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Awards Watch: Is AL Rookie of the Year now Jose Abreu's to lose?

Chicago's Jose Abreu is on pace to hit 49 home runs in his first season, which would tie the MLB rookie record for homers set by Mark McGwire in 1987. Photo:

Chicago's Jose Abreu is on pace to hit 49 home runs in his first season, which would tie the MLB rookie record for homers set by Mark McGwire in 1987.

July has not been kind to the Rookie of the Year candidates in either league. Both of our leaders from the last time we checked in on this race three weeks ago are now on the disabled list, as is the former third-place man in the American League. In the National League, the expected surge of Pirates rightfielder Gregory Polanco has yet to materialize, as he has hit just .185/.264/.231 over the last three weeks.

The AL list is largely unchanged despite the injuries, though there’s now a clear separation between the two players who are due to drop because of their ailments and the three still making positive contributions. In the National League, there's a new leader for the first time this season, as well as a new challenger who could finally make the race compelling.

Note: All stats are through Wednesday, July 24. League leaders are in bold, major league leaders in bold and italics. 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. The number in parentheses after a player's name reflects his rank on the previous list.

American League

1. Masahiro Tanaka, RHP, Yankees (1)

Season Stats: 12-4, 2.51 ERA, 1.01 WHIP, 9.4 K//9, 7.11 K/BB, 7.2 IP/GS, 3 CG, 1 SHO, 158 ERA+

Last Three Weeks: 0-1, 6 2/3 IP, 10 H, 5 R, 1 BB, 5 K, 2 HR

In case you haven’t heard, Tanaka has a partially torn ulnar collateral ligament in his pitching elbow and has been on the disabled list for two weeks. He could remain on the shelf for anywhere from another month (the best-case scenario under his current program of platelet-rich plasma injections, rest and rehab) to a full year, if the ligament ultimately requires Tommy John surgery.

That presents me with a bit of a dilemma here: Tanaka’s injury should allow Jose Abreu to take the lead in this race. However, these rankings are based on who I think would be most deserving of the award if the season ended today, and as of right now, that’s still Tanaka. Remember, Abreu missed two weeks himself with tendinitis in his left ankle, so in terms of attendance, the two are still even. Three weeks from now, Abreu will likely be on top, but he’ll have to earn that position by staying healthy and continuing to produce.

2. Jose Abreu, 1B, White Sox (2)

Season Stats: .292/.340/.618, 29 HR, 74 RBI

Last Three Weeks: .344/.385/.590, 3 HR, 7 RBI

Continuing to produce shouldn’t be too much of a challenge for Abreu, as he has hit .324/.370/.641 since returning from the disabled list on June 2. He did sit out Tuesday night’s game due to back tightness, the first game he has missed this season outside of his 14-game disabled list stay, but he returned on Wednesday night with a double in four trips to the plate. Abreu’s home run barrage has slowed a bit in recent weeks, but he remains on pace for 49 dingers, which would tie Mark McGwire’s 27-year-old rookie record.

3. Brock Holt, UT, Red Sox (4)

Season Stats: .321/.366/.450, 3 HR, 23 RBI

Last Three Weeks: .319/.365/.478, 1 HR, 6 RBI

Three weeks ago, I wrote that Holt’s “average will come down, but not very far.” It was .322 then, and it’s .321 now. Thus because his bat has shown no signs of cooling off, and with Tanaka out indefinitely, Holt could rise to second-place on this list in three weeks. He has already proven versatile enough to remain in the lineup. In the five days since Shane Victorino was activated from the disabled list, Holt started at four different positions (shortstop, third base, rightfield and centerfield) before sitting out on Wednesday night for the first time since he re-joined the team on May 17. And with his start at second base on Thursday, Holt became the first Red Sox player ever to start at each position except pitcher and catcher in one season.

4. George Springer, OF, Astros (3)

Season Stats: .231/.336/.468, 20 HR, 51 RBI, 114 K

Last Three Weeks: .162/.279/.486, 4 HR, 7 RBI

Springer is quickly emerging as a Three True Outcomes hero, rendering the opposing fielders irrelevant half the time he comes to the plate. On the season, Springer has struck out, walked or homered in 50.1 percent of his plate appearances. The bad news is that his strikeout total (114) is nearly double his combined output of home runs and walks (59). Springer has hit .179/.304/.415 since June 13 with 47 strikeouts in 29 games, a 262-strikeout pace over a full season. In his last three weeks, he has six hits, four of which were home runs.

He is currently on the disabled list nursing quadriceps and knee injuries, but given the way Springer's season is trending, the time off may actually do him some good. The Astros hope he’ll return close to Aug. 4, which is the day he’s eligible to come off the DL.

