This Summer is MLB Rookie Season
A bumper crop of talented rookies are about to turn the midseason lull into a highlight reel.
Those sticky months between baseball’s opening day and the run to the playoffs are called the dog days for a reason. For casual fans, a mid-June pitchers duel has the same limited appeal and tranquilizing effect as a fastball to the temple. Fortunately for fans, this year is going to be a bit more interesting. A bumper crop of new rookies will spend summer trying to earn their bones, making every game a nervy, all-or-nothing MLB combine.
We’re not even talking about the game’s young superstars. Yasiel Puig, Mike Trout, Bryce Harper, and injured pitchers Jose Fernandez and Matt Harvey are all 25, but they’re also also All-Stars with the contracts to show for it. They’re not as hungry as the freshmen studs like 24-year-old George Springer, who the Astros called up in mid-April. The hard-swinging outfielder got off to a rough start, batting .170 with 15 strikeouts in his first dozen games, then sprung. The former UConn Husky hit his first home run on May 8 and by the end of the month he had nine more. Meanwhile, 21-year-old XanderBogaerts was a model of consistency in Boston. After making cameos in last year’s World Series run, Bogaerts started the season with the Red Sox and now leads all American League shortstops with a .790 OPS. Gregory Polanco, meanwhile, had to wait a couple months into the season for the phone to ring, but the 22-year-old has hit in every Pittsburgh game since, while flashing some impressive speed in right field.
Springer, Bogaerts, and Polanco are fun as hell to watch, and they’re not even the best out there. Jose Abreu and MasahiroTanaka are tearing up the Bigs, which is why we’re going to have to address that old argument that players who’ve played professionally in other countries aren’t rookies. It’s stupid. Argument addressed. Now let’s marvel at Abreu, the 27-year-old Cuban who’s the third player in MLB history to hit 19 home runs with 50 RBIs before the All-Star break (Wally Joyner and Albert Pujols did it too). He’s still got 26 games to add to those totals, and the Yankees’ Japanese import, who’s probably going to be starting for the AL in the All-Star game, leads the league in ERA and WHIP. He’s struck out 103 batters since winging away from the Rakuten Golden Eagles’ Triple-A-level roster.
That’s five guys – a decent number, but not enough to make the case that the rookies are taking over. Let’s make that case now: Rangers second baseman Rougned Odor is hitting .303, Reds centerfielder Billy Hamilton has stolen 25 bases, Yankees third baseman Yangervis Solarte is taking pitchers to task with fun-to-watch inconsistency, Braves second baseman Tommy La Stella is OPSing .869, and Astros pitcher Collin McHugh is striking out 10.01 per nine innings. The flood of young talent isn’t stopping either. The Marlins just called up top pitching prospect Andrew Heaney, the Cubs are flirting with giving masher Kris Bryant a taste of Wrigley, and injured studs Dylan Bundy and Taijuan Walker are on the road to recovery. Case rested.
Even if you don’t care about the standings in the long summer months, it’s worth tuning into a few games to see young, raw talent do what young, raw talent does: Go for broke. The results might not matter, but this summer’s games are a make-or-break affair for baseball’s youngest stars.
Photos by Bob Levey/Getty Images