Holding an exalted place in the best rookie class in baseball history is the Chicago Cubs' Starlin Castro(notes). Only two other shortstops were better at age 20. Alan Trammell is not one of them. Almost, but not quite.
Trammell played his first full season in 1978 at 20 with the Detroit Tigers, grinding out at-bats against men whose baseball cards he'd collected. Players he idolized slid hard into second base, indifferent to whether they'd end his career before it really began. Trammell not only survived, he flourished, playing 20 years in the big leagues, making six All-Star teams and winning a World Series.
Now the Cubs' bench coach, he is reminded of his past and excited about the future when he and third base coach Ivan DeJesus watch Castro, counsel Castro, instruct Castro.
"We have long film sessions, and he gets critiqued," Trammell said. "He doesn't take it personally. He wants to improve, and he's so good already. I see a long career. He has that gift with the bat. He's so athletic. He loves what he's doing every day."
Who wouldn't love batting .300 as a rookie despite never playing Triple-A? Who wouldn't love hitting in the No. 2 spot, playing in the middle of the infield, excelling at everything?
"This has been a satisfying year," Castro said. "I'm happy. I'll keep working hard and getting better. I started off hot, then struggled, then realized I can play at this level and got hot again. Now I'm a little tired but I want to finish strong."
The only shortstops to produce more than Castro at such a young age were Alex Rodriguez(notes) in 1996 and Arky Vaughan in 1932. Trammell, Robin Yount, Edgar Renteria(notes) and Elvis Andrus(notes) are on the short list of shortstops that held their own at 20. Just not quite as well as Castro.
Most years he'd be a shoo-in for National League Rookie of the Year. But this isn't most years. In fact, the depth and breadth of first-year talent across the league has been deemed unprecedented by scouts, writers and baseball lifers of all stripes. Atlanta Braves right fielder Jayson Heyward is the likely leader for the award, although strong cases also can be made for San Francisco Giants catcher Buster Posey(notes) and St. Louis Cardinals starting pitcher Jaime Garcia(notes).
Heyward, like Castro, is 20. Unlike Castro and Posey, Heyward began the season in the majors, so he has played in more games and amassed more at-bats. His on-base percentage is one of the best in baseball, he hits with power, runs well and his team is in the thick of a playoff chase. Posey will get my vote (I have one) because he's outhit everybody since getting promoted in late May, and like Castro plays a premium defensive position. Garcia has been a rotation stalwart all season, and his 2.70 ERA will especially resonate with voters.
"It's a great year for rookies, I've noticed that," Castro said. "Every team seems to have good young players."
Castro might fall as far as fourth in the NL voting. The Cubs aren't in the playoff hunt and he is struggling to the finish line, having never played this deep into September. Interim manager Mike Quade benched Castro three weeks ago for "lapses in concentration" that included forgetting the number of outs, getting picked off and getting confused on defense on a double-steal play.
But Quade, Trammell and the rest of the Cubs cut Castro slack. They recognize his energy, talent and value to the franchise. And besides …
"Hey, he's 20," Trammell said. "I remember 20. It's tough being thrust into a situation you aren't sure you can handle. He's better than I was at that age. He's better than just about anybody I've ever seen at that age."
2010 All-rookie team
C: Buster Posey, Giants: In addition to dominating NL pitching with a sophisticated hitting approach, Posey looks entirely comfortable playing a key role in a pennant race. He'd be the slam-dunk Rookie of the Year if he'd played the entire season in the big leagues and he might win it anyway.
1B: Gaby Sanchez(notes), Marlins: Although at 27 he is a late-bloomer, Sanchez won the first-base job in a battle with Logan Morrison(notes) during spring training and has been a consistent contributor, playing every day and keeping his OPS over .800.
2B: Neil Walker(notes), Pirates: When the Pirates took Walker with their first-round pick in 2004 they didn't think it'd take six years for him to make a splash. But at 24 he finally appears to have become the offensive-minded second baseman they envisioned.
SS: Starlin Castro, Cubs: Fellow Dominican shortstop Miguel Tejada(notes) is his idol and Cubs teammate Alfonso Soriano(notes) is his mentor. A lot of people are looking after Castro, a once-in-a-generation talent who could become the best shortstop on the North Side since Ernie Banks.
3B: Chris Johnson(notes), Astros: A former college player who took parts of five seasons to reach the big leagues, Johnson at 26 has shown he can hit for average and power, solving a problem position for the Astros for years to come.
