With the announcement of the National League Rookie of the Year due on Monday, baseball fans find themselves in a place they did not expect to be.
In spring training, prior to the 2010 season, two rookies commanded the attention of the baseball world. One was a 20-year-old man-child in Atlanta, the next Ken Griffey Jr. or perhaps even Frank Robinson, whose five tools were already self-evident and whose place in the starting lineup on opening day was all but guaranteed.
The other rookie phenom was slated to be, perhaps, the greatest pitching prospect we've ever seen, and while he was not due to make his team out of spring training, there were those who thought that once he did join his team, he would be the best pitcher in the National League.
Remarkably, surprisingly, unbelievably, neither Jason Heyward nor Stephen Strasburg will be announced as the National League Rookie of the Year tomorrow. While they both enjoyed very good seasons, and both matched the hype surrounding their emergence, the best rookie in the National League was nevertheless a World Series winning catcher from San Francisco named Buster.
Buster Posey, that is.
There was a healthy crop of rookie hitters in 2010, and I think we may see positive things from Jose Tabata, Alcides Escobar, Neil Walker and some others in the future.
As far as Rookie of the Year candidacies go, however, none of them will break into the top five.
The 2010 season featured a frankly shocking number of good-looking rookie pitchers, including Travis Wood, Mike Leake, Madison Bumgarner, Alex Sanabia, Drew Storen, Aroldis Chapman and John Axford, to name just a few.
While we've been calling 2010 the "Year of the Pitcher," if this crop of rookie pitchers continues to develop, we may be remembering 2010 as the last year that hitters had any chance at all.
A 26-year-old rookie first baseman for the Florida Marlins, Gaby Sanchez played 157 games, hit 19 home runs with 87 RBI and had a 107 OPS+.
Sanchez looks like he'll only improve as a hitter and be the Marlins' first baseman until they trade him away because he commands too much money, which in Miami is somewhere between $8 million and $9 million.
A 23-year-old rookie first baseman for the New York Mets, Ike Davis played 147 games, hit 19 home runs with 71 RBI and had a 115 OPS+.
Davis looks like he'll only improve as a hitter and be the Mets' first baseman of the future, where they'll over-laud his accomplishments and compare him to Keith Hernandez.
In 2009, either Davis or Sanchez would have probably won the Rookie of the Year (see Coghlan, Chris). But this is not 2009.
Had he not gotten hurt, he would have walked away with this award.
Watching Rick Ankiel struggle for the Royals and Braves as a center fielder this season, watching Kerry Wood struggle as a reliever for the Indians before catching on with the Yankees as a reliever, watching Mark Prior audition for largely uninterested major league scouts and watching Ben Sheets struggle to make a comeback with the Oakland A's made me think to myself:
I really hope 10 years from now we're not thinking back to this amazing phenom with only memories of the 2010 season to reflect on.
Make no mistake about it, 20-year-old Florida Marlins rookie Mike Stanton may appear to have all the talent in the world. Already a tremendous home run hitter, he looks right now like a guy who will spend the next few years learning to get his strikeouts down, get his batting average and on-base percentage up and become an elite power hitter.
Of course, seeing him in person can make you biased. He is 6'5", 235 pounds and looks like he was designed to drive a baseball.
His home/road splits are particularly moving; while he has struggled to hit as well at Joe Robbie Stadium, he hit 15 home runs with an RSL of .318/.369/.647 on the road.
If his road numbers are indicative of what he's capable of in hitting-neutral environments, the NL East may have a problem.
With 125 games and 500 plate appearances at the age of 20, Starlin Castro would certainly make a good Rookie of the Year candidate. Throw in his .300 batting average, 31 doubles, and five triples and the fact that he plays shortstop, and you've got a helluva a candidate.
But, while guys like Buster Posey, Jason Heyward and Stephen Strasburg arrived on the scene fully formed in 2010, Castro still has a long way to go.
He is not a particularly good defensive shortstop, which is a nice way of saying he is particularly bad on defense, with 27 errors committed and atrocious numbers in the fielding runs, defensive WAR and ultimate zone rating areas.
If the guy is going to play shortstop, he still needs to learn to play shortstop.
