MLB Power Rankings: Phillies lead Dodgers, Braves as trio of NL contenders top this week's list

Here's a look at the rookies who have stood out on each team through the first quarter of the 2024 season

One of the most unpredictable elements of any MLB season is the level of contribution teams get from that year’s crop of rookies. It’s a group of players capable of bringing immeasurable hope and excitement to any franchise but one also susceptible to immense struggles as they get a daily dose of what it means to compete at the highest level.

First-years and fresh faces are the theme for this week’s power rankings, as we take a closer look at which rookies have stood out the most for each team over the first quarter of the 2024 season. (Records entering play Monday.)

With a roster chock-full of veterans entrenched in the lineup and on the pitching staff, the Phillies are one of three teams (Atlanta, Cincinnati) to not have a single MLB debut so far this season. However, they have one rookie who could make a significant impact moving forward in hard-throwing righty reliever, Orion Kerkering.

Recall that Kerkering made more appearances in last year’s playoffs (7) than he did in the 2023 regular season after zooming through Philly’s minor-league system en route to a late-September debut. In turn, he entered 2024 with full rookie eligibility and a chance to impact the Phillies bullpen as a 23-year-old. He has been generally stellar so far, thanks to his wicked sweeper and high-90s heat capable of tearing through the heart of any lineup. He might not have a save to his name just yet, but it’s unquestionably closer-type stuff.

Since his disastrous debut in Korea, it has been awesome to watch Yoshinobu Yamamoto look more like the ace version of himself, but I’d argue that the even more exciting rookie development for the Dodgers thus far has been the emergence of outfielder Andy Pages as a legitimate power threat in the bottom-third of the order.

It’s not like the L.A. offense was in dire need of more firepower, but the bottom of the Dodgers lineup was shockingly bad before Pages arrived. If Pages can continue to do a reasonable Teoscar Hernandez impression — in which he swings at everything but does enough damage to make it worth it — I think the Dodgers will be more than satisfied to have him as their No. 7 hitter.

Like their rivals in Philly, the Braves have yet to feature an MLB debut in 2024, though an eventual call-up of top pitching prospect Hurston Waldrep could be one of the more exciting days of the season’s second half as Atlanta’s postseason pitching staff begins to take shape. Otherwise, Atlanta’s star-laden roster has seen very little contribution from rookies beyond depth arms Darius Vines and Allan Winans.

The Orioles have given exactly zero innings to rookie pitchers this season; I’ll let you decide whether that’s a good thing. Meanwhile, it’s Colton Cowser who has emerged from the ever-flowing fountain of prospect hitters as the one helping the first-place O’s the most this season.

Jackson Holliday’s unproductive first stint in the big leagues has served as a humbling reminder that even the most talented rookies can have a tough time adjusting to the big leagues.

I’ll be honest, I was pretty stunned to learn that Luis Gil is still rookie-eligible, having made his MLB debut back in 2021, but he has been a revelation in the Yankees rotation as New York continues to backfill innings in Gerrit Cole’s absence. We’re still waiting to see Austin Wells get going offensively, but the strong underlying data suggests it’s only a matter of time.

We all knew the Brewers would be relying on a ton of rookies and young players in 2024; we didn’t realize just how good the team would be around them (and, in part, because of them). This has slightly altered the standard for guys such as Jackson Chourio and Joey Ortiz, who are now being expected to play key roles on a team fighting for a division title, rather than finding their big-league footing amidst a collective rebuild.

And the most encouraging signs have actually come on the mound, where gigantic lefty Bryan Hudson has been nearly untouchable in relief and fellow southpaw Robert Gasser looked great in his debut, which could be a huge development for a rotation in serious need of a boost.

Acquired from Toronto in the Jose Berrios deal and somehow still just 23 years old despite appearing on prospect lists for what seems like a decade, Simeon Woods Richardson has finally settled into a big-league rotation role and looked awfully comfortable before a hiccup Saturday in Toronto. He just might have the Twins’ No. 5 starter job secured for the long haul.

Only the Giants have gotten more innings out of their rookie arms than Chicago, as Shota Imanaga, Jordan Wicks and Ben Brown have each taken multiple turns through the Cubs rotation, with varying levels of success. Imanaga is the star, of course. He’s looking like one of the most impactful additions of this past winter, and he has become a fan favorite in a hurry beyond his outstanding run prevention. At the plate, Michael Busch has provided exactly the kind of pop the Cubs sought when they acquired him from the Dodgers in the offseason, albeit with a mildly concerning amount of whiffs along with it.

