Rookie of the Year Predictions
Here are my choices for the Rookies of the Year and the runners-up for the 2006 season, which has been tremendous in rookie talent.
3rd Place: Nick Markakis (Baltimore Orioles)
Forget for a moment that this is the year of the rookie pitchers, and take a look at this year’s top offensive rookie in the American League. Markakis is batting .295 with 19HR and 60RBI this season, and has a .355OBP, with a .455SLG. The 22-year-old outfielder projects as a solid hitter, because of his patience at the plate, and his ability to drive the ball to all fields. If the Orioles were anywhere near the playoff picture this season, Markakis would be on everyone’s radar for Rookie of the Year; unfortunately for him, the O’s struggles will diminish his recognition.
2nd Place: Jonathan Papelbon (Boston Red Sox)
Jonathan Papelbon entered the season as the Red Sox closer, because of ineffectiveness from closer Keith Foulke, and the decision that top-prospect Craig Hansen was not ready for the role. Papelbon had been an effective reliever in 2005, so there was no reason to believe he would falter, but there was also no reason to expect the Mariano Rivera-like numbers he has put up this season. Papelbon’s statistics for the season: (4-2) 0.96ERA, 0.75WHIP, 34SV’s, 72K’s in 65.2IP, are close to the top among MLB closers this season. He could have 40-42 saves right now, but due to the Red Sox recent struggles, Papelbon has not appeared in many games. The most impressive thing about Papelbon, is he has handled the pressure of coming into a tight game with (for example) the Yankees, and been able to keep them off to the scoreboard to preserve a Boston victory. The calmness he exhibits on the mound is rare for a rookie, which is why Papelbon is a close-2nd in the AL Rookie of the Year race.
1st Place: Justin Verlander (Detroit Tigers)
Justin Verlander has had a tremendous rookie season, and is, in my opinion, the favorite to win the AL Rookie of the Year. This season, Verlander is (15-7) with a 3.42ERA and 1.27WHIP, along with 106K’s in 158IP. While Verlander’s statistics are actually worse than those of Francisco Lirano, I think he has been more impressive on the mound. It’s strange that his strikeout-rate is not higher, because Verlander has a 100MPH fastball, and an effective array of off-speed/breaking pitches. He has become the ace of the Detroit Tigers’ pitching staff, taking that role from veteran Kenny Rogers, after Rogers had a rough patch in late-July/early-August. Just one behind the league leader in wins (15 — Roy Halladay has 16), Justin Verlander is my pick for AL Rookie of the Year.
The other players, in my opinion, who have a strong case for AL Rookie of the Year are Chris Ray (Orioles), Jered Weaver (Angels), Francisco Liriano (Twins), and Kenji Johjima (Mariners).
3rd Place: Dan Uggla (Florida Marlins)
A year ago, nobody had heard of Dan Uggla, because he was an unheralded prospect in the Arizona Diamondbacks. The Snakes thought so little of him, that he was left unprotected in the 2005 Rule 5 draft, where the Marlins snatched him up. Great move! Uggla is batting .286 with 26HR and 89RBI, coupled with a .344OBP and a .492SLG. Those numbers are about as good as it gets for an NL second-baseman not named Chase Utley. Speaking of Chase, he’s a good comparison for the career Dan Uggla might have ahead of him. If he can lower his strikeouts (116 this season) and improve upon his BA with RISP (.287), Dan Uggla will soon be a top-3 second-baseman in baseball.
2nd Place: Ryan Zimmerman (Washington Nationals)
Ryan Zimmerman, though he plays for a team that is among the worst in the National League, is one of the best young players in baseball. His numbers this season — .281AVG/18HR/93RBI/9SB/.347OBP/.466SLG — are terrific for a rookie playing in a division with spectacular pitching, which the NL East has plenty of. He has also flashed a gold-glove caliber glove at 3rd base this season. I would hold off on those Alex Rodriguez comparisons for now — Zimmerman doesn’t have A-Rod style power — but Ryan Zimmerman has set himself apart from the other National League rookies. He is a player with 5-tool ability, and he, in my mind, is the top rookie in the National League this season.
1st Place: Hanley Ramirez (Florida Marlins)
The Red Sox are regretting their decision to let Hanley Ramirez go to the Marlins, even though they got a solid pitcher (Josh Beckett) and a terrific 3rd-baseman (Mike Lowell). Why? Because Hanley Ramirez is the most exciting player to watch in the National League, aside from maybe Jose Reyes. The rookie is batting .285 with 13HR and 55RBI as the Marlins leadoff hitter. Hanley has also stolen a whopping 50 bases, and has been caught just 14 times, for a solid 78.1% SCR (steal conversion rate). His .348OBP leaves a little to be desired, as do his 120 strikeouts, but improvement in those departments usually comes with experience. With 64 Extra-Base hits, and 269 total bases in his rookie year, Hanley Ramirez is my choice to take home the NL ROTY trophy.
Other NL rookies worthy of ROTY consideration: Josh Barfield (Padres), Jonathan Broxton (Dodgers), Scott Olsen (Marlins), Josh Johnson (Marlins), Matt Cain (Giants), Andre Ethier (Dodgers), Prince Fielder (Brewers), and Takashi Saito (Dodgers).
There’s still 20 or so games left in the season for rookies to impress and make their case for the award stronger, but for now, my picks to win the ROTYs are Justin Verlander and Hanley Ramirez.