Every year, we get to see the brightest young stars make their mark on the game. With August in the rearview mirror and playoff baseball approaching fast, here are three underrated rookies who could significantly impact their team’s playoff push in the final few weeks.
Three Underrated Rookies Impacting the Playoff Race
Dominic Canzone, Seattle Mariners
The Seattle Mariners made an interesting trade with the Arizona Diamondbacks that saw Seattle bring in regulars Dominic Canzone, Josh Rojas, and prospect Ryan Bliss in exchange for reliever Paul Sewald.
Since arriving in Seattle, Canzone has been a near-everyday player in the corner outfield spots. As a 26-year-old rookie, it’s unclear how high his ceiling might be as a player in the future. But for this season, Canzone could be an important contributor if he even provides average production.
Canzone has an 86 wRC+ over the entire season and an 89 wRC+ as a Mariner. That uptick isn’t a big jump, but he has been hitting more doubles. He continues to display an impressive plate approach with only a 15.9% strikeout rate with Seattle. That might be the most important aspect of his game for a Seattle squad that has the second-most strikeouts in baseball.
Most projection systems expect more of the same from Canzone. ZiPS has him projected for an 87 wRC+ the rest of the way. The BATX tags him for an 89 wRC+. The most optimistic projection comes from Steamer, where he could hit for a slightly better average with some BABIP luck and a few extra-base hits as his power output.
If Canzone can be an average fielder (exactly 0 Outs Above Average at the time of writing) and a low-strikeout bat at the bottom of the order who chips in a few doubles, he can help lengthen this hot Mariners’ offense.
Casey Schmitt, San Francisco Giants
Part of the San Francisco Giants‘ strategy comes from being able to field at least average players all around the field. They have been unable to find that consistent lineup this season, even with an influx of rookies all around the diamond. Casey Schmitt offers plenty of positional versatility that the Giants covet. He has appeared at second base, third base, and shortstop.
Schmitt rates very poorly on defense, however. He ranks in the bottom 14% of players in Outs Above Average and has -3 Defensive Runs Saved. Here is a quote from FanGraphs’ report on Schmitt: “No write-up of Schmitt would be complete without singing a few bars of praise regarding his defense, which is really the bedrock of his prospect foundation and the biggest reason why he’s still going to be a good big league role player.”
It’s a little concerning, then, that Schmitt hasn’t been able to at least provide average defense. If he rebounds in this area, it would add some much-needed stability to the Giants’ defense. Their starters rely on groundballs more than most teams, so this is an important area where Schmitt could help his team.
His offense is the glaring weakness in his game, though. He was not expected to be a cornerstone bat as a prospect, but he had a scorching hot start to his rookie season. He slashed .325/.329/.470 with a 117 wRC+ through his promotion on May 9th through the end of the month. As always, the league adjusted. This stat actually required a double take while researching his performance. Since June 1st, Schmitt has a .128 average and a 20 wRC+.
There are reasons to be encouraged for Schmitt and his chances at helping the Giants make the playoffs. His 15-game rolling average for whiff rate reached a season-high on July 5th at 19.7%. Now, his most recent 15-game stretch has seen him make a swinging strike only 7.8% of the time.
He’s been making hard contact more often and, frankly, any contact at all more consistently. He had a 93.2 MPH average exit velocity in August, compared to his season average of 87.8 MPH. Schmitt is athletic enough to provide good defense, and a low strikeout profile with more consistent contact might open up more extra-base opportunities.
Sal Frelick, Milwaukee Brewers
Sal Frelick has been an exciting watch on this Milwaukee Brewers team. While the Brewers’ top prospect Jackson Chourio might steal more headlines, Frelick is still ranked the #44 prospect in baseball, according to FanGraphs. He has been given a chance to prove his ability right in the heart of the Brewers’ order and provide solid defense.
Frelick profiles as a contact-first hitter with enough athleticism to be a threat on the basepaths and contribute to Milwaukee’s exceptional defense with his flexibility in the outfield. After his callup, he was their regular right fielder but has received more time in centerfield in recent weeks. He’s fast, has a strong arm, and the defensive metrics love him. He ranks as the sixth-best outfielder by Ultra Zone Rating/150 innings and he already has three Defensive Runs Saved.
The Brewers surely value his defense and speed, and it makes for a lot of fun highlights. But the Brewers need offense. In his impressive rookie season so far, Frelick has a 113 wRC+ and has showcased immense value with his plate approach. He has the best walk rate on his team and the third-best strikeout rate, only behind veterans Mark Canha and Carlos Santana. He has stolen six bases in six tries and has even knocked three homers.
His ability to make consistent contact, even if it isn’t hard contact, and work the pitcher is a valuable asset. He has slotted in the middle of the order, oftentimes even in cleanup, for this approach. He has played like a well-rounded, exciting contributor for a Brewers team looking to lock up the National League Central.
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