Each MLB Team's Top Rookie of All Time

Doug MeadCorrespondent IOctober 22, 2012

Each MLB Team's Top Rookie of All Time

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    Major League Baseball has seen tens of thousands of prospects over the years make it all the way through the minor league system to finally get their chance to star on the big stage.

    Many of those young blue chippers fizzled out when they hit the big time. Others used their debut as a stepping stone for bigger things to come.

    It's always been a crapshoot in terms of figuring out just how rookies will perform once they've finally reached their goal. It's hard to argue against this year's crop of young stars, however. From Mike Trout to Bryce Harper to Wade Miley to Yu Darvish, fans witnessed some outstanding rookie seasons in 2012.

    But just how do they match up with other stellar performances from rookies in the past?

    We will take a look at the greatest rookie season of all time for each MLB team. It's quite possible the 2012 class of rookies may be seen on this list.

Arizona Diamondbacks: Wade Miley, 2012

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    Starting pitcher Wade Miley gave the Arizona Diamondbacks a brief glimpse of his repertoire late in the 2011 season, posting a 4-2 record with a 4.01 ERA in seven starts.

    It turned out to be a harbinger of better things to come.

    Miley was arguably the most consistent pitcher in the Diamondbacks' rotation in 2012, posting a 16-11 record, a 3.33 ERA, a 1.182 WHIP and a stingy 0.6 HR/9 rate.

    While the vote for the National League Rookie of the Year has yet to be decided, Miley will draw strong consideration.

Atlanta Braves: Wally Berger, 1930

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    In 1930, the Boston Braves promoted center fielder Wally Berger from the Los Angeles Angels of the Pacific Coast League. Berger had shined out West, clubbing 40 home runs with a .335 average in 1929.

    Berger kept on clubbing in his rookie season, hitting .310 with 38 HR and 119 RBI. He set a home run record for rookies that would stand until Mark McGwire swatted 49 homers as a rookie in 1987 with the Oakland A's.

    Berger still shares the rookie home run honors in the National League with Frank Robinson, who matched Berger's 38 long balls in 1956.

Baltimore Orioles: Cal Ripken, Jr., 1982

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    In 1982, 21-year-old prospect Cal Ripken Jr. took over as the starting shortstop for the Baltimore Orioles. Ripken was tasked with replacing a defensive wizard in Mark Belanger, who left Baltimore after 17 seasons to finish his career with the Los Angeles Dodgers.

    Ripken's star shined in that first full season, hitting .264 with 28 HR and 93 RBI. He would begin his legendary consecutive games played streak on May 30, competing in 2,632 straight games until pulling himself from the lineup on Sept. 20, 1998.

    Ripken would take home Rookie of the Year honors that season and would go on to help lead his Orioles to the World Series the following year, adding an MVP Award to his mantel as well.

Boston Red Sox: Fred Lynn, 1975

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    The Boston Red Sox have certainly had their share of rookies who shined on the big stage in their debut seasons.

    Ted Williams in 1939, Walt Dropo in 1950, Nomar Garciaparra in 1997 and Dustin Pedroia in 2007—all excelled and went on to continue with terrific careers.

    But Fred Lynn's rookie season in 1975 topped them all.

    Lynn teamed with fellow rookie Jim Rice to give the Red Sox a new look in their outfield in 1975. Tabbed as the "Gold Dust Twins," the two youngsters were instrumental in leading the Red Sox to the top of the AL East Division.

    Rice's season ended with a broken hand in mid-September, but Lynn continued with his magical season, leading the American League in doubles, runs scored and slugging percentage. His .331 batting average was second to Rod Carew, and he added 21 HR with 105 RBI.

    Defensively, Lynn shined as well, winning his first of four Gold Glove awards. For his efforts, Lynn became the first rookie in MLB history to win both the Rookie of the Year and MVP Award in the same season.

Chicago Cubs: Kerry Wood, 1998

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    In 1998, the Chicago Cubs made the playoffs for the first time in nine years, and rookie pitcher Kerry Wood was a big reason why.

