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10 MLB Rookie of the Year candidates for 2015

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2015 MLB Opening Day: MVP Predictions

Spring Training is a wonderful time of the year. All 30 Major League Baseball teams are optimistic that the moves they made over the off-season put them in position to not only be competitive over the course of the 162 game schedule, but there's hope that each and every team has what it takes to make it to the World Series.

10 mlb rookie of year candidates 2015
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10 MLB Rookie of the Year candidates for 2015

Left-Handed Pitcher, Toronto Blue Jays

2014 Statistics: 0-0, 5.40 ERA, 5 G, 1 GS, 4 K, 5 BB, 6.2 INN with Toronto. 12-2, 2.53 ERA, 26 G, 25 GS, 163 K, 43 BB, 124.2 INN combined AAA/AA/A.

One of a half dozen rookies expected to open camp with the Blue Jays, lefty Daniel Norris will be one of two in Toronto’s starting rotation at the beginning of the season. Currently most famous for living in a van during the off-season, Norris is one of the top left-handed pitching prospects in the game.

He began the 2014 season with High Class-A Dunedin of the Florida State League, and dominated to the tune of a 6-0 record and 1.22 ERA with 76 walks in 66.1 innings across 13 starts. That performance earned Norris a promotion to Double-A, where he struck out 49 hitters in 35.2 innings before being sent to Triple-A Buffalo. After just five starts with the Bisons, Norris earned a September call-up.

The 21-year-old uses a low-90s fastball, quality slider and mixes in a change-up and slow curveball to keep hitters off balance. It worked well in 2014 as Norris’ 163 strikeouts were the fifth most among all minor leaguers. This spring he is 2-0 with a 2.41 ERA with 21 K’s and only four walks in 18.2 innings spread across five starts. 

With a starting spot locked up, Norris should get a jump on most of his AL Rookie of the Year competition.

(Photo by Mark Cunningham/MLB Photos via Getty Images)

Left-Handed Pitcher, Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim

2014 Statistics: 0-3, 5.83 ERA, 7 G, 5 GS, 20 K, 7 BB, 29.1 INN with Miami. 9-6, 3.28 ERA, 24 G, 23 GS, 143 K, 36 BB, 137.1 INN combined AAA/AA.  

Unlike Daniel Norris, Angels prospect Andrew Heaney hasn’t locked up a spot in the rotation or even on the Major League roster this spring. In five pre-season starts, the 23-year old is 0-2 with a 9.00 ERA. He has allowed 19 earned runs on 29 hits and seven walks in 19 innings with 16 strikeouts. Opponents have hit .358 against him. 

After he surrendered six runs on eight hits in five innings – including a four-run third inning in Sunday’s 8-6 loss to Cincinnati – Heaney shared his disappointment with the media.

“It is disappointing. I came into camp wanting to make the team, didn’t come into camp trying to break with Triple-A,” Heaney said. “I don’t know, I just go out there and pitch. It’s not up to me to make decisions. I want to make decisions easy for them, and I don’t feel like I’ve performed well enough to have that.”

Still, Heaney is one of the top pitching prospects in the American League and will make an impact in Anaheim this season. After all, the Angels thought enough of him to ship longtime second baseman Howie Kendrick to the Dodgers, who acquired Heaney from the Marlins a day earlier.

Heaney had been the top prospect in the Miami organization since being drafted in the first round in 2011 and made his big league debut in June. However, after four starts he was sent to Triple-A New Orleans for more than two months before being called up again in September.

The Angels aren’t expected to need a fifth starter until at least April 14, and Heaney must prove more worthy than Nick Tropeano to earn the spot, but Heaney has the edge because of his high upside. Don’t be surprised if he ends up pitching in big games down the stretch in the pennant race for the defending AL West champs.

(AP Photo/Lenny Ignelzi)

Left-Handed Pitcher, Chicago White Sox

2014 Statistics: 0-0, 2.92 ERA, 9 G, 6 GS, 38 K, 13 BB, 24.2 INN combined AAA/A/R.

Are you sensing a theme? The American League has a very talented crop of left-handed pitching prospects primed to make an impact at the big league level this season, including Carlos Rodon, who won’t start the season in Chicago, but should make his debut early in the year.

The third overall pick in the 2014 MLB First-Year Player Draft, Rodon has only pitched in nine games as a professional across three levels. In stops in the Rookie Arizona League, Single-A Winston Salem and Triple-A Charlotte, the 6-foot-3, 234-pound 22-year old struck out 38 of the 108 (35.2%) hitters he faced for a staggering 14.1 K/9 ratio.

White Sox manager Robin Ventura would like to see Rodon develop his change-up more before he’s called up to the big leagues, but Rodon’s fastball-slider combination has been electric this spring. In 12.1 innings combined in five games and four starts, Rodon has struck out 19 of the 54 (35.2%) hitters he’s faced, including nine Kansas City Royals in four innings in his last start. Overall, Rodon is 1-0 with a 3.65 ERA having allowed five earned runs on 13 hits, three walks and has hit two batters this spring.

