Monday, March 5, 2012

Out-of-box Rookie of the Year candidates

by Jason Wojciechowski

Missed by two feet
Photo by John Telleria

Rookie of the Year guesses generally seem to focus on top-notch prospects expected to get a decent amount of playing time. The obvious choice this year in the American League will probably be someone like Matt Moore. Many years, that's justified: recent Rookies of the Year include Buster Posey, Evan Longoria, Ryan Braun, and Hanley Ramirez, all of whom were well-regarded going into their rookie seasons.

Plenty don't fit this mold, though. Craig Kimbrel was, per Baseball America, Atlanta's fifth-best prospect before 2011, Chris Coghlan rated 9th in Florida's system before 2009, Andrew Bailey was 23rd in Oakland the same year, and even Dustin Pedroia was just seventh in Boston in 2007.

With that in mind, here's one rookie from each team who isn't regarded as a top-notch prospect but who might, with the right breaks in playing time and performance, jump out to a surprise trophy at the end of the year.

Angels: Just two rookies appear on the Baseball Prospectus depth chart for Anaheim, and they're Mike Trout and Garrett Richards, both of whom have roadblocks (though Richards could easily surpass Jerome Williams in the rotation) and, more importantly, both of whom are considered top prospects, with Trout in particular being perhaps the best prospect in the game. I'll run with Alexi Amarista, then, despite not even being the first-string utility player, as he's not the player Maicer Izturis is. It would take him a lot to get the playing time necessary to make an impact, and arguably a lot more for him to perform up to snuff.

Astros: Granted, he got mono in 2010, but still: Jed Lowrie never seems to be healthy. Another injury could let Rule 5er Marwin Gonzalez take his lumps. If he gives as good as he gets, watch out. (Note: he won't.)

Athletics: Josh Donaldson could start 155 games at third base because there is nobody else. All he has to do is hit. (I'll admit that Donaldson was the true inspiration for this post, as a non-prospect who lucked into a playing-time situation that could let him rack up numbers if he seizes the chance.)

Blue Jays: You wouldn't think of Toronto as a team that lacks rookies, there you have it. They're not old, but the team is chock full of young vets. I'm reaching, but maybe Joel Carreno can bring his high-strikeout ways to the closer role if both Sergio Santos and Francisco Cordero fall apart.

Braves: Tyler Pastornicky has an even clearer shot at every-day playing time than Josh Donaldson, though he may struggle to hit enough to impress anyone. He's got Andrelton Simmons breathing down his neck, so even though he's just 22, he could be a placeholder. The best way to avoid that fate would be to have a breakout season and take home a trophy.

Brewers: Norichika Aoki can cover any of the three outfield spots, so if Ryan Braun's urine collector breaks his leg in a bar fight, the unheralded import could slash his way to a big season.

Cardinals: Tony Cruz is probably the better choice in case of an injury to Yadier Molina, but I'll pick Mark Hamilton's superficially better bat as a potential replacement for Lance Berkman. Or Sgt. Slaughter. Or whatever we're calling him these days.

Cubs: Adrian Cardenas probably has a tougher path to playing time than Wellington Castillo, but Cardenas's bat seems more likely to have a fluky big season in it than Castillo's does. If Alfonso Soriano were to be traded, cut, or hurt, Cardenas could slot right in to left field.

Diamondbacks: Depending on who's ready on what time-line, Wade Miley could leapfrog Trevor Bauer and Tyler Skaggs into Arizona's rotation if something happens to one of the three good pitchers, or if Joe Saunders or Josh Collmenter play their way out of favor.

Dodgers: If Tim Federowicz, a glove-first catcher, wakes up with the bat, 31-year-old OBP fiend A.J. Ellis isn't likely to be a problem. Misty May's husband is also on the roster, but c'mon.

Giants: Eric Surkamp only has Barry Zito and Ryan Vogelsong in front of him, and we're always just waiting for Tim Lincecum to break down, so the starts could be available. His upside is low, but BA thinks he's a legitimate major-league pitcher.

Indians: With Chris Perez already hurt and the Indians not possessing a bullpen full of All-Stars, Nick Hagadone, who used to be a top prospect back when he was a Red Sock, could fill in. It should be noted that Hagadone is BA's #3 Cleveland prospect, but (a) he's only #6 on Kevin Goldstein's list and (b) BA says Cleveland has the #29 system in baseball, so #3 there is not like being #3 in Texas.

Mariners: Third base is a wasteland, though less of one than it is in Oakland. Alex Liddi has his believers, and he has shown good power in the minors. A Trumbo-like season could result if the Mariners finally cut bait on Chone Figgins.

Marlins: Suppose Heath Bell's strikeout rate foretells an arm injury and the million candidates behind Bell don't take the closer job. Then maybe Sandy Rosario could save 40 games on a division-winning team.

Mets: If Ike Davis's illness knocks him out the way it did Conor Jackson, Mike Baxter could step in. The 27-year-old will surely not be an asset relative to the position, but you never know with award voters. (UPDATE1: Friend o' blog Nathaniel Stoltz points out that if Davis is hurt, Baxter might not step right into first -- instead, you could see Lucas Duda at first with Baxter replacing him in right.)

