Examining 2016's American League Rookie of the Year Candidates
Over the past 10 years, many of the players who have been awarded the American League Rookie of the Year have gone on to become franchise players.
Others…not so much.
From 2006 to 2008, the Jackie Robinson trophy was awarded to some pretty elite company in the trio of Justin Verlander, Dustin Pedroia, and Evan Longoria. I think if Jackie were alive today, he probably would prefer to forget his award went to the likes of Andrew Bailey, Jeremy Hellickson, and Neftali Feliz from 2009 to 2011.
In 2012, many felt that Mike Trout should have been named not only the American League Rookie of the Year but also the AL MVP (which he finally received in 2014).
The most recent winner, Carlos Correa, appears to be destined for big things in the future like Trout, Pedroia, and Abreu.
|2006||Justin Verlander||Detroit Tigers||P||47.4|
|2007||Dustin Pedroia||Boston Red Sox||2B||41.1|
|2008||Evan Longoria||Tampa Bay Rays||3B||42.8|
|2009||Andrew Bailey||Oakland Athletics||P||4|
|2010||Neftalí Feliz||Texas Rangers||P||4.7|
|2011||Jeremy Hellickson||Tampa Bay Rays||P||6|
|2012||Mike Trout||Los Angeles Angels||OF||38.5|
|2013||Wil Myers||Tampa Bay Rays||OF||2.9|
|2014||José Abreu||Chicago White Sox||1B||8.3|
|2015||Carlos Correa||Houston Astros||SS||3.3|
The 2016 AL rookie class is pretty strong, with Byron Buxton, Blake Snell, Joey Gallo, Jose Berrios, and A.J. Reed each likely to be called up not long after opening day. Their rankings according to Baseball America, MLB Pipeline, and Keith Law are promising to say the least.
|Player||Team||Position||Baseball America||MLB Pipeline||Keith Law||Average|
|Tim Anderson||White Sox||SS||45||47||45||46|
To get an idea of what's expected from this rookie class, let’s first look at the Steamer projections for the position players.
The consensus favorite of the group is Buxton, who finished 2015 two at bats short of losing rookie eligibility for 2016.
Steamer projects Buxton to hit .258/.309/.398 in 2016. That line is pretty underwhelming considering Buxton is the favorite to win. Steamer’s projected slash line would put Buxton close to what the Pirates outfielder Gregory Polanco produced in 2015 (.256/.320/.381). Buxton is frequently compared to Polanco’s teammate, Andrew McCutchen, who hit .286/.365/.471 in his 2009 rookie campaign (McCutchen placed 4th in Rookie of the Year balloting in 2009). Buxton probably will not hit quite to that level in his rookie year, but his combination of speed and gap power should make a .415 or .420 slugging percentage attainable.
For reference, in the minors, Buxton slashed .301/.383/.489 in 276 minor league games. Buxton is also regarded as an athletic, plus-defender at a premium position, which should also help his cause. Buxton should break with the Twins out of camp or be called up from Rochester by May. Buxton has an excellent opportunity to win the award this season.
Joey Gallo, like Buxton, received a cup of coffee in 2015 with the Rangers. In his brief 2015 MLB audition, Gallo hit .204/.301/.417 in 36 games with the Rangers. Gallo’s Achilles heel is his strikeout rate; he struck out 46.3% of the time in his MLB debut and struck out just under 40% of time between AA and AAA in 2015.
Steamer projects Gallo for a .225/.307/.471 slash line in 2016, which would make him offensively above average (104 wRC+). If Gallo can minimize his strikeout rate to near 33% (Steamer forecasts a 36.7 K%), he could make a big impact for the Rangers in 2015, but that seems a bit ambitious considering his career minor league contact rate.
Astros first baseman A.J. Reed is a dark horse candidate to win the award. Steamer projects Reed for a .258/.327/.424 in 2016. Reed’s path to Major League playing time centers on Jon Singleton’s early-season performance. The former University of Kentucky standout hit .340/.432/.612 across two levels and could be fast tracked to the big leagues should Singleton struggle to quell his contact issues.
