The Rookies of 2008... and Those Who Came Before Them
The 2008 Rookie of the Year awards were handed out recently and the winners came as no surprise. Evan Longoria, of the Tampa Bay Rays, was the unanimous choice in the American League, while Geovany Soto, of the Chicago Cubs, received all but one first-place vote in the National League.
In reality, there was not a ton of competition for the awards - both winners stood out head-and-shoulders above the rest of the candidates. That said, it was an interesting group that made up the top five vote-getters in each league. The lists include a Cuban import, a Japanese import, a player who was not on many top prospect lists when the season began, a few recently-traded pitchers, and a highly-touted prospect who had a modest debut.
The American League:
The National League
Let's take a closer look at each player's season.
Evan Longoria produced a solid line of .272/.343/.531 and displayed massive power with a .259 ISO. He slugged 27 homers and 31 doubles in 448 at-bats. Bill James projects Longoria to hit 37 homers in 2009, which would be a very impressive number in this post-steroids age. The young third baseman still needs to work on making contact a little more often after striking out 127 times in 2008 (27.2 K%).
Alexei Ramirez had a very solid rookie season, but his numbers suggest that he may not have prolonged success unless he revamps his approach. His walk rate was just 3.6 BB%. Ramirez also swung at pitches outside the strike zone almost 50 percent more often (42.71%) than the league norm. On the plus side, he makes contact at a league-average rate, both on pitches inside and outside the strike zone. Overall, he batted .290/.317/.475 with 21 home runs in 280 at-bats for Chicago in 2008.
The bar was set very high for Jacoby Ellsbury after he hit .353 in 116 regular season at-bats in 2007, and followed that up by hitting .360 in the playoffs. His 2008 season was solid, but he did not catapult into stardom as many in Boston had hoped. Ellsbury hit .280/.336/.394 with just 38 extra base hits in 554 at-bats. That said, the speedy outfielder swiped 50 stolen bases in 61 attempts. To take full advantage of that speed in 2009, Ellsbury should focus on improving his 6.9 BB%.
Mike Aviles deserves a lot of credit for making it onto this list. He played just 102 games at the Major League level in 2008, after spending his first 50 games in Triple-A. Aviles made up for lost time, though, and hit .325/.354/.480 with an ISO of .155 in 419 at-bats. Bill James projects Aviles' triple-slash numbers to take a .030-.040 point hit in each category for 2009. Like many young players, Aviles needs to be more patient (4.1 BB%).
The Tigers organization can give itself a collective kick for tossing away Jair Jurrjens in the Edgar Renteria trade, but it made up for the gaff by stealing Armando Galarraga away from the Rangers - a club that also traded away another promising young pitcher prior to the 2008 season in Edinson Volquez. Galarraga likely will not rise above the fourth or fifth slot in a team's rotation, but he's solid. In 2008, he allowed 152 hits in 178.2 innings of work and posted rates of 3.07 BB/9 and 6.35 K/9.
Not only did Geovany Soto have an excellent offensive season for a catcher, but he also helped guide a pitching rotation to a playoff berth in his rookie season. Soto hit .285/.364/.504 with 23 home runs and an ISO of .219 in 494 at-bats. The Cubs may want to give the portly catcher a few more days off in 2009, if they want him to remain healthy and productive for a prolonged period of time.
Canadian Joey Votto displayed the rare ability to hit for both average and power in 2008 with a line of .297/.368/.506 and an ISO of .209. Bill James was also impressed and his numbers project a significant increase in each category for Votto in 2009. The left-handed batter also took a healthy number of walks (10.1 BB%) and kept the strikeouts under control (19.4 K%).
Jair Jurrjens had a promising debut season in the National League. He was hittable by allowing 188 hits in 188.1 innings, but he battled and posted respectable rates: 3.35 BB% and 6.64 K%. Of the batted balls Jurrjens allowed, 51.5 were hit on the ground. To improve upon his 2008 success in 2009, the right-hander may want to rely more on his slider, which he went to just 11.8 percent of the time.
