One of the most remarkable aspects of the Oakland A’s 2012 season was the number of rookies that played a significant role in helping the team reach the playoffs.
The bulk of Oakland’s rookie contributions came from the pitching staff, which at one point featured an all-rookie rotation. In fact, the A’s saw more rookie pitchers start games than any other playoff team in history. The bullpen was also stacked with rookie arms, but the lineup routinely featured rookies in key spots as well.
Yoenis Cespedes was Oakland’s most impressive position player rookie, but Josh Donaldson and Derek Norris had also claimed starting roles by season’s end, while Chris Carter added valuable depth.
The play of these rookies gave the A’s plenty of excitement during the 2012 regular season, and even more hope for the future. After all, if the above mentioned players can build upon their inaugural seasons and become even better, Oakland should be poised to contend for the next few years.
However, stellar rookie campaigns do not always equal stellar careers. The A’s should know that as well as any team in baseball.
Not so long ago, the A’s had a young shortstop named Bobby Crosby.
The baseball world as a whole may or may not remember Crosby, but A’s fans certainly will. In 2004, Crosby took over shortstop duties when Miguel Tejada left Oakland. The sting the A’s felt at losing their best player was instantly assuaged by the play of Crosby, who earned AL Rookie of the Year honors in nearly unanimous fashion.
Oh, Crosby was fun to watch in that rookie campaign. He amassed 22 homers, 34 doubles and 64 RBIs. He also drew an impressive number of walks, most likely because pitchers respected the power that he displayed. His work in the field was nifty, as he paired up with Mark Ellis to become a tremendously fun double-play combination to watch.
But there were warning signs as well. Crosby hit only .239 in 2004, the lowest mark ever for a Rookie of the Year. He also struck out far more times than the team would have liked. However, at the end of the day, those numbers got swept under the rug, overridden by the quality of his other stats, and Crosby got a contract extension at the start of the 2005 season.
The rest of the story is easy to guess, if only because Crosby never became the household name some assumed he would be after his rookie year. The batting average crept up in 2005 and the strikeouts fell, but the power departed and with it his ability to draw walks. After 2005, Crosby failed to put together a season in which his on-base-percentage reached .300. Plagued by nagging injuries, he never again hit double digit home runs. Even his effectiveness in the field fell, as his defensive Wins Above Replacement declined from 1.4 in his rookie season (ninth best in the AL) to -1.2 in his final year with Oakland.
By 2009, Crosby had fallen out of favor with the team and was replaced as the full-time shortstop by veteran Orlando Cabrera. Prior to the 2010 season, Crosby signed with the Pittsburgh Pirates. In July of that year, he was traded to the Arizona Diamondbacks, who cut him in early August. He has not played a big league game since.
Crosby’s sad tale is not the only recent story of unfulfilled promise from an A’s rookie. Ben Grieve won AL Rookie of the Year honors with the A’s in 1998 as a talented young outfielder. Though his decline was less dramatic than Crosby’s, Grieve also battled injuries, was relegated to a reserve role by 2003, and was out of the majors by 2006, never to return.
The A’s are not likely to feel as concerned about the rookie pitching, as the organization has had a remarkable track record of young pitchers turning out well, including another pair of former AL Rookies of the Year in Huston Street and Andrew Bailey.
Cespedes is also probably not concerning the team too much. Unlike Crosby and Grieve, the Cuban outfielder displayed few holes in his game as a rookie. He is a five-tool player, and barring injuries should live up to the hype.
But what about the other rookie hitters?
Carter, Donaldson and Norris all looked promising at moments. They all flashed some impressive power at the plate, and in the case of Donaldson and Norris, played some nice defense. All of them also struggled to hit for average and struck out quite a bit.
The parallels with Crosby are unmistakable.
This is not to say that Carter, Donaldson or Norris is the next Bobby Crosby. They all might well go on to have productive and memorable careers. Indeed, A’s fans should expect them to be successful, because they have shown that their capabilities are impressive.
But try as they might, Oakland and its fans cannot forget the career trajectories of Crosby and Grieve, at least not for the moment.
Perhaps Carter, Donaldson and Norris will have good careers that help A’s fans forever forget the fact that they once believed Bobby Crosby and Ben Grieve were budding stars. Until they do, Oakland’s enthusiasm over some of its young hitters will be ever so slightly tempered.