Previously unknown, Coghlan and Bailey took unique paths to honors
Forget for a moment that
Instead, the announcement that Bailey and Coghlan have been honored as the top rookies in their respective leagues should come as a pleasing reminder of the egalitarian nature of this award. They might not be the most glamorous choices, but they are deserving choices and that is all that really matters. In a deep crop of contenders in both leagues that included both highly touted position players (
It's too soon to know whether Coghlan or Bailey are headed for numerous accolades, or whether they have just received the only honor they'll ever be remembered for, but we do know that these victories will go a long way toward increasing their name recognition. Whoever wins the Cy Young and Most Valuable Player awards in the days ahead, it will undoubtedly be players of more established pedigrees who have all the cachet that Coghlan and Bailey lack. In a sense, that makes these first awards far more exciting, because they were so difficult to predict before, during and after the season, and they are going to a pair of previously unknown players whose stories are so unique for winners of such a major prize.
Coghlan didn't even reach the majors until early May, whereupon he was quickly switched from second base, where he had played 246 of his 288 career games as a professional, to left field, where he had played exactly once since Little League. That one game came on May 7 for Triple-A New Orleans. Even though he didn't have a single chance in the outfield that day, he must have made quite the impression, for he was summoned to the majors the next day and after making his debut at his more familiar second base, shifted to left field for good on May 10. He remained there the rest of the season, finishing fifth among all NL left fielders in putouts, sixth in zone rating and sixth in total chances.
But where Coghlan really shined -- and where he won the award -- was at the plate. He batted .321, the third-highest average in the league from his May 8 debut through the end of the season, and eighth-highest in the majors from that point on (only
Bailey's ascension may have been even more surprising. He had pitched just one game in Triple-A (back in 2007) and was a starter until midway through the 2008 season. In fact, he had never saved even one game in three minor league seasons, and he entered spring training unlikely to make the team. Yet not only was he still with the club as the season began, he didn't spend a single day in the minor leagues. He took over as closer in May and was so effective that by July he had been tapped for the All-Star team. He finished the year with 26 saves, a 1.84 ERA and better than one strikeout per inning. He allowed opponents just a .167 average with runners in scoring position, including .081 with two outs and runners in scoring position. Not bad for a guy from Wagner College who spent five consecutive summers interning in the finance industry.
Speaking of finances, both Coghlan and Bailey have added value to their cash-strapped franchises by being so good at so little cost (obviously, neither is anywhere close to being eligible for either arbitration or free agency). The Marlins and A's have the lowest payrolls in their respective leagues, and Coghlan and Bailey can do much to boost the team's chances at winning without compromising their bottom line. At the same time, their talents and intriguing personal narratives can only help increase their popularity among fan bases that ranked last (Oakland) and next-to-last (Florida) in the majors in attendance.
Most importantly, they are good enough to help the Marlins and A's build winning teams. In Coghlan, the Marlins have a dangerous hitter who gets on base and can be expected to improve defensively as he continues his on-the-job training. The Marlins have already parted ways with
Part of the intrigue that accompanies the Rookie of the Year winners is less about knowing who they are as players right now and more about the speculating about what type of player they will become. Sometimes the talent reaches full bloom in its first season and then withers. Indeed, for every future Hall of Famer like Ichiro and Pujols, the ROY roster is littered with numerous forgettables like
In winning Rookie of the Year, the answer to both is a resounding yes.