Reds rookie Elly De La Cruz was called up and made his MLB debut to great fanfare on June 6. The Reds have gone 22-8 with him in the lineup and are in first place at the All-Star break for the first time in a while. It is much more than just De La Cruz, obviously, but he's already a rock star in Cincinnati. He's hit .325/.363/.524 (131 OPS+) with nine doubles, two triples, four homers, 16 RBI, 28 runs, 16 stolen bases and 1.0 WAR in what is roughly 18.5 percent of a season.
It got us here at CBS Sports thinking about past rookie sensations. It's a hard thing to quantify, but we're going to try. Who have been the biggest instant phenomenons as a rookie in the 2000s in Major League Baseball. That would be, who arrived with massive hype and, at least initially, lived up to said hype and become wildly popular with their fan base but also nationally famous among baseball fans?
I've cobbled together a list of the biggest ones here in this millennium and I'm attempting to rank the top 10. Keep in mind, this isn't a ranking of who turned out to be the best players or have the best careers. It's more "man, can you believe the fanfare surrounding this guy when he arrived?"
There will be disagreements, especially with such relatively nebulous criteria.
Mark Prior, Cubs - Before Strasmas (oops, that's a spoiler!), Prior was the most heavily hyped pitcher in years and was one of the supposed saviors of the Cubs. He lived up to the hype for a bit before injuries crushed his career.
Miguel Cabrera, Marlins - By the time the top-10 prospect debuted with the Marlins, they were in the midst of a playoff push that would end with them hoisting the World Series championship piece of metal. He hit a walk-off home run in his debut and continued to come up with big hit after big hit down the stretch and in October.
Buster Posey, Giants - He's a tough one to rank here. Posey was the fifth overall pick out of Florida State and a top-10 prospect, but there wasn't nearly as much over-the-top savior vibe with Posey as some of these others. And yet he was Rookie of the Year, then won an MVP, three rings and had a Hall of Fame career.
Carlos Correa, Astros - The number one overall pick in 2012, the height of the Astros' radical rebuild, Correa arrived as a top-five prospect during the Astros' run to their first-ever AL playoff berth. There was certainly great fanfare, but it was a bit spread around with other youngsters like Jose Altuve and George Springer shouldering some of the hype.
Gary Sánchez, Yankees - A top-50 prospect joining the Yankees is always going to grab headlines and Sánchez went absolutely bonkers with 20 home runs in just 53 games to close the 2016 season.
Aaron Judge, Yankees - A top-75ish prospect (it always varies depending on publication), Judge certainly had fanfare, but his arrival in late 2016 was overshadowed by Sánchez. As such, it was a bit muted. He's exceeded the hype in the ensuing years, obviously, but that's not what we're looking at with this list (see Posey, Buster and Trout, Mike).
Juan Soto, Nationals - Early in the 2018 season, some injuries forced the Nationals into bringing up a 19-year-old kid from Double-A. There was some hype, initially, but most of it grew with just how quickly he took to MLB pitching. He homered in his first and third games. He hit .400 with a .700 slugging percentage through his first 10. He's been Juan Freaking Soto ever since.
Fernando Tatis Jr., Padres - Second-generation stars are always going to get extra attention and Tatis was a top-10 prospect before his debut in 2019. He was an instant sensation, making highlight-reel plays in the field, on the bases and in the batter's box.
Wander Franco, Rays - The top prospect in baseball who switch hits, runs well, hits for power and plays excellent shortstop. What wasn't to love? He'd probably have gotten more national attention if he played in a bigger market, but there was plenty of hype.
Adley Rutschman, Orioles - The No. 1 overall pick in the height of the Orioles' rebuild, an injury in the spring of 2022 delayed Rutschman's arrival a bit last season, but he's been well worth that small wait.
The Top 10
10. Julio Rodríguez, Mariners
One of the bigger concerns for the players during the owner-ordered lockout between the 2021-22 seasons was ownership and front office manipulation of service time in young studs. That is, players like Rodríguez who were clearly ready to make a splash in the majors should be allowed to make that splash. It happened. He debuted on Opening Day 2022 and instantly became a sensation in Seattle. All we needed to do these last few days was watch the crowd in Seattle for the Home Run Derby and All-Star Game. They love their Julio.
9. Ronald Acuña Jr., Braves
The No. 1 prospect in baseball with five-tool superstar potential, he had to wait to debut until April 25 in 2018 as a 20-year-old prodigy. They Braves were coming off a rebuild in which they'd lost at least 90 games in three straight seasons. Acuña played his first eight games on the road. By the time the Atlanta fans finally got to see him, he was hitting .382/.432/.706.
8. Manny Machado, Orioles
By the time Machado debuted in August 2012, fellow young studs Mike Trout and Bryce Harper had already opened up the eyes of baseball fandom for how quickly phenoms at this age could make such a huge impact. We'd known this forever, obviously, but when talents like Harper and Trout hit, everyone clamors for the next one. Machado arrived just a few months later at age 20, arguably a top-five prospect. Not only that, but the Orioles hadn't made the playoffs since 1997 and weren't expected to contend in 2012, but they were on their way to a 93-win season and a wild-card berth. And Machado made plays like this:
It was an instant love affair. Just listen to the crowd.
