A Look at the NL Rookie Race

Yesterday, we took a look at the top rookie performers in the American League, led by Detroit’s Austin Jackson. Today, we’re breaking down the key first year players in the National League through the first six weeks of the 2010 MLB season. It’s a pretty impressive list already, and we still haven’t seen the likes of Washington’s Stephen Strasburg or Florida’s Mike Stanton.

Rookies were considered based on a minimum of 50 plate appearances, four starts, or 10 relief appearances. Last year’s NL Rookie of the Year award went to Florida’s Chris Coghlan, followed by J.A. Happ (Philadelphia) and Tommy Hanson (Atlanta).

Tyler Colvin | OF | Chicago: The former No. 1 draft pick is having a nice debut despite being a surprise addition to the ’10 club. Colvin has shown more patience in the Majors (10.2 BB%) than in the minors, which has helped his overall numbers. He currently has a triple-slash line of .275/.345/.608 and an ISO rate of .333, which has been helped by eight extra base hits out of his 14 total base knocks. The strikeout rate is a worrisome at 29.4 K%.

Ike Davis | 1B | New York: Davis is in the Majors a lot sooner than a lot of people expect but he’s held his own with a .415 wOBA in 18 games. Overall, he has a triple-slash line of .316/.437/.544. Davis has shown a willingness to take a walk with a rate of 18.3 BB%. He’s also done his fair share of swinging and missing with a strikeout rate of 29.8%. The line-drive rate of 31.7% is pretty darn impressive for young Ike.

Ian Desmond | SS | Washington: Desmond is holding his own so far this season as the Nationals’ starting shortstop. He has a triple-slash line of .264/.323/.462, and his wOBA sits at .347. Along with three homers, the shortstop has added three stolen bases. Desmond’s strikeout rate is high (23.1 K%) for someone with modest power. He’s been solid so far with the glove.

Alcides Escobar | SS | Milwaukee: Escobar is an interesting rookie. He’s basically known for hitting for a hollow batting average with good speed and defense. So far in 2010, Escobar has a .222 average, a career-high .141 ISO rate, just one steal attempt in 27 games, and a modest defensive showing. After nabbing 46 bags in ’09, it’s borderline criminal that the young infielder isn’t utilizing his speed better.

David Freese | 3B | St. Louis: I won’t go too in-depth on Freese here, as I looked at him last week. Freese is currently hitting .320/.393/.476 with a .387 wOBA in 29 games. His power output has been modest for the hot corner (.155 ISO) but he has a history of posting strong batting averages in the minors.

Jason Heyward | RF | Atlanta: Heyward had his ups and his downs during the first month of the season, which is to be expected for a 20-year-old prospect making his MLB debut. What’s impressive is how quickly he’s made adjustments. Heyward currently has a .436 wOBA and his triple-slash line is up to .291/.410/.616 with eight homers (.326 ISO) in 105 at-bats. He does have some work to do defensively.

Tommy Manzella | SS | Houston: Manzella was holding his own for a little while in April but his triple-slash line has dipped to just .195/.235/.260 in 83 at-bats. His approach at the plate is clearly an issue, as he has a walk rate of just 2.4% and his strikeout rate has skyrocketed to 32.5%, which is far too high for a player with a .065 ISO rate. On the plus side, he’s played OK defense.

Gaby Sanchez | 1B | Florida: Sanchez, 26, is quietly going about his rookie season. The first baseman has a solid triple-slash line of .272/.368/.424 in 106 at-bats. His wOBA sits at .352. Sanchez has done a solid job of getting on base with a walk rate of 12.3%, which is right up there with his minor league numbers. He’s done OK with the strikeout rate at 20.7%, but his power is below average for a first baseman, so it would be better off around the 15% range.

Jaime Garcia | LHP | St. Louis: Garcia is another player that was highlighted recently. The lefty mixes four pitches well (fastball, cutter, curve, change) and he currently has positive pitch values on all four of his offerings. Along with his 89-91 mph fastball velocity, Garcia gets excellent sink on his heater and he currently has a ground-ball rate of 62%, which is second in the Majors to Atlanta’s Tim Hudson. He needs to make sure that he continues to keep his control in check.

Mike Leake | RHP | Cincinnati: Leake cannot boast a +60% ground-ball rate like Garcia, but his is still above average at 56.0%. The right-hander has continued to improve as the season has gone on. Currently, he’s given up just 32 hits in 40.2 innings of work and his xFIP sits at 4.11. He’s done a nice job of tossing a five-pitch mix at the National League hitters, which helps make up for his average fastball velocity.

