The Underage Trio

When all is said and done, I would be willing to bet that the rookie class of 2010 will go down as the best in the history of the game. The new wave of talent that has arrived in the show this year is off the charts. With Stephen Strasburg, Carlos Santana, and Buster Posey, we’ve seen three guys step right in and become premier players right away, and the depth of players behind those three is just nutty.

But rather than focusing on the class as a whole, I just wanted to look at the trio of underage guys who are making a big impact for their clubs. Jason Heyward, Mike Stanton, and Starlin Castro are all in their age 20 season (Heyward turned 21 a couple of days ago), and all performing well, which is a rare accomplishment.

In terms of performance in a year before age 21, this group (Heyward, Stanton, and Castro) is almost certainly the best in recent history. They have combined for +6.6 WAR, a staggeringly high total for three guys who can’t drink, especially considering two of them began the season in the minors. While guys like Alex Rodriguez had a great individual age 20 season, it’s rare to see three super young guys come into the league together and all play well.

In terms of talent, this is probably the best trio to arrive together since 1989, when Ken Griffey Jr, Gary Sheffield, and Sammy Sosa all hit the scene at the same time. Of those three, however, only Griffey was a good player that year- Sosa and Sheffield would develop into productive players later on in their careers.

The ultimate comparison, though, is the three guys who showed up together in 1951: Willie Mays, Mickey Mantle, and Chet Nichols. Okay, fine, the last name in the group doesn’t really belong with the first two, but he was a sensation in his rookie year, posting a league leading 2.88 ERA and finishing second (to Mays) in the Rookie of the Year voting.

We don’t know where the careers of Stanton, Heyward, and Castro will go from here, though given their talents, its easy to suspect that all three are in line for some great things going forward. Whether they can match the ultimate star power of the 1989 group is something we’ll only know in 20 years. What we can say, however, is that we probably won’t see a trio of underage guys this good break in together again any time soon.

Dave is the Managing Editor of FanGraphs.

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This is a pretty cool article/situation.

I wouldn’t bet that they’d be the best rookie class ever, especially given the two rookie trios you mentioned.

The two things that jumped into my mind were:

[1] I love it that teams are getting their young talent to ML. Unless a player is going through a position change, new approach, new pitch, etc … I am not in favor of extended minor league experience.

[2] What strong debuting trios or rookie classes ended up flaming out.

Are there really 3 HoF’ers in this rookie class?

I bring this up as one who remembered how Cory Snyder and Pete Incaviglia were going to change baseball with their power.


Re 1: I agree, but it’s sort of surprising teams actually bring up such young players in the environment of 6-years of cheap team control. If you’re going to only get bargain rates on a player for six years and can control when those years start, don’t you want those years to include a player’s prime rather than having them end just when their primes are getting under way? E.g., imagine what an asset the Twins would have if this was Delmon Young’s first MLB year.