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Wrapping Up 2001
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Boys to Men: Players who emerged in 2001
by Ken Mandel

They're not all rookies, but here are 10 players who grew up beyond their years in 2001, establishing themselves as major contributors to their teams.

1. Albert Pujols, Cardinals -- Few true rookies have stepped into the Major Leagues at the Opening Day bell and played as consistently and as spectacularly as the 21-year-old Pujols, who had never had a sip of coffee before 2001. He didn't need the caffeine anyway, as the unanimous NL Rookie of the Year stayed awake all season, tearing up pitchers over 161 games and carrying Mark McGwire's team on his shoulders into the playoffs. Pujols bashed 37 homers and drove in 130 runs -- an NL rookie record -- batting mostly cleanup and playing four positions. All this from a guy who came into Spring Training 2001 with one year of professional experience -- at Class A Peoria.

"We had a year out of Albert Pujols that I don't know if it'll ever be repeated during my time here from a rookie," Cardinals General Manager Walt Jocketty told in October.

2. Ichiro Suzuki, Mariners -- The oldest rookie to debut with the Mariners since his fellow countryman Kaz Sasaki in 2001, the seven-time Japanese batting champ continued to pound American League pitchers, and was the league's MVP playing for a team that won 116 regular-season games. Suzuki's 242 hits shattered the rookie mark of 233, set by Shoeless Joe Jackson in 1911.

"I don't think anyone thought he would hit .350," Seattle GM Pat Gillick told in November. "Maybe .280 or .290. We figured there would be an adjustment period he had to go through."

3. Mark Buehrle, White Sox -- The soft-tossing lefty had the AL's best ERA into September -- and people still had trouble spelling (and pronouncing) his last name. The 22-year-old, a former 38th-round draft pick, ended up finishing fourth in that category, with a 3.29 mark. Buehrle, who didn't figure as a starter until the last week of Spring Training, befuddled hitters with an arsenal of head-scratching pitches that nipped every corner. After 1 1/2 years of professional baseball, Buehrle sampled big-league hitters for 51 1/3 innings in 2000, and devoured them in 2001, including an Aug. 3 one-hitter against Tampa Bay. He enters next season as the leader of what could be an impressive young rotation.

"I love watching him Mark Buehrle pitch," Chicago bench coach Joe Nossek told last August. "He knows how to change speeds on all his pitches. He has changed his three pitches into nine pitches by doing that. He's fun to watch."

4. Adam Dunn, Reds -- During his Major League debut July 20, Marlins pitchers showed respect by not throwing him fastballs. In fact, Dunn would up drawing an intentional walk in just his fourth plate appearance. The kid who had amassed 32 minor league homers already that season didn't waste much time living up to his hype. He bashed his first Major League homer a week later and clocked 18 more before his season ended, upping his combined homer total to 51. He batted .262 with a .371 on-base percentage in the big leagues, and displayed a powerful arm in right field. And he's only 22.

"Dunner is something special," Cincinnati first baseman Sean Casey told last summer. "He's going to do big things around here."

5. C.C. Sabathia, Indians -- Sabathia won 17 games for the AL Central Division Champs, putting up some clutch performances along the way. The brash, 21-year-old southpaw began the season as the No. 4 starter, but snatched the ace crown away from Bartolo Colon. Sabathia allowed 149 hits in 180 1/3 innings, and got better as the season progressed. He'll need to harness the control that left him at times (95 walks), but he has already emerged as one of the AL's most feared lefties.

6. Roy Oswalt, Astros -- A strained right groin kept him out of the National League Division Series against the Braves and prevented a national audience from seeing what the Astros already knew: this 24-year-old is something special. A hard-thrower with pinpoint accuracy, he made hitters squirm for 141 2/3 innings and went 14-3 record with a 2.73 ERA. A 2000 Olympic hero in the same class as Milwaukee's Ben Sheets, Oswalt compiled a 2-1 record as a reliever in May, then went 12-2 as a starter beginning June 2, pairing with Wade Miller to become a devastating combo. The Reds were particularly flummoxed by Oswalt, as the righty allowed them one run in 21 2/3 innings.

