Thursday, August 9, 2007

The Freshmen

I’ll be honest with you: rookies are awesome. For someone like myself who enjoys the off-field/player-development side of the game as much (if not more) than the on-field action, a player’s rookie year represents the final frontier, as it were: it’s the crossing-over point, and it’s what I always have (at least unconsciously) in the back of my mind when I’m eyeing some AA scrub’s line. So instead of wallowing in that horrific 1-0 game against the Royals, I’m going to spend a bit of time with 2007’s rookie class.

Over in the National League, the rookie story has been over in Milwaukee. Ryan Braun is outclassing pretty much the entire field and looks to be a lock for the NL Rookie of the Year award. None of this is any secret, of course, but it’s worth considering just how good Braun has been so far. The Crew are just barely hanging on in the Central, and Braun is one of a handful of players (along with Prince Fielder, Corey Hart, et. al.) keeping them with the Cubs. Braun has only racked up 272 at-bats, having been left off of the opening day roster because of an annoying tendency to air-mail throws from third into the eighth row. But since getting the nod at the hot corner, Braun has done nothing but rake.

His current line is monstrous; .349/.395/.665 will play. He’s got a shot at the batting title if he can get enough plate appearances to qualify (current leader Hanley Ramirez is hitting .342), and his 21 homers along with 17 doubles make him the kind of monster that the Brewers have needed.

An injured right wrist has submarined Hunter Pence’s ROY candidacy, but he was putting up a seriously impressive line before he got hurt. For a pretty crappy Houston team, his .330/.355/.564 while playing a solid center field was a real bright spot. The Astros are understandably being cautious with his injury with nothing to play for this year, but at 24 years old Pence should be roaming that stupid hill in Houston for quite a few years.

I haven’t been shy about my Diamondback love in the past, and while their 2007 rookie results have been mixed, there’s still plenty to be excited about. Shortstop Stephen Drew has been a big disappointment, as has outfielder Carlos Quentin. However, Chris Young has scratched out a decent little year (although he’s struggled at times getting on base). The real story is 19-year-old Justin Upton getting the call to the big leagues. He’s got 7 hits in his first 21 at-bats, including his game on Tuesday when he went 3-4 with a double, a triple, and his first career homer. Getting mentioned in the same breath as Ken Griffey is no small feat; I’m pretty pumped for the Justin Upton era.

As far as NL pitching goes, Tim Lincecum is the story. He’s been at times outright dominating (113 K’s in just 105 innings) all while shaving about as often as Scott Baker. With a 3.59 ERA and a 1.21 WHIP, he’s been doing it well so far (while also having the most awesome delivery of all time).

The story among AL rookies has been the Japanese imports, led by Daisuke Matsuzaka. Some may quibble with the rookie status of Japanese players (ask Hideki Matsui and Angel Berroa about that one), but as long as the current rules stand, Matsuzaka deserves the ROY this year. Striking out a batter per inning, while posing a 3.70 ERA in Fenway is mighty impressive for anyone, especially someone adjusting to a new continent. Boston’s other Japanese rookie, reliever Hideki Okajima, has been awfully good as well, with a sub-1 ERA in 51 games and an All-Star appearance under his belt.

There have been some impressive AL bats as well, although super-prospect Alex Gordon hasn’t been one of them. He’s hitting a very up-and-down .236/.311/.375 with 8 homers, although for someone learning on the job having never played at AAA, we can afford to give him a free year.

Dustin Pedroia has been busy making many a stat-head happy. Long a favorite of Baseball Prospectus’ PECOTA projection system, Pedroia is validating those expectations with a very solid .326/.399/.447 as the starting 2B in Boston. He’s no superstar, but a very capable player having a wonderful rookie campaign.

Delmon Young has been solid, but a few question-marks remain in terms of his future as a superstar. His .297 AVG is nice, but with only 20 walks to 87 strikeouts and a .328 OPB, he’s going to have to master the strike zone a bit more. He’s only put up 9 homers in 454 at-bats on his way to a .419 SLG, but at age 21 we can afford to wait as the power (hopefully) develops.

Of course, there are other good stories, like Josh Hamilton’s comeback from serious drug problems, or the way Akinori Iwamura has settled in nicely as a competent placeholder at 3B in Tampa. But unfortunately I am behind schedule and late for a birthday party. Oh, the trials and tribulations of life, right? I’ll leave you all now to ponder the Fate of Matt Garza . . .


Thomas said...

How dare you Sharkey. You mention Lincecum, who I may have a man crush on, him and his crooked-a$$ teeth, and you fail to mention Gallardo. Gallardo, of the 2.2 IP and 11 ER at Coors field who pretty much wrecked me this week in Fantasy Baseball. Shame.

John Sharkey, Esq. said...

Hehe. I'm a big Yovanni! fan, but somehow the timing for singing his praises seemed wrong after that train wreck. He's awesome, though. Some serious bravado, too, which I can always get behind.