5. Dellin Betances, RHP, Yankees (5)

Season Stats: 4-0, 1.52 ERA, 0.73 WHIP, 13.7 K/9, 5.29 K/BB, 1.4 IP/G, 262 ERA+

Last Three Weeks: 0-0, 1.74 ERA, 0.58 WHIP, 10.5 K/9, 12.00 K/BB, 1.5 IP/G

Three weeks ago, I said that Betances’ recent wildness bore watching. Well, in 11 1/3 innings this month, he has walked just one batter and hit two others, so there wasn’t much to watch. Betances has been remarkably consistent this season. He has been charged with two runs just once and has allowed two inherited runners to score just twice. Since May 15, he has stranded 15 of the 16 runners he has inherited, and he has struck out multiple batters in 33 of his 43 appearances on the season.

Among pitchers who have worked exclusively in relief this season, only the Mets' Carlos Torres has thrown more innings (60 1/3 to Betances’ 59 1/3), and Betances' 2.4 WAR makes him the most valuable reliever in baseball this year, rookie or veteran.

National League

1. Billy Hamilton, CF, Reds (2)

Season Stats: .281/.312/.421, 6 HR, 40 RBI, 49 R, 40 SB

Last Three Weeks: .288/.329/.515, 2 HR, 12 RBI, 9 R, 5 SB

Hamilton’s last three weeks have proven that the three before that were no fluke, for both better and worse. For better, he has maintained a solid average despite some correction in his batting average on balls in play and continues to hit for power; two more home runs, three doubles and three triples comprised nearly half of his 18 hits over the last three weeks. For worse, his strikeout-to-walk ratio remains dismal, and his success rate on the bases has effectively negated his value as a basestealer. Hamilton has been caught seven times in his last 16 steal attempts, a brutal 56-percent success rate that is undermining his performance at the plate. Who saw that coming? Fortunately for Hamilton, he’s nearly alone in this race at this point.

2. Chris Owings, SS, Diamondbacks (1)

Season Stats: .277/.313/.458, 6 HR, 21 RBI, 26 R, 7 SB

Last Three Weeks: On disabled list

When Owings hit the disabled list in late June with a sore right shoulder, the Diamondbacks hoped he’d be back after the minimum 15 days. It has now been 29 days and Owings is no closer to returning. That he’s still second on this list is a testament to how weak the NL’s rookie field has been this year.

3. Jacob deGrom, RHP, Mets

Season Stats: 4-5, 3.01 ERA, 1.29 WHIP, 8.8 K/9, 2.72 K/BB, 6.2 IP/GS, 117 ERA+

Last Three Weeks: 3-0, 0.86 ERA, 0.95 WHIP, 11.1 K/9, 8.67 K/BB, 7.0 IP/GS

A 26-year-old former ninth-round pick out of Florida’s Stetson University, deGrom was a marginal prospect at best coming into the year. But he turned in a quality start in each of his first four major league outings and rebounded from a three-start swoon in early June to become the Mets’ best pitcher since the middle of that month. Over his last six starts, deGrom is 4-1 with a 1.59 ERA and 10.2 strikeouts per nine innings.

A lanky righty with an impressive head of hair, deGrom throws in the mid-90s with a sinker, an effective slider and curve and a changeup he learned from Johan Santana. With Owings out of action, it would seem the only things standing between deGrom and this award are Hamilton and a potential innings limit.

4. Tommy Kahnle, RHP, Rockies (3)

Season Stats: 2-1, 2.80 ERA, 1.08 WHIP, 7.2 K/9, 1.83 K/BB, 1.4 IP/G, 152 ERA+

Last Three Weeks: 0-0, 5.40 ERA, 1.32 WHIP, 9.7 K/9, 3.00 K/BB, 1.4 IP/G

The final two spots in this race are of little consequence. Kahnle is here as the best of a small crop of relievers including the Mets’ Jeurys Familia and the Braves' David Hale, among others. As has been the case for most of the year, Kahnle gets the nod for succeeding in the hostile environment of Coors Field and for his ability to get more than three outs per appearance (something he has done in 24 of his 38 outings). Kahnle’s last three weeks were bookended by a pair of ERA-inflating performances, but the more significant trend has been a steady improvement in his peripherals that bodes well for the 24-year-old Rule 5 pick’s continued success.

5. David Peralta, OF, Diamondbacks

Season Stats: .325/.354/.481, 3 HR, 19 RBI

Last Three Weeks: .327/.365/.531, 0 HR, 8 RBI, 3 3B

Like deGrom, Peralta is a 26-year-old who was a non-prospect. He was signed out of his native Venezuela by the Cardinals as a pitcher, but after two seasons of rookie ball, he was sidelined by a pair of shoulder surgeries and released in 2009 having not pitched since ‘07. Out of baseball entirely in 2010, Peralta reinvented himself as a power-hitting outfielder and began playing in the independent leagues in 2011 at the age of 23, where the Diamondbacks finally noticed and signed him last July.

Peralta raked in High A over the remainder of last season and in Double A early this year before Arizona’s rash of outfield injuries created a vacuum that sucked him up to the major leagues, where has once again done nothing but hit. Mark Trumbo's return from the disabled list has pushed Peralta to center, giving the Diamondbacks one of the worst defensive outfields in the majors despite the presence of Gerardo Parra in right. But the move hasn’t cooled Peralta’s bat.

Off the list: Gregory Polanco, Eric Campbell

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