Mike Trout, Bryce Harper and Stephen Strasburg lead the list of MLB’s youngest stars
Youth is being served in MLB. Don't believe me? Look at last year’s awards voting. Besides running away with the 2012 AL Rookie of the Year award, 21-year-old Los Angeles Angels center fielder Mike Trout finished second to Triple Crown winner Miguel Cabrera in the AL MVP voting.
Highlighting the most important, intriguing and bizarre stats in baseball.
There's never a shortage for cool numbers in baseball. Cleanup hitters struggle, a former utilityman goes off and some dude who's never closed games before is perfect. Go figure (which is what we've been doing).
At the end of the season, the major awards voters will evaluate players in their own way, with a variety of definitions applied to the word “Valuable” in Most Valuable Player. There are the Sabermetricians who will argue each player’s effect on his team winning, commonly using the Wins Above Replacement (WAR) stats. Traditionalists will focus on raw stats that can be calculated without logarithms. But what about the players that teams can ill-afford to lose, the truly indispensable? Some of the players mentioned below will get MVP consideration, others will not.
Look into our MLB crystal ball. Come on, you know you want to.
Now that baseball is back in full swing, we started thinking about the future. And there’s nothing more fun than projecting where today’s baseball stars will be playing three years from now, and predicting who the best players in each league will be. So here goes. The 2016 All-Star teams.
The pieces appear to be in place for this Nationals team to play well into October
There are many things that history could choose to remember about the 2012 Washington Nationals. There was the debut of Bryce Harper, one of the most dynamic rookies to emerge in recent years. There was the franchise’s first division title and first playoff appearance since it moved from Montreal in 2005. And there was the cementing of Davey Johnson’s credentials as a Hall of Fame manager, as he was named Manager of the Year at season’s end. However, in all likelihood, the 2012 Nationals will still be remembered years from now as the team that willingly chose to shut down its ace — when he was completely healthy. In sidelining Stephen Strasburg in such a fashion, the Nationals cited, among other things, their window for winning future titles. That window is now wide open, and the way history ultimately views the Great Strasburg Shutdown of 2012 will depend largely on how the team performs in 2013 and beyond.
As with virtually every segment of the Nationals’ roster, the rotation is blessed with a plethora of younger, controllable players. Even with a couple of generic slop-ballers at the back end, a front three of Strasburg (presumably unleashed in 2013), lefty Gio Gonzalez and righthander Jordan Zimmermann would take this team a long way. But with the December free-agent signing of righthander Dan Haren to fill the role (held in 2012 by Edwin Jackson) of veteran innings-eater, the Nationals can boast a formidable back end of Haren and hard-throwing lefty Ross Detwiler — ensuring that, no matter where an opponent catches the Nationals in their starting rotation, they will be facing a tough night at the plate. An intriguing option for depth is flamethrower Christian Garcia, who emerged as a bullpen force late in 2012.
The shocking end of the Nationals’ 2012 season, in Game 5 of the NL Division Series against the Cardinals, could leave lasting marks on young closer Drew Storen, who blew a two-run ninth-inning lead after the Nationals were one strike away from advancing. While Johnson and the Nationals still believe in Storen, the team signed free agent Rafael Soriano to be the 2013 closer. Two of his 42 saves for the Yankees last season came prior to Mariano Rivera tearing his ACL in May. Storen joins Tyler Clippard to form what could be the most dominant setup tandem in baseball. Righthanders Craig Stammen and Ryan Mattheus, stalwarts in 2012, will return to their middle-relief roles. Lefty Zach Duke, who pitched well during a September call-up in 2012, is expected to fill the long reliever role held last year by Tom Gorzelanny.
Although the Nationals explored trading away second baseman Danny Espinosa this winter — less an indictment of Espinosa than a sign of how highly they regard backup Steve Lombardozzi — the team will return its double-play combo of Espinosa and shortstop Ian Desmond in 2013, and will be perfectly happy to do so. Switched out of the leadoff spot midway through the season (into a more comfortable role as the primary sixth hitter), Desmond had a breakout season that saw him earn his first All-Star appearance and Silver Slugger award (he was also a finalist for a Gold Glove), while becoming the emotional leader of the clubhouse. Espinosa strikes out too much and tends to go into long, deep funks at the plate, but he could also be poised for the same sort of breakout in 2013 that Desmond had in 2012.
