Last week I outlined how the American League Rookie of the Year race is shaping up and now it’s the National League’s turn. While the NL has also introduced a strong crop of rookies this year, the level of production has not been quite as high as their AL counterparts. Bryce Harper has gotten the lion’s share of the attention, but he is not alone when it comes to the young talent making their mark. With so many of these rookies playing pivotal roles for playoff contenders, their continued success will be crucial in determining if their team is playing come October. My top 2012 NL rookies to date are as follows:
1. Bryce Harper- Outfielder- Washington Nationals: This shouldn't come as a surprise, as Harper has been one of the more ballyhooed prospects in recent memory and has so far lived up the hype. Not only is he the rookie who has had the most impact in the NL, but he has done so as a 19 year old. Having been on the baseball radar since he was literally a middle school student, he has done a remarkable job of living up to the massive expectations heaped on his shoulders at such a young age. Not only has he done a fine job playing all over the Washington outfield, but he has hit .287 in 47 games, with a .875 OPS, 7 home runs, and 20 RBI, while taking walks and limiting his strikeouts a little more than many expected. Most believed that he was capable of big numbers, but few can claim that they thought he would be playing with such control and poise this early in his major league career. His play will be even more important if Stephen Strasburg is shut down in August as currently planned, and could be a key factor in determining whether or not the Nats make the playoffs.
2. Randall Delgado- Pitcher- Atlanta Braves: Delgado has consistently been placed third by talent evaluators when discussing the trio of fellow young Brave pitchers, which includes Julio Teheran and Arodys Vizcaino. However, it is Delgado who has enjoyed the most major league success to date. Just 22, the right-handed Panamanian has settled in as a mainstay in the middle of the Atlanta rotation. In 13 starts he has gone 4-7 with a 4.12 ERA. He has been hurt at times by his inconsistent control, as evidenced by the 37 walks he has issued in 74.1 innings, but his 60 strikeouts and 62 hits allowed are all encouraging signs of good things to come if he continues to develop and adjust. Now that Brandon Beachy is out for the remainder of the season, Atlanta will lean even more heavily on Delgado.
3. Wilin Rosario- Catcher- Colorado Rockies: On one hand it’s difficult to get excited over a hitter with a .274 OBP, but on the other, when that player is a 23 year old catcher on pace for 26 home runs, you have to take notice. Rosario is hitting .238 in 46 games, with 11 home runs and 32 RBI, making him one of the top offensive catchers in the majors. But with only 7 walks, he clearly needs to develop more plate discipline. The good news is that his production has not been inflated by Coors Field, as he sports a .295/.333/.590 line on the road. Rosario currently leads the NL with 9 passed balls, but has otherwise shown solid defensive skills while catching perhaps the worst pitching staff in the majors. With the Rockies languishing 16 games back in the NL West, Rosario should get plenty of playing time the rest of the way.
4. Kirk Nieuwenhuis- Outfielder- New York Mets: The loss of Jose Reyes and the disappointing production from Jason Bay and Ike Davis has made a punchless Mets’ offense even more meager in 2012. Fortunately they have received an unexpected contribution from the big left-handed hitting Nieuwenhuis, who has played all over their outfield and more than held his own at the plate. In 68 games he is hitting .284 with 6 home runs and 24 RBI. His numbers may not be setting any records, but the versatility he affords the Mets in playing all three outfield positions and hit all over the lineup has made him extremely valuable and helped keep them in playoff contention.
5. Zach Cozart-Shortstop- Cincinnati Reds: Many evaluators pegged Cozart as a frontrunner for this year’s rookie of the year before the season started. He has never profiled as a potential star, but rather is regarded as a solid player who can do a little of everything. His 2012 season has personified that reputation. Playing great defense shortstop for the first place Reds, Cozart has also shown a little pop at the plate, smacking 7 home runs in 65 games. He is hitting a modest .262 with 57 strikeouts, but has proven to be a capable starter in the competitive NL Central.
Honorable Mention: Todd Frazier, Jared Hughes, Norichika Aoki, Jordan Pacheco, Matt Carpenter
Like their AL counterparts, the 2012 crop of NL rookies boasts some impressive players; some of whom are major factors in their respective teams’ pennant hopes. Whereas the AL youngsters have been dominated by pitchers, the NL group has been defined by position players. The true test of their abilities will come as it gets deeper into the season and it is determined if they can sustain or improve their production, and possibly help their teams into the playoffs; all of which I am looking forward to seeing the final results.
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