2007 was "the year of the rookie." In the NL, Ryan Braun just best Troy Tulowitzki for the Rookie of the Year award by hitting .324 with 34 HR, 97 RBI, and 15 SB in only 451 AB. Dustin Pedroia won the AL version of the award as he hit .317 and scored 86 runs for the World Series champions. 2007 also introduced us to future All-Stars Tim Lincecum, Josh Hamilton, Justin Upton, Daisuke Matsuzaka, Hunter Pence, and Joakim Soria. Delmon Young and Chris Young both had solid campaigns, though they have yet to live up to their considerable potential.
In all honesty, 2006 may have been an even better year for rookies. There wasn't anybody to equal the production of Braun, but that season introduced us to such future luminaries as Hanley Ramirez, Prince Fielder, Justin Verlander, Matt Cain, Jonathan Papelbon, Matt Kemp, Nick Markakis, Russell Martin, Josh Johnson, Andre Ethier, Ryan Zimmerman, Ian Kinsler, Cole Hamels, Jonathan Broxton, Adam Wainwright, Jered Weaver, Dan Uggla, Corey Hart, and Francisco Liriano. In four seasons, that group has accumulated no less that 23 All-Star appearances.
Last year gave us several more impressive rookies, including Evan Longoria, Geovany Soto, Joba Chamberlain, Joey Votto, Jacoby Ellsbury, Jay Bruce, Pablo Sandoval, Chris Davis, and Alexei Ramirez. There were six rookies from 2008 who hit at least 20 HR. Four drove in at least 75 runs. And five pitchers notched double-digit wins.
This season has been a much different story. Highly-touted rookies like Matt Wieters and David Price have floundered a bit. There are currently no rookie hitters on pace for 20 HR or 75 RBI. Gerardo Parra leads all rookies with 38 RBI. Colby Rasmus leads with just 11 HR. There is no rookie hitter with 250+ plate appearances who sports an OPS above 738.
The pitching side has been a little stronger. In all likelihood Jeff Niemann, Ricky Romero, Rick Porcello, and Matt Palmer will all notch double-digit wins, though Porcello and Palmer have not pitcher particularly well, especially recently. J.A. Happ and Randy Wells could get there as well, currently they each have 7 W and ERAs under 3.00. However, Happ could finish the season in the bullpen after the additions of Cliff Lee and Pedro Martinez.
Several of the seasons best rookies did not arrive until late June or early July. Andrew McCutchen got Pittsburgh some much-needed positive publicity last night by hitting three homers in a game. McCutchen has hit .294 since his promotion, with 25 extra-base hits. He's also yet to be caught stealing in nine attempts. Gordon Beckham of the White Sox has also been making a splash. This afternoon he picked up his 36th RBI in only 52 games. Tommy Hanson has made ten starts for the Braves, going 5-2 with a 3.25 ERA and a 1.33 WHIP.
