<
>
Insider

MLB Rookie Rankings: Puig rising

6/12/2013
AP Photo/Alex Gallardo

“Puig-mania” is alive and well in Los Angeles.

Los Angeles Dodgers rookie Yasiel Puig has been in the big leagues for just a little more than a week, but he already has skyrocketed to the No. 2 spot on my Rookie Rankings after a historic debut week. He became the first Dodger since 1916 to have five multihit games among his first seven, and has quickly drawn comparisons to some of the most athletic five-tool players who have ever played the game.

And this isn't just the typical hysteria.

To wit: Puig made legendary Dodgers broadcaster Vin Scully say this about one of his plays:

“I have learned over the years that there comes a rare and precious moment where there is absolutely nothing better than silence -- nothing better to be absolutely speechless to sum up a situation. And that was the moment. Holy mackerel.”

I certainly won't tell you I predicted he'd be dominant, but I can tell you that I've always believed in Puig's raw ability. In one of my blogs during spring training, I wrote the following:

“Puig’s at-bats will be must-see events, and he will electrify Dodger Stadium, bringing back the memories of 'Fernandomania,' when Fernando Valenzuela routinely sold out Chavez Ravine during his starts. Puig is as good as advertised.”

But that doesn't make him the best rookie in baseball just yet. St. Louis Cardinals right-hander Shelby Miller remains at the top of my Rookie Rankings for the second straight month. This is a player who is dominating like a pure No. 1 starter, week in and week out.

1. Shelby Miller | RHP | Stock: Same

Miller leads all National League starters in ERA and, with a WHIP under 1.00, has pitched like a No. 1 starter all year. In his 12 starts this year, he has yet to give up more than three earned runs in a game. Five times he’s departed a game without giving up a run. Plus, he's beaten some of the best lineups in baseball, like when he struck out 13 in a one-hit shutout over the Colorado Rockies on May 10. He continues to pound the strike zone with a 91-95 mph fastball that has nasty sink and provides plenty of ground-ball outs. He pitches ahead in the count, which sets up a devastating 12-6 curveball. I expect to see Miller at the All-Star Game next month.

 

2. Yasiel Puig | OF | Stock: Up

He has made the most impressive rookie debut I’ve ever seen. He’s shown off his hitting ability, power, running speed, arm and glove. His quick-twitch muscles have allowed him to do special things at the plate even when he’s fooled. He has broken up double plays and shown almost too much aggression. His infectious smile reminds me of Ken Griffey Jr. and Kirby Puckett and how much fun baseball can be. He has re-energized the Dodgers and that fan base by himself. He’s made throws from the warning track that remind you of Roberto Clemente; he’s shown us a speed/power combination that harks back to Bo Jackson. When he comes to the plate, the fans at Dodger Stadium just stand and cheer. Puig-mania has arrived at Dodger Stadium, but for me it isn’t just because of his phenomenal week. Puig is the real deal, and I already have him in the conversation with Mike Trout, Bryce Harper and Manny Machado as one of the top four young position players in the game.

3. Didi Gregorius | SS | Stock: Up

Gregorius already is being mentioned as one of the NL’s top defensive shortstops. He has shown above-average range to both sides and a gun for an arm. He makes the body-control play with ease and is very instinctive around the diamond. He has hit better than .300 most of the year and has shown surprising pop thanks to a quick bat. He has shown good plate discipline and pitch recognition. He has been smartly aggressive around the bases, taking advantage of outfielders playing on their heels. He just might end up being one of Kevin Towers’ best trades as GM of the Diamondbacks.

4. Hyun-Jin Ryu | LHP | Stock: Same

Dodgers GM Ned Colletti was criticized after giving Ryu a six-year, $36 million major league contract this past offseason. Even in spring training the players and coaching staff were concerned it could have been a mistake.

No longer. Two months into the season, Ryu has proved himself as one of the best value signings of the offseason. He is 6-2 with a 2.72 ERA and has not given up more than two earned runs in any of his past five starts. Ryu has a solid 88-91 mph fastball, occasionally getting it up to 92 and touching 93. His fastball command is impressive on both sides of the plate, and he has a deceptive delivery. His changeup is his best secondary pitch and is an out pitch. His slider is better than advertised, and as it gets more consistent, Ryu will get even better. His curveball is a slow roller and hangs at times, so it’s a pitch he’ll need to be careful with.

5. Jim Henderson | RHP | Stock: Same

Henderson was put on the DL on May 25 with a strained hamstring after compiling a 0.92 ERA and nine saves in 20 appearances. He returned from the DL this week and was given back his job -- the right move by manager Ron Roenicke. Despite blowing the save in his first opportunity since returning, he still clearly has been the best rookie closer in baseball. His 94-97 mph fastball and his wipeout, hard, late-breaking slider with command form a devastating combination.

6. Marcell Ozuna | OF | Stock: Up

The Marlins made a bold move when they purchased Ozuna's contract from their Double-A affiliate after Giancarlo Stanton went down with an injury April 29. At the time, team president Larry Beinfest acknowledged Ozuna “probably wasn’t ready,” but the team had no choice because of need. Ozuna took advantage of the opportunity and not only proved he was ready but has shown he’s one of the best hitters in this rookie class. Ozuna, 22, was signed as a undrafted free agent in 2008. He’s presently hitting an impressive .331/.371/.472 with 13 doubles, two triples, one home run and 17 RBIs. The Marlins moved him from right field to center field this week to make room for Stanton, who was reinstated from the disabled list on Monday. Ozuna’s quick bat speed should result in more home runs in the second half.

