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Friday, June 15, 2012

Early Thoughts on the 2012 AL Rookie of the Year Race

While still early, the 2012 major league baseball season is now more than a third over, and many rookies have made intentions about being up to stay clear through their play. It’s never too early to start speculating about the Rookie of the Year race, and the American League has a number of impressive candidates. Not only are these rookies putting up excellent numbers, but they are also making crucial contributions to the pennant hopes of their respective teams. I have gone through who I believe are the current front runners and put them in ranked order. Although my order may change as the season goes on, indications are good that these players represent the next generation of stars for the AL.

1. Mike Trout- Outfielder- Los Angeles Angels: Despite the excellent production from the other players on this list, Trout is currently the top rookie in the league by a healthy margin. Having been described as the closest thing to a young Mickey Mantle is a testament to how impressive Trout truly has been this season. In 42 games he is hitting .341 with 6 home runs, 26 RBI, and 16 stolen bases, all while playing breathtaking defense in center field. The Angels, who started this year in miserable fashion, were rejuvenated when Trout was summoned from the minors in late April, and have made up an impressive amount of ground on the front running Texas Rangers.

2. Felix Doubront- Pitcher- Boston Red Sox: Coming out of spring training there was uncertainty if Doubront would even make the team, let alone the starting rotation. Thus, it is more than a little surprising that he has been the most consistent starter for the frustrating and injury-bitten Red Sox. In 13 starts he has posted a 7-3 record with a 4.17 ERA. Most surprisingly are the 81 strikeouts he has collected in his 73.1 innings. He has commanded his low 90’s fastball better than his previous major league stints and has developed more bite on his slider, giving him swing and miss ability. Almost overnight his ceiling looks like it has increased from a long man/end of rotation starter to a solid number 3. 

3. Yu Darvish- Pitcher- Texas Rangers: Like all other super hyped players who have come from Japan, Darvish arrived in Arlington with huge expectations. Although he has had some rough moments, particularly with his control, he has mostly lived up to his big contract and assumed his place at the head of the Rangers’ starting rotation. He is 7-4 in 12 starts, with a 3.72 ERA. His 77 strikeouts have been offset by the 44 walks he has allowed, but his pure stuff has gotten him out of trouble more often than not. It will be interesting to see if he can maintain or even improve his performance as the long, hot Texas summer wears on. If he can, the Rangers are good bets to make a return to the World Series and place Darvish on baseball’s biggest stage.

4. Wei-Yin Chen- Pitcher- Baltimore Orioles: Chen represents something the Orioles have seemingly lacked for years; a competent starting pitcher. He doesn’t have overwhelming stuff, but is a battler and keeps his team in games. The Taiwanese lefty has been a big part of the Orioles’ hot start, going 6-2, with a 3.68 ERA in 12 starts. He doesn’t profile as an ace of the future, but should settle nicely into the midst of the Baltimore rotation, as the team hopes the likes of Dylan Bundy and Brian Matusz develop into their bulls.

5. Addison Reed- Pitcher- Chicago White Sox: Any pitcher who approaches 100 mph with their fastball are bound to garner attention, but Reed has been a bit of an enigma. In college he was overshadowed by his teammate Stephen Strasburg, and in Chicago, power lefty Chris Sale gets a lot of the attention. Despite the lack of adulation, Reed quickly worked his way through the minors and this year has stepped into the closer role in Chicago for a team that has surprised baseball by bounding out of the gate in first place in the Al Central. In 24 relief appearances he has converted all seven of his save opportunities. His 4.35 ERA is inflated by one bad outing he had in May against the Royals, where he gave up 6 earned runs in one inning. Without that game his season ERA would be a sparkling 1.88. He has effectively closed the door in the 9th inning for the White Sox, and if they end up making the post season he will be a major reason for their success.
      Honorable Mention: Jarrod Parker, Drew Smyly, Yoenis Cespedes, Will Middlebrooks

Can these rookies keep it up? As the season moves along, will they fade or will they turn it up another notch? Such questions are great reasons to keep watching to see who ends up at the top of the heap and who can help their team get into the postseason. Regardless of such outcomes, the American League has a bumper crop of 2012 rookies and they are a major reason to keep watching the rest of the season.


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