The past week has seen top prospects Anthony Rizzo, Trevor Bauer and Martin Perez called up to the Cubs, Diamondbacks and Rangers, respectively, but that doesn't necessarily mean more competition for the Rookie of the Year awards.
Beyond the fact that Rizzo isn't even a rookie (he lost his status with the Padres last year), no winner of the Rookie of the Year award in the last 30 years made his season debut later than the end of May. Ryan Braun and Buster Posey, the National League winners in 2007 and 2010, respectively, both debuted in their team's 48th game in those seasons (May 25 for Braun, May 29 for Posey). Bauer, who is making his major league debut on Thursday, is starting the Diamondbacks' 75th game. That's not close, and with strong candidates atop the lists in both leagues, Bauer and Perez would seem to have little hope of claiming the hardware.
Note: 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 each player's name reflects his rank on the previous list. All stats are through Wednesday, June 27. League leaders are in bold, major league leaders in bold italics.
1. Wade Miley, LHP, Diamondbacks (1)
Season Stats: 9-3, 2.19 ERA, 1.01 WHIP, 6.4 K/9 3.56 K/BB, 6.8 IP/GS
Last Four Starts: 3-1, 1.17 ERA, 0.65 WHIP, 8.2 K/9, 14.00 K/BB, 7.7 IP/GS
Coming off a string of four dominant outings, captured in the bottom line above, Miley isn't just the best rookie pitcher in baseball, he's one of the best, period. With Brandon Beachy out for the year following Tommy John surgery and Ryan Dempster back on the disabled list, Miley leads all active, qualified major league pitchers in ERA and is fourth in the NL in WHIP (again, not counting Beachy). Last week, I listed him as the fourth best pitcher in the NL in my Cy Young rankings, and in his one start since then he held the Cubs to one run on three hits and a walk while striking out seven over eight innings.
Miley hasn't allowed more than one run or pitched fewer than seven innings in any of his last four starts and has walked just two men and allowed just one home run against 28 strikeouts over that stretch. He's gone from good to dominant. The only question is how long can he keep it up.
2. Bryce Harper, CF, Nationals (2)
Season Stats: .281/.358/.483, 7 HR, 20 RBIs, 8 SB
Last Three Weeks: .274/.338/.425, 2 HR, 6 RBIs, 5 SB
With the All-Star voting coming to a close on Thursday, the big question surrounding Harper this week has been whether or not he deserves to make the team. I understand the appeals for his inclusion on the basis of his being a thrilling young talent and the All-Star Game being, at its heart, an exhibition of the game's most compelling players, but it's hard to make him fit on the roster. He clearly doesn't deserve to start, I'd go with Ryan Braun, Andrew McCutchen, and Carlos Beltran as my starting three, and doing that leaves Carlos Gonzalez (.333/.380/.605, 17 HR, 54 RBIs, 10 SB) and Melky Cabrera (.351/.391/.520, 10 SB) among those pushed to the bench.
Harper also has to get in line behind Giancarlo Stanton, Dexter Fowler, Matt Holliday, Jason Heyward and Andre Ethier. That Harper is arguably the 11th best outfielder in the National League at the age of 19 is incredible, and a good sign that he'll be an All-Star for years to come, but the only way he'd make my All-Star team is as an injury replacement (though with Braun and Ethier both out with injuries on Wednesday, that avenue just may open up for his inclusion).
3. Norichika Aoki, RF, Brewers (N/A)
Season Stats: .284/.352/.442, 4 HR, 14 RBIs, 10 SB
Last Three Weeks: .276/.360/.461, 3 HR, 7 RBIs, 8 SB
The 30-year-old Aoki was a star in Japan, a three-time batting champion and six-time gold glove-winning centerfielder for the Yukalt Swallows, but came to the majors this year off his worst professional season and spent most of April and early May as an extra out-fielder and pinch-hitter, starting just three games in April and not making his 10th major league start until May 18.