For such a young team, Kansas City doesn’t have a lot of rookie-eligible players contributing this season. Nick Loftin saw some time in the lineup earlier this year but is back in Triple-A now. On the mound, Rule 5 pick Matt Sauer has been one of the few weak spots on an otherwise strong pitching staff; it remains to be seen if he’ll stick with the Royals all season or if he’ll be returned to New York at some point.

I highlighted Cade Smith last month as someone who vastly exceeded expectations in the season’s first few weeks, and he has continued to deliver when manager Stephen Vogt has called upon him in the later innings. Hunter Gaddis is another reliever worthy of praise, as the thick-bearded 26-year-old has appeared in more games for Cleveland than any other rookie and is a big part of why this bullpen has been one of baseball’s best.

The power hasn’t shown up quite yet and might not for a few years, but Jackson Merrill has been just about all you could hope for. The 21-year-old had never played center field in his life before this spring, yet he already looks like a plus defensive outfielder while exhibiting strong contact skills as one of baseball’s youngest everyday players. He’s a perfect supporting player for this roster and has all the makings of a star once he grows into more power.

Jackson Merrill is part of the wave of top rookies across MLB this season. (Gregory Hodge/Yahoo Sports)
Jackson Merrill is part of the wave of top rookies across MLB this season. (Gregory Hodge/Yahoo Sports)

When Bryan Woo went down in spring training due to elbow soreness, it was quite the luxury for the Mariners to have a former sixth overall pick in Emerson Hancock ready to slide into the No. 5 spot in the rotation, and he performed admirably in Woo’s absence. He might not have the upside of the other supremely talented right-handers on the Seattle staff, but Hancock is a capable back-end guy, and it wouldn’t be shocking to see him called upon again in the near future.

He doesn't have the same explosive tools as someone such as Ceddanne Rafaela, but Wilyer Abreu has been the far more reliable offensive presence for Boston in the early going and projects to be a key cog in this Red Sox lineup for a while. Rafaela has been mildly disappointing since signing his eight-year, $50 million extension in April, but his aggressive approach means he’ll likely always be a pretty streaky player. Rule 5 pick Justin Slaten has been stellar as a vital member of Boston’s vastly improved pitching staff.

No team entered the season with a more hyped duo of rookies than Texas’ Evan Carter and Wyatt Langford in the outfield. Early returns have been OK at best, as Carter has continued to struggle mightily against southpaws, and Langford hadn’t really heated up before he went on the injured list (though we can blame the umpires some for that). I’d still bet on both of those guys finishing the year much stronger. On a more positive note, with his standout changeup, lefty reliever Jacob Latz has emerged as a reliable arm for a bullpen in serious need of reinforcements.

While Curtis Mead has been disappointing, I’m issuing a hearty plea for patience here, as I don’t think it will be long before Junior Caminero, one of baseball’s top prospects, resurfaces in the majors and injects some life into this Rays offense. I’m not sure exactly where he’ll fit into this lineup or the defensive alignment, but Caminero has been torching balls in Triple-A and deserves another shot to prove his worth sooner rather than later. He doesn’t even turn 21 until July 5!

The troublingly slow starts for Colt Keith and Parker Meadows have been somewhat alleviated by the sneaky breakout of Wenceel Pérez, a 24-year-old switch-hitter who can play a bunch of positions but has settled into center field since Meadows was sent down. Since receiving a $550,000 bonus as Detroit’s top international signing way back in 2016, Perez has gradually climbed through the system and now profiles as a fun utility player at worst and a solid starting option at multiple positions at best.

Blaze Alexander has stepped up big time in Geraldo Perdomo’s absence, though it’s unclear if he profiles as a long-term starting option or more of a nice bench piece. I’m betting on the latter. Justin Martinez is perhaps the most intriguing among a crop of rookie arms that also includes Slade Cecconi, Bryce Jarvis and Blake Walston; Martinez is the one whose stuff profiles best in high leverage if he can harness his elite velocity.

The first fruits of a revitalized farm system have started to show in the form of right-hander Christian Scott, who has enjoyed tremendous developmental progress since entering pro ball as New York’s fifth-rounder in 2021. Almost exclusively a reliever in college at the University of Florida, Scott now projects firmly as a mid-rotation starter, armed with an excellent fastball and multiple nasty secondary pitches.

While we all wait for the arrival of super-sized slugger James Wood, let’s take a moment to appreciate what Jacob Young has done for Washington as the everyday center fielder this season. Don’t expect tape-measure dingers anytime soon, but Young can absolutely fly in the outfield and on the basepaths, and he makes enough contact to let his elite speed support a powerless offensive profile. He’s fun!

