An impressive group of MLB freshman are set to be introduced to national (nay, worldwide) audiences with the 2013 now underway. During the regular season, the rookie class of ’13 was much stronger in the senior league than the junior circuit and that’s set to be the case in the postseason, as well. Below, you’ll find this author’s best (educated?) guesses at the rookies in each league that are most likely to have the biggest impacts during the month of October.
The 2012 rookie class had little impact on each playoff series — including Washington’s Bryce Harper, who hit just .130 in five games and was out-played by St. Louis’ (gulp) Pete Kozma in the National League Division Series. Here’s hoping the freshmen of 2013 elevate their postseason play to a much higher level.
1. Wil Myers, OF, Rays: The rookie outfielder played just 88 games at the big league level in 2013 but he was the Rays’ second-most-potent hitter behind veteran third baseman Evan Longoria. He strikes out at a healthy clip but the 22-year-old rookie has shown the ability to hit for both average and power. He also gets on base at a solid clip. It’s easy to envision him developing into a middle-of-the-order threat for years to come.
2. Chris Archer, RHP, Rays: Experience is definitely not the strength of the Rays’ playoff starting pitching staff. As such, the club will look for Archer to step up his game like Alex Cobb did in the Wild Card match. A former Indians and Cubs farmhand, the right-hander has improved his control but his fastball command still needs a fair bit of work and playoff nerves usually don’t help. When he’s on, Archer is one of the hardest pitchers to hit in the American League.
3. Dan Straily, RHP, A’s: Straily isn’t flashy but he succeeds by relying on a three-pitch mix, solid command/control and a spacious home ball park. Like Tampa Bay, the A’s starting roster is made up young players — mostly freshmen and sophomore hurlers — outside of Bartolo Colon. Straily has been quite durable throughout his career and had a very strong month of September so he’ll hopefully have plenty left in the gas tank to survive well into October.
4. Jackie Bradley, OF, Red Sox: Just how healthy is veteran center-fielder Jacoby Ellsbury? That’s the million dollar question. If he’s not good to go, or has his foot injury flare up, Bradley should see significant playing time. His bat may not be quite ready for primetime but he provides above-average defense and is a smart baserunner.
5. Xander Bogaerts, IF, Red Sox: Bogaerts has arguably the highest ceiling of any player on the American League list but the versatile youngster is likely looking at a bench role or is in danger of being left off the roster altogether in deference to Dustin Pedroia, Will Middlebrooks, and Stephen Drew. On the plus side, Middlebrooks is far from a proven commodity and quite streaky, while Drew is prone to injury.
6. Sonny Gray, RHP, A’s: Gray has even less big league experience than Straily and, with the injuries to A.J. Griffin and Brett Anderson, he’ll probably see some key innings in the playoffs. One thing to watch with the young hurler, though, is that he’s already almost 35 frames over his career high in innings pitched. He’ll need his plus curveball to help keep the veteran Tigers hitters on their toes.
7. Bruce Rondon, RHP, Tigers: There are experienced players up and down the Tigers roster so Rondon stands out as a rare inexperienced rookie among the grizzled veterans. A balky elbow will keep him out of the first round of the playoffs but he could surface at some point, depending on how deep Detroit goes into the playoffs and how well his rest/rehab goes.
1. Yasiel Puig, OF, Dodgers: Puig has swung the most potent bat in the 2013 MLB rookie class but he slowed down considerably in September. His return to earth could be due to pitchers around the league finally figuring out a weakness or he could be wearing out after the longest season of his careers in Cuba and in North America. Or a little bit of both. The young outfielder was also hobbled late in the month by a sore foot caused by a foul ball.
2. Hyun-Jin Ryu, LHP, Dodgers: There are four high-ceiling, young starters on this NL list and Ryu leads the way because of his consistency. He’s not as flashy as the other pitchers but he masterfully utilizes a four-pitch mix and has a killer changeup that has a 10 mph separation over his 90 mph fastball. Ryu was surprisingly ineffective against left-handed hitters in the regular season.
3. Gerrit Cole, RHP, Pirates: The Pirates have a solid one-two punch in reclamation projects A.J. Burnett and Francisco Liriano. Cole offers intriguing upside and he’s been surprisingly reliable for such an inexperienced arm. Interestingly, his command has been better in the Majors than it was earlier in the year in the minors. Cole is already more than 50 innings above his career high so the club probably won’t want to lean on him too heavily during the playoffs.
4. Shelby Miller, RHP, Cardinals: The Cardinals relied on first-year players more so than any other club in the playoffs. Miller was a key piece of the starting rotation but he started to tire a bit late in the year and the fly-ball-heavy hurler gave up nine of his 20 home runs allowed in August and September. Also keep an eye on Miller against tough left-handed hitters; they slugged 100 points higher against him during the regular season.
5. Julio Teheran, RHP, Braves: The days of Maddux/Smoltz/Glavine are a distant memory and the Braves enter the post-season with a very young rotation. The development of his slider has been credited for helping Teheran realize his potential but he has yet to develop a reliable weapon against left-handed hitters. They had an OPS of more than .800 against him during the regular season (versus RHHs with a .581 OPS).
6. Trevor Rosenthal, RHP, Cardinals: The Cardinals’ bullpen is quite possibly the biggest weakness on the big league club so Rosenthal could be a key player for the Red Birds. Should closer Edward Mujica’s late-season meltdown continue, the rookie reliever could find himself in some end-game situations. His mid-to-high-90s fastball and changeup is a nasty combination. Heck, the fastball is downright dominant on its own.
7. Justin Wilson, LHP, Pirates: The former minor league starter has thrived with the move to the bullpen at the big league level. He’s quietly had one of the best seasons of any rookie reliever in the Majors. The Pirates are well represented from the left side of the bullpen with Wilson and third-year hurler Tony Watson.
8. Evan Gattis, C/1B, Braves: Gattis ended up being less of an impact player than people thought he would be after the sizzling start to his big league career. Despite his poor on-base average and low batting average — as well as almost entirely disappearing in the months of June and August — the versatile player still provided right-handed pop with 21 home runs. His ability to play catcher gives the club a lot of late-game options if three catchers are carried on the playoff roster.
Honorable Mentions: Alex Wood, LHP, Braves; Michael Wacha, RHP, Cardinals; Paco Rodriguez, LHP, Dodgers; Matt Adams, 1B, Cardinals…