After reviving his career with a huge 2012 season (33 homers, 100 RBIs, Silver Slugger, Gold Glove, sixth in MVP voting), veteran first baseman Adam LaRoche paid a visit to free agency seeking a long-term deal, but was victimized by the draft-pick compensation rules in the new CBA, and ultimately returned to the Nationals on a two-year deal. LaRoche’s return gives the Nationals a top glove man and a critical left-handed bat in the middle of their lineup. Meantime, Ryan Zimmerman returns at third base following a strange 2012 that is best viewed as being divided into pre- and post-cortisone segments. On June 23, he received his first shot of the painkiller for his ailing shoulder, and his sagging numbers immediately took off. In the end, the popular Zimmerman wound up with a season in line with his career norms, then had a clean-up surgery on the shoulder immediately after the season.
The Nationals had been searching for years for a dependable leadoff hitter/center fielder, and over the winter they finally found their man in Denard Span, acquired via trade with Minnesota. Not only is Span a talented offensive and defensive player, but the Nationals also can envision other pieces falling into place with him on board: Harper (in left) and Jayson Werth (in right) move seamlessly to the corners, while Werth can be freed from the leadoff spot. If all three stay healthy and perform to expectations, the Harper-Span-Werth outfield could be among the best in baseball.
Kurt Suzuki, acquired in an August trade with Oakland, was supposed to have been little more than a two-month stopgap, filling an acute down-the-stretch need but ceding the starting job in 2013 when starter Wilson Ramos returns from injury. However, Suzuki played a critical role in the Nationals’ run to the NL East title. Lest we forget, however — Ramos was considered one of the brightest young catchers in the game before a season-ending knee injury in May. The two catchers proved in spring training that they were deserving of the starting job, and Johnson has decided to begin the season using Ramos and Suzuki every other day, keeping both fresh.
The Nationals were blessed with a potent, highly functional bench in 2012 and will be looking to reconstruct a similar one this year. To that end, they signed Chad Tracy, their top pinch-hitter in 2012, to a one-year extension for 2013, and they will return Lombardozzi, talented fourth outfielder Roger Bernadina and outfield/first base backup Tyler Moore as well.
The highly publicized shouting match between Johnson and GM Mike Rizzo last summer was less a sign of discord within the braintrust than a reminder that these are two bull-headed men who — with plenty of justification — believe strongly in their own abilities. They also happen to like and respect each other. Although Johnson will be 70 on Opening Day and has already indicated that 2013 will be his final year, he remains at the top of his game mentally. (And if Johnson does indeed step down after 2013, the Nationals appear to have already identified his successor in bench coach Randy Knorr.) Rizzo, too, has ascended to the upper tier of his profession, turning a perennial loser into a well-run, self-sustaining, winning organization that is the envy of his peers.
When Johnson blurted “World Series or bust” during the December 2012 Winter Meetings, he wasn’t being boastful or jingoistic. He was merely stating the obvious: This is a team built to win it all. In fact, all along 2013 was the Nationals’ target for contending — it just so happens that they arrived a year early in 2012. One could even argue that the franchise was caught unprepared for what befell them, based on the lack of a better plan for handling Strasburg’s innings limit. It is always dangerous to define your season as requiring a World Series appearance in order to qualify as a success, since the postseason is a crapshoot to some degree. But at least on paper, the Nationals appear to be as well equipped as anyone to survive both the marathon of the 162-game season and the sprint of October.
Lineup CF Denard Span (L)
The type of pure leadoff hitter the Nationals had been lacking; slapped 38 doubles and stole 17 bases in ’12. RF Jayson Werth (R)
Thrived as leadoff hitter, but Nats believe he’ll be a perfect fit behind Span. LF Bryce Harper (L)
After historic rookie season, ceiling in 2013 appears limitless for the 20-year-old outfielder. 3B Ryan Zimmerman (R)
Played through shoulder injury, put up representative numbers, with 25 HRs and 95 RBIs. 1B Adam LaRoche (L)
Silver Slugger/Gold Glove exacta spoke to his immense value to the Nationals in 2012 SS Ian Desmond (R)
Arguably the best shortstop in the majors last season; had career highs in average (.292), HRs (25), RBIs (73). 2B Danny Espinosa (S)
Power numbers dipped slightly from 2011 rookie season, but Nationals aren’t giving up on him. C Wilson Ramos (R)
Will need to earn job back after suffering ACL tear last May that ended his season.
Bench C Kurt Suzuki (R)
Cameo after August trade was enough to earn shot at regular playing time in 2013. OF Roger Bernadina (L)
Versatile glove-man and emerging hitter could start for many teams; valuable reserve for the Nats. UT Tyler Moore (R)
Pure hitter was a crucial part of 2012 bench; hit 10 home runs in only 156 at-bats. IF Chad Tracy (L)
Davey Johnson’s favorite pinch-hitter (12 hits in 46 at- bats) in 2012 returns in same role. UT Steve Lombardozzi (S)
Steady infielder added outfield to his duties in 2012, increasing his value to the Nats.
