Flip on any highlight show, and you’re almost sure to see them, with those peach-fuzz faces and boyish features beneath their big league caps.
Mike Trout makes a diving catch on the warning track.
Manny Machado whacks another double into the corner at Camden Yards.
Bryce Harper belts a tape-measure home run or barrels into a catcher . . . or an outfield fence . . . or whatever stands in his way.
The next generation of baseball stars has arrived — straight from the senior prom, it seems — and these guys are changing the complexion of the grand ol’ game.
Derek Jeter is 39 and injured, left off the All-Star team for the first time in eight years.
Matt Harvey is 24 and merciless, with a polished array of breaking pitches to complement 98 mph heat.
“These guys are coming up now with incredible talent, these young players,” National League manager Bruce Bochy said Monday at Citi Field, where the New York Mets are hosting tonight’s All-Star game for the first time since Shea Stadium opened in 1964. “I think they are just getting better, faster, bigger, stronger still, and it’s impressive to watch.”
Trout and Harper, the Rookies of the Year last season, are making their second trip to the All-Star game. This time, they will start after getting elected by fans with a fervor for the new boys of summer.
Some of baseball’s best players are among the youngest on the field. Night after night, they put up unprecedented numbers and turn in spectacular plays that belie a birth certificate from the 1990s.
“It’s good for the game,” Trout said. “A lot of young guys are playing fearless, and making a name for themselves at an early stage in their career.”
Harper is 20, and Trout is all of 21. Barely old enough to vote, let alone buy a drink.
Machado, 21, was voted in by players, a significant sign of respect from his peers.
Well, mostly elders, actually. He certainly deserved it at a power-packed position after hitting 39 doubles in the first half, threatening the single-season record of 67 set by Earl Webb in 1931.
“Swing and hit the white ball coming at you. That’s all it is,” Machado said. “There’s no secret to it.”
Just like Little League, apparently. Sometimes, he makes it look that easy, too. But take a swing around the majors and you see it’s not only Trout, Harper and Machado.
There is Miami rookie Jose Fernandez, a 20-year-old All-Star with a Cy Young future. Don’t forget lefty Patrick Corbin (23), who is 11-1 with a 2.35 ERA for Arizona. And second-year
shortstop Jean Segura in Milwaukee, who leads the NL in hits at age 23.
“I feel pretty good when they compare me with those guys,”
Segura said about his place among baseball’s new breed.
Then there’s Harvey, the New York Mets ace with 29 major league starts to his name. His next one will be tonight on his home mound.
“For me, he’s the best pitcher in the game,” Diamondbacks outfielder Cody Ross said this month. “Not even just in the National League. He’s really good. I faced a lot of those guys in the American League last year, and I can’t say that I saw anyone better than him.
“His mound presence is as good as you’ll see.”
There are 12 All-Stars this season 24 or younger, seven in the National League. That’s the most since a dozen were selected in 1993, according to STATS — a group that included Ken Griffey Jr., Mike
Piazza, Gary Sheffield, Mike Mussina and Juan Gonzalez.
The only player from that bunch under 23 was 21-year-old catcher Ivan Rodriguez. This year, there are four.
That doesn’t include Los Angeles Dodgers sensation Yasiel Puig, left out of the game after six electric weeks in the big leagues at 22. More to come from him, for sure.
“Every guy that you just mentioned plays the game hard, plays it the right way every day. It’s so much fun to be part of that,” Harper said.
“I’m not going to back off the throttle at all. I’m full speed every day.”
In all, 12 players who qualified as rookies last season made the All-Star team this year. So much for sophomore slumps.
“There’s definitely a different breed of ballplayer coming out,” Minnesota manager Ron Gardenhire said last weekend. “This seems to be one of those cycles where a lot of young players are flashing quick.”
Although fresh faces are taking over, that doesn’t mean all the old guys are out. Mariano Rivera, Torii Hunter, Carlos Beltran and Bartolo Colon are back at the Midsummer Classic, bringing decades of experience and wisdom.