Note: The All-Star break is upon us and The Stew is using the downtime on the MLB schedule to size up the current contenders for baseball's year-end awards. We start with the candidates for AL and NL Rookie of the Year.
In 2013, the National League was stacked with viable Rookie of the Year candidates while the American League had pretty much one high-profile rookie who everybody knew was going to get the award. Jose Fernandez beat the pack in the NL and Wil Myers triumphed in the AL.
In 2014, the two leagues have switched places. This year's crop of AL rookies — featuring two international imports — is loaded with talent. And in the NL, one player may literally be running away with the award.
We're here to examine four Rookie of the Year candidates in each league: the frontrunner, the guy also in the conversation, the player with a question mark over his head and the dark horse.
The Frontrunner: Jose Abreu (Chicago White Sox)
Abreu has been everything the White Sox hoped for and more in the first half of the season. Despite missing 14 games in late May with an ankle injury, he leads MLB with 29 home runs and he's third in baseball with 73 RBIs. Those numbers are worthy of MVP consideration, and certainly make Chicago's 27-year-old first baseman the AL Rookie of the Year favorite.
In the conversation: George Springer (Houston Astros)
Springer didn't get the call up until April 14, but he's been an all-around force for Houston since. He didn't homer until his 21st game, but finishes the first half with 19 to go along with 50 RBIs. That still leaves him with a lot of ground to make up on Abreu, but he's capable of going on a prolonged hot streak. He's also making waves with his outfield defense, which could ultimately win voters over.
The Question Mark: Masahiro Tanaka (New York Yankees)
Tanaka was off to a historic start, posting 16 consecutive quality starts out of the gate, but was diagnosed with a partial tear of his UCL on July 11. He'll be out until at least late August — and may not return at all if Tommy John surgery is ultimately required — but if he's able to heal and resume his dominance down the stretch, he's right back in the conversation. Possibly even a favorite, because that will earn him a lot of respect from voters.
The Dark Horse: Brock Holt (Boston Red Sox)
The Red Sox have had few bright spots this season, but the 5-foot-10, 180 pound utilityman is certainly one of them. Holt ranks first among rookies with a .327 average and third with 84 hits. He's also logged time at seven different positions, which gives manager John Farrell valuable versatility. He's truly a dark horse and a lot of fun to watch.
The Frontrunner: Billy Hamilton (Cincinnati Reds)
It didn't seem possible four months ago, but Hamilton has managed to surpass the incredible hype. He's a human highlight film on the bases and in the field, and he's been very productive at the plate for the surging Reds. At the break, Hamilton is hitting .285/.319/.423 with 30 extra-base hits and 38 stolen bases. It's his award to lose.
In the conversation: Jacob deGrom (New York Mets)
The 26-year-old right-hander is flying under the radar, but performing exceptionally for Terry Collins' club. Through 12 starts, he's 3-5 with a 3.18 ERA, and he's been especially good in his last five outings, allowing just six earned runs over 32 innings. The competition is pretty thin in the NL, so that's plenty good enough to earn some consideration.
The Question Mark: Chris Owings (Arizona Diamondbacks)
Owings got off to a fantastic start, winning rookie of the month in April with a .313 batting average. He's since cooled off to a .277/.313/.458 line with six home runs and 21 RBI in his first 72 games, and is now on the disabled list with a shoulder injury. It's unknown when he'll be able to return, but he'd obviously need another big month (or two) to catch Hamilton.
The Dark Horse: Gregory Polanco (Pittsburgh Pirates)
The Pirates put him in a tough spot by waiting until June 10 to call him up, but Polanco impressed by responding with an 11-game hitting streak to start his career. He's currently hitting .260/.352/.346 through 127 at-bats. Perhaps most interesting, the Pirates were 30-33 when they called him, and are 19-13 since. If that trend continues and the production improves a tick, he could be a contender.
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