Jenrry Mejia | RHP | New York: I cannot adequately express how disappointing it is to see Mejia being misused in New York. The 20-year-old right-hander has appeared in 15 games out of the bullpen and currently has a 4.61 BB/9 rate, as well as a strikeout rate of just 5.93 K/9. He’s shown a respectable fastball-slider combo, but his change-up (along with his overall control) is not getting any better by pitching a total of 13.2 innings in just under six weeks.

Jon Niese | LHP | New York: Niese has not received a ton of attention from traditional rookie watchers, likely due to his one win in six games. We all know there is much more to a pitcher’s game than wins (Less just ban the stat for individuals). The lefty has a solid strikeout rate at 7.46 K/9 and his control has improved significantly (3.09 BB/9) over his ’09 debut. Niese’s ground-ball rate is just shy of 50%. The base knock has been an issue for him as he’s allowed 46 hits in 35.0 innings.


The Next Big Call-up: Stephen Strasburg, RHP, Washington
2010 First Half Star: Jason Heyward, RF, Atlanta
2010 Second Half Star: Jason Heyward, RF, Atlanta
2010 Overall NL ROY: Jason Heyward, RF, Atlanta

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Marc Hulet has been writing at FanGraphs since 2008. His work focuses on prospect analysis. Follow him on Twitter @marchulet.

47 Responses to “A Look at the NL Rookie Race”

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  1. nothingxs says:

    Jason Heyward is just too broken. That said, it’s good to see that Gaby Sánchez is doing a great job at producing at a solid major league level. I agree — hopefully, we see the K rate go down and the BB rate go up!

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    • Josh says:

      “Too broken?” What does that even mean? Spot on analysis on the guy that is going to have the ROY locked up by the ASG.

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      • DavidCEisen says:

        ‘too broken’ is uber-nerd speak for really good.

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      • philkid3 says:

        Like if you play Smash Bros, people refer to how Meta Knight “breaks the game.” He’s broke in the fact that he makes it unfair.

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      • Aaron says:

        I appreciate the fact the you were critical what he had to say about Heyward without knowing what he was saying. Spot on as you might say.

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      • Josh says:

        Does it take knowing what he meant to say to know that it was a terrible analysis? Swing too broken? – Nope. Approach too broken? Don’t think so. Too injured? He missed 4 games – so not really. If you can point out to me an aspect of Heyward’s game that can be described as “too broken” then go right ahead.

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      • philkid3 says:

        It seems you still don’t understand what he was saying.

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    • slash12 says:

      Jason Heyward Quick hits:
      – 30% K% .291 avg
      – 49.2 GB% .326 ISO
      – 38.1 HR/FB Rate

      Sabermatricians know what’s coming next, but just how severely? Or can he start hitting more fly balls, and trim the K’s?

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      • GLB says:

        He’s already starting to trim the K’s considerably. He has looked so much better since Bobby said something about him being more aggressive. It’s like he’s already on his 3rd adjustment. He started off overly aggressive. Then he wasn’t aggreesive enough, which led to falling behind in counts. Now, he just looks really comfortable at the plate.

        Glad to see him back last night looking healthy. Even swiping a bag with ease. He really seems to like to run. The plan before Chipper was a late scratch was to have Heyward bat 2nd. I think he could easily swipe 20 bags this year.

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      • Adam says:

        GLB—No way Heyward steals 20 bases this season. It is May 12th and he has 1. And Bobby Cox will remain the manager for the rest of the season, so the Braves won’t run. I doubt Heyward has 20 attempts or even 15 this season.

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      • Cooper S says:

        For what it’s worth, he hasn’t k’d in 7 games and since a 3K game on April 23rd, he has 4K in 13 games.

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  2. Steve C says:

    Is it me or does the NL list seem a lot more impressive than the AL?

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  3. Josh says:

    Jason Heyward: So good he wins the AL ROY too!

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  4. Marc Hulet says:

    Heh, darn copy and paste errors…

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  5. NM says:

    Nice to see a good chunk of Mets on this list, though I’m in agreement its disappointing to see Mejia on this list (because he shouldn’t be in the Majors).

    I would guess Heyward wins the award while Strasburg makes the strongest push.

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  6. JCA says:

    Desmond – 3d in UZR among all SS in MLB according to Fangraphs. Solid.

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  7. Joltin' Joe says:

    Gaby Sanchez will be a nice player for someone when FLA gets rid of him in favor of Morrison.

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  8. Professional Editor says:

    Marc: Nice write-ups, but please refrain from using the phrase “held his own” again. It’s in at least three of these capsules.

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  9. Gaston says:

    Not really sure how Heyward needs work on his defense. His UZR/150 is .9 and the sample size is waaaay too small.

