Impact rookies arriving in majors (cont.)
1. Jason Heyward, RF, Braves (1)
Season Stats: .265/.388/.488, 10 HR, 43 RBI, 13.0 VORP
Last Three Weeks: .226/.356/.345, 1 HR, 10 RBI
Heyward hit a home run in his first major league at-bat and was hitting .298/.411/.617 two weeks into the season. He then fell into a nasty 1-for-20 slump that dropped his season line to .224/.358/.448, but that only lasted a week. From April 29 through May 30, Heyward hit .360/.468/.708 despite missing time due to groin and thumb injuries. Now he's slumping again. From May 31 to June 7, he went 3-for-32 with 12 strikeouts and no extra-base hits in eight games. He's perked up a bit since then, going 7-for-27 (.259) with just a pair of doubles among those hits and 10 more strikeouts in six games, giving him 20 Ks in his last 10 contests. Is that left thumb, which he hurt sliding on May 14, still bothering him, as his hitting coach claimed it was last week? Is he still banged up from his outfield collision with Nate McLouth last Wednesday? Is the league finally catching up? Should we be concerned about his predilection for minor injury thus far this season? Heyward seemed beyond reproach just two weeks ago, when I ranked him third in the NL MVP race, but he suddenly has a lot of questions to answer.
2. Jaime Garcia, RHP, Cardinals (2)
Season Stats: 6-2, 1.49 ERA, 1.27 WHIP, 7.3 K/9, 1.74 K/BB
Last Three Weeks: 2-2, 1.96 ERA, 1.57 WHIP, 6.7 K/9, 1.21 K/BB
Garcia fell off the Cy Young watch list last week because I was concerned about his walk rate (4.2 BB/9 on the season and 5.8 BB/9 in his last five starts), which I thought was causing him to run up his pitch count early and thus making him a six-inning pitcher (he has averaged just shy of 5 2/3 innings over those last five starts and has only recorded one seventh-inning out since the end of April). That, in turn, has given his bullpen too much opportunity to blow his games (three of those last five starts were Cardinals loses in which Garcia failed to register a decision). However, those complaints came in the context of the most dominant pitchers in the league. In the context of his rookie class, six innings with a few too many walks is perfectly understandable as long as he keeps that ERA below 2.00. Garcia has yet to allow more than two earned runs in any of his dozen starts this season, and though he's having trouble getting past the sixth, he has pitched a minimum of five innings every time out and only failed to finish the sixth twice. The groundballer has also allowed just two home runs, which helps all those walks from hurting as much as they could. With Heyward slumping, Garcia is suddenly a very close second in this race.
3. Mike Leake, RHP, Reds (3)
Season Stats: 5-0, 2.68 ERA, 1.36 WHIP, 6.1 K/9, 1.79 K/BB
Last Three Weeks: 1-0, 2.19 ERA, 1.74 WHIP, 4.7 K/9, 1.63 K/BB
Leake's first legitimately poor outing, which came last Thursday, broke a streak of eight quality starts during which the Reds' righty went 4-0 with a 1.55 ERA and 3.08 K/BB. Like Garcia, Leake has made 10 quality starts in twelve attempts, the difference being that Leake has allowed 10 runs and four homers in his two non-quality outings, while Garcia simply fell three outs short of the innings requirement each time. Leake's dud on Thursday marked the first time he failed to finish six innings in a major league start and was just the second start this season in which he allowed more than three runs, earned or otherwise. This from a 2009 first-round draft pick who has never appeared in a minor league game. Take that, Strasburg.
4. Gaby Sanchez, 1B, Marlins (N/A)
Season Stats: .281/.354/.452, 7 HR, 28 RBI, 9.5 VORP
Last Three Weeks: .286/.320/.471, 3 HR, 7 RBI
Sanchez takes the spot of fellow NL East first baseman Ike Davis, who has hit just .197/.240/.366 since ranking fourth on my list three weeks ago. A fourth-round pick out of the University of Miami in 2005, Sanchez was expected to win the Marlins' first-base job straight out of Double-A last year, but instead spent 2009 in Triple-A and emerged as the Opening Day starter this year at the age of 26. Save for a two-homer, six-RBI game against the Rays on Friday, Sanchez hasn't been blowing anybody away. Rather, he has been an almost perfectly league-average first baseman to this point in the season, but that's a strong showing for a rookie. Sanchez may not be much more than that moving forward in his career, but for now it's enough to get him a cameo on the pre-Strasburg version of this list.
5. David Freese, 3B, Cardinals (5)
Season Stats: .308/.376/.434, 4 HR, 32 RBI, 12.7 VORP
Last Three Weeks: .286/.327/.367, 1 HR, 4 RBI
Freese has started just one game since June 5 due a fluke right ankle sprain that he suffered when making incidental contact with third base during a play elsewhere on the infield, but that lack of opportunity to lose this spot (he has made just 11 starts in the last three weeks) has resulted in his keeping it for one more turn through the awards. Freese has avoided the disabled list thus far, but he'll have to return to the lineup soon and successfully in order to keep Strasburg, Stanton, et al. at bay.
Off the list: Ike Davis (4)
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