Rookies who made a name for themselves in postseason

November 2nd, 2023

When it comes to the pressure-packed environment of the MLB postseason, there’s no substitute for experience.

But experience isn’t everything.

We’ve seen plenty of rookies grab the spotlight in their first taste of playoff baseball, with Rangers outfielder Evan Carter and D-backs outfielder  being the latest rookies to make a name for themselves on the postseason stage.

Here’s a look at the most impressive postseason performances by rookies in the Wild Card era (since 1995), in reverse chronological order.

Evan Carter and Corbin Carroll, OF, 2023 Rangers and D-backs

Carter’s story didn’t even begin until he made his MLB debut on Sept. 8 as a 21-year-old. After posting a 1.058 OPS in 23 regular-season games, Carter continued to both hit (.917 OPS) and play spectacular defense in the playoffs. Batting third in Game 1 of the World Series, Carter doubled in his first two plate appearances, becoming just the sixth player 21 or younger with multiple extra-base hits in a World Series game. With another double in the title-clinching Game 5, Carter set the record for most doubles (9) in a single postseason. 

Carroll was already a star by the time the D-backs reached the playoffs. In his first full season, Carroll started in left field for the NL All-Star team and became the first rookie in MLB history with 25 home runs and 50 stolen bases in a season. While his postseason wasn't quite as dominant as the regular season, Carroll posted a .773 OPS and electrified with his elite speed (five stolen bases) throughout the playoffs.

Jeremy Peña, SS, 2022 Astros
After taking the shortstop reins from Carlos Correa, who left the Astros as a free agent, Peña followed in his predecessor’s footsteps during the playoffs, shining bright on both sides of the ball. The 25-year-old showed a flair for the dramatic with a tiebreaking homer in the 18th inning of ALDS Game 3 against the Mariners and followed that up by winning ALCS MVP honors. Peña continued to make his presence felt in the World Series, going 10-for-25 (.400) with three extra-base hits -- including a go-ahead dinger in Game 5, making him the first rookie shortstop to homer in a World Series. He had at least one hit in each of the six games -- becoming the first rookie with a hit in his first six Fall Classic contests -- and earned Series MVP honors, joining Marlins pitcher Livan Hernandez in 1997 as the only rookies to be named MVP of the LCS and World Series in the same season.

Ian Anderson, RHP, 2020-21 Braves
Anderson had rookie eligibility for two postseasons and was brilliant in both, going 4-0 with a 1.26 ERA, 40 strikeouts and a .159 opponents’ batting average in eight starts, five of which were scoreless. Anderson began his playoff career with 17 2/3 shutout innings in 2020, producing the third-longest scoreless streak in Braves postseason history. The following year, he helped Atlanta win its first World Series title since 1995, throwing five hitless frames against the Astros in a Game 3 win.

Randy Arozarena, OF, 2020-21 Rays
Arozarena etched his name in postseason lore in 2020, setting MLB playoff records with 29 hits and 10 homers while hitting .377/.442/.831 over 20 games for the Rays, who made their second World Series appearance in franchise history. The outfielder did all of that before winning the AL Rookie of the Year Award the following season. With his rookie eligibility still intact, “Playoff Randy” made another appearance in 2021, as Arozarena posted a .333/.474/.600 slash with a homer in Tampa Bay’s four-game ALDS loss to the Red Sox.

Jorge Soler, OF, 2015 Cubs
Seven years before he won World Series MVP with the Braves, Soler showed his postseason mettle as a rookie with the Cubs, going 9-for-19 (.474) with three homers, five RBIs and six walks in seven games. Among players with at least 25 plate appearances in a single postseason, the Cuban slugger's 1.705 OPS in 2015 ranks second all time to the 1.747 mark Manny Ramírez put up for the Dodgers in the 2008 playoffs.

