Craig Kimbrel and the Top 5 Candidates for the 2011 NL Rookie of the Year

Sam CooperCorrespondent IIIOctober 8, 2011

Craig Kimbrel and the Top 5 Candidates for the 2011 NL Rookie of the Year

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    Each year, a new set of young players emerge and show their capability to play well at a major league level. The 2010 NL Rookie class was an extremely strong one that showcased players such as Jason Heyward, Gaby Sanchez, Jaime Garcia, Mike Stanton, Starlin Castro, Ike Davis and Buster Posey.

    This year had its own set of rising stars, and there have been several NL rookies who have impressed in their first MLB season. The battle for the 2011 NL ROY is heating up, and the coveted award could end up with anyone.

    Enjoy as I present to you the top five NL Rookie of the Year candidates in my first-ever Bleacher Report article. 

5. Brandon Beachy

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     Brandon Beachy was awarded the fifth spot in Atlanta's starting rotation at the beginning of the season, and had he not suffered from a strained oblique in the earlier part of the season, he would've most likely been higher on this list.

    Beachy was able to step up this season for a team that was having nagging injury problems with Tommy Hanson and Jair Jurrjens. Beachy also led all NL rookies in strikeouts, and had an impressive 10.7 K's per 9 innings.

    He was a key factor in the Braves' success over the season and with his help, the Braves were able to stay in the Wild Card race up until the last day of the season. 

    2011 Stats:

    GS    W    L    ERA      IP      H      ER    K     BB    WHIP   BAA

    25    7     3    3.68   141.2   125   58   169   46      1.207    .236

4. Danny Espinosa

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    Danny Espinosa first stepped onto the stage last year when he played 28 games for the Nationals and was able to belt 6 homers, despite no stolen bases and a poor .214 batting average.

    In his first full major league season, Espinosa led all NL rookies in stolen bases along with an impressive 21 home runs and 72 runs scored. Espinosa also played in almost every single game of the season and was able to stay healthy throughout the entire year.

    The biggest downside of Espinosa's season was his huge strikeout rate. He had 166 strikeouts, which led to his low batting average.

    Nonetheless, Espinosa had a good season and looks as if he could have a very successful career in the big leagues as long as he cuts down on his strikeouts.

    2011 Stats:

      G      AB       H       AVG      HR      RBI      R     SB      SO     OBP     SLG

    158   573     135     .236       21       66        72    17       166    .323      .414

3. Vance Worley

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    Vance Worley was quite a pleasant surprise for the Phillies, a team that was already believed to have a perfect rotation. He was called up in June and found himself a spot in the Phillies rotation, and from that point on, he found himself winning game after game after game.

    Worley had a streak of 14 undefeated decisions that finally came to an end on Sept. 11. Worley was also backed by one of the greatest offenses in the league, which gave him a great amount of run support, and he had a stellar defense helping him.

    He had an amazing season and should find himself a regular spot in the Phillies extremely competitive rotation next year in 2012. Unfortunately for him, he was a mid-season call up and simply didn't play enough to deserve the ROY. 

    2011 Stats:

    GS    W    L    ERA      IP       H       ER     K      BB     WHIP    BAA

    21   11   3     3.01   131.2   116    44     119     46      1.230    .237

2. Freddie Freeman

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    The 22-year-old Freddie Freeman was another great rookie over the course of the season. He fought with Danny Espinosa all season in an attempt to have an advantage in Home Runs, RBI's and At-bats.

    He had a nice .282 batting average, better than any of his fellow NL rookies, and he had an impressive .448 slugging percentage. He was also a good defensive first baseman and was able to go 1,370 innings at his position along with a .996 fielding percentage.

    This guy is very durable, and he looks like he has a very long and successful career ahead of him. 

    2011 Stats: 

      G      AB       H       AVG      HR      RBI      R     SB      SO     OBP     SLG

     157 571     161      .282       21       76       67      4       142     .346      .448

1. Craig Kimbrel

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    Craig Kimbrel should be acknowledged as the best NL rookie of the 2011 season. Kimbrel had some great achievements. He pitched 79 games and logged over 77 innings, more than any other closer in baseball.

    Also, he put together an amazing streak of 38 consecutive appearances without allowing a run, which is the longest streak of any reliever in baseball history. He had 127 strikeouts to give him a fantastic 14.8 strikeouts per 9 innings.

    On top of all that, the 46 saves and the All-Star appearance didn't hurt his cause. His WHIP of 1.039 and a strikeout rate of 14.8 have only been matched twice in modern relief pitching; Eric Gagne did it in 2003 and Brad Lidge in 2004.

    Kimbrel is full of potential, and because he is only 23 years old, he may become one of the most dominant closers the league has ever seen. 

    2011 Stats:

    G    W    L    SV    ERA     IP      H      ER    K        BB     WHIP    BAA   SO/9                   

    79  4     3    46   2.10      77      48      18   127     32     1.039   .178     14.8