Athletics outfielder Yoenis Cespedes and Rangers right-hander Yu Darvish are finalists for the American League Rookie of the Year Award. In any other year, they would be anxiously awaiting Monday night's announcement of the results from the Baseball Writers' Association of America voting to see if they won.
Except that this isn't any other year. This is the year that Angels outfielder Mike Trout is expected to blow all other candidates out of the water. Or as Braves special assistant Jim Fregosi put it: "They're blown out of the water, because no rookie has ever had as good a year [as Trout]. Rainbow had as good a year as anybody could possibly have."
In the bigger picture, though, this highlights how much good young talent came into the AL this season, with rookies such as Trout, Cespedes, Darvish and Mariners catcher Jesus Montero all making an impact.
"I think the last couple years have been really special in terms of the young players that we've infused into this game," said Rays executive vice president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman. "There are a number of young, really exciting players like Trout and [the Nationals' Bryce] Harper who have come into this game and are extremely well-rounded baseball players. Not necessarily just big power hitters. But guys who are extremely well-rounded and have stepped up and delivered pretty immediately.
"Most young guys, there's a learning curve and it takes some time for them to get to the point of being a good Major League player. But there have been a lot of guys the last couple years that have kind of hit the ground running and been above-average players from Jump Street."
Added Orioles executive VP of baseball operations Dan Duquette: "They're all very talented, and the good news is those players came into the American League. Cespedes and Darvish could have signed with anybody, and they came into the American League. So that's good for us."
Fregosi said there's a good reason that so many younger players are making their mark. As salaries for the top players continue to rise, teams attempt to balance their payrolls with less expensive talent. Clubs are more willing to give unproven players an opportunity, instead of the old formula of advancing them one level at a time.
"A lot of guys had great years because more rookies had opportunities to play than they usually do," Fregosi said. "Because everybody's searching for inexpensive talent, so more guys are getting an opportunity to play on the Major League level."
What impressed Royals senior adviser Mike Arbuckle most about Cespedes (.292, 23 homers and 82 RBIs in 129 games, with an .861 OPS) was how quickly he was able to make adjustments.
"That makes you think he's probably going to continue to get better, because he obviously has aptitude," Arbuckle said. "So you're looking and you're saying, 'This guy's improving now, but let him get to a point where he's learning the league and what have you and he's got a chance to be a really good player.
"I saw him make steady improvement as the year went on. I thought in Spring Training he could be pitched to. He had holes. He overswung a lot. But as the year went, he eliminated some of those holes. He started understanding that he needed to use the whole field. And he's got power to all fields, so he doesn't need to pull everything. And he really made strides over time and became a much more dangerous hitter, aside from a guy who could just hit the ball out of the park. He could hurt you by just making hard contact."
Duquette agrees. "Cespedes had a terrific year and helped turn Oakland around. He's a really gifted player. He could be Rookie of the Year any year Mike Trout's not in the league."
Darvish won 16 games for Texas with a 3.90 ERA. He pitched 191 1/3 innings, while allowing just 156 hits.
"In Spring Training, he looked like he was just feeling his way. But once he got a grasp of things, he became the guy you're going to want to run out there in big games," Arbuckle said. "The biggest thing he has is pitchability. He's got good stuff. But he can pitch with that good stuff. That's the thing for me. He's got good feel when he's on the mound. He has a sense of what he needs to do to get a hitter out."
Added Fregosi: "He'll get even better as he gets used to pitching in the United States. He has great stuff. The biggest transition is the size of the baseball. The ball is the U.S. is bigger."
Montero is seen as primarily an offensive player, but a good one who may eventually end up as a designated hitter. He batted .260 with 15 homers and 62 RBIs in 135 games, but those numbers could jump dramatically in the future since the Mariners have announced that they're bringing the fences in at Safeco Field for the 2013 season.
"I think that will definitely make a difference," Arbuckle said. "He can hit. He was going to put up some impressive home run and RBI numbers anyway, and after they make that park smaller, his numbers will really start to stand out. No question. He's a confident kid, and when you watch him go about it, he's got that sense that the good ones have that, 'Yeah, I belong here. I'm a pretty good player.'"