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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.

Predictions

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