For the last couple of days, I’ve been ranking the top rookie classes for the last 31 years from Topps Baseball Cards with rankings from ranked 31-21 and yesterday we covered 20-11. Today we wrap up with my top 10, but before we get to that, 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…
10. 1991: 102 total rookie cards
Key Rookies: Chipper Jones, Jason Giambi, Ivan Rodriguez, Jeff Bagwell, Charles Johnson, Phil Nevin, Carl Everett, Luis Gonzalez, Todd Greene, Jeffrey Hammonds, Rick Helling, Mike Lieberthal, Brian McRae, Darren Dreifort, Phil Plantier
Why: Chipper, Bags, and Pudge are all Hall of Famers or should be, Giambi is a fringe guy if not for PED’s. Gonzo was an impact guy for half a decade and Carl Everett and Charles Johnson along with a few others on the list had solid careers. The drop off after Phil Plantier wasn’t significant as seen in other years.
9. 1988: 75 total rookie cards
Key Rookies: Tom Glavine, Roberto Alomar, Tino Martinez, Ken Caminiti, Mark Grace, Robin Ventura, David Wells, Jay Buhner, Matt Williams, Brady Anderson, Ron Gant, Jack McDowell, Chris Sabo, Walt Weiss, Al Leiter
Why: Glavine and Alomar are HoF’ers, Caminiti was an MVP or MVP candidate for quite a few years and there were impact players such as Tino, Grace, Ventura, Wells, Brady, Black Jack, Al Leiter and so on. Even Walt Weiss was the AL ROY. Maybe this group should have been higher…
8. 2011: 130 total rookie cards
15 Key Rookies: Mike Trout, Paul Goldschmidt, Chris Sale, Aroldis Chapman, Freddie Freeman, Jose Altuve, Anthony Rizzo, Eric Hosmer, J.D. Martinez, Mike Moustakas, Jason Kipnis, Todd Frazier, Dee Gordon, Jose Iglesias, Kyle Seager
Why: As much as I tease my friends about Mike Trout and all his runner-up MVP’s, the guy could be the next Willie Mays. That alone puts this class in the Top 15, add in Paul Goldschmidt who is a perennial MVP candidate, Chris Sale who could add more Cy Young’s, and the there’s Jose Altuve who has collected 830 hits in his first five seasons. All the others have shown flashes of promise or better.
7. 2006: 110 total rookie cards
Key Rookies: Justin Verlander, Alex Gordon, Matt Cain, Jonathon Papelbon, Ryan Zimmerman, Prince Fielder, Ian Kinsler, Matt Kemp, Jered Weaver, Cole Hamels, Hanley Ramirez, Ben Zobrist, Francisco Liriano, C.J. Wilson, Anibal Sanchez
Why: I don’t believe there will be one Hall of Famer in this group, however the impact that just about everyone of these 15 guys has had on the league is significant. There are 10 players who at one point were top-5 guys at their position at one point in time.
6. 1985: 112 total rookie cards
Key Rookies: Mark McGwire, Roger Clemens, Kirby Puckett, Ozzie Guillen, Orel Hershiser, Dwight Gooden, Eric Davis, Bret Saberhagen, Vince Coleman, Jimmy Key, Jose Rijo, Terry Pendelton, Cory Snyder, Mark Langston, John Franco
Why: Kirby may be the only guy in the Hall, but I believe Mac and Rocket should be as well. That said, the impact that Hershiser and Doc had along with Eric Davis, Bret Saberhagen, and Vince Coleman had in the mid-to-late 80’s and early 90’s was significant. Others had very long and fruitful careers as well.
