Every year we see some solid rookie players come to the Majors and have a major impact, and this year is no exception. Already we’ve seen at least half a dozen players who could legitimately win their Rookie of the Year award, along with a lot of impact players as well. Each of these players is still eligible to win the Rookie of the Year award, according to ESPN.com’s stats page. All these stats are through Sunday’s games, and the players are in order of what I believe their likelihood to win their respective Rookie of the Year awards.
1. Austin Jackson (DET) – .328/.379/.444, 33 runs, 1 home run, 13 runs batted in, 7 stolen bases
Jackson was the centerpiece of the Curtis Granderson trade for the Tigers, and he’s been pretty much everything it was hoped he would, and more. I wrote in December that I thought the Tigers would end up winning this trade, and Jackson is going to be the lynchpin to whether or not that happens. The batting average has been extremely lucky to this point, as he is currently sporting a .458 BABIP. That said, he still should hit around .270-.280 and could end up scoring around 90 runs for the Tigers.
2. Neftali Feliz (TEX) – 1-1, 13 saves, 2 holds, 2.96 ERA, 0.90 WHIP, 25 strikeouts, 5 walks, 24 1/3 IP
Since being installed as the closer for the Rangers, Feliz has pitched very well overall. His stuff really suits the closer’s role, as his fastball is dominant at right around 100 mph on a consistent basis. I think that Feliz could end up winning the Rookie of the Year if Jackson falls off precipitously or if the Rangers end up making the playoffs and Feliz stays as the closer all season long. Long term, it will be interesting to see if they ever convert him back to a starting pitcher, as his value is probably better there.
3. Mitch Talbot (CLE) – 6-4, 3.78 ERA, 1.29 WHIP, 27 strikeouts, 24 walks, 66 2/3 IP
Talbot has been a very nice surprise for the Indians, as he was acquired in the Kelly Shoppach trade this past offseason. Plugged into the starting rotation, Talbot is finally getting a chance to show how good of a pitcher he can be. He may see some regression, as his FIP is over 5 and his BABIP is only at .251. Either way, the Indians did well here, and he could conceivably win 12-15 games in spite of how bad the Indians’ offense is. The walks are definitely a major concern though, as they are barely less than his strikeouts.
4. Wade Davis (TAM) – 5-4, 4.04 ERA, 1.46 WHIP, 36 strikeouts, 29 walks, 55 2/3 IP
Another vaunted rookie from the Rays’ farm system, Davis has come in and pitched effectively in a tough AL East division. However, his secondary numbers (FIP of 5+, 82% strand rate) indicate that he’s likely to see a fairly stiff regression in the coming months. I think he’s going to finish the season as an effective, if not amazing pitcher. But he definitely appears to have a very bright future ahead of him, and I think that for this year he could end up winning 15 games on the strength of the Rays’ lineup.
5. Brennan Boesch (DET) – .330/.357/.585, 9 runs, 4 homeruns, 22 runs batted in, 1 stolen base
At the beginning of the season, it was thought that there would be a rookie from the Tigers in this race. Brennan Boesch was not the one everyone thought though. Boesch has come up and just hit and hit and hit as the replacement for the oft-injured Carlos Guillen. He’s hit so well to this point that Guillen, who recently returned from the disabled list, is being moved to 2B (where they had hoped rookie Scott Sizemore would play well) to allow Boesch to stay in the lineup everyday. His BABIP is high (.373), so there could be some regression, but he looks like he’s going to be a solid everyday player with the potential for double-digit power.
Other AL Candidates: Brian Matusz (BAL), Carlos Santana (CLE), John Jaso (TAM), Justin Smoak (TEX), Scott Sizemore (DET)
Each of these candidates, to me, has some warts that will keep them from winning this award unless something drastically changes. For Sizemore and Santana, the fact that they are still in AAA leads me to believe that they would have to ridiculously outperform the others to catch up for lost time. Smoak and Matusz, at least for the moment, are simply not performing up to the standard of the other candidates, and are unlikely at this point to catch them.
1. Jason Heyward (ATL) – .292/.410/.578, 29 runs, 10 home runs, 38 runs batted in, 3 stolen bases
What else is there to be said about Heyward that hasn’t been said? I wrote about him as a prospect back in January, and predicted that he would hit .280/.370/.470 with 6 home runs and 10 stolen bases in 80 games. Even doubling that prediction to get him to around 160 games, that’s 12 homeruns and 20 stolen bases. While he’s not running as much as I thought, the power appears to be legitimate and the Braves are going to be extremely happy with him for a very long time. I don’t really see too much out there that would cause him to not win this award.
2. Jaime Garcia (STL) – 4-2, 1.39 ERA, 1.18 WHIP, 48 strikeouts, 26 walks, 58 1/3 IP
Garcia made the rotation out of spring training, and has never looked back. Clearly the ERA is going to go up at some point during the season, but the rest of the numbers really look legitimate to me. He’s pitching in St. Louis, and I’ve learned to never bet against the coaching staff there either.
3. Stephen Strasburg (WAS) – Will make ML debut June 8th.
The hype is real. Strasburg will not make his debut until June 8th, giving the rest of the rookies in this class a full two months of time to get ahead. That said, and even with the 100 inning limit that he is likely to be on, he could very well come up and post a sub-3 ERA and a strikeout per inning he pitches. He has looked that good.
4. David Freese (STL) -.314/.383/.453, 21 runs, 4 home runs, 31 runs batted in, 1 stolen base
It’s hard to put another position player this far down the list, but realistically all 5 of the top rookies in the NL would probably win the award in the American League this season. Freese won the 3B job out of spring training, but it really appeared that no one was particularly confident that he would be able to make it stick. But he’s been a very bright spot in the Cardinals lineup, and has played at least reasonable defense to this point.
5. Mike Leake (CIN) – 4-0, 2.45 ERA, 1.26 WHIP, 45 strikeouts, 25 walks, 66 IP
I was extremely surprised when Leake made the rotation out of spring training, but it really looks like the Reds knew what they were doing here (shocking, I know). Leake isn’t necessarily going to be a fantasy darling, as he probably isn’t going to strike out enough hitters to make him very valuable for that. But he has shown to this point that he is definitely a good Major League pitcher.
Other NL Candidates: Starlin Castro (CHC), Buster Posey (SF), Ian Desmond (WAS), Ike Davis (NYM), Gaby Sanchez (FLA), Jhoulys Chacin (COL)
Only Desmond and Sanchez made their respective teams out of Spring Training, and while they are both having good rookie seasons, their seasons do not compare to the 5 players discussed previously. Castro, Posey, and Davis have all added much needed energy to their teams, in addition to some offense, but unfortunately they will run into the same problem as Desmond and Sanchez, in that it is a very good rookie class this year.