Rotation RH Stephen Strasburg
The former No. 1 overall pick is poised for huge 2013 after being freed from controversial innings leash. LH Gio Gonzalez
Won 21 games in his first season with the team, kept command issues at bay, kept clubhouse loose. RH Jordan Zimmermann
Despite bringing heat, ranked eighth in the National League with only 2.0 walks per nine innings. RH Dan Haren
Has averaged 220 innings pitched since 2005, though injuries plagued him in 2012. LH Ross Detwiler
On any other staff, he’d be a No. 2 or No. 3, but the Nats are glad to have this 10-game winner in No. 5 hole.
Bullpen RH Rafael Soriano (Closer)
Saved 42 games and blew just four last season for the Yankees. RH Drew Storen
Had a 0.989 WHIP in regular season; 2012 season was going swell until ninth inning of Game 5 of NLDS. RH Tyler Clippard
Had strong run as closer in Storen’s absence, but the Nationals value him as a setup man. RH Craig Stammen
Paced the Nats’ 2012 bullpen with 88.1 innings pitched; only gave up 70 hits but walked 36. RH Ryan Mattheus
Trusted seventh-inning man allowed opposing batters to hit .161 with runners in scoring position. LH Zach Duke
Longtime starter shined in bullpen role last September, and earned himself a big-league contract for 2013. RH Henry Rodriguez
Needs to cure wildness (22 walks in 29.1 IP in 2012), but Nats still believe in his power arm.
Proposing the question to most casual fans as to who the top rookie in baseball is this season, most answers will include Bryce Harper of the Washington Nationals, either at the top or near the top of their lists.
If you watch the baseball highlight shows, you know Harper has a cannon arm, swings a powerful bat from the left side, has tremendous speed and is daring on the basepaths, enough so his first major league stolen base was a steal of home off the Phillies’ Cole Hamels, as the lefthander was throwing to first. Whether it’s throwing or running (or even losing a fly ball in the lights), the 19-year-old phenom has been a lead part of the highlights many nights. The media throng for his major league debut in Los Angeles against the Dodgers was unreal.
But there’s a 20-year-old outfielder on the other coast who is upstaging the Nats’ rising star. Mike Trout of the Los Angeles Angels made his debut last season as a teenager and didn’t have great success, but wasn’t exactly overmatched either. And after a strong start at Triple-A this season, Trout was recalled the day before Harper made his ballyhooed debut. But Trout’s recall was quickly and easily buried by Harper’s debut.
Sometimes the substance of a good steak gets lost in the sizzle on another plate. Trout’s substantive exploits on the West Coast have been overshadowed by Harper’s sizzle on the East Coast. And it’s understandable given fans’ thirst for the spectacular. A Bryce Harper pop out in his debut somehow seems more exciting than an RBI double off the wall by a 20-year-old in his second season.
Perhaps it’s location. Playing in the nation’s capital draws a little more attention nationally than playing on the south side of L.A. It also could have something to do with the Nationals’ place near the top of the standings in the National League East. It’s unfamiliar territory for the franchise that moved to Washington in 2005 and has never had a winning season in DC. The Angels, meanwhile, are fledgling near the bottom of the AL West. Everyone loves a winner.
And the coverage of Trout has been muted in his own market by the team’s struggles, particularly the slow start of one very famous teammate. When Albert Pujols is hitting below .200, there must be nothing else to talk about.
Maybe it’s because last season was supposed to be Trout’s “phenom coming out” season. He was 19 and baseball’s next great superstar. He was so 2011, now 2012 belongs to Harper.
But the truth is that, on the field, Trout has outshone Harper.
No matter what stats you use to compare the two, Trout is winning 2012 handily. He’s hit for more power. He has a higher batting average. He’s getting on base and stealing more than Harper. In reality, Harper’s only edge this season is his throwing.
Does this mean Trout will have a better career? Absolutely not. Both appear mature and resilient enough to handle the slumps and defeats that will certainly come their way during their careers. And that’s another area where Trout has a head start. He’s been three, done that. And now his career is on the elevator.
Harper will get there. These two could be opposing one another in All-Star Games for years to come. But for now, let’s keep 2012 in perspective — and give Mike Trout his due.
