Friday, August 19, 2011
A look back at the 2001 rookie class
By David Lipman
As a rookie in 2001, Ichiro hit .350, stole 56 bases, scored 127 runs and won MVP honors.
Each day, fans cheer as Eric Hosmer, Freddie Freeman and Jeremy Hellickson go about their business. Wouldn't it be great to look into the future, and see how their careers take shape? Eric Karabell wrote about the 2011 rookies earlier today, but I'm still partial to the outstanding rookie class of 2001. Here's a look at 10 outstanding rookies from that year.
At the end of the 2010 season, Dunn was considered the most consistent player in baseball. For seven years, he had hit between 38 and 46 home runs (including four straight years of 40 homers) with between 92 and 106 RBIs. With over 350 home runs in 10 seasons, it appeared Dunn would easily approach some important milestones. However, in 2011, the bottom has fallen out, and Dunn has struggled to approach a .300 slugging percentage thanks to his .163 average. Dunn's progression into a prodigious slugger was fun to watch, but there is a real possibility that those days are over.
Highlight: Hitting 46 home runs in 2004, becoming the slugger everyone had predicted.
Hall call: If Dunn can produce a couple more 40-homer seasons, he will approach 500 career home runs. It would be difficult to ignore that number, although Dunn's low batting average and poor fielding would likely keep him out.
Just by reaching the major league level, Eckstein was a feel-good kind of story. One of the shortest players in baseball, Eckstein carved out a niche by hitting, fielding, running, and hustling enough to help teams for 10 years. While he had a nice career, when compared to the other players on this list, Eckstein falls far short. Eckstein's career high in slugging was .395; by contrast, Michael Young has surpassed that number every full season.
Highlight: Winning the World Series with the Angels 2002 and winning World Series MVP honors with the Cardinals in 2006.
Hall call: Though he'll have plenty of stories to tell, Eckstein will not get to tell them in Cooperstown.
Oswalt debuted on May 6 and immediately became one of the best pitchers in the National League, finishing with 14 wins and a 2.73 ERA. In a year of great rookie seasons, Oswalt was one of the best. It got better from there; after winning 19 games in his sophomore season, Oswalt has twice won 20 games, had an ERA of 3.01 or better in six of his 11 seasons and led the NL with a 2.98 mark in 2006. Though his strikeout rate is lower than his first few years, Oswalt should have a few more years in him if he can avoid the injuries that have hurt him this year.
Highlight: Winning Game 6 of the 2005 NLCS, pitching seven innings to lead the Astros to their first World Series berth.
Hall call: Though Oswalt has been called an ace his whole career, it's been awhile since he dominated the league, other than his stint late last season with the Phillies. He's on a good team, so if he can stick around and increase his counting stats, along with some postseason memories, he might have a shot.
In 2001, Pujols had just turned 21 and was thrust into the starting gig at third base, with only a few games above Class A ball. Pujols had a season for the ages, hitting 37 home runs, 47 doubles, with a robust 1.013 OPS. Pujols managed to exceed his seemingly unlimited potential and dominated baseball over the next decade, with a .328 career average and three MVP Awards.
Highlight: 2005 NLCS home run off Brad Lidge that is still going.
Hall call: Five years after his retirement, Pujols will coast into the Hall of Fame.
From the time he put on his first Phillies uniform, Jimmy Rollins was exciting. As a rookie, Rollins hit 14 home runs and stole 46 bases. For a team in the midst of losing franchise stalwarts Curt Schilling and Scott Rolen, Rollins was a breath of fresh air. Rollins never did get on base nearly enough, and while he eventually developed some pop and the speed is still around, he has never posted an on-base percentage of even .350. By contrast, teammate Chase Utley hasn't posted an OBP below .375 in any full season of his career.
Highlight: Being named the 2007 National League Most Valuable Player when he scored 139 runs and had 88 extra-base his, including 20 triples and 30 home runs.
Hall call: Rollins is approaching 2,000 career hits and still has a few years left, but the .272 career average and .329 on-base percentage could certainly sway voters against him.
Sabathia turned 21 during the 2001 season. Despite his youth, he pitched like he had plenty of experience, winning 17 games and striking out 171 batters in 180 innings. After a few modest years, Sabathia turned into an ace in 2006 and became a regular Cy Young contender. Still only 31, Sabathia has over 170 wins and 2,300 innings, showing no signs of slowing down.
Highlight: Clinching the 2008 National League wild card on three days' rest for the Brewers.
Hall call: Sabathia seems like an obvious Hall of Famer, but there are plenty of cautionary tales among pitchers who came up early and seemed like Cooperstown locks.
Sheets started his career like many rookies. The hype of a top prospect -- he even made the All-Star Game -- gave way to major league mediocrity, with enough potential demonstrated to spark much debate about the future. In 2004, Sheets dominated, having a season for the ages with a 2.70 ERA and 264 strikeouts. Though Sheets' teammates could only help him to 12 wins, his season was a great one. Unfortunately, that was as far as his brilliance reached, as injury issues affected his performance. Sheets still hasn't been able to recapture the magic and might not have much left in his arm.
Sometimes, the much-hyped prospects actually come through. Soriano was a ballyhooed Yankee prospect and hit right away, with 18 home runs and 43 stolen bases as a rookie. The power developed, and Soriano became a rare dual threat who terrorized opposing pitchers, including four 30-30 seasons. For all his strengths, Soriano never drew many walks, which has led to an unimpressive career on-base percentage of .323. Worse, that mark seems to be ever-decreasing, as Soriano has been below that level every season since 2008.
Highlight: Hitting the would-be winning home run in Game 7 of the 2001 World Series versus Arizona.
Hall call: Soriano was certainly one of the most exciting players of his generation and spent most of his career in New York and Chicago. At the end of the day, the power and speed won't be enough to overcome the other flaws in his game.
Ichiro had almost 1,300 hits and a .943 OPS in eight seasons in Japan. Naturally, lofty expectations were set when he came to the United States in 2001. Right off the bat, he hit well, and really didn't stop until his mysterious drop-off this season. Ichiro plays almost every game, excels in the field and on the basepaths and has hit over .350 four times. No matter how it ends, Ichiro's legacy will be impressive; the icing on the cake will be if he enters (and wins) the Home Run Derby.
Highlight: Setting the all-time single-season hits mark in 2004.
Hall call: Even without his Japan stats, Ichiro's career numbers are terrific, especially his defense and 80 percent stolen base rate. He should make it to Cooperstown on his first ballot.
Young was 24 when he became a Rangers regular, which is older than where most stars begin. Young proved to be one of the most consistent and versatile players in baseball. He's had modest power, a small amount of speed, and played over 300 games at three different positions. Young has always hit around .300 but rarely walked so never threatened to lead the league in OBP. Despite trade rumors and position shifts, Young has continued to play at a high level into his mid-30s.
Highlight: Winning the 2006 All-Star Game MVP.
Hall call: With 2,000 hits and counting, Young might someday approach counting stat totals that will make the discussion interesting, although he was certainly never close to the best player in the league.