Kyle Schwarber, OF, 2015 Cubs
Another rookie sensation on the 2015 Cubs, Schwarber turned heads with his amazing display of power during those playoffs. After crushing a 450-foot shot into the Allegheny River off Gerrit Cole in the Cubs’ NL Wild Card Game win over the Pirates at PNC Park, Schwarber hit a moonshot that landed on top of the right-field scoreboard at Wrigley Field in Chicago’s NLDS clincher against the Cardinals. All told, Schwarber had five homers, eight RBIs and a .333/.419/.889 slash over nine games in the 2015 postseason.

Trevor Rosenthal, RHP, 2012-13 Cardinals
After throwing 8 2/3 scoreless innings as a setup man for the Cards in the 2012 postseason, Rosenthal carried rookie eligibility into 2013 and eventually assumed the closer role from Edward Mujica that September. Different role, similar results for the flamethrowing righty, who fired 11 2/3 innings of shutout ball. In the 2012-13 playoffs combined, Rosenthal went 20 1/3 innings without allowing a run while racking up 33 K’s and yielding a total of six hits.

Michael Wacha, RHP, 2013 Cardinals
Called up less than a year after the Cardinals made him the 19th overall pick in the 2012 MLB Draft, Wacha looked like a seasoned veteran in his first postseason. The righty held the Pirates to one hit over 7 1/3 innings in his playoff debut, winning Game 4 of the NLDS to help St. Louis stave off elimination, then earned NLCS MVP honors with a pair of scoreless starts against the Dodgers. He finished 4-1 with a 2.64 ERA and 33 K’s -- a rookie record for a single postseason -- in 30 2/3 innings.

Madison Bumgarner, LHP, 2010 Giants
One of the greatest postseason pitchers in baseball history, Bumgarner started constructing his impressive playoff resume as a rookie in 2010. The Giants, who also had a rookie behind the plate in Buster Posey, won the World Series thanks in part to Bumgarner’s 2.18 ERA over 20 2/3 innings in four appearances (three starts). The biggest of those came in Game 4 of the World Series, when Bumgarner threw eight scoreless innings in a 4-0 win over the Rangers.

Evan Longoria, 3B, 2008 Rays
Though he closed out the playoffs mired in a 2-for-26 slump as the Rays lost to the Phillies in the World Series, Longoria was one of the main reasons Tampa Bay reached the Fall Classic in the first place. After producing 27 homers and an .874 OPS in the regular season, the eventual AL Rookie of the Year socked six dingers in the postseason, going deep twice against the White Sox in his playoff debut and homering in four straight games during the ALCS against the Red Sox.

Dustin Pedroia, 2B, 2007 Red Sox
The 2007 AL Rookie of the Year took some time to find his stroke in October, but he showed up when the Red Sox needed him the most. Pedroia had a five-RBI performance in Game 7 of the ALCS and a leadoff homer in Game 1 of the World Series, part of a 12-for-31 (.387) tear with nine RBIs over Boston’s final seven games. The Red Sox won all seven, coming back from a 3-1 deficit against Cleveland in the ALCS before sweeping the Rockies in the Fall Classic.

Adam Wainwright, RHP, 2006 Cardinals
Wainwright went on to become one of the best starting pitchers of his generation, but it was his work out of the bullpen that propelled the Cardinals to World Series glory in 2006. Taking over as St. Louis’ closer late in the year, Wainwright threw 9 2/3 scoreless innings with 15 strikeouts in the postseason, saving four games along the way. The rookie righty walked the tightrope while pitching with a 3-1 lead in Game 7 of the NLCS against the Mets, allowing New York to load the bases before catching Carlos Beltrán looking at a curveball for the pennant-clinching K.

Miguel Cabrera, 3B/OF, 2003 Marlins
It was clear from watching Cabrera during the Marlins’ 2003 World Series championship run that the 20-year-old was destined for greatness. Miggy had four homers and 12 RBIs over 17 games in those playoffs, including an impressive opposite-field blast off Yankees righty Roger Clemens -- 21 years his elder -- in Game 4 of the World Series after being brushed back earlier in the at-bat.

