MLB's Year of the Rookie: The 10 Most Impressive Newcomers of 2010
All the talk about 2010 being the “Year of the Pitcher” in Major League Baseball is true.
It has been an excellent year for pitchers.
For whatever reason, there’s been more no-hitters and perfect games than usual, and that’s without counting Jim Joyce’s rob job of Armando Galarraga.
But this year doesn’t only belong to the hurlers, it belongs to the young guns.
At a time when some people argue the fading relevancy of baseball, there has been more great young talent in the game than we can remember.
The amount of quality ballplayers age 26 or younger currently in baseball is staggering.
No, when it comes to TV ratings and big advertising dollars, baseball does not reign supreme. Football is America’s game now, and that’s just the way it is.
But for baseball fans, that’s OK.
As they say, more for you and me.
As the season ticks along in its final month and pennant races take shape, let's look at some of the most impressive rookies from this year in baseball.
One last note before the show, don’t feel discouraged if your favorite rookie didn’t make the list.
We are keeping it to 10 names for this space, but there certainly have been more than 10 impressive youngsters who merit consideration.
10. Chris Sale, LHP, Chicago White Sox
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Sale is a name that many of you may not have heard, but will certainly know if the White Sox can chase down the Minnesota Twins and make it to the postseason.
Sale’s a tall, power southpaw who will work in the mid-90s out of the back of Chicago’s bullpen.
"Great, there’s a ton of those guys," you say.
Nope, none like Sale.
As the White Sox opened the season this spring, Sale dominated hitters with his three-pitch repertoire.
Dominated college hitters, that is.
Yes, Sale is the first pick from the 2010 draft to make it to the big leagues after Chicago selected him with the 13th overall pick.
Sale signed June 20th and debuted Aug. 6th.
Since being called up, he has struck out 19 batters in 13 2/3 innings to go along with his 0.66 ERA.
Sale’s nine walks do not usually correlate to late-inning success, but that could merely be a product of settling into the big leagues at a young age.
Chicago sits 3.5 games behind the Twins as of Tuesday and just beat John Lackey, Clay Buchholz, Josh Beckett, and Max Scherzer in consecutive days on the road.
If they can make a run, Sale will play a big role in their October bullpen.
9. Starlin Castro, SS, Chicago Cubs
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As another lonesome October awaits Wrigleyville, Cubs fans at least have one glimmer of hope to look forward to next season.
His name is Starlin Castro.
The 20-year-old shortstop burst onto the big league scene in Cincinnati this year by collecting two hits, a homer, and six RBI in his first big league game.
Castro, of course, didn’t keep that pace for the entire season, but his performance for his age at the highest level of baseball in the world has been phenomenal.
Castro’s hitting .317 with a .360 on-base percentage and playing a good shortstop.
For a guy who probably won’t hit for a ton of power, Chicago would like to see him improve his strikeout-to-walk ratio (currently higher than 2:1) and become more of a gnat at the top of the order.
But those things will likely come in the natural development of a kid that should turn out to be a perennial All Star.
8. Mike Stanton, OF, Florida Marlins
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Coming into the season, Stanton didn’t get anywhere near the pub that a fellow rookie right fielder received (more on him later).
That began to change during the summer when baseball took notice of the physical specimen stepping into the middle of Florida’s lineup.
Stanton—at a chiseled 6’5”, 235 pounds—is a freak athlete.
He could have played football and baseball at USC if he didn’t sign with the Marlins in the second round out of high school in 2007.
His teammates marvel at his body considering Stanton won’t turn 21 until November.
Stanton’s calling card?
Light-tower power, as some scouts may say.
Stanton has 17 homers in 76 games with the Marlins.
As you may expect from young power hitters, he has struck out an awful lot (93) and his .308 OBP is much too low for a guy this talented.
Not to worry, though.
Stanton is widely considered a baseball rat and a tireless worker. As he grows older and gains more experience against big league pitching, those weaknesses will improve.
Florida loves the kid because he appears to be mature and humble for such a youngster.