7. Joe Mays, Twins -- After a sobering second season followed a respectable debut, Mays grew up in 2001. A self-admitted emotional guy, he eradicated many of the bad habits he picked up in 2000, and challenged Brad Radke for the title of Twins' best starter. Mays, 26, led Twinkies in wins (17), ERA (3.16), innings pitched (233 2/3) and batting average against (.235). A 4-0 record and a 1.93 mark in September is a harbinger of success for the 2001 All-Star.

8. Aramis Ramirez, Pirates -- At risk of donning a "failed prospect" tag, Ramirez emerged in 2001, batting cleanup on a team with Brian Giles on the roster. Suddenly this raw prospect with suspect defensive skills and a long swing put it together during his fourth go 'round. Ramirez, 23, crushed 34 homers, drove in 112 runs and batted .300. He made 25 errors, but the Pirates will take that if his maturation continues.

9. Mark Mulder, A's -- As inconsistent as his 2000 season was, he rose a few pegs in 2001, winning 21 games and starting Games 1 and 5 of the American League Division Series against the Yankees. He finished the regular season by allowing one hit in seven innings to Anaheim.

"Dude is automatic now, man. You know you're gonna win -- or at least have a shot -- every day he's out there," teammate Terrence Long told after Game 1 of the ALDS.

10. Lance Berkman, Astros -- Sure, the guy was solid in 2000 as well, but he laced 94 extra base hits in 2001, including 55 doubles and 34 home runs. His batting eye is also unquestioned, evidenced by the 92 walks he drew. Berkman, 25, enjoyed the luxury of batting between Jeff Bagwell and Moises Alou most of the season, but that doesn't diminish the breakout numbers he displayed.

Others of note
Frank Catalanotto, Rangers -- Part of the Juan Gonzalez trade, he hit .330 to finish fifth in the AL batting race.
Freddy Garcia, Mariners -- Led the league in ERA at 3.05. Not bad for a guy who was traded for Randy Johnson.
Rich Aurilia, Giants -- The best 2001 offensive season by a shortstop not named Alex Rodriquez.
Cristian Guzman, Twins -- Batted .302 despite missing 44 games because of injury.
Doug Mientkiewicz, Twins -- Solidified the Twins defense and had an outstanding season with the bat, hitting .306.
Bubba Trammell, Padres -- Twenty-five homers and 92 RBIs earns him a place on this list.
David Eckstein, Angels -- The little shortstop proved he could play the game in 2001, hitting .285 with 41 RBIs.
Cory Lidle, A's -- Success at last for the 29-year-old, who went 13-6.
Kyle Farnsworth, Cubs -- This guy's smokin'; 107 Ks in 82 innings.
Wade Miller, Astros -- Stud won 16 games and became Astros ace.
Paul Lo Duca, Dodgers -- Where did he come from? Can he do it again? Who cares? The 29-year-old catcher had quite a season, batting .320 with 25 homers and 90 RBIs.
Jimmy Rollins, Phillies -- A big reason for the Phillies' 2001 success. Rollins tied for the NL lead in stolen bases and hit a respectable .274.

Ken Mandel is an editor for The opinions expressed here are those of the author and are not subject to approval by Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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Vote on the best plays of 2001 in the following categories:
Regular Season Play
Home Run of the Year
Catch of the Year
Throw of the Year
Defensive Infield Play
Greatest Comeback / Finish
Individual Performance
Memory of the Year
Pitching Performance
Collision of the Year
Postseason Play
Blooper of the Year
State of the Game: Where baseball stands as we begin 2002
What a Season!: reporter Ian Browne recaps 2001
2002 Predictions: Mark your calendars for these baseball events this season.
Resolutions: New Year's resolutions from around the league
Diamond Digits: Crunching the 2001 stats
Team gifts: Holiday presents from Santa
Boys to Men: Players who showed extraordinary growth in 2001
Men to Boys: Players who had big 2000 seasons, but flopped in 2001
Gone but Not Forgotten: Tributes to the players we've lost this year
2001 Player Debuts
2001 Season Trivia: Think you know baseball? Test your knowledge
By the Numbers: Figures that stood out in 2001
2001 Retirees: Players who ended their careers
2001 A to Z: A handy reference for the season

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