Rookie of the Year watch (cont.)
1. Jason Heyward, RF, Braves
Season Stats: .290/.409/.580, 9 HR, 33 RBI, 14.8 VORP
Last Three Weeks: .320/.443/.580, 2 HR, 10 RBI
The depth of the rookie pool in the National League is head and shoulders above that in the Junior Circuit. The fifth place candidate in the NL would probably be first in the AL, and Stephen Strasburg, who isn't on this list, has yet to throw his first major league pitch. Despite that impressive field of rookies, Jason Heyward practically has the NL Rookie of the Year award sewn up. Heyward is the ultimate blue-chipper: the 14th overall pick in 2007, he tore through the Braves' minor league system last year, hitting .323/.408/.555 across three levels as a teenager. This year, at the ripe, old age of 20, he opened the season as the Braves' starting right fielder, homered in his first major league at-bat, and hasn't looked back. He went through a minor slump in late April and has missed some games this month with groin and thumb issues, but he's still among the league leaders in homers and RBIs and is fifth in on-base percentage and OPS. He's not just a Rookie of the Year candidate, he's an MVP candidate. Strasburg would have to exceed his Sidd Finch-level hype to catch him.
2. Jaime Garcia, LHP, Cardinals
Season Stats: 4-2, 1.28 ERA, 1.14 WHIP, 7.7 K/9, 2.10 K/BB
Last Four Starts: 2-1, 1.54 ERA, 1.33 WHIP, 9.6 K/9, 2.27 K/BB
Garcia, a 22nd round pick in 2005, underwent Tommy John surgery in September 2008 and made just eight minor league starts after returning to action last year, only half of them above Single A. Despite that, the 23-year-old lefty won the last spot in the Cardinals rotation coming out of camp and has been nothing but impressive in his first major league action since 2008, only once allowing more than two runs in a game (those extra runs were unearned), and only once lasting fewer than six innings, going a mere five in his last start despite not allowing any runs at all. Currently second in the NL in ERA, he is not just a Rookie of the Year candidate, he's a Cy Young candidate.
3. Mike Leake, RHP, Reds
Season Stats: 4-0, 2.91 ERA, 1.18 WHIP, 6.7 K/9, 1.86 K/BB
Last Four Starts: 2-0, 2.52 ERA, 0.92 WHIP, 7.6 K/9, 2.5 K/BB
The eighth overall pick in last year's draft, Leake went straight from Arizona State to the Reds' rotation with only a layover in the Arizona Fall League to prep him for the job. Leake posted a 1.37 ERA in the hitting-friendly AFL, and has been a huge part of the Reds' surge to the top of the NL Central standings. Ignore that lousy overall K/BB ratio. Leake walked 12 men in his first two starts and has walked just nine in his last six. He has gone at least six innings in all eight starts and only once allowed more than three runs, giving him seven quality starts in eight tries. Most impressively, Reds manager Dusty Baker has not asked the 22-year-old to throw more than 106 pitches, so there's hope that Leake's golden arm won't turn to lead.
4. Ike Davis, 1B, Mets
Season Stats: .290/.398/.477, 4 HR, 12 RBI, 9.1 VORP
Last Three Weeks: .282/.393/.479, 3 HR, 6 RBI
The Mets resisted the temptation to open the season with the 23-year-old Davis, who had never played above Double-A, as their first baseman, but it took just 11 games of Mike Jacobs and Fernando Tatis (plus one of Frank Catalanotto) for them to cave. Davis, the 18th overall pick in the 2008 draft and the son of former Yankees and Twins reliever Ron, arrived on April 19, went 2-for-4 in his first game, and hasn't stopped hitting since. That Davis, who was Leake's teammate at ASU, is hitting is not a huge surprise. That he has done most of his damage against lefties (.440/.481/.760 compared to 244/.376/.390 against righties) is and is a great indicator for his continued success.
5. David Freese, 3B, Cardinals
Season Stats: .315/.391/.456, 3 HR, 28 RBI, 12.4 VORP
Last Three Weeks: .274/.376/.370, 0 HR, 12 RBI
A ninth-round pick by the Padres in 2006, Freese was dealt to the Cardinals after the 2007 season for what turned out to be a miserable month from Jim Edmonds. After skipping Double-A and turning in a strong Triple-A debut in 2008, he seemed in line to be the Cards' third baseman last year but was foiled by a slow start and an ankle injury. An offseason DUI didn't seem to improve his chances of finally holding the job this year at age 26, but he won it out of camp and has been an important run producer in the Cardinals' hit-or-miss lineup, rising to the fifth spot behind Matt Holliday and Albert Pujols (thus all those RBIs). Freese's minor league track record suggests he'll maintain his current level of production, though his age makes him less likely to be a long-term star than the four players above him on this list.
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