Albert Pujols wasn't always the league's most talked about player. He was once a Rookie of the Year.
As spring training gets underway, wide-eyed rookies share time with wily veterans, battling for a spot on the big club.
If the young men do earn a place on the team, they have to fight for a starting position and even then, only the best get nationwide recognition. In the end, only two win the Rookie of the Year award.
In gearing up for another season, let’s look back at the 15 greatest rookie campaigns in the history of the award.
.322, 144 RBI, 34 HRs, .583 SLG
Walt Dropo, the son of Yugoslavian immigrants, excelled in football, basketball and baseball while at UConn. He was drafted by the Chicago Bears in 1946 but decided to sign with the Boston Red Sox.
Dropo led the league in RBI and total bases during his rookie year.
His outstanding offensive numbers earned him AL ROY honors above future Hall of Famer Whitey Ford as well as his only All-Star appearance.
Unfortunately, in 1951, Dropo broke his right wrist and never returned to his rookie year form.
.323, 217 hits, 43 doubles, 109 runs
The Cuban-born Tony Oliva jumped to a hot start in the major leagues.
He led the league in batting, hits, runs and several other offensive categories. He earned the first of eight straight All-Star appearances in 1964.
Oliva played his entire 15-year career for the Minnesota Twins, and in 1991, his No. 6 was retired by the team.
.331, 47 doubles, 103 runs, Gold Glove
Fred Lynn was the first man to win both the ROY and MVP in the same year.
He led the league in doubles, slugging percentage and runs, helping the Red Sox to the 1975 World Series. He drove in eight runs in the postseason.
Although Lynn never duplicated the same kind of offensive production, he excelled defensively.
Plagued by injuries, he retired in 1990.
19-9, 2.34 ERA, second in Cy Young voting
6’3”, Mark “The Bird” Fidrych won 19 games in his rookie season despite not making his first start until mid-May. His strong early start earned him the starting job in that year’s All-Star Game.
Despite leading the league in ERA and complete games, Fidrych lost out on the Cy Young Award to Jim Palmer.
His on-field antics instantly made him a fan favorite, but his bright career was cut short by a torn rotator cuff suffered in 1977.
.314, 78 RBI, 104 runs
Derek Jeter, the oldest Rookie of the Year still active, started for the Yankees on Opening Day 1996 and fit right in. He blasted his first major league home run.
Jeter helped lead the Yankees to a World Series title and batted .361 in the playoffs.
Since then, he has been named captain of the legendary club and has won four more World Series titles.
.350, 242 hits, 56 SB, 127 runs
Although Suzuki had played professionally in Japan, he was named MLB ROY in 2001 at the ripe age of 27.
He shattered numerous records including the most hits by a rookie, led the Mariners to a record number of wins (116), and garnered him the AL MVP.
The Mariners only lost in the playoffs that year when Suzuki hit a snag against the New York Yankees, batting only .111 in the ALCS.
.297, .427 SLG, 125 runs, 29 SB
Although Robinson had experience in the Negro Leagues and college baseball, his rookie numbers impressed many.
Robinson didn’t just break the color barrier; he hustled his way to the inaugural Rookie of the Year award, an award later named in homage of the Dodger legend.
.290, 38 HRs, 122 runs, .558 SLG
Frank Robinson leapt into the major leagues and never looked back.
He started off one of the greatest baseball careers of all time by tying the then-record for home runs by a rookie and earned his first of 14 All-Star nominations.
Robinson went on to be the only man to be named both AL and NL MVP.
He also became the first African-American manager in the majors.
.318, 125 runs, 201 hits, 13 triples
Dick Allen broke into the bigs in a big way in 1964.
He led the league in runs, triples and total bases. However, Allen proved more of a liability on defense, racking up 41 errors in his first season at third base.
Allen slugged his way to seven All-Star Games and the 1972 AL MVP, but his hot temper marred his career.
He is often included with some of the most controversial figures in baseball.
13-7, 2.48 ERA, 180 Ks, Eight shutouts
Valenzuela started the 1981 season 8-0 with a 0.50 ERA.
He continued his hot pitching into the postseason and after leading the Dodgers to the World Series, became the only player to be named ROY, Cy Young winner, Silver Slugger and World Series Champion.
Valenzuela added offense along with his phenomenal pitching, with a .250 average. He also was the youngest pitcher to throw in a Game 1 of the World Series.
In his last season, he tossed a no-hitter against the St. Louis Cardinals.
17-9, 2.60 ERA, 276 Ks, 11.4 K/9
Doc Gooden became the youngest player to appear in an All-Star Game, striking out the side, and joined Daryl Strawberry as the core of a solid, young Mets team.
It seemed nothing could top Gooden’s rookie year, until he went 24-4 with a 1.53 ERA in 1985.
Gooden had a bright career ahead of him until cocaine and drug-use derailed his career.
.267, 170 hits, 107 runs, 110 SB
The 80s continued to be kind to NL rookies with Coleman lighting up the base paths and speeding the Cardinals into the playoffs.
He shattered the record for most stolen bases by a rookie (110), but he suffered a freak injury during the NLCS and missed the entire World Series.
.318, 112 RBI, 35 HRs, 81 runs
One of the best hitting catchers of all time catapulted into the majors with solid numbers.
He added a Silver Slugger and an All-Star appearance to his ROY award.
However, Piazza wasn’t always a catcher. He picked up the position after being drafted by the Dodgers as a first baseman.
13-6, 3.40 ERA, 233 Ks, 12.6 K/9
Kerry Wood’s rookie season hinted at the greatness that Cubs fans hoped would come with the 21st century. Wood’s fifth start resulted in a one-hit shutout in which Wood struck out 20 Houston Astros.
Wood’s numbers could have been even better, but he missed the last month of the season with elbow soreness.
This injury was unfortunately just a preview in his injury-plagued career.
.329, 37 HRs, 130 RBI, 194 hits
While Ichiro was lighting up the American League, a slugger named Albert Pujols was laying the foundation for one of the greatest baseball careers of all time.
Pujols carried the Cardinals to the NLDS where he floundered, going 2-18.
His 130 RBI set an NL record for rookies, and he fell one short of tying the home run record.