Grand Slams: The Immediacy of Impact
At the 1/4 mark for the season, my Grand Slams article dived into the topic of injuries and their unusually high volume this year. As we approach the halfway mark, we can start to look at one of the effects of the “high injury volume/absence of PEDs” trend going on this year in MLB: the immediate impact of young rookies at the MLB level.
When Mike Trout burst onto the scene as a full-time player in May 2012, it was an unprecedented experience. Of course, he did play 40 underwhelming games in 2011 that undoubtedly prepared him for his massive rookie success in 2012. But when he was called up for good in May 2012, he went on a rampage that no one had ever seen before, not only winning the AL Rookie of the Year Award with a unanimous 1st place vote, but even challenged Miguel Cabrera for the AL MVP, even though Miggy won the Triple Crown in 2012 (the first time that’d happened in 45 years).
Since Trout’s meteoric success in 2012, waves of rookies have been called up and immediately made an impact for their MLB teams. Jose Fernandez is a good example from 2013, even though there are plenty more to choose from. This year, there are way too many to choose from. In 2014, every MLB team has had to adapt incredibly to field a competitive team, as player after player hits the DL. And the obvious response in most of those cases is to call up your top prospects if they’re ready or even close to ready. MLB teams haven’t disappointed this year, as many long-heralded prospects have gotten that coveted call to the big leagues and have for the most part really impressed. 2014 finally saw the arrival of George Springer, who took about 2 weeks (2 weeks!) to adjust to major league pitching before he started smashing home runs left and right, immediately making the Astros more fun to watch and a legitimate threat to opposing pitchers. Then Jon Singleton was called up, and hit a HR in his first game, tallying 4 HR in his first 13 games, which ain’t bad. It’s not as if this has never happened before, I know. I watched the appearance of Andruw Jones in ’96 for the Braves (again, 3 postseason HRs in 13 games ain’t bad), but that used to happen once or twice a decade. Now it’s happening once or twice a month.
The list goes on: Gregory Polanco got his call recently and immediately won games for the Pirates while hitting at a ridiculous clip. Rougned Odor (I know, I know, I laugh at his name too) is hitting .300 through his first month plus. This year’s successful callups do seem limited to mostly hitting prospects, as a lot of the great pitching prospects were called up and thrived last year. And I do realize that there are the Oscar Taveras-types of this year, who were highly-touted prospects that faltered in their first taste of MLB play.
But the overarching theme in the MLB the last couple years is Unprecedented Youthful Success. I think that trend will continue and rookies will be more and more integral to their team’s success. I think more and more top minor league prospects will get the Jon Singleton deals of tens of millions of dollars before they ever play a single major league game. And honestly, I’d rather my team spend their money that way than spend $250 million on a player entering his declining years of production.
So what else is happening in MLB? My AL team and my NL team are both doing ok (Mariners and Braves have winning records, although for who knows how long?). Toronto is finally delivering on their promise, leading the AL East by a few games. Oakland continues to be underrated and may actually be my favorite to win the ALCS this year. The Marlins are playing great despite a tiny payroll, no fans and the loss of their ace. The Giants have returned to form and are once again the team to beat in the NL West. I’ll be interested to see who makes moves at the trade deadline. I’ll probably be up for another column before that happens, but just in case, let’s vote on who’ll be sellers and who’ll be buyers at the end of July.
There are some teams that’ll obviously be making a playoff push such as the Braves, Blue Jays, Giants and others. And there’ll be some obvious sellers for future talent, such as the Cubs, Mets, Diamondbacks, Padres and Rays. So I see the question marks as: Marlins, Pirates, Reds, Orioles, Red Sox, every AL Central team, Angels, Mariners and Rangers. Which of these teams do you think will be acquiring stud bats/arms for a playoff push this year and which do you think will fold over the next 6 weeks and move their current assets for future stock?