To be eligible for the Rookie of the Year award, a player must have less than 130 at-bats or 50 innings pitched and less than 45 days on the active roster. This means guys like Mike Trout, Desmond Jennings, Jason Kipnis and Brett Lawrie are not eligible for the award this season. Here are 20 guys who could contend for the award, broken down in four categories.
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Matt Moore, Rays, LHP, 22 (age)
Moore is the odds-on favorite to win the award in the American League. An eighth-round draft pick by the Rays in 2007, he went 12-3 across two levels in 2011 with a 1.92 ERA, 0.95 WHIP and 210 K/46 BB over 155 innings. He tossed a no-hitter on June 16, and would have lead the minors in total strikeouts for the third straight year if not for his September call-up. Over his five minor league seasons, he had a 2.64 ERA, 1.10 WHIP and a whopping 12.7 K/9 over 497.1 innings. He continued his dominance during his stint with the Rays, striking out 15 batters, to only three walks, over 9.1 innings, including 11 Yankees over five innings on September 22. Moore is a 6’-2”, 205 lb lefty who throws serious heat. His fastball tops out at 98 mph and sits comfortably in the mid-90s with ease. His curveball is filthy, and his change-up is still getting better. He has outstanding mound presence and brings another ace mentality to an always loaded Rays rotation.
Jesus Montero, Mariners, C/DH, 22
Montero made his power known on September 5 in an 11-10 win over the Orioles. He belted two opposite field home runs deep into the upper deck of Yankee Stadium, earning two curtain calls on the afternoon. The 6’-3”, 230 lb catcher was traded to the Mariners for starter Michael Pineda in the offseason in what was considered a win-win for both teams. The Mariners are loaded with pitching in their system, but lack a power bat. Montero will fill that role, albeit mostly at the DH position it appears. Aside from his enormous power, Montero is also a very good overall hitter with extremely quick wrists enabling him to catch up to any pitch. Over 489 minor-league games, he hit .308 with a slash line of .366/.501/.867.
Yu Darvish, Rangers, RHP, 25
Darvish was the top pitching prize of this year’s free-agent bonanza. The Rangers signed the Japanese sensation to a six-year, $60MM contract after paying a $51.7MM bid just to negotiate with the premier international prospect. The 6’-5”, 215 lb righty has incredible stuff, but the big question is if it will translate to the majors. Over his five years with the Nippon Ham Fighters of the Japan Pacific League, he went 76-28 with a 1.72 ERA, 0.89 WHIP and 1083 K/221 BB over 1024.1 innings, including a ridiculous 2011 in which he went 18-6 with a 1.44 ERA, 0.83 WHIP and 276 K/36 BB over 232 innings. His repertoire is loaded as he throws a four-seam fastball that hits 96 mph, a two-seamer with late break that hits 93 mph, a cutter that hits 92 mph, a mid-80s horizontal slider, a low-80s downward breaking slider and a low-70s curveball. With Japan using a six-man rotation, different mounds, and the fact the talent is much better here, no one knows how it will translate. Will he be more Hideo Nomo? Or more Daisuke Matsuzaka?
Yoenis Cespedes, Athletics, OF, 26
The A’s landed the highly touted Cuban prospect for four years at $36MM. Cespedes is a five-tool player but hasn’t faced the kind of competition he will at the major-league level, so expectations need to be taken down a notch. While he has the potential to be a .300, 30 HR, 100 RBI, and 15 SB type of player, his rookie season will be full of ups and downs as he adjusts. Still, the A’s appear willing to give him a chance to make the club out of spring training, so he should get enough at-bats to put up good numbers. A line of .260, 25 HR, 80 RBI and 15 SB is not far-fetched and would put him squarely in the discussion for Rookie of the Year talks. He hit .333 with 33 home runs, 99 RBI and 11 stolen bases over 90 games for the Cuban National Team last season, including a slash line of .424/.667/1.091. Experts say the level of competition is that of a class-A in the minors.
Jarrod Parker, Athletics, RHP, 23
Parker getting traded from the Diamondbacks to the A’s as part of the Trevor Cahill trade may be a blessing in disguise for the young hurler. While he goes from a team ready to contend in the National League, to a team trying to stay above water in the loaded AL West, he will get a chance to pitch now, instead of waiting in line in a very deep D-Backs stable of pitching prospects. Parker has overcome Tommy John surgery to remain one of the best prospects in the game. His fastball still touches 98 mph, and his Frisbee slider is a wipe-out pitch. His change-up and curve are both above average, and he has control of all four pitches. He made his major-league debut September 7 against the Dodgers, going 5.2 scoreless innings, giving up four hits. He also worked out of the bullpen for the Diamondbacks during the postseason.
