The title might be problematical: one guy’s nowhere is another guy’s somewhere. Along those same lines, one fan’s nobody is another fan’s hidden gem. In this era, no player truly comes from out of nowhere, but perhaps we can agree that players whose rookie seasons do not take place until they are 26 years or older might be coming from somewhere outside of baseball’s limelight.
When it comes to the Royals, we are talking about Whit Merrifield and Brett Eibner or even Paulo Orlando if you want to skip back a year. All players who spent their share of time in the minors. Players who had seemingly moved from prospect to the dreaded ‘organizational filler.’ Guys who had seemingly gotten to Omaha and were destined to wander the veteran pathways of AAA. Maybe you had not given up hope on Merrifield and Eibner, but it had become tough to call them ‘prospects’ any longer.
When the two, born less than two months apart, made their major league debuts, less than a month apart, they were both 27 years old. That, in itself, is not uncommon. To turn such a late debut into a productive season, however, is a bit more rare. Let’s take a look at the list of the most productive rookies who were at least 26 years of age since the year 2000 and maybe dream a little that Merrifield or Eibner (injury notwithstanding) making this list.
When you run a search under this criteria, one comes up with the likes of Ichiro Suzuki and Jose Abreu at the top of the list. I don’t care to debate what the definition of a major league rookie might be, but I don’t think it is inappropriate to say that players like those two (plus Kang, Cespedes, Aoki, et.al.) are not really comparable studies the current Royals rookies. I hope that does not smack of colonialism.
At any rate, weeding those accomplished players from the ranks, yields this group of ‘old’ rookies:
|Dan Uggla (RoY-3rd)||5.4||2006||26||FLA||154||0.282||0.339||0.480|
|Mike Aviles (RoY-4th)||3.7||2008||27||KCR||102||0.325||0.354||0.480|
|Scott Podsednik (RoY-2nd)||3.6||2003||27||MIL||154||0.314||0.379||0.443|
|David Eckstein (RoY-4th)||3.2||2001||26||ANA||153||0.285||0.355||0.357|
|Josh Willingham (RoY-9th)||2.8||2006||27||FLA||142||0.277||0.356||0.496|
|Jay Payton (RoY-3rd)||2.6||2000||27||NYM||149||0.291||0.331||0.447|
|Todd Frazier (RoY-3rd)||2.5||2012||26||CIN||128||0.273||0.331||0.498|
|Garrett Jones (RoY-7th)||2.2||2009||28||PIT||82||0.293||0.372||0.567|
|Dustan Mohr (RoY-8th)||1.9||2002||26||MIN||120||0.269||0.325||0.433|
|Clint Barmes (RoY-8th)||1.7||2005||26||COL||81||0.289||0.330||0.434|
|Brock Holt (RoY-8th)||1.5||2014||26||BOS||106||0.281||0.331||0.381|
|David Lough (RoY-8th)||1.1||2013||27||KCR||96||0.286||0.311||0.413|
|Mark Quinn (RoY-3rd)||0.6||2000||26||KCR||135||0.294||0.342||0.488|
|John Jaso (RoY-5th)||0.5||2010||26||TBR||109||0.263||0.372||0.378|
|Mitch Meluskey (RoY-5th)||0.4||2000||26||HOU||117||0.300||0.401||0.487|
The vast majority of this list (more than I anticipated) had spent time in the majors prior to their ‘rookie’ season. I guess an adequate disclaimer should be added to state that some of these players made their major league debut prior to being 26 years old, but still held rookie status in the year above. Matt Diaz, among others, are on the list and had collected in excess of 100 major league at-bats in the season prior (or multiple seasons for some) to what is shown.
In fact, should you choose to really boil this list down? Here is the complete list of players from the above list who did not already have at least a cup of coffee in the majors the preceding year: Dan Uggla, Mike Aviles, David Eckstein and Josh Hamilton. The end.
Take comfort in those four players being in the top eight on the chart, but take caution that there are FOUR position players since 2000 who made their major league debut in what was technically their rookie season AND supplied more than 1.0 WARP in value. In case of these four, the numbers were 2.9 WARP and above, so perhaps we take solace that Eibner and Merrifield, in particular, fit similar profiles of these four.
Use your own definition of rookie and nowhere and prospect, but know that the road down which Whit Merrifield has embarked does not always lead upward.02