MLB is awash with prolific young hitters
Bryant, Gallo, Correa lead a group of rookie superstars making an impact
Yes, you could see it coming. Kris Bryant was the best hitter in Arizona. The Astros' collection of young talent was the talk of Florida.
Jorge Soler, the Cubs' 23-year-old slugger from Cuba, was the seventh batter who came to the plate in the Sunday night season opener. On Opening Day, Blue Jays second baseman Devon Travis -- a 24-year-old from Florida State deemed expendable by the Tigers -- delivered a home run while drawing two walks, and Joc Pederson, a 22-year-old center fielder with the Dodgers, doubled off James Shields, then stole third base.
Youth was being served.
But still, did anyone really think the wave of young hitters capable of making your jaw drop would be as massive as it has become?
Let's recap (all stats entering play Sunday):
• Bryant joined the Cubs on April 13, after they had placed two third basemen on the disabled list. He has looked like he's been a big leaguer for years, hitting .283 with eight homers, 34 walks and 39 RBIs in 58 games.
• Addison Russell joined Bryant in the Cubs' lineup on April 21, filling a need at second base while awaiting the chance to become the long-term shortstop. He's been the best No. 9 hitter in baseball, batting .257 with five home runs and a .732 OPS as Joe Maddon's "second leadoff hitter."
• Joey Gallo, who grew up playing alongside Bryant in Las Vegas, was summoned to the Rangers on June 2 because Adrian Beltre was injured. The rookie was a triple shy of the cycle in his debut and is hitting .220 with five homers and 10 RBIs in 17 games.
• Carlos Correa joined the Astros on June 8 and immediately drew comparisons to Derek Jeter in terms of his poise and all-around play and a young Alex Rodriguez with his production. He's hitting .314 with three homers, seven RBIs and a .908 OPS in 12 games.
• Byron Buxton, regarded by MLB.com as the No. 1 prospect in the game, joined the Twins in center field on June 14. He tripled off the Cardinals' John Lackey in his second game.
Along the way, kids like Preston Tucker, Michael Taylor, Randal Grichuk, Maikel Franco, J.T. Realmuto, Matt Duffy and Delino DeShields Jr. have also made their presence known. Ditto for a handful of highly impressive international newcomers, headlined by Yasmany Tomas, Jung Ho Kang and the Dodgers' Alex Guerrero. And don't forget 26-year-old rookie Steven Souza Jr., who got his chance with the Rays after having nowhere to play with Washington.
Now, these run-producers are coming faster than teams can find places to put them. Witness two of the latest guys to make an impact: Kyle Schwarber and the Rangers' Gallo.
"What a fun group of young players that has shown up at the Major League level here lately," Rangers manager Jeff Banister said. "Pretty incredible. It's exciting. To be in baseball and be a fan of it, that young influx of talent is pretty exciting."
Gallo's power has had Texas fans anticipating his arrival since he was taken with the 39th pick of the 2012 Draft. He was hitting .314 with nine homers in 34 games at Double-A when Beltre was sidelined with a sprained left thumb, which continues to prevent the veteran from hitting.
Texas, which had started 16-23, climbed above .500 only two days before Beltre went out. It has remained upwardly mobile with Gallo in the lineup, moving within 2 1/2 games of the first-place Astros in the American League West.
"When a young guy like him comes up and has success, it's immediate and they believe, it's a huge lift," Banister said. "In our situation, we were bringing him up to fill in for a future Hall of Famer. It's not like we were bringing him up to be a guy. We had a need, because one of our teammates was on the shelf."
Banister pointed to the lift that the Rangers have gotten from a group of young players, including right-hander Chi Chi Gonzalez, infielder Hanser Alberto and DeShields, a Rule 5 pick who had emerged as the center fielder and leadoff man before a hamstring injury sidelined him. No roster stays stable for long, however, and Rangers general manager Jon Daniels and Banister will face a difficult decision with Gallo when Beltre returns.
Gallo has the versatility to also play left field -- he's started three games there with the Rangers -- but that spot is being held open for Josh Hamilton, who went on the DL with a hamstring injury after only seven games in his second stint in Texas. It's hard to imagine Gallo will return to the Minor Leagues given the success he's had already, including a 439-foot homer off the Dodgers' Clayton Kershaw last Wednesday at Dodger Stadium, but Banister's going to have to be creative to make all the pieces fit.
Schwarber's situation is more clear-cut.
A first-round pick from Indiana University last year, he was killing the ball as a Double-A catcher (13 homers, 39 RBIs and a slash line of .320.438/.579 in 58 games) before joining the Cubs last Tuesday. He was added to serve as a designated hitter in a run of five games in AL ballparks.
Despite Schwarber's success (7-for-18 with a home run and a triple), Maddon said the catcher remained bound for a stint with Triple-A Iowa unless Commissioner Rob Manfred installed the DH rule in the NL, effective immediately. That makes sense.
Not only do the Cubs want to continue to develop Schwarber as a catcher -- he's one of only three to throw out Buxton stealing this season -- but they've got nowhere to put Schwarber. Like Gallo, he's versatile, having played first base and outfield in college. But left fielder Chris Coghlan has been more impactful for Maddon than his raw numbers suggest.
Barring a sudden reversal of fortune, the Cubs are headed for a postseason push in August and September. They're going to want Schwarber's bat around -- and especially his mature approach at the plate -- when those games get here.
The good news for them is they've got time to figure out how to fit him in. As for us, we've got plenty of other hitters to watch until that time comes.