2013 MLB Rookie of the Year Stock Watch, Week 5
When the 2013 season started, the MLB rookie class looked sketchy, to say the least. There were several notable names worth keeping an eye on, but there was a huge red flag they had to overcome to succeed in the big leagues.
Now, more than one month into the season, we can safely say that a lot of questions about this group of rookies have been answered. Even if there is a long way to go, we can gauge where the candidates stand.
Going over the top Rookie of the Year candidates coming into the year, here is where their stock stands as we get deeper into May and the summer months. We will start with the American League candidates and shift to the National League in the second half.
Note: All stats courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com unless otherwise noted.
Aaron Hicks, OF, Minnesota Twins
The Twins gave Aaron Hicks the center field job on the basis of a strong spring training. He has always been a good prospect, but no one thought he was ready to jump from Double-A to the big leagues right away.
So far, those doubts have proven to be right. Hicks struggles to adjust to new leagues wherever he goes; it has been his pattern in the minors for years. But because the Twins don't have another viable option in center and can afford to let Hicks hit his way out of his struggles, he remains in the big leagues when a similar player on a different team might have been sent down.
Eventually, Hicks will have to start hitting much better than he is right now in order to keep his job. He is far behind the eight ball in the Rookie of the Year race, though the good news is that the AL crop hasn't been particularly strong so far this season.
Somewhat surprising is just how bad Hicks' defense has been. He is regarded as a plus defender in center field with plus-plus arm strength and plus range, but his UZR is minus-3.9 already (per Fangraphs). On the bright side, he has saved the Twins one defensive run thus far.
Conor Gillaspie, 3B, Chicago White Sox
When the White Sox acquired Conor Gillaspie from San Francisco in February, it was a minor move that didn't seem like it would have an impact on the season. However, one month in, and the 25-year-old third baseman has been solid in every phase of the game.
Gillaspie has had a few brief exposures to the big leagues in the past, playing 29 career games with the Giants from 2008-12. Despite being a first-round pick in the 2008 draft, he wasn't that highly regarded coming out of Wichita State. He was more of a good player the Giants reached for than one boasting a high ceiling.
But now that Gillaspie has gotten a chance to play everyday, he is taking advantage of it. His wOBA of .352 ranks first among all rookies with at least 30 games played. He has also been valuable on defense, saving three runs with the glove.
Whether this hot start lasts or not, Gillaspie has given the White Sox far more than they could have hoped for thus far.
Justin Grimm, RHP, Texas Rangers
One big problem Texas faced coming into the season was trying to figure out what was going to happen in their rotation once you got past Yu Darvish. Matt Harrison was an All-Star last year even though some of his numbers suggested that regression was coming.
Of course, Harrison made just two starts this year before hurting his back and will be out until after the All-Star break.
One bright spot has been Justin Grimm, who has given the Rangers a solid performance in the back of the rotation. Despite having the resume of a strong candidate, I am going to hold my expectations in check for one big reason: quality of competition.
Four of Grimm's five starts have come against Seattle, Minnesota and Chicago. The Twins have the best offense (based on runs scored) in that group, and they are only 17th in the league. The Mariners and White Sox rank 27th and 29th, respectively.
I do like Grimm's 3-to-1 strikeout-to-walk ratio and 3.32 FIP so far, but I can't help feeling that the other shoe will drop soon.
Nick Tepesch, RHP, Texas Rangers
Nick Tepesch hasn't put together quite as strong a season, at least with the standard numbers, as Justin Grimm. But he might be more valuable when you dive deeper into what the young right-hander has been able to do.
For example, Tepesch has shown much better control within the strike zone and has a terrific ground-ball rate (55.4) that is likely to let him maintain the level of success he has had thus far, if not improve on it.
Like Grimm, though, Tepesch has also benefited from a soft schedule so far. He does have one start against Tampa Bay, which ranks in the top 10 in runs scored, but the rest of them have come against Seattle (twice), Minnesota and both Chicago teams.
Tepesch is more of a contact pitcher who needs to work down in the zone, so his margin of error is very small. But as long as he is locating pitches, which he has never had an issue with in the minors, the 24-year-old should be just fine against better competition.
Jedd Gyorko, 2B/3B, San Diego Padres
When you play half of your home games in Petco Park, especially as a rookie, it is going to be difficult to put up the big offensive numbers you need to capture the attention of voters. Of course, that hasn't been the case for Jedd Gyorko so far.
Gyorko has great skill with the bat and is starting to show it off. He has bounced back from a slow start to put up very respectable numbers so far. After dropping down to .210/.296/.258 on April 21, he has gone 19-for-59 (.322) with six doubles, two home runs, four walks and 12 strikeouts.
