Perhaps the question I get the most this time of year is "Who will win the Rookie of the Year Awards?" It's a tough one, because winning the award isn't just about being the top prospect in the game. Opportunity plays a huge role, as does age. All else being equal, a 24-year-old rookie has a better chance to win the award than a 21-year-old, even though the 21-year-old is the more valuable property. Rookies of the Year, in fact, are often older players having the best year of their career, while younger players who barely register in the voting go on to have the most success.
Season League Winner Others
1995 AL Marty Cordova Shawn Green (fifth) 1994 AL Bob Hamelin Jim Edmonds (eighth) 1990 AL Sandy Alomar Jr. Robin Ventura (seventh) 1989 AL Gregg Olson Ken Griffey Jr. (third), Kevin Brown (sixth) 1986 NL Todd Worrell Barry Bonds (sixth), Barry Larkin (eighth)
With these things in mind, I've picked two third basemen to win the awards this season. In the NL, I like the Padres' Sean Burroughs. Yeah, I know… "get in line.". Burroughs has been one our top five prospects in each of the last three seasons, and this year, opens as the Padres' third baseman. The Pads, in fact, have relocated their best two players, Phil Nevin andRyan Klesko, to make room for the 21-year-old Burroughs.
In Baseball Prospectus 2002, we list a .292/.372/.425 line for Burroughs this year, with 30 doubles and seven home runs in 424 at-bats. I believe that underprojects his power development and playing time by a fair amount. Look for close to 50 extra-base hits and a slugging average above .450, and for Burroughs to walk away with the hardware.
If Burroughs doesn't win the award, the Dodgers' Kazuhisa Ishii is the next most best candidate. Like Hideo Nomo and Kazuhiro Sasaki before him, Ishii is a veteran star from Japan coming into an excellent pitching environment. Ishii has scuffled a bit so far–an 11.11 ERA in three outings–but with his repertoire and a home in Dodger Stadium, he'll be well-positioned to win the NL award if Burroughs falters.
The trade of Chris Truby means that Morgan Ensberg's shot at glory is much improved. Ensberg, a third baseman with power and patience, will have the opportunity to rack up good numbers playing in Astros-Until-Someone-Writes-A-Big-Check Field. Given the difference in their home parks, it's possible that Ensberg could steal the award from Burroughs thanks to better-looking stats, while being a lesser player.
The other serious candidates in the NL come with question marks, mostly having to do with playing time. They include the Cubs' Corey Patterson and Mark Prior, the Brewers' Nick Neugebauer, the Astros' Carlos Hernandez, and the Marlins' Josh Beckett. Players who aren't on radar, but could surprise, include the Braves' Tim Spooneybarger, the Astros'Jason Lane, and the Marlins' Kevin Olsen.
My pick in the AL lacks the great back story Burroughs has. Eric Hinske, traded twice in a year, looks like he'll hold the Blue Jays' third-base job. If he plays, he'll win the AL Rookie of the Year Award. J.P. Ricciardi did well to get Hinske (and Justin Miller) from the A's in exchange for Billy Koch. Hinske gives the Jays a much-needed dose of OBP, and while his defense at the hot corner hasn't been great so far, he should hit enough to make that a non-issue.
There are a number of young AL hitters who could bash their way to an awards ceremony in New York. The A's Carlos Pena, the Yankees' Nick Johnson, and the Twins' Michael Cuddyer all appear to have jobs in hand, and all three can rake. Pena is the best defender of the group, while Johnson looks like he'll be consigned to the DH slot. Cuddyer is making a transition from third base to right field, and can be expected to make most of his contribution this year with his bat.
Other names to remember include the Orioles' John Stephens, the Jays' Felipe Lopez, the Royals' Angel Berroa, the Tigers' Nate Cornejo, and the White Sox' Joe Borchard andJoe Crede. It's not as deep a pool as the NL's.