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Last season Red Sox second baseman Dustin Pedroia overcame a .182 April batting average and finished the season at .317, beating out Tampa Bay’s Delmon Young for the 2007 ROTY Award.
This year the Red Sox will feature two rookies that could battle each other for the prize... but the Yankees have two young superstars of their own and the D-Rays and their No. 1 ranked farm system will have another phenom in the mix as well.
Jacoby Ellsbury, OF – Boston Red Sox
Ellsbury appears to be the early favorite to win the award in the AL, but if he is forced to start the season in Pawtucket or split time with Coco Crisp in centerfield, he may struggle to get enough at-bats to prove his case.
Ellsbury batted .353 in 116 at-bats in 2007, keeping him just 14 ABs shy of not qualifying for the ’07 award. His speed enables him to hit in the leadoff spot and wreak havoc on the base paths (41 SB Paw/Bos), as well as cover the centerfield triangle of Fenway Park. He’s also proven that he can handle the pressure that comes with playing in Boston, batting .360 in the postseason and leading off two of the four WS games as a rookie.
2008 Spring Training: Ellsbury was just 1-16 heading into Saturday’s game against the Marlins, where he went 3-5 with a double and a home run. He added a 2-4 showing against Santana and the Mets on Monday.
Bottom Line: As a kid, Ellsbury once caught a deer with his bare hands (see www.survivinggrady.com. Good luck to the rest of the rookie class.
Clay Buchholz, SP – Boston Red Sox
Buchholz is currently battling Julian Tavarez and possibly Bartolo Colon for the last spot in the Red Sox starting rotation, but Clay currently owns a 12.60 ERA over 5 innings of spring training work.
Buchholz is most famous for pitching a no-hitter in his second major league start on Sept. 1 2007. He was shut down later that month due to fatigue, but finished the 2007 season with a 3-1 record, a 1.59 ERA and 22 strike outs in 22.2 innings pitched.
Soxprospects.com list him as the No. 1 prospect in the orgamization: "Buchholz features a four-seam fastball, that tops out in the high 90’s, a two-seam fastball with decent movement, a slider, a hard 12-to-6 curveball, and a change-up... Mixes in all of his pitches phenomenally. Good demeanor on the mound. Pitches well under pressure, pitching coaches have said he has ice water running through his veins."
2008 Spring Training: Buchholz has struggled with his command in his first two starts, posting a 12.60 ERA, giving up 7 runs and 3 dingers over just 5 inning of work. He’s been working on his mechanics with pitching coach John Farrell, so we’ll see how he does today against the Twins.
Bottom Line: The Sox tend to be cautious with their young arms, but with Schilling out and Beckett nursing a bad back, it looks like Buchholz will start the year as the No. 5 starter. Clay has proven he can keep major leaguers guessing with that nasty 12 to 6 curve. My guess is he tallies around 125 innings, earns a 9-4 record and Ks 120.
Joba Chamberlain, P – New York Yankees
During the offseason the Yankees debated using Joba Chamberlain as a starter, but have decided to keep him in the bullpen to start the 2008 campaign.
In 24 innings of work last season, Joba fanned 34 batters and posted a ridiculous 0.38 ERA. His fastball can hit triple digits and he compliments it with a nice curve, slider and changeup. Chamberlain has the stuff to be a starter, reliever or closer, but the Yankees seem prepared to start the season with rookie Phil Hughes and Ian Kennedy rounding out the starting 5. That means Joba will slip into the setup role for closer Mariano Rivera, but if Mo struggles early like last year or goes down with an injury, the menacing 6’ 2”, 240-pounder could find himself closing a few games.
2008 Spring Training: In his first outing this spring, Joba gave up a homer and 2 runs over 2 innings, but has a better outing 5 days later, giving up just two hits and fanning one in 2.1 IP.
Bottom Line: It’s a smart move to have Joba start the season in the pen, but the Yankees will have to be patient with their young arms, as well as their aging veterans. Stretching Joba out could mess with his development and he is better suited to step in for Mo if he struggles.
It will be tough for a “middle reliever” to make a big enough splash to earn the ROTY Award, but if he becomes the new closer, all bets are off. Plus, as Hank reminds us: America is "Yankee country," so you know Joba and Kennedy will get some votes regardless of their performance.
Ian Kennedy, SP – New York Yankees
Kennedy is slated to be the No. 5 starter in the Yankees rotation. In 2007, he made three starts for the big club, striking out 15 batters and posting a 1.89 ERA. Kennedy is not a power pitcher, but he does have decent control, holding opposing batters to a .190 BAA in 168 professional innings.
The unimpressive Kei Igawa and fellow rookie Phil Hughes round out the starting rotation, so Kennedy may have to fight for starts, but Andy Pettitte and Mike Mussina are no spring chickens so expect Ian to earn so innings if the vets hit the DL.
2008 Spring Training: Kennedy has been hot allowing just 6 hits (1 being a homerun) and walking just one batter in 6 inning of work this sprinig.
Bottom Line: Both Kennedy and Hughes (5.0 IP, 0.00 ERA, 0 hits) have hit the ground running this spring. If both phenoms continue to pitch well, they’ll steal ROTY votes from each other, making it that much easier for another candidate to win.
But Yankee fans would gladly take 20+ wins from these two youngsters over the ROTY trophy.
Evan Longoria, 3B – Tampa Bay D-Rays
The Tampa Bay D-Rays have the best farm system in the league and 3B Evan Longoria tops the list of prospects coming out of Durham.
Longoria will have more than few guys waiting for him to slip up (Eric Hinske, Willy Aybar, Joel Guzman, Akinori Iwamura), but, if given the chance, he has the ability to be this year’s Ryan Braun. He combines an advanced plate approach with a quick, compact swing that allows him to hit with power to all fields – he's hit .304/.388/.546 with 44 HRs and 43 doubles in 733 minor league at bats.
That said, KC’s Alex Gordon came to the bigs with the same kind of stats and ability, but fell flat out of the gate, batting .184 with 48 Ks in 168 at-bats through April and May.
The Royals had nothing to lose by letting their prized prospect work it out, and the D-Rays will be in the same boat as they fight to stay out of the AL East cellar, but if Longoria struggles out of the gate he’s likely to lose his job to one of the afore mentioned players and be sent back to AAA.
2008 Spring Training: Longoria is currently batting .500 with 2 doubles, a triple, a home run, and 5 RBI, and 2 stolen bases in 18 at-bats this spring… WOW.
Bottom Line: Delmon Young had to fight for votes with three Boston players (Pedroia, Matusuzaka, Okajima) in the ROTY mix last season. He finished a distant second to Pedroia. Longoria will have to beat out four players from the two most popular teams in the game if he wants to win the 2008 trophey.
Lastly, here’s a sleeper pick from the “currently under construction” Oakland Athletics: 22-year old Daric Barton. He’ll be fighting off Dan Johnson for time at 1B this season, but a look at Barton’s 72 MLB at-bats from ’07 tells you he’s got the stuff to be a successful major leaguer:
16 R, 9 2B, 4 HR, 8 RBI, .347 BA, 1068 OPS (66 at-bats in the 2 hole)
The Bottom Line AL ROTY Prediction: Evan Longoria earns the starting job at 3B and never looks back, batting in the .280’s while joining the 20HR/20SB club in his first major league season.
Ellsbury will get a late start because of Coco and Joba will close a few games but not take over for Mo outright, and that will enable Longoria to win the tightest ROTY race in recent memory.