Rookie class of 2012 turning out to be one for ages
Trout, Harper headline deep and talented group of impact players
Rookie classes, like fine wines, need time to age and mature before we can assess precisely how spectacular they are to the taste buds.
In the case of 2012, however, the results already are dramatically evident. This class takes its place alongside any vintage we've seen.
You could contend for a World Series right now with an all-sophomore roster featuring position players Mike Trout, Bryce Harper, Manny Machado, Jean Segura, Yoenis Cespedes, Todd Frazier, Matt Carpenter, Wilin Rosario, Norichika Aoki, Will Middlebrooks, Yonder Alonso and Jordan Pacheco, and pitchers Matt Harvey, Yu Darvish, Patrick Corbin, Matt Moore, Wade Miley, Jarrod Parker, Wei-Yin Chen, Tommy Milone, A.J. Griffin, Addison Reed, Jim Henderson, Trevor Rosenthal, Luis Avilan and Tanner Scheppers.
"When you think about it," said A's starter Parker, "you've got the obvious top-tier guys -- Trout and Harper -- and then guys like Darvish, Cespedes, Wade Miley and Todd Frazier, who could have been the Rookie of the Year in a normal year.
"So many guys put up great years and are going to have great careers. There's a lot of depth in our class. I think that's what makes it so special -- all the really good players behind those top-tier guys."
In the balloting of the Baseball Writers' Association of America, the Angels' Trout was a unanimous choice for the 2012 Jackie Robinson Rookie of the Year Award in the American League. Trout ran -- sprinted -- right behind Triple Crown king Miguel Cabrera in the AL Most Valuable Player Award balloting.
Harper, the Nationals' answer to Trout, edged D-backs starter Miley in the National League's Rookie of the Year Award race. The Reds' Frazier was third.
Running second and third in the AL, A's outfielder Cespedes and Rangers starter Darvish were examples of why Rookie of the Year classes have become so much deeper than in eras preceding the globalization of the game. Cespedes, from Cuba, and Darvish, from Japan, brought years of professional experience to the states as rookies.
Trout, 21, and Harper, 20, were starters in this year's All-Star Game. The Orioles' Machado, a natural shortstop playing third base, could have started if he played a position not occupied by the great Cabrera. Brewers shortstop Segura had the production but couldn't compete with Troy Tulowitzki's popularity with fans.
"I don't know if it's a coincidence or what," Trout, the Angels' version of a young Mickey Mantle, said. "But a lot of really talented young guys are coming into the game playing hard, aggressive baseball, with no fear. It's exciting to be part of it."
Machado is among a number of 2012 rookies arriving too late on the scene last summer to draw support in the BBWAA voting. Also in this group are Segura, NL All-Star Game starter Harvey of the Mets and All-Star southpaw Corbin of the D-backs, three of the game's breakout stars.
Harvey had 10 starts last year, Corbin 17. Segura made 166 plate appearances.
The trend toward bringing young talent to "The Show" with the season in progress complicates somewhat the rookie designation. Casual fans might think of Machado, Harvey, Segura and Corbin as rookies, but technically they are sophomores.
"Even though they might not have played a lot," Parker said, "I think those guys got a lot of valuable experience getting their feet wet -- and it's really helped them this season."
The cutoff marks for retaining rookie status are 50 innings for a pitcher, 130 at-bats for a position player or 45 days on a Major League roster before the September expansion of rosters.
The A's made their second-half push to the 2012 AL West title with four rookies -- Parker, Milone, Griffin and Dan Straily -- in the rotation. Only Straily retained his rookie credentials, and he's among the favorites in this year's AL balloting.
There have been brilliant rookie classes since the award was inaugurated in 1947. Its first winner, fittingly, was Jackie Robinson, in whose honor the award is now named. In 1949, awards were presented in both leagues for the first time.
Stars have graced each class through the years. Here are a few that stand out along the lines of the 2012 group.
1947: The first Rookie of the Year, Robinson, and Yogi Berra. Nice way to launch the true modern era.
1951: Willie Mays and Mantle alone make it historic. The Mick (13 homers, 96 games) wasn't quite ready and didn't draw any Rookie of the Year votes, the award going to Yankees teammate Gil McDougald while Mays claimed the NL trophy. Minnie Minoso, the legendary Cuban outfielder, enhanced a memorable class.
