Yesterday I started looking at the top rookie classes for the last 31 years from Topps Baseball Cards and ranked 31-21. Today we move on down the list, looking at the classes ranked 20-11. Before we get to that however, here’s a little more background…
To start off, I am only going to use Topps and not any of its offshoot brands like Bowman or Finest. I’ll use the standard series cards and include traded/update sets as well. The term rookie card had only been defined in the last decade so things may not always be apples to apples. From 2006 on, a Rookie Card can only be established once a player has played in a Major League game. This makes update sets incredibly important as they catch the late call-ups in their sets. You’ll notice some overlap in the mid-2000’s because of this definition being established.
Additionally, Topps backed off rookie cards for a while it seemed by allowing Bowman (their rookie card brand since 1989) to get the first cards of players like Mariano Rivera, or other manufactures may steal the Rookie Card title altogether like Fleer did with David Ortiz. You’ll also notice duplication of some rookie cards in the ‘80’s since the players cards that came out in traded sets were considered XRC (extended rookie cards) since the cards were only sold in set form and away from the standard sets.
I’ll look at Hall of Famers, potential Hall of Famers, impact players, overall potential, etc. and remember…the PED era has nothing to do with anything in my opinion. Here we go…
20. 2003; 140 total rookie cards
Key Rookies: Robinson Cano, Kevin Youkilis, Hanley Ramirez, Brian McCann, Cliff Lee, Dan Haren, Chien-Ming Wang, Franklin Gutierrez, Brandon Webb, Jason Kubel, Josh Willingham, Shane Victorino, Jose Contreras, Chris Duncan, Jeremy Bonderman
Why: Cano could be in the Hall one day, Youk had big impact over the years, and HanRam and Brian McCann were/are impact guys at their position. Other guys like Josh Willingham and Jason Kubel had flashes at times
19. 2008; 60 total rookie cards
Key Rookies: Clayton Kershaw, Max Scherzer, Evan Longoria, Johnny Cueto, Hiroki Kuroda, Chris Davis, Steve Pearce, Sam Fuld, Brandon Jones, Emilio Bonifacio, Kosuke Fukudome, Justin Masterson, Matt Joyce, Luke Hochevar, Justin Ruggiano
Why: Kershaw has dominated from the beginning, Max is a perennial Cy Young contender, Longoria was a perennial MVP candidate, Johnny Cuteo could be a top-15 pitcher, and Chris Davis is a pure 40-50 HR guy. The supporting cast is where this group lacks.
18. 2000; 94 total rookie cards
Key Rookies: Miguel Cabrera, Adrian Gonzalez, Michael Young, Barry Zito, Ben Sheets, Adam Wainwright, Josh Hamilton, Brandon Inge, Carlos Zambrano, Francisco Rodriguez, Juan Pierre, Brandon Phillips, Joe Creede, Aaron Rowand, Brett Myers
Why: Miggy is a generational hitter, Gonzo is an perennial MVP candidate, Michael Young could be the best Texas Ranger of all-time, Barry Zito was an impact arm and Adam Wainwright is an impact arm. The supporting group is solid for the most part.
17. 2010; 97 total rookie cards
15 Key Rookies: Buster Posey, Mike (Giancarlo) Stanton, Madison Bumgarner, Josh Donaldson, Starlin Castro, Jason Heyward, Jake Arrieta, Carlos Santana, Mike Leake, Lorenzo Cain, Michael Brantley, Jonathan Lucroy, Danny Valencia, Andrew Cashner, Kenley Jansen
Why: Posey looks like he could be a Hall candidate eventually, Stanton if healthy has video game power, Bumgarner looks like a Top 7 NL pitcher, Donaldson an MVP, Arrieta Cy Young, etc, etc.
16. 1986; 103 total rookie cards
Key Rookies: Barry Bonds, Bo Jackson, Jose Canseco, Ozzie Guillen, Will Clark, Cecil Fielder, Andres Galarraga, John Kruk, Lenny Dykstra, Harold Reynolds, Bobby Bonilla, Wally Joyner, Kevin Mitchell, Vince Coleman, Pete Incaviglia
Why: Bonds was a Hall of Famer before the juice and the games top power hitter after. Bo was just amazing before he got hurt, and Canseco was unbelievable before he became an a-hole. Sprinkle in the Will the Thrill, big daddy, oh and I think the Mets are still paying Bobby Bonilla…
15. 2001; 80 total rookie cards
Key Rookies: Albert Pujols, Ichiro Suzuki, Justin Morneau, Jose Reyes, Travis Hafner, Edwin Encarnacion, Hank Blalock, Jake Peavy, Ryan Madson, Juan Uribe, Bud Smith, Rocco Baldelli, Irvin (Joel) Guzman, Wilson Betemit, Cody Ross
Why: Pujols could finish a top 25 player of all-time and Ichiro is going to get to 3000 hits in America, truly amazing! Add in MVP candidates at one time Morneau and Hafner, the power of Encarnacion, Jake Peavey’s Cy Young run, and Reyes was once the games most exciting player
14. 1999; 79 total rookie cards
Key Rookies: C.C. Sabathia, Josh Hamilton, Alfonso Soriano, Matt Holliday, Adam Dunn, Carl Crawford, Austin Kearns, Brad Lidge, Pat Burrell, Mark Mulder, Corey Patterson, A.J. Burnett, Carlos Pena, Carlos Lee, Mike Lowell
Why: There really aren’t any HoF’ers so we can argue this group should be higher up, however the impact to the game that CC, Josh, Soriano, Holliday, Dunn, and Crawford had, make this group very interesting to me. Also, there isn’t a ton of fall off when looking at the last few players on the list and what they accomplished.
13. 2014; 130 total rookie cards
15 Key Rookies: Jose Abreu, Jacob DeGrom, Masahiro Tanaka, Xander Bogaerts, Yordano Ventura, Marcus Stroman, George Springer, Mookie Betts, Gregory Polanco, Kolten Wong, Billy Hamilton, Andrew Heaney, Matt Shoemaker, Kevin Kiermaier, Wilmer Flores
Why: This group is very young and tough to know what Abreu, DeGrom, and others end up being, but that’s a strong list of impact already made either on stat list or in the postseason
12. 2012; 121 total rookie cards
15 Key Rookies: Bryce Harper, Yu Darvish, Matt Harvey, Dallas Keuchel, Yoenis Cespedes, Matt Moore, Dellin Betances, Devin Mesoraco, Starling Marte, A.J. Pollock, Hisashi Iwakuma, Garrett Richards, Patrick Corbin, Wei-Yin Chen, Andrleton Simmons
Why: Similar to #13, Harper is starting to fulfill his promise, Harvey looks awesome when healthy, Keuchel’s Cy Young could evolve in to more, and Cespedes is about to get paid. Add in the potential of Matt Moore, Betances, Marte, and Pollock and this group can move up or down the list
11. 1990; 96 total rookie cards
Key Rookies: Frank Thomas, Sammy Sosa, Bernie Williams, Juan Gonzalez, Larry Walker, David Justice, John Olerud, Marquis Grissom, Travis Fryman, Delino DeShields, Kevin Tapani, Ben McDonald, Carlos Baerga, Scott Erickson, Kevin Maas
Why: Big Hurt is in, Sammy is fringe HoF’er, and guys like Bernie and Larry Walker may not be Hall of Famers but they are close and had impactful careers. DJ, Olerud, JuanGon, also had their moments.
Keep and eye out for the Top 10…