Jacob Turner, Tigers, RHP, 20
Turner got rocked around by major-league hitters, posting an 8.53 ERA over 12 innings in 2011. The 20-year-old clearly wasn’t ready for the jump in competition yet, but fans in the Motor City shouldn’t start counting him out just yet as the talent is without question with Turner. His fastball is lethal and his command is off the charts for such a young age. The 6’-5”, 210 lb righty has a 3.36 ERA, 1.14 WHIP with 212 K/58 BB over 246.1 career minor-league innings. He can overpower you with his high-90s fastball, as well as induce groundouts, as evidenced by his 1.15 ground ball/fly ball ratio last season. His innings may be limited to around 150 or so, but he can do some damage if his confidence is there.
Brad Peacock, Athletics, RHP, 24
If Peacock earns a spot in the starting rotation out of spring training, he will definitely be one to watch this season. Acquired from the Nationals as part of the Gio Gonzalez trade, Peacock had one of the most dominant seasons by a pitcher in the minors last season. Split between double-A/triple-A, he went 15-3 with a 2.39 ERA, 0.99 WHIP and 177 K/47 BB over 146.2 innings. His 10.9 K/9 and opponents batting average of .188 ranked among the leaders. Over 12 innings with the Nationals, he went 2-0 with a 0.75 ERA. His curveball is his best weapon, and he uses it as his out pitch. His fastball sits in the mid-90s, but it doesn’t have a lot of movement.
Alex Liddi, Mariners, 3B, 23
Liddi, the first Italian born and raised player to play in the major leagues, will most likely split time with Chone Figgins at third base this season. The 6’-4”, 230 lb righty has a ton of power but still needs to work on his approach at the plate. As a 20-year-old in 2009, he hit .345 with 44 doubles, 23 home runs, 104 RBI, 10 stolen bases and a 1.004 OPS over 129 games at class-A High Desert. Last season, at triple-A Tacoma, he hit .259 with 30 home runs, 104 RBI over 138 games. He also struck out 170 times. With enough at-bats, he could launch 20 home runs and put his name in the conversation.
Leonys Martin, Rangers, OF, 23
Martin started last season at rookie ball, ended it in Texas. After tearing through three leagues, hitting .295 with four home runs, 42 RBI and 19 stolen bases over 73 games, he went 3-for-8 over eight games for the Rangers in September. The 6’-1”, 180 lb lefty is a major threat on the base paths and has excellent pitch recognition, striking out just 38 times to 27 walks over 343 minor-league plate appearances. With Josh Hamilton and Nelson Cruz constantly battling injuries, and Julio Borbon battling hamstrings last year, Martin could get significant playing time this year as he is able to play all three outfield positions.
Addison Reed, White Sox, RHP, 23
When the White Sox traded closer Sergio Santos to the Blue Jays in the off season, it opened the door for Reed to make his case for the role. Over four levels in 2011, he had a 1.26 ERA, 0.73 WHIP and 111 K/14 BB over 78.1 innings. His 12.8 K/9 and 8 K/BB show the potential he has to be a dominant closer. He primarily uses two pitches, an upper-90s fastball with late life, and a filthy slider he uses as another wipe out pitch. Over 7.1 innings with the White Sox last season, he overmatched opposing hitters, striking out 12, while walking just one. If he gets the closer role out of spring training, he could be the one to beat in 2012, like Craig Kimbrel last season.
Mike Montgomery, Royals, LHP, 23
While Montgomery’s 2011 stats of 5.32 ERA, 1.50 WHIP and 129 K/69 BB over 150.2 innings don’t seem all that great, you have to consider he was pitching in the Pacific Coast League, a league that inflates offensive numbers at a ridiculous clip. His 2010 season is more of a reflection of the type of pitcher the 6’-4” lefty is. The 2008 first-round pick of the Royals had a 2.61 ERA, 1.15 WHIP and 88 K/31 BB over 93 innings. His fastball sits in the mid-90s and has the potential to be a plus offering. His change-up is already considered plus, while his curveball is still developing. The Royals need starting pitching to add to their potent offense and Montgomery might get his shot in 2012.
Will Middlebrooks, Red Sox, 3B, 23
Kevin Youkilis is currently blocking Middlebrooks at third, but he could force his way into the lineup due to his offensive potential. Across three levels in 2011, he hit .285 with 23 home runs, 94 RBI, 10 stolen bases and an .834 OPS. The 6’-4”, 200 lb righty has all the tools to be an everyday third basemen and could get his chance this season.
Michael Choice, Athletics, OF, 22
Choice was the A’s first-round pick (10th overall) in the 2010 draft. The 6’-1”, 215 lb righty has prodigious power to all fields as well as a very good approach at the plate for his age. Over 118 games at class-A Stockton last season, he hit .285 with 30 home runs, 82 RBI, nine stolen bases and a .918 OPS. He struck out 134 times, but also drew 61 walks. He then went to the Arizona Fall League and hit .318 with six home runs, 18 RBI and a 1.090 OPS over 17 games. He struck out 12 times while drawing nine walks, again showing his advanced plate discipline. While he hasn’t played above class-A yet, he appears on the fast track to the majors and could get significant time in 2012 as the A’s have plenty of opportunities in their outfield.
