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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


A Look at the AL Rookie Race

Well, we’re about six weeks into the season so it’s time to take a look at the Rookie of the Year races. Today, we’ll begin with the American League before following up with the National League on Tuesday. Rookies were considered based on a minimum of 50 plate appearances, four starts, or 10 relief appearances. Last year’s AL Rookie of the Year award went to A’s closer Andrew Bailey, followed by Elvis Andrus (Texas) and Rick Porcello (Detroit).

Austin Jackson | CF | Detroit: The 23-year-old Jackson is certainly the top rookie hitter right now. His line of .370/.420/.508 is head-and-shoulders above everyone else in the league – but it’s also quite a bit better than anything he’s ever posted in the minors. Toss in a well-publicized (and enormous) BABIP of .511 and you have the makings of someone that’s going to take a large slide in the second half of 2010. He does deserve credit for recently cutting down on his strikeouts, with just five in his last 10 games. His wOBA of .416 certainly gives Jackson a huge lead on any other rookie hitter in the American League.

Scott Sizemore | 2B | Detroit: Sizemore’s solid start to the ’10 season was overshadowed by Jackson’s great start. The second baseman has been stumbling recently, though, and his triple-slash line is down to .241/.319/.337. After slugging 17 homers and stealing 21 bases in the minors last season, Sizemore has just one long ball (.096 ISO) and zero stolen base attempts in his rookie season in the Majors. He currently has a wOBA of .299. He’s not going to gain any value from his defense, either.

Justin Smoak | 1B | Texas: It’s been a slow start for Smoak on offense. The former first round pick is currently hitting just .196/.303/.411 in 17 games. Given his struggles with the batting average, though, his wOBA of .314 is better than you might think it would be (the MLB average is .326). Smoak has a solid walk rate at 13.6% and his strikeout rate is reasonable at 16.1%. Despite his misfortune with the balls in play (.178 BABIP), the power has been there, as seen by his .214 ISO. It’s a slow start to be sure, but the signs point to Smoak’s overall numbers getting much better as the season progresses.

Reid Brignac | IF | Tampa Bay: Brignac, 24, has seen time at both second base and shortstop in 2010. He’s hitting a respectable .294/.339/.466 in 21 games. He also has a wOBA of .346. He’s not a big home run threat, but Brignac has shown gap power and has an ISO rate of .172. He’s been quite aggressive at swinging at pitches outside the strike zone (almost 20% more than average) but he’s making above-average contact, which has helped to keep his strikeout rate to 15.5%. It has definitely hurt his on-base rate, though, as his walk rate is just 4.8%.

Lou Marson | C | Cleveland: You have to feel a little sorry for Marson. Not only is he adjusting to a new team and a new league as a rookie, but he also has top prospect Carlos Santana breathing down his neck. Marson is currently hitting .203/.261/.266 with a wOBA of .249, so he’s not exactly doing his part to keep the full-time catching gig in Cleveland. The right-handed hitter is batting just .163 against right-handed pitchers. His strikeout rate of 26.6% is far too high for someone with an ISO of just .063.

Mitch Talbot | RHP | Cleveland: The 26-year-old Talbot finally earned a shot at the big leagues in 2010 after posting some solid numbers in triple-A over the past three seasons. The right-hander has a shiny 3.43 ERA but his xFIP is currently 4.94. There is also some significant concern over his strikeout rate of 3.66 K/9, as well as the K/BB of just 0.84. That is not going to help a pitcher succeed over a full season. Talbot has survived this far thanks to a solid ground-ball rate of 52% and a BABIP of .234. American League hitters are making contact against him 93.5% of the time (average is 80.8%).

Wade Davis | RHP | Tampa Bay: Again, we have a rookie pitcher whose overall numbers are not quite as good as the ERA (3.18) would suggest. Davis’ xFIP currently sits at 4.81 and his walk rate has been high at 4.76 BB/9. His strikeout rate is below the league average at 6.62 K/9. He’s also a fly-ball pitcher. On the plus side, he’s allowed just 27 hits in 34.0 innings (.253 BABIP). If we look at his pitch type values, we see that his fastball has been good, but his secondary stuff has not been overly effective.

Brian Matusz | LHP | Baltimore: Matusz has quietly gone about his rookie season, in part because Baltimore just isn’t getting much attention while wallowing in the AL East cellar. The lefty’s xFIP currently sits at 4.80 and there is some concern over his extreme fly-ball tendencies; his ground-ball rate is just 26.6%. That clearly has to improve if he’s going to succeed in the American League. His walk rate is solid at 3.12 BB/9 and his strikeout rate is good at 7.36 K/9. Matusz has given up 46 hits in 40.1 innings, but he’s been hampered by a BABIP of .353.

Neftali Feliz | RHP | Texas: You don’t see many 22-year-old closers, so Feliz is a bit of a rarity. He’s been quite successful since claiming the role and has converted nine of 10 save opportunities. Feliz has a strikeout rate of 9.72 K/9, but his walk rate is even more impressive given his age and experience: 1.62 BB/9. Like with Matusz, the low ground-ball rate of 23.3% is troubling. According to his pitch type values, Feliz’ fastball hasn’t been quite as dynamic as it was in ’09 but he has positive values for all three of his offerings (heater, curveball, change-up).

