NL Rookie of the Year Rankings: Tyler Pastornicky, Yonder Alonso Making Push

Ian Casselberry@iancassMLB Lead WriterMay 15, 2012

NL Rookie of the Year Rankings: Tyler Pastornicky, Yonder Alonso Making Push

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    Let's begin with a correction. St. Louis Cardinals pitcher Lance Lynn led our NL Rookie of the Year rankings last week. A few commenters said that Lynn no longer qualified as a rookie because he'd been in the majors for more than 45 days while rosters were at a 25-man limit. 

    Between being sent back to the minors, a stint on the disabled list and extended September rosters, I thought Lynn was still under that limit. But MLB.com's Jenifer Langosch reported that he'd exceeded 45 days. So Lynn is obviously removed from consideration. Apologies for any confusion we may have caused.

    Another player whose rookie status was uncertain is San Diego Padres first baseman Yonder Alonso. I've talked to several sources who either cover or are familiar with the Padres, and they're all working under the assumption that Alonso still qualifies as a rookie. 

    Looking at Alonso's game logs at Baseball-Reference, I have him at 37 days on an active roster during the period of a 25-man limit. So unless it's reported otherwise, we're considering him a rookie here. 

    This week's top NL rookie rankings have two new additions, one returning after a one-week absence and the other making his debut on this list. Shuffled off the list for now is Bryce Harper, who's seen his offensive numbers slide. Going into Monday's play, his OPS was down to .663.

    Obviously, plenty can change in the weeks to come. But for now, Harper is several notches below his fellow rookies.

    Taking all of that into consideration, here are this week's top five candidates for NL Rookie of the Year.

5. Wade Miley, Arizona Diamondbacks

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    After getting squeezed off last week's rankings, Wade Miley is back among the top five contenders for NL Rookie of the Year honors. 

    Over his past two starts, Miley's been roughed up for seven runs and 17 hits in 11-and-two-thirds innings. That has him on a downward trend. But his previous five outings, during which he allowed a total of three runs over 21 innings, can't be overlooked. 

    That's what separates Miley at this point from the Atlanta Braves' Randall Delgado, who's allowed three total runs in his past two starts. But he allowed nine runs in two appearances prior to that, which put his spot in the Braves' rotation in jeopardy. 

    Miley's 2.76 ERA is the lowest among the D-Backs' starting pitchers, though he's pitched at least 12 fewer innings than Arizona's other three top starters. Even when Daniel Hudson returns from a shoulder injury, Miley has pitched well enough that Arizona manager Kirk Gibson could keep him in the starting rotation. 

    But as far as these rankings go, Delgado could soon overtake Miley, depending on how each pitcher fares this week. 

4. Tyler Pastornicky, Atlanta Braves

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    In the third week of these NL Rookie of the Year rankings, it's probably long overdue for Tyler Pastornicky to be included on this list. 

    My justification in keeping him off in favor of players such as Bryce Harper was that Pastornicky's fellow shortstop, Zack Cozart of the Cincinnati Reds, had outperformed him at the same position and at a more important spot in the batting order.

    However, Pastornicky's consistency warrants a place among the league's top rookies. His .267 batting average is fifth among Braves regulars, which is impressive considering Pastornicky's bat almost cost him a job in spring training to Andrelton Simmons.

    The one glaring weakness in Pastornicky's game is the five walks he's drawn in 110 plate appearances. That total is especially troubling when you consider that Pastornicky has mostly batted eighth in the Braves' batting order, in front of the pitcher.

    He also hasn't shown the same defensive ability that Cozart has, judging by Defensive Runs Saved and Ultimate Zone Rating. Not enough data has been collected this early in the season, but based on what's available, Pastornicky is the worst defensive shortstop in the NL. 

    But Pastornicky has been a dependable cog on a Braves team that just might be the best in the NL at this point, with a lineup that's scored the second-most runs in the majors. He'll get plenty of playing time to compete for top rookie honors. 

3. Yonder Alonso, San Diego Padres

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    To repeat our explanation from the introduction, I went through Alonso's game logs at Baseball-Reference and counted 37 days for him on an active roster during the period of a 25-man limit. 

    So the days he played with the Cincinnati Reds in September of 2010 and 2011 don't count toward his rookie eligibility. Until I'm shown a reason to do otherwise, I'm keeping Alonso on this list as long as his play deserves it. 

    Since last week, when Alonso pushed into the top five NL rookie candidates, he's batted 6-for-17 (.353) with a home run and four RBI. That surge boosted his batting average to .293, which leads all San Diego Padres hitters. 

    Alonso doesn't hit for much power, but he hits plenty of balls into the gap. In a ballpark with a vast outfield like Petco Park, that can lead to plenty of extra-base hits. Alonso's 11 doubles are tied for the third-highest total in the NL. 

    By this time, Alonso's batting average could have jumped over the .300 mark with an OPS exceeding .800. If he maintains that level of performance, he'll be among the top contenders for the NL Rookie of the Year award for the rest of the season. 

2. Kirk Nieuwenhuis, New York Mets

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    At the beginning of May, Kirk Nieuwenhuis looked like the major league game might be catching up to him. But he quickly shook off those struggles and is again a key part of the New York Mets' lineup that manager Terry Collins isn't likely to sit down anytime soon.

    Nieuwenhuis is 9-for-33 so far in May, which is a touch below his impressive April performance. But his .816 OPS is third among Mets hitters and he's drawn the second-highest number of walks in the lineup with 13. 

    The most troubling aspect of Nieuwenhuis' game is his high number of strikeouts. His 37 Ks lead the team, more than even Ike Davis or Lucas Duda. That's also the fourth-highest total in the NL. 

    However, in a lineup that hasn't been able to score many runs this season, Nieuwenhuis has been one of the Mets' best run producers.

    Maybe that speaks to how poorly some of the team's veteran hitters, such as Davis and the injured Jason Bay, have performed to this point. But somebody has to help David Wright and Daniel Murphy string together some offense for the Mets. Nieuwenhuis is doing so at an impressive level. 

1. Zack Cozart, Cincinnati Reds

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    Last week, we had Zack Cozart ranked No. 2 among top NL rookie contenders. Now that Lance Lynn is no longer eligible, and Cozart's performance hasn't dropped over the past seven days, there's no reason not to move him into the top spot.

    Since being moved from the second spot in the Cincinnati Reds' batting order to the leadoff position, Cozart hasn't missed a beat. He's getting on base in front of the Reds' top hitters, giving them someone to drive in.

    Unfortunately, Cincinnati is one of the lower-scoring teams in the NL, but that's not due to Cozart. His .759 OPS is fourth among Reds hitters, which probably means that the rest of the Reds' batting order, those not named Joey Votto and Jay Bruce, need to do a better job of producing runs.

    Perhaps more importantly, Cozart is also playing well on the defensive side. Fangraphs has him as the third-best defensive shortstop in the league, based on Defensive Runs Scored and Ultimate Zone Rating. That gives him a major edge against fellow rookie shortstop Tyler Pastornicky.

    With the Reds closing in on the Cardinals in the NL Central, Cincinnati could be playing some important baseball in the weeks and months to come. If Cozart continues to produce when it matters most, it won't go unnoticed that he's been a major contributor to a playoff contender. That should give his chances at winning NL Rookie of the Year a notable boost. 

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