Just a few days after that, the Brewers started playing long-time rightfielder Cory Hart at first base, a position vacated first by the offseason departure of free-agent Prince Fielder, and then by in-house replacement Mat Gamel, who suffered a season-ending knee injury on May 1. Hart has since settled in at first, opening up rightfield for Aoki who has run with the opportunity, figuratively and literally, starting in 30 of his 32 appearances since May 21 and hitting .273/.345/.445 with 10 stolen bases in a dozen attempts over that span, moving into the leadoff spot in the Brewers' lineup in the process. That performance doesn't make Aoki much more than a league-average rightfielder, but it fills a big hole for the struggling Brewers.
4. Todd Frazier, 3B/LF, Reds (N/A)
Season Stats: .264/.329/.541, 7 HR, 22 RBIs
Last Three Weeks: .245/.322/.434, 1 HR, 7 RBIs
It was a question of when, not if, Frazier would have to fill in at third base for an oft-injured Scott Rolen this season. It turned out to be May 12, and like Aoki, Frazier took advantage of his opportunity, hitting .260/.322/.529 with six home runs and 19 RBIs in 31 games (28 starts) during Rolen's absence. That was the easy part. The more difficult thing is for the rookie to get Reds manager Dusty Baker to continue to write his name into the lineup now that Rolen is back. The current plan seems to be to give Frazier, who played five positions in the minors, some starts in leftfield and use him to give the fragile Rolen the occasional day off at third, but Frazier has out-hit both Rolen and regular leftfielder Ryan Ludwick on the season, and at some point should become the regular at one of those two positions. Not that he will, but he should.
5. Zack Cozart, SS, Reds (3)
Season Stats: .250/.295/.401, 7 HR, 15 RBIs
Last Three Weeks: .264/.303/.347, 1 HR, 1 RBIs
Cozart hasn't driven in another batter since June 3, which looks bad until you note that he's led off all but one of the intervening 18 games meaning the vast majority of his plate appearances have come with no one on base or following a pitcher's turn at bat. On the season, he has hit with just 69 percent as many men on base as the average major leaguer with the same number of plate appearances, and less than half as many men on third.
As to why Cozart is leading off despite his sub-.300 on-base percentage and general lack of stolen bases (he has two in as many attempts on the season), only Baker knows for sure, though Reds fans should be accustomed to that sort of self-defeating use of the leadoff spot given Baker's previous experiments with Corey Patterson, Willy Taveras and Orlando Cabrera in that spot. You can't blame Cozart for that. Rather, credit him for being an above-average defensive shortstop with an average bat for his position, enough to keep him on the list in a shallow NL field.
Off the list: Kirk Niewenhuis (4), Wilin Rosario (5)
1. Mike Trout, CF, Angels (1)
Season Stats:.344/.402/.532, 7 HR, 30 RBIs, 21 SB
Last Three Weeks: .377/.434/.520, 2 HR, 8 RBIs, 12 SB
Trout now has enough at-bats to qualify for the batting title and is leading the AL in that category by 11 points. He's also leading the league in stolen bases, is third in on-base percentage, and in the top 10 in runs scored with 47. He's running away with this award and is a legitimate candidate for the league's Most Valuable Player hardware, putting him in the running to join Fred Lynn and Ichiro Suzuki as the only men ever to win both awards in the same year. He shouldn't just make the All-Star team, he should start (in between Josh Hamilton and teammate Mark Trumbo). He's one of the best baseball players on the planet. Need more proof? Check out this ridiculous catch he made on Wednesday to rob J.J. Hardy of a home run, then remind yourself that the man who made that catch was a 20-year-old rookie with the above batting line. That's not an Angels jersey, that's a cape.
2. Yu Darvish, RHP, Rangers (2)
Season Stats:10-4, 3.57 ERA, 1.38 WHIP, 10.0 K/9, 2.12 K/BB, 6.4 IP/GS
Last Four Starts: 3-1, 4.45 ERA, 1.20 WHIP, 10.5 K/9, 2.75 K/BB, 7.1 IP/GS
Darvish is tied for the league lead in wins and is third in strikeouts with 106, but the former doesn't mean much, and the later has been undermined by the fourth-highest walk total in the majors (50). Darvish pitches for a very good Texas team that gives him a ton of run support (7.71 runs per game, the 11th highest average in the majors), but since the end of April he has posted 4.31 ERA (still good for a 6-4 record) and just half of his 10 starts have been quality.