7. Jose Fernandez | RHP | Stock: Up

After watching Fernandez pitch, Tampa Bay Rays manager Joe Maddon told me he thought the 20-year-old was the best pitcher he’s ever seen at this age. He also said: “If [Fernandez] stays in good health, over the next five years he could become the best pitcher in the game, that’s how friggin’ good he is.” Fernandez has kept the Marlins in most of the games he’s started, with a 94-97 mph fastball and a late-breaking curveball that’s hard but not a deep break. His slider and change still are developing. Despite his overwhelmingly nasty stuff, Fernandez’s pitch selection has been predictable early on, one reason he hasn’t been completely dominating.

8. Jedd Gyorko | 2B | Stock: Up

Gyorko has been one of the most consistent position player rookies in baseball. On defense, he has developed into an adequate second baseman because of his soft hands and first-step quickness. However, his bat has separated him. He has line-drive power to all fields and can turn on the inside fastball. He should end up hitting around .280 with 20 home runs, which is pretty impressive for a rookie second baseman. In time, I would expect him to develop into a legitimate middle-of-the-order run producer.

9. Evan Gattis | C | Stock: Down

Gattis remains one of the best rookie stories in baseball this year despite losing his everyday status when catcher Brian McCann returned from the disabled list. Gattis, 27, was April’s NL Rookie of the Month and won it again in May. His 13 home runs and 34 RBIs rank among the best in the league. Gattis has shown great bat speed and physical strength. His hitting mechanics are simple -- short and to the ball. The only problem is Gattis’ playing time will continue to decrease unless the Braves have another injury. But that won’t stop manager Fredi Gonzalez from finding Gattis playing time behind the plate, pinch-hitting and in double switches.

10. Julio Teheran | RHP | Stock: Up

Teheran, 22, has been one of the Braves’ top starting pitching prospects for years. He was given opportunities at the big league level for each of the past two seasons but was never able to stick. This year is different, however, and Teheran finally is starting to live up to the scouting reports, as we saw last week when he took a no-hitter late into a game against the Pirates and finished with a career-high 11 strikeouts while walking just two in eight innings of work.

Braves GM Frank Wren said: "Teheran is getting more and more comfortable in the big leagues. We see his stuff getting crisper as time goes along. He's looking closer to the guy we saw in 2011 in Triple-A. He found his arm slot last fall and has more movement on his fastball and has refined both breaking balls."

11. Trevor Rosenthal | RHP | Stock: Same

Rosenthal has taken over the eighth inning for the Cardinals but has been dominating like a closer. In his past 18 appearances, dating back to April 24, he hasn’t given up a single run. He has now struck out 46 batters in just 32 innings while walking just six. His fastball has been consistently 96-100 mph, but it’s been his developing changeup that has impressed and is his best secondary pitch. His hard 81 mph curveball also has been devastating. I put him in the class of Craig Kimbrel and Aroldis Chapman as relievers with the game’s best raw stuff.

12. Cody Allen | RHP | Stock: Up

Allen, 24, was the Indians' 23rd-round pick in 2011. Allen’s velocity really has developed over the past couple of years, now reaching career highs in the 94-97 mph range. He’s a two-pitch reliever with his hard breaking ball -- a hard slider at 84 mph that has near curveball tilt. He pounds the zone, and like Rosenthal, has closer stuff. Earlier this year he struck out Torii Hunter, Miguel Cabrera, Victor Martinez and Jhonny Peralta in order. It won’t surprise me if he ends up in the closer role by the end of the 2014.

13. Nolan Arenado | 3B | Stock: Same

Arenado has played splendid defense at the hot corner for the Rockies, showing off range to both sides and a strong arm. He’s made some spectacular body-control plays as well. His bat has gotten off to a slow start but we've seen power with 10 doubles and five home runs including a walk-off last week. His slow start offensively has not affected his defense or attitude, and he has fit in well into the Rockies' clubhouse. He can be overaggressive and energetic at times but should continue to develop into one of the best rookie hitters and third basemen in this year’s class.

14. Tony Cingrani | LHP | Stock: Down

The Cincinnati Reds optioned Cingrani to Triple-A Louisville on May 18 not because of performance but to make room for the team’s ace, Johnny Cueto, who was reinstated from the disabled list. However, Cueto was just placed back on the disabled list, and Cingrani was brought back up to start for the Reds. Cingrani dropped down on my list this week simply because of the break in service time. He’s still the best left-handed starter in this rookie class.

Cingrani’s fastball has been anywhere between 88 and 95 mph, and he locates it really well to both sides of the plate. He knows how to add and subtract a little and is an expert on finishing hitters at the top of the strike zone. When he needs a little extra giddy-up, he finds it. His changeup is his best secondary pitch, but his slider is definitely developing.

15. Justin Wilson | LHP | Stock: Up

Wilson, 25, was drafted in the fifth round by the Pirates back in 2008. He was a starting pitcher throughout the minor leagues and didn’t make it to the big leagues until last September as a reliever. He yielded 10 hits in just 4.2 innings but somehow managed an ERA of 1.93. Pirates manager Clint Hurdle liked what he saw and told Wilson he should prepare to be a reliever going forward. Wilson changed his approach and repertoire to prepare for his new role and it’s worked. Wilson’s velocity has increased out of the pen to 94-95 mph, his hard slider comes in between 88 and 90 mph, and his curveball is an effective knee buckler at 76 mph that he throws as much as his slider. He has quickly become one of the better power left-handed setup relievers in the league.