What Is Causing the Extreme Talent Gap Between the 2013 AL, NL Rookie Pools?

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What Is Causing the Extreme Talent Gap Between the 2013 AL, NL Rookie Pools?
Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images
Shelby Miller is just one reason why the NL's 2013 rookie class has been so much better than the AL's.

Wil Myers has his work cut out for him.

Not only is the freshly-promoted top prospect carrying the potential playoff hopes of the Tampa Bay Rays on his shoulders, he also may well be personally responsible for saving the American League's 2013 rookie class.

Talk about a lot to handle for a 22-year-old kid who's been in the majors about as long as Moonlight Graham.

Fact is, though, the AL's batch of first-year players this season has been underwhelming, to say the least, so far.

Over in the National League, well, they're just swimming in promising—and productive—rookies.

Among arms, there's Shelby Miller, Julio Teheran, Hyun-Jin Ryu, Jose Fernandez, Tony Cingrani, Trevor Rosenthal, Jim Henderson and Gerrit Cole. In the position player portion, there's Evan Gattis, Jedd Gyorko, Didi Gregorius, Nolan Arenado, Anthony Rendon and Matt Adams.

Oh, and that Puig dude.

The AL's answer to all that is, um... Dan Straily and Jose Iglesias?

While it may have gone unnoticed at the time, when ESPN's Jim Bowden released his latest Rookie Rankings, which rates all rooks based on performance this year, the AL claimed only one of the top 15—and it was Indians reliever Cody Allen.

Not exactly a fair fight to this point, huh?

With so much disparity between the two rookie classes nearly halfway through 2013, a simple question comes to mind: What gives?

 

Top Prospect Breakdowns

Let's start at the top—as in, the top prospects.

To make sure the balance wasn't skewed heading into the season, a quick examination of four annual and reputable top 100 prospect rankings—Baseball America, Baseball Prospectus, ESPN and MLB—reveals that the breakdown is pretty evenly split.

Baseball America, Baseball Prospectus and ESPN all have 49 AL prospects in their top 100s, which means they all have 51 NL prospects (or 52 in BP's case, since they do a top 101).

MLB, meanwhile, lists 53 in the AL and 47 in the NL.

But since we're focused on 2013's rookie classes, what about prospects who appeared on any one of the four top 100 lists and who have also made it to the majors this year?

Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images
At 4-2 with a 4.97 ERA and 1.14 WHIP, Dan Straily hasn't been terrible. But that's about the best we can say about the guy who's arguably been the AL's top rookie so far.

The NL wins that battle with 20 prospects to the AL's 16, so we're getting somewhere. But it's not really a huge discrepancy, either.

There's obviously a lot of overlap in these four rankings, and granted, these lists are for future projection more than they're about 2013 alone, but it's a good starting point that shows the AL-NL dynamic isn't out of whack on an overall talented-young-players front.

 

The WAR War

Now that we know there's a similar number of high-end prospects from each league who have made their way to the majors this season, let's figure out how AL and NL rookies have performed on the whole.

According to FanGraphs, the AL's batch of first-year hitters has accumulated only 1.8 WAR so far, while pitchers have tallied a slightly more impressive 7.6 WAR.

Over in the NL? Rookie arms have soared to 8.8 WAR, whereas hitters have compiled 10.7 WAR.

So our gut feeling—that the AL rookie class has been pretty awful, especially compared to the current NL group—proves true. The ALers have totaled just 9.4 WAR compared to 19.5 by the NLers.

Here's the damage, in chart form:

That's more than twice as much WAR production, if you're scoring at home. And you should've noticed that a massive portion of the gap comes from the poor showing by AL rookie position players.

(Quick aside: Mike Trout's 2012 rookie WAR of 10.0 was higher than the combined WAR by all AL rooks to date in 2013. Even though Trout's tally will eventually be surpassed—we are, after all, not even halfway through the MLB season—it's still incredible to think that one player was essentially more productive last season than the dozens and dozens of AL rookies have been this year.)

Now let's bring back the top 100 lists we mentioned before and see how those stack up.

The table at right in blue shows all 16 of the AL prospects who made an appearance in any of the four top 100 prospects rankings.

As you can see, the "AL 16" accounts for a mere 1.4 WAR—combined. That works out to an average of, oh, 0.08 WAR per player among those 16.

Only Dan Straily, Nick Franklin and Leonys Martin have made any real impact among AL rooks to this point in 2013, at least when it comes to prospects who were in a top 100 list.

Now we start to see where the AL is coming up short.

But what about the NL?

Take a look at the table in red, which lists all 20 NL prospects who ranked among at least one of the four top 100s.