Hanson, McCutchen, and Beckham are each only 22-years-old. They are representative of the increasing temptation for teams to turn to prospects early, which may be one reason why rookies stats are a little more modest. Only a few years ago teams resisted promoting any but the most superior prospects - guys like Braun, Longoria, and Upton - before they were at least 23 or 24. Here is the list of players this season 22 or younger who are holding down (or held down) regular positions in the major leagues:
Brett Anderson - SP - OAK (6-8 - 4.33 ERA - 1.31 WHIP - 85 K)
Elvis Andrus - SS - TEX (.261 - 4 HR - 19 RBI - 686 OPS)
Gordon Beckham - 3B - CWS (.311 - 5 HR - 36 RBI - 858 OPS)
Kyle Blanks - 1B - SDP (.227 - 5 HR - 13 RBI - 813 OPS)
Jay Bruce - RF - CIN (.207 - 18 HR - 41 RBI - 725 OPS)
Everth Cabrera - SS - SDP (.258 - 1 HR - 14 RBI - 733 OPS)
Trevor Cahill - SP - OAK (6-10 - 5.01 ERA - 1.52 WHIP - 58 K)
Tommy Hanson - SP - ATL (5-2 - 3.25 ERA - 1.33 WHIP - 41 K)
Derek Holland - SP - TEX (4-6 - 5.56 ERA - 1.48 WHIP - 64 K)
Clayton Kershaw - SP - LAD (8-5 - 2.76 ERA - 1.23 WHIP - 117 K)
Mat Latos - SP - SDP (2-1 - 2.70 ERA - 0.78 WHIP - 13 K)
Fernando Martinez - OF - NYM (.176 - 1 HR - 8 RBI - 517 OPS)
Shairon Martis - SP - WAS (5-2 - 5.25 ERA - 1.42 WHIP - 34 K)
Cameron Maybin - CF - FLA (.202 - 1 HR - 3 RBI - 589 OPS)
Vin Mazzaro - SP - OAK (2-7 - 5.16 ERA - 1.61 WHIP - 43 K)
Andrew McCutcheon - CF - PIT (.292 - 6 HR - 31 RBI - 834 OPS)
Jonathon Niese - SP - NYM (1-1 - 4.50 ERA - 1.42 WHIP - 16 K)
Sean O'Sullivan - SP - LAA (3-0 - 3.72 ERA - 1.38 WHIP - 16 K)
Gerardo Parra - OF - ARZ (.274 - 5 HR - 38 RBI - 732 OPS)
Ryan Perry - RP - DET (5 HLD - 3.63 ERA - 1.47 WHIP - 32 K)
Rick Porcello - SP - DET (9-7 - 4.36 ERA - 1.41 WHIP - 55 K)
Aaron Poreda - SP - CWS (1-0 - 2.45 ERA - 1.55 WHIP - 12 K)
Colby Rasmus - CF - STL (.252 - 11 HR - 35 RBI - 730 OPS)
Josh Reddick - OF - BOS (.444 - 1 HR - 2 RBI - 1500 OPS)
Pablo Sandoval - 3B - SF (.324 - 16 HR - 63 RBI - 924 OPS)
Michael Saunders - LF - SEA (.160 - 0 HR - 1 RBI - 320 OPS)
Jordan Schafer - CF - ATL (.204 - 2 HR - 8 RBI - 600 OPS)
Travis Snider - LF - TOR (.242 - 3 HR - 12 RBI - 686 OPS)
Chris Tillman - SP - BAL (0-0 - 5.79 ERA - 1.71 WHIP - 2 K)
Justin Upton - RF - ARZ (.302 - 20 HR - 65 RBI - 926 OPS)
Chris Volstad - SP - FLA (8-9 - 4.35 ERA - 1.25 WHIP - 91 K)
That's 31 players! A few, like Martinez, Niese, Blanks, and Cabrera, were forced into action by injuries, trades, or unexpected roster situations, but most of these guys are with the big club by design and one has to wonder whether they are in the best possible situation for their progress. Derek Holland looked great last week, taking a shutout into the 9th inning, but his overall numbers leave a lot to be desired. Rick Porcello has had flashes of brilliance as well and sports solid overall numbers, but since the beginning of June he's 3-4 with a 5.20 ERA. Trevor Cahill and Vin Mazzaro has been given very long leashes in Oakland because Billy Beane believes they can mature into Aces at the major-league level. He had great luck with Hudson, Mulder, and Zito in a similar situation, but that isn't always the case. Detroit tried the same thing with Jeremy Bonderman, Mike Maroth, and Nate Cornejo. That didn't go so well.
This is all part of the trend towards youth which has gotten a lot of publicity lately, but teams seem to be misunderstanding the value to young players. Sure, Upton, Sandoval, Kershaw, and Hanson proved they had nothing left to prove at AAA and could outperform the guys in front of them on the MLB roster. However, when you promote a guy like Holland, Andrus, or Suanders to early, it not only endangers their confidence, but it decreases their value, because the clock starts ticking on them before they start producing for the franchise. Texas will have to pay arbitration on Andrus and Holland in 2011. Cahill, Anderson, and Mazzaro will qualify for free agency a year earlier, perhaps giving Oakland one less shot at contention.