primed to get a lot of starts and pile up a lot of innings for a team most think will make the playoffs is New York's Steven Matz. Matz came up late last season and made six starts for the Mets, going 4-0 with a 2.27 ERA and a 3.61 FIP, for an fWAR of 0.6. 

Like Maeda, there is concern about Matz' injury history, but there is no doubting his talent. He has never pitched more than 148 innings in a season -- and did that only once, in 2014. Last year, he pitched 150 innings between the minors and the Majors and, prior to that, hadn't gone past 106 1/3 innings. So, it's likely New York will have him on an innings watch as the season goes along. Don't be surprised to see some turns in the rotation skipped or pushed back.

We project him for 149.1 innings, a strikeout rate of 22%, a walk rate of 7.5%, and a 3.64 ERA.

Steamer projects a 9-8 record in 139 innings with a 3.60 ERA, 3.66 FIP and an fWAR of 2.2. That should do.

Hector Olivera, Atlanta Braves

Well, we can say this about the 31-year-old former Cuban star, Hector Olivera: he's going to get a lot of at-bats. 

At least, one would think that playing in a Braves lineup that doesn't have a lot of star power.

Olivera will hit in the middle of the lineup, something he did while routinely putting up an OPS in the .900-1.000 range in Cuba. Last year he hit .253/.310/.405 in 24 games (87 plate appearances) for L.A.

Our projections are down on him, expecting a slash line of .239/.292/.371. Steamer is more optimistic, projecting him to hit .261/.308/.400 with a wRC+ of 95 and an fWAR of 0.7. 

If those are his season-ending numbers, he won't be a Rookie of the Year candidate. But it's likely they'll be a bit better than that.

Trea Turner, Washington Nationals

In order for Trea Turner to make a serious run at Rookie of the Year, he's going to have to break through a starting lineup that will almost certainly be chock full of veterans. After all, the Washington Nationals are a Dusty Baker team now, and no manager loves him some veterans more than Baker.

Right now, Turner is blocked by Danny Espinosa at shortstop and Daniel Murphy at second. Murphy isn't going anywhere, having just signed as a free agent over the winter, but it's hard to justify starting Espinosa over Turner long-term. Last year, Espinosa batted .241/.311/.409 with 13 homers, 21 doubles and a wRC+ of 94, putting up an fWAR of 2.3 in 412 plate appearances.

While that line isn't too bad, Turner is a player who could put up a better average and is already a better defender than Espinosa. He's not going to be a power hitter at the shortstop position yet, but could put up a nice slash line for a team that is a threat to make the playoffs once again.

We project Turner to hit .211/.292/.272 over 341 plate appearances.

Jonathan Gray, Colorado Rockies

It seems rather foolish to put a Colorado Rockies starting pitcher amid the conversation of Rookie of the Year candidates. After all, pitching in Denver's thin air almost precludes a starting pitcher from being in the conversation for any end-of-season awards. But Jon Gray has a chance to be a special pitcher.

He's got a terrific fastball, averaging 94.4 miles per hour in nine starts with the Rockies last year, and it's accompanied by a devastating slider. He's still working on getting his changeup to be an effective third pitch, something not easily attained in Coors Field. And his fastball got hit a bit last year in his brief cup of coffee (5.53 ERA, 3.63 FIP in 40 2/3 innings).

If Gray can learn to locate his fastball, he'll have a very effective two-pitch repertoire. Sure, starting pitchers need more than two pitches, but it's a start.

We project Gray to throw 133.9 innings with a strikeout rate of 22.5%, a walk rate of 8.5%, and an ERA of 4.31.