The best rookie seasons in the last 25 years
Cary Edmondson-USA TODAY Sports

The best rookie seasons in the last 25 years

Aaron Judge and Cody Bellinger spent last summer rewriting the rookie record books, putting together a pair of prodigious power displays, and this year we've already seen the likes of Shohei Ohtani, Christian Villanueva, Miguel Andujar, Brian Anderson, Caleb Smith and Walker Buehler, among others, impress.

Over the past 25 years, many superstars — including a few Hall of Famers — have put the game on notice immediately upon their arrivals. Here is a look at the best freshmen performances around the league over the past 25 years. 

 
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Aaron Judge - 2017

Aaron Judge - 2017
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Aaron Judge was unanimously voted AL Rookie of the Year in 2017, and it's easy to see why. Judge broke the rookie record for home runs in a season, launching a league-leading 52 bombs, won the Home Run Derby and helped spur the Yankees to a surprising run to the ALCS. He also led the league in runs and walks and was so impressive that he finished second in AL MVP voting behind Jose Altuve.

 
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Cody Bellinger - 2017

Cody Bellinger - 2017
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If it wasn't for Aaron Judge's remarkable season in the Bronx, Cody Bellinger would have been the rookie talk of baseball in 2017. That's because Bellinger put on an impressive power display of his own, launching 39 home runs and driving in 97 runs in just 132 games. His incredible run led him to the NL Rookie of the Year, following up teammate Corey Seager's ROY campaign in 2016.

 
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Corey Seager – 2016

Corey Seager – 2016
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Before Bellinger inherited the role, it was Seager who played the part of dominant, team-leading rookie in L.A. During a phenomenal first season that saw him become unanimous NL Rookie of the Year and finish third in MVP voting, Seager hit .308 with 40 doubles, 26 home runs and scored 105 runs. Proving to be a rare talent, he hit three home runs on June 3 against the Atlanta Braves and became the youngest shortstop in baseball history to pull off the feat.

 
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Kris Bryant – 2015

Kris Bryant – 2015
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After making easy work of his spring training competition, Bryant forced himself onto the Chicago roster shortly after Opening Day and continued his warpath. En route to becoming both NL Rookie of the Year and making his All-Star Game debut, Bryant established himself as one of the game’s premier power hitters. In both May and August, he hit seven home runs and set a new rookie homer record for the Cubs, passing Hall of Famer Billy Williams.

 

 
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Carlos Correa – 2015

Carlos Correa – 2015
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Correa defined what it means to be a prodigy in his debut season and wasted little time in doing so. He hit in 37 of his first 50 games while producing three-hit games in six of his first 50 games and homering in 13 of 50 contests — four more than any player in history. To cap the season, he became the youngest player to ever hit a postseason home run as well as have a multi-homer game.

 
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Jose Abreu – 2014

Jose Abreu – 2014
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After signing a $68 million deal with the White Sox following his defection from his native Cuba, Abreu directly set out to to become the franchise player in Chicago. After posting one of the most impressive rookie seasons in recent memory, it was a mission accomplished. Abreu skipped the ranks of the minors completely and hit 36 home runs and drove in 107 runs, becoming the fourth player ever to win AL Rookie of the Month three or more times in a season.

 
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Mike Trout – 2012

Mike Trout – 2012
Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

Trout made it an early habit of doing the incredible, as his rookie season is unlike any before it. He led the AL in runs scored (129) and stolen bases (49) despite not being promoted until nearly May. When adding in his 30 home runs, Trout became the only rookie to post both a 30/30 season and be the first major leaguer to hit 30 homers, steal 45 bases and score 120 runs. It took the first Triple Crown season in 45 years from Miguel Cabrera to keep Trout from capturing the AL MVP Award, as he finished second.

 
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Jose Fernandez – 2013

Jose Fernandez – 2013
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Making his debut at just 20 years old, the precocious Fernandez proved immediately that he deserved mention among not only the best rookies but also among the best in the game. He plowed through the competition in his debut season as the second youngest player in baseball, as he finished in the NL top 10 in ERA (2.19), strikeouts (187) and adjusted ERA+ (176). His 4.2 WAR before turning 21 years old checked in among the top 10 early impacts in the last century.

 
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Craig Kimbrel – 2011

Craig Kimbrel – 2011
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After providing a dominant late-season tease at the end of 2010, Kimbrel was handed the closer role directly out of the gate the following year and never loosened his grip on it. When it was all said and done, Kimbrel smashed the previous rookie record for saves, converting 46 opportunities and working up a 38.1 inning scoreless streak along the way, striking out 127 in just 77 innings for the year.

 
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Buster Posey – 2010

Buster Posey – 2010
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Posey defined what it meant to be an X-factor in his rookie season, as his arrival nearly immediately signaled the rise of the Giants to a championship level. When he cam up on May 29, the Giants were deeply rooted in third place in the NL West, but Posey made nearly the entire difference on his own, producing a 3.9 WAR built around a .305 average with 18 home runs and throwing out 37 percent of would-be base stealers. In the end, the Giants won their first World Series in 56 years and found a surefire franchise cornerstone.

 
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Troy Tulowitzki – 2007

Troy Tulowitzki – 2007
Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

Tulo’s longtime run as the National League’s top shortstop got underway almost immediately when he entered the league, as he had one of the best rookie seasons that did not end with a Rookie of the Year nod in the end. In addition to scoring 104 runs, driving in 99 and connecting for 24 home runs, he was easily the preeminent defender up the middle in the game. Tulo led all NL shortstops in nearly all defensive categories and even turned in an unassisted triple play for good measure.