Predictions

The Next Big Call-up: Carlos Santana, C, Cleveland
2010 First Half Star: Austin Jackson, OF, Detroit
2010 Second Half Star: Justin Smoak, 1B, Texas
2010 Overall AL ROY: Brian Matusz, LHP, Baltimore


Scouting Mike Leake

The Background: Leake, 22, jumps right to the Majors without playing a single game in the minor leagues (save for six appearances in the Arizona Fall League). He beat out Travis Wood and Aroldis Chapman for the final spot in the Cincinnati Reds starting rotation. The club’s first round pick from ’09 (eighth overall) was drafted out of Arizona State University and signed by scout Clark Crist.

Leake was a favorite amongst MLB teams as an advanced college pitcher that should make the Majors quickly. The right-hander did not have the best stuff in the draft but he still produced solid numbers: 1.71 ERA, 6.0 H/9, 1.5 BB/9 and 10.3 K/9. He also allowed just four home runs in 142.0 innings of work.

The Pre-Game Scouting Report: Leake’s fastball is said to be in the 88-94 mph range and it sits 89-91 mph. It is also said to have natural cutting action and good movement. When he’s on, he should produce a good number of ground-ball outs. As for his secondary stuff, he is said to have a 79-82 mph slider, a solid change-up and a show-me curveball. His control is good, his command is plus. Just 6’0”, he’s athletic, durable, and has good mound presence.

* * *

Game: March 20 (Spring Exhibition)
Opponent: San Francisco Giants (Todd Wellemeyer)
Conditions: Afternoon game, sunny, no wind, 66 F

The Notes: In his first inning of work against the Giants (the fourth inning of the game), Leake was flying open with his shoulder while facing the first three batters. He gave up a first-pitch single, recorded an out thanks to a diving grab by center-fielder Chris Burke (yes, that Chris Burke), and recorded the lead runner on an unsuccessful first-pitch sac bunt. Once he fixed his motion, Leake looked better but his fastball was almost exclusively 88-89 mph. The majority of his pitches were fastballs, with two sliders mixed in.

During his second inning on the mound, Leake’s command was off and he varied his arm angles, dropping as far down as sidearm. He also broke out the fading change-up to left-handed batters, but the hitters weren’t biting; the pitches were down and off the plate. He was definitely getting his fastballs up more than a ground-ball pitcher should.

Leake looked tired in his third inning of work and start off the inning by mixing his pitches more than he did in previous at-bats. His stuff lacked movement and he was hanging his curveball. He just missed giving up a three-run homer to back-up catcher Eli Whiteside.

The Conclusion: Leake’s fastball hit 90 mph just once in this three-inning outing. He varied his arm angles to give the hitters different looks but it seemed to throw off his control. The former first rounder’s heater was MLB average-at-best in this game. His secondary stuff wasn’t fooling anyone, for the most part. He recorded three ground-ball outs, one strikeout, and five fly-ball outs. Leake definitely did not look like a former first rounder in this game… and he certainly did not look like a pitcher worthy of skipping the minor leagues all together. It will be interesting to see him pitch when he’s on his game.

* * *

Travis Wood (starter): Wood was battling Leake for the fifth spot in the rotation until the final days of the spring. Wood had a breakout year in ’09 after significantly improving his control. He’ll head down to triple-A and should be one of the first starting pitchers recalled by the Reds (along with Aroldis Chapman). Wood was originally a second round pick out of a Arkansas high school in 2005 (signed by Mike Keenan).

In this game, Wood gave up three runs on two homers (Edgar Renteria, Aubrey Huff) in the first inning. The first bomb came on a 91-mph fastball up and over the plate; Wood was behind in the count 2-0. The second jack came two batters later on what appeared to be an 86-mph cutter up – again up and over the plate. He doesn’t have the velo to pitch up in the zone like that and his pitches lacked movement in the first inning. Wood’s command was much better in his second inning and he struck out the first two batters on cutters. It’s clear that he pitches better when he takes a little off of his fastball. His curve is a show-me pitch. Wood also has a good pick-off move and caught Andres Torres in the second inning.

Logan Ondrusek (relief): A surprise addition to the Opening Day roster, the 6’8” Ondrusek took a while to conquer his delivery – as most tall pitchers do – and he spent five seasons in minors after being nabbed out of a small community college in the 13th round of the 2005 draft (signed by scout Brian Wilson). The right-hander flew through high-A and double-A in ’09 before settling in at triple-A. The big reason for his success was a new-found cutter, as well as an improvement in his fastball velocity while working exclusively out of the bullpen (from 88-92 to 92-95 mph).

Against the Giants, Ondrusek mainly used his fastball and cutter. He was pretty much 88-90 mph with the fastball. He was comfortable busting hitters inside and also worked away effectively but he might need to change hitters’ eye levels a bit more often to be successful at the MLB level. In his first inning of work, Ondrusek worked up in the zone, which caused him to get a lot of fly balls. He actually did not record a ground-ball out in this game (four FBs and two Ks).


The NL Rookie of the Year Favorites

The Favorites:
1. Randy Wells, RHP, Chicago
Wells is ninth in the league in lowest BB/9 at 2.09 BB/9 and second amongst rookies behind Josh Geer. Wells is also 20th in K/BB at 2.72, although he’s eight spots below Zimmermann. The Chicago righty is comfortably in the lead amongst rookies and 16th overall in lowest HR/9 at 0.75. Wells has the 17th lowest FIP in the NL at 3.72, while Happ is at 34th (with an ERA/FIP difference of -1.32).

