Aaron Hicks

Handicapping the AL Rookie of the Year race


Bringing back something I used to do each year for fun, here’s a look at the American League Rookie of the Year possibilities, with odds posted for several of the favorites. I’ll follow suit with the National League tomorrow.

Please note: Rangers outfielder Leonys Martin is ineligible for Rookie of the Year honors. He spent too much time in the majors last season. Otherwise, he’d likely be the second favorite.

Mike Olt (1B-3B Rangers) – 25:1 – Olt was being considered for a bench spot entering spring training, but a poor showing (.194/.324/.419 in 31 AB) got him sent down to play everyday. Since he’s 24, that’s the right move anyway. Olt would be starting at third base for a few teams right now, and he’s also an option at first base and maybe in the outfield corners in case injuries begin piling up in Texas. Alternatively, he could be the team’s best trade bait if it needs help in July. If he has to wait until then, it’ll probably be too late for a ROY bid.

Projection: .241/.327/.408, 12 HR, 40 R, 42 RBI, 3 SB in 316 AB

Dylan Bundy (RHP Orioles) – 20:1 – Bundy would have gotten better odds if not for the presence of Orioles 2012 first-round pick Kevin Gausman, who might have taken his place in line for a May callup. Bundy remains the game’s No. 1 pitching prospect, but Gausman is closing in on a spot on the top five, and Gausman is probably the more polished of the two, having been drafted out of LSU. Bundy, a high school product drafted fourth overall in 2011, went 9-3 with a 2.08 ERA and a 119/29 K/BB ratio in 103 2/3 IP in the minors last year, topping out in Double-A. He’s a phenomenal talent, but since he’ll be limited to around 150 innings this year, he’ll only have so much of a chance to show what he can do.

Projection: 8-5, 3.88 ERA, 1.321 WHIP, 112 Ks in 109 IP

Carter Capps (RHP Mariners) – 20:1 – Seattle closer Tom Wilhelmsen was shaky towards the end of the spring, giving up six runs in his final six innings. Capps, on the other hand, was just about untouchable, allowing one earned run and striking out 13 in nine innings overall. I fully expect him to emerge as the Mariners’ long-term closer, and while that might not happen at any point during this year, he’s a sleeper candidate here. Rookie of the Year voters love their saves.

Projection: 4-3, 7 Sv, 3.16 ERA, 1.200 WHIP, 79 Ks in 68 1/3 IP

Chris Archer (RHP Rays) – 15:1 – The Rays are always thinking long-term with their rookies, and that usually means keeping them on the farm for a couple of extra months, even when they look ready. Archer allowed just one hit in seven scoreless innings during the early part of the spring, but the Rays quickly sent him down and proceeded with Roberto Hernandez and Jeff Niemann as their fifth-starter candidates. It’s Hernandez’s job now, but Archer should be the answer come June. If he were up now, he’d be my ROY pick.

Projection: 7-4, 3.82 ERA, 1.334 WHIP, 94 Ks in 96 2/3 IP

Wil Myers (OF Rays) – 12:1 – As soon as the Rays traded James Shields to the Royals for Myers, it was a given that the slugger wouldd spend that he’d spend this first month or two in Triple-A to limit his service time. Myers doesn’t really have much left to prove in Triple-A after hitting 24 homers in 99 games there last year. Overall, he hit .314/.387/.600 with 37 homers in 134 games at two levels. Still, it would be nice to see him cut back on the strikeouts a bit; he fanned 140 times last year. He figures to take over as the Rays’ right fielder in June.

Projection: .240/.312/.429, 15 HR, 47 R, 56 RBI, 2 SB in 366 AB

Brandon Maurer (RHP Mariners) – 12:1 – Supposedly behind Taijuan Walker, Danny Hultzen and James Paxton in the Mariners chain, Maurer pulled off a stunner in securing a spot in Seattle’s rotation this spring. The 22-year-old showed a strong slider in striking out 25 in 24 innings during the Cactus League season, and he’s always had very good command. He may not have the upside of Walker or Hultzen, but it looks like he’ll be a solid choice to put behind them come 2014 and ’15.

Projection: 9-10, 4.19 ERA, 1.366 WHIP, 126 Ks in 161 IP

Jurickson Profar (2B-SS Rangers) – 9:1 – Now that the Rangers have reportedly chosen to commit to Elvis Andrus for a whopping eight years, Profar’s future appears to be at second base, with Ian Kinsler moving to first base or an outfield corner. It will be interesting to see if the Rangers try to pull that off during the season; asking an All-Star to suddenly switch positions in May or June isn’t something that happens often. Profar, though, will force the Rangers to make a move soon enough. He’s one of their nine best players right now, and the Rangers have too much competition in the AL West to not use their best players.

