Tanaka cruising in AL rookie race while weak NL field gets a boost

Thursday June 12th, 2014

Jose Abreu is trying to close the ground he lost to Masahiro Tanaka while on the disabled list.
Alex Gallardo/AP

Just three of the previous 134 Rookies of the Year made their major league debut in or after June, but this year's National League rookie field is so weak that this year's winner could very easily become the fourth. Pirates rightfielder Gregory Polanco, who was called up on Tuesday and has since gone 2-for-10 without an extra-base hit or a walk, has as much of a chance at the award as the leader on my list below. So does a prospect like Marlins lefty Andrew Heaney, who hasn't even been called up yet. Things couldn't be more different in the American League, where foreign veterans Masahiro Tanaka and Jose Abreu are leading a very deep rookie class with a pair of unprecedented rookie performances.

Note: All stats are through Wednesday, June 11. 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: 10-1, 2.02 ERA, 0.94 WHIP, 9.9 K/9, 7.36 K/BB, 7.2 IP/GS, 2 CG, 1 SHO, 201 ERA+

Last Three Weeks: 4-0, 1.21 ERA, 0.88 WHIP, 9.1 K/9, 5.00 K/BB, 7.4 IP/GS, 1 CG

Tanaka is one of the best pitchers in baseball, period. If the season ended today, the 25-year-old would be as obvious a choice for the Cy Young Award as he would for Rookie of the Year honors; no American Leaguer has ever won both in the same season. No pitcher in either league has even ever won both in a non-strike year (the Dodgers' Fernando Valenzuela did so in 1981).

2. Jose Abreu, 1B, White Sox (3)

Season Stats: .270/.323/.627, 19 HR, 50 RBI

Last Three Weeks: .323/.382/.806, 4 HR, 8 RBI

Abreu was on the disabled list with ankle tendinitis when Awards Watch last checked in on the rookie races. Since being activated on June 2, he has hit four home runs in eight games and seven of his 10 hits have gone for extra bases. It's a testament to how good Tanaka has been this season that he's the obvious leader in this race despite the fact that the 27-year-old Abreu is on pace to break the rookie home run record of 49, set by Mark McGwire in 1987. If Abreu avoids further injury and continues to hit home runs at the pace that he has through his first 52 major league games, he'll hit 54 this season in just 148 games. The only player ever to hit that many home runs in fewer than 150 games was Babe Ruth in 1920.

3. George Springer, RF, Astros

Season Stats: .258/.349/.500, 12 HR, 36 RBI

Last Three Weeks: .295/.392/.738, 8 HR, 21 RBI

Speaking of home run paces, after going homerless in his first 19 games, the 24-year-old Springer has hit 12 in just 29 games. That's a 67-homer pace over a full season. Even after factoring in his delayed promotion (he made his debut in the Astros' 15th game of the season), Springer is on pace to hit 35 home runs in 139 games.

4. Yangervis Solarte, 3B, Yankees (2)

Season Stats: .288/.360/.442, 6 HR, 28 RBI

Last Three Weeks: .227/.282/.333, 1 HR, 4 RBI

That line from the last three weeks suggests that Solarte's small-sample success has run its course, but it's actually a bit misleading. He slumped badly in the second half of May, but in his last dozen games, he has hit .310/.370/.476, and he has still struck out just two more times than he has walked on the season. Credit the Yankees for sticking with the 26-year-old through that slump. Solarte may still be finding his level, and it may yet prove to be that of a major league regular.

5. Xander Bogaerts, SS/3B, Red Sox (5)

Season Stats: .278/.367/.422, 5 HR, 17 RBI

Last Three Weeks: .271/.340/.459, 3 HR, 9 RBI

Bogaerts appeared to lock in at the plate starting in mid-May, hitting .362/.429/.596 over a 23-game span from May 14 to June 7, one that straddled his shift from shortstop to third base in the wake of Stephen Drew's return. However, the 21-year-old, who is by far the youngest of the five men on this list, has gone 0-for-16 over the last four days.

