2014 MLB Rookie of the Year Stock Watch, End of May Edition
The young talent flooding Major League Baseball sets up a fun, season-long debate about which rookies have been the best so far—and which have the biggest upside going forward.
The following rankings break down the top five Rookie of the Year candidates this season in each league. Just like last time, the rankings are a based upon performance both to date and a player's potential over the rest of the season.
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 May 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), Oscar Taveras (St. Louis Cardinals) or Andrew Heaney (Miami Marlins) 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 lists featured here.
These players don't make the cut for the top five in their respective leagues, but their names are worth mentioning and their play is worth monitoring.
Yangervis Solarte, 2B/3B, New York Yankees
Trevor Bauer, RHP, Cleveland Indians
Jake Odorizzi, RHP, Tampa Bay Rays
Roenis Elias, LHP, Seattle Mariners
Josmil Pinto, C, Minnesota Twins
Nick Castellanos, 3B, Detroit Tigers
C.J. Cron, 1B/DH, Los Angeles Angels
Dellin Betances, RHP, New York Yankees
Jonathan Schoop, 2B, Baltimore Orioles
Rougned Odor, 2B, Texas Rangers
Carlos Martinez, RHP, St. Louis Cardinals
Jacob deGrom, RHP, New York Mets
Tommy La Stella, 2B, Atlanta Braves
Travis d'Arnaud, C, New York Mets
Aaron Barrett, RHP, Washington Nationals
David Hale, RHP, Atlanta Braves
Chase Anderson, RHP, Arizona Diamondbacks
Neil Ramirez, RHP, Chicago Cubs
Brandon Cumpton, RHP, Pittsburgh Pirates
Blake Treinen, RHP, Washington Nationals
NL No. 5: Rafael Montero, RHP, New York Mets
2014 Statistics: fWAR -0.2, 0-2, 4.96 ERA, 1.41 WHIP, 9.4 K/9, 4 HR (16.1 IP)
One look at the numbers right above, and it's clear this one is about Rafael Montero's performance going forward rather than what he's done through his first three big league starts.
Speaking of which, his most recent outing was a dandy, with six innings of two-hit, one-run ball that featured 10 strikeouts. A few more of those and the 23-year-old will be moving on up in these rankings.
Montero's calling card while coming up as a prospect was his ability to command his low-90s heater that has good late life. In other words, his current walk rate (5.0 BB/9) is going to get a lot closer to his minor league mark (2.0 BB/9).
NL No. 4: Mike Olt, 3B, Chicago Cubs
2014 Statistics: -0.2 fWAR, .168/.241/.408, 13 R, 12 XBH (9 HR), 24 RBI, 0 SB (141 PA)
Mike Olt, 25, might be the most three-true-outcomes (TTO) hitter in baseball right now. The former Texas Rangers prospect has walked 11 times, struck out on 49 occasions and homered on nine, which translates to a TTO percentage of 48.9. That's ridiculous.
While Olt isn't exactly the most sound major leaguer, even for a rookie, he does lead all first-year players in the NL in homers—by six. That has to count for something. Even if he's one of the most fly-balling hitters in baseball, his MLB-worst .171 BABIP will almost assuredly improve.
NL No. 3: Kolten Wong, 2B, St. Louis Cardinals
2014 Statistics: 0.6 fWAR, .276/.333/.336, 11 R, 6 XBH (0 HR), 11 RBI, 8 SB (127 PA)
Kolten Wong has been playing much, much better since returning in mid-May from a three-week demotion to Triple-A to regain some confidence after a slow start. Over his first 10 games back, the 23-year-old went 16-for-42 (.381) with four doubles and four steals. On the whole, his eight thefts are second-most among all rookies.
Not only that: Wong's been hitting second in the Cardinals lineup and providing a little of that much-needed spark for an offense that finished atop the NL in runs scored last year but has been among the worst for much of this season. If he continues hitting in the two-spot, Wong's numbers could get a big boost going forward.
NL No. 2: Billy Hamilton, OF, Cincinnati Reds
2014 Statistics: 0.7 fWAR, .247/.287/.340, 20 R, 10 XBH (1 HR), 10 RBI, 18 SB (177 PA)
As you probably guessed, Billy Hamilton is the rook who's ahead of Wong in the stolen base department. In fact, Hamilton's 18 rank third in all of baseball, behind Dee Gordon (32!) and Jose Altuve (19).
That's all well and good, but we knew the 23-year-old was blink-and-you'll-miss-him fast. He's also played strong defense in center, as he's among the leaders in ultimate zone rating (UZR) in the outfield.
What we need to know still—and what Hamilton has started to prove, little by little—is whether he can hit in the majors. He's been up and down in that regard (.265/.304/.367 since starting 0-for-12), and finding some sort of consistency is going to require time and patience.
