Six-pack: This season’s most impactful rookies

Stephen Strasburg isn’t expected to arrive in the majors until next month, but plenty of rookies already are getting their chances. Many of them already are making an impact, too.

The top three rookies from each league through the first five-plus weeks:

NATIONAL LEAGUE

Even with his strong start, David Freese is looking over his shoulder at a teammate.
Even with his strong start, David Freese is looking over his shoulder at a teammate.

Jason Heyward, RF, Braves: If you read Sporting News magazine, you knew the 20-year-old phenom had a chance to make an impact when he was named our breakout player for 2010. No one, however, figured he would be his team’s best player. Heyward leads the Braves in homers and RBIs and even moved into the 3 hole this week.

David Freese, 3B, Cardinals. Injuries cost him a chance to take over third base in 2009, but he is healthy and hitting this season. "I’m just going day to day trying to keep things simple," Freese says. Freese, 27, leads N.L. rookies in average (.310) and trails only Heyward in RBIs, but he might not be rookie of the year on his own team. Lefthanded starter Jaime Garcia also is off to a strong start with a 1.18 ERA after six starts.

Mike Leake, SP, Reds. While Reds phenom Aroldis Chapman refines his command in the minors, Leake is making a name as the first pitcher to skip the minors since 1995 (Cuban Ariel Prieto). Leake escaped a bases-loaded, no-out jam in his first start without allowing a run and has continued to show the ability to pitch out of trouble. He is 3-0 with a 3.10 ERA. "He gets the whole gig," teammate Bronson Arroyo says. "You don’t have to tell him twice about anything, whether it’s getting beer for the bus or being on the bench for nine innings. And the things he’s doing on the field are phenomenal."

AMERICAN LEAGUE

Austin Jackson leads the majors in hits. His next assignment is bat control.
Austin Jackson leads the majors in hits. His next assignment is bat control.

Austin Jackson, CF, Tigers: Though he never had played in a major league game, Detroit made him its center fielder and leadoff hitter when it traded Curtis Granderson. Jackson hasn’t disappointed. He leads not only rookies in hits (51) but also the entire majors. He is far from a finished product, though. He also ranks among the major league leaders in strikeouts.

Neftali Feliz, RP, Rangers: He burst on the scene last season with a fastball clocked in the high-90-mph range and went to spring training with a chance to make the rotation. Feliz, 22, since has found his calling in the ninth inning, at least temporarily. Since taking over as closer, Felix has saved nine of 11 chances and recently enjoyed a 10-day stretch when he allowed only one hit and no runs while converting six consecutive save opportunities.

Mitch Talbot, SP, Indians: If the Rays hadn’t traded him to Cleveland, he still would be in the minors. Instead, Talbot is the majors’ winningest rookie (4-2), and his 3.43 ERA is second to Tampa Bay’s Wade Davis among AL rookies.

Stan McNeal is a writer for Sporting News. E-mail him at smcneal@sportingnews.com.

Stephen Strasburg isn’t expected to arrive in the majors until next month, but plenty of rookies already are getting their chances. Many of them already are making an impact, too.

The top three rookies from each league through the first five-plus weeks:

NATIONAL LEAGUE

Even with his strong start, David Freese is looking over his shoulder at a teammate.
Even with his strong start, David Freese is looking over his shoulder at a teammate.

Jason Heyward, RF, Braves: If you read Sporting News magazine, you knew the 20-year-old phenom had a chance to make an impact when he was named our breakout player for 2010. No one, however, figured he would be his team’s best player. Heyward leads the Braves in homers and RBIs and even moved into the 3 hole this week.

David Freese, 3B, Cardinals. Injuries cost him a chance to take over third base in 2009, but he is healthy and hitting this season. "I’m just going day to day trying to keep things simple," Freese says. Freese, 27, leads N.L. rookies in average (.310) and trails only Heyward in RBIs, but he might not be rookie of the year on his own team. Lefthanded starter Jaime Garcia also is off to a strong start with a 1.18 ERA after six starts.

Mike Leake, SP, Reds. While Reds phenom Aroldis Chapman refines his command in the minors, Leake is making a name as the first pitcher to skip the minors since 1995 (Cuban Ariel Prieto). Leake escaped a bases-loaded, no-out jam in his first start without allowing a run and has continued to show the ability to pitch out of trouble. He is 3-0 with a 3.10 ERA. "He gets the whole gig," teammate Bronson Arroyo says. "You don’t have to tell him twice about anything, whether it’s getting beer for the bus or being on the bench for nine innings. And the things he’s doing on the field are phenomenal."

AMERICAN LEAGUE

Austin Jackson leads the majors in hits. His next assignment is bat control.
Austin Jackson leads the majors in hits. His next assignment is bat control.

Austin Jackson, CF, Tigers: Though he never had played in a major league game, Detroit made him its center fielder and leadoff hitter when it traded Curtis Granderson. Jackson hasn’t disappointed. He leads not only rookies in hits (51) but also the entire majors. He is far from a finished product, though. He also ranks among the major league leaders in strikeouts.

Neftali Feliz, RP, Rangers: He burst on the scene last season with a fastball clocked in the high-90-mph range and went to spring training with a chance to make the rotation. Feliz, 22, since has found his calling in the ninth inning, at least temporarily. Since taking over as closer, Felix has saved nine of 11 chances and recently enjoyed a 10-day stretch when he allowed only one hit and no runs while converting six consecutive save opportunities.

Mitch Talbot, SP, Indians: If the Rays hadn’t traded him to Cleveland, he still would be in the minors. Instead, Talbot is the majors’ winningest rookie (4-2), and his 3.43 ERA is second to Tampa Bay’s Wade Davis among AL rookies.

Stan McNeal is a writer for Sporting News. E-mail him at smcneal@sportingnews.com.

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