The rookie Class of 2012 set an impossible standard with the likes of Mike Trout, Bryce Harper and Manny Machado producing outstanding—even historic—seasons by players so young. So while this year’s first-year player crop features several future stars, comparisons with last season’s rookie class are simply unfair.
One theme that has carried over into 2013, however, is the impact produced by international professionals. This year the Dodgers have scored big with right fielder Yasiel Puig (Cuba) and lefthander Hyun-Jin Ryu (South Korea), two of the club’s three best players during the first half who signed for a combined $78 million in guaranteed money, plus another $17 million in signing bonuses. One year ago, Rangers righthander Yu Darvish (Japan), Athletics outfielder Yoenis Cespedes (Cuba) and Orioles lefty Wei-Yin Chen (Taiwan by way of Japan) all helped lead their clubs to the playoffs as rookies.
The Cardinals supply three members of this year’s midseason all-rookie team, but the Braves, Dodgers and Marlins aren’t far behind with two rookie standouts apiece. In fact, the National League dominates the first-year talent crop, with only the Mariners’ Nick Franklin and the Twins’ Oswaldo Arcia representing the Junior Circuit. The Rangers’ Jurickson Profar and the Rays’ Wil Myers could change that dynamic with strong second halves for AL contenders.
Not eligible for AL or NL rookie of the year awards because they had too much service time in past season(s): Indians C Yan Gomes and Rangers CF Leonys Martin. Statistics run through June 30. Click through the player pages for up-to-date numbers.
C Evan Gattis • Braves
Gattis mashed 12 homers and put up a .952 OPS in April and May, but he made just six starts behind the plate following Brian McCann’s return to action on May 6. In his revised role as left fielder/catcher/pinch-hitter, Gattis hit seven homers and slugged .592 in 28 games before an oblique injury sidelined him in mid-June.
1B Matt Adams • Cardinals
The 2011 season introduced to the public a number of promising rookie first basemen—Paul Goldschmidt, Mark Trumbo, Freddie Freeman, Anthony Rizzo, Yonder Alonso, Eric Hosmer, Brandon Belt—serving as a reminder that talent at the various positions ebbs and flows. At no time is that more apparent than this season, when just two rookie first basemen accumulated 50 plate appearances in the first half: Adams and the Athletics’ Nate Freiman, a Rule 5 pick on his second organization this season.
2B Nick Franklin • Mariners
Dissatisfied with the level of production received at up-the-middle positions, the Mariners went about reshuffling the deck around Memorial Day, demoting second baseman Dustin Ackley to Triple-A, installing Franklin at the keystone and bringing Ackley back up as center fielder. Seattle called on catcher Mike Zunino and shortstop Brad Miller in June, completing the up-the-middle overhaul. Franklin immediately occupied a place of prominence with a .482 slugging percentage befitting of a corner player.
3B Nolan Arenado • Rockies
Arenado rang up 14 extra-base hits in 18 games at Triple-A Colorado Springs to quickly supplant Chris Nelson in Denver. He hit more than well enough to keep that job, though his hold on all-rookie status at third base is more tenuous, and dependent on second-half performances by Anthony Rendon (Nationals), 30-year-old surprise Ed Lucas (Marlins), Conor Gillaspie (White Sox) and Jose Iglesias (Red Sox), who hit an out-of-his-mind .414 during the first half.
SS Didi Gregorius • Diamondbacks
Gregorius recovered from a spring-training elbow injury to lock down shortstop for Arizona with a strong all-around performance, one that could outstrip the contributions of any other D-backs shortstop ever, save for in-his-prime Stephen Drew. To this point, GM Kevin Towers has no reason to regret trading Trevor Bauer (5.29 ERA, 8.5 BB/9 in four starts for Indians) to get Gregorius last December.