OF: Mike Stanton(notes), Marlins: At 20, Stanton is one of baseball's most exciting prospects because of his immense power. He just needs to make a tad more contact, cutting down on strikeouts and boosting his batting average to the .270 range.
OF: Austin Jackson, Tigers: The likely American League Rookie of the Year, Jackson has put together an impressive season across the board, batting leadoff and playing center field every day.
OF: Jason Heyward(notes), Braves: The favorite for the NL Rookie of the Year award, Heyward played the entire season in the big leagues, has a robust OPS and barring injury will be a premier player for many years.
C: John Jaso(notes), Rays: Patient hitter has filled the leadoff role for the playoff-bound Rays by walking far more often than he strikes out.
1B: Ike Davis(notes), Mets: Justifying his first-round pick status, Davis moved quickly through the minors and gave the Mets a much-needed run-producing presence in the batting order with an OPS hovering around .800.
3B: Danny Valencia(notes), Twins: Valencia has hit nearly .400 against left-handers and has kept his overall average over .320 most of the season. Not bad for a 19th-round draft pick.
Middle IF: Ian Desmond(notes), Nationals: Impatience at the plate remains a concern, but Desmond improved his hitting and defense as the season progressed and is a big part of the Nats' future.
OF: Tyler Colvin(notes), Cubs: A first-round pick out of Clemson in 2006, Colvin's numbers are nearly identical to those of Stanton, who gets the starting nod because he's five years younger.
OF: Jose Tabata(notes), Pirates: The Venezuela product has emerged as an intriguing full-service player, hitting for average, reaching base consistently, stealing bases and showing gap power. He also has the highest range factor among NL left fielders.
SP: Stephen Strasburg(notes), Nationals: Flat-out dominant until his elbow gave out, Strasburg was baseball's biggest attraction for 12 starts and will be again when he returns in the spring of 2012.
SP: Jaime Garcia, Cardinals: The left-hander from Mexico has had the best complete season of any rookie pitcher, keeping his ERA well below 3.00 and maintaining a respectable strikeout rate.
SP: Daniel Hudson(notes), Diamondbacks: Acquired from the White Sox in a mid-season trade, Hudson has been a bright spot in Arizona, going 7-1 with a 1.69 ERA and allowing only 51 hits in 80 innings.
SP: Mike Leake(notes), Reds: Skipping the minors entirely, Leake started the season as the top rookie pitcher and helped put the Reds in command of the NL Central before his shoulder gave out a month ago.
SP: Wade Davis(notes), Rays: His ERA is a touch above 4.00, but Davis has been a reliable back-of-the-rotation starter for a playoff-bound team.
RP: Jhoulys Chacin(notes), Rockies: An effective swingman who has kept his ERA in the low 3's despite pitching at Coors Field, Chacin strikes out a batter per inning.
RP: Hisanori Takahashi(notes), Mets: Another reliever who can also make spot starts, Takahashi is the oldest rookie on the team at 35. He began the season as a setup reliever in April, was a starter at midseason and has been the Mets' closer since late August.
RP: Aroldis Chapman(notes), Reds: He hasn't pitched many innings since being promoted Aug. 30, but Chapman can't be denied a spot on the roster after throwing 25 consecutive pitches of 100 mph or faster against the Padres on Friday, including one pitch 105.1 mph, the fastest ever recorded.
RP: John Axford(notes), Brewers: When Trevor Hoffman(notes) lost his closer role, Axford, 27, was the unlikely replacement. Nothing in the résumé of the 27-year-old Canadian suggested he'd go 8-1 with 22 saves, but it isn't a fluke: He has struck out 70 in 55 1/3 innings.
RP: Jonny Venters(notes), Braves: A middling starter in the minors, Venters has flourished as a setup man for Billy Wagner(notes), striking out 88 and allowing 55 hits in 80 innings.
Closer: Neftali Feliz, Rangers: A top prospect blessed with a triple-digit fastball, Feliz is a converted starter who quickly latched onto the closer role with the playoff-bound Rangers. His 38 saves are among league leaders.
Pedro Alvarez(notes), Pirates 3B; Carlos Santana(notes), Indians C; Reid Brignac(notes), Rays MI; David Freese(notes), Cardinals 3B; Alcides Escobar(notes), Brewers SS; Brennan Boesch(notes), Tigers OF; Madison Bumgarner(notes), Giants SP; Jon Jay(notes), Cardinals OF; Jon Niese, Mets SP; Travis Wood(notes), Reds SP; Brian Matusz(notes), Orioles SP.