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Rookies to watch in the MLB playoffs: World Series contenders relying on these youngsters

USA TODAY
USA TODAY
 2021-09-23

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The general consensus in the baseball world when the Tampa Bay Rays dealt Blake Snell to the San Diego Padres months after winning pennant was: huh?

Having a player development system – and one of the best minor league systems – that consistently yields players who perform at an above-replacement player level allows an organization to operate that way with the confidence they can get the job done on the biggest stages.

The Rays are back atop the American League East and have eclipsed 90 wins for the third time in four years. That fourth year, 2020, they won two-thirds of their games (40-20) and advanced to the World Series where they fell to the Los Angeles Dodgers.

And with the minor leagues back in 2021, guess which MLB team has the most affiliates in the playoffs? Surprise, it’s the Rays, with three.

That checks out, since a sizable portion of the big league club’s success this year has been rookie performance. Randy Arozarena – yes, last year’s playoff hero is still a rookie – is a contender for Rookie of the Year with 19 homers (after hitting 11 in the 2020 postseason) and a .913 second-half OPS.

Wander Franco, called up in July, has an on-base streak that’s reached 37 games and his hamstring injury should be healed by the time the playoffs begin. The top prospect entering the season, Franco shook off a slow start and is hitting .285/.347/.463 with seven home runs and a 3.1 bWAR in 60 games.

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Randy Arozarena and Wander Franco. Gail Burton, AP

The Rays promoted Shane Baz this week and the right-hander who pitched for Team USA in the Tokyo Olympics impressed against the Toronto Blue Jays, using his entire repertoire to hold a talented lineup to two earned runs (two solo homers) over five innings (five strikeouts).

“Looked like a guy – the stuff speaks for itself. The velocity speaks for itself,” Rays manager Kevin Cash told reporters following the 22-year-old’s debut. “The composure, that’s what you always wonder about anytime it’s your debut, especially when you’re 22 … it does look like his experiences in Double-A and Triple-A and even the Olympics have helped him.”

Pitcher Luis Patiño, a centerpiece in the Snell trade who came up with the Padres, struggles with the long ball but may be part of the postseason rotation or at least receive high-leverage opportunities.

And then there’s the other rookie pitcher named Shane – Shane McClanahan – who debuted during last year’s playoffs and has a 3.51 ERA (3.27 FIP) in a team-high 23 starts this season.

The Rays' rookies will all be asked to produce come October, but they won’t be the only ones. Here are six other rookies across MLB to keep an eye on this postseason.

Ian Anderson – Atlanta Braves

A former No. 3 overall pick, Anderson has lived up to that selection. He finished seventh in 2020 National League Rookie of the Year voting and had a 0.96 ERA in four postseason starts. The righty has started 22 times (115 ⅓ innings) this year with a 3.75 ERA.

Alek Manoah – Toronto Blue Jays

With the Blue Jays battling for a wild card spot, Manoah – also a first-round pick – came to the majors on May 27 and has been a reason behind Toronto’s rotation success this year. He’s won his last two starts against the Tampa Bay Rays (14 innings, two runs, 17 strikeouts) and has lowered his ERA to 3.36. His 1.08 WHIP leads all qualified rookies.

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St. Louis Cardinals outfielder Dylan Carlson. Jeff Curry, USA TODAY Sports

Dylan Carlson – St. Louis Cardinals

Only two rookies have more hits than Carlson in MLB, and he’s been an everyday member of the St. Louis outfield. With 15 homers and 59 RBI, Carlson is second with 52 walks among rookies.

Andrew Vaughn – Chicago White Sox

The White Sox made the choice to not manipulate Vaughn’s service time, as is usually the case in MLB, and included him on the opening day roster. The third overall pick in the 2019 draft, he has 15 homers and a .409 slugging percentage.

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Chicago White Sox pitcher Michael Kopech. Michael McLoone, USA TODAY Sports

Michael Kopech – White Sox

After Kopech opted out of the 2020 season, White Sox manager Tony La Russa has deployed him out of the bullpen rather than as a traditional, every-fifth-day starter. In 40 appearances, the righty has a 3.26 FIP. With the White Sox seeking a deep postseason run, Kopech – capable of delivering more than one inning in relief – will need to be counted on to get big outs.

Luis García – Astros

The 24-year-old from Venezuela leads all qualified rookies in innings (144 ⅓) and is second with 160 strikeouts (17 home runs). He’s lost some steam since July 20, when he delivered six scoreless frames to lower his ERA to 2.86. Since then, he has a 4.25 ERA but figures to factor into Houston’s playoff rotation.

Follow Chris Bumbaca on Twitter @BOOMbaca .

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Rookies to watch in the MLB playoffs: World Series contenders relying on these youngsters

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