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The NL Rookie of the Year

Earlier this week, I took a look at the American League Rookie of the Year race. There were a number of deserving candidates for the award, led by Elvis Andrus of Texas and Rick Porcello of Detroit. Unfortunately, the competition for the year-end award in the National League is close to being a one-horse race at this point – and none of the players are having a season nearly as good as either Andrus or Porcello.

St. Louis’ Colby Rasmus has a firm grasp on the Rookie of the Year award despite having just an OK season, so far. His current line is .265/.323/.453 with six home runs in 170 at-bats. Rasmus showed good patience at the plate in April with nine walks in 18 games, but he’s walked only three times since… in almost a month and a half. His overall walk rate is down to 6.6 BB%, while his strikeout rate is at a reasonable 20 K%.

While Rasmus’ walks have decreased, his success at the plate has increased – at least in May. After bottoming out with a .212 average in May, Rasmus is heating up with the summer weather. So far this month, the 22-year-old outfielder is just four hits shy of his total for the entire month of May. His 14 hits in just nine games has been good for a .452 average.

Interestingly, he has used his good speed to swipe just one base this season, in as many attempts. In previous minor league seasons, Rasmus has nabbed as many as 27 bases. Defensively, Rasmus plays a very good outfield and he has plus range and a powerful arm.

Rasmus is still young and he has a long way to go to become a star player in the Majors. The talent is there, but there is also some lingering concern over his disappointing 2008 season in triple-A.

I am not a fan of Japanese veteran pitchers being considered for the Rookie of the Year awards. But because of the lack of options in the National League, right-hander Kenshin Kawakami is going to receive some attention. The soon-to-be 34-year-old pitcher spent 10 seasons in the Japanese Central League and twice won 17 games.

He had a rude welcome to Major League Baseball as he posted a 7.06 through April during the first four starts of his North American career. His overall numbers were not bad, but five home runs definitely hurt. Kawakami rebounded in May and posted a 3.03 ERA over five starts – and he did not allow a ball to leave the yard during that stretch.

He has been hittable throughout the year with 65 hits allowed in 64.1 innings of work. His control has been OK, although not as good as it was in Japan, and he has a walk rate 3.50 BB/9. His strikeout rate is a respectable 7.13 K/9. Opponents’ contact rate against Kawakami (79.5%) is actually lower than it is against Toronto’s Roy Halladay (79.7%), a legitimate Cy Young award candidate in the American League.

The good news for the Rookie of the Year race in the National League is that there is still plenty of time for a player such as Milwaukee’s Mat Gamel to get hot and run away with the award. Or perhaps someone like Jordan Schafer, of the Atlanta Braves, can return from his exile to the minors with a renewed approach. If Jordan Zimmermann can gain a little more consistency in Washington, then he is another candidate to consider, even if he does play for a pretty bad club.