The year of 2013 will be remembered for many highlights on the baseball field, and the eruption of mature-beyond-their-years contributions from these confident, sometimes cocky and always watchable kids has been one of the sport's most electrifying developments.
Starter Jose Fernandez of the Marlins deserves top billing here, by just a hair over Dodgers outfielder Yasiel Puig, for the sheer dominance he showed at such a young age. Fernandez, who came over from Cuba and was the 14th overall selection in the 2011 First-Year Player Draft, made it to the Majors at the age of 20 and turned in a stellar season that netted him National League Rookie of the Year honors.
Fernandez made 28 starts and went 12-6 with a 2.19 ERA while striking out 187 batters in 172 2/3 innings. He posted a 0.98 WHIP and a batting average against of .182, was an All-Star, and finished third in the NL Cy Young Award voting.
"Things happen for a reason," Fernandez said. "I got a chance to be here and I took advantage of it. I play hard. That's what the fans are going to get out of me. I'm going to play hard and give everything I've got."
Fernandez's countryman and runner-up in the NL Rookie of the Year voting, Puig, was another piece of brilliance for which the 2013 Major League season will be remembered. Puig started the season in Double-A Chattanooga after an eye-popping Spring Training and was called up in June for good, spelling injured outfielder Matt Kemp. All Puig did was electrify Dodger Stadium with a potent mix of power, average, speed, defense and a cannon arm and spark his team to a record-setting 42-8 run over a 50-game midsummer stretch.
Puig's youth and exuberance hindered him at times on the basepaths, in the batter's box and in the outfield, but he finished the season with a .319 average and 19 homers in 104 games, plus a .391 on-base percentage and .534 slugging percentage.
Michael Wacha of the Cardinals had a brief stint in the St. Louis rotation in May and June before returning to the Minor Leagues for a while, but the 22-year-old, a first-round pick out of Texas A&M in the 2012 Draft, stuck for good in August and was even better in October.
Wacha pitched a one-hitter in his final start of the regular season, gave up one hit in 7 1/3 innings in his lone NL Division Series start, a win over Pittsburgh, and then went 2-0 with a 0.00 ERA and 13 strikeouts in 13 2/3 innings in his devastating NL Championship Series MVP performance against the Dodgers that helped launch St. Louis into the World Series. Wacha wasn't as impressive in the Fall Classic, but a statement was made. This kid has a long and prosperous future ahead of him.
"With such little experience, that really doesn't matter for him, because he goes out there with so much confidence, he goes out there and pitches," teammate Matt Carpenter said after Wacha outpitched NL Cy Young Award winner Clayton Kershaw and beat the Dodgers in Game 6 of the NLCS.
"He's been fun to watch."
So was Wil Myers, another young revelation in a 2013 full of them.
A lot was made of the trade that got Myers to Tampa Bay from Kansas City when former Rays ace James Shields was dealt, and a lot of skeptics wondered if Myers' bat would play in the big leagues right away. He answered those questions with a thump.
Myers made his debut in the Majors at the age of 22 on June 18 and ended up putting up a line of .293/.354/.478 with 13 homers and 53 RBIs in 335 at-bats. It was enough to be crowned AL Rookie of the Year and give the Rays excitement for seasons and seasons to come.
"I'm not really surprised, honestly," Rays manager Joe Maddon said. "You look at the body of work that Wil provided from the time he was up there, the expectations he had on him when he arrived and how he fulfilled those expectations and just the level that he played at. ... Overall, you look at his entire body of work and what he meant to us in regards to wins and losses, he was pretty important."
But Myers and Fernandez, Puig and Wacha weren't the only kids who crushed last season.
Jose Iglesias, the AL Rookie of the Year runner-up who started the season in Boston and finished in Detroit, hit over .300 and flashed defensive prowess that already will live on forever in the form of playoff highlight reels.
Right-handers Zack Wheeler (Mets), Chris Archer (Rays), Shelby Miller (Cardinals) and Gerrit Cole (Pirates) hit the upper 90s with ease and looked the part of longtime aces. Left-hander Martin Perez of the Rangers and relievers Tanner Roark (Nationals) and Trevor Rosenthal (Cardinals) put up seasons that indicate they could be All-Star regulars very soon.
Christian Yelich came up with the Marlins at the age of 21 and looked like he'd been a big leaguer for years. And the Mariners struggled in the standings, but they featured so many good-looking rookies (Taijuan Walker, Mike Zunino, Nick Franklin and Brad Miller among them) that it wouldn't be surprising to see them make a big leap in the AL West in 2014.
They'll all be fun to watch as sophomores in 2014, but it would be unwise to think that the incoming freshmen won't be spectacular, too.