The difference should be noticed immediately. The "NL 20" has accumulated a whopping 16.3 WAR, which works out to almost 1 WAR per player. For half a season, that's a rather strong effort across the board.

In fact, the average WAR among these 20 rookies—0.8—is as good or better than every single AL top 100 prospect-turned-rookie to this point in 2013, save for Straily.

What's more, Straily's 1.2 WAR is currently equal to or worse than eight NL rookies. And again, this is only among the top 100 prospect qualifiers.

Clearly, what's going on is that in addition to being less productive overall, the AL's rookie class is especially suffering from a lack of production by top prospects.

 

The Eh, the Bad and the Ugly

This discussion isn't meant to take away from the future of these AL rookies, many of whom are extremely talented young players whose careers have only just begun. Rather, it's simply to point out how rough a go it's been for first-yearers in the Junior Circuit within the bounds of the first 12 weeks.

To that end, we can't help but point out that practically no rookie from the AL has performed above expectations this year, save for a few lesser-knowns.

Some of the bigger fails? Aaron Hicks, Jackie Bradley Jr. and Brandon Maurer made the Opening Day rosters for the Twins, Red Sox and Mariners, respectively, and yet not a one of them is playing in the majors at the moment.

If only Aaron Hicks could do this more often.

Hicks is on the disabled list with a hamstring injury, but frankly, that's saving him from potentially doing any more damage to an already-ugly .179/.249/.326 line.

Meanwhile, Bradley (.153/.254/.269 in 19 games) and Maurer (6.93 ERA, 1.68 WHIP in 10 starts) got brief chances but didn't do enough with them, so they're back to riding buses for now.

And, hey, remember all that hubbub in spring training about how Bruce Rondon was going to be the closer in Detroit this season? Well, he does have 14 saves, all of which have come in Triple-A Toledo, mainly because he gave up seven baserunners in his 2.1 big league innings.

Speaking of future closers, Carter Capps of the Mariners recently flunked a chance to work his way into the ninth-inning mix after Seattle demoted Tom Wilhelmsen by surrendering six runs in his two most-recent appearances.

Then there's Kevin Gausman, the fourth overall pick last June, who was rushed to Baltimore 11 months later with the hope of helping a beleaguered Orioles rotation. Not so much: 34 hits and 21 earned runs in 24.2 innings got Gausman a ticket back to the minors.

 

It Hasn't Been All Bad

Some rookie hitters in the AL, like Jose Iglesias of the Red Sox, Leonys Martin of the Rangers, Oswaldo Arcia of the Twins, Conor Gillaspie of the White Sox, Brandon Barnes of the Astros and Yan Gomes of the Indians, have at least held their own in the early going.

Meanwhile, a few arms, like Rangers starters Nick Tepesch and Justin Grimm and the aforementioned Cody Allen of the Indians, are doing the same.

None of those first-year players, though, looks like a future star at this stage of the season or their careers.

Jared Wickerham/Getty Images
Unfortunately for AL rookies, Wil Myers is only three games into his big league career.

It's also a shame that top prospects like Jurickson Profar of the Rangers, Mike Zunino and Nick Franklin of the Mariners, Trevor Bauer of the Indians, Chris Archer of the Rays—and, of course, Myers—either haven't played more regularly or have only just recently been called up.

Many of them will turn into good or even great big leaguers at some point, maybe even some point soon. They just haven't yet had the chance, especially compared to their NL brethren.

 

Can the AL Catch Up?

Among the names we've run through, Myers and Profar are the most highly-regarded, so they may be the best bets for big success from here on out in 2013.

There are also plenty of youngsters who haven't yet gotten the call this year but are on the verge, like the Red Sox's Xander Bogaerts, the Astros' Jonathan Singleton, the Tigers' Nick Castellanos and the Twins' Kyle Gibson.

Of course, with a little less than a month before the second half of the season begins, any youngin' who is brought up at this point is going to have to pull a Puig just to stop the NL crop from running away with things.

Greg Fiume/Getty Images
Sidelined all season with right forearm tightness, Dylan Bundy has only recently been cleared to resume throwing. His chances of helping the AL rookies this year? Probably nil.

It doesn't look great right now for the AL rookie class, but things are likely to turn around at some point. Maybe that can still happen in 2013.

Then again, once the Diamondbacks' Adam Eaton, who was on the preseason short list for NL Rookie of the Year, returns to health, things could get even worse for the AL by comparison.

Maybe you'll get 'em next year after all, AL rookies.

 

All statistics come from Baseball Reference and FanGraphs; WAR statistics come from FanGraphs.

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