When you think of rookie cards from the past three years, a couple of big names come to the forefront. Xander Bogaerts. Mookie Betts. Jacob deGrom. Noah Syndergaard. Carlos Correa. Francisco Lindor. Kris Bryant. Javier Baez. Luis Severino. Gary Sanchez. Trea Turner. Corey Seager. Miguel Sano. Kyle Schwarber.
Even guys like Gregory Polanco, Aaron Sanchez, Masahiro Tanaka, Jose Abreu, Marcus Stroman, George Springer, Joc Pederson, Joe Ross, Addison Russell, Byron Buxton, Joey Gallo, Blake Swihart, Odubel Herrera, Maikel Franco, Devon Travis, Michael Conforto, and Aaron Nola have had their rookie cards come out in the past few years. And that list doesn’t even include any from the 2016 Topps Update set.
Tip: Click on a player’s name to see their baseball cards
With a class that big and top heavy, it’s easy for a few players to go under the radar. And that’s exactly what has happened.
Some of these seven cards listed below are the result for a player not getting a chance yet. Others have been slowed by injuries. Heck, even some have been overshadowed by newer, bigger prospects.
Now, not all of these players will ever make it truly big — with so many young players already superstars, it will be hard for them to crack that realm — but adding their cards would be a nice boost to your collection without breaking the bank.
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And in no particular order, here are the seven:
Steven Moya, OF, Detroit Tigers
The Tigers are reportedly listening on trade offers on anyone and everyone. While some guys like Justin Verlander and Miguel Cabrera might be harder to trade with their large contracts, someone like J.D. Martinez may be on the move. That would open up an everyday spot for Steven Moya.
Moya, MLB.com’s No. 100 prospect prior to the 2015 season, has faired decently in some cups of coffee with the Tigers the past few seasons. Last season, Moya played in 31 games with Detroit, hitting 5 home runs in 100 at bats and slugging .500. For comparison’s sake, Martinez checked in at .535 in the slugging department last season. Where Moya struggles though is getting on base. His .255 average is livable for someone with his power but he only walked 5 times (compared to 38 strikeouts) and had a paltry .290 on-base percentage. He also checked in negatively on defense, worth -0.7 dWAR, according to baseball-reference.
Moya will be 26 in early August next season, so this is the time for him to claim a full-time spot in the Tigers lineup.
Greg Bird, 1B, New York Yankees
Last season can only be described as a wash for Greg Bird. He entered the season in a timeshare at first base with Mark Teixeira, but was ruled out for the season even before Spring Training ended with a shoulder injury. While rehabbing, Bird saw fellow rookies Gary Sanchez and Tyler Austin (himself a first baseman/outfielder) make their mark in pinstripes.
So what does Bird’s 2017 outlook look like? Well, a lot of it obviously depends on his health. But assuming he’s back to 100 percent, it’s pretty positive. Remember, as a rookie in 2015, Bird slugged 11 home runs and had a .871 OPS in 46 games with New York. On the other hand, Austin “only” put up a .758 OPS in 31 games in the Bronx last year. Bird is also a year younger than Austin, and will play the season as a 24 year old in 2017.
Even with Teixeira’s retirement, the Yankees can afford to take it slow with Bird. But don’t be surprised to see Bird take over the first base job in the Bronx by midseason.
Carlos Rodon, P, Chicago White Sox
The White Sox have a quality front-end of the rotation. Everyone knows about Chris Sale. Jose Quintana is always mentioned as one of the most underrated players in the league (aka, Ben Zobrist Syndrome). Lost in the shuffle is Carlos Rodon.
Rodon was the third overall pick in the 2014 MLB Draft after a stellar career at NC State. Less than a year later, Rodon made his MLB debut. He’s since pitched the past two seasons with the South Siders, Rodon has gone 18-16 with a 3.90 ERA in 51 starts (54 games) with the Sox. Those overall stats aren’t anything impressive but there’s room for more optimism. In his final 11 starts of 2016, Rodon allowed three earned runs or fewer in 9 of them — eight of those, he didn’t even give up three. He had back-to-back blowups in September, giving up six earned runs to each the Indians and Royals, but then responded by throwing 8 shutout innings against the Indians on Sept. 25, striking out 11 and walking 3. It’s those types of starts that could become the norm for the 6-foot-3 left hander.
With the Sox contemplating a fire sale, both Sale and Quintana could be moved. That would leave Rodon as the ace, a role he looks ready to fill.