Reed, like Gallo, has massive power to all fields but has only struck out about 20% of the time in his minor league career. In regards to the prospect publications, Baseball America is much higher on Reed than either MLB Pipeline or Keith Law. What separates Reed from other sluggers is highlighted in BA’s report is that he possesses 65 power, but also a 60 hit tool. Reed's aforementioned slash line supports BA's scouting report (which does not always happen with prospects). If Singleton struggles and Reed is promoted to the middle of the Astros' loaded lineup, Reed could have a Kyle Schwarber-esque impact for the Astros in the AL West.
Aaron Judge, the Yankees' 2013 first-round pick, has an outside chance of making his MLB debut in the first half should he improve his approach and an injury occur within the Yankees' lineup. Like Reed and Gallo, Judge has massive raw power. Judge will need to improve his contact rate (30.1 K% in ’15) to create a path to Yankee stadium. Judge is not expected to debut until the second half of the season.
Nomar Mazara profiles as a prototypical right fielder with plenty of power and a strong hit tool. He is also regarded as having one of the best outfield arms in the minors. Mazara, who will turn 21 in April, has been aggressively moved through the Rangers system over the past few years, and could see action in Arlington in the second half of the season if he crushes in AAA-Round Rock. The Rangers currently have Shin-Soo Choo and Josh Hamilton in the corners, with Joey Gallo probably transitioning to a platoon role at some point in 2016, so it is difficult to see Mazara getting enough at bats to distinguish himself as a ROY candidate.
Tim Anderson is the only middle infield prospect on this list. Anderson spent the entire 2015 season in AA slashing .312/.350/.429 with 49 steals in 62 attempts (79%). Since the White Sox have not filled Alexei Ramirez spot at shortstop this offseason, Anderson’s chances of making his MLB debut early on in the season are increasingly strong.
From a Rookie of the Year candidacy perspective, it will be challenging for Anderson to produce strong enough offensive numbers to win.
The pitcher class offers three serious candidates, as well.
Jose Berrios probably should have been called up by the Twins before the end of the 2015 season. Berrios’ 2015 season was one of the top performances in the minors, as he posted a 2.87 ERA with 175 strikeouts in just over 166 innings. Berrios may be right now the best pitcher on the Twins, and it would not be surprising for Berrios to break camp with the club or get called up a few weeks into the season.
While he may not garner the acclaim that Lucas Giolito, Alex Reyes, or Tyler Glasnow receive, Berrios may be the most polished pitching prospect in baseball as teams enter spring training.
Lefty Blake Snell was awarded the Baseball America 2015 Minor League Player of the Year. Snell posted a 1.41 ERA with 163 strikeouts over 134 innings across three minor league levels. Snell’s arsenal consists of three plus pitches (fastball, changeup, and slider) with average control. Snell probably will not be called up until there is an injury within the Rays' rotation. If Snell pitches well when that injury occurs (and it will because it's the Rays), he could bump Erasmo Ramirez from the rotation.
Michael Fulmer is the last player on the list. According to Baseball America, Fulmer possesses two plus pitches in his fastball and slider as well as above average control. In the offseason, the Tigers signed Jordan Zimmermann and Mike Pelfrey, which will likely push Fulmer’s call-up back a couple months considering Shane Greene is likely to get the first call-up of the season should Pelfrey (likely) struggle.
While everyone will be picking Byron Buxton to win the AL Rookie of the Year award, I am actually going to pick his teammate, Jose Berrios.
I think Buxton will deliver a promising rookie season, but he may develop more slowly than the baseball community would prefer. Berrios on the other hand, is regarded as having the best command in the minors by MLB Pipeline and should not be subject to a significant major innings limit, which could happen with the Rays' Blake Snell (the Rays rotation is also much stronger than the Twins', so there is no guarantee Snell will even be up before June).
Reed could also run away with the award if he is given the Astros' first base role early in the season. Reed is not getting as much hype from the major prospect publications, as his amateur and minor league profile suggest he deserves. Gallo will hit some home runs for the Rangers, but unless things change, his flaws will continue to outweigh his strengths.