Is 2013 Rookie Class' Rapid Rise to Stardom a Sign of Things to Come?

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Is 2013 Rookie Class' Rapid Rise to Stardom a Sign of Things to Come?

It's fitting that Rookie of the Year is the first of Major League Baseball's individual awards, because the youngsters in the game are so impatient these days. In a good way.

More and more, baseball is becoming a young man's sport, which is evident in just how quickly these newbies—many of whom are debuting in their early 20s, like Mike Trout and Manny Machado, or even in their teen years, like Bryce Harper—are making an immediate impact upon arrival in the big leagues.

This kid craze wasn't always the case, of course. It used to be that players would pay their dues by climbing the minor-league ladder one step at a time over two or three (or more) years before getting to The Show. Now? Well, it's not all that unlikely for talent to prove so precocious that major-league debuts occur a year after being drafted. Or less.

Should you need a reminder, perhaps the name Michael Wacha will ring a bell? You know, the St. Louis Cardinals right-hander who was the breakout star of the postseason after making his first-ever start in May of this year—not even 12 months removed from being the 19th overall draft pick the previous June.

Elsa/Getty Images
Despite winning the NLCS MVP Award, Michael Wacha isn't even in the league's top three rookies this year.

What's scary, then, is that a player who was so incredibly good this October, when he went 4-1 with a 2.64 ERA and 0.91 WHIP, wasn't even up for this year's Rookie of the Year in the National League.

Nor were young up-and-comers and breakout stars-to-be like Julio Teheran of the Atlanta Braves, Gerrit Cole of the Pittsburgh Pirates, Christian Yelich of the Miami Marlins, Nolan Arenado of the Colorado Rockies, Matt Adams of the Cardinals and Anthony Rendon of the Washington Nationals.

Instead, the honor of cream of the NL crop would be bestowed upon the Marlins' Jose Fernandez, the Dodgers' Yasiel Puig or Wacha's rotation-mate, Shelby Miller.

On the American League side, rookie arms like Sonny Gray and Dan Straily of the Oakland Athletics and Martin Perez of the Texas Rangers were passed over in favor of putting the following names on the ballot: Wil Myers and Chris Archer of the Tampa Bay Rays and Jose Iglesias, who spent the first half of 2013 with the Boston Red Sox before being traded to the Detroit Tigers, both of whom made it to the AL Championship Series.

In fact, of the six final candidates, five of them were key pieces to their club reaching the playoffs. And Fernandez, whose rebuilding Marlins team did not, was pretty much inarguably the best of this year's rookie class, despite the fact that he made it to the majors at the tender age of 20, only 18 months after signing in August 2011, having never even thrown a pitch above A-ball.

Fernandez may be a bit of an extreme example of just how precocious a player can be, but the fact is, folks, this is a trend, not a fad. Not only is baseball getting younger, but players are having more success sooner after arriving, too.

Al Messerschmidt/Getty Images
The Rays' Wil Myers may have taken longer than others in his rookie class to debut, but he was still only 22 at the time.

Consider that in 2013, the average ages of hitters and pitchers were 28.5 and 28.4 years old, per Baseball Reference. By comparison, those numbers 10 seasons ago, in 2004, were 29.3 and 29.1, respectively. That may not seem like a huge difference, but with the entire league having cut three-quarters of a year off its average age over the past decade, it really is.

Then there's the immediate-impact aspect. Among the leaders of the 2013 rookie class, for starters, Fernandez and Puig jumped from High-A and Double-A, respectively, to the majors. That's not your everyday, run-of-the-mill promotion path.

Archer and Miller debuted after making all of 37 and 27 starts, respectively, in Triple-A. Iglesias, meanwhile, was pushed to the bigs in May 2011, after only 87 at-bats above Double-A. And Myers got the call after 163 games (basically one full big-league season) at the minors' highest level; although, he would have come up sooner had the Rays not kept him down for two-plus months to stall his service-time clock.

Not all of them were hugely successful out of the gate—Iglesias hit just .135 in his first 74 at-bats across 2011 and 2012—and some of them went back to the minors before returning this past season. But it's safe to say that these six are now here to stay.

To continue with this youth-is-served concept, let's look back at the career WAR leaders, per Baseball Reference, among players who debuted in each of the past five seasons, from 2008 through 2012.

(For these purposes, since we're trying to focus on youth, any international signing with prior professional experience, like Yu Darvish, Hiroki Kuroda, Hyun-Jin Ryu and Alexei Ramirez, will not be included. They qualify under MLB's rookie guidelines, though, and certainly have proved to be especially productive players.)

