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Miller leads deep NL rookie field but Puig is rising fast

Photo: AP

Yasiel Puig has electrified the baseball world, hitting .486 with four home runs in his first two weeks in the majors.

How weak has the American League rookie class been this year? After playing just 10 games, Yasiel Puig's 1.2 wins above replacement, according to Baseball-Reference.com, would rank third among all rookies in the AL and would be just a half-win behind the leader. Puig doesn't factor into the National League race yet because he's played only 10 games, but it seems like only a matter of time before he will be challenging for this award.

Meanwhile, the AL is still without the highly-touted Wil Myers and Mariners catching prospect Mike Zunino and the recently promoted Rays starter Chris Archer have just arrived. Perhaps one of them can inject some life into what is frankly an embarrassing Rookie of the Year race thus far.

The NL field, on the other hand, just keeps getting deeper with Puig and Gerrit Cole off to strong starts, Anthony Rendon taking over second base in Washington, D.C., and Zack Wheeler due to make his major league debut for the Mets on Tuesday.

Note: All stats are through Wednesday, June 12. 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, RHP, Cardinals (1)

Season Stats: 7-4, 2.21 ERA, 0.97 WHIP, 10.1 K/9, 5.35 K/BB, 6.3 IP/GS, 1 SHO, 172 ERA+

Last Three Weeks: 2-1, 3.33 ERA, 1.07 WHIP, 10.7 K/9, 14.50 K/BB, 6.1 IP/GS

Miller gave up four runs in a start for the first time this season on Wednesday night, but he also struck out 10 men without walking a batter in six innings. Miller must be learning from the example of his rotation-mate and major league strikeout-to-walk-ratio leader Adam Wainwright, because in three starts this month, Miller has struck out 26 while walking just one (Wainwright, in his last three turns, has struck out 22 against just one walk).

Wainwright and Miller, incidentally, are the best one-two rotation combination in the National League right now. Miller appears to be running away with this award, but it was around this time in 2010 that Jason Heyward seemed to have the award locked up only to have late-May call-up Buster Posey sneak in and steal it. Could Puig be the Posey to Miller's Heyward this year?

2. Didi Gregorius, SS, Diamondbacks (2)

Season Stats: .307/.377/.466, 4 HR, 15 RBI, 28 R

Last Three Weeks: .254/.341/.352, 1 HR, 7 RBI, 14 R

The slick-fielding Gregorius continues to cool off offensively, but he is still getting on base at a solid clip, particularly compared to the league-average shortstop, whose on-base percentage is a mere .308, the lowest of any position this season.

3. Hyun-Jin Ryu, LHP, Dodgers (4)

Season Stats: 6-2, 2.85 ERA, 1.18 WHIP, 7.9 K/9, 3.00 K/BB, 6.6 IP/GS, 1 SHO, 129 ERA+

Last Three Weeks: 1-0, 1.59 ERA, 0.97 WHIP, 6.0 K/9, 5.00 K/BB, 7.6 IP/GS, 1 SHO

Ryu has allowed two or fewer runs in six or more innings in eight of his 13 starts, not counting his major league debut in which he allowed three runs but only two were earned. Three turns ago, he twirled a two-hit shutout against the Angels, allowing just a single and a double while striking out seven, and over his last six starts he has gone 3-0 with a 1.94 ERA.

4. Evan Gattis, C/LF, Braves (3)

Season Stats: .256/.318/.588, 14 HR, 37 RBI

Last Three Weeks: .256/.348/.590, 4 HR, 10 RBI

When Brian McCann returned from the disabled list and made Gattis a part-time player, it seemed like the 26-year-old rookie would fall off this list, but coming off the bench hasn't ben a problem for El Oso Blanco. In nine pinch-hitting appearances this season, Gattis has a walk, a single, a double, four home runs and 11 RBIs while making just two outs.

5. Jedd Gyorko, 2B, Padres

Season Stats: .284/.341/.461, 8 HR, 25 RBI

Last Three Weeks: .286/.320/.486, 3 HR, 9 RBI

Gyorko is second to Gattis among all major league rookies in home runs and RBIs and has come on strong since the calendar flipped to May, hitting .309/.358/.554 with all eight of his homers over that span. Unfortunately, he landed on the disabled list earlier this week with a groin strain.