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    • H.Villanueva says:

      There are other methods of determining if someone is having problems defensively, especially with such a small sample size. In my opinion this is an instance in which a player can be making fundamental errors that may not have manifested themselves statistically, but would over the longer term.

      I am a fan of advanced stats and something of a saber devotee, but I feel that there is still a place for information that can be gleaned through observation.

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      • H.Villanueva says:

        One other thing to add: I haven’t had a chance to check out a lot of Heyward in the field myself and am not backing up the statement that he is a having fielding problems necessarily. It could just be a load of horse shit.

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  10. John C says:

    “He does have some work to do defensively.”

    One month of UZR ftl.

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  11. cavebird says:

    And what is hurting his UZR is a few errant throws he has made; which is a bit surprising because the scouting reports said he had a plus-plus arm, strong and accurate. Probably just small sample size.

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    • ugafan says:

      Even his throws are misleading. One or more were very good throws that ended up hitting the baserunners and he was charged with an error. His UZR will improve by the end of the season.

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  12. Grammar Nazi says:

    Re: Leake

    Isn’t there just a bit of a problem if your cutter (89.1) is being thrown harder than the fastball (88.7)?

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  13. CFIC says:

    I wonder if Freese ends up with really good defensive stats, if that will be considered. because he might be that much better a defender than Heyward if he continues to be a “clutch” hitter and rack up those rbis, surely they will consider that as well.

    but if Garcia keeps up his great work (Cards really aren’t missing Pineiro, eh?) I think he should get the award

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    • Alex says:

      Honestly? No, its not going to matter. Freese is an older rookie that doesn’t really get people excited. People will look for reasons not to vote for him, not the other way around. He’s going to have to completely outplay Heyward to have any sort of shot at the ROY, and even then its a long shot.

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      • CircleChange11 says:

        If Freese ends up with really good defensive stats, then something is wrong. I’ve watched him play and his first step is so undecisive and hesitant. He goes back on balls he should come in and get the short hop, etc.

        I’m happy with his rookie campaign, but his defense is what you’d expect out of a rookie that has a lot of improvment to make … especially on a high GB team.

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  14. Gul Cratt says:

    Hope to see Jhoulys on this list soon.

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  15. Al says:

    I feel like Starlin Castro should have been mentioned at least.

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    • Jason B says:

      I think Chacin and Castro may warrant a mention after they’ve got some more games under their respective belts. It’s super tough to make heads or tails out of 1-2 starts or 15-20 plate appearances.

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  16. Colin says:

    Once Strasburg and Stanton each get the call, this will turn into an even more interesting NL ROY race.

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    • Bronnt says:

      I wouldn’t say more interesting, since it’s not really interesting now. Just since this was written, Ike Davis (probably your runner-up to date) has lost nearly 40 points of wOBA, while Heyward is up a few more notches. It’s going to take Strasburg showing up in dominant fashion in order to make a race out of this. Stanton might also be able to insinuate his name into the race, but he’ll have some catch-up work to do.

      Freese is a nice player, though.

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      • purple_haze says:

        You’re forgetting Jaime Garcia, who has done nothing but crush lineups all season so far. Regression is coming for the kid but if he can sustain his production close to his current level, I think he edges out Heyward.

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  17. Franco says:

    At least if the Mets stop getting lucky and fall out of the race, I have 3 or 4 rookies to watch (if they promote Fernando Martinez).

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  18. Clayton says:

    Heyward has looked much better since the day off he got before his injury. He was being too patient and taking pitches down the middle. A veteran guy can do that but this kid is 20 years old and was facing 2-strike counts before he had a chance to swing. Since the day off, he has looked much more aggressive at the plate, cut down on K’s (7:2 BB:K ration in last 10 games) and is hitting with men on base. As a Braves fan who watches him on a day-to-day basis, he is frustrating with his ups and downs but I have to realize that he is 20 years old. He has been better than I could have realistically expected so far and I believe the top rookie this year (hitting for average and power not one – see Austin Jackson). Also, two stolen bases in two days in the 3-hole. Hopefully Bobby will start to let him loose more, he has good speed.

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  19. D-Rock says:

    No one cares what you do defensively when you’re slugging .616.

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  20. Hollywood says:

    Let’s also not forget how many times Heyward has delivered clutch hits. At last check, his BA with RISP is hovering around .500. All the while leading the team in OBP, SLG, HR, RBI, SB(tie). The Braves haven’t exactly lit it up offensively, but impressive none-the-less.

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  21. Nick says:

    I think it’s silly that everyone though Heyward was a shoe in. It’s find to predict, but to talk as though the award already belongs to him is stupid. I’d say he’s a contender, top 3, obviously, but my guess is the Jaime Garcia or Buster Posey, hell, even Starlin Castro could end up ahead of him.

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