Five of the top six prospects on our preseason Top 100 spent the bulk of the season in the big leagues, including No. 1 Bryce Harper, No. 3 Mike Trout and No. 4 Yu Darvish, all of whom had exceptional years and made the postseason all-rookie team.
Rays lefty Matt Moore (No. 2) and Mariners catcher Jesus Montero
(No. 6) had rockier introductions to the big leagues and did not make the all-rookie team. Moore went 11-11, 3.81 in 31 starts for Tampa Bay, striking out 175 and walking 81 in 177 innings, while Montero hit .260/.298/.386 with 15 homers in 515 at-bats as Seattle’s catcher and DH. Like Moore, Montero improved in the second half.
A trio of international free agents helped drive their American League clubs to the playoffs, including Japanese righty Darvish, whom the Rangers signed
for six years and $56 million. Athletics outfielder Yoenis Cespedes (Cuba, four years, $36 million) and Orioles lefty Wei-Yin Chen (Japan, three years, $11.4 million) were the others.
Outfielder Norichika Aoki, a 30-year-old veteran of the Japanese majors,
had a similar impact with the Brewers. He took over in right field in the second half, allowing Corey Hart to move to first base, and Milwaukee promptly shot into the race for the National League’s second wild card. Aoki hit .288/.355/.433 with 10 homers, 37 doubles and 30 steals in 520 at-bats in one of the surprise rookie campaigns of 2012.
• Craig Kimbrel (Braves), Neftali Feliz (Rangers) and Andrew Bailey (Athletics) each took home a rookie-of-the-year trophy in one of the past three seasons, but no closer will factor in this year’s balloting. White Sox righty Addison Reed probably had the best case. He saved 29 of 33 opportunities but allowed 16 runs (including five homers) in 24 innings during the second half as Chicago fell out of the race. Five other rookie relievers collected three
or more saves: Ryan Cook (Athletics), Dale Thayer (Padres), Hector Santiago (White Sox), Rafael Dolis (Cubs) and Kelvin Herrera (Royals).
A handful of frontrunners for next year’s all-rookie team made their big league debuts this summer, including Rangers shortstop Jurickson Profar (preseason No. 7) and a trio of young righthanders that includes the Cardinals’ Shelby Miller (No. 8), the Diamondbacks’ Trevor Bauer (No. 9)
and the Orioles’ Dylan Bundy (No. 10). Baltimore third baseman Manny Machado (No. 11) would belong to that group had he not logged 51 games and 191 at-bats this season, costing him his rookie eligibility in 2013.
In this year’s rookie team presentation, you’ll find statistics for this year’s selections, e.g. the Rockies’ Wilin Rosario at catcher, along
with the past five rookie team members. That takes us back to 2007, a year overstuffed with high-end rookies such as Ryan Braun, Tim Lincecum, Dustin Pedroia and Troy Tulowitzki.
Players listed with an asterisk (*) bat or throw lefthanded, while a pound sign (#) signifies a switch-hitter. The weighted runs created-plus (wRC+) metric compares a player’s league- and park-adjusted output—in this case, runs created—with the league average, where 100 is average. This FanGraphs.com metric tracks very closely with Baseball-Reference.com’s adjusted-OPS+.
C Wilin Rosario • Rockies
Rosario’s approach improved dramatically in the second half, when he doubled his walk rate and batted .291/.342/.539 in 206 at-bats—but he hit for excellent power all season. The 23-year-old slammed 14 home runs both before and after the all-star break, and his .260 isolated slugging ranks as the high-water mark over the past 50 years for rookie catchers with at least 250 plate appearances. Rosario finished just two homers shy of joining exclusive company. The only 30-homer rookie catchers of the Expansion Era have been Mike Piazza (35, 1993 Dodgers), Earl Williams (33, 1971 Braves) and Matt Nokes (32, 1987 Tigers).
1B Anthony Rizzo • Cubs
Rizzo found a home in Chicago after being traded from the Red Sox to the Padres (for Adrian Gonzalez), then from the Padres to the Cubs (for Andrew Cashner)
in the span of two offseasons. After a stumbling debut in San Diego a year ago (.523 OPS), Rizzo streamlined his swing for 2012 and walloped 38 homers between Triple-A and the big leagues, including 15 in a half-season in Chicago after he pushed aside Bryan LaHair.
The 23-year-old ought to be good for 20-plus homers a year and a sturdy
on-base percentage from this point forward, offering at least some stability for the rebuilding Cubs.