Off the list: Jose Fernandez

American League

1. Nick Tepesch, RHP, Rangers (3)

Season Stats: 3-6, 4.30 ERA, 1.28 WHIP, 6.7 K/9, 2.94 K/BB, 5.6 IP/GS, 102 ERA+

Last Three Weeks: 0-2, 4.88 ERA, 1.21 WHIP, 7.1 K/9, 4.75 K/BB, 6.0 IP/GS

I'm convinced that the player who will eventually take home the American League Rookie of the Year award this year is not on this list. Whether it be Myers, Zunino, Archer, Rangers infielder Jurickson Profar, Mariners second baseman Nick Franklin, or another player still lurking in the minor leagues, someone has to step up, don't they?

Tepesch has given up 11 runs in 12 innings over his last two starts and has been glaringly average on the season as a whole, but in this rookie class, being an average major league starting pitcher is a major accomplishment.

2. Brandon Barnes, CF, Astros

Season Stats: .280/.336/.416, 3 HR, 15 RBI

Last Three Weeks: .246/.265/.369, 1 HR, 6 RBI

Barnes has finally taken over as Houston's everyday centerfielder and has been exposed as a result, as seen in that last three weeks line above, which happens to exactly cover his time as a regular. Barnes is a pretty spectacular fielder, however, and it's the combination of his early-season production in a part-time role and his slick fielding in an everyday role over the last three weeks that has him here.

3. Dan Straily, RHP, A's

Season Stats: 4-2, 4.45 ERA, 1.07 WHIP, 7.2 K/9, 2.94 K/BB, 5.9 IP/GS, 88 ERA+

Last Three Weeks: 2-0, 2.81 ERA, 0.90 WHIP, 5.3 K/9, 3.75 K/BB, 6.4 IP/GS

Straily's season line compares reasonably well to Tepesch's above until you consider that their home ballparks are on opposite ends of the spectrum in terms of scoring levels. Tepesch pitches in a launching pad, Straily in a pitcher's paradise. Still, Straily is rising on this list having gone 3-0 with a 2.20 ERA, 0.77 WHIP and 5.0 strikeout-to-walk ratio over his last five starts. A few more starts along those lines and he'll be comfortably out in front of this race.

4. Jose Iglesias, IF, Red Sox

Season Stats: .449/.494/.577, 1 HR, 7 RBI

Last Three Weeks: .448/.500/.586, 1 HR, 6 RBI

Iglesias was called up the day after I last checked in on this race as an injury replacement for third baseman Will Middlebrooks and has picked up a hit in 16 of his 17 starts since, including an active 14-game hitting streak. In the 23 games in which he has come to the plate this season, he has 13 multi-hit games. All of that has come from a player with spectacular defensive skills but a mere .257/.307/.314 career batting line in the minors.

One needn't even look at Iglesias's absurd .523 batting average on balls in play to know that won't last, but even if it's a super-fluky batting average spike across just 87 plate appearances, what Iglesias has done on both sides of the ball thus far has made him the AL rookie leader in bWAR (1.7) and kept him on Boston's roster even with Middlebrooks' return.

5. Oswaldo Arcia, OF, Twins (5)

Season Stats: .274/.330/.472, 4 HR, 15 RBI

Last Three Weeks: 4-for-11, 2 2B, 1 RBI

Arcia was optioned to Triple-A two days after my last look at the Rookie of the Year races and recalled this past Tuesday. Given the lack of competition, since he was good enough for fifth place then, he still is now after fluffing his rate stats slightly via that 4-for-11 performance in the three intervening games.

Honorable mention here goes to relievers Cody Allen of Cleveland, Preston Claiborne of the Yankees and Alex Torres of the Rays. As for the previous leader, Conor Gillaspie, he has hit .184/.251/.265 over the last three weeks and was 0-for-June before homering on Tuesday. He's now 1-for-24 on the month.

Off the list: Gillaspie, Justin Grimm, Adam Warren

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