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 Brandon Belt, Anthony Rizzo and Paul Goldschmidt are not eligible for the award. Here are 20 guys who could contend for the award, broken down in four categories.
Julio Teheran, Braves, RHP, 22 (age)
The Braves continue to churn out pitchers, and Teheran may end up being one of their best. He dominated triple-A all season long, going 15-3 with a 2.55 ERA, 1.18 WHIP and 122 K/48 BB over 144.2 innings in 2011. He was up with the Braves a couple of times over the year, posting a 5.03 ERA with 10 strikeouts and eight walks over 19.2 innings. His fastball sits in the mid-90s with movement and his change-up is a plus pitch that has drawn comparisons to Johan Santana’s. He also has the mound presence of a veteran, which should help his case further in grabbing a starting spot out of spring training.
Drew Pomeranz, Rockies, LHP, 23
Pomeranz was the fifth-overall pick in the 2010 draft by the Indians, who then traded their top prospect to the Rockies for starter Ubaldo Jimenez. The 6’-5”, 240 lb power lefty can dial his fastball up to the high-90s with late life. His curveball is also a plus pitch, considered one of the best in the minors last season. Across three levels last season, he had a 1.78 ERA, 1.05 WHIP with 119 K/38 BB over 101 innings. The southpaw showed great command of all his pitches and held opponents to a .189 average against. Over his four starts with the Rockies, he went 2-1 with a 5.40 ERA, 1.31 WHIP and 13 K/5 BB over 18.1 innings. He will get a starting spot out of spring and should be a top-of-the-rotation starter very soon.
Bryce Harper, Nationals, OF, 19
Even if Harper doesn’t make the team out of spring training, he should get enough at-bats to be a top contender for this award. His impressive showing at the Arizona Fall League, where he hit .414 with six doubles, six home runs and 25 RBI over his final 19 games, put to ease some doubts about his struggles at double-A where he hit .256 with three home runs, 12 RBI and a .724 OPS over 37 games. Make no mistake about it, this kid is for real. His talents are off the charts, as well as his feel for the game and flair for the dramatic.
Tyler Pastornicky, Braves, SS, 22
Pastornicky will beat out Jack Wilson for the starting shortstop position. That much I know. I also know that he will hit for a good average, mostly because of his advanced plate recognition. Over 512 plate appearances in the minors last season, he struck out only 45 times. Over those 117 games, split between double-A/triple-A, he hit .314 with seven home runs, 45 RBI and 27 stolen bases. He is a prototypical leadoff hitter, but will most likely hit eighth in the order with Michael Bourn and Martin Prado hitting at the top. He committed 26 errors last year, so the defense needs some work, but still, Jack Wilson? Pastornicky should get 500 at-bats this year.
Devin Mesoraco, Reds, C, 23
When the Reds traded Yasmani Grandel to the Padres as part of the Mat Latos trade, it took away any doubt that Mesoraco is their future catcher. Over 120 games at triple-A Louisville last season, he hit .289 with 15 home runs, 71 RBI and an .855 OPS. He also had 36 doubles, showing gap-to-gap power. His 83 K/52 BB show a good approach at the plate, and he is also a solid defensive catcher with a canon arm. Ryan Hanigan will pose no threat, and Mesoraco should get the bulk of the load this season.
Trevor Bauer, Diamondbacks, RHP, 21
With Ian Kennedy, Trevor Cahill, Daniel Hudson, Joe Saunders and Josh Collmenter already locked in, the Diamondbacks already boast one of the best rotations in baseball. With a slew of future aces in their system, their rotation is going to be scary very soon, and if Saunders or Collmenter struggle, one of them could be called upon. Bauer is the most ready to contribute and is also one of the most entertaining pitchers to watch. With his unorthodox delivery, similar to Tim Lincecum, and filthy repertoire, he has baffled hitters at every level to date. He struck out 43 over 25.2 innings (15.1 K/9) across two levels last season. His fastball has many variations, with his four-seam touching the upper 90s. He also has a plus 12-6 hammer curve, as well as a plus slider with late fade. His change-up is above average, and he will throw all of his pitches at any time in any at-bat. He will most likely start the season in the minors, but should get enough major-league innings to be a real candidate.