Ketel Marte, SS, Arizona Diamondbacks
It’s hard for players on the West Coast to get their proper due, especially in the Pacific Northwest. I’m sure most casual baseball fans probably think that Robinson Cano is still overpaid, and had no clue how close the Mariners were to making the playoffs this past year. Those factors, plus a down 2015, have kept Ketel Marte under the radar.
If you look at Marte’s final line for 2016, it’s not pretty. He only hit .258/.287/.323 with 1 home run in 437 at bats. That has the makings of a career utility player, at best. But you have to keep one thing in mind. Marte missed about a month from mid-July into August due to mono, which caused him to lose 22 pounds. Listed as 6-foot-1, 165 pounds to enter the season, that’s a lot of weight to lose. So it should be no surprise that he wasn’t the same hitter down the stretch. Before the illness, Marte was batting .273/.299/.358, which isn’t that bad for a 22 year old in his first full season in the majors. A stint in the minors to start 2017 may be in the cards for Marte, especially if the Mariners finally get Zack Cozart.
Marte will never be a big power threat, but neither was a guy like Rafael Furcal, who had a productive long career. It wouldn’t be a surprise to see Marte carve out a similar career. And now that he’s been traded to the Diamondbacks with Taijuan Walker, he gets his a fresh shot to make his mark.
Rougned Odor, 2B, Texas Rangers
Most baseball fans know Rougned Odor‘s name for either its uniqueness, or his personal rivalry with Jose Bautista. Or both. But what they may not know is the historic start he’s gotten off to in his career.
Odor’s calling card is his power, and he’s used it wisely in 2016. Last year, he became the first second baseman in history 25 or younger to top 30 home runs (he finished with 33). Oh, and he was only 22. Only five others since 2000 have hit at least 30 homers when they were 22 or younger: Albert Pujols, Miguel Cabrera, Giancarlo Stanton, Mike Trout, Bryce Harper, Manny Machado. Through 2.5 years in the bigs — he played a half year with the Rangers as a 20 year old in 2014 — Odor already has 58 home runs. He also cranked out 33 doubles and stole 14 bases, keeping him from being a one-dimensional slugger.
Of course, there are things for Odor to work on. He still strikes out a good amount, his defense can be questionable, and doesn’t walk much. Oh, and he has to keep his anger in check. But if he can keep up the pace he’s at, Odor’s stock will only continue to rise.
Mike Foltynewicz, P, Atlanta Braves
The Atlanta Braves have been, well, not good the past two years. They did show signs of being competitive again down the stretch of 2016 after Dansby Swanson was promoted, and if they keep that going into 2017, a lot of that will be due to the pitching staff.
A key part of that staff will be Mike Foltynewicz. I debated about giving this spot to either Folty or Matt Wisler, but went with Folty due to his higher potential. He’s a 6-foot-4, hard-throwing right-hander who was a first-round pick of the Astros in 2010. He was one of the first pieces of the Braves’ rebuild, coming over in the deal that sent Evan Gattis to Houston. Since then, there have been questions about whether Folty’s future would be in the rotation or the bullpen. He finished fairly strong in 2016, and looks to have a spot in the Braves’ 2017 rotation fairly secure, despite the signings of Bartolo Colon and R.A. Dickey. Overall his 2016 was encouraging, cutting his WHIP to 1.297 and walk rate to 2.6 per 9 innings, both career bests.
One other sign that he’s part of the Braves future: the Yankees have been asking for him in return for Brian McCann, and have repeatedly been denied. It’s not hard to see why.
Max Kepler, OF, Minnesota Twins
Max Kepler was one of the most intriguing rookies in 2016, not because of his potential, but because of his backstory. Kepler is one of the best prospects to come out of Europe, ever.
Kepler was a promising youth soccer player growing up in Germany, but decided to just focus on baseball at age 15 (BleacherReport shares a good story of his journey). That worked out as the Twins gave him a $800,000 signing bonus to sign with them, the largest ever given out to a European player. He made it pay off, reaching the bigs for 3 games in 2015 before carving out a permanent role in 2016. After a slow start to the season, he was sent back to AAA before getting another opportunity in June. He ran with that, and finished the season with 17 home runs and a .734 OPS as a 23-year-old rookie. He may have worn down at the end of the season though, as he only had one home run in 92 September at bats. Kepler turns 24 before Spring Training, and looks destined to join Miguel Sano and Byron Buxton as cornerstones of the Twins franchise.
When you combine his potential and the fact that he could be an international sensation, Kepler’s stock looks like it will only rise.
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