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March 29, 2013

Perfect Game Presents

2013 Rookie of the Year Candidates

by David Rawnsley

On December 5, 2012, Baseball Prospectus and Perfect Game announced a partnership to help promote and cover the game at both the amateur and professional levels. As a result of this partnership, Baseball Prospectus subscribers will now get the opportunity to read some of the great premium content being published by Perfect Game for its members.  

The Rookie of the Year was first awarded on a national basis in 1947, when Jackie Robinson was the initial winner. It took 40 more years before the powers that be decided to honor Robinson re-naming the award the Jackie Robinson Rookie of the Year Award. Robinson and the 1948 winner, Alvin Dark, were selected from all major-league teams from both leagues; since then, it has been broken down into American League and National League winners.
 
The first thing one must realize about the Rookie of the Year winners is that some really, really good players have won over the years. Sure, there are some flameouts—such as Joe Charboneau, Bob Hamelin, or the immortal Mark Fidrych—but future Hall of Famers are much more common than below-average big-leaguers. Last year was definitely a star-studded affair, with Mike Trout and Bryce Harper winning their league’s awards with record-setting seasons.
 
Taking a look at an imaginary game between American League and National League ROY winners is a pretty quick and instructive way to illustrate this point.
 
National League (batting order)
 
2B Jackie Robinson
Manager: Alvin Dark
 
American League (batting order)
 
Manager: Lou Pinella
 
A quick look at the rosters above does show one thing in particular: There are 19 pitchers whose careers started after 1947 who have been elected to the Hall of Fame. Greg Maddux, Roger Clemens, Randy Johnson, Tom Glavine, and Mariano Rivera are poised to join them. However, only Tom Seaver was ever a Rookie of the Year. The list of position players, on the other hand, is littered with with Hall of Famers.
 
The most important factor in winning a Rookie of the Year award still boils down to one simple thing, though: playing time. There have been exceptions, but if a player doesn't get at least 450-500 plate appearances, 30 starts, or serve as his team’s closer for a majority of the year, the weight of the numbers is going to go in favor of a different rookie that did.
 
Probably the most notable exception to the playing time rule was in 1959, when McCovey won the NL Rookie of the Year despite playing in only 52 games. Of course, they were a spectacular 52 games, as McCovey hit .354 with 13 homers and a 1.085 OPS; he even managed to garner some MVP votes.  Is it possible that someone, such as the Cardinals' Oscar Taveras or the Dodgers' Yasiel Puig, could do that in 2013?  Certainly, but it's very unlikely.
 
Rather than just present the favorites for the award in each league, we thought we’d go team by team to see who all the initial candidates actually are.
 
National League
 
Arizona: The Diamondbacks would be full of candidates if everyone was healthy, except that CF Adam Eaton and SS Didi Gregorius are both injured, costing them the chance to begin the season in the starting lineup. Eaton in particular could post ROY numbers if he gets enough playing time in the crowded Arizona outfield. LHP Tyler Skaggs will likely get a shot to start at some point, but he won’t have the opportunity to duplicate fellow southpaw and 2012 runner-up Wade Miley’s numbers.
 
Atlanta: RHP Julio Teheran has the prospect pedigree, the outstanding spring to build on, and a place in a championship contender’s starting rotation. That’s a great recipe for a ROY award. C Evan Gattis is a great story, but it’s hard to see him getting enough playing time, especially when six-time All-Star Brian McCann gets healthy.
 
Chicago Cubs: The only ROY scenario one can imagine with the Cubs is if 32-year-old Japanese import RHP Kyuji Fujikawa ends up with the closer job and Chicago wins enough games for him to post some saves.
 
Cincinnati: As the Reds don’t have a single rookie on their projected Opening Day roster, it’s hard to project a candidate.  LHP Tony Cingrani may be next in line for a starting spot, should one open up due to injury.  There is also the possibility that the Reds' center-field defense will be so mediocre that speedster CF Billy Hamilton will be promoted to remedy it.
 
Colorado: Not much going on here after Chris Nelson won the third base job over Nolan Arenado.
 
Los Angeles Dodgers: While 2012 Cuban signee Yasiel Puig has been the sensation of spring training, the reality is that a) he has 82 professional at bats, and b) the Dodgers starting outfield of Matt Kemp, Carl Crawford, and Andre Either is being paid as much or more as some entire teams' rosters in 2013 and beyond. Korean LHP Hyun-Jin Ryu is a much better bet to contend for ROY honors if he makes a quick adjustment to major-league hitters.
 
Miami: The Marlins will start two rookies from the beginning of the season, neither of which is named Christian Yelich, who hasn’t played above High-A ball yet.  SS Adeiny Hechevarria likely won't hit enough to garner many votes even though he will be playing every day, but C Rob Brantley could do so if last season’s September performance is an accurate indicator.
 
Milwaukee: RHP Wily Peralta will be in the starting rotation for a team that should score plenty of runs once the lineup is completely healthy. He’s also old enough that the Brewers won’t be putting much of a hold on the number of pitches/innings he throws, a relevant concern in this day and age for young pitchers.
 
New York MetsRHP Matt Harvey exceeded the innings limit by nine, so he does not qualify in 2013, and RHP Zach Wheeler and C Travis D’Arnaud are both wisely being started in Triple-A. The Mets' last ROY was Dwight Gooden in 1984, and it looks like that streak will continue.
 
Philadelphia:  No candidates, which is appropriate but worrisome for one of baseball’s oldest teams.
 
Pittsburgh: Wait until 2014, when RHPs Gerrit Cole and Jameson Taillon are more likely to make their debuts, if Cole doesn’t burn through his rookie status later this year. Don’t sleep on RHP Kyle McPherson, though, if he finds his way into the starting rotation early enough, as he has a better track record and stuff than many realize.
 
