MLB Rookie of the Year Stock Watch: Where Top 10 Candidates Stand in Week 5
It’s only a little over a month into the Major League Baseball season—meaning all statistics still represent a small sample size—but many of the game’s top rookies are off to a hot start.
At the same time, there are several highly regarded young players who have struggled—some even mightily—to begin the season. While some of them will be encouraged to work through their scuffles in the majors, others will face an inevitable demotion if they don’t right turn things around in a hurry.
With so many notable prospects starting the season in the major leagues, it’s never too early to speculate about the Rookie of the Year Award. Therefore, I will break down the race in each league on a weekly basis this season with a detailed look at certain prospects' stock.
Here’s a look at how some of the top rookies have fared through the first three weeks of the season.
Aaron Hicks, OF, Minnesota Twins
2013 Stats: .115/.231/.154, 11 R, 2 XBH, 8 RBI, 3 SB, 28/12 K/BB (23 G)
Making the jump directly from Double-A, Hicks was noticeably out-sequenced and overmatched by big-league pitching in the early going. Through his first nine games, the 23-year-old switch-hitter was batting .047/.128/.047 with 20 strikeouts.
However, he’s been flashing signs of putting things together over the last two weeks. Between April 23-28, Hicks put together a five-game hitting streak during which he fanned only three times.
The adaptation process has been slow, but the Twins have been willing to stick with him. And it's worth noting that Hicks has been a slow-starter in nearly every season, and especially when it’s his first at a more advanced level.
Justin Grimm, RHP, Texas Rangers
2013 Stats: 23.2 IP, 2.28 ERA, .237 BAA, 24/8 K/BB (4 GS)
Promoted from Triple-A to the major leagues after the Rangers placed Matt Harrison on the disabled list (back), Grimm has surpassed all expectations by posting a 1.59 ERA with 15/4 K/BB over his first three starts. As a result of his success, the rookie right-hander was named MLB’s Rookie of the Month for April.
However, after facing the Seattle Mariners (twice) and Minnesota Twins, Grimm was challenged for the first time this season against the White Sox on Thursday night. Throwing a season-high 105 pitches (only 65 strikes), the 24-year-old allowed three runs on six hits over 6.2 innings. He continued to miss bats though, as he recorded nine strikeouts for the second time this season.
Conor Gillaspie, 3B, Chicago White Sox
2013 Stats: .319/.368/.522, 7 XBH (3 HR), 19/6 K/BB (26 G)
A first-round draft pick in 2008, Gillaspie appeared in only 29 games with the Giants over parts of three seasons before he was traded to the White Sox in late February. Since then, the 25-year-old continues to be a pleasant surprise on the South Side, as he’s currently batting .319/.368/.522 with three home runs through 26 games.
Gillaspie has always demonstrated the ability to mash right-handed pitching in the minor leagues, so it’s not entirely surprising that he’s posted a 1.003 OPS against them this season.
Nick Tepesch, RHP, Texas Rangers
2013 Stats: 28 IP, 3.54 ERA, .259 BAA, 18/5 K/BB (5 GS)
A 14th-round draft pick in 2010, Tepesch broke camp as the Rangers’ fifth starter after Martin Perez suffered a fractured left forearm during spring training.
Although he had never logged an inning above Double-A, the Rangers were confident that 24-year-old would handle the jump considering his college background, deep arsenal and above-average command. And so far, the right-hander has done little to prove them wrong.
Although the American League Rookie of the Month honor was bestowed to teammate Justin Grimm, Tepesch also made a strong case by registering a 2.53 ERA with 14/3 K/BB over four starts, including three outings in which he allowed one earned run or less.
That said, he was knocked around for the first time against the White Sox on Wednesday night when he gave up a season-high five earned runs on eight hits (two home runs).
With both Tepesch and Grimm holding their own, it’ll be interesting to see how the Rangers manage the starting rotation once Perez and Colby Lewis are healthy. I’m just going to go ahead and say what we’re all thinking: trade bait.
Carter Capps, RHP, Seattle Mariners
2013 Stats: 16 IP, 4.50 ERA, .288 BAA (4 HR), 19/3 K/BB (12 G)
Selected in the third round of the 2011 draft, Capps appeared in only 43 minor-league games before receiving a promotion to the majors last summer.
Since then, the 6’5” right-hander has emerged as one of the more electric setup men in the American League thanks to a max-effort, unorthodox delivery and plus-plus fastball. Although his command can be almost effectively wild at times, there’s no question that Capps has the stuff to close games in the future.
Usually working either the seventh or eighth inning, the 23-year-old has fanned at least one batter in each of his 12 appearances this season. He’s struck out multiple batters in half of them. The thing to like about Capps is that he doesn’t shy away from challenging hitters, especially with the fastball.