5. 2005: 159 total rookie cards
Key Rookies: Andrew McCutchen, Justin Verlander, Ryan Braun, Jacoby Ellsbury. Ryan Zimmerman, Jay Bruce, Jered Weaver, Matt Kemp, Billy Butler, Carlos Gonzalez, Brandon Moss, Colby Rasmus, Ian Kinsler, Melky Cabrera, Nelson Cruz
Why: Similar to my #7 with a lot of the same players, none of these guys are Hall of Famers most likely, but this list has guys who all have had a major impact on the sport at one point and time outside of Colby Rasmus and Brandon Moss
4. 2015: 171 total rookie cards
15 Key Rookies: Kris Bryant, Carlos Correa, Joc Pederson, Addison Russell, Francisco Lindor, Maikel Franco, Byron Buxton, Daniel Norris, Carlos Rodon, Noah Syndergaard, Joey Gallo, Jorge Soler, Rusney Castillo, Jung Ho Kang, Yasmany Tomas
Why: Of course waaaaay to early to tell, but Kris Bryant is drawing comparisons to Mike Schmidt, Correa is being called a future Hall of Famer, and Noah Syndergaard had a great run in his first season. Add in the power bats of Joc Pederson, Joey Gallo, and Maikel Franco, the gloves of Addison Russell and Francisco Lindor, and the untapped potential of Carlos Rodon and Byron Buxton and this is an amazing class. Crazy enough, but Topps left Kyle Schwarber off its Update set or this list would have been even better.
3. 2013: 111 total rookie cards
15 Key Rookies: Manny Machado, Nolan Arenado, Jose Fernandez, Sonny Gray, Gerrit Cole, Corey Kluber, Shelby Miller, Wil Myers, Yasiel Puig, Antony Rendon, Evan Gattis, Zack Wheeler, Carlos Martinez, Dylan Bundy, Jurickson Profar
Why: Similar any Topps issue from this decade as in it’s to early to tell, however, Machado came out swinging, and Nolan Arenado recognize his potential as a multi-tool player this year. Jose Fernandez, Sonny Gray, Gerrit Cole, Corey Cluber, and Shelby Miller will be part of Cy Young voting for years to come. Oh, and then there is Yasiel Puig, Dylan Bundy, and Jurickson Profar who have incredibly high ceilings.
2. 1987: 134 total rookie cards
Key Rookies: Greg Maddux, Barry Bonds, Barry Larkin, Rafael Palmeiro, Bo Jackson, Will Clark, Matt Williams, David Cone, John Kruk, Jamie Moyer, Ruben Sierra, Ellis Burks, Terry Steinback, Wally Joyner, Mike Greenwell
Why: One of the best impact players ever, regardless of PED’s may never enter the Hall in Bonds, nor will Palmeiro, but their stats dictate that they should. Add in one of the best pitchers in the past half-century, another HoF’er in Barry Larkin, and the never fully recognized potential of Bo Jackson, and this class is amazing. Then add Will Clark, Matt Williams, David Cone, and a slew of others and their impact was great in the late 80’s and 90’s, just not prolonged enough. I add Mike Greenwell and Ellis Burks to this list, as they were actually the hottest cards at one point in ’87 and ’88.
1. 1989: 62 total rookie cards
Key Rookies: Ken Griffey Jr., Craig Biggio, Randy Johnson, John Smoltz, Kenny Rogers, Gary Sheffield, Deion Sanders, Jim Abbott, Omar Vizquel, Robin Ventura, Tom Gordon, Rob Dibble, Brady Anderson, Chris Sabo, Sandy Alomar Jr.
Why: Four guys in the Hall (Griffey is a sure bet) with no woulda, shoudla, coulda’s. Plus Sheff, Jim Abbot who was the one of the top pitchers for a while, Brady Anderson, Omar Vizquel, Deion Sanders, etc. had big impact in the league. When guys at the bottom of this list had impact in World Series wins (Dibble/Sabo) or have a Gold Glove and numerous All-Star appearances (Alomar), you know you’re dealing with a top- notch group.
So that’s my list. A lot can change for the 2000’s on as well with guys up for Hall of Fame election, so we’ll revisit every now and again.