    Wood as absolutely sensational in his debut season, capped off with his dominating performance on May 6, 1998, against the Houston Astros.

    In that game, Wood struck out 20 Astros, tying the all-time MLB record held by Roger Clemens. His one-hit shutout was a masterpiece of epic proportions.

    Wood ended his rookie year with a 13-6 record, a 3.40 ERA and led the majors with a 6.3 H/9 rate and 12.6 K/9 rate. His efforts allowed him to narrowly defeat Colorado Rockies first baseman Todd Helton for National League Rookie of the Year Award honors.

Chicago White Sox: Ron Kittle, 1983

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    In 1983, the Chicago White Sox made the postseason for the first time in 24 years. While they were aided by great performances from starting pitchers LaMarr Hoyt (24-10) and Richard Dotson (22-7), rookie left fielder Ron Kittle was a major force as well.

    Kittle hit .254 and paced the White Sox with 35 HR and 100 RBI, easily out-pacing Cleveland Indians shortstop Julio Franco win the American League Rookie of the Year Award.

    While Kittle would hit 32 homers the following season, he never came close to matching his rookie year, retiring in 1991.

Cincinnati Reds: Frank Robinson, 1956

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    In 1956, Frank Robinson broke into the majors with the Cincinnati Reds as a 20-year-old and put together a rookie season that was just the beginning of a fabulous Hall of Fame career.

    Robinson hit 38 home runs as a rookie, tying the mark set by Wally Berger of the Boston Braves in 1930. Robinson led the National League with 122 runs scored and chipped in with a .290 average and 83 RBI.

    He easily won the National League Rookie of the Year Award in a unanimous vote.

Cleveland Indians: Al Rosen, 1950

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    In the late 1940s, prospect third baseman Al Rosen was called up briefly to the Cleveland Indians but was unable to stick with the big club. In 1950, Rosen made sure he was there to stay.

    Rosen shined in his first full season, leading the American League with 37 home runs and adding 116 RBI. His ability to work the count at the plate led to 100 walks and a .405 on-base percentage as well.

    Rosen would go on to win the AL MVP Award just three seasons later, narrowly missing out on Triple Crown honors with a .336 average, 43 HR and 145 RBI.

Colorado Rockies: Todd Helton, 1998

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    In 1998, first baseman Todd Helton became the starting first baseman for the Colorado Rockies, tasked with replacing slugger Andres Galarraga, who had moved on to the Atlanta Braves.

    It's safe to say that Helton impressed during that first season.

    Nicknamed "The Toddfather" and the face of the franchise for the past 16 seasons, Helton started off pretty strong in 1998, hitting .315 with 25 HR and 97 RBI in his rookie campaign.

    If it weren't for the phenomenal rookie year of Kerry Wood, Helton would have walked away with the ROY hardware. But it certainly qualifies as special nonetheless.

Detroit Tigers: Dale Alexander, 1929

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    First baseman Dale Alexander was a promising young hitter when he broke into the majors with the Detroit Tigers in 1929. That promise was quickly seen as potential greatness.

    Alexander hit .343 in his opening season and led the American League with 215 hits. He also hit 25 HR and 137 RBI.

    Those numbers would be the high-water mark in Alexander's career, although he did lead the American League in batting with a .367 average in 1932. He was out of the majors the following season.

Houston Astros: Hunter Pence, 2007

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    While first baseman Jeff Bagwell is the only Houston Astro ever to win the National League Rookie of the Year Award, the season put together by right fielder Hunter Pence was actually better in many respects.

    Here's how the numbers break down for the two young Astros stars in their rookie seasons:

    Pence: 108 GP, 30 doubles, nine triples, 17 HR, 69 RBI, .322/.360/.539/.899 slash line.

    Bagwell: 156 GP, 26 doubles, four triples, 15 HR, 82 RBI, .294/.387/.437/.824 slash line.

    Bagwell walked away with the ROY hardware, but Pence put up bigger numbers in 48 less games played.

