The Rookie of the Year award is as important to the player as well as the franchise for which he works. Having a different player from the same team challenge for the award year in and year out is a great sign for your organizational depth. In 2010, both leagues had great races for the award. The Detroit Tigers had two players—Austin Jackson and Brennan Boesch—seemingly poised to take the trophy at the start of the year, winning top rookie honours in April, May, and June. They eventually lost to Neftali Feliz of the Texas Rangers. In the National League, there was a two man race between Jason Heyward of the Atlanta Braves and Buster Posey of the San Francisco Giants, with Posey eventually winning out.
This season, there is another crop of hopeful winners. Here are my picks for the award as well as a dark horse in each league. There are a ton of potential impact rookies this season, so I won’t attempt to list them all. Feel free to comment and tell me how foolish I was to not list Kyle Drabek (Toronto Blue Jays), Jesus Montero (New York Yankees), Mike Moustakas (Kansas City Royals), Brandon Belt (San Francisco Giants), Freddie Freeman (Atlanta Braves), Mike Minor (Atlanta Braves) and/or any other top prospect expected to get playing time that I have missed.
This starting pitcher for the Tampa Bay Rays is more than ready for a starting role with the club’s rotation. Tampa believed in him so much that it shipped Matt Garza to the Chicago Cubs in order to make room for Hellickson. Jeremy pitched in the big leagues down the stretch for the Rays—including four starts—and did not disappoint. With a 3.47 ERA and 33 strikeouts in 36 1/3 innings, he has not missed a step since coming up from the minors. In 5 seasons he posted a 2.71 ERA over 580 1/3 innings, striking out a whopping 634 batters.
With playing time not guaranteed for fellow teammate and rookie Desmond Jennings, Hellickson is not only my favorite Rays rookie, but also in the whole A.L.
Luckily I am writing his name and not trying to pronounce it. There has not been a lot of talk about Nishioka and frankly I am surprised. That is why he is my dark horse candidate to win the award for the Minnesota Twins. It is unfair to call him a rookie—he has played professionally in Japan for eight seasons already—but he qualifies as a Major League rookie, just like Ichiro Suzuki before him. His .346 average for the Chiba Lotte Marines last season suggests he is ready to bring that to the big leagues with him. His numbers aren’t Ichiro-worthy (but whose are?), and while the Japanese-league isn’t as competitive as the Majors, it’s better than the minors.
Nishioka won’t hit for much power, but does a .315 average with 30 stolen bases sound like a reasonable rookie of the year campaign?
Brown, of the Philadelphia Phillies, can do a little bit of everything. In the Minors, he hit just under .300 over 5 seasons, including .327 last season. He had 20 dingers and swiped 17 bags as well to go along with an above average throwing arm. All signs point to him being more than just an average ball player. Playing in Philly, he shouldn’t feel a lot of pressure to produce behind Ryan Howard, Chase Utley and Jimmy Rollins. There isn’t anything more Brown can do in the minors, which fits perfectly with Jayson Werth vacating his outfield spot and giving Brown somewhere to play.
Maybe Chapman doesn’t fit into the dark horse candidate category, but he won’t start the season with a role primed to win the Rookie of the Year award. As a pitcher he would need to either start or close and he isn’t doing either. Instead, the Cincinnati Reds will rely on him to get them out of big jams, much like he did at the end of last season. Chapman did a fine job in that role. In 13 1/3 innings he struck out a jaw-dropping 19 batters. Without the over-valued saves statistic however, how much credit will he get as a late reliever? The answer is probably not much, unless, of course, he forces manager Dusty Baker to hand him the closers role, or he can stretch his arm out to start.
If Chapman acquires the closing job early enough in the season, a Rookie of the Year award will follow.