2. J.A. Happ, LHP, Philadelphia
Happ is tops amongst (healthy) rookies in K/9 at 6.52 (minimum 90 IPs), but that is good for just 35th in the NL. Zimmermann (on his way to Tommy John surgery) was tops amongst rookies and ninth overall at 9.07 K/9. Happ is 10th in the league in lowest-average-allowed at .233, 12 spots ahead of Wells and 13 spots ahead of Kawakami. Happ is 10th in the NL in WHIP, followed directly by Wells in the 11th hole. Happ also has the fourth lowest BABIP allowed at .262 (Wells is at 15th).

3. Dexter Fowler, CF, Colorado
Fowler is 21st in the league with a BB% rate at 13.6 (minimum 200 plate appearances), 10 spots ahead of Ryan Hanigan (who also has the 12th lowest K% at 10.9%, and the fifth best BB/K). Fowler has the seventh highest BABIP in the NL at .365, while rookies Chris Dickerson and Parra come in next at 16th and 17th, respectively. Fowler has 10 stolen bases more than any other rookie with 26 total. He performs terribly in center field according to UZR, and is rated last in the league in that category.

4. Andrew McCutchen, CH, Pittsburgh
McCutchen is second in rookies in OPS at .834. He’s also second in slugging and third in batting average. He doesn’t stand out in any one offensive category right now, but he has good all-around numbers. McCutchen has shown the best range in center field amongst the rookies, although he has not fared well in UZR. Colby Rasmus leads rookie center fielders in that category by a wide margin.

5. Casey McGehee, UTL, Milwaukee
McGehee has the slight edge on batting average over Parra, but he also has about 100 fewer plate appearances. None of the rookies are amongst the leaders in average in the National League. McGehee is the only rookie with an ISO above .200 at .203. good for 32nd in the league. He is also first in rookies with an OPS of .864. Defensively, he’s been average-at-best at second base and quite below-average at third base.

Watch Out For:
Tommy Hanson, RHP, Atlanta
Hanson is hurt by his lack of innings, but he could make a run at the top spot with a solid month of September.

Kenshin Kawakami, RHP, Atlanta
This Japanese veteran is reliable and plugs along, but he doesn’t really deserve consideration for the award given his professional experience.

Jordan Zimmermann, RHP, Washington
If not for his injury, Zimmermann would be a favorite for the award given how well he’s pitched, based on numerous categories.

Chris Coghlan, LF, Florida
Like McCutchen, Coghlan has solid overall numbers, but does not stand out in any one area. Defensively, he has not performed well according to UZR.

Gerardo Parra, CF, Arizona
Parra leads rookies with eight triples, but has stolen just five bases in 10 attempts. His defensive play has been pretty average.


The AL Rookie of the Year Favorites

The Favorites:
1. Brett Anderson, LHP, Oakland
Anderson holds the narrow edge over Romero is K/9 with 7.25, good for 18th in the league for pitchers with more than 90 innings pitched. Anderson has the 12th lowest FIP in the AL at 3.91, six spots ahead of Bergesen. The southpaw also has the second lowest line-drive rate in the AL, four spots head of Porcello.

2. Elvis Andrus, SS, Texas
Andrus and Brett Gardner are tied for 12th in the league in steals with 20. Among AL shortstops, Andrus leads in UZR and range factor.

3. Brad Bergesen, RHP, Baltimore
Bergesen is 12th in the league in BB/9 (90 IP+), five spots ahead of Anderson. He’s also 12th in the league in HR/9 at 0.80, five spots ahead of Niemann.

4. Gordon Beckham, 3B, Chicago
Beckham leads rookies in batting average (200 PA minimum) but is just 35th in the league. He also has the highest BABIP for rookies at .331, 26th in the league. Defensively, UZR doesn’t like Beckham, but he has shown good range.

5. Andrew Bailey, RHP, Oakland
Bailey is seventh in the AL in saves with 17 (40 IP+). He’s also eighth amongst all AL relievers in K/9 with a rate of 10.13. The right-hander is helped by a low .249 BABIP.

Watch Out For:
Matt Wieters, C, Baltimore
He had a slow start to his MLB career, but this promising catcher is really playing well now… It remains to be seen, though, if he can catch up to all of the rookies above.

Nolan Reimold, LF, Baltimore
Reimold is tops in BB% at 11.5%, but that is good for just 34th in the league. No rookie is amongst the top 35 hitters in OPS, ISO or wOBA. Defensively, he’s one of the worst left fielders in the AL.

Ricky Romero, LHP, Toronto
Romero is often the second or third best rookie pitcher in any one of the categories, including K/9 and GB%.

Rick Porcello, RHP, Detroit
Porcello has the highest ground-ball rate in the American League at 56%, two spots ahead of Romero, five spots ahead of Bergesen and seven spots ahead of Anderson.

Jeff Niemann, RHP, Tampa Bay
Niemann has the 14th lowest batting-average-allowed in the league, four spots ahead of Romero.


Top NL Rookie Pitchers

This week we’re taking a look at some of the top rookies in Major League Baseball in an attempt to ascertain who is the most deserving candidate for Rookie of the Year in both the American and National Leagues. Today, we’ll take a look at three rookie pitchers in the National League who have performed fairly well in their first seasons as they chase the Rookie of the Year award. On Monday we looked at the top rookie hitters in the AL, on Tuesday we looked at the top rookie pitchers in the AL, and yesterday we looked at the top hitters in the NL.