Remember those cool little trophies that Topps has put on baseball cards of the previous year’s best rookies? The card company began the practice in 1960 honoring the best rookies from 1959 — a group that included the likes of Pumpsie Green and Hall of Famer Willie McCovey.
Since that time, Topps has forsaken the trophies in a few years, but has continued to select an All-Rookie Team. Topps usually honors eight position players and two pitchers, one right-handed, one lefty. We prefer four starters and a closer.
Here’s our lineup of the top 2012 rookies we believe will be honored by Topps at the end of the season. Some are still in the minors, but you will know their names by the end of the summer.
Catcher Hector Sanchez, San Francisco
Sanchez won’t get as many plate appearances as other catchers because of some guy named Buster Posey. But as the Giants get Posey more time at first base, Sanchez will continue to impress with his bat and arm. Others: Devin Mesoraco, Cincinnati; Wilin Rosario, Colorado
First Base Anthony Rizzo, Chicago Cubs
Rizzo is likely to make the scene by the end of May, and will immediately take his place in the middle of the Cubs’ lineup. The Cubbies need his bat, for sure. Other: Chris Parmelee, Minnesota
Second Base Freddy Galvis, Philadelphia
Given the full-time gig in Philadelphia until Chase Utley returns, Galvis’ bat has been slow starting this season, but he knows how to play the position — and there is little competition at the position. Other: Kolten Wong, St. Louis
Third Base Nolan Arenado, Colorado
The third baseman has hit well at every stop, including spring training this season. The hot corner in Denver will be his later this summer. He is among the best long-term prospects on this list as well.
Shortstop Tyler Pastornicky, Atlanta
Clearly, the deepest position for rookies this season, there are shortstops galore. Pastornicky isn’t the best defender of this group, but he is expected to hit close to .300 and steal 20-plus bases. Others: Zack Cozart, Cincinnati; Nick Franklin, Seattle; Marwin Gonzalez, Houston; Jose Iglesias, Boston
Outfield Yoenis Cespedes, Oakland
The Cuban defector has quickly proven he has power to spare and is not overmatched by big league pitching. It will be interesting to see how well he adjusts once opponents have more thorough scouting reports on him. Bryce Harper, Washington
I suppose if he doesn’t become a first-ballot Hall of Famer after all the hype, his career will be considered a colossal failure. But seriously, his bat is major league ready. The Nationals want him to get a little more comfortable in center field, and it never hurts to delay the major league service clock from ticking. Brett Jackson, Chicago Cubs
The Cubs need an infusion of youth and offense. Jackson has proven to be an all-around player in the minor leagues. With Chicago outfielders struggling offensively, Jackson could see an earlier promotion than originally expected. Others: Mike Trout, Los Angeles Angels; Kirk Nieuwenhuis, New York Mets; Leonys Martin, Texas
Designated Hitter Jesus Montero, Seattle
He has finally arrived. The much-publicized prized hitting prospect in the Yankees organization was traded to Seattle over the winter. Mariners fans will not be disappointed. The man can hit and will be the linchpin of Seattle’s offense for several years.
Starting Pitcher Yu Darvish, Texas
His large frame and velocity separate him from previous starting pitchers from Japan. Darvish will have the run support and defense to allow him to put up nice numbers, even when he struggles. Matt Moore, Tampa Bay
When a manager trusts a youngster enough for him to make the first start of his career in Game 1 of the ALDS, it makes you think the pitcher must be special. Moore is the next young ace for the Rays. Tom Milone, Oakland
He doesn’t overpower hitters, but much like Tom Glavine a couple of decades ago, Milone keeps hitters off balance and they rarely square him up. Manny Banuelos, N.Y. Yankees
The Yankees have questions in the their rotation and are dealing with a few health issues. Banuelos has a minor back injury, but is not expected to miss very much time, possibly just one start at Triple-A. He could be a fixture in the Yanks’ rotation by mid-summer. Others: Drew Pomeranz, Colorado; Julio Teheran, Atlanta; Drew Smyly, Detroit; Jacob Turner, Detroit; Brad Peacock, Oakland
Relief Pitcher Hector Santiago, Chicago White Sox
Santiago is the reason that the White Sox were so willing to part with Sergio Santos and his 30 saves from last season. Santiago has the demeanor and poise to close. Others: Addison Reed, Chicago White Sox; Ryan Cook, Oakland; David Phelps, New York Yankees
Logic, and 100-plus years of baseball history, would suggest that there must be a level of professional baseball at which Bryce Harper meets failure, where he finally encounters pitching he cannot simply overpower, where the 18-year-old prodigy is made to look his age.