As Beltran traveled from city to city on a bottom-dwelling Royals team, most players around the league did not grasp the full talent level of the eventual Rookie of the Year.“It was really just word of mouth,” said former big leaguer Kevin Millar, who was also a rookie in 1999 and now works for MLB Network. “He did well against somebody in the series before … and maybe you got whispers in the clubhouse, like, ‘Hey this Carlos Beltran kid is a pretty good player.’ But you never had the chance to read about him, see workout videos of him or anything.”Beltran’s experience wasn’t unique, of course. For decades, MLB newcomers — particularly in small markets — needed years of regular-season production or playoff heroics to become household names. The wall between players and fans came down in the late-2000s because of online prospect-oriented websites and social media platforms that allowed a uniquely talented crop of rookie hitters to make a wider-reaching first impression.“Without a doubt it’s been fascinating how much has changed,” said Greg Mize, the Braves’ senior director of marketing and innovation, who oversees the team’s social media production and has worked in baseball for about 20 years. “Our fans now have been following (minor league prospect) progression all the way up, so when they get to Atlanta it’s not like, ‘Wait a minute, who is that guy?’”MORE: Late-round MLB draft steals offer glimpse into scouting processMize helps orchestrate complex marketing strategies for a steady flow of standout rookies, planning out specific social media posts weeks ahead of time with his staff and determining what kinds of behind-the-scenes footage might work best to promote a certain player. He’s been busy. Star second baseman Ozzie Albies came up at age 20 in 2017, outfielder Ronald Acuña Jr. earned Rookie of the Year honors last season and outfielder Austin Riley is somehow outdoing both of those players this year, hitting nine home runs in his first 18 games with the Braves.Each year, Atlanta’s marketing team meets with minor league spring training invites in March to establish personal connections with the organization’s youngest players. When someone appears primed for a call-up, the social media staff spends days putting together a package of custom player graphics for Twitter, Instagram and Facebook, planning social copy to accompany those graphics and brainstorming how to incorporate the player’s personality into its coverage.“It all sort of culminates with their debuts,” Mize said. “We really like to make a big deal out of those, and we’ve been really lucky that we’ve had a lot of them over the past couple of seasons. We have a good system down.”On May 15, Riley got wall-to-wall treatment from the Braves for his first appearance. Fans who had followed him through Atlanta’s system were given digital access to his game preparation, while more casual supporters were simply introduced to him. It helped the marketing staff that Riley’s first hit was a home run, an outcome for which they had prepared. Among the planned Twitter posts were an official call-up announcement graphic, a video montage of Riley entering the stadium for the first time and the below animated gif/video combination celebrating his fourth-inning home run.How is @austinriley1308’s first big-league game going?Pretty good: pic.twitter.com/kkZ1VUOfyo— Atlanta Braves (@Braves) May 16, 2019Meanwhile, MLB broadcast its own highlights and graphics of Riley to its 20.9 million combined followers on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook. The Braves’ TV broadcaster, FOX Sports South, did the same.MORE: Riley among friends in AtlantaElsewhere this season, Vladimir Guerrero Jr. made a much-anticipated debut in Toronto, while top prospect Eloy Jimenez debuted in Chicago. In fact, most MLB cities have tasted the excitement of a star rookie over the past few campaigns. Marketing strategies in those places followed a similar playbook to the one seen in Atlanta, using previously nonexistent mediums to their advantage to capture buzz around a spectacular newcomer. Clubs are benefiting from a golden era of young talent, and the rookies are likely benefiting from the exposure they’re getting.There have been many strong freshmen classes before: 1999 introduced Beltran, and two years later, Ichiro, Albert Pujols, Jimmy Rollins and Alfonso Soriano entered the league. In 1986, Barry Bonds, Jose Canseco, Will Clark and Barry Larkin debuted. Even so, we’re amid the best (and most consistent) stretch for rookie position players since at least the early 1960s, as reflected below. When Beltran began with the Royals in 1999, he did not instantly become a recognizable figure around baseball, even though his play warranted that kind of attention. In fact, Kansas City fans staged a protest that year in response to their team’s lack of national coverage.But like first-year players Walter Johnson in 1907 or Kris Bryant in 2015, Beltran eventually needed to prove himself to the masses. His greatness was established when he forced himself into MVP discussions in 2003 with a 26 home run, 41 stolen base season. It was magnified the next year with his famous postseason showing of eight home runs in 12 games in Houston, which earned him a national reputation as a clutch performer.Guerrero Jr. went 6-for-41 without a home run in his first 11 games this season. Jimenez is still hitting .224. Rookies might attract more immediate followers these days, but they’ll still need to perform at a high level to maintain their substantial hype. That much will probably never change. Like so many exciting rookies before him, Carlos Beltran did not register as much more than a slow-spreading rumor when he broke through with the Royals in 1999.Print publications didn’t closely follow the skinny prospect who flashed almost every tool while he was in the minor leagues, so his debut didn’t attract national attention. There weren’t social media platforms from which fans could gawk at a stellar rookie campaign that included 22 home runs, 27 stolen bases and plenty of long drives into the outfield waterfalls in Kansas City from both sides of the plate. Beyond the occasional “SportsCenter” highlight, Beltran struggled to get exposure. (SN, via Fangraphs) https://images.daznservices.com/di/library/sporting_news/fc/21/rookie-war-060519-getty-ftr_1qchk3isfwbk91ummb1wrmpgww.png?t=677157851&w=500&quality=80 Though wins above replacement for rookies has fluctuated dramatically from 1900 onward — and eras similar to the past decade-plus have certainly come around — nothing in the immediate past compares with what’s happening right now. The 2015 first-year class that debuted Kris Bryant, Francisco Lindor, Carlos Correa, Michael Conforto and Joc Pederson stands as one of the best of all time, and this year figures to deliver one of the stronger ones in recent memory if Guerrero Jr. and Jimenez hit their strides in the second half of the season. “I will say the game is in a good spot,” Millar said. “It’s a younger, stronger, selective league now. … You can go into a high school game and watch the strength and the size and the ability of some of these guys. They just don’t look like kids anymore.”It’s no coincidence, then, for MLB’s official 2019 slogan to be “Let the kids play” — it has every reason to amplify the next generation of top performers in order to navigate a highly competitive climate of professional sports teams in the U.S. That mindset also applies to the franchise-specific perspective in ways it maybe didn’t before.Even in 2011, when Mike Trout debuted for the Angels, there wasn’t this level of outside hype, said team broadcaster Victor Rojas. At that point, Twitter was just going mainstream, and Instagram was less than a year old.”You know, it’s interesting because Mike was a prospect coming up, but it’s not like today where, you know, when Acuña is coming up, it’s like ‘Ronald’s coming!’ or ‘Vladdy Jr.’s coming!'” Rojas told Sporting News’ Ryan Fagan. “It wasn’t quite like that. And I don’t know why, because everyone thought very highly of Trout.”MORE: Diamondbacks look like early 2019 MLB Draft winnerOne drawback to the constant attention on the league’s newcomers, Millar said, is the pressure it places on the players he looks at as kids. Padres rookie Fernando Tatis Jr. already has 157,000 Instagram followers. He’s 20. Acuna, 21, is up to 291,000 on the platform. There’s no getting away from the expectations, and their early success likely adds to that weight.