J.A. Happ, LHP, Philadelphia Phillies

The 26-year-old Happ has truly made a name for himself this season, so much so that the Toronto Blue Jays insisted that he be included in any deal for former Cy Young winner Roy Halladay. The southpaw is pitching well in the heat of a pennant race with just 99 hits allowed in 121 innings of work. His rates are solid too at 3.05 BB/9 and 6.62 K/9. A word of caution, though, as Happ is being aided by a low BABIP allowed of .256 and he is a fly-ball pitcher. His repertoire includes a fastball that averages out around 90 mph, as well as a cutter, changeup and occasional breaking ball.

Kenshin Kawakami, RHP, Atlanta Braves

Kawakami has arguably been the second most reliable rookie starter in the National League in 2009, although in fairness he’s a 34-year-old Japanese veteran. The right-hander has allowed 112 hits in 118 innings of work, while posting a walk rate of 3.74 BB/9 and a strikeout rate of 6.41 K/9. He’s had a little trouble with the long ball and he gives up his fair share of fly balls. Kawakami averages out at 90 mph on the fastball and his repertoire includes a number of pitches, including a curveball and splitter. The Japanese native pitches better at home (3.28 ERA) than on the road (4.92 ERA). Kawakami has been battling through some minor ailments as of late.

Randy Wells, RHP, Chicago Cubs

Wells has been a godsend for the Cubs in 2009 and the organization almost lost him in 2007/08 when the Toronto Blue Jays organization nabbed him in the Rule 5 draft. After just one MLB appearance, though, the Jays cut Wells loose and Chicago gladly took him back. The converted catcher is 26 years old, but he is big, strong and has a fresh arm. So far this season, Wells has allowed 102 hits in 107.2 innings of work. He has an excellent walk rate at 2.02 BB/9 and a respectable (but low-ish) strikeout rate at 5.68 K/9. Right-handed batters are having a much more difficult time hitting for average against Wells (.228) than left-handers (.288). He’s approaching his career high in innings pitched.

Quick Hits: Jordan Zimmermann (Washington) was on pace to be a legitimate Rookie of the Year candidate before blowing out his elbow. Now it looks like the pitcher – who was leading rookie starters in K/9 – will undergo Tommy John surgery and miss all of 2010. Tommy Hanson (Atlanta Braves) has pitched just 73.2 innings so he falls short of qualifying for consideration this week. With a great final month and a half, though, he could vault himself into the race.

Tomorrow, we’ll wrap things up.


Top NL Rookie Hitters

This week we’re taking a look at some of the top rookies in Major League Baseball in an attempt to ascertain who is the most deserving candidate for Rookie of the Year in both the American and National Leagues. Today, we’ll take a look at five rookie hitters in the National League who have a solid chance at the Rookie of the Year award. On Monday, we looked at the top rookie hitters in the AL and we looked at the top rookie pitchers in the AL yesterday.

Chris Coghlan, LF/2B, Florida Marlins

Coghlan was originally recalled to help out as a utility player and part-time outfielder right around the time that top prospect Cameron Maybin was demoted to triple-A. The former full-time second baseman (and college third baseman) has turned into a full-time left fielder for the Florida Marlins and he is second in OPS (.786) amongst all National League rookies with 220 or more at-bats. The left-handed hitter is having a nice season after getting off to a slow start when he hit below .200 in May. Overall, Coghlan now has a line of .288/.369/.418 with six homers in 292 at-bats. Oddly, he’s hitting much better outside Florida, with a road average of .329, compared to a home average of .248. Although he’s done a nice job filling in at an unfamiliar position in 2009, Coghlan’s lack of power makes him much more suited to second base, which is the role he could fill in 2010 if the club finally cuts ties with incumbent (and expensive) Dan Uggla.

Dexter Fowler, CF, Colorado Rockies

Fowler has more at-bats (345) than any other rookie in the NL this season. He also leads the youngsters in hits, doubles, runs scored, stolen bases, walks and strikeouts. Overall, the athletic outfielder is hitting .264/.362/.403 with 26 steals in 35 attempts. He has a solid walk rate of 13.8 BB% but his strikeout rate is alarmingly high at 28.1 K%. With his lack of power (.139 ISO), Fowler needs to trim his Ks. A switch-hitter, the 23-year-old Georgia native is hitting .301 versus southpaws but just .248 against right-handers. He has some work to do on his overall game, but Fowler is extremely intelligent and the sky is the limit for this rookie.

Andrew McCutchen, CF, Pittsburgh Pirates

The Pirates organization was extremely cautious with McCutchen, a former first round pick (11th overall) out of a Florida high school in 2005. The right-handed hitter spent parts of three seasons in triple-A before receiving his first taste of MLB action in 2009. He was well-deserving of the promotion after hitting .303/.361/.493 with 10 steals in 49 games. At the MLB level, McCutchen, 22, has hit .293/.359/.488 with seven homers and 12 steals (in 13 attempts) in 246 at-bats. His walk rate is a little low for a top-of-the-order hitter at 8.9 BB% but he has a solid strikeout rate at 18.3 K%. Although his game is mostly built around his speed, McCutchen has shown more power this year (.195 ISO in 2009 vs .115 in 2008) and he has a healthy line-drive rate at 18.5%. Defensively, he plays a solid center field but he is still learning.