2B Donovan Solano
Lightly regarded during his seven seasons in the Cardinals organization—he never made a Top 30 Prospects list despite being a shortstop consistently young for his level—Solano sought greener pastures when he qualified for minor league free agency last offseason. The Marlins signed the 24-year-old Colombian to a minor league deal, liked what they saw in spring training (and with Triple-A New Orleans) and didn’t hesitate to plug him in at the keystone when they dealt Omar Infante
to the Tigers in July. Though he offers limited upside, Solano out-hit his rookie second-base contemporaries, including the Nationals’ Steve Lombardozzi, the Rockies’ D.J. LeMahieu and the Phillies’ Freddy Galvis.
|2008||Alexei Ramirez||White Sox||509||21||.185||18||61||13||.290||.317||.475||99|
|2007||Dustin Pedroia||Red Sox||581||8||.125||47||42||7||.317||.380||.442||117|
3B Todd Frazier •
Frazier hit .261 with power and patience in more than 1,000 Triple-A plate appearances, flitting from left field to third base to first base since first joining Louisville during the 2009 season. The 26-year-old replicated those results with the Reds this season—he batted
.273/.331/.498 with 19 homers in 422 at-bats—and proved to be an invaluable fill-in when both third baseman Scott Rolen and first baseman Joey Votto missed large portions of the season with injuries. Incidentally, Will Middlebrooks
of the Red Sox appeared to have rookie third base honors locked up in the first half (.873 OPS), but beset by injuries he hit just five homers
(and drew four walks) in 27 second-half games.
|2011||Brett Lawrie||Blue Jays||171||9||.287||16||31||7||.293||.373||.580||162|
|2009||Gordon Beckham||White Sox||430||14||.190||41||65||7||.270||.347||.460||107|
SS Zack Cozart •
Cozart batted just .246/.288/.399 in 561 at-bats but provided positive value with his durability and steady defensive work for the 97-win Reds this season. Not many rookie shortstop regulars in the Expansion Era have reached base less frequently than Cozart did this season. In fact, only 2010 rookies Alcides Escobar (.288 OBP) and Ian Desmond
(.308)—among those with 500 plate appearances—gave Cozart a run for his
money. This trend suggests that teams value defense at the position more than they did even five years ago. Cozart’s biggest challengers turned out to be either the Rockies’ Josh Rutledge or, if not for the two months he lost with a broken finger, the Braves’ Andrelton Simmons, who offers the most star potential among this year’s rookie shortstops.
CF Mike Trout • Angels
One has to backtrack 11 years to find a rookie batting performance the equal of Trout’s this season. That’s when a 21-year-old Albert Pujols
hit .329/.403/.610 with 37 homers as a Cardinals rookie in 2001. One wonders if Pujols felt a sense of déjí vu watching his 20-year-old Angels teammate this season. Despite not making his season debut until April 28, Trout led all rookies in average (.326), on-base percentage (.399), slugging (.564), runs scored (129), home runs (30), RBIs (83), stolen bases (49), hits (182), walks (67) and strikeouts (139). He became baseball’s first 30 homer-40 steal rookie and led the majors in two categories, stolen bases and runs, the latter nearly equaling an 85-year-old rookie record set by Hall of Famer Lloyd Waner.
OF Yoenis Cespedes •
The Athletics added a best-in-baseball 81 home runs to their
ledger this season when compared with last, scoring about 11 percent more runs in the process. Left fielder Cespedes (23 homers), sophomore right fielder Josh Reddick (32) and bargain-basement platoons at first base (Brandon Moss/Chris Carter,
37 homers) and DH (Seth Smith/Jonny Gomes, 32 homers) accounted for most of the difference. The 26-year-old Cespedes shined brighter than most rookies in the second half, batting .311/.376/.533 with 14 homers in 289 at-bats to help propel Oakland to the AL West title and the club’s first playoff appearance since 2006.
OF Bryce Harper •
Summoned from Triple-A on April 28—the same day as Trout—Harper ascended quickly to the second spot in Washington’s lineup and helped push the Nationals to 98 wins and the NL East title. He led all rookies with nine triples and hit 22 home runs as a 19-year-old, a total higher than any teenager in big league history save for Red Sox outfielder Tony Conigliaro, who hit 24 in 1964. Harper weathered a slump
from mid-June through mid-August, during which he hit .204 and slugged .290 over a 55-game stretch, but he emerged as one of the game’s top hitters down the stretch. He hit .327/.384/.660 with 12 homers in 162 at-bats from Aug. 17 to the end of the season.
|2008||Jacoby Ellsbury*||Red Sox||609||9||.114||41||80||50||.280||.336||.394||97|
DH Yonder Alonso • Padres
Alonso led all rookies with 39 doubles and trailed only Mike Trout
for the lead in walks (62), and the burly first baseman seemed to get a
handle on his Petco Park surroundings in the second half by hitting .285/.352/.430 with six homers in 256 at-bats. The 25-year-old cut down his strikeout rate and hit for more power as the season progressed, suggesting more growth could be in store for 2013. Partial seasons by Cardinals four-corners man Matt Carpenter (.828 OPS in 340 PA) and Athletics first baseman Chris Carter
(.864 OPS, 16 homers in 260 PA) rivaled Alonso’s on a rate basis, but they didn’t receive the playing time required for pitchers to seek out and exploit their weaknesses.
