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Miller dominating deep NL rookie class while AL may get boost

Photo: David E.Klutho/SI

Shelby Miller has helped the Cardinals to the best record in the National League.

Here's hoping Orioles pitching prospect Kevin Gausman, who will make his major league debut tonight against the Blue Jays, lives up to the hype, because this year's American League rookie class is one of the weakest in recent memory. With Gausman's future rotation-mate Dylan Bundy shut down with elbow trouble, pre-season Rookie of the Year favorite Wil Myers hitting just .244/.341/.372 for Triple-A Durham and Mariners catcher Mike Zunino hitting only .220/.290/.496 in the hitter-friendly Pacific Coast League, there aren't many reinforcements on the way, either. The Rangers did call up Jurickson Profar to start at second base in place of the injured Ian Kinsler earlier this week, but Profar didn't start on Wednesday and seems unlikely to remain in the majors beyond Kinler's return, which could come as soon as June 3.

The top American League rookie this season would rank no higher than seventh among the National League contenders for the Rookie of the Year award, but despite the stronger competition, the senior circuit has a clear leader for the award.

Note: All stats are through Wednesday, May 22. Rookies are players who, prior to the current season, had fewer than 130 at-bats or 50 innings pitched in the majors or spent fewer than 45 days on the active roster prior to rosters expanding on Sept. 1.

National League

1. Shelby Miller, SP, CardinalsSeason Stats: 5-3, 1.74 ERA, 0.93 WHIP, 9.8 K/9, 4.13 K/BB, 6.3 IP/GS, 1 SHO, 213 ERA+

Never mind rookies, Miller is fifth among all qualified major league pitchers in ERA, eighth in WHIP, ninth in strikeouts per nine innings and eighth in the NL in strikeout-to-walk ratio. He also is the owner of the single highest game score of the season (98) from his 13-strikeout, no-walk, one-hit shutout of the Rockies two weeks ago. The National League's rookie class may be far deeper than the American League's, but there's no question that the 22-year-old Miller is way out in front of it.

GALLERY: Miller joins fellow Cards starters on cover of Sports Illustrated

2. Didi Gregorius, SS, DiamondbacksSeason Stats: .348/.406/.554, 3 HR, 8 RBI

Called up and installed as Arizona's starting shortstop on April 18, Gregorius, who was acquired in the three-team trade that sent Trevor Bauer to Cleveland this past offseason, hit safely in his first 10 games with multiple hits in six of them and all three of his home runs this season. Since then, the 23-year-old Dutchman (given name: Mariekson Julius) has hit .283/.367/.396 in 14 games. Even the latter line is an upgrade on his minor league performance, particularly in on-base percentage, but if he could maintain that, he would be plenty valuable given his outstanding fielding at shortstop.

3. Evan Gattis, C/OF/1B, BravesSeason Stats: .256/.308/.587, 10 HR, 27 RBI

Gattis, who leads major league rookies in home runs and RBIs, has seen his playing time evaporate with the returns of Brian McCann and Jason Heyward from the disabled list. Prior to Wednesday, his last start was May 14, but he homered twice in four pinch-hit at-bats in the interim, then connected for a grand slam in his spot start at catcher on Wednesday. Gattis' strikeout and walk rates are ugly, but the Braves are going to have to find a way to get the 26-year-old's game-changing power into the lineup more often.

4. Hyun-Jin Ryu, SP, DodgersSeason Stats: 5-2, 3.30 ERA, 1.26 WHIP, 8.6 K/9, 2.73 K/BB, 6.2 IP/GS, ? ERA+

The 26-year-old Korean lefty has failed to complete six innings in just one of his 10 starts, has allowed two or fewer earned runs in seven starts and hasn't had a single disaster start (more runs allowed than innings pitched) all season. In a Dodgers starting rotation that has seen six pitchers hit the disabled list, he has been a crucially consistent and valuable presence.