Oh, the fact that one scout said Stanton hits the ball as hard as anyone he’s ever seen doesn’t hurt, either.
And to think that the Marlins could have had Stanton and the guy-we’ll-talk-more-about-in-a-second in the same outfield.
7. Mike Leake, RHP, Cincinnati Reds
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Leake has fallen off since going undefeated in his first 11 starts of the season, but the righty out of Arizona State has been pretty darn good for the Reds.
What makes Leake’s success even more impressive?
He never pitched in a minor-league game. Not a one.
The Reds drafted Leake with the eighth pick in the 2009 draft and brought him to big league camp this spring.
When it became clear that Leake was one of the Reds' five best starting pitchers, manager Dusty Baker brought him north to start the season, experience be damned.
Leake quickly became a staple of the rotation relying on superior command of quality-but-not-overpowering stuff.
His 4.23 ERA in a little more than 138 innings won’t jump off the screen, but it’s a great start considering Leake is pitching in a launching pad in Cinci and is making adjustments at the big-league level.
Leake hasn’t pitched since Aug. 24th due to a tired shoulder, but the Reds plan on using him in some role if they hold onto their lead in the National League Central.
6. Jaime Garcia, LHP, St. Louis Cardinals
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Garcia is your typical under-the-radar guy.
He was a 22nd-round draft pick, won’t blow you away with a high-90s fastball, and didn’t enter 2010 with as much hype as some of baseball’s other rookie hurlers.
So, where does Garcia stand now?
After posting a 2.35 ERA and 137 hits in 153 1/3 innings while pitching in the thick of a pennant race for the Cardinals, Garcia may very well end up winning the N.L. Rookie of the Year.
But that award may be the only thing “won” in St. Louis, as the Cardinals have a lot of work to do to reach October.
The Cardinals trail Cincinnati by six games in the N.L. Central and sit five games back in the Wild Card standings heading into Tuesday.
Missing the postseason would hurt the Cardinals, but it wouldn’t be the worst thing for Garcia’s future.
By the time the regular season runs dry, Garcia will have accumulated a good amount of innings in his first full big-league season.
Of course, watching him pitch beside Chris Carpenter and Adam Wainwright in a five-game series wouldn’t be bad, either.
5. Buster Posey, C, San Francisco Giants
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If there’s one piece of evidence that should suggest the order of this list is fluid at best, his name is Buster Posey.
He’s ranked where he is because we are supposed to be talking about “impressive,” which of course is a subjective term.
Then again, Posey may be the most impressive if we consider an entire season’s body of work.
Whatever the case, Posey has been an impact bat from the day the Giants called him up for good in May.
In 85 games, Posey is hitting .326 with 11 homers and .372 OBP. His strikeout rate isn’t terrible (exactly 2:1), and Posey brings this production from behind the dish.
The Giants have played him at first base quite a bit, presumably to save his legs, but they drafted Posey with the fifth pick in ’08 out of Florida State to be the catcher of the future, and that’s what he’ll be.
With the San Diego Padres' recent swoon, the Giants have a real shot to win the NL West.
If San Francisco does that, it won’t only be because Tim Lincecum and the rest of the pitching staff gets it there.
You can bet Buster Posey’s bat will be in the middle of the resurgence by the Bay.
4. Aroldis Chapman, LHP, Cincinnati Reds
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Ahh, yes, this Chapman fella.
So much hype, so small sample size.
Chapman is here because of what he’s about to do in September and October for the Reds bullpen.
OK, the 103 MPH fastballs were a bit intoxicating, too.
Chapman has pitched only 3 1/3 innings for the Reds in four big-league games, striking out four without allowing an earned run.
But, it’s the way he’s done it.
Chapman has routinely hit 103 on the gun—104 on the stadium gun—and complemented that gas with an absolutely toxic slider in the high-80s.
His legend grew when he reportedly hit 105 MPH in the Minor Leagues just prior to his call up.
Now, the accuracy of that figure depends on whom you ask, but the point has been made.
Chapman throws fuzz.