Kansas City Royals: Carlos Beltran, 1999

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    After making his major league debut with a September call-up in 1998, Kansas Royals center fielder Carlos Beltran broke through in a big way in 1999.

    Beltran, the second overall draft pick by the Royals in 1995, showed exactly why his team thought so highly of him just four years earler. Beltran hit .293 with 22 HR, 108 RBI, 112 runs scored and 301 tables.

    Beltran was the easy choice for American League Rookie of the Year Award honors, earning 26 of 28 first-place votes.

Los Angeles Angels: Mike Trout, 2012

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    For all of the accomplishments achieved by Los Angeles Angels center fielder Mike Trout this past season, it's not enough just to award him with the best rookie season ever for the Angels.

    It's one of the best in history—period.

    Trout led the majors in runs scored (129) and stolen bases (49), finished with a .326 average, 30 HR and 83 RBI and led the American League with an OPS+ of 171. In addition, Trout is the first player in MLB history to hit 30 homers, steal 45 bases and score 125 runs in one season.

    Not just for a rookie—for any player in the entire history of baseball.

    Just think about what he could have accomplished in a full season.

Los Angeles Dodgers: Fernando Valenzuela, 1981

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    In 1981, Major League Baseball went through a strike lasting almost two months. But in Los Angeles, Fernandomania was sweeping the land.

    Mexican rookie pitcher Fernando Valenzuela gave fans of the Los Angeles Dodgers plenty of reason to forget all about the strike. In an amazing season, Valenzuela posted a 13-7 record, 2.48 ERA, 180 strikeouts in 192.1 innings, 11 complete games and eight shutouts.

    Valenzuela wasn't done with his season, however. He helped power his Dodgers past the Houston Astros, Montreal Expos and New York Yankees to help deliver a World Series championship to the city of Los Angeles.

    Valenzuela would win both the Rookie of the Year and Cy Young Award for his Herculean efforts.

Miami Marlins: Dontrelle Willis, 2003

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    In 2003, the Florida Marlins were slowly starting to recover from the fire sale that dismantled the team that won the World Series just six years earlier. With a young homegrown starting rotation, the Marlins were ready to do battle.

    However, after getting off to a sluggish start, the Marlins fired manager Jeff Torborg and replaced him with Jack McKeon. In addition, they called up young left-handed pitcher Dontrelle Willis from Double-A Carolina in early May.

    Willis was outstanding from the start, playing a major role in the Marlins' surge toward the playoffs. He posted a 14-6 record and 3.30 ERA in 27 starts, striking out 142 batters in 160.2 innings of work.

    The Marlins would go on to upset the New York Yankees for their second World Series title, and Willis took home the hardware for Rookie of the Year.

Milwaukee Brewers: Ryan Braun, 2007

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    When third baseman Ryan Braun debuted for the Milwaukee Brewers in late May of 2007, he didn't necessarily impress with his glove work at the hot corner. But the bat was indeed special.

    Braun would eventually be moved to left field, but in that first season, Brewers fans witnessed the offensive potential right away. He hit .324 with 34 HR and 97 RBI, leading the National League with a .634 slugging percentage and posting a 1.004 OPS.

    Braun only played in 113 games his first season, but it was easily enough to convince voters that the NL Rookie of the Year Award trophy belonged to him.

Minnesota Twins: Tony Oliva, 1964

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    It's not often that a rookie can break into Major League Baseball and dominate with the bat early on. However, that's exactly what Minnesota Twins outfielder Tony Oliva accomplished in 1964.

    After two quick appearances for the Twins in the previous two seasons, Oliva broke hard out of the gates in 1964 and never looked back.

    By the time he was done, Oliva led the league in hits (217), runs scored (109), doubles (43) and total bases (374).

    In addition, his .323 average was good enough to win the American League batting title. With his Rookie of the Year Award trophy, Oliva became the first player in American League to win both in the same season.