Ryan Lavarnway, Red Sox, C, 24
Lavarnway is being blocked by Jarrod Saltalamacchia and Kelly Shoppach behind the plate in Boston. If either one of them gets injured, or struggles, he could step in and be a big offensive producer for them. Over 116 games across two levels in 2011, the 6’-4”, 225 lb righty hit .290 with 32 home runs, 93 RBI and a .939 OPS. He hit .231 over 39 at-bats with the Red Sox in 2011, with two home runs and eight RBI.
James Paxton, Mariners, LHP, 23
When the Mariners traded Pineda to the Yankees for slugger Montero, it opened the door for one of their young prospects to take his spot. Paxton, a 6’-4” power lefty, who was the team’s first-round pick in 2009, appears to be the most ready of the bunch. He posted a 2.37 ERA and 1.22 WHIP with 131 K/43 BB over 95 innings split between class-A/double-A last season. His 12.4K/9 show how dominant he can be. Both his upper-90s fastball and power curve are already plus pitches, and his change-up is developing at an alarming rate. The Mariners will be cautious with his arm, but if he logs around 120 innings at the major-league level in 2012, he could put up some gaudy numbers.
Long, long shots
Danny Hultzen, Mariners, RHP, 22
The American League West should be highly entertaining this year, as both the Angels and Rangers are both loaded in hitting and pitching and should battle each other to the end for the division crown. However, if the Mariners somehow stay close, they could take a gamble and bring up one of their future studs to help them join the battle. Hultzen was the second-overall pick in last year’s draft out of the University of Virginia where he left as the school’s all-time leader in strikeouts. He made his pro debut at the Arizona Fall League and dominated opposing hitters. He went 1-0 with a 1.40 ERA, 1.09 WHIP and had 18 strikeouts to just five walks over 19.1 innings. He mixes a plus-mid-90s fastball with late sink and a deceptive change-up that sits in the 82-85 mph range to keep hitters off balance. The change-up also rates as plus while his slider is above average and still developing. He has advanced command of all three pitches, but what sets him apart from the rest is his poise and instincts on the mound.
Manny Banuelos, Yankees, LHP, 20
The Yankees acquired both Pineda and Hiroki Kuroda in the offseason to add depth to their rotation, all but ruling out any chance of Banuelos getting a shot early. While he is young, you don’t make it to triple-A at age 20 without having outstanding stuff, as well as a mature feel for the game. His command was an issue last season as he had a 3.75 ERA, 1.55 WHIP with 125 K/71 BB over 129.2 innings across two levels. The 5’-11”, 160 lb lefty has three pitches that project to plus, and if he shows better command early, could get a bullpen role for the Yankees in 2012 with some spot starts thrown in.
Will Myers, Royals, OF, 21
After hitting .315 with 37 doubles, 14 home runs, 83 RBI, 12 stolen bases and a .934 OPS at single-A as a 19-year-old in 2010, Myers had a down 2011 as injuries caused his numbers to dip. Over 99 games at double-A, he hit just .254 with eight home runs, 49 RBI and a .745 OPS. The 6’-3”, 210 lb righty has tremendous plate discipline for his age, as evidenced by his 85 walks to 94 strikeouts over 126 games in 2010. He went to the Arizona Fall League this year, and finally fully healthy, hit .360 with 5 2B, 5 3B, 5 HR, 18 RBI over 23 games. He also drew 20 walks to 18 strikeouts. The Royals have young talent all over the field on the offensive side, if Myers can force his way into the lineup this year, he could be something special.
Drew Smyly, Tigers, LHP, 22
Smyly had a sensational pro debut last season after being a second-round pick by the Tigers out of the University of Arkansas. Over 126 innings across two levels, he had a 2.07 ERA, 1.10 WHIP with 130 K/36 BB. He even got better as the competition did, posting a 1.18 ERA, 1.03 WHIP with 53 K/15 BB over 45.2 innings at double-A Erie. The 6’-3” lefty has four above-average offerings and could work his way into the Tigers’ rotation if he starts out dominating the minors again this year.
Jake Odorizzi, Royals, RHP, 21
The same argument made for Montgomery can be made for Odorizzi. The Royals need starting pitching and Odorizzi could help them this season. After coasting through class-A with a 2.87 ERA, 1.15 WHIP and 103 K/22 BB over 78.1 innings, he found it a little tougher at double-A. Over 68.2 innings for Northwest Arkansas, he had a 4.72 ERA, 1.28 WHIP and 54 K/22 BB. The 6’-2” righty has a fastball that reaches 95 mph with sink, a plus curveball, an above average slider and a developing change-up.