This is the kind of team seemingly in desperate need of a youthful spark, but the Jays haven’t found it quite yet. Infielder Addison Barger showed little in his brief stint, while right-hander Yariel Rodríguez showed flashes of effectiveness before hitting the IL.

Bryce Harper and the veteran Phillies are on top in the latest version of our power rankings. (Bruno Rouby/Yahoo Sports)
Bryce Harper and the veteran Phillies are on top in the latest version of our power rankings. (Bruno Rouby/Yahoo Sports)

No team has featured more MLB debuts over the first quarter of the season than San Francisco’s seven, with Jung Hoo Lee and Kyle Harrison leading the way as crucial contributors atop the lineup and in the rotation. That Lee has looked great in center field and on the bases has taken some pressure off his bat, which has been merely OK so far.

Harrison, meanwhile, has gotten great results and leads all rookie pitchers in innings (50.0) but is still searching for a reliable secondary pitch to pair with his fantastic fastball.

After leading MLB with a staggering 16 MLB debuts in 2023, the Reds are one of the three teams without an MLB debut in 2024. But Cincinnati still boasts a tremendously young team. The real glaring hole among their rookie class is infielder Noelvi Marte, who received an 80-game PED suspension during spring training and is eligible to return in late June. The Reds badly miss his bat and will have to hope he picks up where he left off after a strong debut in the second half last year.

Oakland has seen six MLB debuts this year (second-most behind San Francisco), but by far the most impactful A’s rookie has been one who debuted last season: Mason Miller.

Miller has catapulted himself into not only the AL Rookie of the Year race but also the discussion about the most dominant relievers in the league. His sensational ninth innings have been the grand finale of numerous A’s victories, of which there have been plenty more than most anticipated.

It’s too early to judge whether Joey Loperfido will provide the kind of offensive boost the Astros were seeking when they called him up to take some of the at-bats vacated by the struggling José Abreu. Even if he eventually does, Houston’s issues remain squarely on the mound, where rookie hurlers Spencer Arighetti (0-4, 8.44 ERA) and Shawn Dubin (7.59 ERA in 10 2/3 IP) have struggled mightily when called upon.

If Paul Skenes posts a 2.68 ERA and 0.872 WHIP over his first eight starts, with 56 strikeouts to just seven walks, Pirates fans would feel pretty good about that, right? Well, that’s exactly what right-hander Jared Jones has already done, so it’s easy to dream about how special the top of this rotation could look for years to come.

As for everything else going on with the Pirates right now? That explains their lowly ranking.

The 22-year-old Masyn Winn has certainly held his own as St. Louis’ starting shortstop, which would mean a whole lot more if the rest of this lineup weren’t in complete shambles. Ryan Fernandez, a Rule 5 pick from Boston last December, has also been really solid out of the bullpen.

Rather than express my concern about how much the Angels might've hindered Nolan Schanuel’s development by rushing him to the big leagues, I’m going to cheat a bit here and give an emphatic shoutout to Jo Adell, even if he isn’t a rookie anymore. The talented outfielder was a regular atop prospect lists for years but repeatedly failed to get his big-league career off the ground. But this year, Adell, still just 25 years old, seems to finally be putting it together and has been a legitimate offensive force — the kind scouts long dreamed of him becoming. It’s a cool storyline amidst another ugly overall campaign in Anaheim.

One would hope there’d be some exciting rookies emerging at the big-league level amidst a deep rebuild such as this, but that will take some time. I’m not remotely convinced that Bryan Ramos is ready to be facing big-league pitching right now, but he could be a fun bat to watch if he starts swinging it well. Otherwise, Jordan Leasure, acquired from the Dodgers in the Lance Lynn deal last summer, looks like a future high-leverage reliever.

Right-hander Victor Vodnik throws extremely hard (97.2 mph average four-seam velocity) and gets a ton of ground balls (58.1%), a wonderful combination in the pitching hellscape that is Coors Field. He is also a reliever and will not be changing the fate of this definitively dismal Rockies season.

Even as the organization continues to monitor Max Meyer’s innings as he works his way back from Tommy John surgery, Marlins fans have reason to look forward to his starts whenever he returns to the big-league rotation. I’m still a big believer in his talent. And hey, if I’m gonna give some love to Vodnik, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the sterling relief work of Declan Cronin (1.45 ERA in 18 2/3 IP), who wields a truly terrific slider.