MLB award season continues on here in the CHEAP SEATS, as it is time to turn to the youth of the game and give a nod to the best first time around the block in each league this year. All in all, it was not the most impressive or impact year for rookies as a whole, at least not to the standards that we have gotten accustomed to in recent years. But that does not mean there were not a few exceptions to the rule and here are my selections for the best of the both baseball world’s rookie classes this season.
2014 Willie Mays American League Rookie of the Year Award—Jose Abreu, Chicago White Sox
The “Easy Button” award pick for the year was to come to the conclusion that Jose Abreu was the top rookie in the American League this season. Really, it may be the most far and away easy calls in the award’s history, which is a fairly significant nod because it was not a bad year for AL first timers by any stretch. Masahiro Tanaka was phenomenal for half of the year, while Jordano Ventura showed some exhilarating promise as well. George Springer set the world on fire for a while, and his teammate Colin McHugh made his presence felt all summer.
More often than not, Rookie of the Year nods are the best comparable numbers available. But Abreu’s season transcended his service time; he has instantly become one of the best hitters in all of baseball. His prodigious debut included 36 home runs, 107 RBI and a .317 batting average, totals that were good enough for top five finishes in the AL in each category. He led the White Sox in over eight statistical categories and twice was named not only Rookie of the Month, but also Player of the Month as well.
Coming into the year, his power potential was mythical of sorts, known from his appearances in the World Baseball Classic and varied stories of his feats pulled off in the various leagues in Cuba he dominated as well. The White Sox wasted no time in making a major commitment to the tone of $68 million over six years to the slugger, a deal that now looks like a deal.
He made an instant impact by setting an MLB-record with 10 first month home runs, including two multi-homer games. In the course of setting this mark, he also broke the rookie record for RBI in a month with 31. In his months of winning the Rookie/Player of the month, he hit for a .269/10/31 slash in April, and then a .374/6/19 in July across 109 plate appearances.
He later added on a 21-game hitting streak to his second half total, and garnered an All-Star Game nod during his debut year as well. It was the type of debut that sets quite a standard for an encore, but the White Sox new cornerstone has the tools to remain a fixture among the league’s elite.
Runner Up 1: Masahiro Tanaka, Yankees
Runner Up 2: Yordano Ventura, Royals
2014 Willie Mays National League Rookie of the Year—Jacob deGrom, New York Mets
Jacob deGroom did not show up to the season with the hype of a top prospect build or the expectation of carrying the weight from the onset of his rookie year. But by May the young righty found himself making his Major League debut—against the ultimate crosstown rivals in the Yankees no less—and affirmed the fact that he was going to be more than just a spot fill in. He spun seven innings of one run ball that day and launched his path towards becoming the preeminent rookie hurler in the Majors this year.
He was stunningly consistent for his age, with out of his 22 outings, 17 counted as quality starts. deGrom finished with a record of 9-6 and an ERA of 2.69, while notching 121 strikeouts in 140.1 innings pitched. He reached double digits in K’s in three separate outings, including notching 13 versus the Marlins in September, in which he struck out the first eight batters he faced, tying the MLB record to begin a game. Overall, he only surrendered more than three earned runs twice over the course of the year, and either lost or took a no-decision in four games where he went at least six innings and surrendered two or fewer runs.
His strong debut assured the Mets that they could potentially feature one of the strongest young trios of arms in the Majors over the next few years, with Zack Wheeler and the returning Matt Harvey. And while he doesn’t boast the overwhelming power potential that either of his rotation mates does, he understands the game and how to attack hitters in a cerebral fashion. The understanding of the game is there, the results are clear and one the more impressive Rookie of the Year sleepers in recent memory will definitely continue to turn more heads in his direction as his career continues on.
Runner Up 1: Billy Hamilton, Reds
Runner Up 2: Kolten Wong, Cardinals
2013: Jose Fernandez, Marlins; Wil Myers, Rays
2012: Bryce Harper, Nationals; Mike Trout, Angels
2011: Craig Kimbrel, Braves; Jeremy Hellickson, Rays