Jay Bruce was considered by many to be the top prospect in baseball coming into the 2008 season. He began the year in Triple-A but surfaced in the Majors before long and hit .254/.314/.453 in 413 at-bats. Bruce's season also included an ISO of .199 and rates of 7.4 BB% and 26.6 K%. Bruce will be only 22 years old in 2009 so he has lots of time to improve and reach the lofty expectations that have been heaped upon him.
Kosuke Fukudome exploded onto the Major League Baseball scene in April of 2008, only to fizzle in the second half of the year. Overall, the Japanese veteran hit .257/.359/.379 with 10 home runs and 12 stolen bases. His .122 ISO was well below average for a corner outfielder but he posted solid rates at 13.9 BB% and 20.8 K%. Fukudome needs a big 2009 season to help justify his contract - and playing time.
2007: Dustin Pedroia, Boston | Ryan Braun, Milwaukee
Both Dustin Pedroia and Ryan Braun followed up their 2007 rookie campaigns by avoiding the dreaded sophomore jinx and built upon their impressive numbers. Both players were highly regarded when they were drafted, but they are both exceeding those expectations at the Major League level. The runners up to the award were Delmon Young and Troy Tulowitzki.
2006: Justin Verlander, Detroit | Hanley Ramirez, Florida
Justin Verlander took a step back in 2008, while Hanley Ramirez continues to be a dominating force, which means he is likely to be traded out of Florida any day now. Verlander has lost one mile-per-hour off his fastball in each of the last three seasons. The runners up to the award were Jonathan Papelbon and Ryan Zimmerman.
2005: Huston Street, Oakland | Ryan Howard, Philadelphia
Huston Street has had a solid career as a second-tier closer, but he was traded to Colorado this week and is likely headed to a third team in the not-too-distant future. Ryan Howard continues to mash as a one-dimensional slugger, with a .311 career ISO and a 33.4 percent career K%. The runners up to the award were Robinson Cano and Willy Taveras.
2004: Bobby Crosby, Oakland | Jason Bay, Pittsburgh
Bobby Crosby's potential has been derailed by injury after injury, although he managed a career high in at-bats in 2008. Canadian Jason Bay has flourished - and a trade to Boston in 2008 will help get him the attention he deserves as one of the better offensive outfielders in baseball. The runners up to the award were Shingo Takatsu and Khalil Greene.
2003: Angel Berroa, Kansas City | Dontrelle Willis, Florida
What can we say about Angel Berroa? His rookie season was a fluke, with a capital 'F.' In fact, the remainder of his career also deserves an 'F.' Dontrelle Willis has completely imploded. The runners up to the award were Hideki Matsui and Scott Podsednik. Brandon Webb was third overall in the National League, followed by Miguel Cabrera and Brad Lidge tied at fifth overall.
2002: Eric Hinske, Toronto | Jason Jennings, Colorado
Like Berroa, Eric Hinske's rookie season was a fluke, but he has managed to carve out a career as a solid role player, and he had a significant impact on the Rays' magical 2008 season. Jason Jennings' career has been ruined by injuries. The runners up to the award were Rodrigo Lopez and Brad Wilkerson.
2001: Ichiro Suzuki, Seattle | Albert Pujols, St. Louis
Japanese veterans received the American League Rookie of the Year awards for two straight seasons in 2000 and 2001, which was disappointing to say the least. That said, Ichiro has had an awesome Major League career. That Albert Pujols fellow has also been pretty good. The runners up to the award were C.C. Sabathia and Roy Oswalt.
2000: Kazuhiro Sasaki, Seattle | Rafael Furcal, Atlanta
Kazuhiro Sasaki was a solid closer for Seattle for three seasons before suffering through an injury-filled 2003 season. He then walked away from baseball in North America to spend more time with his family. It's hard to believe Rafael Furcal is still only 31 years old. It feels like he's been around forever... and he is still one of the best shortstops in the game. The runners up for the award were Terrence Long and Rick Ankiel - as a pitcher.