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Year of the Rookie

With veteran help in short supply, talented first-year players are stepping into key roles for contenders, adding an X-factor to the wide-open playoff races

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By Tom Verducci

One day in late May, Matt Kemp was in Huntsville, Ala., preparing to play outfield for the Double A Jacksonville Suns. The next day he was in Washington, D.C., making his big league debut for the Los Angeles Dodgers. The difficulty in adapting to such a swift move was immediately and painfully obvious. Kemp misplayed a ball in centerfield and whiffed three times on sliders from the Nationals' Ramon Ortiz, a rather pedestrian righthander. Dodgers general manager Ned Colletti would later say that Kemp, 21, who only three years ago was playing high school baseball and being recruited to play basketball at Oklahoma, "looked totally overmatched."   ... To get immediate access to this complete story you must be a SPORTS ILLUSTRATED magazine subscriber. If you are not currently a subscriber, see below for a special offer.

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