MINORS: 2013 Rookie of the Year candidates

This article first appeared in USA Today's Sports Weekly.

 

Now that spring training is over and the season has begun, we turn our attention to handicapping the 2013 AL and NL Rookie of the Year Awards.  In 2012, Bryce Harper became the youngest player to win the National League award, hitting .270 with 22 home runs. In the American League, Yu Darvish went 16-9 only to finish a distant 3rd behind Mike Trout. In his historic rookie season, Trout hit .326 with 30 home runs, 129 runs scored, and 49 stolen bases. While the Rookie of the Year race is always fun to watch, we are unlikely to see a repeat of these feats in 2013.

NATIONAL LEAGUE

One key to putting together a strong rookie season is finding a way to secure regular playing time. In the NL there are a number of good prospects who start the season with full-time roles. In Miami, spring injuries created an opening for Marlins pitching phenom Jose Fernandez. Fernandez has elite-level stuff and was the most dominant pitcher in the minors in 2012, going 14-1 with a 1.75 ERA, 35 BB/158 K in 134 IP. The 20-year Cuban will be no doubt be challenged as he jumps from High-A to the majors, but long-term has the stuff to be a true #1 starter.

In Arizona, outfielder Adam Eaton won the starting centerfield job and has a proven minor league track record. Eaton has a career minor league batting average of .355, and though he doesn’t possess much in the way of power, he gets on base and could rack up stolen bases. We’ll have to wait for his season to begin, as a strained elbow in spring training landed him on the disabled list.

Jedd Gyorko of the Padres won the starting second base job, but moved over to the hot corner to fill in for the injured Chase Headley. Gyorko is a professional hitter with surprising power. In 2012, he hit .311 with 30 home runs.  He is a below average defender, so he will have to hit to keep his place in the lineup, but he could get a boost from PETCO Park’s new dimensions.

Braves righthander Julio Teheran looked lost at Triple-A Gwinnett last year, going 7-9 with a 5.08 ERA, but scouts still love his raw stuff and a strong spring (1.04 ERA with 35 strikeouts against 9 walks in 26 innings pitched) secured him a spot in the Braves rotation. Teheran needs to prove that last year was an aberration, but getting 25-30 starts with a playoff contending team puts him in a solid position to accumulate impressive stats.

The Dodgers shelled out $25.7 million to secure the rights to negotiate with lefthanded pitcher Hyun-Jin Ryu and then inked him to a 6-year, $36 million contract. Ryu turned a few heads when he showed up to camp at 255 pounds, but has a nice mix of a 90-94 mph fastball, change, and solid curveball. The 26-year-old Korean native was the first player to be posted by the Korean Baseball League and has tons of international experience.

The Cardinals have one of the deepest farm systems in baseball and have the legitimate candidates in pitchers Shelby Miller and Trevor Rosenthal and shortstop Pete Kozma. Miller edged out Rosenthal for the Cardinals fifth starter spot and has plus raw stuff that includes a mid-90s fastball, curve, and change-up. The recent injury to Cardinals closer Jason Motte pushes Rosenthal into the set-up role, but it might not be long before he is closing out games. Skeptics keep waiting for Kozma to stop hitting, but that hasn’t happened yet.  After posting a career line of .236/.308/.344 in six minor league seasons, Kozma hit .333 in 72 big league at bats in 2012.

Last year neither Trout nor Harper made the opening day roster, so it would not be surprising for the 2013 winner to get mid-season call-up. Mets catcher Travis D’Arnaud came over from the Blue Jays in the R.A. Dickey trade and is the top-ranked catching prospect in the minors. He should be up for good by mid-season and has the tools to hit for power and average. Outfielder Yasiel Puig landed a 7-year, $42 million deal from the Dodgers and he has done nothing but hit since then. Puig had a .354 batting average in his U.S. debut in 2012 and then torched the spring training circuit by hitting .517 with 3 home runs. A strong spring also put Nolan Arenado in contention for the starting 3B in Colorado, but the Rockies stayed with veteran Chris Nelson for the time being. Nelson does not have a consistent record of success, so it would be surprising if Arenado is still at Triple-A by mid-June.

Other long-shots include Adam Morgan (LHP, PHI), Evan Gattis (C, ATL), Didi Gregorius (SS, ARI), A.J. Pollock (OF, ARI), Zack Wheeler (RHP, NYM), and Matt Adams (1B, STL).

AMERICAN LEAGUE

Until a week before the start of the season the AL candidates weren’t as strong as in the NL, but the surprising decision by the Red Sox to make Jackie Bradley Jr. their everyday LF makes him the clear front-runner. Bradley had a standout collegiate career, but fell out of the first round of 2011 draft because of a wrist injury. He was healthy in his full-season debut in the minors, he hit .315/.430/.482. Bradley makes tons of contact and is a proto-typical lead-off hitter, though he may be on his way back down to the minors with a rough start.

Aaron Hicks of the Twins is positioned to get plenty of playing time early. Hicks, a former first-round pick, has been slow to develop, but had a nice breakout in 2012. He opened the season as the Twins everyday CF, but has yet to play above Double-A and will need to prove he can hit major league pitching.

Japanese import Hiroyuki Nakajima of the Athletics was signed to a two-year, $6.5 million deal in the off-season and will likely take over as the club’s everyday shortstop when he returns from a minor hamstring injury. He put up solid numbers last year in Japan and is a reliable defender, but if he wins the AL ROY award it will likely be because he got in a full-season of stats and no one else had a breakout.

If no one grabs an early lead, there are a handful of elite prospects ready to make an impact in the second half of the season. At this point, few talent evaluators question the raw tools of the Rangers infielder Jurickson Profar. Profar struggled in his MLB debut at the tail end of 2012, but he was just 20 years old. Without a spot for him to play every day the majors, Profar will start at Triple-A, but a quick start could force Rangers’ hand.

The Tampa Bay Rays landed elite hitting prospect Wil Myers when they traded James Shields to Kansas City. In 2012, Myers hit .314 with 37 home runs in Triple-A. Look for his batting average and power combination to find its way into the Tampa lineup come June.

Dylan Bundy is the best pitching prospect in the AL, but the Orioles want him to improve his command and get more experience in the minors. He will start the season at Double-A Bowie and is somewhat of a longshot to win the award, but he’s shown the talent and makeup to make a quick impression.

Other long-shots include Nick Castellanos (OF, DET), Bruce Rondon (RHP, DET), Allen Webster (RHP, BOS), and Brandon Maurer (RHP, SEA).


Click here to subscribe

  For more information about the terms used in this article, see our Glossary Primer.