Nationals: Danny Espinosa will have to get hurt to clear his way, but Steve Lombardozzi could be on the major-league roster, just waiting to grit and spark-plug his way to national renown.

Orioles: Matt Antonelli was a prospect once upon a time with the Padres, but no longer. If he gets the call during the inevitable Brian Roberts injury, he could regain the .314/.409/.499 magic of his 2007 A-ball days.

Padres: San Diego has a billion good prospects right now, so I have to leave the Baseball Prospectus depth charts and imagine a situation in left field (not far-fetched with Carlos Quentin's brittle bones) or at third base (less feasible -- Chase Headley has played two full seasons out of three) where the Padres decided to run with James Darnell, leaving Jesus Guzman and Chris Denorfia in their bench roles. Darnell used to be a highly regarded prospect, so it's not impossible that he could regain his old form.

Phillies: If Jimmy Rollins were to suffer a devastating injury and the team didn't want to entrust the every-day shortstop position to Michael Martinez, they could turn to Freddy Galvis. Unfortunately for Galvis, he's a defense-first player, something that may not translate well to the ROY award. Phillippe Aumont could be the better choice here as a guy who might beat out Vance Worley or even Joe Blanton for a rotation spot.

Pirates: Lefty starter Rudy Owens simultaneously has a lot of players in front of him and a clear path to 150 innings: A.J. Burnett got his head broken already, Erik Bedard never stays healthy, Charlie Morton is who-even-knows, and nobody's intimidated by the likes of Kevin Correia, Jeff Karstens, and Brad Lincoln. Sure, Owens couldn't get his ERA below five in AAA last year, but I'll still choose him over Yamaico Navarro.

Rangers: Lefty pitcher Michael Kirkman used to have trouble keeping his heater over 80 mph and even now that he works in the low 90s is just Texas's 28th-best prospect, per BA. Further, he's got a very solid rotation in front of him. Still, Yu Darvish will have to adjust to American baseball, and Neftali Feliz could take his lumps moving back into the rotation. Plus Matt Harrison isn't very good. There could be opportunities for Kirkman.

Rays: Jose Molina is a defensive wonder, but it's possible that his hitting could be so horrifying that lightly regarded Robinson Chirinos could seize the job with his bat and ride past teammate Matt Moore to the hardware.

Reds: Zack Cozart should be the every-day shortstop and shouldn't have enough bat for anyone to notice him while Billy Hamilton gets ready to supplant him at the position, but, as with Tyler Pastornicky, if he explodes for a weird batting average and the Reds run to the playoffs as they might well do, he could have some helium.

Red Sox: Ryan Lavarnway could seize the catcher position and run with it if he can stick behind the plate and his big-time power translates to the majors. Jarrod Saltalamacchia and Kelly Shoppach ahead of him aren't enormous roadblocks, but they're not Miguel Olivo, either.

Rockies: I was surprised that Charlie Blackmon still had rookie eligibility, but a broken foot limited his PAs. He's got three superior hitters in front of him in the outfield, and his ability to play center is in question anyway, but I don't see any better options in Colorado.

Royals: Slim pickings here, weirdly. Or maybe not, seeing as how every player in the Kansas City system is a top prospect. I guess Joakim Soria could get traded, Jonathan Broxton could get hurt, and Everett Teaford could jump over about eight better ideas and save 35 games.

Tigers: Lefty starter Duane Below rates behind Jacob Turner and Andy Oliver on the prospect lists and the depth chart, but if the rotation crumbles (always possible with injuries, and Doug Fister and Rick Porcello are fun downside bets), he could end up starting along with the former two. Sure, PECOTA figures him for a 5.37 ERA, but all it takes is a .220 BABIP and that Tigers offense and suddenly he's looking at 15 wins.

Twins: Scott Baker has the best PECOTA-projected ERA in Minnesota's rotation at 3.84, so Australian righty Liam Hendriks could bring his prototypical Twins stuff to a starting job sooner than later. Hell, PECOTA figures him to be better than Nick Blackburn and Jason Marquis right now.

White Sox: Third base is apparently manned by Brent Morel, which means that Osvaldo Martinez has a reasonable shot at playing time. You might put starting pitcher Nestor Molina here -- he's the #2 guy in a weak system, and Jake Peavy is sure to get hurt again at some point -- but the reaction when the White Sox acquired him in the Sergio Santos trade has me (perhaps irrationally) convinced that he's highly regarded, even as Baseball America gave him just a 50 overall grade (on the 20-80 scale) and Kevin Goldstein made him a three-star (out of five) prospect.

Yankees: Cesar Cabral and George Kontos both register far down the relief-pitcher depth charts, and PECOTA projects both to be below replacement level. Winning the ROY as a non-closer reliever is probably impossible, and these two pitchers, neither of whom rates in BA's top 30, aren't going to unseat Mariano Rivera. The Yankees, in other words, don't really have anyone who fits the bill.

So: who did I miss?


Anonymous said...

David Phelps, D.J. Mitchell or Adam Warren might be a good pick for the Yanks if their rotation gets banged up... Or maybe El Chato if the DH candidates go missing...

Matt Mitchell said...

For the Rockies, it'll be interesting to see when Pomeranz or Arenado make it to the big club. A May or June call-up for either isn't out of the question, and could put them into this discussion.