With this spring’s performance, Rodon has proved he’s ready for The Show. If he improves his change-up, Rodon will find himself in the White Sox starting rotation in April or May and then for years to come – although his mid-90s fastball and high-80s slider are all he needs to be a lights out reliever.

(AP Photo/Ben Margot)

Shortstop, Cleveland Indians

2014 Statistics: .276 AVG, .338 OBP, .389 SLG, 11 HR, 62 RBI, 75 R, 28 SB combined AAA/AA.

A veteran of three Futures Games after being selected with the eighth overall pick in the 2011 MLB June Amateur Draft, Francisco Lindor has long been the top prospect in the Cleveland organization. Now 21 years old and with 138 games combined between Double-A and Triple-A in 2014, the switch-hitting shortstop is knocking on the door of the Major Leagues.

Officially assigned to Minor League camp March 26, Lindor should make his debut in April or May this year. If he does, he is likely to take over as the everyday shortstop and could certainly become a major factor for the Indians in 2015.

Lindor has earned a reputation as one of the best defensive players in the minor leagues, and is widely considered to be the second best shortstop prospect in the game behind Houston’s Carlos Correa. That said, he’s improved his performance at the plate as well, which makes him a candidate to challenge for the AL Rookie of the Year award.

After hitting eight home runs combined in three professional seasons, Lindor slugged 11 in 2014, including five in 165 at bats in 38 games with Triple-A Columbus. This spring, Lindor hit .297/.308/.595 with two homers and five RBI in 16 games.

(AP Photo/Paul Sancya)

Right Field, Boston Red Sox

2014 Statistics: .333 AVG, .400 OBP, .528 SLG, 2 HR, 6 RBI, 6 R, 3 SB with Boston.

A prime example of the ever increasing number of Cuban-born big leaguers, Rusney Castillo signed a seven-year $72.5 million contract with the Boston Red Sox on August 23, 2014. Twenty-five days later, Castillo made his Major League debut. He played in only ten games, but showed flashes of brilliance.

With six years of pro baseball experience in Cuba, Castillo is already 27 years old and already making the big bucks. Despite a Red Sox outfield loaded with Hanley Ramirez, Mookie Betts and Shane Victorino from left to right and despite not being listed among the top 30 prospects in the Boston organization by, Castillo is still the most likely player to capture the American League Rookie of the Year Award.

It’s possible Castillo may begin the 2014 season in Pawtucket, but don’t be surprised if he forces his way into the everyday lineup early in the season.

Able to hit for both power and average with plenty of speed (he hit .320 with 22 home runs, 95 RBI and 32 stolen bases in 107 games in 2012-13 and hit .342/.408/.574 with 27 steals in 113 games the following season), Castillo is too advanced for Triple-A. Plus, Betts is capable of a sophomore slump, Victorino is 34 and Ramirez is an injury risk annually, which could open the door as well.

He’s not Yasiel Puig, and he’s not Jose Abreu, but once he’s established in John Farrell’s order, Rusney Castillo should prove to be the most valuable rookie in the AL.

(AP Photo/Charles Krupa)

Right-Handed Pitcher, New York Mets

2014 Statistics: 9-7, 4.60 ERA, 26 G, 26 GS, 145 K, 43 BB, 133 INN with Triple-A Las Vegas. 

If you were to build a prototypical front-line starting pitcher from scratch, he would probably come out looking a lot like Noah Syndergaard. The 6-foot-6, 240-pound, 22 year-old right-hander has a powerful fastball capable of hitting upwards of 98 MPH with a very good 12-to-6 curveball and above-average change-up.

Syndergaard is big and strong enough to eat big chunks of innings and talented enough that he started the Futures Game in 2013 and made the roster again in 2014.

It’s just that Syndergaard isn’t quite ready for the Major Leagues, at least according to New York Mets manager Terry Collins.

“We like Noah a lot,” Collins said in mid-March. “I like him a lot. He’s going to be a real good pitcher, I’ll tell you. There’s going to be a time where you’re going to look up and we’re going to have a lot of real hard-throwing guys in the middle of that rotation. … When we get toward the end [of Spring Training], there’ll be some discussions we’ll have with Noah about what we think he’s got to do.”

Syndergaard spent the entire 2014 season with Triple-A Las Vegas where he pitched better than his 4.60 ERA would indicate, especially late in the season. He posted a 3.34 ERA with 44 strikeouts across 38 innings in August and didn’t allow a home run in hitter-friendly Las Vegas in his last six starts after allowing five long balls in his first eight home starts.

