2014 MLB Rookie of the Year Stock Watch, End of April Edition
The young talent flooding Major League Baseball sets up a fun early-season debate about which rookies have been the best so far—and which have the biggest upside.
The following rankings break down the top-five Rookie of the Year candidates this season in each league. The rankings are a based upon performance both to date and a player's potential going forward.
In other words, while production to this point is certainly being considered, the goal here isn't to hand out a Rookie of the Month Award for April as much as it is projecting what the race will look like over the summer and into the fall.
To keep things from getting out of hand, the focus will be only on players who are actually in the major leagues at the present time. That means you won't find potential ROY candidates like Gregory Polanco (Pittsburgh Pirates) or Archie Bradley (Arizona Diamondbacks) listed just yet—although they may factor in soon enough.
Before getting started, here's a fair warning: The pool of first-year player talent in the AL has been much deeper than it has been in the NL so far—it was the opposite last season—which is a discrepancy that should be pretty apparent upon running down the respective top-five lists featured here.
Just Keeping Tabs
These players don't make the cut for the top five, but their names are worth mentioning.
Josmil Pinto, C, Minnesota Twins
Marcus Semien, 2B/3B, Chicago White Sox
Nick Castellanos, 3B, Detroit Tigers (pictured)
George Springer, OF, Houston Astros
Erik Johnson, RHP, Chicago White Sox
Jonathan Schoop, 2B, Baltimore Orioles
Jackie Bradley Jr., OF, Boston Red Sox
Roenis Elias, LHP, Seattle Mariners
Dellin Betances, RHP, New York Yankees
Dominic Leone, RHP, Seattle Mariners
Travis d'Arnaud, C, New York Mets
Chris Withrow, RHP, Los Angeles Dodgers
Kevin Siegrist, LHP, St. Louis Cardinals
Aaron Barrett, RHP, Washington Nationals
David Hale, RHP, Atlanta Braves
Brandon Hicks, 2B, San Francisco Giants
Stolmy Pimentel, RHP, Pittsburgh Pirates
Tommy Kahnle, RHP, Colorado Rockies
AL No. 5: Yangervis Solarte, 2B/3B, New York Yankees
2014 Statistics: .310/.395/.465, 8 R, 9 XBH, 1 HR, 13 RBI, 0 SB, 81 PA
Yangervis Solarte checks in at No. 5 ahead of a few fellow first-year players with spiffier pedigrees and bigger names—Detroit's Nick Castellanos, for one, comes to mind—but his out-of-nowhere performance so far has been has been worth acknowledging.
Is it likely that Solarte, a little-known 26-year-old who surprisingly made the Yankees out of camp as a non-roster invitee, will hang in the AL ROY race all season long? Probably not, but his versatility (17 games at third base, five at second base) and capable-enough bat (11.1 BB rate, 13.6 K rate) have each been a much-needed godsend for a team with an old and injury-prone infield.
Let's see how long Solarte can keep this up.
AL No. 4: Yordano Ventura, RHP, Kansas City Royals
2014 Statistics: 1-1, 2.65 ERA, 1.12 WHIP, 10.1 K/9, 0 SV, 17.0 IP
A flat-out dominant spring training (2.71 ERA, 1.07 WHIP, 23/6 K/BB over 23.1 IP) cemented highly-regarded prospect Yordano Ventura's place in Kansas City's rotation. The diminutive righty with the 100-mph heat hasn't disappointed.
Although the 22-year-old's third start was a bit of a downer (6 H, 4 ER, 4 BB in 4.0 IP), Ventura has been racking up strikeouts (19 K in 17.0 IP) and should continue to do so. Thanks to a power arm with loads of potential, Ventura already has become a must-watch pitcher when he takes the hill. That alone will keep him in the Rookie of the Year conversation all season.
AL No. 3: Xander Bogaerts, SS, Boston Red Sox
2014 Statistics: .282/.398/.372, 9 R, 5 XBH, 1 HR, 5 RBI, 1 SB, 93 PA
A consensus top-three prospect entering this season, Xander Bogaerts has been thrown into a pressure-packed situation as the starting shortstop for the reigning world champion Boston Red Sox. The Aruba native has been up to the task, though.
After proving he was ready to take over a key role in Boston during the 2013 postseason, the 21-year-old hasn't been knock-your-Red-Sox-off great, but he's maintained his superior approach at the plate, as his near-.400 OBP shows.
The expectation is that Bogaerts' power will show up once he's acclimated to the majors, and if that happens he could challenge the two rookies ahead of him on this list as the season progresses.
AL No. 2: Jose Abreu, 1B, Chicago White Sox
2014 Statistics: .244/.324/.567, 16 R, 14 XBH, 7 HR, 21 RBI, 0 SB, 102 PA
Any doubts about whether Jose Abreu, the latest Cuban defector to sign a big-money deal, could handle major league pitching have been put to rest over his first three weeks in the bigs.
The 27-year-old has been bashing baseballs all over—and out of—ballparks, with seven homers and 14 extra-base hits (second-most in MLB). That sort of power has Abreu looking like the next big slugger on the South Side, and it is going to give him a very good chance to take home the AL Rookie of the Year award if the current front-runner for the honor falters.