Off the list: Yordano Ventura

Jacob deGrom sports a 5-5 record, 2.79 ERA, 1/26 WHIP and 83 strikeouts in 87 innings this season.
Bill Kostroun/AP

National League

1. Chris Owings, SS, Diamondbacks (1)

Season Stats: .270/.309/.431, 5 HR, 18 RBI, 6 SB

Last Three Weeks: .258/.288/.484, 3 HR, 11 RBI

How slim is the National League rookie field so far? Owings, a slick fielder who has not been caught stealing all year, has been the best rookie in the league by a fair margin . . . and is losing his grip on his job. The 22-year-old Owings has started just six of the Diamondbacks' last 10 games. Didi Gregorius, a 24-year-old sophomore and Owings' predecessor at short, has made the others and gone 6-for-16 with two home runs after hitting .310/.389/.447 in Triple A.

2. Jacob deGrom, RHP, Mets

Season Stats: 0-3, 3.44 ERA, 1.25 WHIP, 7.9 K/9, 2.00 K/BB, 6.1 IP/GS, 102 ERA+

Last Three Weeks: 0-1, 3.80 ERA, 1.39 WHIP, 8.4 K/9, 2.00 K/BB, 5.9 IP/GS

deGrom, who will turn 26 next Thursday, is tied for first among NL rookies in starts (six) and is second in innings pitched (36⅔). His first four starts were quality and the last two have missed by one run and one out, respectively.

3. David Hale, RHP, Braves (2)

Season Stats: 2-0, 1.93 ERA, 1.21 WHIP, 4.1 K/9, 1.12 K/BB, 191 ERA+

Last Three Weeks: 1-0, 3.52 ERA, 1.30 WHIP, 0.0 K/9, ∞ K/BB

After posting a 2.31 ERA in four starts while keeping Mike Minor's spot in the Atlanta rotation warm, the 26-year-old Hale made a dozen scoreless relief appearances for the Braves, allowing just one of his six inherited runners to score over that span. Since the calendar flipped to June, however, he has allowed three runs in three innings as well as all three of his inherited runners to score. He also hasn't struck out a batter in any of his last nine appearances and has just two strikeouts in his last 16⅓ innings.

4. Chase Anderson, RHP, Diamondbacks

Season Stats: 5-0, 3.14 ERA, 1.15 WHIP, 6.9 K/9, 3.14 K/BB, 5.7 IP/GS, 119 ERA+ (28⅔ IP, 5 GS)

Last Three Weeks: 3-0, 2.00 ERA, 1.17 WHIP, 7.0 K/9, 3.50 K/BB, 6.0 IP/GS

Anderson is yet another 26-year-old righty, albeit one with an excellent changeup, who has allowed more than two earned runs in just one of his five starts for the Diamondbacks. Anderson's presence on this list may lead some to wonder about the status of Arizona's top prospect, fellow righthanded starter Archie Bradley. Bradley started the season with two solid starts, but, after his fifth turn, he landed on the disabled list with a flexor strain in his pitching elbow and a 5.18 ERA. Arizona hopes he can return to action by the end of the month, which means he's unlikely to reach the majors before August and is thus unlikely to be a factor even in this unimpressive class.

5. Tommy Kahnle, RHP, Rockies (4)

Season Stats: 2-1, 1.89 ERA, 1.02 WHIP, 5.9 K/9, 1.47 K/BB, 227 ERA+ (33⅓ IP, 25 G)

Last Three Weeks: 0-0, 1.93 ERA, 0.96 WHIP, 4.8 K/9, 1.67 K/BB

Aaron Barrett, Jeurys Familia, Brian Schlitter, Blake Treinen ... take your pick of NL rookie relievers with handsome ERAs and middling-to-poor peripherals for this last spot. Barrett, who was third on my list last week, has the best ERA but also the fewest innings pitched of that bunch and has allowed 53 percent of his inherited runners to score this season. Treinen has a 1.42 WHIP. I'll take 24-year-old Rule 5 pick Kahnle, who has more innings pitched (33⅓) than the other four, has recorded four or more outs in 15 of his 25 appearances, and has succeeded despite playing his home games in Coors Field. As for Billy Hamilton, the only NL rookie other than Owings to qualify for the batting or ERA titles to this point in the season, it says a lot about how poor his season has been (.290 on-base percentage, a league-leading seven times caught stealing) that he couldn't crack this list.

Off the list: Aaron Barrett, Billy Hamilton

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