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NL East: Where are the Rookies?
The 2007 National League Rookie of the Year will not hail from the NL East.
This thought occurred to me as I sat in the Dolphin Stadium press box on Tuesday night, watching the Braves flambé rookie Marlins starter Rick Vanden Hurk for six earned runs on four hits and four walks in his one and only inning of work. (I bet you didn't know -- and probably don't care to -- that Vanden Hurk is just the fifth Dutchman to play in the majors, after Bert Blyleven and the immortal Win Remmerswaal, Rikkert Faneyte, and Robert Eenhoorn.) The Marlins sent the vicious Henricius (Vanden Hurk's full first name) all the way down to Double-A Carolina immediately after the game, although one wonders if they entertained thoughts of shipping him back to Eindhoven.
In recent years, the NL East has produced bumper crop after bumper crop of rooks. Last season, thanks in large measure to the Marlins, more than 58 percent (7 of 12) of the NL ROY vote-getters came from the division, including the top four finishers in Hanley Ramirez, Ryan Zimmerman, Dan Uggla and Josh Johnson. Philadelphia's Ryan Howard won the award in 2005, with Jeff Francoeur finishing third; Dontrelle Willis took it in 2003; then-Brave Rafael Furcal won in 2000.
This spring, however, the field lies fallow. In a poll that appears in this week's SI in which 229 National League players were asked to predict who will win this year's ROY award, the top NL East vote getter was Mike Pelfrey at 4 percent -- and the ballyhooed Mets prospect has been mediocre in his three starts, currently sporting a 7.90 ERA after the Rockies creamed him yesterday.
Several players who have not before played a full season (including Braves second baseman Kelly Johnson, Mets starter John Maine and Nats starter Shawn Hill) have impressed in their first regular gigs, but they don't technically qualify as rookies. And while I expect a few first-years starters, including Pelfrey and Washington's Matt Chico, to move up the list in the next few months, none of them have so far done anything special. Here, then, is a thin rookie class's top five to this point, in descending order:
5. Matt Lindstrom, Marlins RHP
Lindstrom took the loss in Tuesday's game because Braves starter Mark Redman turned in a performance as bad as Vanden Hurk's and allowed four first inning runs of his own to tie the score (Lindstrom allowed only one run, the tie-breaker), but he's been a key component of the most overworked bullpen in the majors. The hard-throwing 6-4 righty has a sub-three ERA and is striking out more than a batter an inning. He still must work on his control (6 BB in 9+ IP).
4. Henry Owens, Marlins RHP
On Wednesday Florida manager Fredi Gonzalez continue to refuse to officially name Owens as his closer, but didn't deny it when reporters asked if it can be assumed that he is. (I was tempted to ask Fredi to cough or blink twice if it's true that Owens will receive the next save opportunity, but refrained). He's got a save and a WHIP under 1.30, but a team-worst K rate (3.09 per 9 innings); there aren't many clubs that can say that about their closer, and for good reason.
3. Alejandro de Aza, Marlins CF
Surprise, another rookie Marlin! De Aza started his career with an eight game hitting streak—then he sprained his ankle in his ninth game and hasn't played since. Still, he's a speedster hitting .303 who should regain his starting role and No. 8 hitting spot from Alfredo Amezaga when he returns. This year, that's good enough for third place.
2. Carlos Ruiz, Phillies C
Philadelphia signed free agent Rod Barajas from Texas to catch for them, but Ruiz, in his ninth year with the organization, has 50 at bats and a .300 average to Barajas's 22 and .189. The 28-year-old Panamanian has thrown out just three of 16 basestealers, but has allowed only one passed ball. Ruiz could solidify his hold on the job if Barajas continues to struggle with the bat.
1. Joe Smith, Mets RP
The "common name, uncommon game" joke has already been used by scores of New York writers, but it's appropriate. Smith, who a year ago was pitching for Wright State, pitched 32.2 innings in Single and Double A before making the big club this spring. Check out his line so far: 1-0, 10.0 IP, 10 K, 1.00 WHIP, 0 ER. Project those numbers out, and the NL East may have itself another Rookie of the Year after all.
Labels: NL East
posted by SI.com | View comments |
Isn't Curacao part of the Netherlands, which is why Andruw Jones played for the Dutch team in the WBC? And then of course there was Honus Wagner (not literally a Dutchman - born in Chartiers, PA).
Saying a person from Curacao is Dutch is like saying somebody from Puerto Rico is American. It might be technically correct, but you'd better believe that no self-respecting Puerto Rican is going to refer to themself as such.
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