Friday, July 19, 2013
Rookie rankings: Fernandez new No. 1
By Jim Bowden
Jose Fernandez had the most impressive outing of any pitcher in the All-Star Game.
It's been an incredible year for rookies, particularly in the National League, and we saw that first-hand in Tuesday's All-Star Game. Miami Marlins right-hander Jose Fernandez, who has allowed two runs or fewer in seven of his past eight starts, was as good as anyone that night, striking out two batters in his lone inning of work.
Rays manager Joe Maddon told me that Fernandez is the best 20-year-old pitcher he's ever seen, and I have to concur. That's why he leads the latest edition of my rookie rankings.
Buster Posey, the Giants' All-Star catcher, who caught Fernandez in the All-Star Game, said afterward, "He really impressed me especially given the situation he was pitching in. I thought he’d have nerves because of all the excitement but instead he demonstrated great poise and composure. We all know his stuff speaks for itself."
Fernandez joined Dwight Gooden and Bob Feller as the only All-Star pitchers to ever record two strikeouts before their 21st birthday. Fernandez has really begun to learn how to pitch, changing hitters' eye levels better and, more importantly, starting to understand how to set hitters up.
Miller has a 6.87 ERA over his past four starts, which knocked him out of the top spot here. The Cardinals are concerned about the number of innings he is throwing in his first MLB season, so they have pushed back his next start until July 23, which gives him 13 days off. His career high for innings in the minors is 139 2/3, and he's already at 104 2/3 for the season. How he handles a big jump in workload will be a major storyline for the Cardinals down the stretch.
The 22-year-old continues to show off an impressive array of tools, but he also shows that he needs to work on playing under control. It would also be a good idea for him to demonstrate some humility from time to time so as not to alienate the rest of the league. That said, his ceiling is unlimited and he is one of the main reasons the Dodgers have become the favorites to win the National League West.
Ryu has been the most consistent left-handed rookie starter in baseball this year, lasting at least five innings in each of his 15 starts. He has impressive command of his fastball to both sides of the plate and his changeup is a true out pitch. He's not going to overpower you, but he should be a key part of the Dodgers' rotation for years.
Teheran had been a top prospect for years and he is finally living up to the hype. Braves catcher Brian McCann told me at the All-Star Game that Teheran's rise can be traced back to the improvement of his two-seam fastball, which he is now commanding very well. There is no doubt that Teheran has finally arrived for the Braves and he will be a key for them in the second half as they try to hold off the Nationals and Phillies in the NL East.
Iglesias has always been one of the best defensive shortstops because of his soft hands, accurate arm and tremendous jumps, and those skills have translated well at third base. The big improvement for him has been at the plate, which goes back to 48 hours he spent practicing with Dustin Pedroia over the winter. Iglesias stands up much straighter in the batter's box now, and the results have been astonishing, as he's hitting .367. He's a big reason the Red Sox are in first place.
The emergence of Archer has many folks believing the Rays are now the favorites to win the AL East. Archer, 24, has started to really figure it out with a mid-nineties fastball, a wipeout slider and effective changeup. His best performance of the year was last Sunday when he threw a complete-game shutout of the Astros. His command in the strike zone is light-years better than it was a year ago, and his emergence gives the Rays the deepest rotation in the league.
Rosenthal had a sensational first half with a 2.20 ERA in 45 innings while striking out 68 and walking just 10. However, he’s also been overused, already appearing in 43 games. It’s very important that the Cardinals lighten his workload in the second half to preserve him for a possible postseason run (and beyond).
The No. 1 overall pick in the 2011 draft has lived up to expectations so far. He's gone at least five innings in all seven of his starts, while never giving up more than three runs in any of them. He's been pounding the zone with his mid-90s heat, and has walked just six batters. The reason the Pirates are going to break their 21-year streak of losing seasons is improved pitching depth, and Cole is a big part of that.
Even without an everyday job he’s made the top 10 on this list because of the damage he’s doing when he’s playing (.917 OPS). He’s given manager Mike Matheny tremendous flexibility and protection from injuries or slumps, as Matheny can slot Adams in at first and move Allen Craig to either outfield corner. Adams could also be used as a trade piece at the deadline if the Cardinals can acquire a better long-term solution at shortstop.
Gattis was reinstated from the disabled list on Sunday after being out since June 18 with a right oblique strain. His injury combined with not having an everyday job are the reasons he’s dropped out of the top 10. He has tremendous power and continues to be a real threat when he plays, as demonstrated by the fact he leads all rookies with 14 home runs.
Rendon has taken over second base for the Nationals and probably for the long term. He’s off to an impressive start with a .301/.352/.460 slash line while learning a new position (he's a third baseman by trade). His bat is legitimate and sweet spot contact is consistent. He has great presence at the plate and knows how to work the count and the Nationals are pleased that their long–term solution at second base has arrived.
The Mariners had agreed to a blockbuster deal with the Diamondbacks this past offseason that would have sent top pitching prospect Taijuan Walker and Nick Franklin for Justin Upton, a deal that blew up when Upton wouldn’t waive his no-trade clause. That could end up being the best trade that Jack Zduriencik didn’t make in his career with the Mariners. Walker profiles out to a No. 1-type starter and Franklin is clearly their long-term solution at second base, as he's hitting .268 with six homers in 169 plate appearances.
Gregorius and Adeiny Hechavarria are the two best rookie defensive shortstops in baseball, with both having above-average range to both sides. Gregorius has been the better offensive player, hitting .274/.341/.403, but the league has started to figure out how to pitch to him, as his batting average has been declining each month. His defense has been consistent but the bat is what to watch in the second half, especially since teams are starting to pitch him much differently.
Henderson leads all rookies with 10 saves in 13 opportunities, not to mention a 2.41 ERA and 35 strikeouts in 33 2/3 innings. His mid-90s fastball and late-breaking slider continue to be effective and I expect him to have a solid second half leading the way for rookie closers.