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.
Offseason changes add to senior circuit’s pitching depth, teams’ expectations
—by Mark Ross
Similar to the American League, this offseason has seen plenty of changes when it comes to the pitching staffs in the National League. Trades and free agent signings have not only impacted rosters, but have been made in hopes of shaking up the standings in Major League Baseball's Senior Circuit.
Athlon editors name their choice for the National League's top rookie
With the World Series in the rear-view mirror and the hot stove just beginning to heat up, it's time to hand out some awards to this year's best performers on the diamond. The Baseball Writers' Association of America (BBWAA) will make their announcements starting Monday. And while no Athlon editors are members of the BBWAA, here's how four of us — Charlie Miller, Braden Gall, Patrick Snow and Mark Ross — would have voted if we did have a ballot to cast.
The faces on this mountain will be more familiar in Montreal than DC.
MLB Mt. Rushmores
by Charlie Miller
The question was posed earlier this season whether Derek Jeter should be considered as part of the Yankees’ Mt. Rushmore. That certainly piqued my interest. Not really the Jeter-Yankees part, but the idea that all MLB teams should have their own Mt. Rushmores. Who are the four individuals that have risen above all others for each organization? The question sounds simple. But it isn't as easy as it sounds. Let the arguments begin.
Wasington Nationals Mt. Rushmore
No other franchise suffered as much from the effects of the 1994 players strike as the Montreal Expos. One of the most tragic injustices in baseball is the fate of the 1994 Expos. On pace to win 105 games and six games ahead of the mighty Atlanta Braves, the most promising season in franchise history was erased by the strike. The team never recovered from the losses at the turnstiles or in local broadcast deals and eventually fell under the control of MLB. Ted Lerner purchased the franchise in 2006. Financial stability has been good for the team, but it has yet to breed a winner. In fact, this franchise is the only one of the 30 current organizations never to win a postseason series after a full season of play. The only series this franchise can claim is the 1981 NLDS between first- and second-half NL East champions. The Montreal Expos defeated the Philadelphia Phillies is the best-of-five series, 3-2. The Expos were then beaten by the Dodgers in the NLCS. Now in its 43rd season, the team has finished with the best record in its division once, and second seven times. Given that history, it’s surprising to find as many worthy candidates for the Expos/Nationals Mt. Rushmore.
Along with his friend Tim Raines, Dawson was part of the first dismantling of a contender in the late-1980s (the second coming after the 1994 strike). Reportedly, Dawson signed a blank contract to join the Chicago Cubs after no other team made strong overtures for the future Hall of Famer’s services. While a member of the Expos, the Hawk won Rookie of the Year, was MVP runner-up twice, won six Gold Gloves as a centerfielder, hit 225 home runs, stole 253 bases and drove in and scored more than 800 runs in his 1,443 games. Playing all those seasons on the hard turf at Olympic Stadium took a toll on his knees, retarding his production in his later years.
Raines is the franchise’s all-time leader in runs and stolen bases, and is second on the franchise list in average and hits. The seven-time All-Star finished in the top 7 in MVP voting three times as an Expo. He owns four stolen base titles, a batting title and led the NL in runs scored twice, once in 1987 even though he wasn’t signed by the Expos until May 1 after getting caught in the middle of the owners’ collusion in free agency bidding.
Guerrero, who never saw a pitch he couldn’t hit, was the last real star in Montreal. He left the team via free agency prior to the 2004 season. He had three seasons of 1.000+ OPS and in 2002 he led the National League with 206 hits and was one home run shy of reaching 40-40 status. He ended his tenure in Montreal with 1,004 games, 234 home runs and a franchise-best .323 batting average.
The Kid made a couple of Opening Day starts in right field before settling in behind the plate. His broad smile and fan appeal was a fixture in Montreal from the mid-1970s to the early 1980s. He ranks second, third or fourth in most offensive categories. The Hall of Famer made seven All-Star teams and won three Gold Gloves behind the plate. Four of his All-Star appearances were starts, and he hit three home runs and batted .400 in his All-Star starts. He led the National League in RBIs in 1984. The Expos reluctantly traded their superstar to the Mets for four established major league players prior to the 1985 season fearing they would not be able to afford him and would lose him to free agency. His final franchise tallies include 220 homers and more than 2,400 total bases in over 1,500 games.
Unlike the others on this list of candidates, Tim Wallach spent most of his productive seasons in Montreal. Consequently, he is high on the all-time list in most every category. But he didn’t seem to have the star impact the other players carried.
From 1969-76 the Expos had eight different starting pitchers on Opening Day. Steve Rogers was the eighth and made eight consecutive Opening Day starts of his nine total for the team. He leads the franchise with 158 wins and 37 shutouts.
Felipe Alou managed the team through some tough economic times for eight-plus seasons, leading the team to two of their best seasons in history (1993-94).
Le Grand Orange, aka Rusty Staub, was the first major league hero in Montreal. He was the team’s All-Star rep its first three seasons and his No. 10 is retired even though Andre Dawson wore it proudly for 10 years after Staub.
Surprisingly, Jose Vidro is fifth in hits and games played. He’s also the only player to start multiple All-Star Games as a member of the franchise other than the four players selected above.
The Nationals’ current young third baseman, Ryan Zimmerman, is Washington’s best offering toward the monument.
Follow Charlie Miller on Twitter @AthlonCharlie or email him Charlie.Miller@AthlonSports.com