7. Jason Heyward, Braves
Heyward went to high school just a bit south of Atlanta and was drafted 14th overall out of high school. Less than three years later, he was the No. 1 prospect in baseball with a runaway hype train. He debuted at home and was being showered with "Jason Heyward" chants during his first at-bat. And he hit a three-run homer.
Just look at that place going nuts.
6. Vladimir Guerrero Jr., Blue Jays
The bloodlines matter here. Anytime there's a Hall of Fame son with the same name and a "Junior" attached to it, there's going to be ridiculous expectations. Vlad Jr. was the top prospect in baseball in 2019 and hit .343/.420/.593 with nine homers in 39 Triple-A games. He also hit a walk-off homer in an exhibition game in Montreal in 2018 that only heightened the enormous hype surrounding the youngster:
He got off to a bit of a slow start, at least compared to the expectations, but Vlad Jr. is now 24 years old and is a three-time All-Star with a second-place MVP finish (and a Home Run Derby championship).
5. Kris Bryant, Cubs
Drafted second overall in 2013 by the Cubs in the height of their rebuild and coming off a Golden Spikes award, Bryant then terrorized minor-league pitching to the tune of .325/.438/.661 with 43 bombs and 110 RBI in 138 games in 2014. The entire spring in 2015, with the Cubs looking to turn the corner and contend, Bryant's possible arrival was a discussion point and the Cubs never relented on their stance that Bryant would start the year in the minors (again, the service-time manipulation thing). He only had to wait about a week-and-a-half before debuting to a standing ovation in Wrigley Field. He would win Rookie of the Year. Then MVP and the World Series.
4. Ichiro Suzuki, Mariners
Similar to how Hideo Nomo was on the mound a few years earlier, Ichiro was a sensation in coming to the majors from Japan's NPB. He hit .387 with more walks than strikeouts and 153 hits in 105 game in his last season in Japan. The Mariners had recently parted ways with the likes of Randy Johnson, Ken Griffey Jr. and Alex Rodriguez and while they still had future Hall of Famer Edgar Martinez, there was certainly a void to be filled. Ichiro went 4 for 13 (.308) in the first series and then went 4 for 6 in his next game as part of a tear. He was hitting .378 with 28 hits through 17 games. He'd end the season with a batting title (.350), an MLB-best 242 hits, a Rookie of the Year and an MVP for a team that won a historic 116 games.
3. Bryce Harper, Nationals
Harper remains polarizing for various reasons, but it's pretty lame. Once we get distance from his career, I hope everyone will realize just how remarkable it's been that he's stayed the path in the face of so much early hype and pressure and expectations. Anointed as a teenager as baseball's version of LeBron James, Harper reclassified in high school and earned his GED in order to enroll in junior college so he could be drafted number one overall at age 17. He made his MLB debut at age 19 to historical levels of national fanfare. I could see arguments that he should be No. 1 on this list. All he's done since is win two MVPs. He anchored a pennant-winning lineup last season despite needing Tommy John surgery.
2. Shohei Ohtani, Angels
It was incredibly difficult for me to rank Ohtani. His hype level right now is off the charts, maybe the highest it has ever been for any player in Major League Baseball history -- or least the most in the memories of anyone who is still alive. There was also that lull -- thanks to Tommy John surgery -- where it looked like Ohtani just might be a very good hitter who once tried to pitch. Memory can cloud our judgement, you know?
If we can go back to when he first arrived stateside, though, as a two-way player with the pie-in-a-sky potential to do, well, what he's doing now, I do believe he was very heavily hyped. Some misguided folks totally overreacted to him playing poorly in spring training, but then when the 2018 regular season hit, we saw an exceptional hitter and pitcher for those 10 starts on the mound before injury.
I'd accept arguments with open arms that he should be lower on this list. I'd also accept arguments that he should be number one. This is a subjective exercise, after all, and minds can play tricks on us.
1. Stephen Strasburg, Nationals
I just don't ever remember anything like "Strasmas."
He was probably the most prized pitching prospect out of college in baseball history. He was taken No. 1 overall by the Nationals in 2009 and debuted in the majors just about a year later. In watching the crowd in this debut, keep in mind the Nationals were a below .500 team and had lost over 100 games in each of the previous two seasons.
I remember watching it and in some ways, it felt like a movie. One of the most heavily hyped debuts in MLB history and he struck out 14 in seven innings. Ridiculous. I'm sure we'll see a player debut to similar fanfare at some point moving forward, but it's hard to envision such circumstances. I don't know, maybe we won't. It was really something to behold.
In looking through the list and judging how things are going with Elly De La Cruz, where would he rank right now?
I feel like there's a separation point between Machado and Heyward. That top seven, I feel like, had just other-worldly hype surrounding them before they even reached the majors and I don't think De La Cruz had anything close to that level. At least for now, he's in the ballpark with the likes of Machado, Acuña, Julio and the honorable mentions. If things keep going on this path, however, he's got a shot at getting to Rookie Heyward levels.
Regardless, it's been incredibly fun to watch.