Where 2013 NL Rookie Class Ranks Among the Best of All Time

Joel Reuter@JoelReuterBRFeatured ColumnistAugust 27, 2013

Aug 19, 2013; Miami, FL, USA; Los Angeles Dodgers right fielder Yasiel Puig (66) smiles while answering questions from  reporters during a press conference before a game against the Miami Marlins at Marlins Park. Mandatory Credit: Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports
Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

As the baseball season enters its final month, postseason races aren't the only thing heating up around MLB. Awards talk will no doubt pick up steam in the weeks ahead as well.

This year's crop of rookie talent in the National League is as deep as any in recent memory. There are at least five guys with a legitimate chance of winning the honor and a handful more who have played key roles on their respective teams while enjoying terrific seasons in their own right.

There's no denying it's a terrific crop of first-year players performing at a high level, but where does this year's NL rookie class rank among the best single-league rookie classes of all time?

Focusing on how NL players performed as rookies rather than on the careers they went on to have, I looked back through MLB history to see how other rookie classes have stacked up against, or even surpassed, the 2013 NL rookie crop.

Before we get to that, let's take a closer look at this year's National League rookies.

 

Star 2013 NL Rookies

SP Jose Fernandez, Miami Marlins
(25 GS, 10-5, 2.30 ERA, 165 K, 152.2 IP)

Despite Jose Fernandez not advancing beyond the High-A level in 2012, the Marlins gave the then-20-year-old a spot on their Opening Day roster following a pair of late-spring injuries.

While they may opt to shut him down once he reaches 170 or 180 innings, there's no ignoring the numbers Fernandez has put up. It's been a long season in Miami, but Fernandez gives the team a peek into what should be a bright future for the franchise.

 

SP Shelby Miller, St. Louis Cardinals
(25 GS, 12-8, 2.90 ERA, 151 K, 139.2 IP)

The biggest reason why the Cardinals were comfortable in letting Kyle Lohse walk in free agency last offseason was their belief that Shelby Miller was ready to step into a rotation spot and make an impact. They hit the nail on the head with that assessment.

The 22-year-old will be leaned upon heavily in a Cardinals postseason run. With Miller never having pitched more than 151 innings in a season, it will be interesting to see how he performs down the stretch. There's no denying that he's been impressive to this point; he will likely be the team's No. 2 starter behind Adam Wainwright.

 

RF Yasiel Puig, Los Angeles Dodgers
(283 AB, .346/.405/.562, 13 HR, 30 RBI, 52 R)

It's been said a million times to this point, but it bears repeating once more: The Dodgers were 23-32 when Yasiel Puig made his big-league debut on June 3, and they've gone a blistering 54-22 since he joined the team.

Granted, there have been other factors in the Dodgers' impressive push, but Puig has been exactly the catalyst the Dodgers needed to jump-start their season. He's still a raw talent, but there are few players as fun to watch on a baseball field right now as the 22-year-old Cuban native.

 

SP Hyun-Jin Ryu, Los Angeles Dodgers
(25 GS, 12-5, 3.08 ERA, 133 K, 160.2 IP)

The six-year, $147 million deal the Dodgers gave Zack Greinke last offseason dominated headlines, but the addition of Korean native Hyun-Jin Ryu with a six-year, $36 million deal has been just as important to the team's success this season.

There were questions as to how well the 26-year-old's game would translate to the major league level. He doesn't have the same overpowering stuff that Yu Darvish brought in his debut last season, but he's been a fantastic middle-of-the-rotation arm on a Dodgers team that is among the best in baseball.

 

SP Julio Teheran, Atlanta Braves
(25 GS, 10-7, 3.08 ERA, 140 K, 155 IP)

After going 15-3 with a 2.55 ERA in 2011 as a 20-year-old in Triple-A, Julio Teheran took a step back last season when he was just 7-9 with a 5.08 ERA in his second go-around at that level.

A fantastic spring training earned him a 2013 rotation spot out of camp, but the early results weren't promising. In his first five starts, he posted a 5.08 ERA and recorded just one quality start. Since then, however, he's gone 9-7 with a 2.63 ERA.

He may wind up having the biggest impact of any NL rookie this season.

 

Other Notable Rookies

Matt Adams would likely start at first base for a number of teams and could fill that role next season for the Cardinals, but for the time being, he's as dangerous a pinch hitter as any in baseball, going 11-for-32 with three home runs off the bench for St. Louis this season.

