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

Astros, Red Sox look ahead in wake of sign-stealing scandal

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Players from two teams at the center of baseball’s sign-stealing scandal faced their fans on Saturday for the first time since the Houston Astros and Boston Red Sox ousted their managers amid the fallout from the investigation into Houston’s elaborate scheme.

The Astros and Red Sox held their annual fan fests on Saturday, and instead of discussing preparations for the season, players from both teams were left to answer questions about the cheating that resulted in both teams’ managers being fired.

“It’s a tough situation and as a team we have to stay together and go through this as a team like we’ve been doing, always,” Houston star second baseman José Altuve said. “We have to talk about it at spring training and try not to let things in the past distract us for for next year.”

Houston manager AJ Hinch and general manager Jeff Luhnow were suspended for a year by MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred on Monday after he found illicit use of electronics to steal signs during the Astros’ run to the 2017 World Series championship and again in the 2018 season. Team owner Jim Crane then fired both Hinch and Luhnow. Manager Alex Cora left the Red Sox on Tuesday after Manfred’s report identified him as the ringleader of the sign-stealing scheme when he was the bench coach for the Astros in 2017.

Many Red Sox players talked Saturday about how much they liked and valued Cora and hated to see him go.

“I’m heartbroken about it,” Boston designated hitter J.D. Martinez said. “I understood his side of it. He definitely didn’t want to be a distraction. He was one of my favorite, if not my favorite, managers I’ve had.”

The Astros were fined $5 million, which is the maximum allowed under the Major League Constitution, and must forfeit their next two first- and second-round amateur draft picks.

The investigation found that the Astros used the video feed from a center field camera to see and decode the opposing catcher’s signs. Players banged on a trash can to signal to batters what was coming, believing it would improve the batter’s chances of getting a hit.

MLB is also looking into whether Cora installed a similar system in Boston after arriving the following year, when the Red Sox won the World Series. No conclusions have been reached and there is no timetable; the Astros investigation took two months.

Martinez hopes MLB wraps up the investigation into the Red Sox soon so they can put this behind them.

“I’m excited for the investigation to get over with, so they can see there’s nothing going on here,” he said.

While the Astros were meeting with fans in Houston, Toronto Blue Jays outfielder Randal Grichuk called for MLB take away their World Series championship, now that it’s been proven that they cheated.

“I mean, I would like to see that obviously. I bet the Dodgers would like to see that,” Grichuk said. “I’ve got a few friends on the Dodgers that are very disappointed that possibly two years in a row they lost due to a team going against the rules.”

Many Boston players are trying not to focus on the investigation or what could be coming for the team, but instead simply trying to prepare like it’s any other season.

“MLB’s going to do what they have to do to look into it,” pitcher Nathan Eovaldi said. “I’m just trying to focus on baseball. I feel like it’s going to pass, and everything’s going to be fine.”

While Altuve didn’t have a problem answering numerous questions about the scandal, Houston third baseman Alex Bregman refused repeated attempts by reporters to get him to address what happened and kept repeating variations of the same phrase.

“The commissioner made his report, made his decision and the Astros made their decision and I have no further comment on it,” Bregman said in some variation again and again.

After being pressed on if he plans to discuss the sign-stealing in the future, Bregman finally gave an answer that didn’t seem as rehearsed.

“I think in the 2020 year our actions will speak louder than our words,” he said.

Altuve and Bregman were the only two stars at Saturday’s fan fest in Houston who were part of the 2017 championship team. Many of the other big names who helped the Astros win their first title, including World Series MVP George Springer, ace Justin Verlander and shortstop Carlos Correa, did not attend the daylong event where fans can interact with players.

Altuve was the AL MVP in 2017, and since the sign-stealing scandal broke, some have questioned whether he deserved the award. In recent days he’s also been accused of wearing an electronic device under his jersey to tip pitches, which he vehemently denies. He was asked how it feels for people to call him a cheater.

“You don’t want anybody to call you that,” he said. “But … I have two options. One is cry and one is go down and play the game and (perform) and help my team. And you know what one I am going to do.”

MLB’s investigation of Houston began after former Astros pitcher Mike Fiers, who played for Oakland last season, told The Athletic about the team’s scheme to steal signs. Martinez said he has spoken to Fiers and gets why he came forward.

“I understand his side of it, being in that division, going against those guys. It’s an uncomfortable position for him, but I understand why he did what he did,” Martinez told reporters in Springfield, Massachusetts. “He obviously felt like he needed to and I understand it.”

In Houston, as the Astros try to put the scandal behind them and focus on the future, Altuve, who has often been described as the heart and soul of the team, is confident it won’t derail the Astros from another successful season.

“Everything will be fine,” he said. “We’re going to be in the World Series again. People don’t believe it. But we will.”