Especially after a quiet off-season and a surprisingly slow trade deadline, the 2019 Los Angeles Dodgers have been defined by their seemingly endless supply of top-tier rookies. Starting with Alex Verdugo’s quick ascension to everyday player status, each month (or seemingly each week) has seen a new face win games night after night.
These rookies have made history in their consistently stellar play. In June, Verdugo, Matt Beaty and Will Smith became the first rookies on a team to hit a walk-off home run in three consecutive games. Smith just surpassed Cody Bellinger’s 2017 rookie mark for most RBIs and homers in 23 games played. As if the offensive firepower wasn’t exciting enough, the already MLB-best pitching corps recently got a boost with the arrival of Dustin May and Tony Gonsolin, who have the potential to solidify both the rotation and bullpen this postseason.
It’s a testament to how resplendent the farm system has become in recent years, but the young guns of 2019 are merely the latest in a long tradition of superior rookie classes. Given the Dodgers have an MLB record 18 Rookies of the Year, they have had many years where multiple players of renown made their debut. How does this year’s squad compare to them?
I just filled out a hypothetical NL ROY ballot and the list of guys having good years who *didn't* make my top 3 is just hilarious ….
… SO MUCH TALENT
— Mike Petriello (@mike_petriello) August 12, 2019
We’re not mad, Mike, we’re just disappointed.
For many fans, especially those of younger generations, 2006 is the definition of a prestigious Dodger rookie class. After the monstrously disappointing 2005 season, the 2006 team made the postseason thanks to the electric performances of newcomers Andre Ethier, Matt Kemp, Russell Martin, and James Loney.
Technically, assessment of the class of ‘06 isn’t complete as Martin is back with the team, with a chance to get a ring this year. But Ethier retired in 2018, while Loney hung up the cleats earlier this year. After a comeback season last year, Matt Kemp was shipped off to Cincinnati this past off-season and looks like his career is starting to fade out. All told, they combined for nine postseason appearances and two pennants. So far, anyway.
This is a somewhat underrated cadre of rookies, albeit one full of some of the biggest names for the Dodgers in the ‘80s. The team’s best rookie campaigns were obviously in the prior two years, Fernando Valenzuela in 1981 and Steve Sax in 1982. But 1983 saw the likes of R.J. Reynolds, Orel Hershiser, Greg Brock, Mike Marshall, Sid Bream, Gilberto Reyes, Dave Sax, Candy Maldonado, and Dave Anderson take the field.
Reynolds made an immediate impact with a suicide squeeze that helped seal the NL West division crown, while Hershiser would go on to become one of the defining aces of baseball for years. Anderson, Marshall and Reyes would prove to be key players in ways both big and small for the 1988 team. The class of ‘83 was a perfect mix of marquee names and bit players who shaped another solid era of Dodger success.
If there is one rookie class that merits the title of best in Dodger history, it’s this one 50 years ago. After two subpar years following the sudden retirement of Sandy Koufax in 1966, the Dodgers posted a winning record in 1969 and began to set the stage for their next golden age.
This is the year Steve Garvey and Bill Russell debuted, who would team up with Davey Lopes and Ron Cey four years later to form the durable Infield all the way until 1981. With a single at-bat against the Giants, Bill Buckner also donned the blue for the first time, and would go on to become one of the best hitters in all of MLB.
Combined, these players would lead the Dodgers to four pennants and a championship. They made for consistent winning baseball in the final years for Walter Alston as manager, and Tommy Lasorda’s first years as well. Garvey and Russell in particular were durable stars for years to come, all the more noteworthy in today’s youth-oriented game.
So, it has to be asked: is 2019 already on track to be the greatest rookie class in Dodger history? Well, that question can’t be answered just yet. We have years upon decades of hindsight for the other ones mentioned, so it wouldn’t make sense to crown these new kids on the block the best just yet.
In terms of immediate impact, though, this certainly might be the most exciting one in terms of how they’ve elevated the team’s quality. The 2019 Dodgers right now stand to be the best team since the franchise moved to Los Angeles, and might be the best in all eras period. They’ve reached it by improving internally rather than acquiring big stars, and that wouldn’t have happened without the likes of Verdugo and Smith in particular.
In my view, there are two things that need to happen for 2019 to truly become the best rookie corps in franchise history in the quickest amount of time possible. The first is calling up top prospect Gavin Lux, which will no doubt happen in September. The second is to win a World Series right away this October. That would not only stand out in comparison to other classes, but also set an even greater stage for the rest of their careers in Dodger Blue.