Star rookies from 2013 have blueprint to follow
Puig, Fernandez can learn from last season's standouts Trout, Harper, Machado
The two Los Angeles-area Major League teams have treated fans in the past two seasons to a pair of the most intriguing, talented rookies that the game has seen in some time.
At this time last year, Angels outfielder Mike Trout was putting the finishing touches on one of the most impressive rookie campaigns of all-time en route to the American League Rookie of the Year Award and a second-place finish in AL MVP Award voting. Fast forward to 2013 and it's Dodgers phenom Yasiel Puig who took the league by storm this summer, playing a pivotal role in Los Angeles' surge to a runaway National League West title.
Puig has admittedly had some growing pains along the way, struggling at times with suddenly finding himself under the microscope in a baseball -- and media -- culture much different than that of his native Cuba. Trout, too, had his adjustment period last season, but as he now wraps up his first full season in the big leagues, the Halos outfielder said the abrupt lifestyle change only helped him in the long run.
"It was a bit crazy last year and it was hard at times," Trout said. "[I was] constantly dealing with interviews and answering questions every day -- some of them didn't even necessarily have to do with me or the Angels or what was going on out there on the field. But this year, I feel like it's just another part of my routine, and I think learning the ropes of everything last year has definitely helped me stay focused on still just playing my game this year."
Trout and Puig are not alone in their sudden rises to fame. One year after Trout was joined by Nationals outfielder Bryce Harper and Orioles third baseman Manny Machado to help form a new generation of stars, Puig this season isn't even a runaway favorite for the NL Rookie of the Year Award due to the dominance of Marlins right-hander Jose Fernandez.
Despite their immense success, Fernandez and Puig -- as might be expected from 21- and 22-year-old rookies, respectively -- both also had a dust-up or two this season. Whether it be from irking the opposition, the media or their own manager, the duo admittedly still has much to learn about life in the big leagues.
Fortunately, they need to look no further than the rapid progress of last year's trio of phenoms for a blueprint.
"It wasn't easy coming up and joining a team for the first time in the middle of a season, especially when they're fighting for a playoff spot," said Machado, who made his big league debut on Aug. 9 last year, at a time when the Orioles were locked in a three-way tie for the two AL Wild Card spots. "You just try to learn on the go and, luckily, I had some good veteran guys helping me out. But there is definitely a culture shock there, and the only way to get used to it is through experiencing it."
Trout has only improved in his sophomore season, continuing his assault on opposing pitchers and establishing himself as arguably the best all-around talent in the Majors. As for Harper, he has battled through injuries to put up numbers very similar to the ones that earned him the NL Rookie of the Year Award. And Machado has made countless highlight-reel plays while also earning an All-Star selection in his first full season.
In order to continue performing at that high level on the field in their sophomore seasons, the trio has needed to master that art of dealing with the spotlight and constant media attention. For Trout, it's become second nature to handle the media swarm that seems to find him both at Angel Stadium and wherever the Halos travel on the road. Even so, he's had the added element of making sure his family has also been able to comfortably make the adjustment to his sudden fame.
"Not really," Trout's mother, Debbie, recently said when asked if she was starting to get used to her son's stardom and all of the attention that surrounds it. "I really don't think it's ever something I'll just get used to."
"Well I don't know, I think we're getting a little used to it," his father, Jeff, countered. "I mean we've been interviewed a lot of times and we've had a lot of people come to our house to speak with us, but a lot of the questions are the same. It is still a little strange, though, a bit surreal. Mike's only four years out of high school, so he made a quick jump. It seems like every day is an adventure for us, and I know it still is for him, too."
An "adventure" would also be an adequate way of describing Fernandez's final start of 2013 -- or just about all of Puig's debut season.
On Sept. 11, in his final outing before being shut down for the year, Fernandez irritated some Braves players after staring a bit too long at his first career home run before eventually jogging around the bases. Admitting he got caught up in the moment, Fernandez later apologized to Braves pitcher Mike Minor and catcher Brian McCann, adding he was "embarrassed" by his actions.
For Puig, the drama has run a bit more rampant. He has had fundamental hiccups -- such as missing cutoff men on multiple occasions -- while also irking his opponents at times with a perceived sense of cockiness. Most recently, Puig was benched a few weeks ago by manager Don Mattingly for a lack of effort.
The Dodgers view it all as nothing more than part of the process for a young rookie suddenly thrown into the Major League mix, and general manager Ned Colletti is confident that the undoubtedly talented Puig will learn the other nuances of the game over time.
"He's a young guy coming from a different country, a different culture," Colletti said. "His maturation process and his educational process will continue to take place. We've got a good support staff around him. We're there every day for him."
And if Puig needs any additional help, there is a trio of players who were in his shoes -- to some extent -- just one year ago, currently paving the way.