Evan Gattis has fallen off after a blistering start for the Braves, Nolan Arenado has played fantastic defense at third base in Colorado and Jedd Gyorko has shown signs of being a potential impact player for San Diego.

Cardinals Trevor Rosenthal, Kevin Siegrist and Seth Maness, along with the Pirates' Justin Wilson and Dodgers' Paco Rodriguez, have all played key roles pitching out of contenders' bullpens, while the Brewers' Jim Henderson leads all rookie closers with 21 saves in 24 chances.

Pittsburgh's Gerrit Cole and Zack Wheeler of the Mets have shown flashes of what promises to be a bright future in both cases, and left-hander Tony Cingrani has made the loss of injured ace Johnny Cueto a non-issue for the contending Reds.

 

Past Notable Rookie Classes

1950 American League

There are deeper rookie classes in MLB history, but the 1950 American League race featured arguably two of the greatest offensive rookie seasons of all time.

Walt Dropo of the Red Sox walked away with Rookie of the Year honors, garnering 15 of 23 votes, while the Indians' Al Rosen did not receive any consideration. Dropo also finished sixth in AL MVP voting and made the All-Star team, while Rosen was 17th in the AL MVP voting.

As far as which rookie had the biggest impact on the season, that honor went to Yankees great Whitey Ford. The 21-year-old went 8.2 innings and allowed seven hits and no earned runs in taking the ball for the Yankees to clinch Game 7 of the World Series. Bob Cain pitched well for a bad White Sox team.

The hitting trio of Cleveland's Luke Easter, St. Louis' Don Lenhardt and Washington's Irv Noren all looked to be on their way to promising careers.

 

1967 National League

The 1967 NL rookie crop was thin on hitters, as Lee May of the Reds was the only one of note with a .265/.308/.422 line and 12 home runs in 438 at-bats. However, the pool of pitchers who made their debut that season may be the best group of all time.

Tom Seaver came away with NL Rookie of the Year honors with 11 votes, while Dick Hughes (six votes) and Gary Nolan (three votes) rounded out the ballot.

Looking at the group from a career standpoint, Hughes and Rich Nye were both out of baseball by 1971, but Seaver, Nolan, Joe Niekro, Bill Singer and Don Wilson all went on to win at least 100 games as some of the better pitchers during one of the best decades for pitching in baseball history.

 

1986 American League

While the 1967 NL rookie class was deep at the starting pitcher position, the 1986 AL rookie class was essentially the polar opposite, as it was deep on sluggers and relievers but had few plus starters. Ed Correa (12-14, 4.23 ERA, 189 K) of the Rangers was the only real starter of note.

Jose Canseco came away with Rookie of the Year honors in a tight race, edging out Wally Joyner in the voting, 110-98. Cory Snyder (fourth), Danny Tartabull (fifth) and Ruben Sierra (sixth) also received votes.

There were a number of relievers who had solid debuts in 1986, but Toronto's Mark Eichhorn, Milwaukee's Dan Plesac, Boston's Calvin Schiraldi and Texas' Mitch Williams all made huge impacts in their first season. Eichhorn finished third in Rookie of the Year voting, and his 5.1 FanGraphs WAR led all rookies that season. All four guys went on to have solid careers as late-inning arms.

 

2012 American League

Last year's AL rookie class featured a number of players who put up Rookie of the Year-worthy seasons, but they couldn't compete with Mike Trout's spectacular campaign.

Trout obviously turned in one of the greatest rookie seasons of all time, adding an AL-high 49 steals to the above-mentioned numbers, and he finished second to Miguel Cabrera in AL MVP voting. Oakland's Yoenis Cespedes was just as impressive a story, as the A's weren't sure what they were getting when they signed him out of Cuba, but he wound up being their most dangerous hitter.

On the pitching side of things, Yu Darvish made a smooth transition to MLB after signing a massive contract with the Rangers, while the A's made a late-season push thanks in large part to rookie starting pitchers Tommy Milone and Jarrod Parker. This class may not have the same high-end talent that this year's NL rookie class does on the mound, but there was plenty of depth there.

 

Conclusion

This season's NL rookie class may not have a Mike Trout-type player putting together one of the greatest all-around seasons of all time, but as far as sheer talent level and performance from top to bottom, there may be no deeper rookie class in the history of baseball.

There have been great rookie groups in MLB history where guys broke into the league together and went on to have Hall of Fame careers. However, one or more of those players came out of the gate slowly and weren't dominant in their first seasons.

This year's National League class boasts five legitimate award candidates putting together superstar-caliber seasons. It has a great chance of being the best single-league crop of rookies of all time.