However, that also can make him easy to square up if he catches too much plate. Of the five games in which Capps has allowed a run this season, he’s surrendered a home run in three of them. While it’s not a huge concern, it is something to keep in mind when envisioning the right-hander as a closer.
Shelby Miller, RHP, St. Louis Cardinals
2013 Stats: 36.2 IP, 1.96 ERA, .209 BAA, 38/11 K/BB (6 GS)
To say that the St. Louis Cardinals’ rotation has been good is a gross understatement. Through the first month-plus of the season, the team’s starters own an MLB-best 2.07 ERA, which ranks well ahead of the second-place Dodgers’ (3.07 ERA).
At the back end of the rotation is right-hander Shelby Miller, who has been the organization’s top pitching prospect since they selected him in the first round of the 2009 draft. After a quick ascension of the Cardinals’ farm system, the 22-year-old arguably has been baseball’s top rookie over the first month of the season.
Although he has a three-pitch mix, Miller’s bread and butter is a swing-and-miss fastball that he’s thrown 73 percent of the time this season. Because he’s usually around the strike zone with the pitch, he naturally induces a high number of swings (48.68 percent), as well as an impressive number of whiffs (22.83 percent).
Tony Cingrani, LHP, Cincinnati Reds
2013 Stats: 18 IP, 1.50 ERA, .188 BAA, 28/4 K/BB (3 GS)
After dominating in the minor leagues last season and reaching the majors as a September call-up, Cingrani opened the year at Triple-A Louisville, where he allowed three hits and struck out 26 batters over 14.1 scoreless frames.
Seemingly impervious to the effects of jumping levels, the left-hander has continued to dominate since replacing Johnny Cueto in the Reds’ starting rotation in mid-April.
Recording eight and nine strikeouts, respectively, in his first two starts, Cingrani, 23, set the bar even higher on Sunday when he fanned 11 Nationals’ batters over six scoreless frames.
Like Miller, Cingrani also throws a swing-and-miss fastball and relies very little on his secondary offerings. Granted it’s a smaller sample, but he’s thrown the pitch 79 percent of the time through three starts in the major leagues.
And with a swing-and-miss rate of 12.55 percent, it makes sense that his K/9 sits at a reliever-like 14.0.
Jim Henderson, LHP, Milwaukee Brewers
2013 Stats: 6 SV, 12 IP, 0.75 ERA, .143 BAA, 15/3 K/BB (12 G)
At 30 years old, Henderson doesn’t exactly fit the traditional mold of a rookie. Luckily, his age, at least in this scenario, is clearly unrelated to his ability to miss bats and close games in the major leagues.
Due to the struggles of the Brewers bullpen during the first few weeks of the season, the right-hander was given an opportunity to close games and hasn’t looked back.
After posting a very impressive 13.2 K/9 over 30.2 innings in 2012, Henderson is once again eluding bats at a favorable rate (11.3 K/9). More importantly, especially as it pertains to his role as the team’s closer, he’s been stingy in allowing baserunners (0.75 WHIP) while going a perfect 6-for-6 in save opportunities.
Evan Gattis, C, Atlanta Braves
2013 Stats: .250/.302/.557, 7 HR, 17 RBI, 22/6 K/BB (24 G)
If you’re not rooting for Gattis, then I have no choice but to question whether you have a soul. After making the Braves’ Opening Day roster, the 26-year-old janitor-turned-big-leaguer has emerged as the team’s everyday backstop with Brian McCann on the disabled list.
Since posting a 1.179 OPS with four home runs through his first eight games in the major leagues, Gattis has come back down to earth due to the adjustments made by opposing pitchers. That said, the right-handed hitter has made adjustments of his own as his batting average seemingly has stabilized at .250.
Gattis also deserves recognition for his performance behind the plate, as he’s already saved three runs and committed only one passed ball in 171.1 innings. Additionally, he’s held his own controlling the running game with a 29 percent caught-stealing rate.
Recently named the National League Rookie of the Month for April, it seems as though the Braves will have to find a way to keep his bat in the lineup even when McCann returns.
Wily Peralta, RHP, Milwaukee Brewers
2013 Stats: 33 IP, 6.00 ERA, .306 BAA, 18/14 K/BB (6 GS)
After registering a 2.48 ERA last season over five starts as a September call-up, Peralta won a spot in the Brewers’ Opening Day rotation.
However, just as it was the case last season in Triple-A, the right-hander’s control and command has varied from start to start. As a result, he’s yet to work into the seventh inning and owns a disconcerting (and career-worst) 4.9 K/9.
The Brewers have a few other pitching prospects itching for a call-up to the major leagues—specifically, right-hander Jimmy Nelson in Double-A—and considering they’re off to a respectable start this season, Peralta may be running out of time to prove he belongs in the starting rotation.