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

If 2020 season is canceled, which players would be hurt the most?

Miguel Cabrera
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Last week, I went over a few teams that stood to be hurt most if there were to be no 2020 season as a result of the coronavirus (COVID-19). Today, we will look at some players who may be adversely effected by a lost year.

Milestones

Players chasing milestones, especially those towards the end of their careers, would be stymied by a lost season. Tigers DH and future Hall of Famer Miguel Cabrera is the first one that comes to mind. He is 23 home runs short of joining the 500 home run club. Though he hasn’t hit more than 16 in a year since 2016, he would likely have at least hit a few this year and would have had an easier time getting there in 2021. He turns 37 years old in 10 days. Cabrera may be under contract through 2023, but it is not clear that his age and his health would allow him to play regularly such that he would be able to reach 500 home runs if the 2020 season were to be canceled. (Cabrera is also 185 hits shy of 3,000 for his career.)

Mike Trout has 285 home runs for his career. It’s almost a given that he would get to 300 and beyond in 2020. He is currently one of only 13 players with at least 250 home runs through his age-27 season. The only players with more: Álex Rodríguez (345), Jimmie Foxx (302), Eddie Mathews (299), and Ken Griffey Jr. (294). Trout likely would have also reached 1,000 runs for his career, as he is currently at 903. Losing a full season could really make a difference where he winds up on the all-time leaderboards at the end of his career.

Veteran catcher Yadier Molina will be a free agent at season’s end, though he and the Cardinals have expressed interest in a contract extension. He turns 38 this summer and is 37 hits shy of 2,000 for his career. Even if this season never happens, Molina will likely join the 2,000 hit club in 2021 whether or not he signs a multi-year extension. Molina is also 84 RBI shy of 1,000 and 21 doubles shy of 400.

Free Agents

Dodgers outfielder Mookie Betts and Phillies catcher J.T. Realmuto headline the free agent class heading into the 2021 season. Even if there eventually is a 2020 season, or something resembling it, teams are losing money across the board and that will result in stinginess in the free agent market. Make no mistake, Betts and Realmuto, as well as Trevor Bauer, Marcus Semien, and Marcus Stroman will still get paid handsomely, but they likely won’t get as much as they would following a typical year. The players that really stand to get hurt are the mid-tier free agents, whose cost won’t match their relative upside — players like James McCann, Howie Kendrick, Yuli Gurriel, DJ LeMahieu, Didi Gregorius, Andrelton Simmons, Justin Turner, Michael Grantley, Marcell Ozuna, Jackie Bradley Jr., Jay Bruce, and Josh Reddick.

2020-21 Draftees and International Free Agents

At the end of March, MLB and the MLB Players Association reached an agreement on a deal covering issues including service time, pay during the pandemic, and the amateur draft. In exchange for players on active rosters getting credit for a full year of service time whether or not there is a 2020 season, the league got the right to shorten the 2020 draft to five rounds and the 2021 draft to 20 rounds. The league also gained the right to delay the start of the 2020 and 2021-22 international signing periods.

The MLBPA effectively sold out what will be their future union members. A shortened draft this year and/or next year would mean that players who would otherwise have been drafted this year will go undrafted and thus will either become unsigned free agents or return to the draft next year as part of a crowded pool of players. Likewise, pushing back the international signing period will add more players to the market at the same time. This, obviously, benefits ownership as a surplus of labor diminishes those laborers’ leverage.

Bounce-back Candidates

Players coming off of injuries or otherwise down years in 2019 were hoping to use 2020 to bounce back, reestablishing themselves in the league. Angels two-way player Shohei Ohtani didn’t pitch at all last year after undergoing Tommy John surgery and was hopeful to rejoin the starting rotation at some point in the first half of a normal 2020 season. We learned yesterday that Ohtani is expected to throw off a mound “soon.” If a 2020 season does happen, it likely wouldn’t begin for another couple of months at minimum, which should afford him enough time to get into pitching shape.

Ohtani’s teammate and perennial Gold Glove Award candidate Andrelton Simmons played in only 103 games last season due to an ankle injury. He mustered a meager .673 OPS as well, compiling just 1.9 WAR, his lowest total in any season since debuting in 2012. In 2017, he peaked at 7.8 WAR and put up 6.3 the following season. Simmons will become a free agent after the 2020 season, so he most certainly needed a healthy and productive 2020 to maximize his leverage on the market.

Reds first baseman Joey Votto, now 36 years old, is coming off of the worst offensive season of his career. He hit .261/.357/.411 with 15 home runs and 47 RBI in 608 plate appearances, continuing a downward trend. He registered a 167 adjusted OPS as recently as 2017, but that declined to 126 in ’18 and 98 last year. The Reds, back to being competitive, were definitely banking on a bounce-back year from Votto. (Votto, by the way, is also 56 RBI short of the 1,000 milestone for his career.)