 
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Ryan Braun – 2007

Ryan Braun – 2007
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Breaking in as a third baseman, Braun put on one of the most impressive rookie seasons ever. He posted an NL-best .634 slugging percentage built around a 34-homer, 95-RBI season despite not making his way to Milwaukee until May 24. Among all NL Rookie of the Year winners before him, his .324 average is third best all time, behind only Albert Pujols and Willie McCovey.

 
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Justin Verlander – 2006

Justin Verlander – 2006
Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

Verlander was an instant workhorse in his rookie campaign in Detroit, turning in 186 innings and 124 strikeouts while helping push the Tigers toward becoming American League champions. He became the first rookie to win 10 games by July, and his 17 victories are the most by a rookie hurler in the last 15 years. Such was his performance that he took the ball in Game 1 of the 2006 World Series.

 
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Dontrelle Willis – 2003

Dontrelle Willis – 2003
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The eccentric Willis became a crossover sensation in his rookie season as a Marlin with his high-wattage leg kick and equally energetic smile. As congenial as his personality was, his stuff on the mound was nasty. He roared out to 9-1 record with a 2.08 ERA over his first 13 starts and ultimately helped drive the Marlins to defeat the Yankees to win the World Series.

 
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Albert Pujols – 2001

Albert Pujols – 2001
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Pujols, who dominated National League leaderboards for the next decade, had one of the most impressive rookie years ever. In his debut season in St. Louis, he out-homered notable teammates Mark McGwire and Jim Edmonds with 37 and had an All-Star debut. He became the fourth rookie to ever hit .300 with 30 home runs, 100 RBI and 100 runs scored. His 1.013 OPS was the second best rookie mark ever next to none other than Ted Williams.

 
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Ichiro Suzuki – 2001

Ichiro Suzuki – 2001
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Regardless of the stardom and experience that Ichiro brought with him to Seattle when he made his MLB debut at 27, it can still be argued that no player ever took to the game faster than he did. Suzuki led the majors in batting average (.350), stolen bases (59) and hits (242, also an all-time rookie record) while pushing the Mariners to tie the single-season MLB wins record of 116. When the dust settled, Ichiro had become only the second player to ever win both MVP and Rookie of the Year honors in the same season while also winning a Gold Glove and Silver Slugger and be voted a starter in the All-Star Game.

 
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Kerry Wood – 1998

Kerry Wood – 1998
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No player has ever announced his presence on the mound in a more dominant fashion than Wood. Just three weeks after making his debut, Wood wrote his name in the record books when he struck out 20 Houston Astros, tying the single-game record for Ks and setting the highest game score in MLB history at 105. Wood went on to strike out 233 batters in only 166.2 innings and led baseball in strikeouts per nine innings (12.6) while allowing the fewest hits per game (6.2).

 
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Nomar Garciaparra – 1997

Nomar Garciaparra – 1997
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Garciaparra’s debut in Boston became the most notable rookie campaign since Fred Lynn’s legendary 1975 season. He was an offensive tour de force, leading the American League in hits with 209 and triples with 11. His 98 RBI set a new MLB record for leadoff hitters, while he also set rookie records for most home runs by a shortstop (30) and longest hitting streak at 30 games.

 
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Derek Jeter – 1996

Derek Jeter – 1996
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Jeter’s debut in the Bronx provided a great snapshot of what his career would come to represent: undeniable impact built around some sneaky good production. The 22-year-old Jeter led the eventual World Series champions in hits (183) and batting average (.314) while of course saving the best for last. Jeter hit .360 in his first postseason, which featured the still-infamous, game-tying ALCS Game 1 "Jeffrey Maier" home run. It would become the first of many memorable October moments for the eventual "Captain."

 
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Hideo Nomo – 1995

Hideo Nomo – 1995
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Armed with one of the most unique deliveries in the history of the game, Nomo’s instant impact made him a must-see sensation around the game after making his pioneering crossover from Japan. His 236 strikeouts and three shutouts led the National League, and his 11.1 strikeouts per nine innings broke none other than Sandy Koufax’s Dodgers single-season record.

 
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Tim Salmon – 1993

Tim Salmon – 1993
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1993 was a great year for debuts in the greater Los Angeles area, because over in Anaheim, Salmon was making waves as well. The Angels outfielder crushed 31 home runs and 35 doubles and scored 93 runs while producing a .918 OPS. Salmon would go on to play his entire 14-year career in Anaheim and remains the franchise’s all-time home run king with 299.

 
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Mike Piazza – 1993

Mike Piazza – 1993
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En route to winning the second of four consecutive Rookie of the Year Awards produced by the Dodgers, Piazza redefined the offensive standards by which catchers are now judged. The former 62nd-round pick became an instant All-Star and won the first of 10 consecutive Silver Sluggers while hitting .318 and driving in 112 runs. Piazza swatted franchise rookie records of 18 home runs before the All-Star break and 35 on the year. (Bellinger broke both records in 2017.)

Matt Whitener is St. Louis-based writer, radio host and 12-6 curveball enthusiast. He has been covering Major League Baseball since 2010, and dabbles in WWE, NBA and other odd jobs as well. Follow Matt on Twitter at @CheapSeatFan.

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