There is a clear divide in this year's Major League Baseball rookie class as we reach the halfway point of the regular season. One of the races is shaping up to be as exciting as we have seen in years, while the other is lacking in any real excitement.
Starting with the good, the National League is loaded with candidates right now. There are three pitchers who have all built strong resumes and two west coast position players. One of them you may have heard about, but the other deserves more attention than he is getting.
Then we go to the American League. Remember last year, when you had Mike Trout, Yu Darvish, Yoenis Cespedes at the top with Jarrod Parker and Matt Moore a tier below? This year's group doesn't deserve to be in contention for an award that those players battled over in 2012.
In our midseason Rookie of the Year stock watch, we are going to fill out the ballot as we would if it were the real BBWAA ballot—that means three candidates per league—as we see it right now. We will also provide a full list of candidates with their stock heading into the second half of the season.
No. 1 Shelby Miller, RHP, St. Louis Cardinals
The Cardinals have been able to lose players to injuries or free agency like Albert Pujols, Kyle Lohse, Lance Berkman, Chris Carpenter and Jaime Garcia without missing a beat thanks to the ridiculous amount of high-impact talent and depth they have built in their farm system.
Shelby Miller was the biggest fish on the farm for years, at least until Oscar Taveras exploded last season, and has been nothing short of fantastic in the rotation so far this season. He leads all rookie pitchers in strikeouts, WHIP, ERA, fielding independent ERA (2.73) and expected fielding independent ERA (3.14).
The 22-year-old right-hander also leads all rookies in Fangraphs' wins above replacement at 2.3, just ahead of Miami's Marcell Ozuna.
This is a special talent who has shown much better command and control out of the gate than expected. It makes you wonder what Miller will be able to do in the future. Matt Harvey may get all the attention as the best young right-handed starter in baseball, but it's a much closer race than you might think.
No. 2 Jedd Gyorko, 2B/3B, San Diego Padres
The "other" west coast rookie in this class, Jedd Gyorko slots in ahead of Los Angeles' Yasiel Puig (who isn't on my ballot at this point, which I will get into shortly). He was pushed to the big leagues out of spring training thanks in large part to the injury suffered by Chase Headley.
Of course, Headley came back and now Gyorko is injured. But the work the 24-year-old has done on offense and defense has been quite impressive, especially when you consider that PetCo Park is where hitters go to waste.
Gyorko leads all rookies with enough at-bats to qualify for the batting title in average, on-base percentage, slugging percentage, home runs and weighted on base average (.347). His 17 doubles rank second, behind Arizona's A.J. Pollock.
The interesting thing about Gyorko's success is that a lot of it has come at home. He is hitting .336/.408/.536 in 110 at-bats in PetCo. Those are numbers that we usually don't think are possible. He has also provided solid defense at second base with an ultimate zone rating of 2.2 in 53 games played there (h/t Fangraphs).
No. 3 Jose Fernandez, RHP, Miami Marlins
Everyone was shocked when the Marlins decided to put Fernandez in the big leagues out of spring training. He had just finished a fantastic first season in pro ball, but it was in A ball and he was just 20 years old. It seemed like a good faith move to get whatever fans that franchise has left into the park, since he was arguably their top prospect coming into the year.
But Fernandez has proven beyond a shadow of a doubt that he was more than ready for the challenge presented to him. He has had a few hiccups along the way, but the package thus far has been very impressive.
With the exception of Miller, no rookie starting pitcher has a FIP (3.19), xFIP (3.54) and strikeouts per nine innings pitched (8.93) than Fernandez. He is fourth in innings pitched—behind Miller, Hyun-Jin Ryu and Julio Teheran.
The only unfortunate part of Fernandez's season so far is that, because he plays in Miami, no one is in the stands to watch him pitch.
The other contenders
Yasiel Puig, OF, Los Angeles Dodgers (Stock: Up)
Since I imagine this will be the most controversial omission, I should explain how I value any award. The first thing that I look at is playing time. The only way to add value to your team is by being on the field.
Puig, for all the great things he has done thus far, has played in 23 games. That is 29 percent of the Dodgers season so far. As great as he has been—albeit in a completely unsustainable manner with a .484 BABIP and three walks in 89 at-bats—it is hard to say that he is just as deserving, or even moreso, than the three players listed above.
If Puig continues his pace for the rest of the season, obviously he will be No. 1 or 2 on the Rookie of the Year list. For now, due to the lack of playing time at this moment, he is on the outside.
Julio Teheran, RHP, Atlanta Braves (Stock: Up)
Even though he may not turn into the frontline starting pitcher that was expected two years ago, Julio Teheran has done a great job of utilizing his strengths and learning how to pitch in the big leagues.
Teheran is moving up the boards slowly after a dreadful start, when he had a 5.08 ERA in 28.1 April innings. He has given up just 17 runs on 53 hits in his last 61 innings with a 51-8 strikeout-to-walk ratio.
Hyun-Jin Ryu, LHP, Los Angeles Dodgers (Stock: Down)
If we just looked at ERA, Ryu at 2.85 would stack up nicely among the current crop of rookie pitchers. But there are a lot of other factors, much more accurate, to measure a pitcher's performance that show some cracks in the armor.
