It is very rare in baseball to see two game-changing players debut in the same year like we did in 2012 with Mike Trout and Bryce Harper; the last occurrence being in 2001 with Albert Pujols and Ichiro.
Both players were the undisputed best rookies in their respective league and have created a buzz about themselves that could easily create a fast track to Cooperstown. The question now is whether they can progress in 2013 or will one—or both—of them succumb to the dreaded sophomore slump?
It may seem cruel to openly wonder if a kid will fall flat on his face, but it is not unusual for players to get figured out by pitchers and fielders and not produce at the levels that produced all the hype to begin with.
For every Mickey Mantle and Willie Mays, we have Joe Charbonneau and Kevin Maas.
That is not to suggest that either of these great players are going to fall off the face of the earth, but one great rookie season does not guarantee getting featured on SportsCenter the rest of their career.
For the Washington Nationals, Harper has a much easier road in duplicating his 2012 output.
At just 19, Harper hit .270, with 22 home runs and 59 runs batted in. He had 144 base hits, stole 18 bases and struck out 120 times.
With the Nationals’ lineup and their pitching staff, not only should Harper have plenty of opportunities to build on his rookie year, he should not be under tremendous individual pressure to do so. Most of the focus going into 2013 will be on Stephen Strasburg’s first full season in the Majors (hopefully).
While Harper will receive plenty of attention, there will be equal spotlight not only Strasburg, but retiring manager Davey Johnson getting one last World Series shot before calling it quits.
Frankly, this is the best chance Johnson has had to get to the World Series since the 1988 New York Mets, who fell short in the NLCS.
Sure, there will be pressure on Harper, but no more than on the entire team to match their division-winning effort from last season.
Trout, on the other hand, will be under a huge scope following his implausible rookie campaign.
In falling short of becoming the third player in baseball history to win the Rookie of the Year and the Most Valuable Player award, Trout has captured the adoration of Southern California and sabermetric gurus alike.
Trout’s credentials were legitimate. He led the American League in runs scored and stolen bases and hit 30 homers and batted .326 as well. And if he had played a full 162-game season, he certainly would have had 200 hits.
Therein lies the problem. His first full season went so well, it is hard to imagine him getting much better.
Unlike Harper, any slump by Trout will be featured on ESPN and dissected by their never-ending parade of talking heads. He has played himself into the fishbowl—which I am sure is still an enviable position from his peers.
Unlike the Nationals, the Angels are not the best team in their league or division.
Trout does have the benefit of playing for one of the better managers in the game in Mike Scioscia and has arguably the game’s best lineup protector in Albert Pujols.
If Pujols is his usual self and if the Angels get hot early, the pressure will be off of Trout and the kid will just play ball.
Some have compared the entry of Harper and Trout in MLB to the emergence of Larry Bird and Magic Johnson to the NBA a generation ago.
It would be extraordinary to see these two stars turn into legends. But to expect that to happen without any hitches is simply not realistic.
How they adapt to the new pressure will be key for each going forward. For our sake, another summer like 2012 would be just fine.
*Statistics via Baseball-Reference
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