SP Wei-Yin Chen •
The Orioles followed Chen in the Japanese majors even after a leg injury in 2011 scared off other U.S. suitors. The Taiwanese lefty stayed healthy for Baltimore and started 32 games, tying for the rookie lead, pitching with roughly the same level of effectiveness all season as the Orioles secured an AL wild card. Chen even dealt 6 1â„3 innings to pick up the win in Game Two of the AL Division Series versus the Yankees, the franchise’s first playoff victory in 15 years. The 26-year-old Chen fronted a madeover Orioles playoff rotation in which he, Jason Hammel, Miguel Gonzalez and Joe Saunders all joined the organization during the calendar year.
SP Yu Darvish
The heralded 26-year-old Japanese import lived up to the hype in Year One of his six-year deal, notching eight double-digit strikeout games (plus three more with nine whiffs) and ranking second in the AL with 10.4 strikeouts per nine innings. Even as the Rangers ceded the AL West to the Athletics in the final series of the year, Darvish stayed strong in the Texas heat, going 5-1, 2.35 in his final eight starts with
67 strikeouts, 15 walks and 35 hits allowed in 57 innings. According to
Pitch f/x, he threw a remarkable five different pitch types at least 5 percent of the time, with velocities ranging from the mid-70s to the mid-90s. Those pitches in order of preference: fastball (93 mph average velocity), slider (81), cutter (90), curveball (73) and splitter (87).
SP Mike Fiers • Brewers
From NCAA Division II strikeout champ to 22nd-round draft pick
to minor league reliever to . . . No. 1 among NL rookie starters with 9.5 strikeouts per nine innings? Nothing about Fiers’ journey has been typical, including his mustache, his halting delivery or his repertoire.
His average fastball velocity (88.5 mph) ranked among the slowest by a righthanded starter this season, but batters just don’t see the ball well against him. This allowed Fiers to get swings and misses on his solid offspeed stuff—a curveball, cutter and changeup. One potential red
flag: Batters seemed to catch on to Fiers as the season progressed, and
he allowed a 6.99 ERA and 1.68 WHIP in his final 10 starts.
SP Wade Miley •
The Diamondbacks didn’t skip a beat when they plugged Miley into the rotation on April 23 to replace the injured Daniel Hudson.
The 25-year-old wound up leading all rookies with 16 wins, 195 innings,
a 3.33 ERA, 3.9 K-BB ratio and 1.18 WHIP. Miley throws four pitches for
strikes and proved especially tough on lefthanded batters, who hit just
.200/.238/.306 in 168 plate appearances. He showed no signs of slowing in the second half (3.64 ERA, 4.6 K-BB ratio in 15 starts), so he may be
able to forestall a move to the bullpen portended by Arizona’s depth of
young pitching talent at the upper levels, i.e. Trevor Bauer, Tyler Skaggs and Pat Corbin.
SP Jarrod Parker
The Diamondbacks had so much upper-levels pitching depth, in
fact, that they felt comfortable dealing the 23-year-old Parker (and Ryan Cook) to the Athletics for Trevor Cahill.
Two years removed from Tommy John surgery, Parker thrived in Oakland, leading a young pitching staff with 13 wins and 140 strikeouts and earning the nod in Game One of the AL Division Series against the Tigers. Along with Tommy Milone, Travis Blackley, A.J. Griffin and Dan Straily, Parker fronted an all-rookie Oakland rotation down the stretch as the A’s overtook the Rangers to win the AL West.
|2007||Daisuke Matsuzaka||Red Sox||32||32||205||191||25||8.8||3.5||1.32||0.9||4.40|
RP Ryan Cook •
Cook made 21 straight scoreless appearances to begin his Athletics career, and briefly took over as closer following Grant Balfour’s midsummer demotion. That assignment didn’t take because, for whatever reason, the 25-year-old Cook enjoyed much greater success pitching the seventh and eighth innings (nine runs in 43 innings) than he did the ninth (12 runs in 27 innings, four homers). As Oakland’s representative in the All-Star Game, he pitched a perfect seventh inning
for the AL, striking out Bryce Harper and David Wright looking.
RP Robbie Ross
Ross finished the 2011 season by making six starts with Double-A Frisco, and this spring the lefty admitted to feeling shocked when he made the Rangers’ Opening Day roster. He more than carried his weight, ranking first among rookie relievers by inducing groundballs on 65 percent of all balls in play. Ross handcuffed lefty batters with a low-90s fastball and mid-80s slider, holding them to just .225/.289/.324
in 102 at-bats.
|2011||Chris Sale*||White Sox||58||8||71||52||6||10.0||3.4||1.11||1.6||2.79|
CL Kelvin Herrera •
Listed at just 5-foot-10, Herrera doesn’t look the part of fire-breathing closer, yet his fastest pitch this season topped out at 103 mph. What’s more, his average fastball velocity of 98.5 mph blew away the field of rookie relievers with 50 innings or more. Herrera’s tumbling high-80s changeup, which batters put in play only about a quarter of the time, might be even more dominant. After spending parts of three seasons in low Class A, Herrera got healthy in 2011 and zoomed from the Carolina League to Kansas City. A year later, he led all rookie
relievers in games (76) and innings (84), while his groundball rate of 55 percent ranked third-highest among his first-year peers in the pen.