NL No. 1: Chris Owings, SS, Arizona Diamondbacks
2014 Statistics: 1.0 fWAR, .275/.320/.413, 17 R, 15 XBH, (3 HR), 9 RBI, 6 SB (180 PA)
After Hamilton had the lead in these rankings at April's end almost by default, Chris Owings overtakes the NL's No. 1 spot on the strength of his all-around solid play.
The 22-year-old has hit some, run a bit and handled the most demanding position other than catcher with a top-five showing among all shortstops in defensive runs saved (DRS).
None of Owings' tools is nearly as loud and highlight-reely as Hamilton's speed, but he's across-the-board steady and is showing an ability to make adjustments at the highest level. That bodes well for his chances, but he'll face some stiffer competition once the likes of outfielders Gregory Polanco, Oscar Taveras and lefty Andrew Heaney are called up.
AL No. 5: Yordano Ventura, RHP, Kansas City Royals
2014 Statistics: 1.1 fWAR, 2-5, 3.45 ERA, 1.26 WHIP, 9.3 K/9, 6 HR (57.1 IP)
Yordano Ventura drops one place from his No. 4 ranking at the end of April for two reasons: One, the guy at No. 3 jumped into the mix with an absolute tear; and two, Ventura's elbow soreness forced him to leave his last outing.
While the initial prognosis has the 22-year-old fireballer missing only one start (for now), there's plenty of reason for caution here.
AL No. 4: Xander Bogaerts, SS, Boston Red Sox
2014 Statistics: 1.6 fWAR, .296/.388/.425, 25 R, 17 XBH (3 HR), 12 RBI, 1 SB (214 PA)
While the power production hasn't been overwhelming—yet—everything else Xander Bogaerts has done in the first two months of his first full MLB season has been under-the-radar impressive.
To wit, the 21-year-old leads all rookies in both walks (23) and on-base percentage (.388), which speaks to his advanced approach and patience. He's also No. 2 in runs scored with 25. One gets the feeling that something will click for Bogaerts at some point soon, and he could take off.
Great as that would be to witness, the Aruba native still has a ways to go to catch the top three first-year studs in the AL, and his position and playing time could be in flux once the recently signed Stephen Drew returns.
AL No. 3: George Springer, OF, Houston Astros
2014 Statistics: 0.8 fWAR, .268/.359/.523, 23 R, 17 XBH (10 HR), 29 RBI, 1 SB (170 PA)
In George Springer's case, April showers bring May powers. As terrible as the 24-year-old was in his debut month (.480 OPS), he's been equally unstoppable this month (1.115 OPS).
Really, Springer's May performance has been phenomenal, and his digits are downright scary. Particularly impressive is his binge of seven homers in his last seven games, a run he extended Thursday night.
No wonder, then, that despite not starting his season until halfway through April, Springer is in the top five among all rooks in (deep breath) runs, hits, homers, RBI, walks, on-base percentage and slugging percentage.
It should be pretty darn fun to watch what Springer does over the summer.
AL No. 2: Jose Abreu, 1B, Chicago White Sox
2014 Statistics: 1.4 fWAR, .260/.312/.595, 29 R, 27 XBH (15 HR), 42 RBI, 0 SB (189 PA)
Please don't forget about Jose Abreu just because he's been out with an ankle injury. The 27-year-old Cuban import was so good over his first month-and-a-half that he's missed the past two weeks and still ranks in the top five in both home runs and RBI. Not just among rookies—among all players. Period.
The plan is for Abreu, who is now out of a protective walking boot, to return to the White Sox early next week, perhaps as soon as Monday, per Bruce Levine of CBS Chicago. Let's hope that happens so April's Player and Rookie of the Month can get back to bashing baseballs and staying neck and neck with the rookie who's been the best in baseball so far.
AL No. 1: Masahiro Tanaka, RHP, New York Yankees
2014 Statistics: 2.1 fWAR, 7-1, 2.29 ERA, 0.98 WHIP, 10.0 K/9, 7 HR (70.2 IP)
Although he finally lost since the last time these rankings came around—for the first time since August of 2012!—Masahiro Tanaka remains atop the AL rookie class and ahead of the hard-charging Springer and on-the-shelf Abreu.
The 25-year-old bounced back after falling to the Chicago Cubs (of all teams) by taking care of business against the other team from The Second City with 6.2 frames of five-hit, one-run ball as well as six strikeouts.
Overall, Tanaka ranks in the top 10 among all starting pitchers in ERA (2.29), WHIP (0.98) and strikeouts (79), and he's also thrown at least six innings—and a quality start—each time out. That gives him a firm hold on the No. 1 rook, both in the AL and overall.
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