The last couple of weeks, we looked at the top contenders for the Cy Young Awards and Most Valuable Player Award races in the American and National Leagues.
This time around, my focus is Rookies of the Year.
In the Senior Circuit, the situation is not unlike the MVP race, in that there is a clear front-runner, but the AL winner may come down to the wire.
Like Kris Bryant of the Chicago Cubs seems a shoo-in for the NL MVP, Dodgers shortstop Corey Seager looks to be in the driver’s seat for the league’s top first-year player honors. In fact, Seager is the only rookie to receive serious mention in the MVP race, with an fWAR for the season second among all NL players, behind only Bryant (7.6 to 8.4).
Three other National League middle infielders should also receive respectable vote totals. Colorado’s Trevor Story got off to a very impressive start, but just as with St. Louis’ Aledmys Diaz, injuries slowed their first-year impact. Story was done for the year at the end of July, but by then amassed 27 home runs, while Diaz is being eased back into action late in the season.
Trea Turner of the Nationals took awhile to stick, but once he did, Washington added a plus bat and a player who can cover second and short as well as center field. Had Turner arrived in April and played this well all year long, it could have been a two-horse race with Seager.
The top NL rookie pitchers are imports. Kenta Maeda of the Dodgers does not blow hitters away, but mastered four pitches he can locate on demand and has already won 16 games. Seung-hwan Oh of St. Louis had over 300 career saves in Korea and Japan, but was setting up until Cardinals closer Trevor Rosenthal ran into injury and inefficiency. Since taking over the ninth in late July, Oh has been lights-out.
The American League Rookie of the Year race looks to be a toss-up.
In the first half, the award seemed headed for the engraver with Michael Fulmer’s name on it. The 23-year-old right-hander has faded since the break, but is still leading the league with his 2.95 ERA.
Now, the momentum is with Yankees catcher Gary Sanchez. As Hall of Famer Greg Maddux once famously said, “Chicks dig the long ball.” Despite having played in just 49 games this season and not becoming a regular until August, Sanchez has 20 home runs, reaching that mark faster than any player in MLB history. I think that is the 23-year-old’s ticket to the award.
In another year, Seattle closer Edwin Diaz could and perhaps should win. Despite not getting as much attention in the Northwest, the 22-year-old has fanned a whopping 82 in just 48 1/3 innings and saved 17 of 20 opportunities.
Two other early AL contenders have also fallen off a bit as the season wore on, but have bright careers ahead. Both are outfielders – Texas’ Nomar Mazara and Cleveland’s Tyler Naquin.
My prediction is that Seager will be the 2016 National League Rookie of the Year, with the controversial majority choice of Sanchez edging out Fulmer for the American League honor.
Brian Walton was the 2009 National League Tout Wars champion, scoring the most points in the league’s 17-year history. He also holds the all-time NL Tout single-season records for wins and saves. His work can also be found daily at TheCardinalNation.com and thecardinalnationblog.com. Follow Brian on Twitter.