New York Mets: Dwight Gooden, 1984

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    Fans who enjoyed high school baseball in the Tampa, FL, area witnessed a youngster playing for Hillsborough High School in the early 1980s who could clearly throw the baseball with tremendous skill.

    Fans of the New York Mets saw that same young man make his debut in 1984.

    Dwight Gooden took the mound as a fresh-faced 19-year-old for the first time on April 7 that season. By the time the regular season was completed, Mets fans were delighted with the results.

    Gooden posted a 17-9 record and 2.60 ERA in 31 starts. He struck out 276 batters in 218.0 innings, setting a new rookie mark for strikeouts. His 1.073 WHIP, 6.6 H/9 rate and 0.3 HR/9 rate all led the league, and he was the easy winner of the NL Rookie of the Year Award.

New York Yankees: Joe DiMaggio, 1936

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    The New York Yankees had already become a powerhouse team by the time the 1936 season arrived. Legendary stars Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig had lifted the Bronx Bombers to that status in the 1920s and early 1930s.

    However, in 1936, a new leader came along to continue the Yankees dynasty: center fielder Joe DiMaggio.

    DiMaggio was a quiet young man when he joined the Yankees as a 21-year-old in early May, but he quickly established that his bat did all the talking for him.

    DiMaggio hit .323 his rookie season with 44 doubles, a league-leading 15 triples, 29 HR and 125 RBI. It was readily apparent that he already had plate discipline mastered—he registered a miniscule 5.8 percent strikeout rate.

    DiMaggio's greatness was clearly evident in that rookie season—Yankees fans saw a man with tremendous ability, along with a man of class and dignity.

Oakland Athletics: Mark McGwire, 1987

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    During first baseman Mark McGwire's his rookie year in 1987, he didn't just break records, he obliterated them.

    McGwire broke through in a huge way, hitting .289 with 49 HR and 118 RBI. His .618 slugging led the majors, and he easily broke the previous single-season rookie home run record (38) held by Wally Berger and Frank Robinson.

    McGwire was the unanimous winner of the American League Rookie of the Year Award, becoming the second consecutive A's rookie to win the honor (Jose Canseco).

Philadelphia Phillies: Richie Allen, 1964

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    As great as Tony Oliva was as a rookie in 1964 with the Minnesota Twins, the National League had a player with a pretty special debut season as well.

    Philadelphia Phillies third baseman Richie Allen debuted the previous season, playing 10 games in a brief September call-up. Taking over at the hot corner in 1964, Allen quickly demonstrated his hitting prowess.

    He hit .318 his rookie season, leading the majors with 125 runs scored and 13 triples. He led the NL with 352 total bases and chipped in with 29 HR and 91 RBI.

    Allen was the runaway winner in voting for National League Rookie of the Year Award honors over Rico Carty of the Milwaukee Braves and Jim Ray Hart of the San Francisco Giants.

Pittsburgh Pirates: Paul Waner, 1926

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    Paul Waner started out his Hall of Fame career back in 1926 with the Pittsburgh Pirates, and he was quick to show just how special his career would become.

    Waner hit .336 in his debut season, leading the majors with 22 triples and also contributing 35 doubles, eight HR and 79 RBI.

    Waner quickly demonstrated that he was not intimidated by opposing pitchers in any way, striking out just 19 times all season for a 3.1 percent strikeout.

    He would go on to become one of the greatest in Pirates history, retiring with 3,152 hits and a career .333 batting average.

San Diego Padres: Benito Santiago, 1987

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    While Oakland Athletics first baseman Mark McGwire was tearing up the American League as a rookie in 1987, San Diego Padres catcher Benito Santiago was making his mark in the National League.

    Santiago quickly showed off his special skills both behind the plate and with the bat. He established a new major league record for a rookie by hitting safely in 34 straight games. It also became the longest hitting streak ever by a catcher in MLB history.

    Santiago finished the season with a .300 average, 18 HR, 79 RBI and showed off the wheels with 21 stolen bases. He was the unanimous choice for National League Rookie of the Year.

