Best of second-year stars up for debate
Act two: 2010's rookies look to build on success
The arena is dark, the band has left the stage, and the sold-out crowd is bellowing for one more song. Will there be an encore?
That's the big question regarding the scintillating performances of baseball's rookie class of 2010, first-year wonders who energized the Major Leagues from Opening Day all the way to the World Series.
Will they do it again? Or can they do even better?
We didn't stop hearing about the Year of the Pitcher, but '10 was also the Year of the Rookie, in terms of impact on the postseason and on the outlook for teams' future success as the next decade begins.
There's little doubt that the San Francisco Giants wouldn't have won the National League West, let alone the World Series, without the contributions of freshman catcher -- and NL Rookie of the Year -- Buster Posey (.305 batting average, 18 home runs, 62 RBIs, .862 OPS) or lefty starter Madison Bumgarner (7-6, 3.00 ERA in regular season, 2-0, 2.18 in postseason), who twirled a historic gem in Game 4 of the Fall Classic.
It's debatable that the Braves would have won the NL Wild Card without the electric presence and potent plate contributions of rookie outfielder Jason Heyward (.393 on-base percentage, 18 homers, 77 RBIs), and would the St. Louis Cardinals have been in NL Central contention for much of the year without the work of young lefty Jaime Garcia (13-8, 2.70)?
In the American League, you'd be hard-pressed to find anyone in the clubhouse of the AL champion Texas Rangers who'd say they would have gotten as far as they did without the contributions of Rookie of the Year closer Neftali Feliz (40 saves, 2.73 ERA, .088 WHIP), and Detroit should have an offensive and defensive spark plug for years to come in AL Rookie runner-up Austin Jackson (.293 batting average, 103 runs, 27 stolen bases).
The big names are surrounded by even bigger questions, such as:
What can Heyward do if he stays healthy for a full season a year after adjusting to big league pitching?
What will the experience of thriving under the pressure of the playoffs do for Posey and Bumgarner?
Can Feliz take his dominance as a closer and transfer it to the role of starter -- if the Rangers should call upon him to do so if the newly-signed Brandon Webb falters?
And let's not forget the rest of a stunning group of soon-to-be sophomores, including Florida's Gaby Sanchez and Mike Stanton, Pittsburgh's Pedro Alvarez, Neil Walker and Jose Tabata, Minnesota's Danny Valencia, Kansas City's Lorenzo Cain and Alcides Escobar, the Cubs' Starlin Castro, the Mets' Ike Davis, the Braves' Jonny Venters, Tampa Bay's Wade Davis and John Jaso, Detroit's Brennan Boesch and Baltimore's Brian Matusz.
Will any of those names rise above the 2010 headliners?
Let's get the conversation going. We'd love to check out your thoughts and comments below as we head into '11.
Doug Miller is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.