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.
The Nats' plan to build around pitching is coming together
After three times through the rotation (and four starts for ace Stephen Strasburg), the Washington Nationals’ rotation has been dominant. Extremely dominant. All five starters boast a WHIP below 1.00, allowing less than one base runner per inning. While the numbers are staggering (1.82 ERA, 0.86 WHIP, two home runs in 98.2 innings, .186 batting average against), the success of the group isn’t that shocking. All five starters have, at some point in their careers, been projected as top-of-the-rotation aces.
Certainly, they will come down to earth and cough up a few bad outings, but the Nationals’ plan to build around starting pitching is coming together nicely.
Ace Strasburg has been hyped as a Hall of Famer since the Nats made him very rich as the first overall draft pick in 2009. After missing about 12 months recovering from Tommy John surgery, the fireballer is dominating again. Over 25 innings, he's allowed just three runs. The Nats have won all four of his starts, but he has two no-decisions, one after pitching six scoreless innings against Miami. Imagine how good this guy can be once the Nats decide to turn him loose. Strasburg has been allowed to pitch into the seventh inning just once this season.
Ross Detwiler, who leads the staff with a 0.56 ERA, was the team’s first round pick out of Missouri State in 2007. The organization thought enough of Detwiler to promote him to the big leagues three months after he was drafted.
Jordan Zimmermann was taken in the second round in 2007, and in four seasons of minor league pitching, he allowed just 182 hits in 235 innings. He was named the organization’s Minor League Pitcher of the Year in 2008, and blossomed last season with a 3.18 ERA in 26 starts for Washington.
Gio Gonzalez was a first-round pick by the White Sox in 2004 and was subsequently traded three times before Oakland dealt him to Washington this winter. In two full seasons with the A’s, Gonzalez was 31-21 with a 3.17 ERA and gave up 346 hits in 402.2 innings with 368 Ks.
Edwin Jackson was once considered by Baseball America (2004) as the No. 4 prospect in baseball. The 2001 sixth-round pick of the Dodgers never turned the corner in the minor leagues, but his major league numbers have been much better. This season, he tossed a two-hit complete game against Cincinnati, then had a horrendous first inning against the Astros, before settling down. He tied James Shields for the team lead in wins for the Rays in their historic pennant-winning season in 2008, and was a part of the world champion Cardinals’ staff down the stretch last season.
This weekend, the best rotation in baseball will take on the senior circuit’s best offensive player in Matt Kemp as the Nationals visit the Dodgers. Detwiler will get the ball for the opener on Friday night against the reigning Cy Young winner Clayton Kershaw. Strasburg will be on the hill on Saturday against Chad Billingsley. Two lefties, Gonzalez and Chris Capuano, will take the stage for the finale on Sunday.