5. Jose Fernandez, SP, MarlinsSeason Stats: 2-2, 3.31 ERA, 1.16 WHIP, 8.4 K/9, 2.56 K/BB, 5.4 IP/GS, 115 ERA+

Fernandez allowed just one run while striking out 13 in 11 innings over his first two major league starts. He then had a couple of duds, but in five starts since then, he has posted a 2.48 ERA. The Marlins are being very careful with the 20-year-old's pitch counts -- Fernandez has topped 86 pitches just once this season -- and his run support has been expectedly non-existent (just 2.7 runs per 27 outs), but to this point, his solid 49 innings earn him the final spot on this list ahead of 30-year-old Brewers closer Jim Henderson, who has thrown 19 exceptional innings. Honorable mention here goes to demoted Reds starter Tony Cingrani and surging Padres second baseman Jedd Gyorko.

American League

1. Conor Gillaspie, 3B, White SoxSeason Stats: .276/.341/.422, 3 HR, 8 RBI

Like Gregorius, the 25-year-old Gillaspie went crazy upon assuming a starting job this season, hitting safely in his first seven starts at third base with multiple hits in five of those seven games. Since then, however, he has hit just .233/.323/.384 in 27 games (25 of them starts). Still, with Jeff Keppinger in an even worse slump, the slick-fielding Gillaspie should hold on to his job beyond Gordon Beckham's imminent return from the disabled list.

2. Justin Grimm, SP, RangersSeason Stats: 3-3, 4.02 ERA, 1.44 WHIP, 8.0 K/9, 2.57 K/BB, 5.8 IP/GS, 114 ERA+

Grimm recovered from a pair of duds to throw 6 2/3 solid innings against the Tigers in his last start, allowing just two runs. That was a major statement for the 24-year-old Grimm given that it came against what has been baseball's best offense this season. Four of his seven starts have been quality, but that was the first to come against an above-average lineup.

3. Nick Tepesch, SP, RangersSeason Stats: 3-4, 3.98 ERA, 1.33 WHIP, 6.5 K/9, 2.38 K/BB, 5.4 IP/GS, 115 ERA+

Tepesch was scratched from his start against the A's on Wednesday due to a blister on his right middle finger, paving the way for yet another rookie Rangers starter, 30-year-old Ross Wolf. This is the second-time Tepesch's season had been interrupted by a minor injury to his pitching hand. He had to leave his April 20 start after just 1 2/3 scoreless innings after being hit on the right wrist by a comebacker. Take out that start, and he has averaged 5.9 innings per start in his other seven. Like Grimm, the 24-year-old Tepesch has largely faced weak competition this season (the Mariners, Twins, White Sox, Cubs and Astros), but acquitted himself well in his last start against the Tigers (5 IP, 2 R).

4. Adam Warren, RP, YankeesSeason Stats: 1-0, 1.14 ERA, 1.10 WHIP, 6.5 K/9, 2.83 K/BB, 2.6 IP/G

A relief pitcher has never won the Rookie of the Year award in either league with fewer than 15 saves, but the AL class is so week that Warren's outstanding long relief work for the Yankees demands mention. A starter in the minors, the 25-year-old Warren has four outings of three or more innings this season and has allowed just one run in 16 1/3 innings in those games, including four scoreless innings against the Orioles Wednesday night. He also had four scoreless frames against the Indians in a 7-0 Yankees win in the second game of a May 13 doubleheader, resulting in a rare three-plus-inning save. Warren has stranded all four runners he has inherited this season.

5. Oswaldo Arcia, OF, TwinsSeason Stats: .263/.327/.463, 4 HR, 14 RBI

The Astros' Brandon Barnes (.317/.406/.467) has been more valuable on the season than Arcia, but the 27-year-old Barnes, a righthanded platoon outfielder, has barely played or hit in May, making one start since May 12 and collecting just four hits on the month. Arcia, by comparison, has been a regular in the Twins lineup since April 20 (though he has been coming off the bench in Atlanta this week due to the lack of a designated hitter in the NL park). The slow-footed Arcia lacks range in the outfield (Minnesota has bounced him between the two corners and DH) and his pinch-hit home run in the ninth inning of his team's 8-3 loss to the Braves on Wednesday broke and 0-for-15 slump, but that homer also likely guaranteed the 22-year-old some extra at-bats.

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