A new baseball postseason brings with it a chance for new players to have their star moment.
Around Major League Baseball right now, there are quite a few young players who have had stellar seasons and are now ready to approach the biggest month of the season — when the lighters are brighter, the headlines are bigger and the whole nation is watching.
Sure, we’ll see the likes of Clayton Kershaw, Alex Bregman, Max Scherzer and Aaron Judge playing October baseball. But we’ll also see stars-in-the-making like Jack Flaherty, Juan Soto, Yordan Alvarez and Gavin Lux.
Our crew of MLB writers picked one such fresh face from each postseason team, names you should know about as you prepare for baseball’s exciting final month.
Jack Flaherty, St. Louis Cardinals
For the final three months of the season, there was no better starting pitcher than Jack Flaherty, the 23-year-old right-hander for the St. Louis Cardinals.
Not Justin Verlander. Not Gerrit Cole. Not Jacob deGrom. Jack Flaherty.
On the afternoon of July 7, the Cardinals were 44-43 and by all appearances bound for a fourth consecutive dark October. Flaherty took a no-hitter into the seventh inning that night in San Francisco. And while the Cardinals lost that game, Flaherty had discovered himself in his second full season. In his final 14 starts, Flaherty was 6-3 with a 1.07 ERA, and 113 strikeouts and 21 walks over 92 ⅓ innings.
Days later, the Cardinals retook their season, embarking on a run in which they would win 12 of their next 14 games and were a National League-best 42-22 through the end of the season. Dakota Hudson, Flaherty’s 25-year-old rotation mate also in his second full season (his first as a starter), was 9-3 with a 3.15 ERA in the second half.
As a result, the Cardinals would pitch their way past the Chicago Cubs and Milwaukee Brewers and into their first AL Central title since 2015. — Tim Brown
Yordan Alvarez, Houston Astros
In most MLB seasons, a rookie as dominant as Yordan Alvarez would have been the talk of baseball. In this year's deep crop, he's merely been a background player. That will likely change under the spotlight of October.
The 22-year-old slugger lit up Triple-A pitching in April and May, smashing 23 homers and 16 doubles in just 46 games. He's been every bit as good against big-league pitching, needing only 62 MLB games to record 40 extra-base hits. Since 1900, only Joe Dimaggio has reached that mark faster. Alvarez's presence has taken an Astros lineup that was already great and given it an extra layer of ferociousness.
He's already top 10 in MLB in terms of average exit velocity (92.5 mph) and he's already reached Giancarlo Stanton territory with a home run measured at 117.9 mph off the bat. Sooner than later, Alvarez's at-bats will become must-see events. — Mark Townsend
Gavin Lux, Los Angeles Dodgers
The best young player on the Dodgers, a 100-win team that will likely run rampant over the rest of the National League, is 24-year-old soon-to-be-MVP Cody Bellinger. Unfortunately for this exercise, Bellinger will be making his third postseason appearance this year and no one reading this sentence right here is unfamiliar with his ascendance from good to great.
But part of what has made the Dodgers so successful this season is that after building a talented team and climbing comfortably atop their division, they added a handful of rookies down the stretch that will likely provide the kind of depth that proves pivotal in the postseason. Tony Gonsolin and Dustin May have bolstered the bullpen at a time when bullpens are often the Achilles' heel of even good teams; Will Smith is a walk-off machine who has deftly turned himself into the everyday catcher on a staff of once and future aces.
Instead, I'm going to tell you to look out for Gavin Lux, a 21-year-old well-positioned to contribute to the Dodgers' third-time's-a-charm run at a championship in the same year that he jumped from 65th to 2nd in MLB's prospect rankings. Before getting called up in September, he batted .347 with 26 homers and 76 RBI in 113 games combined between Double-A and Triple-A to earn Baseball America's minor league player of the year honors. And he kept that on-base energy rolling right on through to the first Major League pitch he ever saw. He has parlayed a cup of coffee into a likely spot on a playoff roster by slashing .273/.344/.436 in 17 games this month. And sure, that is an extremely small sample size, but what is October if not a chance to glorify someone for getting hot at exactly the right moment? — Hannah Keyser
Gio Urshela, New York Yankees
The Yankees passed on Manny Machado. Then Miguel Andujar got hurt. Enter Urshela, who they bought from Toronto late in 2018 for $25,000.
It should be noted: In the offseason, any team could’ve had him after the Yankees didn’t protect Urshela on the 40-man roster. Ultimately, the 27-year-old came back to the Bombers on a minor-league deal with a spring training invite.
The initial thought was that he could be a utility player. He’s been way more than that. In fact, he’s been better than Machado.
After posting a .589 OPS in parts of three seasons with the Indians and Blue Jays, Urshela has posted a .889 OPS in The Bronx. Plus, he’s always had a great glove at the hot corner. The Yankees wouldn’t be where they are without him. — Mike Mazzeo
Juan Soto, Washington Nationals
If the Washington Nationals somehow defy the odds and go on to win the World Series this year, their left-fielder, Juan Soto, will be able to legally participate in a champagne celebration. But just barely.