Gerardo Parra, CF, Arizona Diamondbacks

Early on in his career, Parra was essentially considered a poor man’s Carlos Gonzalez (who is now in Colorado). Parra, though, is arguably having more success at the MLB level than his former teammate. The Arizona Diamondbacks organization promoted Parra to the Majors much sooner than expected due to a rash of injuries. Although he was expected to fill in for just a short time, the Venezuela native quickly made himself at home. He is currently hitting .290/.328/.427 with five homers, eight triples and five steals in 307 at-bats. The 22-year-old fielder has always hit for a good average, but he’s impatient at the plate (5.5 BB%) and he does not have the power (.137 ISO) necessary to play a corner outfield spot in the Majors on an everyday basis. He has split most of his time in the Majors between left field and center, where he’s been average at best. He does have a strong arm.

Colby Rasmus, CF, St. Louis Cardinals

Rasmus is having a nice, albeit inconsistent, rookie season for the St. Louis Cardinals. The center fielder has shown flashes of the talent that should one day make him an All-Star. However, Rasmus is hitting .248/.306/.412 with 11 homers in 330 at-bats. He has a walk rate of just 7.0 BB% and a respectable strikeout rate of 19.4 K%, but his BABIP is just .278. Rasmus had a nice month of June, but he hit .218/.291/.397 in July and is currently hitting .167/.300/.167 in August. A more patient approach at the plate, as well as a little more luck on batted balls, could really turn his numbers around.

Tomorrow, we’ll take a look at the top rookie pitchers in the National League.


Top AL Rookie Pitchers

This week we’re taking a look at some of the top rookies in Major League Baseball in an attempt to ascertain who is the most deserving candidate for Rookie of the Year in both the American and National Leagues. Today, we’ll take a look at five starting pitchers (minimum 100 IP) in the American League who have a solid chance at the Rookie of the Year award. Yesterday, we looked at the top rookie hitters in the AL.

Brett Anderson, LHP, Oakland Athletics

For whatever reason, teammate Trevor Cahill seems to get more ink than Anderson, although the latter player is definitely having the more consistent season. A 2006 second round draft pick out of an Oklahoma high school (by Arizona), Anderson spent just two seasons in the minors before making the club out of spring training in 2009. The southpaw has allowed 126 hits in 121.2 innings of work and he’s leading AL rookie pitchers in strikeouts with 98 (7.25 K/9) while maintaining a solid walk rate at 2.59 BB/9. Anderson appears to be maintaining the velocity on his fastball better at the MLB level, than he did in the minors. He’s got a respectable ground-ball rate at 49.1% and he’s limiting the line drives with a rate of 14.3%. Also on the positive side, Anderson’s numbers have improved across the board in July and August so he’s learning and making adjustments.

Brad Bergesen, RHP, Baltimore Orioles

Perhaps the least-heard-about-name on this list, Bergesen just keeps plugging away despite having almost zero hype entering the season. The former fourth round draft pick was taken out of a California high school in 2004 and he honed his skills in the minors for five seasons. Bergesen has almost freaky-good control, having posted a walk rate below 2.00 BB/9 in all but one minor league season prior to 2009 (his first, when he appeared in just five games). The right-hander is a sinker/slider pitcher whose fastball averages around the upper-80s, so he needs that control (and command) to succeed. As he gets around the league a little more, Bergesen may have to break out the changeup (7.9% usage) a little more. His ground-ball rate of 50.1% definitely helps him survive in the AL East. Overall, he’s allowed 126 hits in 123.1 innings of work, while also posting a walk rate of 2.34 BB/9 and a strikeout rate of 4.74 K/9.

Jeff Niemann, RHP, Tampa Bay Rays

The 6’9” right-hander took longer to reach the Majors than many thought he would after being taken fourth overall out of Rice University in the 2004 draft. It’s been worth the wait for the 26-year-old pitcher. After a couple of up-and-down months to start the year, Niemann has settled in to become one of the Rays’ most reliable starters. Overall, he has allowed 116 hits in 120.2 innings of work. He has a 2.98 BB/9 rate and a strikeout rate of 5.74 K/9. Niemann, though, has been helped by a low BABIP allowed of .283. He’s also a flyball pitcher who has kept the ball in the park (0.90 HR/9). Niemann doesn’t throw as hard as he did in college – now averaging around 92 mph – but he mixes in four pitches. He handles right-handed and left-handed batters well, with identical batting-averages-allowed at .255.

Rick Porcello, RHP, Detroit Tigers

Not surprisingly, the 20-year-old rookie has wilted a bit under the hot summer sun (8.79 ERA, 21 hits in 14 innings in July). With only one minor league season under his belt, Porcello has performed admirably given his lack of experience. In 20 starts, he’s allowed 118 hits in 111 innings of work, while also posting a solid walk rate of 3.08 BB/9 and a strikeout rate of 4.54 K/9. Home runs have been an issue for Porcello (1.38 HR/9) even though he has a ground-ball rate of 56.1%. He’s been aided by a low BABIP allowed of .282. Porcello relies heavily on his sinking fastball that averages out around 91 mph, but he also mixes in a curveball and changeup. The right-hander has a very bright future but he’s fallen back a bit in the Rookie of the Year race.

Ricky Romero, LHP, Toronto Blue Jays

Romero is a perfect example of how patience is often needed when dealing with young players – and pitchers in particular. After being taken with the sixth overall pick of the 2005 draft out of Cal State Fullerton, the southpaw struggled with his command and confidence in the minors. He was constantly compared to Colorado Rockies shortstop Troy Tulowitzki, who was selected one pick after Romero and reached in the Majors in his first full season. Romero finally earned the call to the Majors in his fifth pro season, but he’s still young at the age of 24. The southpaw made some adjustments to his delivery with Toronto’s pitching coach Brad Arnsberg and his command and control have both significantly improved. Overall, Romero has allowed 114 hits in 115.2 innings, while also posting a walk rate of 3.42 BB/9 and a strikeout rate of 7.00 K/9. He’s allowed his fair share of line drives at 20.3%, but he’s done a nice job of offsetting that with ground balls at 52%. Romero has a nice fastball for a lefty and it averages out around 91.6 mph. He also utilizes a curveball, slider, and changeup.

