First-quarter awards: AL Rookie of the Year

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austin jackson catch.jpgThe NL rookie class is leaps and bounds better than the AL group so far, with the Senior Circuit boasting the game’s top three first-year players. The American League class is largely pitching dominated. Only two AL rookies have served as regulars throughout the entire first quarter of the season and one of those, Lou Marson, has just one RBI to show for it.
Here are the candidates:
Austin Jackson: .329/.383/.447, 1 HR, 10 RBI in 161 AB
Brennan Boesch: .387/.397/.680, 3 HR, 19 RBI in 75 AB
John Jaso: .302/.424/.415, 1 HR, 12 RBI in 53 AB
Mitch Talbot: 5-2, 3.23 ERA, 19/21 K/BB in 47 1/3 IP
Wade Davis: 3-3, 3.38 ERA, 27/21 K/BB in 40 IP
Brian Matusz: 2-3, 4.18 ERA, 39/18 K/BB in 47 1/3 IP
Neftali Feliz: 1-1, 11 Sv, 3.43 ERA, 23/4 K/BB in 21 IP
Sergio Santos: 0-0, 0 Sv, 0.63 ERA, 18/7 K/BB in 14 1/3 IP
Jackson is on pace to strike out 180 times, but he’s hitting .329 anyway. He’s also on pace to score 100 runs, and he’s playing some very good defense in center field.
His teammate Boesch has been one of baseball’s best hitters since debuting April 23, the day after Carlos Guillen got hurt. He has as many extra-base hits (14) as Jackson in fewer than half as many at-bats. He also leads AL rookies in RBI.
The starting pitchers are an interesting group. When it comes to OPS against, the three are remarkably similar: Davis is at 707, Talbot at 719 and Matusz at 726. Still, the records are quite different. Talbot has the ugly K/BB ratio, yet he does the lesser things so well. Not only is he a very good fielder, but basestealers are 1-for-6 against him this year. And one could argue that Matusz has been incredibly unlucky to give up 53 hits this year when he’s allowed just two homers and struck out 39. However, he was also very “unlucky” in that area in his eight major league starts last year.
Of course, Matusz has had the most difficult schedule in the group, having had to face the Rays and Yankees twice apiece and make a start at Fenway Park. Davis faced the Yankees and Red Sox in his first two starts of the season, but he’s gotten the White Sox, A’s (twice), Royals and Mariners since. Just one of Talbot’s seven starts have come against one of the AL’s top five offenses to date, though he’s also mostly stayed away from the true cupcakes.
At this very second, I’d probably give Talbot the edge in the group. However, Davis faces the Yankees tonight and another strong outing would put him on top.
Then there are the relievers. Feliz may well outdistance all of the starters if he remains in the closer’s role all season long. However, he simply wasn’t very good in April. He’s been much better this month, with just one run allowed and a 10/1 K/BB ratio in 9 1/3 innings.
Santos has been lights out, but only as a mop-up man to date. He’ll earn more responsibility soon if this keeps up, but through 15 appearances, he’s yet to factor in a decision and he has just one hold.
At this point, I think Jackson is the choice. I still don’t see him hitting well over .300 for the full season, but his strikeout rate has come down as the year has progressed. Plus, he has contributed a whole lot with the glove.
After Jackson, it’s Boesch versus the three starters and Feliz for two ballot spots. Boesch’s exceptional .447 average with runners on, even in such limited action, has to get him a spot. He’s had two at-bats with the bases loaded and delivered a homer and a double. Of the pitchers, Feliz has the best chance of winning the hardware at season’s end, but I think the starters have been more valuable to date.
First quarter NL ROY
1. Jackson
2. Boesch
3. Talbot

Jason Kipnis diagnosed with a strained rotator cuff

CLEVELAND, OH - NOVEMBER 02:  Jason Kipnis #22 of the Cleveland Indians celebrates after scoring a run on a wild pitch thrown by Jon Lester #34 of the Chicago Cubs (not pictured) during the fifth inning in Game Seven of the 2016 World Series at Progressive Field on November 2, 2016 in Cleveland, Ohio.  (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
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Indians second baseman Jason Kipnis has been diagnosed with a strained rotator cuff in his right shoulder, MLB.com’s Jordan Bastian reports. Kipnis has received a cortisone shot and will be shut down from throwing for the next four to five days.

There’s a lot of spring left, so it’s perfectly sensible for the Indians to play it safe with their star player. The club already had Kipnis on a shoulder strengthening program.

Kipnis, 29, helped the Indians to the playoffs after batting .275/.343/.469 with 23 home runs, 92 RBI, 91 runs scored, and 15 stolen bases in 688 plate appearances during the regular season last year. He then helped the Indians reach Game 7 of the World Series against the Cubs, where they were eventually stopped, as he provided a .741 OPS including four homers and eight RBI in 15 playoff games.

Report: Cardinals are scouting Cuban outfielder Luis Robert

ST. LOUIS, MO - APRIL 25: Baseballs sit in the St. Louis Cardinals dugout prior to a game between the Pittsburgh Pirates and the St. Louis Cardinals at Busch Stadium on April 25, 2014 in St. Louis, Missouri. (Photo by David Welker/Getty Images)
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According to Derrick Goold of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, the Cardinals are keeping an eye on outfield prospect Luis Robert. The 19-year-old left his native Cuba last November and is expected to command interest from multiple MLB teams as he approaches free agency. Goold adds that the Cardinals sent scouts to evaluate Robert’s workouts in the Dominican Republic as recently as last week.

There’s still a good chance that the club won’t get a shot at signing him; as Craig mentioned last month, it seems likely that Major League Baseball won’t declare Robert a free agent until after June 15. By July 2, the new Collective Bargaining Agreement’s policies on international bonuses will go into effect, handcuffing teams with the maximum penalty for bonuses to a $300,000 signing figure for any available international prospect. It’s designed to effectively take away those teams’ abilities to sign additional international talent, and the Cardinals have already spent a reported $9.35 million in bonuses on Venezuelan outfielder Victor Garcia, Cuban outfielders Jonatan Machado and Randy Arozarena and Cuban right-hander Johan Oviedo.

Until the cutoff in mid-June, the Cardinals are likely to continue actively scouting other international talent, including Robert. MLB.com’s Jesse Sanchez quotes an anonymous National League scouting director who describes Robert as the No. 2 talent behind Japanese wunderkind Shohei Otani. The 19-year-old hit .286/.319/.397 with a .716 OPS during a 16-game run in the Canadian-American League in 2016, following up an impressive three-year tenure with the Ciego de Avila in the Cuban National Series from 2013-2015.