With the performance of Ubaldo Jimenez in 2010, it was easy to over look this 22-year-old with ace stuff.
But overlook this:
In 137.1 innings, Jhoulys Chacin had 138 strikeouts, allowed only 7.5 hits per nine innings and only 10 home runs all season while pitching in Coors Field.
Also consider his road ERA of 2.44, and this 6'3" righty is not likely to be a pitcher you'll overlook for long.
No one ever touted him before the season, and he was overshadowed in 2010 by higher profile rotation-mates, but Jaime Garcia of the St. Louis Cardinals pitched like anything but a rookie in 2010.
Garcia was selected in the 22nd round of the 2005 first-year player draft, making it to the majors in 2008 for a rough 16 inning performance. But in 2010, he found himself in the rotation out of spring training and blowing everyone away. On June 22, through 14 starts, he was 7-3 with shocking 1.79 ERA.
Unfortunately, he finished the season with two bad starts before being shut down in mid-September. But consider the fact that after those two starts his ERA was still 2.70, and before those two starts it was 2.39, and Garcia looks to be here to stay.
To tell the truth, Jason Heyward will eventually be a better player than Buster Posey—and he probably is already.
As I wrote near the end of the season, Heyward's rookie season was historic in many respects, though he trailed off at the end of the year from what could have been some tremendous benchmarks.
But the parts of Heyward's game that work as indicators of future "super-duper-stardom," as Reggie Jackson would call it, are difficult to appreciate in the here-and-now.
For example, as a 20-year-old in his first-ever full-season action, Heyward drew 91 walks and had a .393 on-base percentage. These two numbers are alarming for a guy with his level of experience.
Consider also his 133 OPS+, his 18 home runs, 83 runs, 72 RBI in 142 games, his five outfield assists and very good defensive numbers across the board, and Heyward was a walking, talking major league veteran at the age of 20.
A remarkable start to what will be a remarkable career, but, at the end of the day, Posey had a bigger impact on his team and his league than Heyward in 2010.
Calling Buster Posey a "good hitter" undersells him a bit.
Sure, in just 108 games he hit 18 home runs with an RSL of .305/.357/.505, and his OPS+, adjusted batting runs and WAR all reveal him to be an accomplished hitter.
But when you consider the fact that Posey hit .325/.347/.517 before ending the season in a nasty 12-game slump, he might be the best hitting catcher in baseball this side of Joe Mauer.
Make no mistake about it, having a Flying Molina Brother as your catcher is an asset.
Teams with either Jose, Bengie or Yadier Molina have gone to the World Series six times in the last 10 years, and pitchers pitching to a Molina have had tremendous success.
Indeed, during the 2010 World Series, we were treated to numerous anecdotes about what an asset Bengie had been not only to the Texas Rangers, his current squad, but also to the San Francisco Giants, his former team.
Tim Lincecum, for one, can't stop talking about the guy.
So what does it say about Buster Posey that shortly after the Giants called him up in May, they traded Molina to the Rangers?
What does it say about Posey that the Giants did not experience a considerable dropoff from Molina to Posey?
What does it say about Posey that the Giants managed a 1.91 team ERA in September and October combined with him behind the plate?
All too often we've had Rookies of the Year who have played just well enough as a rookie to win the award, but whose prospects for the future seemed dim.
Guys like Pat Listash, Bob Hamelin, Joe Charboneau, John Castino and Todd Hollandsworth won the award not because of standout seasons, but because no one else really stood out.
Not so with Buster Posey.
Buster became a major league regular on May 29 and took over the team.
This wasn't a fourth outfielder, and it wasn't a relief pitcher. Posey spent the rest of the year batting in various spots in the order, but mostly cleanup. He handled one of the league's best pitching staffs and established himself as a fearsome hitter.
Buster Posey isn't going to win the 2010 NL Rookie of the Year on Monday because there was no one else to give the award to; he's going to win it because he is an elite major league baseball player, and this was his rookie year.
He is Albert Pujols, Ichiro Suzuki, Andre Dawson, and Eddie Murray, and 2010 was the first year of an All-Star career.
And that is why he'll be named the 2010 National League Rookie of the Year.