From Strasburg to Santana, impact rookies arriving in majors
Stephen Strasburg has looked dominant in his first two starts for Washington
Carlos Santana, Mike Stanton are other recently-arrived rookies playing well
Neftali Feliz continues to lead a weak American League rookie class
Before you go skipping ahead trying to find out where I ranked Stephen Strasburg I'll tell you right now: He's not on my list . . . yet. Though the Washington Nationals' phenom will no doubt be a major factor in the National League Rookie of the Year race as soon as my next look at the award three weeks from now, I don't think two starts -- one of which featured five walks in 5 1/3 innings -- would be enough to get the vote of even the laziest voter had the voting been held today. After all, Neftali Feliz was untouchable down the stretch for the Rangers last year and didn't get a single Rookie of the Year vote. Ditto Joba Chamberlain for the Yankees in 2007. If I was going to rank Strasburg based on his likely performance over the remainder of the season, I would have had him on my list from the start, but like every other rookie in the league, he'll have to earn it. He has a great head-start in that direction, and with Jason Heyward slumping of late, the door may be opening for him to take the award which has thus far been Heyward's to lose.
As a result, I'm surprised by how little the Rookie of the Year rankings have changed over the past three weeks. Just one new name appears in the top five in each league, and seven of the returning eight rookies are in the same spots they were three weeks ago. I don't expect that will be the case three weeks from now. Strasburg is just one of a number of top prospects who were called up to the majors in the past few weeks, many debuting late due their teams' desire to delay their salary arbitration eligibility by a year, thus keeping them in the minors past the point at which they could become "Super Two" players after the 2012 season.
In the National League, Strasburg, Marlins right fielder Mike Stanton, and Giants catcher-cum-first baseman Buster Posey would make a strong rookie class all by themselves, but they, as well as Pirates second baseman Neil Walker and left fielder Jose Tabata, will have to continue their hot starts to break into the already crowded rookie field in the senior circuit. In the American League, Indians catcher Carlos Santana, who walked and singled against Strasburg on Sunday while batting third in the Cleveland lineup, Orioles right-hander Jake Arrieta, who beat the Yankees in his debut two days after Strasburg made his, and Rangers first baseman Justin Smoak, who was up in April but has only just started hitting, look primed to make waves in their league's much weaker rookie class.
Still, though the lists below are designed to project the winners, I couldn't quite bring myself to include Strasburg or Santana, who have appeared in five major league games between them, this week. Three weeks from now, however, we could see this "second wave" of 2010 rookies begin to dent these lists.
Note: All stats through Sunday, June 13. Rookies are players who, prior to the current season, have had fewer than 130 at-bats or 50 innings pitched in the majors or have spent fewer than 45 days on the active roster prior to rosters expanding on September 1.
1. Neftali Feliz, RHP, Rangers (Previous Ranking: 1)
Season Stats: 3.29 ERA, 1.10 WHIP, 9.5 K/9, 2.90 K/BB, 15 SV
Last Three Weeks: 4.50 ERA, 2.25 WHIP, 11.3 K/BB, 0.83 K/BB, 3 SV
Feliz is the only American League rookie to open the 2010 season on a major league roster and perform at an All-Star level consistently since. On pace for 40 saves, Feliz is the clear favorite for the AL Rookie of the Year award thanks in large part to a dearth of serious competition. Feliz's poor stats from the last three weeks stem from a combination of lack of use and one bad outing on Saturday, when he allowed two hits and two runs while getting just one out against the Brewers. Prior to that, he had allowed just one run and six hits in his last 17 appearances.
