Evan Carter, Corbin Carroll and MLB's precocious rookie class unfazed by pressure-packed playoffs

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Philadelphia Phillies' Johan Rojas is congratulated by Brandon Marsh (16) after catching a long fly ball hit by Atlanta Braves' Ronald Acuna Jr. during the seventh inning of Game 4 of a baseball NL Division Series Thursday, Oct. 12, 2023, in Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)

Johan Rojas dashed toward the warning track in a crucial October moment, sized up the hard-hit ball that was hurtling toward the fence and made a leaping catch before crashing into the wall as the crowd at Citizens Bank Park roared in approval.

Not bad for a guy who's been in the big leagues for about three months.

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The Philadelphia Phillies' defensive wizard is among a handful of rookies who have made a huge impact in baseball's postseason, joining Arizona Diamondbacks outfielder Corbin Carroll and Texas Rangers standouts Evan Carter and Josh Jung. The youthful playoff infusion is the continuation of one of the best regular seasons for rookie hitters in MLB history.

There have been 19 rookies with at least one plate appearance this postseason through Tuesday, and that group was hitting a combined .238 with a .789 OPS. Five rookies — Carter, Carroll, Baltimore’s Gunnar Henderson and Minnesota’s Royce Lewis and Edouard Julien — had OPS totals over 1.000, and Jung wasn’t far behind at .947. The postseason average for all players was .712.

And it’s just the latest example of first-year players taking October by storm. Two of the last three ALCS MVPs — Randy Arozarena in 2020 and Jeremy Peña in 2022 — were rookies. Peña also won World Series MVP.

The 23-year-old Rojas is known more for his glove that his bat, and his catch of a Ronald Acuña Jr. smash preserved a 3-1 lead for the Phillies in Game 4 of the NL Division Series on Oct. 12, helping them beat the Braves and advance to the NLCS.

“This kid is so poised,” Phillies manager Rob Thomson said. “He’s so good of an athlete, electric in the outfield. I felt like he was going to catch it.

“So he’s been a huge addition to our ballclub. He really has, even if he doesn’t do anything at the plate. And he’s had decent at-bats. But if he does nothing at the plate, just his defense helps the club.”

Arizona's Carroll, who is also 23, is among the leading candidates for NL Rookie of the Year after swatting 25 homers and stealing 54 bases. The All-Star hasn't been fazed by his first appearance in the postseason, batting .333 with two homers, two stolen bases and six walks through seven games.

He helped the surprising D-backs sweep the 100-win Los Angeles Dodgers in the NL Division Series and advance to the NLCS, which is the deepest the franchise has played into the postseason since 2007.

“I’d say adrenaline-wise, it’s probably felt about the same as the regular season, maybe a tiny bit more,” Carroll said. “For whatever reason I wouldn’t say I’ve gotten too amped up.”

They'll almost certainly need some more Carroll heroics if they're going to advance to the World Series. The Phillies have a 2-0 lead over the D-backs in the NLCS after a 10-0 win Tuesday night.

Then there's Jung and Carter, who have helped make the Rangers' lineup among the deepest in baseball. The 25-year-old Jung was among the leading candidates for AL Rookie of the Year before a fractured left thumb in early August caused him to miss several weeks.

It's probably no coincidence that the Rangers started to struggle around the time he got hurt — the third baseman hit 23 homers during the regular season. Texas had a 73-49 record in games he played during the regular season and a 17-23 mark when he didn't.

The 21-year-old Carter has given the Rangers a massive boost since making his big league debut on Sept. 8. He hit .306 with five homers in the final weeks of the regular season and has continued pounding baseballs in the postseason, with a .350 average and .536 on-base percentage.

“You have to be impressed with these two young kids, how they’re carrying themselves, handling the intense games that we’re playing in,” Rangers manager Bruce Bochy said. “You wouldn’t know it with these two. I love their focus. They’re not afraid of anything.

"These guys want to be out there. They want to be in the fire. You can see it.”

Texas shortstop Corey Seager said Jung's return and Carter's call-up provided the spark the team needed to snap out of a late-season funk. The Rangers currently have a 2-0 lead over the defending World Series champion Houston Astros in the AL Championship Series.

“You need that extra little energy, that extra little edge, just a little more hustle, that little thing that just pushes you and reminds you of where you are in the season and what you’re looking for, and it’s extremely beneficial,” Seager said.

With all their success, it's no surprise that the quartet of young standouts are very popular in their home markets.

And they're just the ones still playing — Henderson, Lewis and Julien all played well in October even though their teams were eventually eliminated.

“Everyone welcomed me with open arms, and there’s no better feeling for a rookie like me,” Rojas said. “I love playing for this team. I love playing for this city. I love playing for this crowd, for these fans. It’s an awesome place to be.”


AP Baseball Writer Stephen Hawkins in Arlington, Texas, contributed to this report.


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