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

Watch: Shohei Ohtani strikes out his first spring training batter

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Sure, spring training games don’t count toward anything “real,” but that doesn’t mean we can’t enjoy Angels’ star pitcher/hitter Shohei Ohtani mowing down his first big league competitors.

On Saturday, Ohtani took the mound against the Brewers for his first official outing in an Angels uniform. After allowing a leadoff double to Jonathan Villar, the 23-year-old righty settled down and issued a three-pitch strikeout to Nate Orf, his first of the spring.

It wasn’t the cleanest inning for the right-hander: the Brewers plated their first run on a walk, wild pitch and subsequent throwing error by catcher Martin Maldonado. Ohtani didn’t let things unravel further, however, and induced a pop-up for the second out before catching Brett Phillips looking on a called strike three to end the inning.

While the two-way phenom only lasted another two batters (a Keon Broxton dinger finished him off in the second), he’s already started to look like a formidable presence on the mound. Time will tell whether he can deliver at the plate as well — rumor has it he could feature in the Angels’ lineup as soon as Monday.