As an AL rookie, Gary Sanchez took Major League Baseball by storm last Summer. The Yankees’ highly touted catching prospect played his own version of Home Run Derby in August and September and finished second to the Tigers’ pitcher Michael Fulmer for the AL Rookie of the Year (ROY) honors. And, that was after playing only 53 games in the big leagues.
Here’s a look at this year’s ROY contenders:
Andrew Benintendi: The Red Sox outfielder was named the number one prospect in baseball this year by MLB.com and Baseball America. The seventh overall pick in the 2015 amateur draft, Benintendi appeared in 34 games for the Red Sox last season. He drove in 14 runs and scored 16 runs while putting up a .295/.359/.476 slash line.
As of this writing, Benintendi is off to a bit of a slow start this season, with just four hits in seven games. But, the Red Sox will give the outfielder plenty of time to get adjusted. He’s the clear favorite to win the AL rookie top honors.
Yoan Moncada: To land a big fish like Chris Sale, you have to pay to the point that it pinches just a bit. So, while the Red Sox were ecstatic about acquiring Sale during the offseason, you can bet they hated parting with Moncada. Ever since Boston signed Moncada during Spring Training 2015, expectations have been high. In 106 games in the minors last season, the 21-year old hit for power (15 home runs, .511 slugging pct.) and average (.294).
Though he struck out 124 times in 405 at-bats, Moncada also drew 72 walks. And, once on base, Moncada was a major threat – he stole 45 bases in 57 attempts. The switch-hitter’s play earned him a September call-up last season, during which he appeared in five games, with three hits in 19 at-bats.
Though his primary position has been second base, Moncada has also seen time at third base. Ostensibly, it was to groom him to become the Red Sox third baseman, at least until Dustin Pedroia retired. The White Sox currently have Todd Frazier at the hot corner with Tyler Saladino at second. The latter would be the likely player pushed out of a job unless Frazier is dealt during the season.
The Golden Arm
Jharel Cotton: The transition for a pitcher from the minors to the Majors is more difficult than it is for a hitter. A batter can feed off a steady diet of fastballs and mistakes to get by. A pitcher doesn’t have that luxury unless they are reaching triple digits on their fastball and the pitch has movement to boot.
But, if anyone can make the successful transition to the big leagues, Cotton is the guy. A 20th round selection out of East Carolina University, the 5’11” Cotton’s performance made him a much-wanted prospect. The A’s insisted on his inclusion in a 2016 trade deadline deal that sent Rich Hill and Josh Reddick to the Dodgers.
In five starts for Oakland last season, Cotton finished 2-0, 2.15 with 7.1 K/9 IP and a 0.818 WHIP. Hitters who faced him didn’t fare well at all with just a 1.98 batting average on baseballs they put into play (baBIP). Cotton’s two starts this season have produced mixed results. The Angels pounded him for five runs and eight hits in just four-plus innings in his season debut. Five days later, he dominated the Royals with seven shutout innings in which he allowed just two base hits.
In the Running
Mitch Haniger: The Mariners’ outfielder was drafted out of high school by the Mets in the 31st round of the 2009 MLB Amateur draft. Haniger opted to go to California Polytechnic State University instead and the move paid off. He was selected by the Brewers as the 38th overall pick in 2012.
Haniger flew under the radar for the average fan until he hit 25 home runs last season and legged out 34 doubles. Prior to that, he was traded in 2014 from the Brewers to the Diamondbacks for Gerardo Parra. And, before this season, he was moved with Jean Segura and Zac Curtis to the Mariners for Ketel Marte and Taijuan Walker.
The Diamondbacks recalled him in August and gave him 109 at-bats. Haniger showed some growing pains (.723 OPS) but contributed five home runs and 17 RBI. He also got a chance to show his outfield abilities with playing time in all three outfield positions.
So far, so good in 2017. Haniger is the M’s right fielder this season and he has produced three home runs, a pair of doubles and a stolen base, to go along with a .918 OPS through seven games.
Jordan Montgomery: The Yankees’ left-hander surprised a lot of people in Spring Training last month, but not the Yankees’ front office. He’s climbed his way up the ranks after being selected out of the University of South Carolina in the fourth round of baseball’s amateur draft.
In 19 starts for Double-A Trenton last season, Montgomery averaged 8.3 K/9 IP, allowed less than a hit per inning and posted a 2.55 ERA. His accomplishments got him a promotion to Triple-A Scranton, where he allowed just four earned runs in 37 innings pitched. Between the two levels he finished the season 14-5, 2.13 with 134 strikeouts in 139.1 innings pitched.
He recently beat out Chad Green for the fifth spot in the Yankees’ rotation and made his Major League debut on Wednesday.
Yandy Diaz: The Cuban defector signed with the Cleveland Indians in 2013 and played 76 games in the Carolina League (‘A+’) the following year. Between Double-A Akron and Triple-A Columbus last season, Diaz produced a stellar .809 OPS with the potential for increased power. His nine home runs (along with 22 doubles and four triples) and 11 stolen bases gives him the chance to be a solid 15/15 third baseman this year.
He made the big club with scorching Spring Training splits – .458/.544/.708 – and seven extra hits in 48 at-bats. In addition, he drove in 15 runs and worked his way on base with eight walks. Like a lot of rookies though, Diaz has found the initial transition to the Majors a tough one. He has one hit in his first six games.
Among the players less likely to win the Rookie of the Year Award, but still capable of putting together solid seasons, are the Yankees’ Aaron Judge, the Astros’ Yulieski Gurriel, White Sox slugger Matt Davidson, Tigers outfielder JaCoby Jones and Mariners reliever Dan Altavilla.
Waiting For Their Chance
Like Moncada, there are a number of minor league prospects biding their time as they hope for a call up to the Majors this season. Yankees outfielder Clint Frazier, White Sox pitchers Lucas Giolito and Reynaldo Lopez (both acquired from Washington in the offseason for Adam Eaton), and Indians’ outfielder Bradley Zimmer are chief among them.
We’ll check in from time to time to see how the AL Rookie of the Year race is going. Stay tuned.