An American League scout was lining up the rookies of the year in both leagues this week, running his finger down a list that included an oversized shortstop, an undersized second baseman, an outfielder with a funky arm slot, a third baseman limited at third base but remarkable at the plate, and he laughed.
"They're not the real graceful, athletic guys," he said, "but they're very productive players. They're not pretty. But, I'll tell you what, a lot of [scouts] had their opinions change this year."
Scouts call it great makeup. This particular scout, on the topic of rookies with such makeup, stopped specifically at Troy Tulowitzki, Dustin Pedroia, Hunter Pence and Ryan Braun, the aforementioned players who'd purportedly been flawed.
"They get the job done," he said. "They've got all kinds of positive makeup things going for them."
NL ROOKIE OF THE YEAR
Troy Tulowitzki, Colorado Rockies
Playing one of the game's most demanding positions in an unforgiving ballpark, Tulowitzki, 22, helps make up a promising core for the contending Rockies. Beyond his offensive numbers – .292 batting average, 22 home runs, 91 RBI – Tulowitzki carries a .986 fielding percentage, tied for first among shortstops with the more rangy and athletic Omar Vizquel. "He's an above-average defensive shortstop," a big-league scout said. "It's very Ripken-ish. He's got a plus-arm and throws really well on the run." Another scout described Tulowitzki as having "great instincts," and that they've served him well in his first full season. "The more he plays, the better he gets," the scout said. "He's a better player today than he was just four months ago."
Ryan Braun, Milwaukee Brewers
Returned to the minors out of spring training to get his glove in order, Braun arrived in the big leagues May 25, drove in two runs that night in San Diego, had three hits (including a home run) the next night, and really never stopped hitting. Though his batting average flattened out in the past month, Braun has driven in 23 runs in 21 September games, he and Prince Fielder driving what's left of the Brewers' postseason hopes. Braun, 23, leads NL rookies with 33 home runs and is tied with Tulowitzki with 91 RBI. And, yes, his 22 errors at third base are second in baseball to Ryan Zimmerman's 23, and his fielding percentage (.900) is the worst in the game.
SECOND RUNNER-UP: Hunter Pence, Houston Astros
Pence wandered into a clubhouse five months ago that didn't really want him around. Nothing personal, but the veterans – and, apparently, the manager – were pretty attached to center fielder Chris Burke, who nonetheless was batting .219 at the time. Pence didn't do himself any favors over the first two weeks, but by the end of May was batting .348. At the end of July, before he went to the DL for a month, Pence was still hitting .330 and playing center field every day. August was the only month he didn't bat .308 or better. He has 15 homers and 63 RBI, most of that hitting second.
Chris Young, Arizona Diamondbacks; Kevin Kouzmanoff, San Diego Padres; Mark Reynolds, Arizona Diamondbacks; Kyle Kendrick, Philadelphia Phillies; Yovani Gallardo, Milwaukee Brewers; Peter Moylan, Atlanta Braves.
AL ROOKIE OF THE YEAR:
Dustin Pedroia, Boston Red Sox
When the stumpy kid at second base batted .191 in the final five weeks of 2006, then .158 for the first three weeks of 2007, and was still at .180 in early May, a common opinion was that Pedroia, at 5-foot-9, was in over his head. There were calls to bench Pedroia in favor of Alex Cora, or return Pedroia to Pawtucket, or dangle Pedroia from the Pesky Pole. But, Terry Francona kept running him out there, the Red Sox kept winning, mostly, and Pedroia not only wasn't a drag on them, he was among their most valuable players. Sure-handed and at times spectacular at second base, Pedroia batted .415 (with a .472 on-base percentage) in May and with six games left is batting .315. His .811 OPS leads AL rookies.
Young, who turned 22 in mid-September, leads all rookies, both leagues, with 93 RBI, partly because he showed up every day, eager to play. He gradually and successfully put behind him a reputation as a brooder with a massive ego, acquired from his public criticism of the front office before he'd played a big-league game and his 50-game suspension for flinging a bat at a minor-league umpire. Over 622 at-bats, he's hitting .294 with 13 home runs and a .363 average with runners in scoring position. Over 156 games he's been a sturdy, smart right fielder with a powerful arm. "Everybody just wants to talk about offense," Devil Rays manager Joe Maddon told reporters this week. "Talk about his defense and his stolen bases this year. He's playing a complete game for us right now."
Being in Kansas City, not being Daisuke Matsuzaka, starting the season in Triple-A, and beginning his Royals career 0-3, Bannister drifted under the national radar for much of 2007. He was 12-6 after May 31, recovering enough to lower his ERA to 3.61, better than rookies Jeremy Guthrie or Matsuzaka. A groundball pitcher with good command and a competitive streak scouts love, Bannister has slumped in September, but had ERAs of 3.00 or below in June, July and August. The Royals acquired Bannister from the Mets for reliever Ambiorix Burgos in December.
Daisuke Matsuzaka, Boston Red Sox; Hideki Okajima, Boston Red Sox; Jeremy Guthrie, Baltimore Orioles; Rafael Perez, Cleveland Indians; Joakim Soria, Kansas City Royals; Akinori Iwamura, Tampa Bay Devil Rays; Josh Fields, Chicago White Sox; Reggie Willits, Los Angeles Angels.