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Shōta Imanaga, Colton Cowser headline MLB’s 10 best rookies

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The young 2024 MLB season has already produced plenty of compelling storylines. Among the more exciting developments is the wave of rookies making an impact across the league. 

The best of that bunch thus far hasn’t been who we expected. Yoshinobu Yamamoto and Jung Hoo Lee have been more good than great, after starring in Asia prior to this year. Jackson Holliday and Wyatt Langford have flashed but shown they need more time to fulfill their top-prospect pedigrees.

Meanwhile, a plethora of other young players are making names for themselves with their hot starts.

Here are the top 10 rookies of the 2024 season to date (listed alphabetically). 

*All stats entering Thursday

1. 1B Michael Busch, Chicago Cubs
2024 stats: .317/.400/.667, six HRs, 13 RBIs, nine BBs, 189 OPS+

It might not be long before the Cubs rename the Wrigley Field ivy “The Busch.” The casualty of a position crunch with the Dodgers, the former first-round pick has been a vital source of offense for Chicago this season, slugging like nobody’s business and seldom striking out, while serving as its everyday first baseman. Busch leads the Cubs in home runs, RBIs (tied with Seiya Suzuki), batting average, on-base percentage and slugging percentage.

2. OF Colton Cowser, Baltimore Orioles
2024 stats: .400/.429/.800, four HRs, 15 RBIs, three BBs, three SBs, 258 OPS+

Just when it seems like Baltimore’s young core is deep enough, the former No. 5 draft pick rises to the show and becomes its top producer. Cowser has mashed from the left side, making a habit of going the other way and serving as the most formidable hitter in an offense that’s fifth in MLB in runs (104). Cowser and fellow rookie Jackson Holliday add a new flavor to an Orioles young core that’s just getting started.

3. SP Shōta Imanaga, Chicago Cubs
2024 stats: 0.00 ERA, 0.72 WHIP, 15 IPs, 16 Ks, .158 batting average against

Imanaga has been better than advertised for the Cubs. In fact, he hasn’t even surrendered an earned run, while giving up just nine hits over his first three starts (yes, that’s accurate). The southpaw, who typically maxes out in the low 90s, has primarily relied on two pitches, throwing a four-seamer and occasionally deploying a split-fingered fastball. Imanaga has been Chicago’s best starter and a timely development in the wake of ace Justin Steele’s hamstring injury.

4. SP Jared Jones, Pittsburgh Pirates
2024 stats: 3.13 ERA, 0.78 WHIP, 23 IPs, 32 Ks, .188 BAA

If the Pirates are going to make a jump this season, they need their starting rotation to pick up the pace; Jones is helping them do as such. The 22-year-old right-hander has been posting strikeouts at a high rate, leaning on his high 90s four-seamer and slider. Jones has been a youthful complement to the likes of Mitch Keller and Martín Pérez in Pittsburgh’s rotation.

5. CF Jackson Merrill, San Diego Padres
2024 stats: .333/.405/.439, one HR, eight RBIs, eight BBs, four SBs, 142 OPS+ 

Merrill has been a breath of fresh air for a Padres team in need of a boost after trading star outfielder Juan Soto in the offseason. Still 20 years old (for one more day), he’s put the ball in play with ease, while making some noise on the basepaths. He’s also yet to make an error in center field, a position he’d previously never played at the professional level. 

6. SP Max Meyer, Miami Marlins
2024 stats: 2.12 ERA, 0.82 WHIP, 17 IPs, 14 Ks, .180 BAA

In what is his first extended stint at the big-league level, the former No. 3 pick has not only been impressive but integral to the Marlins’ rotation following a slew of injuries. While the Marlins have kept a short leash on the right-hander, Meyer has kept runners off the basepaths with a primary three-pitch arsenal (slider, four-seamer and changeup) and flaunted high-end upside.

7. IF Joey Ortiz, Milwaukee Brewers
2024 stats: .324/.425/.412, three RBIs, six BBs, 138 OPS+

Ortiz has been a scrappy emergence for the Brewers, putting the ball in play with ease and playing both third and second base — while also having shortstop experience in his back pocket. It’s all made for a vital contribution to a Brewers team many wrote off before the season yet lead the NL Central through three weeks.

8. RP Justin Slaten, Boston Red Sox
2024 stats: 0.87 ERA, 0.39 WHIP, 10.1 IPs, eight Ks 

So far, so great for Slaten out of the Boston bullpen. The right-hander has exhibited an ability to induce weak contact and pitch multiple innings of relief, already doing so four times this season, while primarily throwing three pitches (sweeper, cutter and four-seamer). 

9. RP Victor Vodnik, Colorado Rockies
2024 stats: 0.00 ERA, 1.05 WHIP, 12.1 IPs, 11 Ks

Vodnik has been one of the bright spots in an otherwise dark 4-15 start for the Rockies. The hard-throwing, 24-year-old reliever has pitched multiple innings, worked out of trouble and has yet to surrender a run.

10. SS Masyn Winn, St. Louis Cardinals
2024 stats: .347/.404/.469, six RBIs, six BBs, three SBs, 145 OPS+

Winn got some big-league reps down the stretch of 2023, and he has built on that exposure in the early stages of this season. The 22-year-old is adept at putting the ball in play and legging out extra-base hits, while holding down the fort at shortstop. Winn is among the faces of what the Cardinals hope is a budding young core, and he might have the strongest infield arm in baseball.

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