October 8, 2009

Award Predictions: Rookie of the Year

National League

The NL had a few rookies make big impacts on their teams this season. Off of memory, I can't remember a year in which a league featured so many rookies that should be mentioned for Rookie of the Year. To me, there are eight candidates that someone could make a compelling argument for.
  • Tommy Hanson - P - Atlanta Braves
  • Andrew McCutchen - OF - Pittsburgh Pirates
  • Chris Coghlan - OF - Florida Marlins
  • J.A. Happ - P - Philadelphia Phillies
  • Garrett Jones - 1B/OF - Pittsburgh Pirates
  • Casey McGehee - 2B/3B - Milwaukee Brewers
  • Randy Wells - P - Chicago Cubs
  • Dexter Fowler - OF - Colorado Rockies
But to me, one guy stood out more than any of the others. While Andrew McCutchen, J.A. Happ and Chris Coghlan seem to be the popular choices amongst most predictors, I think that one guy is being over-looked. And that is Garrett Jones of the Pittsburgh Pirates, my choice for NL Rookie of the Year.

Unlike the rest of the players (besides Casey McGehee), Jones never carried the illustrious "Top Prospect" status that these other players have at one point or another. He was drafted by the Atlanta Braves in 1999 and later cut after posting marginal numbers in three rookie ball seasons. He was signed a few days later by the Minnesota Twins where he spent seven years in the organization, eventually making his Major League debut in 2007. But with guys like Michael Cuddyer (RF), Jason Kubel (DH), and Justin Morneau (1B) blocking him, Jones never got an opportunity to do much of anything for the Twins. He failed to make it back to the Majors in 2008 which eventually lead to the Twins cutting him after the season. The Pirates then stepped up and the (now) 28-year-old Jones a shot.

He started this season with the Indianapolis Indians in the Independent League, the same league he's started at every year since 2005. He played well and was eventually called-up by the Pirates in late June to take the place of Nyjer Morgan who was traded to the Washington Nationals. With McCutchen, the Pirates' top prospect, handed the reigns to center field and three other players looking for playing time in the outfield, it looked as though Jones was going to have to earn his playing time.

But thankfully, the Pirates decided to start him everyday to see just what exactly they had in Jones, and he surpassed any expectations the Pirates had of him. He hit ten home runs in the month of July, earning himself NL Rookie-of-the-Month honors, before finishing off the season with 21 total home runs in just 314 at-bats. He also helped make a futile Pirates team fun to watch, which in itself is saying a lot.

In no way should any Twins fans feel upset over the Twins not holding onto this guy. While I'm sure many would have liked to see him stick around, I really can't blame the organization for cutting him, especially when we have an All-Star first baseman and (at least at the time) five outfielders competing for four spots (DH). Jones just needed the opportunity, which I'm glad the Pirates gave him. Hopefully he can become a cornerstone player for the (always) re-building Pirates.

Runner-Up: Casey McGehee - 2B/3B - Milwaukee Brewers
Who'll Likely Win: Chris Coghlan - OF - Florida Marlins
Pre-Season Pick: Cameron Maybin - OF - Florida Marlins

American League

The AL also features an octuplet of deserving rookies. Although the NL's crop of rookies may have put up more impressive numbers, this A.L. group featured more high profile prospects including five players from my pre-season Top 50 MiLB Prospects for 2009. Here are my most deserving American League rookies.
  • Rick Porcello - P - Detroit Tigers
  • Gordon Beckham - 3B - Chicago White Sox
  • Brett Anderson - P - Oakland Athletics
  • Elvis Andrus - SS - Texas Rangers
  • Matt Wieters - C - Baltimore Orioles
  • Nolan Reimold - OF - Baltimore Orioles
  • Andrew Bailey - P - Oakland Athletics
  • Jeff Niemann - P - Tampa Bay Rays
The first five of those players all appeared in the pre-season list, and all lived up to their hype in their rookie seasons. To me, there are two guys that are pretty equally deserving. One being Andrew Bailey of the Oakland Athletics and the other being Gordon Beckham of the Chicago White Sox.

To me, you couldn't go wrong with picking either. Beckham did great things for the White Sox after being recalled in June. He hit for power, drove in runs and filled a position of weakness for the White Sox. In just 378 at-bats the former Georgia Bulldog hit .270/.347/.460 with 14 home runs and 63 RBI. Had Beckham played the entire season, he likely would have finished with somewhere around 20 home runs and 100 RBI. But unfortunately for him, he didn't, which is a huge reason why Bailey to me is the most deserving.

Closing out a game is a high profile job in Major League Baseball. Generally teams will pay top dollar for a guy that comes in to throw sometimes just a handful of pitches to earn a stat that some believe is the most overrated stat in the game. But to me, it requires something special to close out games night-in and night-out and while I do think that closers are paid too much for the amount of work they put in, I do understand why teams would want to invest in a player that does it well.

Bailey stepped in early this season and surpassed 2008 standout Brad Ziegler and veteran Michael Wuertz on the depth charts. Bailey, with no MLB experience, handled the job as well as any rookie could. He blew three of his first five save opportunities, but from June on, he was 24 for 25 in save opportunities and posted a 1.58 ERA. He also struck out 91 batters in just 83 1/3 innings on the season. Bailey may not be considered an elite closer by many just yet, but he's certainly not far behind. Here is how Bailey would have ranked in many stat categories this season amongst other closers in MLB (and for the sake of the argument, I'm only counting guys who attempted at least 20 saves, which would be 29 players):
  • Saves: 20th
  • ERA: 3rd
  • WHIP: 1st
  • BAA: T-1st
  • Strikeouts: 3rd
  • Walks: T-11th
Obviously, having only 50 save opportunities as a team hurts Bailey. The average team in baseball this season had 60 save opportunities, which would put the Athletics well below the average. Had the team been closer to the top of the standings, it's obvious that more save opportunities would have been presented to Bailey. But regardless, Bailey was unbelievable this season and deserves this award.

Runner-Up: Gordon Beckham - 3B - Chicago White Sox
Who'll Likely Win: Elvis Andrus - SS - Texas Rangers
Pre-Season Pick: Matt Wieters - C - Baltimore Orioles