Friday, September 6, 2013
Fernandez tops rookie rankings again
By Jim Bowden
As we head into the final weeks of the season, the one thing that really stands out is how much stronger the National League rookie class is than that of the American League and how deep this rookie class is in starting pitching -- with six hurlers making my top 10.
Of course, some rookies have dominated so thoroughly that they’ve either sat in the top position for months or have done so at one point. However, some rookies are surging with at-bats and innings under their belts. Here’s how my monthly rookie rankings stacked up through August.
(For a look at last month's version of the rankings, click here.)
In August, Fernandez was named NL Rookie of the Month for the second consecutive month, becoming the first pitcher to win the award twice in a single season since Atlanta Braves closer Craig Kimbrel did it in 2011.
Fernandez made six starts in the month, finishing with a 3-1 record and an impressive 1.15 ERA and limiting opposing batters to a .158 batting average. In 15 of his past 16 starts, he hasn't allowed more than two runs and is averaging 9.8 strikeouts per nine innings on the season with a WHIP below 1.00. His mid-to-upper 90s fastball and devastating secondary pitches have not only cemented his spot as the season’s best rookie but as one of the game’s best pitchers.
Puig’s past month has been fascinating on and off the field; his missteps have been well-documented, but he’s also shown maturity when facing the media after being disciplined for lack of concentration and lax play. He admitted he wasn’t prepared and supported manager Don Mattingly’s discipline.
He’s also battled various nagging injuries this month, including a mild right knee strain. However, he’s also continued to be a human highlight film -- making diving catches, showing off his Roberto Clemente-type arm and going first to third as aggressively as any player in baseball. Remarkably, Puig continues to maintain a batting average around .350 while displaying clutch hitting and impressive home run power. He is the game’s best rookie position player this season.
Ryu passed both Shelby Miller and Julio Teheran on my rookie list this month, although the trio remains neck-and-neck heading into the final few weeks of the season.
Ryu will miss his Friday start with back soreness, but the injury is not considered serious. He had a strong August, going 4-2 with a 2.61 ERA, striking out 34 and walking just four in 38 innings. The left-hander has demonstrated all season his best attribute is his consistent release point on all his pitches, which results in impeccable command and control in and out of the strike zone.
4. Julio Teheran | RHP | Atlanta Braves
Teheran continues to climb the list after an impressive August, during which he posted a 2.80 ERA with 42 strikeouts in 35⅓ innings. His improved fastball command and development of his slider have been the keys to his rapid success. He’s also quickly learned how to utilize all four of his pitches.
It will be interesting to see in which game manager Fredi Gonzalez decides to start Teheran in the National League Division Series simply because he’s been so much better at home (2.62 ERA) than on the road (3.42).
Miller stumbled in August with a 4.55 ERA and dropped a bit on this list. The Cardinals are counting on him to rebound in September as they fight the Cincinnati Reds and Pittsburgh Pirates for the NL Central crown.
St. Louis is counting on a number of young hurlers this season, but none are more critical than Miller. The good news for the Cardinals is that Miller's velocity hasn't slipped.
Myers struggled in August but not enough to drop him down the list. He still remains the second-best rookie position player behind Puig.
He broke out of his month-long slump Wednesday when he clubbed two home runs off Jered Weaver in his second multihomer game of the season. Myers still has to work on parts of his game, including wall awareness, defensive mechanics when the ball is in front of him and baserunning instincts. However, Myers is a high-character, future impact middle-of-the-order bat who finally gives Evan Longoria the protection in the lineup he’s lacked for years.
Archer is one of the most cerebral pitchers in baseball. He studies video, scouting reports, sports psychology and visualization as much as any hurler in the game. He’s well-read, and he understands the game. He has a unique regimen that includes throwing a 10-pitch bullpen the day before he pitches and sitting in the dark visualizing the next day’s lineup in both first and third person.
His dominant fastball in the 93-97 mph range can only be surpassed by his slider, which is absolutely electric. His occasional changeup still needs work, but when it comes, watch out. He has nice, quiet mechanics and lives around the knees. And to think the Cleveland Indians once traded him for Mark DeRosa.
Iglesias is already one of the best defensive shortstops in the AL. He possesses special athleticism, agility and instincts. His hand-eye coordination and ball transfer from glove to hand is as quick as there is in the major leagues. His high energy and enthusiasm have really been a hidden plus on this veteran-laden team.
Arenado finally arrived in the top 10 after another impressive month of August, in which hit .317/.340/.426. His 10 home runs on the season could be considered a disappointment, but that number will only climb with experience.
What’s been special about Arenado is his Gold Glove-caliber defense at third base as he makes one spectacular body-control play after another with a rocket for an arm.
Perez has quietly improved as the season has progressed, and he went 5-0 in August with a 3.06 ERA. His repertoire includes a 92-94 mph fastball, a nasty, hard slider, a deceptive changeup and an occasional curveball. It has quickly made him one of the best young left-handed starters in the AL.
Don Welke, the Rangers’ senior special assistant to the GM Jon Daniels, told me two years ago that Perez would be just as good as both Derek Holland and Matt Harrison, with an even higher ceiling. As usual, Welke -- one of the game’s best evaluators -- is looking pretty smart.