Projection: .263/.330/.412, 8 HR, 51 R, 42 RBI, 11 SB in 376 AB

Bruce Rondon (RHP Tigers) – 8:1 – Last year was the first year since 2008 that a Rookie of the Year award was not won by a closer (Andrew Bailey in 2009, Neftali Feliz in 2010, Craig Kimbrel in 2011). Rondon was demoted to Triple-A following a very shaky spring, but the Tigers are still hoping he’ll run away with the ninth-inning gig at some point this season. If it happens by May 15, he’d still be a candidate for 30 saves, which would likely lead to at least a top-three finish in the balloting.]

Projection: 2-2, 11 Sv, 3.86 ERA, 1.393 WHIP, 50 Ks in 46 2/3 IP

Jackie Bradley (OF Red Sox) – 6:1 – Arguably the breakout star of the Grapefruit League, Bradley hit .419/.507/.613 in 62 at-bats to make the Red Sox as their left fielder with David Ortiz out. If he hits, he’s going to have to stay when Ortiz returns; it’s not like Jonny Gomes was ever a good plan as a starting left fielder anyway. However, if he doesn’t get off to a fast start, the Red Sox will probably return to the original plan of giving him some Triple-A time. Such a move would push back his free agency an extra year. My guess is that he does wind up back in the minors, at least for a month or so.

Projection: .267/.340/.407, 9 HR, 54 R, 45 RBI, 11 SB in 378 AB

The field – 5:1 – Trevor Bauer (RHP Indians), Kevin Gausman (RHP Orioles), Dan Straily (RHP Athletics), Hiroyuki Nakajima (SS Athletics), Martin Perez (LHP Rangers), Nick Tepesch (RHP Rangers), Jonathan Schoop (2B-SS Orioles), Kyle Gibson (RHP Twins), Danny Hultzen (LHP Mariners), Mike Zunino (C Mariners), Nick Castellanos (OF Tigers), Brandon Guyer (OF Rays), Avisail Garcia (OF Tigers), Austin Romine (C Yankees), Nate Freiman (1B Athletics), Jonathan Singleton (1B Astros), Grant Green (2B-OF Athletics), Taijuan Walker (RHP Mariners), Allen Webster (RHP Red Sox)

Aaron Hicks (OF Twins) – 4:1 – As the lone AL rookie set to get 550 at-bats, Hicks is the safest of the Rookie of the Year picks. The 23-year-old is jumping from Double-A to the majors after hitting .370/.407/.644 with four homers and three steals this spring to beat out Darin Mastroianni and Joe Benson for the Twins’ center field job. Hicks hit a modest .271 in five minor league seasons, but he offers a strong walk rate, emerging power and a strong glove in center field. I don’t see him wowing as a rookie, but I’m also not sure anyone will overtake him.

Projection: .257/.334/.392, 11 HR, 83 R, 48 RBI, 23 SB in 544 AB

Angels sign catcher Geovany Soto to one-year contract

Geovany Soto
AP Photo/Alex Gallardo
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As first reported by beat writer Bill Shaikin of the Los Angeles Times, the Angels have signed free agent catcher Geovany Soto to a one-year major league contract. MLB.com’s Alden Gonzalez says the deal is worth $2.8 million guaranteed.

Soto will offer some veteran presence at catcher for the Halos alongside 25-year-old Carlos Perez, who hit .250/.299/.346 as a rookie in 2015.

Soto slashed .219/.301/.406 with nine homers in 78 games this summer for the White Sox.

The 32-year-old backstop is a .246/.331/.434 career hitter at the major league level.

White Sox acquire right-hander Tommy Kahnle from Rockies

Tommy Kahnle
AP Photo/David Zalubowski
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According to the official Twitter account of the Chicago White Sox, the club acquired right-hander Tommy Kahnle from the Rockies on Tuesday evening in exchange for minor league pitcher Yency Almonte.

Kahnle was designated for assignment by the Rockies last week in a flurry of moves made in preparation of next month’s Rule 5 Draft. The 26-year-old former fifth-round pick posted an ugly 4.86 ERA, 1.77 WHIP, and 39/28 K/BB ratio in 33 1/3 innings this past season for Colorado and he wasn’t much better at Triple-A Albuquerque.

Almonte, 21, had a 3.41 ERA, 1.15 WHIP, and 110/38 K/BB ratio in 137 1/3 innings this past season between Low-A Kannapolis and High-A Winston-Salem.

It’s a straight one-for-one deal of two non-prospects, and the timing of it — in the evening, with Thanksgiving approaching — has our Craig Calcaterra wondering whether an executive was just trying to get out of some family responsibilities …

Mark McGwire to become the Padres bench coach

Los Angeles Dodgers batting coach Mark McGwire roams the field during practice for the National League baseball championship series Thursday, Oct. 10, 2013, in St. Louis. The Dodgers are scheduled to play the St. Louis Cardinals in Game 1 of the NLCS on Friday in St. Louis. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)

The other day Dennis Lin of the San Diego Union-Tribune reported that the Padres were in discussions with former Dodgers hitting coach Mark McGwire about their bench coach job. Today Jon Heyman reports that the deal is done and will soon be announced.