CF Marcell Ozuna • Marlins
With the Marlins vying with the Astros for the top pick in next year’s draft, promising rookies such as Ozuna, righthander Jose Fernandez and second baseman Derek Dietrich are often the most compelling reason to watch the club. Called up on April 30 after just 10 games at Double-A, Ozuna wrested center field away from Justin Ruggiano and Chris Coghlan in mid-June—and good thing seeing as he hit .231/.242/.338 in 17 games from that point until the end of the month.
OF Oswaldo Arcia • Twins
He may be obscured by the tidal wave of position-player talent headed for Minneapolis in the next few seasons—Byron Buxton, Miguel Sano and Eddie Rosario—but Arcia is a corner-outfield keeper and potential middle-of-the-order bat. Target Field kills lefthanded power, which makes his performance more impressive than it might seem on the surface. The strikeouts may be excessive, but Arcia rocked a .985 OPS on the road during the first half.
OF Yasiel Puig • Dodgers
The Dodgers posted their first winning month (15-13) after calling up the Cuban sensation on June 3. Puig’s heroics at bat and on the bases earned him the rare distinction of being named Major League Baseball’s selection as both player and rookie of the month for June, not to mention endless discussion about his worthiness for selection to the All-Star Game.
DH Jedd Gyorko • Padres
Gyorko won the job of Padres everyday second baseman with a strong spring training, but he spent half of April at his natural position while subbing for injured third baseman Chase Headley. Once returned to the keystone, he hit a stout .289/.338/.485 with eight homers in 210 plate appearances until a strained right groin sent him to the disabled list on June 10.
SP Tony Cingrani • Reds
Not many teams enjoy the luxury of having a No. 6 starter of Cingrani’s caliber. He allowed just 14 hits in 31 innings at Triple-A, earning a quick callup to Cincinnati, where went 3-0, 3.15 in seven spot starts through June with a 46-to-10 strikeout-to-walk ratio. Cingrani rejoined the rotation on a semi-permanent basis in July as a fill-in for the injured Johnny Cueto.
SP Jose Fernandez • Marlins
With no Double-A or Triple-A experience entering the season, the 20-year-old Fernandez has proven to be more than ready for prime time with an electric three-pitch mix consisting of a 95 mph fastball, 83 mph slider and quality changeup. The Marlins’ top player during the first half, he’s also the youngest pitcher in the majors as well as the early favorite to be remembered as the top high school pitcher from the 2011 draft. His prime challengers would be the Diamondbacks’ Archie Bradley, who’s having a fine season in Double-A, or the Orioles’ Dylan Bundy, who will not pitch in 2013 after having Tommy John surgery in July.
SP Shelby Miller • Cardinals
Miller’s near future appeared cloudy after he ran up a 6.18 ERA at Triple-A Memphis in the first half of 2012, but he restored faith with an incendiary second half in which he lowered his ERA to 2.88 and logged seven strikeouts for every walk. He led all rookie starters during the first half with 9.7 strikeouts per nine innings, cementing his place in the rotation for one of the NL’s premier teams this season.
SP Hyun-Jin Ryu • Dodgers
Our preseason No. 1 rookie, Ryu has clicked into place as the Dodgers’ No. 2 starter behind Clayton Kershaw, delivering on the scouting reports that followed him from the Korean major leagues and World Baseball Classic play. He doesn’t excel in any one area, though neither is he deficient in any component of pitching, up to and including holding baserunners. Just two had attempted steals all season.
SP Julio Teheran • Braves
Teheran slashed his walk rate from 3.0 per nine innings at Triple-A (51 appearances) to a mere 1.6 in the big leagues during the first half. That stinginess with free passes along with a newish two-seamer and slider gave him complete command of the zone, propelling him to the top strikeout-to-walk ratio (4.8) among rookie starters.
RP Trevor Rosenthal • Cardinals
Rosenthal’s incredible performance as a reliever in last year’s playoffs—he struck out 15 of 30 batters faced, allowing two hits and no runs in 8 2/3 innings—set the stage for more of the same this season. During the first half, he struck out an outstanding 35 percent of batters while relying on a 96 mph heater he throws eight out of 10 times.