By J.R. Lebert aka jrlebert

Have you ever heard of George Watkins? Sounds a lot like a local Congressman, or maybe a long time television actor, right? Well, unless you guessed rookie ballplayer for the 1930 St. Louis Cardinals of the National League, you would be dead wrong.

Why am I bringing up a pre-war ballplayer with fewer than 900 career games played? Because until Mike Trout this year, no other rookie since 1901, playing in more than 80 games had put up these video game type numbers: .350+ AVG, .410+ OBP, .600+ SLG, and 15+ HRs. That’s 112 years of history, with thousands of players, and the list is now up to a gaudy two, if Trout can hold his current numbers. That’s it, Mike Trout and George Watkins, though Watkins had only played in 117 games.

One major difference between these two, however, is this: Mike Trout is having one of the greatest rookie seasons in ML history.

NOTE: At the time of this article, Mike Trout had played in 78 games, and his line reads .354/.411/.601.

There is a very short list of greatest rookie seasons of all time, since the inception of the ROY award in 1947. Jackie Robinson, 1947. Fred Lynn, 1975. Mike Piazza, 1993. Nomar Garciaparra, 1997. Albert Pujols and Ichiro Suzuki, 2001. After this season, it will be time to add Mike Trout to that very short list.

There are quite a few factors that play into my assertion. One quick caveat: While the rookie seasons of Hideo Nomo, Dwight Gooden, Herb Score, and Don Newcombe are also quite incredible, I am looking only at position players. Also, while the ROY is an individual award, you must also have had an impact on your team, or on baseball. You need to either play a tough defensive position, play fantastic defense, or both. Lastly, your numbers need to look like a video game. It’s not enough to just hit .300 or lead your team in a category or two.

Jackie Robinson’s 1947 season needs no explanation. While enduring unimaginable stress and ridicule being baseball’s first black ballplayer, he led the NL in SBs and sacrifice hits, and led his team to the NL pennant, falling in seven games to the Yankees. Further emphasizing his importance, despite plenty of writers who refused to vote for a player of color, Jackie still finished 5th in the MVP voting.

Fred Lynn ignited baseball in Boston in 1975. After finishing 3rd in the NL East in 1974, Lynn led Boston to an 11-win improvement and the World Series, losing to the Big Red Machine in seven. On the individual front, Lynn led the majors in doubles and SLG, and led the AL in runs and OPS, all while being selected an All Star and winning a Gold Glove playing center field. Most remarkably, Lynn became the first rookie to be named league Most Valuable Player.

Mike Piazza’s career as the greatest offensive catcher of all time began in 1993 with a bang. Leading the Dodgers to an 18-win improvement, Piazza won the Silver Slugger award while hitting .318 with 35 HRs and 112 RBIs, was named an All Star and the NL ROY, and finished 9th in the MVP vote. Not bad at all for a 62nd round draft pick.

Though there wasn’t an improvement in the team’s won/loss record in 1997, the Red Sox had a phenom at shortstop in Nomar Garciaparra. He led the majors in ABs, the AL in hits and triples, and hit .306 with 30 HRs and 44 doubles, while also being selected an All Star and Silver Slugger and finishing 8th in the MVP vote.

The 2001 season saw the ML debut of two players who would go on to have not only two of the 8 greatest rookie seasons ever, but who would establish themselves as two of baseball time greats. Albert Pujols’ Cardinals were already a powerhouse, winning 95 games the season before and 93 in his debut year, but adding his bat and glove to the order every day certainly made an impact. Though he didn’t lead the league in a single category, his slash lines read .329/.403/.610, going with totals of 194 hits, 37 HRs, 130 RBIs, and 112 runs scored. He finished 4th in the MVP vote, taking home an All Star nod and Silver Slugger award.

Ichiro Suzuki would go on to accomplish several notable feats in his rookie campaign. Improving on a 91-win season can be quite difficult, but the addition of the Japanese center fielder led to an AL best 116 wins, an unreal 25 win uptick. Unreal would also describe his individual numbers. A major league best 242 hits and 56 stolen bases to go with an AL leading .350 AVG. He was also the hardest to strike out, averaging over 13 ABs/K. He took home every major award, winning a Gold Glove, Silver Slugger, the ROY, and the 2001 AL MVP.

The Japanese import’s rookie year is widely considered the best ever, with an asterisk possibly given because of his years as a pro in Japan. It may be time for him to move over, however, with the addition of Mike Trout. After 20 games, the Anaheim Angels had 6 wins, a .300 winning percentage, and a lack of offense. Certainly, there was a bit of skepticism in calling up the rookie who’s cup of coffee the year earlier led to a .220 AVG and an 88 OPS+ (100 is league average). Boy, were those skeptics wrong.

In games Trout has played, the Angels are 47-31, for a .603 winning percentage. Though he has a 20 game deficit to make up on the rest of the league, Mike Trout leads the MAJORS in runs, SBs, and WAR, looking to become the first rookie since the ROY award to lead the lead in WAR. He also leads the AL in AVG and OPS+, and is second in triples and OBPS. Imagine if he had those 20 games! His defense in the outfield has produced the leading Web Gem on ESPN’s Baseball Tonight, and has accounted for numerous runs saved. The Angels have also closed the gap on the Rangers, the two-time reigning AL Champs, to just 4 games, after being down by double digits, and are in the lead for one of the two Wild Card spots.

Trout has become the most watched player in the league, whether it’s for his stolen base prowess, his incredible range in the outfield, or to watch him run out a triple in the gap. He scored in an AL and rookie record 15 straight games. His road AVG is higher than his home number, and has, amazingly, increased every month this season, all the way up to .405 in July thus far, with an incredible .464 OBP.

It remains to be seen whether Trout will win the MVP or Gold Glove awards, but he already seems a lock to win the Silver Slugger and ROY awards, despite the new Japanese sensation Yu Darvish’s rookie performance. If the Angels are able to catch the Rangers, or at least run away with the Wild Card, the MVP could certainly be in the cards.

Speaking of cards, following hot on the heels of Strasburg and Harper, Trout’s cards have soared past them both on their way to him being the hottest player on cardboard, or foilboard, or whatever else his stuff his printed on. Every single one of his rarest cards, whether from his pre-rookie years 2009 and 2010, or his rookie year of 2011 have absolutely skyrocketed. With literally hundreds to choose from, owning one isn’t tough, but owning a rare one will set you back a car or rent payment for sure.

Oh, and if all of this wasn’t enough, Mike Trout is also the youngest player in the American League, at just over 20 years old. We could be looking at the next Pete Rose or Willie Mays, but something tells me that in 20-30 years, people will be saying, “We could be looking at the next Mike Trout.”