There are few storylines as exhilarating to follow as the rookie who explodes on to the scene. The 1990 Yankees were certainly in need of an exciting storyline in a season full of otherwise frustrating ones. They finished the year 67-95, and fell out of playoff contention rather quickly. Despite this, Kevin Maas delivered on that need, as a young rookie who stood in for the face of the franchise.
1990 Statistics: 79 games, 300 plate appearances, .252/.367/.535, 21 home runs, 41 RBI, 145 wRC+, 1.3 fWAR, 1.2 bWAR
The 1990 Yankees didn’t have a whole lot of things break their way. If anything was a sure bet into the year, it was their star first baseman Don Mattingly. But even he couldn’t help things in the Bronx, as the injury bug began to bite, and the lefty experienced his first real down season. He was banged up for most of the year, and when he did play, his power at the plate had all but disappeared.
To help supplement this loss to the team, the Yanks called up 25-year-old Kevin Maas at the end of June. He had a solid start to the season in Triple-A, as he hit 13 homers in 57 games, en route to a .973 OPS. He likely deserved a chance regardless, and Mattingly’s woes opened the door.
Maas, in promising fashion, hit the ground running upon arrival. The lefty notched his first hit in his debut against the White Sox, and swatted his first home run just a few days later. The rest of the campaign would be a dream for the rookie. The first homer was just a taste of what would come, as Maas and the right field seats became very familiar with each other in a short period.
Maas would eventually set some rookie records, including the fastest rookie (by plate appearances) to get to 10 home runs (a record that has since been broken by a couple other Yankees in Shane Spencer and Gary Sánchez). All of this on the way to hitting an impressive 21 total bombs in under a half season’s worth of games.
Maas was a premier prospect, but this scorching run in July earned him playing time in 79 games down the stretch for New York. And despite the short sample, his performance was good enough to propel him to a second place finish in Rookie of the Year voting, finishing behind only Sandy Alomar.
As promising as this breakthrough rookie year was for Maas and the Yanks, he wasn’t quite able to cash in on the promise. He earned a full season of at-bats in 1991, and though he still hit his fair share of homers, Maas wasn’t able to produce much more than a league-average level in his 592 plate appearances.
1991 would end up being his only full season in the bigs, as he would play fewer games (to a lesser level of performance) with New York in 1992 and ‘93. He saw 64 plate appearances with the Twins in 1995, his worst year as a major leaguer, and also his last.
Despite not fully delivering on the potential he showed in 1990, that doesn’t take away from the special season that it was. And that’s what can be great about these storylines, or remembering certain guys in general. At one point, in a season that was mostly awful, Yankee fans could be excited about Kevin Maas. And for good reason, as their star had been struggling and hurt, and a 25-year-old rookie filled his shoes for a while, hitting homers left and right.
He may not be a household name these days, but he did provide some much-needed excitement. Although the season was forgettable and his career short, in the summer of 1990 Kevin Maas gave the Yankees and their fans something to be excited about.