St. Louis:  OF Oscar Taveras would be the odds-on ROY favorite if he had a starting spot, but the Cardinals outfield is full at the moment, with the reality that one hamstring twinge from 36-year-old RF Carlos Beltran could put Taveras in the big leagues.  Better bets would be hard-throwing RHPs Shelby Miller and Trevor Rosenthal, who will be the fifth starter and the primary setup reliever, respectively.
 
San Diego:  2B/3B Jedd Gyorko looks like a classic ROY candidate as an established hitter with a starting job on Opening Day, although he will be asked to learn a new position when Chase Headley returns from the disabled list.  With the fences moved in at Petco Park, a .280-15-80 season will get Gyorko plenty of votes.
 
San Francisco:  No reason to disrespect the two-time World Champions, but the farm system is a bit dry in upper-level prospects right now.
 
Washington:  As long as 3B Ryan Zimmerman remains healthy and 3B Anthony Rendon stays in the minor leagues, the Nationals are going to make a run at the NL East title without much rookie assistance. 
 
American League
 
Baltimore:  Top RHP prospects Dylan Bundy and Kevin Gausman would be on any ROY candidate list if they were in the majors.  However, they aren’t, and the Orioles are probably hoping that they won’t be needed this season.
 
Boston:  Red Sox Nation needs some good news and CF Jackie Bradley has been the source of much of it this spring.  His defense and personality will win everyone over and if he hits enough, he should stay in the lineup all year, putting himself into prime ROY consideration.
 
Chicago White Sox:  The White Sox have a history of moving players quickly up the ladder, but it is very difficult to envision a scenario where one of their players will get ROY votes this year.
 
Cleveland:  RHP Trevor Bauer seemed to be the obvious candidate for the pitching-strapped Indians, but getting beaten out by Scott Kazmir is not a big resume builder.  Still, expect him to be in the starting rotation at some point in the year.
 
Detroit:  Three closers have won three ROY titles in the last four years:  Craig Kimbrel, Neftali Feliz, and Andrew Bailey.  You can debate the relative value of saves all you want, but the writers who vote for the award still appear to value them.  If RHP Bruce Rondon had won the Tigers closer job, he would have probably been the pre-season favorite for the AL ROY.  Alas, Rondon’s rawness and the reality of Detroit’s aspirations to return to the World Series took precedence, and Rondon will open the season in Triple-A.
 
Houston:  You’d think the Astros would be ripe with ROY candidates, but that will have to wait until next year.  There’s no need to rush players like OF George Springer or 1B Jonathan Singleton now, even if Singleton wasn't suspended for the first 50 games of the season. RHP Brad Peacock will start the year in the rotation, although he will have to pitch as he did in 2011, not 2012, to hold that job.
 
Kansas City:  The off-season trade of OF Wil Myers shot any chance the Royals had of producing the AL ROY.  The team’s master plan probably had 2010 first-round pick 2B Christian Colon playing second base as a rookie in 2013 instead of a platoon of Chris Getz and Miguel Tejada, but that hasn’t worked out.
 
Los Angeles Angels:  No obvious or even imaginable candidates at this point.
 
Minnesota Twins:  CF Aaron Hicks appears to have won the Twins opening day cente-rfield job with a strong spring training.  He’s in the same scenario as the Red Sox' Jackie Bradley; if he hits enough, he’s going to get the 500+ at-bats necessary to build up a ROY candidacy.  RHP Kyle Gibson should get a place in the starting rotation early in the season and is positioned to perform immediately.
 
New York Yankees:  Unless the Yankees decide to play OF Melky Mesa instead of the newly acquired Vernon Wells, there won’t be too many rookie at-bats or innings for either New York team this year.
 
Oakland:  You can debate whether veteran Japanese players should be eligible for the award or not, but 30-year-old SS Hiroyuki Nakajima could get the at-bats to contend and showed enough offensive ability in his Japanese career to be a legitimate candidate.  RHP Dan Straily will be in the starting rotation and looking to build off his breakout 2012 campaign.
 
Seattle:  The Mariners' big-three prospects, C Mike Zunino, LHP Danny Hultzen and RHP Taijuan Walker, are all likely a year away from meaningful big-league time, unless Hultzen can regain the command that eluded him after his promotion to Triple-A in 2012.  Hard throwing reliever RHP Carter Capps and spring training standout RHP Brandon Maurer are the most likely among the Mariners rookies to contribute in 2013.
 
Tampa Bay:  OF Wil Myers and RHP Chris Archer would be integral parts of most major-league teams to open the season, but the Rays aren’t a normal major-league team, so they will start the year in Triple-A.  Myers should still be considered a strong ROY candidate, though, as the Rays offense may not be able to wait too long for his power bat.
 
Texas:  Surprisingly for a team with title aspirations, the Rangers have a serious ROY candidate.  Even more surprising is that it is not one of their top prospects, SS Jurickson Profar and 3B Mike Olt, who will start the year in Triple-A with no obvious path to the big leagues.  Rather, surprise fifth starter RHP Nick Tepesch will be the Rangers primary rookie to start the season.
 
Toronto:  The Blue Jays are in the same boat as the Angels, in that there is no obvious rookie that will even get at-bats or innings at this point.
 
National League Pre-Season ROY Favorites
  1. Jedd Gyorko
  2. Julio Teheran
  3. Shelby Miller
American League Pre-Season ROY Favorites
  1. Jackie Bradley
  2. Wil Myers
  3. Aaron Hicks
Thanks to Jason Martinez and his invaluable resource, MLBDepthCharts, for making this project significantly easier and more accurate.
 

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