AL No. 1: Masahiro Tanaka, RHP, New York Yankees
2014 Statistics: 3-0, 2.15 ERA, 0.82 WHIP, 10.7 K/9, 0 SV, 29.1 IP
As strong as this year's batch of rookies in the AL is, there's no doubt about who is leading the pack right now: Masahiro Tanaka, the $155 million man who already looks like the Yankees' ace.
Through his first four outings, the 25-year-old Japanese phenom has been everything the Yankees could have hoped for, notching quality starts each time out and sporting an amazing 35 to 2 strike-out-to-walk ratio.
Considering all of the hype and attention Tanaka is dealing with given his massive contract, as well as the fact that he is pitching in the majors—and New York—for the first time, he certainly has shown he's ready for the challenge.
If he continues to throw close to this well all summer, Tanaka will be tough to beat in the Rookie of the Year race.
NL No. 5: Carlos Martinez, RHP, St. Louis Cardinals
2014 Statistics: 0-1, 3.65 ERA, 1.22 WHIP, 5.8 K/9, 0 SV, 12.1 IP
As a hard-throwing right-hander, top prospect Carlos Martinez nearly made the Cardinals rotation out of spring camp after posting a 2.81 ERA and 1.00 WHIP in 16 innings.
Alas, like a Corvette being driven by a parking-lot attendant, the 22-year-old and his high-octane fastball once again have been relegated to the bullpen, where he spent the latter part of the 2013 season with St. Louis.
Martinez hasn't had an overly impressive start to 2014, but his stuff is wicked when he's on, especially in short bursts as a reliever. Plus, there's still a possibility he could join the Cardinals five-man rotation at some point this season, which would give him a better chance to move up the ranks.
NL No. 4: Mike Olt, 3B, Chicago Cubs
2014 Statistics: .184/.231/.449, 6 R, 5 XBH, 4 HR, 9 RBI, 0 SB, 52 PA
For Mike Olt—a first-round pick by the Texas Rangers in 2010 who was a part of the Matt Garza trade last July—just putting a disastrous, injury-plagued 2013 behind him is a win. The fact that the 25-year-old is finally getting a shot in the bigs—and having some success—is even better.
Beset by concussion and vision problems stemming from being hit in the head by a pitch during winter ball in November 2012, Olt looked lost last year. Getting a chance to start over in a new organization—one that also had an immediate hole at the hot corner—has given the righty slugger new life.
While Olt continues to have swing-and-miss issues (32.7 percent strikeout rate), he has enough power to approach 20 homers if given semi-regular playing time.
NL No. 3: Kolten Wong, 2B, St. Louis Cardinals
2014 Statistics: .239/.292/.284, 5 R, 2 XBH, 0 HR, 5 RBI, 3 SB, 72 PA
To be sure, Kolten Wong's stats aren't that pretty, especially in comparison to what he did in March, when he hit .375/.434/.636 and won the starting second base gig. Still, the 23-year-old has solid tools and should eventually find his footing in the majors.
Although he's slumping so far, Wong is only whiffing in 12.5 percent of his plate appearances, and making that much contact has to start paying off for the lefty hitter at some point. Plus, he's playing quality defense, which will help keep Wong in the lineup and give him the opportunity to get going.
NL No. 2: Chris Owings, SS, Arizona Diamondbacks
2014 Statistics: .294/.351/.338, 5 R, 3 XBH, 0 HR, 1 RBI, 4 SB, 75 PA
This isn't meant to knock Chris Owings, who's a fine prospect enjoying a decent beginning to his major league career, but the fact that he's checking in at No. 2 here speaks to the dearth of impact talent in the NL's rookie class—at least so far.
That said, Owings, 22, has been hitting, running and playing good defense. All of those factors make him a very promising player, particularly at a premium up-the-middle position, even if his tools and statistics aren't especially loud.
After beating out incumbent Didi Gregorius this spring, Owings has shown that he can get the job done—and that he actually might give Diamondbacks fans at least something to root for this year.
NL No. 1: Billy Hamilton, OF, Cincinnati Reds
2014 Statistics: .230/.266/.284, 9 R, 3 XBH, 0 HR, 4 RBI, 9 SB, 81 PA
Despite being the fastest man in baseball, Billy Hamilton has had some trouble getting off the blocks at the start of his first full year in the major leagues. The 23-year-old, who swiped an average of 111 bases in his three full minor league seasons—as well as 13 more in his 13-game cameo in Cincinnati last September—is attempting to prove he can do enough with his bat going forward to make use of his legs.
While the rail-thin Hamilton started off 0-for-12 with six strikeouts, he's looked overmatched much less frequently of late. Since notching his first hit, the switch-hitter is batting .274/.303/.339 to go along with nine steals in his past 15 games. The converted shortstop is also playing a strong center field.
Hamilton's speed will keep him (ahem) in the running for NL Rookie of the Year, but his progress at the plate will be key when it comes time for him to fend off the likes of Gregory Polanco, Archie Bradley and any other Senior Circuit rookies who have yet to debut but may be the top competitors for the award once they do.
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