Jedd Gyorko

Handicapping the NL Rookie of the Year race

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The AL had an historic Rookie of the Year class last year, but this year, the NL appears to have the stronger group of the two leagues. The one issue: a lot of these talents are likely to have to wait until June or July for their opportunities, if they come this year at all.

Wily Peralta (RHP Brewers) – 25:1 – Peralta enters the season with pretty high expectations for a guy who posted a 4.66 ERA and walked 4.8 batters per nine innings in Triple-A last year. The 23-year-old has a nice live arm and he should turn into a No. 3 starter in time, but I don’t expect it’s going to happen right away this year. Patience will be required.

Projection: 9-10, 4.24 ERA, 1.374 WHIP, 135 K’s in 155 IP

Yasiel Puig (OF Dodgers) – 25:1 – With a starting outfield making $54 million this year, the Dodgers weren’t going to carry Puig on Opening Day. It would have been much more interesting to see what they would have done had Puig played a position of need instead. For as ridiculously awesome as Puig’s spring was — he hit .517 with three homers, two triples and five doubles in 58 at-bats — he’s probably not ready to help a major league club. There’s good reason for excitement, but let’s see how he fares against some pitchers more focused on getting him out than getting their work in.

Projection: .243/.287/.425, 6 HR, 24 R, 23 RBI, 8 SB in 181 AB

Nolan Arenado (3B Rockies) – 20:1 – Arenado was a disappointment in 2012 after receiving plenty of hype last spring, but he impressed in Rockies camp this year and nearly won the starting job at third base over Chris Nelson. He’ll open the season in the minors instead, but it’d be no surprise if the Rockies revisit their decision at the end of April. I’m not very high on Arenado; he’s a line-drive hitter without great on-base percentages. Still, he can hit for average and he’ll have Coors Field on his side, making him a possible long shot candidate here.

Projection: .270/.310/.433, 8 HR, 30 R, 34 RBI, 1 SB in 252 AB

Adam Eaton (OF Diamondbacks) – 20:1 – As Chris Young’s replacement in center field in Arizona, Eaton was shaping up as a popular ROY pick before suffering a sprained elbow ligament in March. The hope now is that he’ll be back in mid-May, which would still give him a chance to make his way into the race. Still, even before the injury, I didn’t think he was a great bet for the hardware; his on-base percentage is a much bigger strength than his ability to hit for average and he won’t show much power at all.

Projection: .266/.355/.383, 6 HR, 59 R, 31 RBI, 18 SB in 379 AB

Jose Fernandez (RHP Marlins) – 18:1 – The Marlins made the stunning call Sunday that they were bringing up the 20-year-old Fernandez and intending to keep him in the rotation all year. Fernandez had made just one spring appearance in the Grapefruit League, and expectations were that he’d spend at least the first half of the year in the minors. Maybe the NL’s top pitching prospect, Fernandez certainly has the ability to be an above average starter as one of the NL’s youngest players. Still, he’ll probably be shut down for the final month of the year, which would hurt his ROY chances.

Projection: 9-9, 3.84 ERA, 1.333 WHIP, 138 K’s in 152 1/3 IP

Oscar Taveras (OF Cardinals) – 18:1 – It’s a matter of opportunity for Taveras, who rates as the National League’s No. 1 prospect after hitting .321/.380/.572 with 23 homers and 10 steals for Double-A Springfield last year. The 20-year-old is likely ready to hit for average and modest power now, but the Cardinals aren’t going to sit Jon Jay or Carlos Beltran to make room for him. Barring an injury to Beltran or another outfielder, Taveras appears in line to spend the first half of the season in Triple-A.

Projection: .274/.323/.447, 7 HR, 28 R, 30 RBI, 3 SB in 215 AB

Christian Yelich (OF Marlins) – 15:1 – Yelich had to be disappointed to be send down after hitting a remarkable .364/.451/.818 with five homers and a 7/6 K/BB ratio in 44 spring at-bats. Once the Marlins went and called up Fernandez, one imagines that disappointment quickly transitioned into frustration and anger; if any of the Marlins’ top prospects deserved to make the team, it was Yelich. Still, that the Marlins did promote Fernandez suggests that Yelich might not be far behind, especially since the team seems to have soured on Justin Ruggiano in center. Yelich has all the makings of a future star.

Projection: .266/.337/.403, 9 HR, 53 R, 44 RBI, 10 SB in 402 AB

Kyuji Fujikawa (RHP Cubs) – 10:1 – Never underestimate the power of the save when it comes to the Rookie of the Year balloting. Fujikawa already picked up one on Monday, and while the Cubs insist that they’re sticking with Carlos Marmol in the closer’s role for now, Fujikawa is pretty clearly their best option in the ninth.