Brett Jackson, Cubs, OF, 23
Cubs fans have been waiting to see what Jackson can do since he was their first-round draft pick in 2009 out of the University of California. Jackson’s numbers were a little down last season, due mostly to a broken finger he suffered in May. Over 115 games across two levels, he hit .274 with 20 home runs, 58 RBI, 20 stolen bases and an .869 OPS. While he strikes out a bit too much (138 last year), he also takes a lot of walks (73). With his blazing speed, power to all fields and gold glove caliber defense at all three outfield spots, he should be hitting at the top of the Cubs lineup at some point this season. With the team going through a serious makeover, his time looks to be finally here.
Wilin Rosario, Rockies, C, 22
Rosario battled knee injuries in 2011 and his numbers took a hit because of it. Over 102 games at double-A, he hit .249 with 21 home runs, 48 RBI and a .741 OPS. His 2010 season, in which he hit .285 with 19 home runs, 52 RBI and an .894 OPS over 73 games, are a better reflection of the type of hitter he is. He needs to work on his plate discipline, but the power is legit and always welcomed at Coors Field. He will platoon with Ramon Hernandez but should get enough at-bats to smack 20 home runs in 2012.
Nolan Arenado, Rockies, 3B, 20
Arenado has a chance to make the team out of spring training, which is impressive for a 20-year-old. After leading the minors in RBI last season with 122, he finished second at the Arizona Fall League with 33 over 29 games. He is a high-average hitter with tremendous plate discipline. Over his 583 plate appearances last season, he only struck out 53 times while drawing 47 walks. Casey Blake stands in his way at third base, but if he wins the starting job on opening day, he could be a top contender for this award.
Randall Delgado, Braves, RHP, 22
If Teheran, or any other starter, struggles for the Braves early, Delgado is more than ready to step in. After going 7-7 with a 3.88 ERA, 1.38 WHIP and 135 K/57 BB over 139 innings across two levels in the minors, he made seven starts for the Braves last season. Over those 35 innings, he posted a 2.83 ERA, 1.22 WHIP with 18 K/14 BB, showing a needed improvement with his control. He features a plus curveball, a fastball that sits in the low-90s and a solid change-up.
Matt Dominguez, Marlins, 3B, 22
The acquisition of Jose Reyes, forcing Hanley Ramirez to third, is a huge roadblock for the defensive-minded Dominguez. However, with Reyes’ recent injury concerns, there is a possibility he will get a good amount of time in the lineup this season. Over three levels last season, Dominguez hit .249 with 12 home runs and 58 RBI, showing that offense isn’t his calling card. In his 17 games with the Marlins, he hit .244 with two RBI but flashed his gold-glove caliber defense.
Robert Erlin, Padres, LHP, 21
The Padres have a lot of depth in their rotation but lack an ace. Erlin, a 6’-0” lefty, has the mentality of an ace, if not the prototypical stuff. Over 266 career minor league innings, he has a 2.61 ERA, 0.95 WHIP and 288 K/34 BB. His 9.7 K/9 and 8.5 K/BB ratios show how aggressive he is, as well as the command he possesses. He won’t overpower you; rather he’ll break you apart piece by piece until you have no idea what your train of thought was coming to the plate. He was built for PETCO Park, and if given the chance this year, could put up some impressive numbers.
Matt Harvey, Mets, RHP, 22
Harvey was the Mets’ first-round pick (seventh overall) in the 2010 draft. The 6’-4”, 210 lb righty has a power arm and can dial his fastball up to the mid-90s. His curveball also rates as plus, while his change-up is catching up fast. He went 13-5 with a 3.32 ERA, 1.27 WHIP and 156 K/47 BB over 135.2 innings split between class-A/double-A last season. The Mets need a fifth starter and Harvey could be the answer soon.