Honorable Mention: Andrew Bailey, RHP, Oakland Athletics

It’s hard for relievers to get taken seriously for the Rookie of the Year award, but Bailey is definitely making a name for himself. The right-hander has racked up 16 saves in 20 attempts for the Athletics. He also has a stunning strikeout rate of 10.29 K/9. His walk rate is 3.14 BB/9. Bailey, 25, has limited batters to 40 hits in 63 innings of work. His success is even more impressive considering that he spent the majority of his minor league career working out of the starting rotation.

Tomorrow, we’ll look at some rookie hitters in the National League.


Top AL Rookie Hitters

This week we’re taking a look at some of the top rookies in Major League Baseball in an attempt to ascertain who is the most deserving candidate for Rookie of the Year in both the American and National Leagues. Today, we’ll take a look at four position players in the American League (minimum 200 at-bats).

Elvis Andrus, SS, Texas Rangers

Andrus received a lot of hype early on in the season for his solid play, but that has quieted down a bit. The soon-to-be 21-year-old infielder had a slow June and July average-wise and the power he showed in May never reappeared. He hit two homers and had a total of eight extra-base hits that month, but has just six extra base hits since June 1 (157 at-bats). Overall, the youngster has a respectable line of .262/.326/.361 with 20 steals in 22 attempts. With Andrus, though, his defense must also be weighed heavily when discussing his value to the Rangers. He’s made 14 errors, but Andrus gets to balls no other shortstop can dream of reaching and his UZR of 7.8 is third in all of Major League Baseball behind Jack Wilson (Seattle/Pittsburgh) and J.J. Hardy (Milwaukee).

Gordon Beckham, 3B, Chicago White Sox

Beckham has not been in the Majors quite as long as the other three rookies, but he has arguably made the most noise over the past month. After a slow start (that oddly had some writers calling him a bust with a lousy swing), the infielder finished his first month in the Majors with a line of .267/.353/.387 in 75 at-bats. Since then, he’s been one of the club’s best hitters and now has an overall line of .302/.369/.483 with six homers in 205 at-bats. The 22-year-old also has 19 doubles, which is tops amongst rookies in the AL. Beckham also leads in average, on-base percentage, slugging and RBIs. He’s third in homers behind Reimold and teammate Jayson Nix. The former college and minor league shortstop has also been learning his new position on the fly at the hot corner.

Chris Getz, 2B, Chicago White Sox

A former fourth-round pick out of the University of Michigan, Getz just keeps plugging along. The middle infielder isn’t flashy but he’s put together a respectable first season in the Majors with a line of .268/.320/.368 in 310 at-bats. He has 18 steals in 20 attempts. Getz has also scored 43 runs. He doesn’t have much power (.100 ISO) but he has a healthy line drive rate at 19.7%. The 25-year-old has a solid strikeout rate at 13.9 K% but his walk rate is a little low at 6.1 BB%. Getz looks like a solid No. 2 hitter. He leads AL rookies in hits and is tied with Elvis Andrus in runs scored.

Nolan Reimold, LF, Baltimore Orioles

Reimold’s teammate (and the top prospect in baseball entering 2009) Matt Wieters is slowly picking up steam but he has yet to top 200 at-bats in the majors this season. As such, Reimold is currently the favorite amongst Baltimore’s rookies to win the AL Rookie of the Year. Reimold hit a few rough patches in the minors, which temporarily clouded his potential, but he entered pro ball with some hype as a second round draft pick out of Bowling Green University in 2005. The 25-year-old outfielder has a solid line of .272/.365/.444 with 10 homers in 239 at-bats. He also has an encouraging walk rate for a young player at 11.8 BB%, and a solid strikeout rate for a power-hitting prospect at 20.1 K%. Reimold leads rookies in the AL in homers, walks, and is second in RBI as well as OPS.

So, who do you think is most deserving amongst AL rookies for the year-end award? Will Wieters or another rookie hitter climb the charts in the final two months and steal the coveted title of best rookie hitter?

Tomorrow, we’ll look at some rookie pitchers in the American League.


Welcome to the Majors: 4/14 – 4/18

Jed Lowrie made his debut on April 15th for the Red Sox. He started at third base in place of the injured Mike Lowell and went 1-4 with 3 RBIs that tied a 61 year old record for most RBIs in a Red Sox debut. Baseball America listed Lowrie as the 5th top prospect in the Red Sox organization for 2008. Although he started at third base in his debut, he typically plays shortstop, which is where he got his second start.

Alex Serrano debuted on April 16th for the Angels in the top of the 9th inning of a 2-3 game. He allowed 1 hit and struck out 1 in a scoreless inning. In AAA last season, Serrano struck out 46 batters and only walked 10 in 69+ innings of work.

German Duran
got the start at third base in his debut for the Rangers on April 17th. He had 3 plate appearances and struck out in all of them. He was called up to fill a roster spot for the injured Marlon Byrd. John Sickels over at Minor League Ball projects Duran will have a long career as a “really good bench guy“.