Projection: 3-2, 25 Sv, 2.91 ERA, 1.193 WHIP, 55 K’s in 58 2/3 IP

Billy Hamilton – (OF Reds) – 10:1 – If I had gotten this column done prior to Opening Day as hoped, Hamilton probably would have been listed at 25:1. Now that Ryan Ludwick is about to undergo shoulder surgery after getting hurt Monday, Hamilton’s prospects seem a whole lot brighter. The Reds still won’t rush him, as he needs more time in center after making the switch from shortstop. Still, I imagine they’re eventually going to decide they’re better off with Shin-Soo Choo in corner. Hamilton is so spectacular on the basepaths that he could potentially debut in June and still lead the league in steals.

Projection (pre-Ludwick injury): .258/.331/.358, 1 HR, 24 R, 9 RBI, 31 SB in 151 AB

Shelby Miller (RHP Cardinals) – 8:1 – Just when it looked like Joe Kelly would be named the Cardinals’ fifth starter, closer Jason Motte got hurt, opening a spot on the pitching staff and making it easier to put Miller into the rotation. Maybe they would have gone that route anyway. Miller struggled in the first half of 2012, but he recovered velocity as the year went on and impressed in a late major league audition, amassing a 1.32 ERA and 16 strikeouts in 13 2/3 innings. If his command holds up, he’ll prove to be a whole lot more than a No. 5 for St. Louis; he has No. 2 starter stuff.

Projection: 11-8, 3.90 ERA, 1.312 WHIP, 151 K’s in 159 1/3 IP

Jedd Gyorko (2B-3B Padres) – 8:1 – Gyorko essentially won his starting job in the first few days of the spring, hitting three homers and driving in nine runs in his first four games. From there, he hit .234 with one homer in 64 at-bats the rest of the way. My guess is that Gyorko will be a solid regular as a rookie, but not really anything more. Fortunately, PetcoPark won’t take quite as much of a toll on his numbers as it once would have. He’s one of the safer picks for Rookie of the Year honors, but I see him as more likely to finish second or third.

Projection: .258/.320/.419, 18 HR, 72 R, 60 RBI, 5 SB in 515 AB

Julio Teheran (RHP Braves) – 7:1 – Teheran made surprisingly little progress in 2012 and tumbled on offseason prospects lists as a result. Then he went and posted a 1.04 ERA and a 35/9 K/BB ratio in 26 innings this spring. Teheran was about as impressive as any pitcher in the Grapefruit League, and expectations are now far beyond “maybe he can be a decent fifth starter until Brandon Beachy returns.” Of course, he’s still just 22 years old, so growing pains are a possibility.

Projection: 12-9, 3.79 ERA, 1.270 WHIP, 159 K’s in 180 1/3 IP

Hyun-Jin Ryu (LHP Dodgers) – 6:1 – The Dodgers spent $25.7 million on Ryu’s rights and then signed him for $36 million over the winter, essentially guaranteeing him a rotation spot in the process. After a shaky start to his spring in which his lack of conditioning led to some jokes at his expense, Ryu was dominant in his final three outings, allowing just three hits in 16 2/3 innings. The guess here is that Ryu’s success continues well into the season; his curveball and changeup are very good complements to an 89-92 mph fastball. He may wear down late, as he hasn’t thrown 200 innings in a season since 2007.

Projection: 13-7, 3.48 ERA, 1.172 WHIP, 158 K’s in 170 2/3 IP

The field – 5:1 – Gerrit Cole (RHP Pirates), Pete Kozma (SS Cardinals), Rob Brantly (Marlins), Zack Wheeler (RHP Mets), Tyler Skaggs (LHP Diamondbacks), Michael Wacha (RHP Cardinals), Trevor Rosenthal (RHP Cardinals), A.J. Ramos (RHP Marlins), Adeiny Hechavarria (SS Marlins), Travis d’Arnaud (C Mets), Evan Gattis (C-OF Braves), Matt Adams (1B Cardinals), Hunter Morris (1B Brewers), Darin Ruf (1B-OF Phillies), Kolten Wong (2B Cardinals), Anthony Rendon (3B Nationals), Matt Davidson (3B-OF Diamondbacks), Brett Jackson (OF Cubs), Gary Brown (OF Giants), Tony Cingrani (LHP Reds)

A whole lot of talent here. Cole would be right behind Ryu and Teheran on my list if the Pirates didn’t appear committed to keeping him in the minors for the first two months. Wheeler and Wacha are also big-time arms with no opportunity right now. Also, fantasy leaguers shouldn’t sleep on Rosenthal and Ramos. The Cardinals are hoping to get Jason Motte back in May, but if it doesn’t happen, Rosenthal should eventually overtake Mitchell Boggs for closing duties. Ramos is behind a perfectly fine reliever in Steve Chisek, but he’s the future in the closer’s role for Miami.