Soto will turn 21 on October 25 — one day before Game 4 of the 2019 World Series, the earliest date a team could lock up the championship.
But more importantly than his status as a legal-age celebrant, in his second year, Soto has established himself as a more-than-adequate replacement for the void left in the Nationals lineup by the loss of Bryce Harper to free agency. In fact, Soto’s numbers are comparable, in some cases, better than the ones put up by Harper last season.
This season Soto had matched Harper’s 2018 output in home runs (34), exceeded his RBI total by seven and posted an OPS more than 50 points higher (.949 to .889). And he has outperformed Harper’s first season in Philadelphia as well.
Perhaps most remarkably, Soto has been a model of consistency this season; only twice all year has he gone more than two games without a hit. Certainly, a player who finished second behind Atlanta’s Ronald Acuña Jr. in last year’s Rookie of the Year balloting is hardly unknown to baseball fans. But if he continues to perform at the level he has this season on the national stage of October baseball, he’ll achieve the next level of fame. — Wallace Matthews
Austin Meadows, Tampa Bay Rays
Austin Meadows had been pegged as a future star for a few years, but it took a trade for him to reach his potential.
Meadows, 24, was one of the players the Tampa Bay Rays got from the Pittsburgh Pirates in return for Chris Archer at the 2018 trade deadline. At that point, the hype had died down some from his prospect days and fans were curious what Meadows could do.
The answer, he proved in 2019, was plenty. Meadows was one of the best hitters in baseball early this season before getting sidelined by injuries. He showed it again in September, slashing .378/.472/.744 with nine homers and 20 RBIs. Yes, in September alone. He finished the season with 33 homers and 89 RBIs in 138 games. The Rays find themselves in a situation where one big hit can make the difference in the AL wild-card game, and Meadows is just the guy who can give it to them. — Mike Oz
Mike Soroka, Atlanta Braves
Tucked among more recognizable names like Jacob deGrom, Max Scherzer and Hyun Jin-Ryu, Atlanta’s Mike Soroka quietly finished the year with a 2.68 ERA. The rookie doesn’t generate headlines like others since he lacks that kerosene fastball, but his command allows him to register outs just as effectively.
He keeps the ball in the park and doesn’t offer many free passes. Atlanta went 19-10 in Soroka’s starts. Soroka has emerged as one of baseball’s best young pitchers, and this postseason will be his chance to introduce himself to the world if folks don’t know him yet.
Soroka gives the Braves an ace to match up against any team’s Game 1 starter in the NLDS. On a team with the likes of Ronald Acuña Jr., Freddie Freeman and Josh Donaldson, Soroka could be the next household name in short order. — Matt Ehalt
Keston Hiura, Milwaukee Brewers
Dedicated fantasy players will already be aware of Keston Hiura. The 23-year-old Hiura was drafted as a bat-first second baseman who mashed his way through the minors.
While it took Hiura a few games to adjust, he exploded in the second half, hitting .324/.391/.615, and making himself an essential cog during the Brewers' blazing hot September.
While Hiura shows plenty of pop and a fair amount of patience, he's not a finished product at the plate. His 30 percent strikeout rate can be exploited by better pitchers should the Brewers advance past the wild-card game. But if Hiura is locked in, he could easily take over a series and give the Brewers yet another dangerous weapon in the middle of the order. — Chris Cwik
Willians Astudillo, Minnesota Twins
Willians Astudillo doesn't look like your typical MLB player, and he doesn't play like one, either. He's low on power, high on contact, which is already weird for a back-up catcher. But there are few people who play the game with such unrestrained joy.
Watching him take an at-bat and run the bases is a breathtaking adventure because he throws his entire being into it. Even though Astudillo may not play much, seeing him — a player at least one organization completely gave up on — make it into the playoffs and take an at-bat would be a triumph for so many of baseball's misfits, outliers, and weirdos.
He's different, and at a time when baseball is trending toward homogeneity and sameness, his presence is a true delight. — Liz Roscher
Sean Murphy, Oakland A’s
It was a matter of time before Sean Murphy took over the starting catcher role in Oakland. And it took the 24-year-old rookie less than a month to be a mainstay behind the plate in the majors.
Murphy missed nearly three months with a torn meniscus in his left knee this summer and was limited to 41 minor league games. He was always heralded as an excellent receiver that worked well with his pitching staff, and the bat seems to have caught up with the glove.
Murphy batted .293/.384/.580 with 11 homers in the minors and went deep four times in his first 18 at-bats in Oakland. The A’s are anything but traditional with their pitching staff, which doesn’t make things easy for a young catcher. But Murphy seems up to the task, and the club is 10-4 when he’s behind the plate. Those odds might be favorable for a team trying to avoid playing only one game in October. — Gerard Gilberto
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