2008 Debuts
Evan Longoria 36.3 4.8 22.188 3
Clayton Kershaw 32.2 1.4 20.067 3
Carlos Gonzalez 19.6 1.0 22.226 2
Denard Span 19.5 4.4 24.039 0
Brett Gardner 19.3 1.3 24.311 0
David Price 18.6 0.9 23.019 3
Max Scherzer 18.0 1.3 23.277 1
Pablo Sandoval 17.3 1.0 22.003 2
Jay Bruce 15.8 0.8 21.054 2
Johnny Cueto 15.5 1.5 22.048 0
AVERAGE 21.2 1.8 22.423 1.6

Baseball Reference

2009 Debuts
Andrew McCutchen 26.9 2.3 22.237 3
Buster Posey 17.5 3.7 22.168 2
Elvis Andrus 17.1 3.6 20.223 2
Doug Fister 14.5 0.6 25.185 0
Jhoulys Chacin 14.0 2.6 21.199 0
Matt Wieters 13.1 1.4 23.008 2
Mat Latos 12.8 -0.1 21.222 0
Colby Rasmus 12.6 1.9 22.239 0
Gerardo Parra 11.6 0.2 22.007 0
Jordan Zimmermann 11.9 0.7 22.332 1
AVERAGE 15.2 1.7 22.182 1.0

Baseball Reference

2010 Debuts
Austin Jackson 19.1 5.2 23.063 0
Jason Heyward 18.4 6.4 20.239 1
Chris Sale 16.3 2.3 21.129 2
Giancarlo Stanton 14.8 2.7 20.212 1
Carlos Santana 14.1 2.0 24.064 0
Craig Kimbrel 9.7 2.4 21.344 3
Freddie Freeman 9.3 1.7 20.354 1
Alexi Ogando 9.3 1.9 26.253 1
Josh Donaldson 9.1 1.5 24.143 0
Stephen Strasburg 8.4 1.5 21.323 1
AVERAGE 12.9 2.8 22.212 1.0

Baseball Reference

2011 Debuts
Mike Trout 20.8 10.9 19.335 2
Jason Kipnis 11.0 1.1 24.11 1
Paul Goldschmidt 10.7 0.4 23.325 1
Brett Lawrie 10.2 3.6 21.199 0
Salvador Perez 8.6 1.5 21.092 1
Brandon Belt 8.0 0.9 22.345 0
Dustin Ackley 7.6 3.7 23.111 0
Kyle Seager 7.5 0.7 23.246 0
Matt Carpenter 7.5 1.1 25.19 1
Jarrod Parker 6.1 3.9 22.307 0
AVERAGE 9.8 2.8 22.526 0.6

Baseball Reference

2012 Debuts
Andrelton Simmons 9.7 2.9 22.272 0
Manny Machado 8.1 1.6 20.034 1
Jose Quintana 7.9 2.4 23.104 0
Matt Harvey 6.9 1.7 23.121 1
Bryce Harper 6.8 3.5 19.195 2
Starling Marte 6.6 1.1 23.291 0
Brian Dozier 4.5 0.7 24.358 0
A.J. Griffin 4.3 2.1 24.148 0
Drew Smyly 4.2 1.6 22.304 0
Jean Segura 4.1 0.2 22.129 1
AVERAGE 6.31 1.8 22.396 0.5

Baseball Reference

There are a lot of names and numbers in those five tables, but the key takeaway is the figure in the average-age box. That proves that the best of the best to make it to the bigs over that span have done so by their age-22 season—and in many, many cases, before even that.

In other words, all of these youngsters are showing just how fast they can rocket through the minor leagues, as well as just how ready they are to be not only contributing players but impact ones.

There are a number of reasons why baseball is skewing younger in recent years, including: testing and penalties for performance-enhancing drugs and amphetamines, which likely helped prolong and improve the careers of older players in the previous decade; the change in the most recent collective bargaining agreement that moved the draft signing deadline up a month, from August to July; and the willingness of teams to fill lineup and rotation holes by calling up prospects with upside from Double-A, rather than retread veterans from Triple-A.

Which brings us back around to Fernandez, Puig and Miller, Myers, Archer and Iglesias, and this year's rookie class. For their outstanding 2013 seasons, Fernandez and Myers added Rookie of the Year to their already impressive résumés on Monday in decisive fashion.

It's an appropriate and promising honor, given what should be remarkably clear by now: Baseball is getting younger, and some of the sport's very best players are among that crowd.

Indeed, youth is being served.

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