NL Rookie of the Year Rankings: Wilin Rosario Makes a Late Charge in the Top 5

Ian CasselberryMLB Lead WriterSeptember 25, 2012

NL Rookie of the Year Rankings: Wilin Rosario Makes a Late Charge in the Top 5

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    It's no fun to say a race is over, but the competition for NL Rookie of the Year has probably been decided. 

    With nine days remaining in the regular season as of Sept. 25, there might still be time for one of the NL's first-year players to make a late charge. But Wade Miley has likely built up enough of a lead that he will prevail, barring a total collapse in his final two starts.

    This week's rankings have a swap of Milwaukee Brewers rookies. Mike Fiers was nudged out of the top five after lasting only three innings in his most recent start. But that opened up a spot for Norichika Aoki, who some feel should have been on this list long ago.

    One player I really wanted to add but ultimately didn't was the Colorado Rockies' Jordan Pacheco. His .306 batting average is second among MLB rookies, and his 135 hits rank third in the NL. Maybe he'll break into the top five next week.

    After a little bit of shuffling, the following five players look like the leading contenders for the NL Rookie of the Year Award in our view.  

    All statistics mentioned are current as of Sept. 25.

5. Norichika Aoki, Milwaukee Brewers

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    Last week: Unranked.

    Adding Norichika Aoki to these NL Rookie of the Year rankings might be overdue to those who have advocated for him all season. With one week remaining in the regular season, he finally breaks through. 

    I've admitted in the past to having a bias against Aoki being considered for NL Rookie of the Year. Whether it's fair or not, I don't feel like a 30-year-old who played eight seasons of professional Japanese baseball should be judged the same way as a player in his 20s experiencing Major League Baseball for the first time. 

    But the rules say Aoki should be considered a rookie since he, too, is facing MLB competition for the first time in his career. 

    For the season, Aoki is batting .288 with 34 doubles, nine home runs and 46 RBI. That batting average ranks fourth among NL rookies, while his .355 on-base percentage places him second. Aoki's .786 OPS is the fifth-best among the league's first-year players. 

    With 34 doubles, Aoki ranks second only to Yonder Alonso. He also leads all NL rookies with 28 stolen bases. 

    Perhaps most impressive is the contribution Aoki has made during September while the Milwaukee Brewers played themselves back into the NL wild-card playoff race. In 100 plate appearances, he's batted. .310/.380/.552 with 10 doubles, three home runs and 14 RBI. 

4. Bryce Harper, Washington Nationals

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    Last week: No. 4.

    Why does Bryce Harper get the nod over Norichika Aoki in these NL Rookie of the Year rankings?

    As mentioned, Aoki has eight seasons of professional baseball on his resume, even if it was played at a different level. Meanwhile, Harper is in his second year of pro ball at the age of 19. 

    However, it's not just about experience and age.

    Harper's .258 batting average and .330 on-base percentage are less than Aoki's, but the Washington Nationals outfielder has a big advantage in power with 19 home runs and a .449 slugging mark. 

    One of the reasons the Nats called Harper up when they did in late April was to add some power to a lineup that didn't have much pop. It took Harper most of the season to find that home run swing, but he appears to have it now. Ten of his home runs have been hit since Aug. 1. 

    In seven games since last week's rankings, Harper hit 5-for-27 (.185). That's dropped his triple-slash average for September to .280/.359/.537.

    Harper will likely benefit from manager Davey Johnson's intention to rest his regulars through the final nine games of the regular season.

    That will affect his season numbers, of course. But the Nats surely care more about having their rookie fresh for the playoffs. 

3. Todd Frazier, Cincinnati Reds

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    Last week: No. 3.

    Todd Frazier once looked like a favorite to win NL Rookie of the Year, but he drops to third in our rankings, as his playing time continues to dwindle in September.

    After getting 122 plate appearances in August while filling in for the injured Joey Votto and Scott Rolen, Frazier has only received 62 PAs thus far through September and has a .211/.274/.263 triple-slash average and three extra-base hits to show for it.

    Frazier hasn't hit a home run since Aug. 21, allowing Bryce Harper to leapfrog him in that category and Wilin Rosario to expand his lead.

    However, his 64 RBI are still second among NL rookies, as is his .509 slugging percentage, and his .849 OPS ranks third. 

    With nine games remaining in the regular season, Cincinnati Reds manager Dusty Baker surely wants to get Votto and Rolen sharp for the playoffs. Unfortunately, that will come at Frazier's expense. 

    Regardless, there's no doubt he has been one of the NL's top rookies this season. 

2. Wilin Rosario, Colorado Rockies

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    Last week: No. 2.

    CBS Sports' Jon Heyman calls Colorado Rockies catcher Wilin Rosario the best young player you haven't heard much about, but we've been touting him for weeks in these NL Rookie of the Year rankings.

    Rosario had an incredible week at the plate, notching three hits in four consecutive games. He—not Larry Walker, Todd Helton or Troy Tulowitzki—is the first hitter to do that in Rockies history.

    Overall for the week, he batted 13-for-25 (.525) with two doubles, two home runs and five RBI.

    With his home run on Saturday (Sept. 22), Rosario reached 26 for the season and broke Helton's team record for rookie home runs. That total leads NL rookies. Only Mike Trout has more among MLB first-year players.

    Rosario also leads NL rookies with 69 RBI and a .537 slugging percentage. His .851 OPS trails the St. Louis Cardinals' Matt Carpenter by three points. 

    Those hitting numbers make up for Rosario's defensive shortcomings. But he'll certainly have to improve behind the plate for next season.

    The Rockies have had a terrible pitching staff this season, but 58 wild pitches and 20 passed balls allowed won't help the confidence of any young pitcher who might bounce a ball in the dirt. 

1. Wade Miley, Arizona Diamondbacks

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    Last week: No. 1.

    Unless Wade Miley is terrible in his final two starts of the season, he will very likely win the NL Rookie of the Year Award. 

    With Todd Frazier's September slump, Miley's primary competition has been eliminated. Wilin Rosario's surge might help him close in, but it's probably too late for him to really make a charge.

    Miley's biggest threat is if the worst fears of many fans are realized and Bryce Harper gets a majority of the vote because he's been the most hyped and celebrated rookie in the NL. 

    The Arizona Diamondbacks left-hander actually had one of his worst performances of the season in his most recent start. Pitching six innings, Miley allowed five runs and 10 hits. But the game did take place at Coors Field, so that should probably be considered.

    Unfortunately, giving up five runs increased Miley's ERA to 3.25 and knocked him out of the league's 10 best pitchers in that category. But he ranks No. 11, so he could very easily work his way back into the top 10 before the end of the season. 

    Miley's walk rate of 1.7 per nine innings—the fifth-best among MLB starting pitchers—should also be considered. Even in that last start in which he gave up 10 hits, he issued zero walks. 

    Between those numbers and 16 wins for a D-Backs team that is still on the fringes of the NL wild-card race with a week left in the regular season, Miley has made an impressive, award-worthy showing.

     

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