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New Kids on the Block: Baseball’s Young Stars

This year’s class of MLB rookies features several premier players. With standout speed, power, and fielding, they’ve shown talent rarely seen at such a young age. Here are five rising stars to watch this season.

Aaron Judge: Rightfielder, New York Yankees

Judge is huge, standing 6’7” and weighing 280 pounds. Many people thought his size would make it difficult to play at a high level. But Judge has surprised the doubters, proving that he has plenty of athleticism to pair with his power. Judge leads the American League with 23 home runs, 52 RBIs, and a .335 batting average, giving him a chance at the Triple Crown. In a recent game against the Orioles, Judge smashed two home runs. One of them traveled 496 feet, the longest home run since ESPN began tracking in 2009. The moon shot came a day after he hit the hardest home run of the season, coming off his bat at 121 MPH. He already has his own cheering section at Yankee Stadium called “The Judge’s Chambers,” located directly behind rightfield. Judge has some people wondering if he might be the first player since Ichiro to simultaneously own Rookie of the Year and Most Valuable Player honors.

Andrew Benintendi: Leftfielder, Boston Red Sox

Coming into the season as the No. 1 prospect on most lists, Andrew Benintendi is among the game’s most talented young players. Standing just 5’10”, he doesn’t possess an intimidating physique. But he has a combination of speed and power that sets him apart. Benintendi has quick bat speed, great mechanics at the plate, and good knowledge of the strike zone. Benintendi currently leads the Red Sox with 39 RBIs. He also uses his quickness and agility to track down deep fly balls and impact the game with speed on the basepaths. Earlier this week, with the Red Sox and Phillies knotted at 3, Benintendi cut down the go-ahead run at the plate in the eighth inning. He then won the game for them on his first career walk-off hit, an RBI double in the twelfth inning. Red Sox fans hope they have an answer for New York's Judge in Benintendi, who is just 22 years old.

Cody Bellinger: Leftfielder/ First Base, Los Angeles Dodgers

Cody Bellinger is one of the biggest surprises early in the season and was named the National League’s Rookie of the Month for May. Bellinger has huge power. On April 29, against the Phillies, Bellinger smashed the first two home runs of his MLB career. The second homer came in a clutch at-bat, part of a Dodgers’ rally with back-to-back-to-back home runs in a ninth-inning, come-from-behind victory. He currently leads his team with 19 home runs and 43 RBIs. Having played in fewer than 50 games, his home run total is tied for the most in MLB history in that amount of time. Bellinger also has four multihomer games. Teammate Corey Seager was last year’s National League Rookie of the Year. It looks like Bellinger may be on track to follow in his footsteps.

Ian Happ: Centerfield/Second Base, Chicago Cubs

Ian Happ can do it all. The versatile 22-year-old can play centerfield and second base, hit from both sides of the plate, and is as athletic as they come. He was called up to the big leagues in mid-May. Facing the Cardinals on June 4, Happ broke through with two home runs. He knocked in four runs to help give the Cubs a 7–6 victory. Soon after his debut, Happ moved to the top of the lineup where he’ll have a chance to make a big impact. Happ is still adjusting to major league pitching. Although he has a tendency to strike out a lot, his potential is still evident. Happ showcases plenty of power with a nice fluid swing. In only 28 games, he has tallied seven doubles, one triple, and seven home runs, including a monster gland slam against the Mets. The Cubs, who are struggling to recapture their championship form, are counting on Happ’s productivity to get back to the playoffs.

(Photo credit: Mike Stobe/Getty Images)