Say what you want about his character, but Yasiel Puig is must-see television.
While prospects such as Shelby Miller and Julio Teheran began the season in the major leagues, a majority of this year’s top rookies have arrived over the last two months.
Obviously any conversation about standout rookies must start with Yasiel Puig, the 22-year-old phenom who nearly made the National League All-Star team despite playing in only 35 games. However, his rapid ascent to stardom has also overshadowed remarkable accomplishments from many of the game’s other promising young players.
With the All-Star break set to commence on Monday, it’s time to reflect on—and grade—the performances of some of Major League Baseball’s top rookies from the first half of the season.
Shelby Miller, RHP, St. Louis Cardinals
2013 Stats: 9-6, 104.2 IP, 2.92 ERA, 1.118 WHIP, 112/29 K/BB; 2.5 WAR (18 GS)
After breaking camp as the Cardinals’ fifth starter, Miller quickly emerged as one of the top young arms in the major leagues thanks to a dominant first two months of the season. In April, the 22-year-old registered a 2.05 ERA and 1.011 WHIP over five starts, and followed with a 1.99 ERA and 0.947 WHIP in May.
Since then, however, Miller has cooled off. Over his last eight starts, the right-hander has worked into the seventh inning only once and seen his ERA balloon from 1.82 to 2.92. Compared to most young pitchers, Miller is capable of handling a larger workload due to his steady and thorough development in the minor leagues. But considering that he’s already logged 104.2 innings this season, expect the Cardinals to explore ways to offer him additional rest during the second half.
Anthony Rendon, 2B, Washington Nationals
2013 Stats: .303/.354/.461, 12 2B, 4 HR, 30/12 K/BB; 0.6 WAR (40 G)
Rendon didn’t fare well during his first stint in the major leagues in late April, batting only .240 in eight games while spelling the injured Ryan Zimmerman at third base.
But after returning to the minors for nearly a month, the 23-year-old was ultimately recalled in early June and inserted into the lineup as the team’s second baseman. Since then, Rendon has been the player everyone expected, hitting for average and moderate power while reaching base at a favorable clip.
Although he’s still learning second base on the fly, Rendon’s defense at the new position has noticeably improved over the last month, while his potent bat has helped outweigh any shortcomings. As long as he continues to rake, it’s difficult to envision Danny Espinosa getting another crack at the Nats’ everyday lineup.
Jurickson Profar, IF/OF, Texas Rangers
2013 Stats: .232/.312/.344, 5 2B, 3 HR, 29/12 K/BB; -0.2 WAR (37 G)
After reaching the major leagues last September, the Rangers optioned Profar to Triple-A to begin the 2013 season only to recall him in late May when Ian Kinsler hit the disabled list.
The 20-year-old got off to a hot start with 10 hits and five RBI through his first eight games but gradually cooled off over the last month. However, Profar’s defensive versatility has allowed him to remain in the starting lineup on a regular basis. So far, the former No. 1 overall prospect has started at second base, shortstop, third base and left field. His playing time has decreased as of late, though, largely due to a .129 batting average over his last 10 games.
Wil Myers, OF, Tampa Bay Rays
2013 Stats: .277/.307/.404, 3 2B, 3 HR, 15 RBI, 27/5 K/BB; 0.0 WAR (23 G)
It’s not a coincidence that the Tampa Bay Rays are 17-6 since Myers’ debut on June 18. The 22-year-old outfielder has quickly emerged as a main cog in the team’s uncharacteristically potent offense this season, recording a hit in all but five games.
As expected, the outfielder’s plate discipline has left something to be desired with 27 strikeouts in 94 at-bats. At the same time, Myers has also come up with his share of clutch hits over the last three weeks and owns a .353/.389/.647 triple-slash line with 10 RBI when batting with two outs and runners in scoring position.
Yasiel Puig, OF, Los Angeles Dodgers
2013 Stats: .397/.429/.630, 27 R, 8 HR, 19 RBI, 5 SB, 36/7 K/BB; 2.6 WAR (36 G)
Since making his major league debut on June 3, Puigmania has taken baseball by storm and become must-see television each night. The 22-year-old was named the National League Player (and Rookie) of the Month in June after posting a 1.180 OPS with 44 hits, five doubles, seven home runs and 16 RBI.
