It hasn’t been particularly difficult for me to think forward to the 2012 season. The Twins season has been an unmitigated disaster basically from the get-go, and that has largely fueled my desire to look forward on both the large and small scales.
So, with the season winding down, what better time to consider some Rookie of the Year candidates for next season? Today’s entry will only consider candidates on the junior circuit, with next Tuesday’s wrapping up the mini-series.
Matt Moore – SP Tampa Bay Rays
I’ve read many reviews in which a man-love cup overfloweth regarding young Mr. Moore, but the most recent seems awfully poignant. Ben Badler, a scouting and development writer for Baseball America, tweeted the following: “Just wrote up Matt Moore’s scouting report for BA. I don’t smoke, but I’m suddenly craving a cigarette.” This hardly seems like hyperbole, considering Moore has fanned 15 of the first 40 batters he’s faced in the major leagues. Oh, not to mention that he fanned 12.2 per nine this season in the minors, which is the worst K rate he’s posted in his five minor league campaigns in the Rays system. There’s gushing, and then there’s what scouts are doing over Moore. Now Moore certainly won’t fan 14.5 per nine like he has in this incredibly small MLB sample size, nor is he likely to whiff the 12-plus per nine he did in the minors, but even settling into the Michael Pineda area of things should provide Matt with all the firepower he needs to win the award in 2012.
Jesus Montero – C New York Yankees
Filling the shoes of a legend is never easy, but it’s a little easier when the legend begins to slip and is relegated to mostly DH duties. Enter Montero, who has taken the junior circuit by storm in posting a 1080 OPS, eight extra-base hits in his first 64 plate appearances, and a .455 wOBA. None of this serves to suggest that small sample sizes aren’t as deceiving as an XL label at A&F, but to help illustrate just how big the expectations will be for the plodding “catcher” next year in the Bronx. He’ll likely DH for almost the entire season, which may hurt his chances since no DH has won the award since Bob Hamelin in 1994. Then again, catching everyday would probably hurt his chances more. The sky is the limit with Montero offensively, and he appears to be the leader in the clubhouse with everyone I’ve chatted with thus far.
Ryan Lavarnway – C Boston Red Sox
An overachiever in some sense of the word, Lavarnway didn’t find himself on anyone’s top 100 list when he began the season with Double-A Portland. Well, 32 home runs and a .939 OPS across two levels later, Lavarnway has to be at least mentioned in the discussion for ROY nominees. In a sense, Lavarnway is in a similar situation as Montero, replacing a legend that has begun his fade to black. Now, the absence of hype might be a reason why Lavarnway doesn’t necessarily belong on this list, but here’s how I look at it: the only person in his way is Jarrod Saltalamacchia, and the only thing he really has on Lavarnway at this point is a longer last name. I could see Lavarnway having a Mark Trumbo-esque rookie season, with his counting stats giving him a fair shot at taking home the hardware at the end of the season. The Red Sox lineup is the perfect one for him to be born into anyway, as it proved in 2010 that it could hide Salty (and Crawford….and Drew) and still be among the AL’s best.
Other candidates: Mike Trout, Dellin Betances, Manny Banuelos
Columnist note: Ideally, I’d have included Trout, but I don’t think he’ll get enough of a shot in a crowded Angels outfield next season to merit nomination.