It's that time of year when we start to see a bunch of top prospects make their way to the bigs for the first time. Which only makes one wonder about who's had baseball's best debuts.
Mike Moustakas just got called up by the Royals. Anthony Rizzo just debuted with the Padres on Thursday. Top prospects like Dustin Ackley and Brett Lawrie are set to arrive soon, while other top prospects like Michael Pineda, Eric Hosmer and Zach Britton have been present for a while. There's been a lot of talk about rookies this season, and it's only going to heat up as more and more of them make their way to the Majors.
When you talk about rookies, oftentimes you'll end up talking about the likelihood of their making an immediate impact. And while I was thinking about this, it occurred to me that there's no more immediate impact than a successful debut. It then occurred to me to satiate my own curiosity by investigating the best Major League debuts of all-time. Baseball-Reference makes this easy, and I will share with you what I have found.
Understand that, by limiting what follows to five position player debuts and five pitcher debuts, I'm excluding a lot of very good debuts. You can't possibly get mad about this.
9/14/99: 3-4, 2 HR
Quinn was supposed to be one of the sluggers of the future, and he got off to a great start. With Kansas City trailing Anaheim 4-1, Quinn socked a two-run homer in the sixth. And with Kansas City trailing Anaheim 4-3, Quinn socked a two-run homer in the eighth. then blew it in the ninth and Kansas City lost. It was all very Royals, except for the home runs part.
J.P. Arencibia, 8/7/10: 4-5, 1 2B, 2 HR
A John Buck thumb injury opened the door for the Blue Jays to promote Arencibia from triple-A Las Vegas, where he was slugging .626. His debut performance got kind of lost in what ended up a 17-11 contest, but Arencibia homered off James Shields on his first big league pitch, doubled off Shields on his second swing, singled off Dale Thayer on his third swing, and homered off Thayer on his fourth swing. Arencibia finally made an out in the seventh, but by that point the Jays were up by ten.
Willie McCovey, 7/30/59: 4-4, 2 3B
In this game, a 21-year-old McCovey forced a 21-year-old Orlando Cepeda to a different position. Making McCovey's debut extra impressive is that it came against Robin Roberts. There are a lot of Hall of Famers in this paragraph.
Bert Campaneris, 7/23/64: 3-4, 2 HR, 1 BB, 1 SB
I wonder how many people realize that Bert Campaneris' given first name is Dagoberto. Facing Jim Kaat in the top of the first, Campaneris launched the very first Major League pitch he ever saw for a home run. Later, with his A's trailing the 3-1 in the seventh, Campaneris blasted another home run to tie the game. Considering Campaneris only hit 82 total home runs over a 19-year career, he made quite the first impression.
4/6/2004: 3-3, 2 2B, 1 HR, 2 BB
Matsui made an immediate impression, reaching base all five times he came to the plate. Granted, the were playing the and the Braves' starter was , who posted a lifetime OBP against of .956, but Matsui hit the very first pitch he ever saw out of the yard. Interestingly, Matsui was batting in front of Ricky Gutierrez. No one would've guessed at the time that, of the two, Gutierrez would end up having had the better career.
Juan Marichal, 7/19/60: 9 IP, 0 R, 12 K
Facing the , Marichal took a perfect game into the seventh before a batter reached on an error. Marichal then took a no-hitter into the eighth before Clay Dalrymple came up with a pinch-hit single. Dalrymple also broke up a no-hit bid by Gaylord Perry in the eighth inning of a game in 1966. Clay Dalrymple was a jerk.
Karl Spooner, 9/2/54: 9 IP, 0 R, 15 K
Spooner came up at 23 and dominated the Giants in his debut, throwing 143 pitches. His next time out, in his second and last start of the season, he blanked the , throwing 127 pitches. He developed arm trouble soon thereafter and was out of the Majors by 1956. Back in the good old days, pitchers were workhorses, God dammit.
7/28/97: 8 IP, 0 R, 12 K
Woodard didn't only shut down the in his Major League debut; he outdueled , who would go on to win the Cy Young. Woodard posted a lifetime K/9 of 6.3, and he would never again strike out 12 batters in a game. It's worth noting that Woodard allowed one hit - a leadoff double by Otis Nixon.
Jimmy Jones, 9/21/86: 9 IP, 0 R, 5 K
Jones is considered a nobody now, but the Padres drafted him third overall in 1982. He debuted with a stellar performance against the , spinning a complete game, one-hit shutout. That one hit - the Astros' only baserunner of the game - was a triple by Bob Knepper. Bob Knepper was the Astros' starting pitcher, and he posted a career average of .137.
Rudy May, 4/18/65: 9 IP, 1 R, 10 K
May was 20 years old when the brought him up to start against Denny McLain and the . May responded by allowing one unearned run over nine innings of work and taking a no-hitter into the eighth. Pinch-hitter Jake Wood broke it up with a double, and Wood scored on an error by Bobby Knoop. Because of the error, the game went into extras, and May was not involved in the decision. Fun fact: because of this game, I learned that the Tigers had a reliever named Larry Sherry.