Rookie monsters: BBWAA winners unveiled tonight
First-year players nominated are cream of crop
The youth movement in Major League Baseball continues to expand and dominate.
With the 2015 season and the accomplishments of the teams and players now etched into the sport's official history, it's important to look back and honor the remarkable exploits we witnessed on the field.
Fittingly, the Jackie Robinson Rookie of the Year Awards, presented by the Baseball Writers' Association of America, will be first up. The winners, who will be announced at 6 p.m. ET tonight on MLB Network and MLB.com, will represent the cream of an incredible crop that is invigorating the game.
Once again, players seem to be arriving on the big league scene well before their expected ripening dates, and their clubs and fans are rejoicing in their excellence.
In the National League, the Rookie of the Year Award will go the leading vote-getter from the terrific trio of Cubs third baseman Kris Bryant, Giants third baseman Matt Duffy and Pirates infielder Jung Ho Kang.
The American League winner will be the champion of another tough vote, this one among Astros shortstop Carlos Correa, Indians shortstop Francisco Lindor and Twins slugger Miguel Sano -- none of whom were even on Major League rosters on Opening Day.
Last year's NL winner, Mets starter Jacob deGrom, started his decorated inaugural season in the Minors, and last year's AL Rookie of the Year Award winner, White Sox slugger Jose Abreu, was a bit of an unknown coming over from the Cuban professional league. But both found the Majors to be a comfortable place, while creating nightmares for their opponents.
The same will surely be said for this year's winners.
Bryant, who has to be considered the front-runner for the NL award, considering that he was named the Players Choice Award winner for NL Outstanding Rookie last week, was making headlines before the season began because he put up cartoon-like numbers in Spring Training, but did not make Chicago's roster out of Spring Training.
It wasn't long, of course, before the 23-year-old slugging third baseman was promoted. Bryant made his big league debut on April 17 and took off from there, smashing 26 home runs and leading all rookies in RBIs (99), doubles (31) and runs (87) while recording a .275/.369/.488 slash line.
The youth-infused Cubs made a bold run into the postseason, advancing to the NL Championship Series, and Bryant's imposing presence in the lineup and solid play at the hot corner was a huge contributor.
"The overall body of work has been spectacular for a first-year guy," Cubs manager Joe Maddon said of Bryant in July. "All of the adjustments he's making here, how hard he's been pitched, based on our lineup and how it sets up, learning a new position and doing it so well -- he's done a lot of really good things this year. We're all really proud of him."
The Giants have to be proud of Duffy, too. The 24-year-old stepped into the third-base spot vacated by Pablo Sandoval and made it his home, posting a slash line of .295/.334/.428, hitting 12 homers, and driving in 77 runs while scoring 77 runs and stealing 12 bases. He led all NL rookies with 169 hits.
"I just like the way he battles up there," said Giants manager Bruce Bochy, who had Duffy batting third in San Francisco's order. "He's a tough out."
And so was Kang. The 28-year-old import from the Korea Baseball Organization became a staple of the Pirates' playoff-bound batting order because of advanced offensive skills. Unfortunately for Pittsburgh, Kang's season ended in mid-September when he suffered a broken leg and left knee injury on a takeout slide by the Cubs' Chris Coghlan.
Nevertheless, Kang's impact was felt. The shortstop and third baseman hit .287/.355/.461 with 15 homers and 58 RBIs.
"He's doing things he's probably done before, in a different place," Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said midseason. "He continues to grow. He expects a lot out of himself. … It's been fun to watch him continue to match up at the best level he has ever played it."
In the AL, Correa comes into this award season as the overwhelming favorite. Like Bryant in the NL, Correa was the Players Choice Award honoree for AL Outstanding Rookie, and their career paths are similar.
Correa was the No. 1 overall choice in the 2012 Draft, and he soared through Houston's Minor League system, making the Majors on June 8 at the age of 20. Despite being the youngest position player in the Majors in 2015, Correa put up a .279/.345/.512 slash line, hit 22 homers, drove in 68 runs, stole 14 bases, scored 52 runs and played stellar, athletic defense -- all in 99 games.
Then Correa helped his team into the AL Division Series, where the Astros took the eventual World Series champion Royals to five games.
"This kid came into the big leagues with a great spotlight on him," Astros manager A.J. Hinch said during October. "Everyone knows who Correa is, No. 1 pick, expectations through the roof. And you wouldn't expect anyone to live up to them, let alone exceed them the way he has. So he's handled himself with a ton of poise, a ton of charisma.
"He quickly became the center focus of our lineup. And as a 20-, 21-year-old, he hasn't backed down a bit. The attention has been on him since the day he got signed as the first overall pick. It only magnified when he got to the big leagues and he's only exceeded the expectations every step along the way."
So has Lindor. Cleveland's dynamic 22-year-old shortstop also only played 99 games, but he recorded a slash line of .313/.353/.482, hit 12 homers, racked up 12 steals and 38 extra-base hits, scored 50 runs, drove in 51 runs, led AL rookies with 4.6 Wins Above Replacment, according to Fangraphs, and led all AL shortstops with 10 Defensive Runs Saved.
"If you take his body of work, it's kind of hard to find somebody who's done better," Cleveland manager Terry Francona said. "I know the kid Correa's been really good, but Frankie's been across the board: defensively, offensively, on the bases, power. He's done it all."
The final AL candidate, Sano, didn't arrive in the Majors until almost a month after Correa and Lindor, but he announced his presence with serious power. Serving primarily as Minnesota's designated hitter, Sano, 22, hit 18 homers and 17 doubles and had 52 RBIs in 80 games while posting a slash line of .269/.385/.530. He ranked first among AL rookies in on-base percentage and slugging percentage.
"The power is off the charts," Twins starter Mike Pelfrey said of Sano during the season. "He's only going to get better. The Twins are lucky to have him. For us, it's pretty fun to watch."