The Top 25 Baseball Stories of 2015 — #3 Rise of the Rookies

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We’re a few short days away from 2016 so it’s a good time to look back at the top 25 baseball stories of 2015. Some of them took place on the field, some of them off the field and some of them were creatures of social media, fan chatter and the like. No matter where the story broke, however, these were the stories baseball fans were talking about most this past year.

Every year there is a rookie or two who makes an impact. We note their promotion, admire their performance, give them a Rookie of the Year Award, pat them on the head and send them on their merry way. Rarely, however, do a whole BUNCH of rookies make an impact and rarely the sort of impact a whole bunch of them made in 2015.

Baseball America ranks the top 100 prospects in baseball before each season. Of those 100 prospects for 2015, 49 made their major league debut this year, including 30 of the top 46, 16 of the top 21 and all six of the top six prospects: Kris Bryant, Byron Buxton, Addison Russell, Carlos Correa, Corey Seager and Joey Gallo (hat tip to Cliff Corcoran of SI for pointing that out). In addition to those rookies, Jung-Ho Kang, late of the KBO, made his debut for the Pirates.

But it wasn’t just about making mere appearances. Many of these rookies made big impacts. In fact, 18 rookie hitters compiled 2.0 bWAR or more, which is the most in major league history (further hat tip to Cliff). Bryant himself posted a WAR of 5.9, with a batting line of .275/.369/.488 (OPS+ 133) with 26 homers and 99 RBI. In the American League Correa batted .279/.345/.512 with 22 home runs, 68 RBI, and 14 stolen bases over 99 games (he didn’t debut until June). His .857 OPS was the best among all MLB shortstops (min. 300 PA). He didn’t even turn 21 until September.

Why so many rookies this year? A number of factors, I suppose. On a very basic level, there were a LOT of talented rookies. Throw in the fact that there is a lot of parity in baseball right now along with two wild cards and we’re at a place where even one good player could mean the difference between playing in October or not, giving teams stronger incentives to make incremental moves or to promote young players than there used to be.

It’s also the case that, in the age of drug testing and front offices who are loathe to spend as big for veterans as they used to, younger, cheaper players are simply more valuable than they used to be. We may not always see rookie classes like the one we saw in 2015, but we’ll certainly see more rookies playing key roles than they used to. We’ll also likely see more service time manipulation in an effort to keep that good young talent as cheap as possible for as long as possible, but that’s another topic altogether.

In the meantime, youth is served.

Pujols has 2 more RBIs, Cardinals beat Pirates 8-7 in 10

Cincinnati Reds v St. Louis Cardinals
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PITTSBURGH – Albert Pujols drove in two more runs and the St. Louis Cardinals went on to beat the Pittsburgh Pirates 8-7 in 10 innings Tuesday night.

Pujols hit a two-run single in the third inning to push his career total to 2,218 RBIs. That came a night after he broke a tie with Babe Ruth for second place on the career list. Hank Aaron holds the record with 2,287.

Cardinals manager Oliver Marmol then removed the 42-year-old Pujols at the end of the inning. St. Louis opens postseason play Friday when it hosts a best-of-three National League wild-card series.

Juan Yepez gave the Cardinals the win when he hit a tiebreaking single with one in the 10th inning off Chase De Jong (6-3) to score automatic runner Ben Deluzio.

“Tonight was interesting because you’re fairly scripted in who you want to use and who you don’t want to use and what you want tomorrow to look like so you can get ready for Friday,” Cardinals manager Oliver Marmol said. “It was a good one to still figure out a way to come out on top.”

The Cardinals threw out the potential tying run at home in the bottom of the 10th when automatic runner Kevin Newman tried to score from second base on Oneil Cruz‘s line single off the glove of first baseman Alec Burleson. The ball deflected to second baseman Brendon Donovan, who threw home to catcher Andrew Knizner.

The Pirates challenged the call, but it was upheld on video review.

“I thought we were going to get it overturned,” Newman said. “I just thought he didn’t tag me until he got higher up on the body.”

It was the Pirates’ 100th loss, the second year in a row they have reached that mark.

The Cardinals got two hits each from Donovan, Corey Dickerson, Knizner and Paul DeJong.

Cruz had three hits for the Pirates and Bryan Reynolds, Rodolfo Castro, Jack Suwinski, Ke'Bryan Hayes and Ji-Hwan Bae added two apiece. Miguel Andujar drove in two runs.

Chris Stratton (10-4) pitched two scoreless innings for the win.

“They weren’t the prettiest two innings I’ve ever pitched but I got a great play from the defense in the 10th inning to help me out,” Stratton said. “It was a good play all the way around.’

Pujols’ hit put the Cardinals ahead 3-1 but the Pirates answered with six runs in the bottom of the third. Andujar’s run-scoring double highlighted an inning that includes RBI singles by Castro, Suwinski, Ben Gamel and Bae.

The Cardinals then scored four runs in the seventh inning to tie the score at 7-all. Donovan hit an RBI single, Dickerson drove in two runs with a double and the tying run scored on a throwing error by Cruz, the rookie shortstop.

Both starting pitchers lasted just 2 2/3 innings. The Cardinals’ Dakota Hudson was rocked for seven runs and nine hits while the Pirates’ JT Brubaker allowed three runs on four hits.

Brubaker was activated from the injured list before the game. He had been out since Sept. 16 with right lat discomfort.

HELSLEY HURT

Reliever Ryan Helsley, the Cardinals’ closer, left in the eighth inning with a jammed right middle finger. Helsley was injured after catching a line drive by Bae and using his hands to brace himself while dodging a piece of a broken bat.

Helsley said he expects to be ready to pitch Friday.

“I don’t think there was anything super wrong with it,” Helsley said. `Just give it some rest and let it resolve itself.”

ROSTER MOVES

The Pirates optioned right-hander Roansy Contreras to Triple-A Indianapolis to clear a roster spot for Brubaker. They also recalled infielder/outfielder Tucapita Marcano from Indianapolis and optioned catcher Jose Godoy to the same club.

PIRATES AWARDS

Center fielder Bryan Reynolds was voted the winner of the Roberto Clemente Award, emblematic of the Pirates’ MVP, by the Pittsburgh chapter of the Baseball Writers Association of America.

Mitch Keller won the Steve Blass Award for best pitcher. Former infielder Michael Chavis was voted the Chuck Tanner Good Guy Award.

TRAINER’S ROOM

Cardinals: OF Tyler O'Neill (strained right hamstring) has been ruled out for the wild-card series but St. Louis is hopeful he can play in the NLDS round if it advances. . 3B Nolan Arenado (left quadriceps tightness) missed his second straight game but could play Wednesday.

UP NEXT

Cardinals: Have not decided on a starter for Wednesday, though Marmol said LHP Matthew Liberatore (2-1, 5.46) and RHP Jake Woodford (4-0, 2.33) are possibilities.

Pirates: RHP Johan Oviedo (4-3, 3.12), who was acquired from the Cardinals on Aug. 1, gets the start.