1954: Al Kaline, Ernie Banks and Hank Aaron were the featured attractions as the game continued to absorb brilliant African-American talent. Cardinals outfielder Wally Moon (NL) and Yankees pitcher Bob Grim were Rookies of the Year.
1955: Roberto Clemente, Sandy Koufax and Harmon Killebrew would make this class memorable. The Rookies of the Year were Bill Virdon (Cardinals, NL) and Indians phenom Herb Score, who could have had a Koufax-like career if not for an ill-fated line drive off McDougald's bat on May 7, 1957.
1956: The talent -- Frank Robinson, Don Drysdale, Luis Aparicio, Rocky Colavito -- continued to flow. Robinson and Aparicio were Rookies of the Year.
1967: Tom Seaver, Rod Carew, Reggie Smith, Gary Nolan and a confident kid from Pennsylvania named Reggie Jackson illuminated a remarkable rookie class. Take heart, struggling kids. Reggie hit .178 with one homer in 118 at-bats. Seaver and Carew were Rookies of the Year.
1977: Future Hall of Famers Andre Dawson and Eddie Murray made this the best rookie class of the decade.
1981: Fernando Valenzuela, Tim Raines, Dave Righetti, Hubie Brooks, Tony Pena, Rich Gedman, Bob Ojeda, Mike Witt, George Bell. In a strike-shortened season, Rookies of the Year Valenzuela and Righetti led a remarkably deep class.
1982: Another remarkable class: Rookies of the Year Cal Ripken and Steve Sax, along with Wade Boggs, Ryne Sandberg, Kent Hrbek, Willie McGee, Chili Davis, Steve Bedrosian, Jesse Barfield and Von Hayes.
1984: Dwight Gooden and Alvin Davis were Rookies of the Year in an amazingly deep class with Roger Clemens, Kirby Puckett, Orel Hershiser, Ron Darling, Mark Langston, Mark Gubicza, Terry Pendleton and Juan Samuel.
1986: Jose Canseco and Todd Worrell dominated the Rookie of the Year balloting, but this field -- Barry Bonds, Barry Larkin, Will Clark, John Kruk, Kevin Mitchell, Wally Joyner, Ruben Sierra, Jim Deshaies, Mark Eichhorn, Cory Snyder, Danny Tartabull -- would grow into something extraordinary.
1989: Rookies of the Year Gregg Olson and Jerome Walton were the voters' choices in a class that gave us two legends -- Ken Griffey Jr. and Randy Johnson -- along with Jim Abbott, Tom Gordon, Kevin Brown, Andy Benes and Charlie Hayes.
1993: Mike Piazza and Tim Salmon were unanimous Rookies of the Year, but some other gems of the class were Piazza's Dodgers teammate, reliever Pedro Martinez, and Trevor Hoffman, another reliever acquired during the season by the Padres from the Marlins.
1995: Narrow Rookie of the Year votes went to Hideo Nomo over Chipper Jones in the NL and Marty Cordova over Garret Anderson. Setting up for the Yankees was a kid named Mariano Rivera. Andy Pettitte, Troy Percival, Shawn Green, Jason Isringhausen, Ray Durham and Brad Radke also went on to superb careers from a great class.
1997: Nomar Garciaparra and Scott Rolen were unanimous Rookies of the Year, but this loaded class also featured Jorge Posada, Vladimir Guerrero, Andruw Jones, Mike Cameron, Jose Cruz, Livan Hernandez, Matt Morris, Jose Guillen and Tony Womack.
2001: Rookies of the Year Ichiro Suzuki and Albert Pujols make it special enough. Throw in CC Sabathia, Jimmy Rollins, Roy Oswalt, Adam Dunn, Michael Young and David Eckstein and you have a class for the ages.
2006: A class with depth to challenge 2012, from Rookies of the Year Justin Verlander and Hanley Ramirez through Prince Fielder, Matt Cain, Jered Weaver, Adam Wainwright, Josh Johnson, Russell Martin, Anibal Sanchez, Jonathan Papelbon, Nick Markakis, Ian Kinsler, Mike Napoli, Josh Willingham, Dan Uggla, Andre Ethier and Francisco Liriano.
2007: Thunder and lightning everywhere: Rookies of the Year Ryan Braun and Dustin Pedroia, Tim Lincecum, Josh Hamilton, Troy Tulowitzki, Hunter Pence, Delmon Young, Kyle Kendrick, Yunel Escobar, Joakim Soria, James Loney and Daisuke Matsuzaka.
Lyle Spencer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.