2. Brennan Boesch, OF, Tigers (3)
Season Stats: .342/.384/.625, 8 HR, 30 RBI, 21.1 VORP
Last Three Weeks: .345/.424/.638, 4 HR, 8 RBI
Though I ranked Boesch third three weeks ago, I cautioned that his walk rate was alarmingly low and suggested that the league would soon figure him out. Well, it seems Boesch might be smarter than the collected pitchers of the American League, as rather than letting his walk rate drag him down, he has brought his walk rate up and just kept on hitting. Boesch had just two unintentional walks in 98 plate appearances three weeks ago. Since then, he's drawn seven more walks in just 66 plate appearances, or one every 9.4 PA. Small sample warnings apply, and the overall result is a major league walk rate that's still poor and only a hair better than his minor league rate (majors: 18.2 PA/UIBB, minors: 19.4 PA/UIBB), but 41 games into his major league career, Boesch has shown no sign of slowing down and has drawn right up behind Feliz, whom he could ultimately pass if he keeps up his current pace as he has an outside shot at 30 home runs and 100 RBIs despite not making his debut until April 23.
3. Mitch Talbot, RHP, Indians (N/A)
Season Stats: 7-4, 3.59 ERA, 1.35 WHIP, 3.9 K/9, 1.10 K/BB
Last Three Weeks: 2-1, 2.96 ERA, 1.40 WHIP, 5.2 K/9, 2.00 K/BB
Cleveland starter Talbot just missed making my initial list three weeks ago. Per the second stat line above, he has pitched better since then, but what tripped me up at the time were his miserable peripherals. Talbot actually had four more walks than strikeouts three weeks ago and the Indians had scored an average of 7.6 runs per game in his five wins, but three more strong starts, one coming against a powerful Yankees team, and the retreat of his competition has him comfortably mid-list this week.
The 26-year-old Talbot has had quite a journey to this point. Drafted out of high school by the Astros in 2002, he was flipped to the then-Devil Rays along with Ben Zobrist in the July 2006 Aubrey Huff trade. Rule 5 eligible that fall, he was added to the Rays' 40-man roster, but he struggled in his Triple-A debut in 2007 and his brief major league look in 2008, then missed half of 2009 due to an elbow sprain. Out of options and coming off injury in a pitching-rich organization, he was flipped to the Indians for catcher Kelly Shoppach last December, only to win a spot in the rebuilding Tribe's rotation out of camp. Talbot is playing with fire with his miniscule strikeout rate, but has gotten by thus far with an excess of infield pop ups and double plays and some luck on balls in play, the last of which runs counter to his team's poor defensive showing thus far. Correction is coming, but I can no longer deny his performance to this point.
4. Austin Jackson, CF, Tigers (4)
Season Stats: .308/.352/.412, 1 HR, 14 RBI, 10 SB, 13.3 VORP
Last Three Weeks: .240/.250/.320, 0 HR, 3 RBI, 4 SB
Jackson has recovered from his frightening beaning on May 22, but he has not recovered from the slump that preceded that beaning by 12 days. Since May 10, a stretch of 124 plate appearances, Jackson has hit just .237/.274/.305. He is here purely on the strength of his performance through May 9, when he was hitting .371/.420/.508 after 143 PA. Even then, his league-leading strikeout total seemed worrisome, and though he's now three off the league lead, his high strikeout rate (now 67 in 60 games, a 179 K place) seems to be all that remains from his hot start. With Santana and company on the rise, Jackson, who left Sunday's game with lower back spasms, could be off the list three weeks from now.
5. Sergio Santos, RHP, White Sox (5)
Season Stats: 1.69 ERA, 1.31 WHIP, 11.4 K/9, 2.25 K/BB, 7 Holds
Last Three Weeks: 5.40 ERA, 2.40 WHIP, 12.6 K/9, 1.40 K/BB, 5 Holds
Converted infielder Santos was something of a placeholder three weeks ago and, despite some struggles in the interim, remains in that role again this week. He's here more because of the disappointing showings from Orioles left-hander Brian Matusz (who has pitched better than his 2-7 record, but not better than his 4.92 ERA) and Rays righty Wade Davis (who went 1-3 with an 8.41 ERA over his last four starts to fall off this list) and Smoak's slow start than because of his own solid set-up work. Santos is a long-shot at best for the actual award and should finally get bounced from this list the next time around.
Off the list: Wade Davis (2)