What makes Chapman so special so early on is that he’s really an experience, much like a certain kid in Washington was before the ol' body began to bark.
Chapman has become a star in Cinci as he’s invigorated the late innings at Great American Ballpark.
Sure, four appearances don’t constitute a Hall of Fame career, but just make sure your DVR is set when Chapman takes the mound this October should the Reds get there.
3. Neftali Feliz, RHP, Texas Rangers
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Feliz has been so good and such an integral part of the Rangers' quest to win the A.L. West that it’s easy to forget he’s a rookie.
Feliz, like Chapman, has hit 103 MPH this season and counters with a great slider.
What makes Feliz more impressive, however, is that he’s doing the heavy lifting for a Texas bullpen that suddenly looks rejuvenated under the watch of president Nolan Ryan and pitching coach Mike Maddux.
Feliz has been Texas’ closer and has racked up 34 saves and an All-Star appearance.
The righty from the Dominican Republic has recorded a little more than a strikeout per inning and his 16 walks in 58 innings aren’t bad.
Feliz will have to prove himself in the postseason, of course, and he will have to play a big part on the staff that is trying to debunk the myth that entire pitching staffs inevitably wilt in the late-summer Texas heat.
Facing Derek Jeter and Alex Rodriguez in October is a little different than facing the Oakland A’s in August, but there’s no question Feliz has the stuff to dominate any lineup.
2. Jason Heyward, OF, Atlanta Braves
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The second coming of Christ.
If Christ was a 6’5”, 240-pound, 21-year-old otherwise known as "The J-Hey Kid," that is.
There’s only so much to say about Heyward.
The rest simply has to be observed.
Heyward’s legend began long before he reached Atlanta this April, and it only grew as he broke car windows beyond the outfield fence during spring training.
Manager Bobby Cox took Heyward, then 20, with him when the Braves broke camp because he didn’t have a choice.
Heyward was that good and clearly belonged in the middle of Atlanta’s lineup.
Then on Opening Day against the Cubs, Heyward stepped to the plate with his family in attendance for his first major-league at-bat.
He then absolutely unloaded on a Carlos Zambrano fastball for his first hit, homer, standing ovation, and curtain call of his career.
Heyward ripped through the first six weeks of the season and then hit some inevitable growing pains.
A thumb injury kept him out of the All-Star Game, but Heyward returned in time to help the Braves fight off the Phillies for first place in the N.L. East, a fascinating race that looks like it will head down to the end of September.
The most impressive thing about Heyward isn’t his 16 homers, .391 OBP, or 71 walks in 118 games, which are superb numbers.
The most impressive thing is the adversity Heyward overcame at the big-league level for being so young.
He’s handled extremely high expectations, a slump, and an injury with maturity and has found a way to regain his stroke late in the season when the Braves need him most.
Like the next guy, the only thing that will suppress Heyward’s stardom is injury.
1. Stephen Strasburg, RHP, Washington Nationals
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When Strasburg clutched his elbow in Philadelphia a couple weeks ago, Washington suffocated in angst.
Strasburg’s Tommy John surgery hurt the entire sport, not just his organization, because of the impact the right-hander had on the country the moment he stepped foot on a mound in D.C.
Strasburg has otherworldly ability and showed it off when he struck out 14 in his big league debut.
His fastball sits in the high-90s.
His changeup dips and darts in the low-90s.
His breaking ball snaps and dives in the mid-80s.
It’s disgusting, really.
But then Strasburg’s elbow gave out and his season ended with only 68 big league innings.
In those innings, Strasburg struck out 92 batters and posted a 2.91 ERA. He would have won many more than five of his 12 starts if the Nationals offered more run support.
But that’s life for a No. 1 overall pick who many hoped would anchor an organization and help save a city’s sports landscape.
It’s not hyperbole when scouts call Strasburg the “best pitching prospect I’ve ever seen.”
That’s why the Nationals handed him more than $15 million out of San Diego State, a draft record, and hoped for the best.
Strasburg will most likely return at the beginning of 2012, and baseball can only hope the best show on dirt resumes with only a minor hiccup.
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