McGwire has been the hitting coach for Los Angeles for the past three seasons. When his contract was not renewed following the end of 2015 he was rumored to be up for the Diamondbacks’ hitting coach job. He likely view staying in Southern California to be a plus, as he makes his home in Irvine, which is around 90 miles from Petco Park. That’s a long commute, but Mac can afford the gas, I guess.

How to talk to your family about the designated hitter at Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving Dinner

While political topics are normally the subject of awkward conversation at the Thanksgiving dinner table, hardcore baseball fans know that it can be just as awkward to talk about the game with relatives.

They don’t know baseball as well as you do — not by a long shot — but for some reason everyone thinks they have the God-given right not only to offer their baseball opinions but to demand acknowledgement that those opinions are correct. Baseball may be dying, you guys, but it’s vestigial status as our National Pastime makes everyone think they’re an expert by simple virtue of being an American. It’s maddening.

I can’t tell you how to keep your family away from sensitive topics, but here are brief answers to some frequently asked questions about the state of the game, and how you can defuse combustible conversations:

Will the National League adopt the designated hitter?

Despite the fact that the DH has been around four 43 seasons, your relatives — even those far younger than 43 — will loudly proclaim it to be a new-fangled abomination as they pass the sweet potatoes. While the best way to avoid conflict here is to say something like “I think the differences between the leagues are special and should be preserved” and try to quickly move on to something else, we don’t progress as a civilization by indulging foolishness in the name of peace. Tell your relatives that pitchers batting is dumb and that the DH should be universal. And then tell them to get their own sweet potatoes. You’re trying to eat here for cryin’ out loud.

Where will the big free agents go? Don’t the Yankees spend all of their big money and buy championships anyway?

My god, your uncle/cousin/sister’s boyfriend who probably shouldn’t be piping up about ANYTHING right now given that none of you really like him and it’s not going to last anyway is out of touch when it comes to such things. Tell them that the Yankees haven’t won jack since the first year of Obama’s first term and that even when they were winning the World Series all the time they did so on the back of homegrown talent, savvily-developed. Indeed, they STOPPED winning championships once they went huge on free agency and jacked up payroll and, despite the fact that they still owe a lot of old guys money, they are back to developing talent again and are way less likely to spend stupid money in free agency than they used to be. Careful here, though: people have strong feelings about the Yankees regardless of their ignorance and will likely fight back on this point. Maybe it’s safer just to discuss Obama. Here’s an idea to that end: how — as your drunk uncle claims — can Obama simultaneously be the least effective president ever AND a total dictator? Maybe Obama is one of those two things, but my drunk uncle has never given me a satisfactory answer to how he can be both.

Why doesn’t baseball have a salary cap? The players make too much money.

The idea of a salary cap in baseball is dead. Deader than vaudeville. It blew up the game in 1994-95, and the owners blinked rather than try it again in 2002.  Since then the money has been flowing, competitive balance has been better than most people will admit, and the owners seem to have very little desire to fight that fight again.  It’s not going to happen. Yet, for some reason — likely the Football Industrial Complex’s propaganda machine — every sports dilettante thinks that baseball not only needs a salary cap but that it’s actually something that could happen, even though it isn’t.

Here some ju-jitsu is in order. Rather than bog things down with facts which show that there is no need for a salary cap, turn the question around on them and ask them when the billionaires who own baseball teams will accept a cap on how much they should earn for their “labor.” When they spout off about how owners built the business themselves and are entitled to whatever they can get, ask them which of the current owners, who form a veritable Who’s-Who of Paper Movers, Genetic Lottery Winners and Men Who Were Born on Third Base Yet Think They Hit a Triple, built a dang thing. Peter Angelos, maybe. Just don’t tell them that he’s a rich plaintiff’s lawyer who had the union’s back during the 1994-95 strike.

What’s wrong with young players today? Why don’t they act professionally and respect the game? 

By this time your uncle may be so drunk on the Beaujolais Nouveau that he may actually slip and say “Latin players” instead of “young players,” and that’s assuming he’s polite enough to use words like “Latin” to refer to people from the Caribbean, Central and South America. If so, skip the lecture about how arguments regarding baseball decorum and “playing the game the right way” are really just proxies for cultural anxiety and creeping xenophobia and go directly to the inevitable conversation about immigration, refugees and Donald Trump. It’ll save you time and make everyone angrier way, way faster. And this is a wonderful thing.

Or, at least it is for me. I’m hosting Thanksgiving this year and the quicker people get to open warfare the quicker I can kick everyone out, bringing some peace and quiet back to my house. Plus: more pie for me.


(with both thanks and apologies to Brendan Nyhan of the New York Times)