David Purcey made his first major league start for the Blue Jays and allowed just 2 hits and 1 run in 4.1 innings of work. He also allowed an uncharacteristically high 7 walks. In AA last year, he allowed just 16 walks in 62+ innings of work. The Mockingbird did a full writeup on his Pitchf/x data and uncovered a mid 90’s fastball with good movement.


Welcome to the Majors: 4/13/08

Jeffrey Niemann was the only player to make his debut yesterday. He picked up the win for the Rays by throwing 6 innings with 5 strikeouts and allowing just a single run. Niemann, the fourth overall pick the 2004 draft, was listed as Baseball America’s 99th best prospect this year. At 6 feet and 9 inches tall, he holds the distinction of being the tallest player in Rays history.


Welcome to the Majors: 4/10 – 4/12

Evan Longoria made his long awaited debut last night by singling in a run, and taking a walk in 4 plate appearances. Hardball Times fantasy writer, Derek Carty, suggest that first year expectations for Longoria should be tempered even though he’s listed as a top 5 prospect on pretty much every single list available. He was called up due to Willy Aybar‘s trip to the DL, although for financial reasons the Rays might have wanted to wait a bit longer to roster Longoria.

John Bowker had a monster debut for the Giants. He hit a three-run home run and singled in three plate appearances. Despite the Giants taking a 5-0 lead, much in part to Bowker’s efforts, they lost anyway. Apparently, he had trouble containing his glee even though his team had suffered a tough loss.

Hernan Iribarren pinch hit and singled in his first major league at-bat. He’s a high-average, low power hitter who takes a good amount of walks, leading to a pretty solid OBP. Irabarren was called up to replace the DL bound Tony Gwynn Jr.

Jesse Carlson made his first appearance in relief on April 10th. He entered the game with 2 outs and the bases loaded with his team, the Blue Jays, down 1-3 in the top of the 12th. He got Daric Barton to strike out on three pitches and called it a day. Bluebird Banter recently did a full piece on him covering pretty much everything you’d want to know, including his abrupt release from the Tigers organization nearly 5 years ago.


Welcome to the Majors: 4/9/08

Burke Heinrich Badenhop got to finish off the Nationals in his big league debut with his team, the Marlins, up 10-4. He pitched a perfect ninth with one strikeout. Badenhop was one of the prospects the Marlins acquired from the Tigers in return for Dontrelle Willis and Miguel Cabrera. He was called up to fill in for Rick Vanden Hurk‘s demotion to the minors.

Fernando Hernandez pitched the bottom of the 8th inning for the A’s and picked up his first win as a reliever in his debut. He allowed no runs with 2 walks and a strikeout in the one inning he pitched. He was an A’s Rule 5 Draft pick from the White Sox, after having pitched quite well in AA last year. He had 84/23 K/BB ratio and allowed just 4 home runs in 85-plus innings of work.

Gregory Smith also made his debut for the A’s as the starting pitcher. He threw 6 innings of two hit ball, while striking out 5 and also walking 5. He had pretty solid control in the minors, so perhaps his nerves got the better of him. Smith, who was acquired by the A’s in the Dan Haren trade, got the call when Justin Duchscherer was placed on the disabled list.


Welcome to the Majors: 4/8/08

Clay Timpner was the only player to make his debut last night. He pinch hit and struck out in his only at-bat and then continued on in the outfield. Timpner bat just over .300 in AAA last year for the Giants. He doesn’t appear to have much power, but his OBP of .361 was pretty good. Honestly, I had a bit of trouble finding information on Timpner except that he still has a strong following at the University of Central Florida, and Baseball America thought he was one of the best defensive outfield prospects way back in 2005.


Welcome to the Majors: 4/6/08

Brian Bixler pinch hit and struck out in the top of the 9th with his team, the Pirates, ahead 9-2. He failed to make the opening day roster after a horrible spring, but was called up after an shortstop Jack Wilson landed on the DL. Baseball America named Bixler the 8th best prospect in the Pirates system this season.

Denard Span got the his first start in right field for the Twins and batted 9th. He went 0-2 on the day with 1 walk and played the entire game. He was called up from AAA, where he was batting .333 on the season, to replace the injured Michael Cuddyer. Span spent his off-season listening to cassette tapes of Maury Willis to improve his base running skills.


Welcome to the Majors: 4/4 – 4/5

Hiroki Kuroda had a winning debut as the Dodgers starting pitcher last Friday where he struck out 4 and allowed just a single run in 7 innings of work. Kuroda who is now 33 years old, pitched 1700 innings in Japan over his 11 year career. He signed a 35.3 million dollar contract with the Dodgers this past off-season.

Stephen Holm got his first at-bat in the top of the 8th inning with his team, the Giants, down 13-4. He flied out to left and then continued on as the catcher for the final inning. Though Holm had never played above AA before, he earned the backup catcher job by beating out Eliezer Alfonzo and Guillermo Rodriguez as a nonroster invitee.

Elliot Johnson got the start as the DH for the Rays and went 1-4 in his debut. He was also caught stealing on his first major league stolen base attempt. Johnson taught a class on how to play baseball the right way for $50 dollars an hour while playing for the Rays AAA Affiliate, the Durham Bulls.

Randy Wells pitched 9th inning mop-up duty for the Blue Jays in his debut. He faced four batters and walked one. Last season in AAA for the Cubs he struck out 101 batters in 95 innings of work. He was initially drafted as a catcher but was converted to a pitcher due to his strong arm and poor hitting skills.