John Lackey, RHP, 2002 Angels
After coming back from a 5-0 deficit to win Game 6 of the World Series against the Giants, the Angels handed the ball to Lackey, who joined the short list of rookies to start a winner-take-all Game 7. Lackey held San Francisco to one run over five innings in a 4-1 victory that gave the Halos their first World Series title and capped a postseason in which the righty went 2-0 with a 2.42 ERA over 22 1/3 innings.

Francisco Rodríguez, RHP, 2002 Angels
Lackey wasn’t the Angels’ only rookie star during the team’s march to a World Series crown. The Halos also had Rodríguez, who became a pivotal member of the Halos’ playoff bullpen despite having made his MLB debut on Sept. 18. Earning the nickname “K-Rod,” the 20-year-old right-hander fanned 28 of the 70 batters he faced and went 5-1 with a 1.93 ERA over 18 2/3 innings.

Orlando Hernández, RHP, 1998 Yankees
After defecting from Cuba on Christmas Day in 1997 and signing with the Yankees, Hernández (aka “El Duque”) made his debut in pinstripes on June 3, 1998, and became another indelible piece of New York’s magical season. The right-hander’s first postseason start could not have come under much tougher circumstances, as he was called upon on the road with the Yankees trailing two games to one in the ALCS. But Hernández was up to the challenge, holding Cleveland's vaunted lineup to three hits over seven scoreless innings in a 4-0 win. He added seven innings of one-run ball against the Padres to pick up the win in Game 2 of the World Series.

Liván Hernández, RHP, 1997 Marlins
One year before his half brother Orlando became a postseason star for the Yankees, Hernández was instrumental in the Marlins’ run to a World Series championship. After Miami’s No. 2 starter, Alex Fernandez, was shut down with a torn rotator cuff during the NLCS, Hernández found himself starting Game 5 opposite Braves ace Greg Maddux. Hernández outdueled Maddux with a three-hit, 15-strikeout complete game in a 2-1 win, famously taking advantage of a generous strike zone. He also picked up victories in Games 1 and 5 of the World Series against Cleveland. Hernández became the fourth player and first rookie to win LCS and World Series MVP Awards in the same year.

Derek Jeter, SS, 1996 Yankees
The 1996 postseason was the culmination of a star-making rookie season for Jeter, who showed a knack for coming through in the biggest moments throughout his career. One of those moments came in Game 1 of the ALCS against the Orioles, when Jeter hit a game-tying solo homer -- famously assisted by young fan Jeffrey Maier in right field at Yankee Stadium -- in the bottom of the eighth inning. The shortstop hit .361/.409/.459 that October as he won the first of his five World Series titles with the Bronx Bombers.

Andruw Jones, OF, 1996 Braves
Although he was still a teenager and had just 31 games of regular-season experience under his belt, Jones was unfazed by October's bright lights. Showing poise beyond his years, Jones went deep in each of his first two at-bats during Game 1 of the World Series at Yankee Stadium, becoming the second player after A’s catcher Gene Tenace in 1972 to pull off the Fall Classic feat. His first blast also made him the youngest to homer in the World Series at 19 years and 180 days old, claiming a record previously set by Hall of Famer Mickey Mantle in 1952 (20 years, 352 days old). While he started only eight of the Braves' 16 postseason games that year, Jones ended up going 10-for-29 (.345) with three homers, seven walks, nine RBIs and a 1.176 OPS.

Chipper Jones, 3B, 1995 Braves
While Dodgers sensation Hideo Nomo ultimately edged Jones in the 1995 NL Rookie of the Year race, it was Jones’ Braves who claimed the ultimate prize: a World Series championship. The third baseman was a big part of Atlanta's title run, slugging two homers against the Rockies in his postseason debut -- including the go-ahead blast in the top of the ninth inning -- and hitting .364 with a 1.064 OPS overall.