Top Rookies for Each NL East Team in 2024

The NL East is loaded with established superstars, but don't overlook the rookies who could contribute this coming season.

AJ Smith-Shawver of the Atlanta Braves pitches in the second inning against the Washington Nationals at Truist Park.
ATLANTA, GEORGIA - JUNE 09: AJ Smith-Shawver #62 of the Atlanta Braves pitches in the second inning against the Washington Nationals at Truist Park on June 09, 2023 in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

The NL East is chock full of proven superstars. You know them as well as I do: Ronald Acuña Jr., Bryce Harper, Francisco Lindor, Spencer Strider, Zack Wheeler, Edwin Díaz… the list goes on.

When it comes to prospects, however, the division is a little thin. There isn’t a single NL East team ranked among the top 10 farm systems in baseball, according to ESPN or The Athletic. There isn’t a single NL East prospect included among the top 10 NL Rookie of the Year favorites, according to BetMGM.

Even so, that doesn’t mean the NL East is completely devoid of promising young talent. From the Atlanta Braves to the Washington Nationals, all five clubs have at least one youngster who could make some noise (and possibly challenge for the ROY) this coming season.

These are my picks for the top rookie-eligible players on each team in the NL East entering the 2024 MLB season.

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Atlanta Braves Top Rookie: AJ Smith-Shawver, RHP

2023 MLB Stats: 6 games (5 starts), 4.26 ERA, 6.69 FIP, -0.3 fWAR

2023 MiLB Stats: 15 starts, 2.66 ERA, 3.66 FIP

Before the Braves traded for Chris Sale, it looked like AJ Smith-Shawver would compete for the No. 5 spot in the rotation. Instead, he’ll have to settle for being one of the first call-ups in case of injury. He is still just 21 years old, and a role like that should suit him just fine.

Widely considered Atlanta’s top prospect, Smith-Shawver has mid-rotation upside. However, he needs to work on his command, and he could certainly use some more seasoning at Triple-A. That said, with a strong showing early in the season, it’s not impossible he forces his way into the big league rotation – even if he has to usurp Bryce Elder to get there.

When you consider his ceiling, his floor, and his path to playing time, Smith-Shawver is the most likely Rookie of the Year candidate in the NL East.

Miami Marlins Top Rookie: Max Meyer, RHP

2022 MLB Stats (missed 2023 season): 2 starts, 7.50 ERA, 6.45 FIP, -0.1 fWAR

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2022 MiLB Stats (missed 2023 season): 13 starts, 3.46 ERA, 3.21 FIP

Max Meyer made a terrific impression over his first two minor league seasons (2.71 ERA in 35 MiLB starts), before making his much-anticipated big league debut in July 2022. Unfortunately, his second MLB start was cut short by elbow soreness, and soon after, he went under the knife for Tommy John surgery.

The Marlins won’t rush Meyer back to the majors, but he is in camp and fully healthy, by all reports. Thus, it’s possible, although unlikely, that he makes the team’s Opening Day roster.

The more plausible scenario is that Meyer opens the year at Triple-A. Once he proves he is physically and mentally ready to take the next step, there should be a role waiting for him in Miami.

I like Meyer’s upside more than Smith-Shawver’s, but given his recent injury history, he’s also a bigger risk.

New York Mets Top Rookie: Christian Scott, RHP

2023 MiLB Stats: 19 starts, 2.57 ERA, 2.33 FIP

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The Mets have a trio of top prospects nearing the majors in Drew Gilbert, Luisangel Acuña, and Christian Scott. Gilbert has the most upside, while Acuña is the only one on the 40-man roster. However, it’s Scott who has the best path to a serious role with the big league club in 2024.

The Mets have a stacked lineup for a team on the outskirts of contention. Their bullpen looks pretty good too, thanks largely to the return of Edwin Díaz. However, their starting rotation is on life support, especially with the news that Kodai Senga could miss the first several weeks of the season.

New York has enough depth that the team won’t rush Scott to the majors. However, if he continues to excel at the minor league level, he could force his way into the Mets’ rotation sooner rather than later.

Scott is less likely to pitch significant innings than either Smith-Shawver or Meyer. Still, I wouldn’t be all that surprised if he has the best 2024 season out of all three.

Philadelphia Phillies Top Rookie: Orion Kerkering, RHP

2023 MLB Stats: 3 IP, 1 ER, 6 K, 2 BB

2023 MiLB Stats: 53.2 IP, 1.51 ERA, 2.36 FIP

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Orion Kerkering was such a key player in the Phillies’ postseason run last October that it’s hard to remember he only has three big league appearances under his belt.

After rocketing through Philadelphia’s minor league system in 2023, the hard-throwing reliever made his MLB debut in September. Across 10 appearances in the regular season and the playoffs, he gave up three earned runs in 8.1 IP, striking out 11 and walking three. Armed with a devastating sweeper and a sinker that can reach triple digits, Kerkering showed off a keen ability to limit hard contact and keep his opponents on their toes.

Kerkering may not have the upside of a top starting pitching prospect like Mick Abel, but he is going to play a role in the Phillies’ bullpen from day one. Indeed, he’s the most likely of any of these five NL East rookies to have a significant impact this coming season.

Washington Nationals Top Rookie: Cade Cavalli, RHP

2022 MLB Stats (missed 2023 season): 4.1 IP, 7 ER, 6 K, 2 BB

2022 MiLB Stats (missed 2023 season): 97 IP, 3.71 ERA, 3.25 FIP

What’s that? Another right-handed pitching prospect? Apparently, righty rookies are the most plentiful resource in the NL East.

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Cade Cavalli made a poor impression in his big league debut two years ago, giving up seven earned runs in 4.1 innings of work. Due to shoulder and elbow injuries, he hasn’t thrown a pitch in the majors or minors ever since.

Still, there is a reason he remains one of the top prospects in the Nationals’ system. Cavalli has a powerful fastball, a nasty curve, and the potential to be a mid-rotation starter. The Nats will give him the chance to be just that when he returns from Tommy John surgery, likely sometime this summer.

His injury status makes Cavalli the biggest risk of the five prospects on this list. However, he has a clear path to playing time on the rebuilding Nationals – as long as he is healthy enough to make the most of that opportunity.