Ryu does still rank third among rookies in FIP and xFIP, but after posting a 46-10 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 37.2 April innings, the lefty has a 35-21 ratio in 60.1 innings since. He is still succeeding thanks to a good groundball rate, though he is not as impressive overall as Miller, Fernandez or Teheran.
Evan Gattis, C, Atlanta Braves (Stock: Down)
Gattis remains one of the best stories in baseball as a 26-year-old rookie who was out of baseball after college and the Braves gave him a shot in 2010. He has worked his way through their system and got a shot to start this year while Brian McCann was out with an injury.
In 53 games, Gattis has shown impressive power by leading all rookies with 14 home runs. Unfortunately, with McCann having returned, Gattis' playing time has been drastically reduced and it is harder for him to stay in the mix.
Didi Gregorious, SS, Arizona Diamondbacks (Stock: Down)
Arizona fans were shouting at anyone who would listen that Gregorious was going to be a better hitter than the scouting reports suggested when he hit .293/.353/.446 in the always-reliable one-month sample in May.
Fast forward to the end of June, in which Gregorious has hit just .250/.326/.288, and those screams aren't nearly as loud. Even his defense at shortstop, which projects to be very good, isn't quite there yet. He has a zone rating of 0.9 and one run saved thus far (h/t Fangraphs).
No. 1 Leonys Martin, OF, Texas Rangers
It is telling about where the American League Rookie of the Year race is right now that a platoon player is the leading candidate heading into the midway point of the season.
The Rangers knew that Martin couldn't hit left-handed pitching, so they have done everything they can to maximize his value by only giving him 35 at-bats against southpaws. He has lit up righties to the tune of a .303/.359/.493 slash line.
He also has an advantage over the other top contenders right now because of playing time. Martin and Chicago's Conor Gillaspie are the only AL rookie position player with more than 60 games under their belts.
I would have Martin No. 1 on a ballot right now, but I fully anticipate that someone lower on the list will overtake him by the end of the year.
No. 2 Oswaldo Arcia, OF, Minnesota Twins
When the Twins sent Arcia back down to Triple-A after a game on May 24, there was some controversy because he was hitting well and figures prominently in the bright future for this franchise.
It didn't take long for Arcia to be recalled, as he made his return on June 11 and continues to perform really well with the bat. He has hit .346/.414/.558 in 52 at-bats in the last two-plus weeks, obvious small sample size caveats apply.
Arcia's six home runs are tied with teammate Aaron Hicks and Cleveland's Yan Gomes for the most by a rookie in the AL. His weighted on base average of .364 trails only Boston's Jose Iglesias.
Defense has not been kind to Arcia this season, as he has cost the Twins four runs in left field. But considering where his offensive game is at right now, and how weak the AL crop of rookies is, he belongs high on a lot of ballots.
No. 3 Dan Straily, RHP, Oakland Athletics
All you need to know about the softness that is this year's AL rookie crop when Dan Straily, who was just sent down to Triple-A, is among the best options available.
However, despite what the ERA might tell you, Straily hasn't been nearly as bad as you think on first glance.
He is primarily a flyball pitcher, which playing in Oakland helps him get away with more than most ball parks, but his FIP is 3.71 and suggests that a lot of what has happened to him thus far has just been some bad luck.
Straily is just behind Texas' Nick Tepesch for best strikeout rate among AL rookie pitchers (7.18 to 7.16), but the Oakland right-hander has done a much better job of keeping the ball in the park. Again, some of that can be attributed to playing in Oakland, as opposed to Tepesch who plays most of his games in the band box that is the Ball Park in Arlington.
The other contenders
Jose Iglesias, SS, Boston Red Sox (Stock: Up)
I strongly debated putting Iglesias or even Seattle's Nick Franklin in the No. 3 spot on the list, but because neither player has more than 40 games under their belt this year, I couldn't pull the trigger.
Iglesias has clearly hit out of his mind and will regress as the season moves along the more he plays, but even in a small sample I never thought he would hit .417/.466/.550 over a 36-game stretch in the big leagues.
The Red Sox do have him playing out of position at third base, which ruins his defensive value as an elite shortstop, but at least he is hitting well right now.
Nick Franklin, 2B, Seattle Mariners (Stock: Up)
See, not all Mariners position player prospects are going to be busts!
Franklin has done a great job in the 28 games since being recalled by the Mariners. He is hitting .287/.357/.485 so far with four home runs and four stolen bases. Considering how he has played and the fact we know he will be in the lineup everyday, which is more than we can say about everyone else listed above, he could be the leading candidate for the award by the time we reach the All-Star break.
Wil Myers, OF, Tampa Bay Rays (Stock: Up)
Even with a .268/.286/.439 slash line through 10 games, it is hard not to think that Myers will be the favorite to win AL Rookie of the Year. He was the biggest fish in the pond before the season started, bided his time in Triple-A and finally got the call less than two weeks ago.
So far the results have been about what was to be expected. Myers is hitting for power with a little average and still working out the kinks with the advanced pitching. I would expect a pretty big second half of at least 10-12 home runs and an improved average and on-base percentage.
If you want to debate the Rookie of the Year, or anything else baseball, feel free to hit me on Twitter with questions or comments.
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