There remains just over a month to play in the 2009 baseball season, and it is time to start looking at the potential candidates for major league baseball's most prized individual awards.
Albert Pujols seems to be a lock for the MVP award and the Cy Young award will most likely come down to a battle of Giants (Tim Lincecum and Matt Cain) or Cardinals (Chris Carpenter and Adam Wainwright).
The Phillies' own J.A. Happ seems to have the edge on the rest of the National League for the Rookie of the Year award.
Happ currently leads all rookies with 10 wins and his 2.59 ERA is fifth best among all major-league starters, first among rookies by close to half of a run. His .833 winning percentage and two shutouts are tops among all NL pitchers.
And this is a man who wasn't even supposed to be a starter when this season began.
For the Phillies during their World Championship season of '08, Happ hurled 31.2 innings as a relief pitcher and occasional spot starter. He posted a solid 3.69 ERA with an adjusted ERA of 117.
There were rumors that Happ would be given a chance to start in '09, and he was given every shot to win the job.
Happ lost a well-publicized battle at the beginning of the season for the Phillies' fifth starting spot. The competition seemed to be among Happ, Chan Ho Park, Carlos Carrasco, and Kyle Kendrick.
Kendrick appeared to be the favorite, with 24 big-league wins under his belt, including a key role in the Phillies' 2007 NL East division championship, but he never got it together like the club wanted. Kendrick struggled to pitch consistently in spring training, which led to his demotion to Triple-A.
Same with Carrasco.
A once promising prospect with a strong future ahead of him, Carrasco has been inconsistent in Triple-A this season, posting a 10-10 record with a so-so 4.80 ERA thus far.
Park, a former starter with 15 years big league experience and 117 wins to his credentials, beat out Happ for the spot.
Park pitched poorly however in his seven starts, posting a 7.29 ERA and .311 opponents' batting average. He failed to pitch consistently and after getting rocked for five runs in one and one-third innings in a May 17 start against the Nationals, Park lost his job to Happ.
And Happ pitched to keep his spot.
The young left hander has been arguably the Phillies' best starting pitcher this season, far outperforming the two veteran lefties, Cole Hamels and Jamie Moyer.
Happ has been dominant this season, pitching a quality start in 11 of his last 12 starts. He won his first seven decisions of the year. And he appears to be a key factor for a Phillies team looking to contend for a second straight World Series title.
If Happ wins the Rookie of the Year award, he will be the second Phillie—Ryan Howard in 2005—to win the award in the last five seasons.
Hanson is having a fabulous year himself, although he is not quite in Happ's class.
Since being called up to the majors in June, Hanson has a 9-2 mark with a 3.12 ERA for the Braves. He has been vital to the Braves' hunt for the wild card spot, as he has pitched a quality start in each of his last four starts.
Fowler leads all rookies in at-bats, hits, doubles, runs scored, stolen bases, and walks. He has swiped 26 bases this season for a Colorado ball club that is hanging on in the N.L. wild card race.
McCutchen is a speedy center fielder who looks to be a future All-Star for years to come for the Pirates. At age 22, he is already a five-tool player and a .284 hitter with 14 steals in 15 attempts in his first taste of big league action with the Pirates.
McCutchen is also a talented fielder, with just two errors in 69 games in center field for the Pirates and a solid .988 fielding percentage.
While those three players have been excellent for their teams this season, they haven't been Happ. And barring a sudden drop in his performance, Happ appears to be the prime contender for the N.L. Rookie of the Year award.