Yasuhiko Yabuta pitched one inning for the Royals and allowed just one hit in his debut. Yabuta pitched 12 years for the Chiba Lotte Marines and signed a 2 year, 6 million dollar contract with the Royals this off-season. He struck out Alex Rodriguez, Derrek Lee and Johnny Damon in the 2006 World Baseball Classic.


Welcome to the Majors: 4/3/08

There was one player other than Johnny Cueto to make his big league debut yesterday and it was none other than Callix Crabbe.

Crabbe pinch hit for the Padres to start of the bottom of the 7th. He got to see two major league pitches and then flied out to left field. Crabbe, who plays second base, showed adequate power (9 home runs) and a decent ability to get on base with a 12.8% walk rate in AAA. He was also the 2007 “Applebee’s Home Team Hero” for the Brewers’ AAA affiliate, the Nashville Sounds.

Cueto struck out 10 while walking none in 7 innings of work and I already wrote about him here. He looked very good and I suggest you see him for yourself next time he’s on the mound.


Cueto Mania!

Almost exactly a year ago, Daisuke Matsuzaka made his big league debut, striking out 10 batters in 7 innings of work. Today, Johnny Cueto made his debut for the Reds and threw 7 innings of one hit ball and also struck out 10 batters in what was the first double digit strikeout performance this season by any pitcher.

During the game they flashed a graphic of pitchers who had struck out 10 in their major league debuts since 1980. Only Steve Woodard and Tim Hudson had struck out more in their debuts with 12 and 11 strikeouts respectively.

Cueto has dominated all levels of competition he’s played in the past two years with his high strikeout rate and minuscule walk rate. He’s made numerous 2008 top prospect lists including Baseball America (#34), Baseball Prospectus (#41), John Sickels (#21), and MiLB.com (#48).

Dusty Baker (destroyer of arms) let him throw just 92 pitches and hopefully they’ll continue to keep his pitch counts reasonable.

Tomorrow we’ll get to see the other Reds spring training standout, Edinson Volquez make his season debut. It’s been two big days for the Reds, maybe they can make it three.


Welcome to the Majors: 4/2/08

Masa Kobayashi was one of four players to make their big league debut yesterday. He struck out 1 and allowed 2 hits before getting yanked for Rafael Perez. After playing in Japan for 10 years and saving over 200 games, he signed a 6.25 million dollar, 2 year contract with the Indians. He had a decent, yet unspectacular spring and it will be interesting to see how he fares as the year goes on.

Evan Meek pitched less than an inning of relief for the Pirates and allowed a two run homer to Yunel Escobar. Meek needs to pitch the entire season for the Pirates or else he’ll be offered back to the Devil Rays. His 69 strikeouts in 67 innings in AA are a good sign, but he still needs to cut down on his walks quite a bit. I guess he’ll be learning on the job if the Pirates want to keep him.

Randor Bierd who pitched himself into the bullpen with a strong spring training, threw 2 innings and allowed only a single hit in his debut for the Orioles. Like Meek, his strikeout ability is enticing, but unlike Meek, he already has his walk rate under control. Last year in AA he walked a mere 24 batters in 53 innings and struck out 40.

Alex Romero was the sole batter to make his debut. He had a successful sacrifice bunt for the Diamondbacks in his only plate appearance and then headed back to the bench. Romero hit .339 this spring which enabled him to beat out Trot Nixon for a roster spot.


Welcome to the Majors: 4/1/08

A whopping seven players made their major league debut yesterday. During the 2007 season, 211 players made their major league debut and this season we’ve already seen 16 new additions to the major leagues.

Christopher Tolbert got his first at-bat in the bottom of the 8th inning in a game that was already considerably out of hand. He grounded out and called it a day. Tolbert just made Aaron Gleeman’s list of top 40 Twins prospects and Gleeman believes he’s best suited as a utility man.

Brian Bass also made his debut with the Twins and struggled in the process allowing 3 hits and 2 runs including a home run in just 1.1 innings. He had some success in AAA last year as a starter and exhibited good control with 2.1 BB/9. He also appears to induce groundballs at a fairly high rate, which certainly doesn’t hurt.

Brian Barton pinch hit in the bottom of the 7th and singled in his only at-bat of the game. Barton was excellent this spring batting .351 with 2 home runs and 5 extra base hits. Future Redbirds did an excellent piece on him recently which has everything you would ever want to know about him, including his aerospace engineering degree.

Kyle McClellan pitched his first inning for the Cardinals in the top of the 6th and it was a perfect inning to boot. McClellan had an admirable spring striking out 12 in 13 innings of work while walking just 2. He was dominant in AA last year, so it will be interesting to see how he does in the majors. He’s someone to keep an eye on.

Rico Washington also made his debut with the Cardinals where he pinch hit in the bottom of the 5th. He performed quite will in AAA last year with an OPS of .914 and batting .333 this spring earned him his roster spot.

Jayson Nix got the start at second base for the Rockies and went hitless with two walks. Nix spent the past two seasons in AAA and showed decent power for a second-baseman with a .159 ISO. He won the starting job over Jeff Baker, Clint Barmes, Marcus Giles, and Ian Stewart with his solid defense and adequate plate skills.

Last but not least, Ramon Troncoso pitched two-thirds innings for the Dodgers last night in his first major league appearance. He only faced one batter and got him to ground into a double play. Troncoso displayed excellent strikeout abilities in high-A where he struck out 30 batters in 26 innings while only issuing 3 walks. His AA numbers were a bit more sobering, but he still performed pretty well.