Heyward out in front of National League's deep rookie pack
The American League does not have as many intriguing rookies as the NL
Texas Rangers' flamethrowing closer Neftali Feliz is the AL's top contender
St. Louis Cardinals' Jaime Garcia and David Freese are among the NL favorites
Every week I will rank the top five candidates in each league for one of baseball's three major awards. Having looked at the MVP and Cy Young races the last two weeks, I turn my attention to the Rookie of the Year award this week.
A reminder, players lose their rookie status upon having 130 at-bats or 50 innings pitched in the majors or having spent 45 days on the active roster prior to rosters expanding on September 1. That last is significant this year as it eliminates Yankee catcher Francisco Cervelli, off to a .354/.426/.451 start with Jorge Posada on the disabled list, from contention.
NOTE: All stats through Sunday, May 23.
1. Neftali Feliz, RHP, Rangers
Season Stats: 3.09 ERA, 0.90 WHIP, 9.3 K/9, 6.00 K/BB, 12 SV
Last Three Weeks: 0.84 ERA, 0.56 WHIP, 8.4 K/9, 10.00 K/BB, 8 SV
Dominican fireballer Neftali Feliz headed into this year as the number-three prospect in all of baseball (behind Washington's Stephen Strasburg and Atlanta's Jason Heyward) according to Baseball Prospectus's Kevin Goldstein. Primarily a starter in the minors, Feliz dominated out of the Texas bullpen over the last two months of 2009 (1.74 ERA, 11.3 K/9, 4.88 K/BB), posing a quandary to the organization about his role for 2010. The Rangers opted to leave Feliz in the bullpen, and it took just two early-April blown saves by incumbent closer Frank Francisco for manager Ron Washington to hand the job to Feliz. Since then, Feliz has converted 12 of 14 save chances while posting a 3.15 ERA with 18 strikeouts and just two walks in 20 innings. In May, he has allowed only one run and one walk in 12 appearances. In a weak field, Feliz stands a chance to join Oakland's Andrew Bailey as the second AL West closer in as many years to win Rookie of the Year.
2. Wade Davis, RHP, Rays
Season Stats: 4-3, 3.35 ERA, 1.38 WHIP, 6.7 K/9, 1.42 K/BB
Last Four Starts: 2-2, 3.04 ERA, 1.35 WHIP, 6.5 K/9, 1.55 K/BB
Davis has been the worst of the Rays' five starters thus far this year, which says more about the Tampa Bay rotation than it does about Davis. The 24-year-old former third-round pick has the frame and the stuff to be a front-of-the-rotation starter, but his walks and home runs have been up and his strikeouts down this year relative his minor league track record and solid six-start debut in September of 2009. Still, he hasn't allowed more than three runs in any of his four May starts and has gone at least five innings in all eight of his starts this season. With room to improve, he could stick around on this list.
3. Brennan Boesch, OF, Tigers
Season Stats: .340/.357/.617, 4 HR, 22 RBI, 11.4 VORP
Last Three Weeks: .368/.380/.647, 3 HR, 14 RBI
Bulky, 6-foot-4 outfielder Boesch went 2 for 4 with a double in his first major league game on April 23 and has done nothing but hit since, becoming a regular in the Tigers' lineup and ranking among the productive hitters in the team's stars 'n' scrubs lineup. That said, the 25-year-old former third-round pick has drawn just two unintentional walks in 99 plate appearances and drew an UIBB just once every 19 PAs in the minors, which is evidence of a poor plate approach that is likely to become exposed as the league becomes more familiar with him. Even if Boesch continues to hit for power on contact (half of his major league hits have gone for extra bases thus far), when his batting average dips below .300, so will his on-base percentage, and that will go a long way to undermine his value.
4. Austin Jackson, CF, Tigers
Season Stats: .337/.393/.451, 1 HR, 11 RBI, 6 SB, 15.5 VORP
Last Three Weeks: .288/.347/.379, 0 HR, 3 RBI, 1 SB
Acquired in the three-team deal that sent Curtis Granderson to the Yankees last offseason, Jackson leads the AL in strikeout rate (one every 3.82 plate appearances) and unsustainable rate of hits on contact,suggesting he is primed for a fall. In fact, it seems he's already experienced one. Jackson was hitting .371/.420/.508 on May 9 and was leading the AL in hitting before being passed by his teammate, Miguel Cabrera. Since May 9, the 23-year-old Jackson has hit just .233/.313/.279, and in a pinch-hit at-bat on Saturday, he was hit in the face with a pitch that caused his left eye to swell shut by Sunday. A CT scan showed no significant injury, but until the swelling goes down and Jackson is able to see perfectly out of that eye again, one has to be concerned not just for his Rookie of the Year candidacy, but for his career.
5. Sergio Santos, RHP, White Sox
Season Stats: 0.55 ERA, 0.98 WHIP, 11.0 K/9, 2.86 K/BB
Last Three Weeks: 1.35 ERA, 1.50 WHIP, 9.4 K/9, 2.33 K/BB
Drafted 27th overall out of a California high school by the Diamondbacks in 2002, Santos spent seven years with three organizations as a minor league infielder before the White Sox stuck him on the mound last year. After working just 28 2/3 minor league innings in the regular season and posting an ERA of 8.16, the hard-throwing 26-year-old impressed in the Arizona Fall League and made the White Sox bullpen out of camp this spring. Santos has since made 17 big league appearances and has allowed just one run while stranding all eight runners he has inherited. With White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen's willingness to shuffle roles in his bullpen, Santos is finding himself in increasingly higher-leverage situations. It's all absurdly improbable, but there's little doubt that Santos has been one of the most impressive rookies in the AL over the first two months of the season.
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