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MLB.com Columnist

Richard Justice

Baseball sparked by wave of young talent

New generation of stars taking over game by showcasing immense potential

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One night, it's Indians third baseman Lonnie Chisenhall making history with five hits and nine RBIs. Twenty-four hours later, it's Pirates outfielder Gregory Polanco getting his long-awaited big league debut.

Polanco got his first big league hit, but on Tuesday, it was another youngster stealing the show. That would be Red Sox right-hander Brandon Workman. His seventh Major League start was a thing of beauty. Workman allowed no runs and one hit in 6 2/3 innings for his first victory of the season.

Workman was invaluable for Boston last season in swinging between the rotation and bullpen as needed. Now his time may have arrived as the Red Sox attempt to work their way back into contention.

All three of these guys -- Chisenhall, Polanco and Workman -- are kids, just getting started. Workman and Chisenhall are 25. Polanco is 22. There's no way to know what kind of careers they'll have.

All that's certain is they're part of a larger trend in Major League Baseball. Kids here, kids there. Baseball has so many gifted young players that it's difficult to keep track of them all. But isn't it fun to try?

Blue Jays right-hander Drew Hutchison, 23, and Astros outfielder George Springer, 24, are already here and making names for themselves. Likewise, 21-year-old Cardinals outfielder Oscar Taveras and 23-year-old Marlins outfielder Marcell Ozuna seem well on their way to getting adjusted to the big leagues.

Kids, kids, kids. Andrew Heaney (Marlins) and Alex Meyer (Twins) probably will be here soon, and by this time next year, so will Archie Bradley (D-backs), Kris Bryant (Cubs) and Javier Baez (Cubs).

Did you know Mike Trout is only 22? He may just be the best all-around player in baseball, but like Chisenhall and others, we're seeing just the very beginning of his career. That Trout has burst onto the scene says plenty about how baseball looks at young talent these days.

Braves right-hander Julio Teheran and Royals catcher Salvador Perez could both be All-Stars next month. Nationals third baseman Anthony Rendon and A's catcher Derek Norris almost certainly will get there at some point.

White Sox ace Chris Sale, a two-time All-Star, has pitched at such a high level for so long that it seems like we're discussing a proven veteran. He pitched his first Major League game four years ago at 21. Sale is 25 now, a grizzled veteran of 67 big league games and a dazzling 2.88 ERA.

Has it ever been like this? Has baseball ever had so many gifted young players at one time? Here's hoping we appreciate what we're seeing as wave upon wave of young talent arrives, impacting both teams and pennant races.

Doesn't it seem like Yasiel Puig, 23, has been around forever? He recently celebrated his one-year anniversary in the big leagues. The Dodgers were a different team after Puig arrived last year, and he has gotten steadily better. He may win the National League Most Valuable Player Award in his first full season.

Once upon a time, baseball assigned a sort of timetable to its best young players. At least, that's what a lot of people think.

In truth, hot prospects routinely got fast-tracked to the big leagues. Robin Yount was 18 when he made his debut. Mickey Mantle was 19, Willie Mays 20. On the other hand, it's unfair to compare other players to those three.

They were so supremely gifted that they probably would have done just fine if at 15 or 16 they competed with the pros. Future Hall of Famers are wired differently.

For others, there definitely was a timetable, a learning curve. Players were expected to work their way up the Minor League ladder to work on their games.

That kind of thinking has changed. Teams now understand that it's OK to challenge young players. Managers have to put them in the right environment and help them through the setbacks most of them will have along the way, but the point is that if teams are right about the talent level, the kid will figure it out.

And the kids are doing just fine. Maybe that's one of the lessons we've all learned these last couple of years. Maybe that's also why it has become just about impossible to predict pennant races.

The Dodgers almost certainly wouldn't have gone to the postseason without Puig's arrival last season, and the Cards got two big September victories from Michael Wacha. The Red Sox got a push, too, from Xander Bogaerts down the stretch.

There are no guarantees. Young players can thrill one day, frustrate the next. Clubs have to be patient with the struggles and attempt to figure out if a player's long-term confidence is being shaken by his struggles.

Chisenhall is a good example. He was a first-round pick in the 2008 First-Year Player Draft who made his big league debut three years ago at 22. Chisenhall batted a respectable .260 those first two seasons, then just when the Indians thought he might be ready for everyday play, he had a tough start in 2013.

There surely were Tribe fans who'd given up on Chisenhall. Cleveland decided not to make him the everyday this or backup that. Rather, manager Terry Francona said Chisenhall would play when he played, that he just needed time to settle in and figure things out.

Chisenhall began Tuesday leading the American League with a .385 batting average and has his name dotted all over the leaderboards. At a time when the Indians could have their postseason hopes dashed by injuries and slumps, Chisenhall has been a lifesaver.

No team has higher hopes for a single player than the Pirates have for Polanco. He might just provide a burst of energy -- and production -- that the Bucs need to make a second straight postseason appearance.

No one should be surprised if Polanco did just that. It has almost become the norm, and hasn't it made the game that much more interesting?

Richard Justice is a columnist for MLB.com. Read his blog, Justice4U. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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