San Francisco Giants: Willie McCovey, 1959

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    While he only played in 52 games in 1959 as a rookie, what San Francisco Giants first baseman Willie McCovey did in those 52 games was other-worldly.

    Making his debut on July 30 that season, McCovey quickly vaulted into the national limelight by taking the National League by storm. McCovey hit .354 with 13 HR and 38 RBI with a .656 slugging percentage and 1.085 OPS.

    Voters had no issue with the few games McCovey played—he was the unanimous choice for the Rookie of the Year Award.

Seattle Mariners: Ichiro Suzuki, 2001

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    Right fielder Ichiro Suzuki came to the United States from Japan already having accomplished many goals in his baseball career. In 2001, he added on to those accomplishments with a bang.

    Debuting for the Seattle Mariners in 2001, Suzuki fell just 15 hits shy of the all-time single-season hits record, registering 242 hits and leading the American League with a .350 batting average.

    Suzuki led the majors in hits, stolen bases (56) and scored 127 runs in helping his Mariners win an astounding 116 games. He became the second player in major league history (Fred Lynn, 1975) to win both the Rookie of the Year and MVP awards in the same season.

St. Louis Cardinals: Albert Pujols, 2001

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    While Ichiro Suzuki was busy tearing through American League pitching to the tune of 242 hits in 2001, St. Louis Cardinals third baseman Albert Pujols was making a major impression of his own in the National League.

    Pujols put up astounding numbers in his first season, hitting .329 with 37 HR, 130 RBI, 47 doubles, a .610 slugging percentage and 1.013 OPS.

    He was the unanimous choice as the National League Rookie of the Year Award winner. His incredible year started a streak of 10 consecutive seasons in which he hit at least .300 with 30 HR and 100 RBI—the only player in MLB history to accomplish the feat.

Tampa Bay Rays: Evan Longoria, 2008

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    The arrival of third baseman Evan Longoria coincided with the ending of 10 years of misery for the Tampa Bay Rays.

    Coincidence? I think not.

    Longoria shined in his debut season, hitting .272 with 27 HR and 85 RBI, quickly becoming a leader in the Rays offense and in the clubhouse. The Rays won the AL East Division for the first time in franchise history, and the pennant as well, before succumbing to the Philadelphia Phillies in the World Series.

    Longoria was the unanimous choice for AL Rookie of the Year Award honors.

Texas Rangers: Neftali Feliz, 2010

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    The Texas Rangers won their first American League pennant in franchise history in 2010, and they did it with a dynamic 22-year-old rookie closer.

    Neftali Feliz made 20 appearances for the Rangers in 2009, but still qualified as a rookie the following season.

    He was electric in the back end of the bullpen, registering 40 saves with a 2.73 ERA and striking out 71 batters in 69.1 innings.

    Feliz was voted the American League Rookie of the Year, outdistancing Detroit Tigers center fielder Austin Jackson.

Toronto Blue Jays: Eric Hinske, 2002

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    Toronto Blue Jays third baseman Eric Hinske wasn't particularly flashy as a rookie and didn't break records. But the campaign was certainly good enough to put him on top of this list.

    Hinske won the AL Rookie of the Year Award with a .279 average, 24 HR and 84 RBI. Ironically, it's the best numbers Hinske has ever put up in one season. He's spent most of the past six seasons as a reserve with five different teams.

Washington Nationals: Tim Raines, 1981

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    Left fielder Tim Raines started his career with the Montreal Expos in 1979, but he finally got his chance to star full-time in 1981. Raines quickly showed the baseball world he was worthy of the challenge.

    He hit .304 in his strike-shortened rookie campaign, giving the Expos a dynamic presence as a leadoff hitter. Raines led the National League with 71 stolen bases and would do so in the following three seasons as well.

    While he did not win the Rookie of the Year Award, he was a catalyst in helping the Expos to qualify for the postseason for the first time in franchise history.

     

    Doug Mead is a featured columnist with Bleacher Report. His work has been featured on the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, SF Gate, CBS Sports, the Los Angeles Times and the Houston Chronicle.