This spring, Syndergaard allowed four earned runs on six hits and three walks in 7.1 innings across three outings. Even with Zach Wheeler injured, Syndergaard will have to wait to join Matt Harvey, 2014 NL Rookie of the Year Jacob deGrom, Jon Niese, Bartolo Colon and Dillon Gee in the rotation.

In fact, Rafael Montero might get the call first should one of those five falter, but Syndergaard is on the short list for an early big league call-up and he’s likely to pitch at Citi Field well before the All-Star break, with plenty of time to make a case to become the second Mets pitcher to capture the National League Rookie of the Year award.

(AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)

Third Base, Arizona Diamondbacks

2014 Statistics: None. 2015 will be Tomas’ first professional season in the United States. 

In the first off-season for Arizona Diamondbacks chief baseball officer Tony La Russa and general manager Dave Stewart, the club made a splash in the International free agent market when they came to terms with Cuban third baseman/outfielder Yasmany Tomas. The D-Backs signed the 24-year old prospect out of Cuba to a $68 million contract and have given him a crack to win the starting third base job.

He hasn’t won it yet, but Tomas has improved over the course of Spring Training.

“Uh, we’re getting there,” Diamondbacks manager Chip Hale told Yahoo Sports last week. “He’s really starting to drive the ball. And his defense is going to be OK. Haven’t seen anything to say he can’t play here.”

In 19 games this spring, the 6-foot-2, 255-pound right-handed power hitter has hit .268/.317/.446 with two home runs, eight RBI and 12 strikeouts in 59 plate appearances. He’s got a ton of pop, and even greater upside, but has a long way to go defensively at the hot corner and could find himself in left field in the long run (first base might have been an option if not for Paul Goldschmidt).

Also, Tomas is sure to be challenged by Major League pitchers – especially since the D-Backs’ won’t be able to offer him much protection in the lineup outside of Goldschmidt. There’s still a chance he will open the season in the minors, but Tomas will see plenty of playing time in the big leagues for the rebuilding Diamondbacks in 2015.

(AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

Right Field, Chicago Cubs

2014 Statistics: .292 AVG, .330 OBP, .573 SLG, 5 HR, 20 RBI, 11 R, 1 SB with Chicago. .340 AVG, .432 OBP, .700 SLG, 15 HR, 57 RBI, 42 R, 0 SB combined AAA/AA/R.

It took a defection from Cuba, nearly two full years in the minors, a pair of suspensions and some nagging leg injuries, but hot shot prospect Jorge Soler finally made his Major League debut for the Chicago Cubs in 2014.

After scorching the Double-A Southern League to the tune of .415/.494/.862, six homers and 22 RBI in just 77 plate appearances, Soler moved up to Triple-A Iowa in late July. He continued his hot hitting with eight long balls and 29 RBI in 32 games before being promoted again.

Soler wasted no time going deep in his first big league at bat against Mat Latos in Cincinnati, and connected on two home runs against St. Louis two days later.

This spring, the 6-foot-4, 225-pound outfielder is hitting .333/.380/.600 in 49 plate appearances across 15 games. He has three home runs, ten RBI, a double and a triple and has likely secured a spot in the starting lineup as the Cubs’ right-fielder on Opening Day.

Soler has made a strong impression on Joe Maddon, his new manager, who thinks the 23-year old could be a fit in the No. 2 spot in the lineup this season because Soler is “like Vladimir [Guerrero] with plate discipline.“

He’ll face some stiff competition for the National League Rookie of the Year award – including at least one teammate – but Soler is a big time candidate to bring home the hardware in his first full Major League season, and is a big part of the rebuilding project in Chicago.

(AP Photo/Matt York)

Center Field, Los Angeles Dodgers

2014 Statistics: .143 AVG, .351 OBP, .143 SLG, 0 HR, 0 RBI, 1 R, 0 SB with Los Angeles. .303 AVG, .435 OBP, .524 SLG, 33 HR, 78 RBI, 106 R, 30 SB in Triple-A Las Vegas.

The Los Angeles Dodgers may have one of the highest payrolls in Major League Baseball and a roster stocked with several high-price free agent acquisitions, but they can still develop talent within the organization. Joc Pederson is a prime example.

An 11th round pick in the 2010 June Amateur Draft, Pederson quickly become one of the top prospects in the Dodgers’ farm system. He was named the MVP of the Pioneer League in 2011, was an Organization All-Star in 2012, 2013 and 2014, played in the Futures Game in 2013 and won the MVP in the Pacific Coast League last year.

After becoming the only 30-30 player in professional baseball last season and the first to do it in the PCL in 80 years, Pederson made his big league debut in September. He didn’t set the league on fire immediately, but because of his minor league production and impressive performance this spring, Pederson is expected to begin the season as the Dodgers’ center fielder.

Through his first 22 Spring Training games, the 22-year old (he turns 23 April 21) has hit .389/.421/.796 with six home runs and 12 RBI in 57 plate appearances. 

