Beginner's Luck? Not: The Top 10 NL Rookie of the Year Candidates
The National League's rookie class of 2010 has already made an impact among all three pennant races, and while the most ballyhooed member of the freshman crop (some kid named Strasburg) has garnered the bulk of the attention, the other nine players have made headway toward launching successful careers.
Only time will tell if Houston's Chris Johnson is a late-blooming star or if the final seven weeks will unveil a potential franchise anchor, but for now, let's appreciate the 10 rookies that have shined thus far.
Honorable Mention: Tyler Colvin, 1B/OF, Chicago
In the midst of a horrible season, the Cubs may have found their slugger of the future in Colvin, who leads all rookies with 18 homers.
Colvin could have more, but former manager Lou Pinella was hesitant to put the big 24-year-old into the everyday lineup, choosing to use him as a part-timer and pinch-hit weapon. He is batting a mediocre .251, but his .502 slugging percentage and .813 OPS has offset his streaky nature at the plate.
The trade of Derek Lee opened the door for Colvin to move to his natural position at first. The Cubs have plenty of work to do in order to return to playoff contention, but Colvin gives them one less reason to worry.
10. Pedro Alvarez, 3B, Pittsburgh
Sure, the Pirates will record another losing season, but the arrival of the franchise's best position prospect since Barry Bonds could help turn the tide for the Steel City's loyal and long-suffering fans.
On the surface, Alvarez's .241-10-35 numbers aren't impressive, and reducing his strikeout rate (78 whiffs in 212 at-bats) will be a priority, but the lefty slugger has provided hope and the promise of bigger, better days in Pittsburgh.
Alvarez should be the tip of the sword of an organization that has potential future stars Andrew McCutchen, Jose Tabata, and Neil Walker already in the lineup. The days of counting down until Steelers training camp could arrive sooner than later.
9. Madison Bumgarner, P, San Francisco
Another in a seemingly endless line of elite arms arriving to the Bay Area, the 20-year-old Bumgarner has held his own in the midst of the Giants' postseason push, recording a 5-4 mark with a 3.20 ERA.
Regarded as one of the game's best prospects, Bumgarner's first big league win against the Brewers on July 6 showed a glimpse of what lies ahead for the next decade or two. He allowed just three hits over eight innings while striking out five en route to a 6-1 victory. Along with Tim Lineceum, Matt Cain, and Jonathan Sanchez, Bumgarner will help comprise one of the game's premier rotations.
8. Mike Stanton, RF, Florida
The 6'5", 235-pound masher made his much-anticipated debut on June 8 and hasn't disappointed, swatting 14 homers and driving in 39 entering Tuesday's games.
Stanton's free-swinging approach has led to 80 strikeouts in 227 at-bats, but his .520 slugging percentage and .848 OPS are a precursor to what he'll be able to do once he improves his bat discipline. When that happens, a home run crown or two will be in his bright future.
7. Jon Niese, P, New York
The third time has been a charm for Niese, who sports an 8-5, 3.33 mark in 23 starts for the Mets. While the team has struggled to remain above .500, Niese has been a revelation after failing to impress in his first two big league stints.
Only ace Johan Santana has more strikeouts and complete games than Niese, who has fanned 110 in his 138.1 innings of work. At 23, the 6'4", 215-pound lefty is only beginning to scratch the surface to what should be a stellar career.
6. Chris Johnson, 3B, Houston
Astros fans were forced to endure three months of slag-like production from Pedro Feliz before the light bulbs came on and inspired management to give the late-blooming Johnson a chance to shine.
A strong spring should have earned him the starting role, but once the 25-year-old got into the lineup, he has emerged as one of the game's hottest hitters since the All-Star break. Johnson is batting .359 with six homers, 27 RBI and a .959 OPS in that span, giving Houston a bright light in a dismal season.
His all-around effort has also infected the Astros' mindset, which has led them to play above .500 since installing him in the lineup.
