MLB Predictions: Freddie Freeman, Desmond Jennings and 10 Stat-Leading Rookies

Jim MancariCorrespondent IMarch 14, 2011

MLB Predictions: Freddie Freeman, Desmond Jennings and 10 Stat-Leading Rookies

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    MLB rookies always have a tough task of being expected to produce immediately. While some crack under the pressure, others rise to the occasion and place themselves in the conversation for Rookie of the Year.

    Last season, a few impact rookies—especially Neftali Feliz and Buster Posey—burst onto the scene to help their teams. In the cases of Feliz and Posey, they even aided in their respective teams' World Series runs.

    A rookie’s stats usually play a key role in Rookie of the Year voting, so here are my predictions for which rookies will lead each of the major statistical categories.

Wins: Jeremy Hellickson, Tampa Bay Rays

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    Jeremy Hellickson, who posted four wins in four starts last season, left such a lasting impression in his brief stint in the majors that the Rays felt comfortable trading Matt Garza this offseason.

    In 10 total appearances, he recorded a 3.47 ERA and 33 strikeouts in 36.1 innings.

    Though the Rays lost some offensive firepower, their pitching staff should produce plenty of wins. The team expects Hellickson to be a big part of this success.

    Hellickson should make a bid for A.L. Rookie of the Year if healthy, and he should be in the ballpark of 13-to-16 wins.

IP: Kyle Drabek, Toronto Blue Jays

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    Despite his 0-3 record in limited action late last season, Kyle Drabek has all the tools to follow in his father’s—former Cy Young-winner Doug Drabek—footsteps and be an innings machine.

    Last year in Double-A, Drabek pitched 162.0 innings in 27 starts, which averages to exactly 6.0 innings per start.

    Though it’s uncertain if the Blue Jays plan to carry him on the Opening Day roster, Drabek should undoubtedly see time in the majors.

    When he does get the call, Drabek will rack up his share of innings. Toronto may place an innings limit on the young starter, but he should pitch at least 120-to-140 innings total.

SV: Craig Kimbrel, Atlanta Braves

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    Craig Kimbrel, who should rack up saves, will be one of several key rookies the Atlanta Braves will rely on this season.

    Kimbrel was downright nasty last season coming out of Atlanta’s bullpen. With Billy Wagner’s retirement, Kimbrel and young lefty Johnny Venters will compete to see who saves games for the Braves.

    Most likely, both will see some action in the closer’s role.

    If Kimbrel comes close to matching his 40 strikeouts in just 20.2 innings last year, he should get the bulk of the save opportunities.

    If he wins the role outright, he should easily record 30-to-40 saves.

ERA: Aroldis Chapman, Cincinnati Reds

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    With all the hype surrounding Aroldis Chapman’s debut last season, it’s important to realize that he only appeared in 15 games, thus still making him a rookie for 2011. His earned run average should remain low all year.

    Chapman will likely serve as the setup man for Reds closer Francisco Cordero.

    He recorded a 2.03 ERA last season and will look to further improve that mark.

    If he remains healthy, he will be a dangerous weapon for the Reds late in the game. A sub-2.00 ERA is certainly a possibility.

K: Michael Pineda, Seattle Mariners

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    At just 21 years old, Michael Pineda is making a bid to join the Seattle Mariners starting rotation, especially due to his prowess for strikeouts.

    Standing at 6’5”, Pineda is an impressive force on the mound. He has learned to control the strike zone and uses a mid-to-upper 90s tailing fastball as his out pitch.

    He induces lots of swings-and-misses, which has allowed him to rack up the strikeouts.

    Pineda recorded 154 strikeouts in 139.1 innings between Double-A and Triple-A last year.

    If the Mariners give him the chance, Pineda will continue putting strikeouts on the board.

HR: Freddie Freeman, Atlanta Braves

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    Freddie Freeman is poised to take over at first base for the Atlanta Braves. He has the potential to hit a ton of home runs.

    Though he is considered a line-drive machine, many of those line drives wind up over the fence.

    He hit 18 HR in 124 games at Triple-A in 2010. While he hasn’t hit a home run yet this spring, he’s tearing the cover off the ball in preparation for this season.

    Freeman should be the rookie leader in HR, with the potential to hit roughly 20.

RBI: Freddie Freeman, Atlanta Braves

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    Freddie Freeman seems like more of a lock to win the rookie RBI crown than the HR crown.

    He drove in 87 runs in Triple-A last year.

    In a heart of the lineup that features Chipper Jones, Dan Uggla, Jason Heyward and Brian McCann, Freeman should have a ton of opportunities to drive in runs.

    If he continues his torrid spring hitting throughout the season, Freeman could wind up with 75-to-85 RBI.

AVG: Brandon Belt, San Francisco Giants

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    Just like Buster Posey took the National League by storm in 2010, the San Francisco Giants expect Brandon Belt to do the same in 2011. Belt's batting average can potentially be through the roof.

    Belt led all minor leaguers last season with a .352 BA. He also has good speed and top-notch power.

    Belt’s main roadblock is Giants’ current first baseman, Aubrey Huff, who is coming off a career year. However, both Belt and Huff have played the outfield in their careers.

    With regular duty, Belt has the ability to hit over .300 for the season.

SB: Desmond Jennings, Tampa Bay Rays

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    Though the Rays lost a prolific speedster in Carl Crawford, it simply opened the door for another roadrunner to steal bases: Desmond Jennings.

    His speed actually landed him a spot on the Rays’ 2010 postseason roster after only appearing in 17 games in the majors.

    In all but one of his five minor league seasons, Jennings has stolen at least 32 bases. His highest total was in 2009, when he stole 52 bases and he was only caught seven times.

    He will be expected to fill in for Crawford right away atop the Rays’ batting order. His speed can create havoc on the base paths.

    If he can consistently reach base, he could steal upwards of 40 bases this season.

R: Desmond Jennings, Tampa Bay Rays

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    Desmond Jennings can also use his speed to lead rookies in runs scored.

    If the Rays use him as their leadoff man, he can set the table for the likes of Johnny Damon, Ben Zobrist, Evan Longoria and Manny Ramirez, all of whom are paid to drive in runs.

    He scored 82 runs last season at Triple-A and will look to continue that clip.

    On a team that lost some offensive firepower in Carl Crawford and Carlos Pena, the Rays will need to find other ways to score runs.

    Using Jennings' speed is the perfect solution. However, Jennings will need to consistently get on base in order to score runs.