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Handicapping the AL Rookie of the Year race

Yordano Ventura represented the best and worst of baseball’s culture

BOSTON, MA - AUGUST 28:  Yordano Ventura #30 of the Kansas City Royals delivers in the first inning during a game against the Boston Red Sox on August 28, 2016 at Fenway Park in Boston, Massachusetts.  (Photo by Adam Glanzman/Getty Images)
Adam Glanzman/Getty Images
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It was reported this morning that Royals pitcher Yordano Ventura was killed in a car accident in the Dominican Republic. Former prospect Andy Marte was also killed in a separate car accident. Along with Jose Fernandez and Oscar Taveras, the baseball world has lost a lot of young, exciting talent in a very short amount of time.

Ventura was, like all of us, a complex human being. At his best, he was an exciting, talented, emotive pitcher who featured an electric fastball which sat in the mid-90’s and occasionally touched 100 MPH. At his worst, he was an immature, impressionable kid trying to fit in by exacting revenge against batters he felt had wronged him by slinging those electric fastballs at vulnerable areas of their bodies.

Baseball needed Ventura when he was at his best. It is players like him and Fernandez, not Mike Trout, that bring in new fans to the sport. To baseball die-hards, Angels outfielder Mike Trout is the pinnacle of entertainment because we know he’s an otherworldly talent. But to the average fan, Trout is just another player who hits a couple of homers and doesn’t do anything particularly interesting otherwise. Trout is milquetoast. Ventura was never an All-Star, but fans knew who he was because he made his presence felt every time he made a start. He was fun, if sometimes vengeful.

Ventura’s baseball rap sheet is rather lengthy for someone who only pitched parts of four seasons in the big leagues. Early in the 2015 season, Ventura found himself in a handful of benches-clearing incidents in quick succession. On April 12, he jawed with Trout, apparently misunderstanding the motivation behind Trout yelling, “Let’s go!” Though catcher Salvador Perez intervened, Trout’s teammate Albert Pujols ran in from second base and the benches cleared shortly thereafter. On the 18th, some drama between the Athletics and Royals continued. Ventura fired a 99 MPH fastball at Brett Lawrie, resulting in his immediate ejection from the game. More beanball wars ensued in the series finale the following day. Finally, on the 23rd, Ventura hit White Sox first baseman Jose Abreu with a 99 MPH fastball in the fourth inning. Ventura was not ejected… until after the completion of the seventh inning. Walking back to the dugout, Ventura barked at White Sox outfielder Adam Eaton and — you guessed it — the benches cleared. All told, Ventura was fined for his behavior with the Athletics and suspended seven games for the White Sox incident.

In August 2015, Ventura called Blue Jays outfielder Jose Bautista a “nobody” and accused him of stealing signs. He apologized shortly thereafter. Two months later, during his start in Game 6 of the ALCS against the Blue Jays, Ventura got into it with Jays first base coach Tim Leiper. Nothing happened beyond that, but apparently it was part of the Jays’ plan to try to put Ventura “on tilt.”

Most recently, in June this past season, Ventura hit Orioles third baseman Manny Machado with a pitch. Machado charged the mound and got in at least one punch before the players spilled out onto the field in a blob of royal blue and orange. Ventura was suspended for eight games.

Ventura was by no means a model of civility, but he was a product of baseball’s intransigent culture forcing players to assimilate or be ostracized. The old culture taught players to never show emotion. Hit a home run? Put your head down and circle the bases in a timely fashion or risk taking a fastball to the ribs. Players like Fernandez and Bautista — typically players from Latin countries — challenged those old cultural norms and are, as a result, the vanguard of the new culture. Ventura displayed aspects of each, the worst of the old culture and the best of the new. He was not a one-dimensional person; he was strikingly complex. At one moment willing to use a fastball as a weapon, the next stopping by some kids’ lemonade stand and giving out fist bumps. Baseball is made more entertaining and more interesting by its personalities and Ventura’s was a behemoth, for better or worse. His absence from the sport will be felt.

MLB remembers Yordano Ventura and Andy Marte

BOSTON, MA - AUGUST 28:  Yordano Ventura #30 of the Kansas City Royals delivers in the first inning during a game against the Boston Red Sox on August 28, 2016 at Fenway Park in Boston, Massachusetts.  (Photo by Adam Glanzman/Getty Images)
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Following the tragic passing of 25-year-old Yordano Ventura and 33-year-old Andy Marte, both of whom were killed in separate car crashes on Sunday morning, players and executives from around Major League Baseball expressed an outpouring of grief and support for the players’ families and former teams.

Fans have gathered at Kauffman Stadium in memory of the former pitcher.