Jedd Gyorko, Padres, 3B, 23
All Gyorko does is hit. The second-round pick of the Padres in the 2010 draft is perhaps the best hitter in the minors, although his defensive position remains in question. Over 140 games across two levels last year, he hit .333 with 47 doubles, 25 home runs, 114 RBI, 12 stolen bases and a .952 OPS. He then headed to the Arizona Fall League where he led everyone in batting average and OPS. Over his 18 games there, he hit .437 with four doubles, five home runs, 22 RBI and a 1.204 OPS. The Padres always seem to need offense, Gyorko will force his way into the lineup this season and continue to mash.
Wily Peralta, Brewers, RHP, 22
Peralta is a 6’-2” 240 lb workhorse who could force his way into the rotation at some point this season. Over 150.2 innings split between double-A/triple-A last year, he had a 3.17 ERA, 1.24 WHIP and 157 K/59 BB. He also keeps the ball in the yard as evidenced by his 1.4 ground ball/fly ball ratio, something that is vital at Miller Park. He has a mid-90s fastball with sink that forces all of those grounders, and his slider and change-up are above average.
Long, long shots
Joseph Wieland, Padres, RHP, 22
Wieland was absolutely dominant at times last season, including tossing a no-hitter on July 29 against his current minor league team. Across two levels, with two different teams, he went 13-4 with a 1.97 ERA, 1.01 WHIP and 150 K/ 21 BB over 155.2 innings. Like Erlin, he doesn’t have overpowering stuff, but uses his aggressiveness and advanced feel for pitching to outsmart everyone with a bat. If he starts out 2012 the way he did last season, he could get a call earlier than expected.
Tyler Skaggs, Diamondbacks, LHP, 20
Skaggs is another one of the Diamondbacks future aces. One thing he brings to the table that none of the other current starters do is a left-handed throwing arm. The 6’-4”, 200 lb southpaw was one of the most dominant pitchers in the minors last season. Across two levels, he had a 2.96 ERA, 1.10 WHIP and 198 K/49 BB over 158.1 innings. His 11.3 K/9 ranked among the leaders and his 4.1 K/BB show the kind of command he has as a power pitcher. His fastball reaches the upper-90s, and his curveball is a 12-6 hammer. His change-up rates above average and is still getting better. Has an aggressive disposition on the mound, attacking hitters inside and out, not afraid to challenge. If he gets a chance this season, he will be a fan favorite from day one, and could do some damage to opposing bats.
Shelby Miller, Cardinals, RHP, 21
The Cardinals are pretty set in their rotation, but with Adam Wainwright coming off reconstructive elbow surgery, and Kyle Lohse not having a great track record, the team could end up needing the services of Miller as they contend for another NL Central crown. The team’s first-round pick in 2009 had a 2.77 ERA, 1.18 WHIP and 170 K/53 BB over 139.2 innings split between class-A/double-A last year. He has one of the best fastballs in the minors, often reaching 99 mph with great movement. His curve and change-up are both above average, and he has good control of all three. What sets him apart is his competitiveness and mound presence. Very aggressive on the mound, he isn’t afraid to attack hitters inside and out, up and down.
Robbie Grossman, Pirates, OF, 22
Grossman walked an impressive 104 times last season, which played a big part in him leading the minors in runs scored with 127. He also hit .294 with 13 home runs, 56 RBI, 24 stolen bases and an .869 OPS. The switch-hitter really made a name for himself at the Arizona Fall League by hitting .375 with seven home runs, 22 RBI and 20 walks, all ranking among the leaders. He does just about everything well on both sides of the field and could contribute to the major league team right now.
Gary Brown, Giants, OF, 23
The Giants always seem to need offense to go with their formidable pitching group. Brown is the kind of spark plug they could use to keep them in contention in the NL West. In his first full season last year, he hit .336 with 34 doubles, 13 triples, 14 home runs, 80 RBI, 53 stolen bases and a .925 OPS. He also only struck out 77 times, showing an advanced approach at the plate. He will most likely get some time at double-A before the Giants give him shot, but if his numbers resemble anything like last year in the early going, they could be forced to give him a call.