By Vin Ebenau
There has been much more parity in Major League Baseball over the last few years, thanks to changes to the salary cap and luxury tax rules. Scouting departments, whether in big markets or small, have also found a way to build winning teams, finding diamonds in the rough on draft day.
Nowadays, rookies in the big leagues are no longer just kids trying to push out a veteran and make the squad. They’re coming to The Show to display their talent and advanced baseball IQ to a much bigger audience.
Rookie sensations across baseball have learned to excel at a certain position in the game to find the fastest way to the big leagues. For many it used to be if you could hit the ball a long way, you’re coming to the show.
Players like Shelley Duncan, who was groomed in the Yankees system, powered his way into the lineup only to be soon taken off the roster in the years that followed because pitchers around the Major Leagues figured out he could crush a first pitch fastball from the Bronx to Manhattan.
When you threw him off-speed pitches more regularly, we found out he was human. Just like Pedro Cerrano in the movie Major League, who could crush a fastball but struggled with the curveball.
The game is now more in demand of relief pitchers that can throw gas on the mound and get outs late in a game, shortening the game to essentially the fifth inning. If you can throw 95 plus with a fastball, your trip to the majors comes with your diploma at graduation.
Just ask Brendan Finnegan from last year’s Kansas City Royals, who went from the TCU and the College World Series to the Major League World Series because of his heater.
The other fast track in the last few years is being able to hit through a shift, which is in today’s game as much a part of baseball as peanuts and crackerjacks.
The shift, which went from simply moving ten feet to your left or right (at least while I was growing up), to moving to the other side of the infield on every, single, pitch. It used to be fun to see someone like Jason Giambi lay down a bunt down the third base line to get a hit and mock the shift; now it’s a completely different game.
Yet somehow, adjustments have been made and a new wave of talent has entered into the game today. It’s like a coming of age or better yet, a youth movement in the game where many young stars are some of the best in all of the game.
This year’s rookie class is no different. Just look at the star-studded National League, where Mets Pitcher Jacob deGrom took home Rookie of the Year honors last year in a year where pitchers seemed to dominate. (Thus, the Royals and Giants using small ball to get to the World Series last October).
My top three rookies in the NL this year in, like I said a tough ballot again– are Giants Pitcher Chris Heston, who spun a No-No against the Mets earlier this season at Citi Field, Dodgers Outfielder Joc Pederson, who leads all NL Rookies with 19 home runs, and Cubs third baseman Kris Bryant who has brought the Cubbies into the Wild Card Hunt.
Heston’s no-hitter isn’t just a one-and-done performance; he’s gathered an 8-5 record with a 3.73 ERA and 79 strikeouts in 91.2 Innings pitched while also having a WHIP of 1.22.
Joc Pederson had a cup of coffee in the majors last season, but not nearly enough to be considered a rookie last year. With Matt Kemp traded to San Diego in the offseason to clear out a crowded Dodgers outfield, Pederson, who is a couple months younger than I am (23) has taken advantage of playing everyday for a team competing for yet another division title. He is batting .249 with 19 home runs and 37 RBI to date, but his OBP is .391, OPS is .930, and SLG is .539 and has collected 53 walks being regarded as a full power hitter in the NL West. Despite the 86 strikeouts, he is near the top in every important offensive category amongst rookies and closing in on the veterans as well.
Kris Bryant came on the scene to a disappointing start at Wrigley Field but has since been on a tear across the league, being more than just a statistical phenom but a leader amongst other youth on a team more hungry than any other to win in October. On the season Bryant, (also same age) is hitting .277 with 10 home runs and 43 RBI’s with a .379 OBP, .471 SLG, and a .850 OPS while playing 10 less games and having 7 less at bats than Joc Pederson. (Keeping in mind of course walks doesn’t count as an at bat).
There are my to three NL Rookies.
I enjoy the age being a number as well, they (Bryant and Pederson) get to play at 23 and I get to write about it. Life is good.
In order of how I would vote if the season ended today and if I actually had a vote that counted I would in backwards order have Chris Heston as the number three rookie and not because of his age (Jimmy Morris debuted around the same age with Tampa Bay years ago), and not because of anything he hasn’t done but the ERA is not something overly impressive although all other stats are something to marvel at in the very least.
The next two are even more tough, how do you knock the performances of Bryant and Pederson while also remembering this isn’t the MVP race.
My Leader in the NL Rookie of the Year race is Joc Pederson, and with it comes no correct vote or wrong vote just that I believe Pederson is being treated like a perennial superstar in his rookie season. He is getting intentionally walked because pitchers fear his power.
In the end Pederson and Bryant especially in this conversation will be superstars for years to come, and quite possible future All-Stars and Hall of Famers. Chris Heston will probably find his way to an All-Star Game and the way The Giants play, many postseason appearances.
The debate has just begun, who is your vote right now for NL Rookie of the Year?
Follow me on Twitter: @VinEbenau
Baseball Season Statistics Courtesy of mlb.com as entering 6/27