Three weeks ago, Darvish gave up six runs in 5 1/3 innings to the weak-hitting A's in their pitching-friendly ballpark. After that start he admitted to feeling some fatigue, perhaps a result of pitching on shorter rest than he was used to in Japan. The Rangers pushed back his next start, giving him seven days of rest, time enough for an extra bullpen to clean up his mechanics, and Darvish allowed just two runs over eight innings in each of his next two starts while striking out 19 against five walks. Those starts came against the lowly Astros and Padres, however, the latter at pitching-friendly Petco Park, and though his peripherals remained strong against the Tigers in his last outing (10 Ks, 1 BB) and the Rangers scored seven runs for him, he allowed four runs in seven innings. The aggregate is still an impressive showing for a rookie pitching his home games in Arlington, but the expectations for Darvish were higher.
3. Will Middlebrooks, 3B, Red Sox (5)
Season Stats: .310/.345/.555, 9 HR, 36 RBIs
Last Three Weeks: .286/.345/.551, 3 HR, 13 RBIs
Three weeks ago, I wrote about how significant it was that Middlebrooks was actually forcing the Red Sox to shuffle stars Kevin Youkilis and Adrian Gonzalez around the diamond in order to keep him in the lineup. On Sunday, the Red Sox came up with a permanent solution to that problem by trading Youkilis to the White Sox and handing Middlebrooks the third base job outright, thus completing Middlebrooks' Wally-Pipping of one of Boston's favorite players.
What's most impressive about that is that it was the right move. Youkilis is 33, increasingly fragile and not worth the $13 million option the Sox held on him for next season. Middlebrooks is 23, under team control for at least five more years and, in part due to Youkilis's decline, already the better player. Middlebrooks hit .292/.336/.521 between Double- and Triple-A over the last two years, a good indication that his lines above represent his actual skill level. He likely won't ever replicate Youkilis's on-base numbers, but he's a far better fielder at the hot corner. The only reason he's behind Darvish on this list is his relative lack of playing time.
4. Jarod Parker, RHP, A's (4)
Season Stats: 4-3, 2.57 ERA, 1.21 WHIP, 7.1 K/9, 1.61 K/BB, 6.1 IP/GS
Last Four Starts: 2-1, 2.88 ERA, 1.20 WHIP, 8.3 K/9, 1.92 K/BB, 6.3 IP/GS
Parker has made just 12 starts to Darvish's 15 and Wei-Yin Chen's 14, his walk rate of 4.4 walks per nine innings pitched is nearly as bad as Darvish's 4.7 BB/9, and he pitches in a far friendlier home ballpark, but that 2.57 ERA is hard to deny. Parker has had just two poor starts all season, and both have been followed by three extremely stingy outings. On May 18, he gave up six runs in two innings to the Giants. Over his next three starts, he allowed just one run in 21 innings while striking out 18. On June 9, he allowed six runs in five innings to his former team, the Diamondbacks. In three starts since then, he has allowed just two runs in 20 innings while striking out 19.
5. Wei-Yin Chen, LHP, Orioles (3)
Season Stats: 7-3, 3.38 ERA, 1.31 WHIP, 6.4 K/9, 2.26 K/BB, 6.1 IP/GS
Last Four Starts: 3-1, 2.49 ERA, 1.26 WHIP, 5.0 K/9, 2.80 K/BB, 6.3 IP/GS
Twins righthander Scott Diamond and Tigers outfielder Quentin Berry lack the playing time to crack this week's list, leaving the final spot to Taiwanese Nippon Professional Baseball veteran Chen, who has alternated quality and non-quality starts since the middle of May. The good news is that the non-quality starts have been better each time, going from six runs allowed to five to four to three (one unearned) in five innings. I suspect he's found his level as a pitcher with an ERA in the mid-threes who can deliver a quality start a hair more than half the time. That's a solid mid-rotation lefty, which is roughly what Chen's contract ($11.09 million over three years plus a $4.75 million option) says the Orioles expected him to be.