Posted: Thursday August 9, 2012 11:09AM ; Updated: Thursday August 9, 2012 1:01PM
Cliff Corcoran
Cliff Corcoran>MLB AWARDS WATCH

Rookie of the Year watch (cont.)

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American League

Mike Trout
Even a major slide likely won't prevent Mike Trout from winning the AL Rookie of the Year award.
US Presswire

1. Mike Trout, CF, Angels (1)

Season Stats: .345/.409/.597, 20 HR, 60 RBI, 87 R, 36 SB

Last Three Weeks: .316/.418/.645, 7 HR, 16 RBI, 6 SB

Sometime between now and mid-November, when these awards are announced, I'm probably going to be writing a piece ranking the greatest rookie seasons of all time. That's because Trout is in the middle of one of them. One needn't even invoke Trout's age or rookie status to put his season in elite company. Consider this: Just three players in major league history have hit .340 with 20 home runs and 30 steals in a season in which they qualified for the batting title. Two of them played at Coors Field in the 1990s (Ellis Burks in 1996 and Larry Walker in 1997). The other was Willie Mays in 1958. That's the kind of season Mike Trout is having.

2. Yoenis Cespedes, LF, A's (2)

Season Stats: .307/.367/.517, 14 HR, 56 RBI, 10 SB

Last Three Weeks: .366/.430/.549, 3 HR, 14 RBI, 4 SB

Since returning from the All-Star break, Cespedes has hit .402/.455/.630. He did sit out a couple of games over the weekend due to a wrist sprain but went 3-for-9 in his last two games and returned to the outfield on Wednesday.

Cespedes' fragility remains a concern, but he's nonetheless proving to be an excellent investment for the A's, who have surged into a playoff spot with significant help from rookie players. Cespedes is the best of that crop, but first baseman Chris Carter has come on strong of late, hitting .267/.411/.633 with 10 home runs since being recalled at the end of June. The rotation has been anchored all season by Tommy Milone, was buoyed by the addition of Jarrod Parker at the end of April, both of whom have spent time on this list, and recently added Dan Straily, who has the most strikeouts of any pitcher at any level this season, though he was roughed up by the Angels in his second big league start on Wednesday afternoon.

Oakland has also gotten strong relief pitching from rookie closer Ryan Cook, who came over from Arizona with Parker in the Trevor Cahill trade, and converted fist-base prospect Sean Doolittle. However, they all pale next to Cespedes, the 26-year-old Cuban who, despite an injury plagued first half, is living up to the hype.

3. Scott Diamond, LHP, Twins (5)

Season Stats: 10-5, 2.91 ERA, 1.17 WHIP, 4.9 K/9, 3.88 K/BB, 6.7 IP/GS, 1 SHO, 139 ERA+

Last Four Starts: 2-2, 2.76 ERA, 1.06 WHIP, 4.3 K/9, 4.67 K/BB, 7.3 IP/GS, 1 SHO

Diamond leads qualified major league rookies in innings per start, quality start percentage (he is tied for the rookie lead in quality starts with 12 in just 17 turns) and strikeout-to-walk ratio (tied with Miley), and leads qualified AL rookies in ERA, ERA+, WHIP, and wins (tied with Wei-Yin Chen). Diamond also authored the only shutout by an American League rookie this season, dominating the Indians on July 27. In that game, the 26-year-old lefty retired the first 14 men in order, allowed just three baserunners, none of whom reached third base. He also struck out six.

4. Will Middlebrooks, 3B, Red Sox (3)

Season Stats: .292/.327/.519, 15 HR, 54 RBI

Last Three Weeks: .297/.338/.516, 4 HR, 12 RBI

Middlebrooks drew two walks off Matt Harrison in Wednesday's game against the Rangers, marking the first time since he was called up at the start of May, less than a week before Diamond, that he took ball four twice in one game. In fact, only once all season had he drawn two walks over the course of two consecutive games.

Those two walks don't appear to be the start of a trend; rather they highlight the one area in which the 23-year-old Middlebrooks needs to improve. He's hitting for average and power and playing a solid third base, he just needs to get on base a bit more often. The good news is that he's working deep counts, seeing 3.86 pitches per plate appearance, right around the major league average, but he has walked less often than once every 18 plate appearances over the last two seasons, majors and minors combined. That has to change.

5. Wei-Yin Chen, LHP, Orioles (N/A)

Season Stats: 10-6, 3.46 ERA, 1.20 WHIP, 7.2 K/9, 2.48 K/BB, 6.2 IP/GS, 121 ERA+

Last Four Starts: 3-1, 2.05 ERA, 1.03 WHIP, 8.9 K/9, 2.89 K/BB, 6.6 IP/GS

A's lefty Tommy Milone is the only rookie to have thrown more innings than Chen this season, and among qualified rookies, only Miley and Diamond have a better ERA and ERA+, though 23-year-old White Sox lefty Jose Quintana is gaining quickly, having posted a 2.78 ERA and 154+ ERA+ over 90 2/3 innings in 13 starts and a pair of relief appearances.

Chen has held off that charge and leapfrogged the suddenly scuffling Milone (0-3, 7.58 ERA over his last three starts) on the strength of a strong run of five starts which saw him post a 1.95 ERA and strike out 12 men in the only one of those five starts that wasn't quality (he fell an out short in that game in which he allowed just one unearned run).

Off the list: Tommy Milone (4)

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