Awards season approaches as the 2016 Major League Baseball campaign writes the final chapter. In the coming weeks we will find out who took home Manager of the Year, Cy Young and Most Valuable Player in the American and National Leagues.
Also among the hardware being handed out is Rookie of the Year. Covering all the young stars of Minor League Baseball makes this award of particular interest. So who is the favorite to win this year’s award and who do I think will take home the prestigious accord?
The American League is shorter on bona fide ROY candidates than the National League. Mazara was a call-up in the first week of the season after injuries to Shin-Soo Choo and Josh Hamilton opened up a big hole in the Rangers’ outfield. Just a year prior he was the youngest player in the Double-A Texas League. The 21-year old hit .333 with an .850 OPS in his first 22 games. He stayed above .300 through May and sits at .270 with 18 home runs and 131 hits, the most among rookies in the Junior Circuit.
Tyler Naquin is splits personified. In games he starts against righties, he’s hitting .312 with just a .158 tag against lefties. Overall he’s hitting .302, slugging .539 and has a spectacular .911 OPS that trails only Gary Sanchez. Naquin has 14 home runs and an American League leading five triples.
Acquired from the Mets forYoenis Cespedes at the 2015 trade deadline, Michael Fulmer has quickly formed into a complete stud for the Detroit Tigers. He is tops in just about every American League pitching category. He has 148.2 innings (first), strikeouts (120), wins (10), starts (24) and he’s walked just 39 batters.
Prediction: Michael Fulmer in a landslide.
Honorable Mention: Chris Devenski, Relief Pitcher, Houston Astros; Sean Manaea, Starting Pitcher, Oakland A’s; Max Kepler, Outfielder/First Baseman, Minnesota Twins; Tim Anderson, Shortstop, Chicago White Sox; Dylan Bundy, Starting Pitcher/Relief Pitcher, Baltimore Orioles;Blake Snell, Starting Pitcher, Tampa Bay Rays; Edwin Diaz, Relief Pitcher, Seattle Mariners;Ryan Dull, Relief Pitcher, Oakland Athletics; Whit Merrifield, Infielder/Outfielder, Kansas City Royals; Matt Bush, Relief Pitcher, Texas Rangers;Cheslor Cuthbert, Infielder, Kansas City Royals; Tony Barnette, Relief Pitcher, Texas Rangers.
Not enough service: Gary Sanchez, C, New York Yankees; Ryon Healy, Third Baseman, Oakland Athletics; Alex Bregman, Infielder/Outfielder, Houston Astros; Yulieski Gurriel, Infielder/Outfielder, Houston Astros; Andrew Benintendi, Outfielder, Boston Red Sox.
Contenders: Corey Seager, Shortstop, Los Angeles Dodgers; Kenta Maeda, Starting Pitcher, Los Angeles Dodgers; Trevor Story, Shortstop, Colorado Rockies; Aledmys Diaz, Shortstop, St. Louis Cardinals; Seung-hwan Oh, Relief Pitcher, St. Louis Cardinals.
The winner may appear obvious in the Senior Circuit as well (spoiler alert: it is), but the National League supplies more viable names to take home the ROY award. Diaz was an All-Star in his rookie season after being out-righted off the 40-man roster just a season ago as a member of Double-A Springfield. Diaz hit .302 this year with an insane .372 OBP. He has 16 home runs, 61 RBIs and has struck out just 55 times to 36 walks.
Diaz’s teammate, reliever Seung-hwan Oh was signed out of Korea prior to the 2016 season. The 34-year old has been very impressive in his first Major League Baseball go-around and elevated himself to Cardinals closer at the beginning of August, a role he has held since. He’s 18 of 21 in save opportunities with a sparkling 1.79 ERA in 72 appearances. His 98:18 K:BB ratio has firmly put him in the award conversation, albeit with long odds as a reliever.
Trevor Story was the early season favorite after a red-hot start. He’s all about the power, hitting 27 home runs in 97 games, before tearing a ligament in his thumb on a diving attempt at the beginning of August. A tough blow and a truncated season eliminates his chance to win, but his spectacular power has me putting him in the “contender” category rather than “not enough service.”
Like Oh, Kenta Maeda was signed by the Dodgers as an international free agent in the off-season. Maeda signed an eight-year, $100+ million dollar contract and has so far lived up to the money and the hype. He leads all rookies with 164.4 innings and his 165 strikeouts is second toJon Gray in the NL. His 3.24 ERA’s closest challenger (above 100 innings) is Steven Matz, who sits at 3.4. His 15 wins is also far and away tops among all rookie pitchers. Maeda is in the heat of a playoff race and has only gotten better with the pressure. His September ERA is 2.08. At 28, Maeda has a lot of experience, something that voters usually use against a player when tallying their votes.
Maeda’s teammate is my pick to win the award, running away with it just like Fulmer in the AL. Corey Seager has been ridiculous in his debut year, and has only gotten better along the way. Where’s the regression for this 22-year old who began the season at age 21 and the unanimous top prospect in baseball?
Being ranked as such does not translate to positive results (see Byron Buxton), but Seager has been incredible. He hit just .250 in April and fellow shortstop Trevor Story was stealing the headlines with his crushing power. Seager then hit .301 in May before going red hot. He hit .343 in June, .347 in July, .330 in August and is currently at .328 in September.
Veterans always adjust to the young, hot rookies, but it’s been the other way around with the youngest Seager brother. He’s played a rookie-tops 145 games and has nearly 100 more at-bats than the next best rookie (578). He’s the uncontested leader in hits (181), runs (98), doubles (39) and walks (52). His 25 home runs trails only Story, who was at 27 before his season-ending injury.
Seager is currently slashing .313/.373(!)/.524 and is not only guaranteed to win the National League Rookie of the Year award but is considered in a toe-to-toe battle with unanimous 2015 NL ROYKris Bryant for the National League MVP award.
Honorable Mention:Brandon Drury, Utility, Arizona Diamondbacks;Zach Davies, Starting Pitcher, Milwaukee Brewers; Steven Matz, Starting Pitcher, New York Mets; Jameson Taillon, Starting Pitcher, Pittsburgh Pirates; Wilson Contreras, Catcher, Chicago Cubs, Javy Guerra, Starting Pitcher, Milwaukee Brewers; Tommy Joseph, First Baseman, Philadelphia Phillies.
Not enough Service: Trea Turner, Infielder/Outfielder, Washington Nationals; Jose Peraza, Infielder/Outfielder, Cincinnati Reds; David Dahl, Outfielder, Colorado Rockies; Josh Bell, Outfielder/First Baseman, Pittsburgh Pirates; Dansby Swanson, Shortstop, Atlanta Braves;Julio Urias, Starting Pitcher, Los Angeles Dodgers; Alex Reyes, Starting Pitcher/Relief Pitcher, St. Louis Cardinals; Andrew Toles, Outfielder, Los Angeles Dodgers.