Last season, the American League rookie crop was…well….kinda weak. The award ended up being won by pitcher Jeremy Hellickson of the Rays, due in part to his 2.95 ERA and 13 wins. His overall peripherals weren’t overly impressive (117 strikeouts, 72 walks, and 21 homers in 189 innings), but the conventional stats won him the award over Michael Pineda of the Mariners, who had an ERA a run worse than Hellickson’s and a 9-10 record, but was worth two wins more (3.4 for Pineda compared to 1.4 for Hellickson) and had vastly better strikeout and walk rates. The 2012 crop of rookies doesn’t look so hot, due in part to hot rookies (Dustin Ackley, Desmond Jennings, Brett Lawrie) losing their eligibility last season, but not playing enough to win the award. But we’ve got a few to look at, with a trio at the top that could have an impact on their teams for years to come.
Favorites: Matt Moore looks to give the Rays their second straight Rookie of the Year. He’ll open the season in the rotation for the Rays, a year after striking out 210 hitters in 155 innings in AA and AAA. Mike Trout of the Angels won’t start the year in the majors, but could end up there quickly, especially if Vernon Wells and/or Torii Hunter struggle for Los Angeles. The 20 year-old Trout had a .958 OPS in AA last season and stole 33 bases in 91 games. Jesus Montero of the Mariners was one of the top prospects in the Yankees sytem before being dealt for Pineda, and he’ll be Seattle’s starting DH this year. The 22 year-old spent the last two years at AAA for New York, and hit a total of 39 homers with an OPS above .800 each season. There’s also Yu Darvish of the Rangers, not a rookie in age, but a rookie in major league experience. Similar to Hideo Nomo in 1995, Darvish is expected to immedaitely become a force in the Rangers rotation.
Dark Horses: The Rays have had a shortstop problem since dealing Jason Bartlett to the Rays, and it may be solved with Tim Beckham, the former number one overall pick. Beckham is only 22, and will start the year in AAA, where he finished up last season. He likely needs a full season there, but has steadily improved his game to the point where he might be a major league regular. Jarrod Parker was brought in by the A’s as part of the Trevor Cahill deal, and he may ready to roll right now in a major league rotation. After missing all of 2010 following Tommy John surgery, he spent 2011 in AA with a 3.79 ERA. I’ll also give some love to Ryan Lavarnway of the Red Sox, who is an absolute masher, but has questions on whether or not he can catch at the major league level. It’s not as if he’s blocked by a beast in Jarrod Saltalamacchia either.
Seattle Arms: The Mariners have a trio of pitching prospects who will start the year in AA. Danny Hultzen, chosen in last year’s drive, will likely move the fastest, and could end up in the Mariners rotation very quickly. James Paxton, a college arm chosen in 2010, finished the year in AA and also could move extremely quickly, especially at age 23. The final member of the trio is Taijuan Walker, a 19 year-old who struck out 113 in 96 2/3 innings in A-ball last year. Of the three, he’ll probably move the slowest.
The Pick: It has to be someone from the first three, and I’m going to go with Montero, just because he seems like the biggest sure thing of the group right now. Trout doesn’t have a starting job locked down, and Moore is a pitcher, who are generally more volatile. Thus, Montero is the pick. Penciling him in for 15-20 homers and an .800 OPS seems like a safe bet.