Possessing five game-changing tools, there’s seemingly nothing that Puig can’t do on the field. That said, he’s not going to bat .400 for the rest of the season; pitchers have already and will continue to make adjustments against the right-handed hitter during the second half of the season. However, it's obvious that Puig will directly influence the Dodgers’ chances of making the playoffs.
Jose Fernandez, RHP, Miami Marlins
2013 Stats: 5-5, 98.2 IP, 2.83 ERA, 1.074 WHIP, 99/37 K/BB; 2.3 WAR (17 GS)
Despite the fact that Fernandez had not pitched above the High-A level heading into the season, the Marlins unexpectedly inserted the 20-year-old into the Opening Day starting rotation when both Nathan Eovaldi and Henderson Alvarez landed on the disabled list in late March. As I said at the time, if there were one pitching prospect capable of making the nearly unprecedented jump to the major leagues, it was Fernandez.
After an up-and-down April during which he registered a 4.50 ERA over five starts, the right-hander has steadily improved with each subsequent month. In fact, over his last seven starts, Fernandez has allowed only nine earned runs with 47 strikeouts in 46.1 innings. As a result of his overwhelming success, the rookie hurler was recently named to the National League All-Star team.
Zack Wheeler, RHP, New York Mets
2013 Stats: 3-1, 28 IP, 3.54 ERA, 1.429 WHIP, 21/16 K/BB; 0.4 WAR (5 GS)
Wheeler impressed during his highly anticipated major league debut on June 18, allowing four hits and five walks with seven strikeouts over six scoreless frames in a winning effort against the Braves. However, the 23-year-old struggled with his control and execution during his two subsequent starts—it also didn't help that he was tipping pitches—as he allowed nine earned runs and three home runs in 10 innings.
But the right-hander has made noticeable adjustments since the beginning of July and appears to have finally settled in as part of the Mets’ starting rotation. A winner in both starts this month, Wheeler has allowed only two earned runs on 10 hits with 8/6 K/BB in 12 innings.
Julio Teheran, RHP, Atlanta Braves
2013 Stats: 7-4, 107.2 IP, 3.09 ERA, 1.207 WHIP, 91/21 K/BB; 2.2 WAR (17 GS)
Coming off a dominant spring in the major league camp, Teheran struggled during the first month of the season with a 5.08 ERA and 39 hits allowed in 28.1 innings spanning five starts. Since then the right-hander has been the most consistent pitcher in the Braves’ starting rotation with a 2.38 ERA over his last 79.1 innings.
More importantly, the 22-year-old has eliminated any doubt stemming from his dismal 2012 season at Triple-A Gwinnett.
Gerrit Cole, RHP, Pittsburgh Pirates
2013 Stats: 4-2, 36.2 IP, 3.68 ERA, 1.255 WHIP, 20/7 K/BB; 0.4 WAR (6 GS)
Despite a shaky two months at Triple-A Indianapolis to begin the season, the Pirates promoted Cole to the major leagues in early June, when several of the team’s veteran starters landed on the disabled list. While the flame-throwing right-hander has been too hittable (.289 BAA) at times and continues to miss fewer bats than his stuff suggests (4.9 K/9), he’s also yet to allow more than three earned runs in a start. Additionally, Cole has kept his team in the game during each of his six outings.
Jose Iglesias, 3B/SS, Boston Red Sox
2013 Stats: .387/.439/.489, 65 H, 10 2B, 24/11 K/BB; 2.5 WAR (49 G)
Regarded as a glove-first shortstop since signing in 2009, Iglesias batted .257/.307/.314 in 294 minor leagues games before finally earning an everyday job this season in the Red Sox infield. While the struggles of Will Middlebrooks and Stephen Drew’s inability to stay healthy obviously opened the door for the 23-year-old, Iglesias’ overall consistency on both sides of the ball has made him the unsung hero for a first-place team.
Considering his BABIP sits at .441, there’s reason to believe that his .387 batting average will come down over the second half of the season. However, his unexpected success isn’t the result of merely good luck; Iglesias has made countless adjustments at the plate this season and noticeably matured as a hitter.