The 24-year-old has hit much better at home (.323/.403/.500) than on the road (.203/.242/.322) this season. If he can keep up that pace in San Diego while bringing up his road numbers to even league average, he should have no problems staying in the NL Rookie of the Year race.
Also adding to Gyorko's value has been his solid defense at second base. After struggling to handle third base in the absence of Chase Headley, Gyorko is putting together a good season with the glove at second. He has a UZR of 0.4 already, which translates to 7.3 over the course of 150 games (per Fangraphs).
Evan Gattis, C, Atlanta Braves
The fact that Evan Gattis is even in the big leagues, let alone having success, is a big deal on its own. He is a 26-year-old who left the game of baseball seven years earlier to find himself and worked a series of jobs to get by.
Gattis returned to baseball in 2010 with the Braves and rather quickly climbed his way up from rookie ball to the big leagues in just three years.
His calling card has always been above-average bat speed and power, which he has put on display this season. Having a catcher with 15 extra-base hits already speaks volumes about the ability that Gattis has.
However, it is hard to give a vote of confidence to a player with a 4-to-1 strikeout-to-walk ratio and a .286 on-base percentage.
Gattis has shown himself to be a good power hitter, but now he has to work on making it last—especially now that Brian McCann is back and playing everyday for the Braves.
Shelby Miller, RHP, St. Louis Cardinals
When Arizona's Adam Eaton went down with an elbow injury in spring training, Shelby Miller became my pick for NL Rookie of the Year for two reasons. First, and most obvious, he had a job coming out of spring training. Playing time is kind of a big deal when handing out awards.
Second, Miller's combination of power, mound presence and command was ready to play in the big leagues.
It is safe to say that after just one month, Miller has exceeded even the most optimistic projections. He had a streak of four straight starts when he struck out at least six hitters. He has thrown six innings or more in four of his six starts.
While I don't expect Miller to have a 3.5-to-1 strikeout-to-walk ratio all season, his stuff is good enough to average at least one punchout per inning, and he stays in the zone enough to force hitters to put the ball in play.
Of course, I say that, then Miller goes out and throws what I like to call a one-hit perfect game against Colorado on Friday night. He gave up a leadoff single to Eric Young then retired the next 27 batters, striking out 13 of them.
It was as dominant as any rookie has been in a single game this season, and yet it didn't feel completely out of character with what we have seen from Miller in the previous six starts.
The Cardinals have a rash of hard-throwing right-handers in the high levels of the minors or recently promoted to the big leagues (Miller, Trevor Rosenthal, Carlos Martinez), but Miller is going to be the best of the bunch.
A.J. Pollock, OF, Arizona Diamondbacks
Arizona's new-look outfield hasn't worked out as well as the front office had hoped, though some of that can be attributed to the loss of Adam Eaton for the first few weeks of the season.
A.J. Pollock has been handling center field duty in the interim with middling results. He does lead the league with 12 doubles, and his four home runs so far are a nice surprise. But you can't be a starter in this league with a .281 on-base percentage.
Considering his knack for swinging, Pollock has to hit for average in order to keep his OBP at a respectable level. The adjustments have to come against off-speed pitches, because opponents can exploit him to no end right now.
With the Diamondbacks having a wealth of outfielders right now, as well as Eaton rehabbing at Triple-A, Pollock doesn't appear likely to have a starting job for much longer.
Hyun-Jin Ryu, LHP, Los Angeles Dodgers
Even though a dark cloud has been hanging over Los Angeles this season—between the two baseball teams and the Lakers' issues—trying to find silver linings is a difficult task.
But Hyun-Jin Ryu has lived up to his billing, coming out of South Korea and signing a big contract with the Dodgers this winter. Ryu works with an average fastball, good off-speed pitches, command and deception.
That could eventually catch up to him, especially when he gets around to facing teams two and three times in a season, but, for now, all is good.
Tony Cingrani, LHP, Cincinnati Reds
I debated including Tony Cingrani on this list, because right now he doesn't have enough innings to qualify for the ERA title, which is usually one of my criteria for an award like this.
But since it is still early in the season and Cingrani doesn't appear to be going anywhere, here you go.
Cingrani destroyed Triple-A at the start of the year, striking out 26 and allowing just three hits in 14.1 innings before forcing the Reds to bring him up.
There are a few warning signs to keep in mind when projecting Cingrani going forward. He is still missing bats and not allowing a lot of hits, but four home runs allowed in 24 innings is scary. He can throw his fastball around 94 mph, though he works better in the 90-92 range.
Since deception is a big part of Cingrani's delivery—the ball is incredibly difficult to pick up out of his hand because he hides it so well—he can be a quality starter for a Cincinnati team that needs it. He won't be this good all year, but he will be a quality No. 3.