(AP Photo/Ben Margot)


Third Base, Left Field, Chicago Cubs

2014 Statistics: .325 AVG, .438 OBP, .661 SLG, 43 HR, 110 RBI, 118 R, 15 SB combined AAA/AA.

To no one’s surprise, the most likely candidate to win the National League Rookie of the Year award in 2015 is Kris Bryant of the Chicago Cubs, who has been tearing the cover off the baseball this spring. In 14 Cactus League games, the power-hitting third baseman (who has also dabbled with playing left field) hit .425/.477/1.175 with a Major League leading nine home runs as well as 15 RBI in 44 plate appearances.

Last season, the former first round pick dominated Minor League pitching and hit a combined 43 home runs between Double-A Tennessee and Triple-A Iowa in his first full professional season. For his efforts, Bryant was named Minor League Player of the Year by both Baseball America and USA Today.

Still, despite all his production (or more likely because of the long-term financial ramifications associated with putting him on the Opening Day roster), the Cubs officially announced the slugging 23-year old would begin the season in Triple-A.

Of course, the move is only temporary:

“You know he’s going to be there [in the big leagues] eventually,” Cubs manager Joe Maddon said about Bryant. “When you look at the entire picture of development, you’re still looking for a couple other areas to improve a little bit.

“I’m not going to sit here and tell you that you wouldn’t want him in your lineup — there’s no question you want him in your lineup,” Maddon continued. “He’s also 23. I’m looking forward to working with this guy for the next 15 years. That’ll make me 76. If I’m the next Jack McKeon, I’ll be working with this guy when I’m 76 years of age.”

 Similar to Maddon’s experience with Evan Longoria, who won the American League Rookie of the Year Award in 2008 after making his Major League debut on April 12, Kris Bryant will most likely be in starting lineup at Wrigley Field sometime in April. In the mean time, he will likely get more experience in the outfield and feast on Minor League pitching for a few weeks.

But of course, a lot can happen in 162 games between March and October. Therefore, many other players will have an opportunity to make a name for themselves as rookies and take home the hardware at the end of the season.

Other potential 2015 MLB Rookie of the Year candidates include:

Archie Bradley, P, Arizona Diamondbacks
Alex Meyer, P, Minnesota Twins
Dalton Pompey, OF, Toronto Blue Jays
Aaron Sanchez, P, Toronto Blue Jays
Micah Johnson, 2B, Chicago White Sox
Maikel Franco, 3B, Philadelphia Phillies,
Joey Gallo, 3B, Texas Rangers
Miguel Sano, 3B, Minnesota Twins
Jon Gray, P, Colorado Rockies
Eddie Butler, P, Colorado Rockies
Henry Owens, P, Boston Red Sox
Jace Peterson, 2B, Atlanta Braves
Christian Bethancourt, C, Atlanta Braves

(AP Photo/Chris Carlson)


Even the Chicago Cubs (and this year, especially the Chicago Cubs).

Part of the Cubs' renewed sense of optimism is a minor league cupboard stocked full with some of the top prospects in the game. Jorge Soler and Javier Baez got their feet wet in the big leagues last season while Kris Bryant, Addison Russell, C.J. Edwards and others are knocking on the doorstep.

Despite being sent back to Triple-A Iowa Monday, Baez is no longer a rookie because he saw action in 52 Major League games in 2014 in which he had 213 at bats. However, the rest of the aforementioned group is eligible for – and some are among the favorites to win – the Rookie of the Year Award in the National League.

As the winners of the 2014 awards can attest, there are multiple routes to becoming Rookie of the Year. Chicago White Sox first baseman Jose Abreu, a veteran free agent from Cuba, slugged his way to the trophy with 36 home runs and 107 RBI in 146 games, including a start on Opening Day.

Abreu was 27 years old and the top prospect in the White Sox system when he made his debut, and was a big name before he ever played in a Major League game.

On the other hand, right-handed pitcher Jacob deGrom was just the tenth ranked player in the Mets system in 2014 according to Baseball America. He was sent to minor league camp after four appearances in the spring of 2014 and made seven starts in Triple-A before earning a call-up to the big leagues in May.

In a farm system stocked with young flamethrowers, deGrom was often overshadowed as a 9th round draft pick in the 2010 First-Year Player Draft. Still, as a 25-year old rookie, he posted a 9-6 record and 2.69 ERA in 22 starts to rise to the top of the 2014 rookie class in the NL.

Whether a player signed a huge contract as an International free agent like Soler or Abreu, was a first round pick like Baez or Bryant, or even an under the radar prospect like deGrom, like 30 teams with World Series hopes, there's a large crop of aspiring big leaguers with their eyes on the prize that is the Rookie of the Year award.

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10 MLB Rookie of the Year candidates for 2015
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