5. Gaby Sanchez, 1B, Florida
Like Houston's Chris Johnson, Sanchez is a late-bloomer who has found his stride while entrenching himself into his team's future.
The 26-year-old native of Miami finally started carrying the big stick the Marlins had been waiting for, batting .289 with 14 homers and a rookie-best 62 RBI. His defense has been spotty at times, but Florida fans will forgive a defensive misstep or two as long as Sanchez continues to deliver at the plate.
Sanchez gives the Marlins a reason to be optimistic about the future, as he, Stanton, and All-Star SS Hanley Ramirez will be the offensive thunder that will usher in the club's new park in 2012.
4. Stephen Strasburg, P, Washington
"The Chosen One" hasn't disappointed since his electrifying 14-strikeout debut on June 8. The only question is whether the game's most dazzling pitching prospect ever can remain healthy, as he was placed on the disabled list with a strained flexor tendon in his franchise-altering right arm on Tuesday.
His 5-3, 2.91 mark shows he is human, as Strasburg has faced the same pitfalls that mere mortal rookie hurlers have faced. His pitching arsenal has lived up to the hype as indicated by his 92 strikeouts and 1.074 WHIP in 68 innings.
Nationals fans aren't the only ones hoping Strasburg can remain healthy. The game is in need of rock star-like talents, and the 22-year-old is one of the few players in the game who can guarantee a rapid jump in ticket sales in opposing parks.
He may be third on this list, but only one other rookie in this class can match him for Hall of Fame potential.
3. Jaime Garcia, P, St. Louis
The Cardinals were hoping the lefty would simply hold his own. Instead, the pride of Mission, TX has evolved into a reliable anchor for a St. Louis team that remains well within striking distance of the Central division leading Reds.
Garcia leads all rookies with 11 wins, while his 2.52 ERA is among the best in the NL. His ability to thrive under pressure was evident in Sunday's 9-0 rout of a Giants team also in pursuit of the wild card, when he went the distance while limiting San Francisco to just three hits.
St. Louis has a storied tradition of rookies shining in the postseason, and if the Cards are around in October, Garcia will be primed to write his own chapter of success.
2. Jason Heyward, OF, Atlanta
Heyward is baseball's version of LeBron James: a freakish, once-in-a-lifetime caliber athlete armed with all the necessary tools for greatness, albeit without the ego and the entourage of toadies and sycophants.
The "Say Hey Kid" also has something James lacks: a killer instinct, as evidenced by his series of game-winning hits that have help transform the Braves into legitimate National League title contenders.
Only a series of injuries have kept the 20-year-old from improving upon his line of .269-14-57. The plate discipline (.380 OBP) is already there, and once Heyward matures as a hitter, his .454 slugging percentage will reach the atmosphere of the elites.
If Major League Baseball's marketing department was half as aggressive and ambitious as those of the NFL and NBA, Heyward would be one of the game's premier faces. As the sport slowly grinds its way from the Decade of Doping, players like Heyward and Strasburg should be front and center in reminding fans of the good that lies in the sport.
1. Buster Posey, C, San Francisco
The 23-year-old Posey started hitting the moment he arrived on the big league scene and hasn't stopped, entering Tuesday's game with a .346 average, nine homers, and 46 RBI while inspiring the Giants to part ways with veteran backstop Bengie Molina in order to get Posey acclimated to the position he will man for the next decade or so.
Posey is on his way to becoming the National League's version of Joe Mauer: a natural hitter whose swing will be incapable of prolonged slumps. Like the Twins' All-Star, his power should remain in the 15-18 homer range, but there will likely be a 20-homer season or two in his future.
What makes Posey's numbers more impressive is that he has helped change the landscape of the Giants' lineup. San Francisco's offense struggled for direction before he arrived; it has solidified as he became more comfortable at the plate.
Like Mauer, a Most Valuable Player award is a strong possibility in Posey's future.
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