Sept. 11, 2009  

Who are the top candidates for the Pat Listach Rookie of the Year Award? Last year's winner was a nail-biter, with Carolina's Dustin Pedroia edging out Marietta's Josh Hamilton by a single vote. Who will the voters prefer this year?

This year is the second-biggest rookie class since we started Rookie Watch way back in 2002! There were 128 rookies this year, up five from last year. The record is held by the 2007 season, when there were 148 rookies.

This year's rookie class is comprised of 54 batters and 74 pitchers (29 starters, 42 relievers and three swing men). Of those, just 34 of the batters and 31 of the pitchers appeared in at least one game.

We're not going to tell people who to vote for, but for time and space constraints we will rule out those guys who really shouldn't factor into the voting -- rookies who weren't on teams or barely played, or were absolute disasters.

The Batters

Our Top 5 Batter Candidates
(in alphabetical order)
John Baker
.284/.372/.436 (.808 OPS)
32 2B, 13 HR, 90 R, 77 RBI
Jay Bruce
OF, D.C.
.269/.310./519 (.829 OPS)
25 2B, 33 HR, 77 R, 95 RBI
Shin-Soo Choo
OF, Hillsborough
.290/.363/.565 (.928 OPS)
51 2B, 33 HR, 100 R, 90 RBI
Elijah Dukes
OF, New Jersey
.270/.372/.480 (.852 OPS)
26 2B, 21 HR, 73 R, 59 RBI
Skip Schumaker
OF, Arkansas
.338/.391/.449 (.840 OPS)
24 2B, 7 3B, 88 R, 12 SB

There were several very good hitters in this year's rookie class, but it will be tough to decide which one had the best season. The leader in several key categories was 7th overall pick Shin-Soo Choo. The 26-year-old South Korean outfielder helped the Hillsborough Hired Hitmen back into the post-season by hitting .290/.363/.565 (.928 OPS) with 51 2B, 33 HR, 100 R and 90 RBI. Choo led the rookie class in SLG, OPS, doubles, runs, extra base hits (87), total bases (320), runs created (115.0) and RC/27 (7.4), tied for the rookie lead in HRs, and was 2nd among rookies in batting average, hits, and RBIs. Among all DMBL batters, Choo tied for 3rd in 2B, was 4th in extra base hits, 5th in SLG, tied for 7th in OPS, was 9th in RC/27, and 10th in total bases.

Tied with Choo for the home run lead and right behind him in most of the power categories was D.C. outfield Jay Bruce. The 22-year-old outfielder was drafted in the 4th Round (#51 overall) last year and finally made his debut this season, hitting a respectable .269 with an .829 OPS (.310 OBP, .519 SLG). In addition to tying for the rookie lead with 33 HRs, Bruce also led the freshman class in RBIs (95); he finished 2nd in SLG, extra base hits and total bases, 4th in RC, and 5th in runs and RC/27... other big boppers included New Jersey's Joey Votto (.230/.301/.402, 24 HR, 72 RBI), Las Vegas's Chris Davis (.243/.284/.463, 20 HR, 77 RBI), and Sardine City's Evan Longoria (.239/.305/.439, 21 HR, 64 RBI).

If you're not looking for a power hitter, you might want to consider Arkansas's Skip Schumaker. Skip SchumakerThe 29-year-old outfielder came at a bargain price -- he was the 119th player selected (9th round), right between Blake DeWitt and Joe Blanton -- but performed like a first rounder, leading all rookies in batting average (.338), on-base percentage (.391), hits (179), and tied for the rookie lead in triples (7); he also was 2nd in runs created (90.7) and RC/27 (6.5), 3rd in OPS (.840) and stolen bases (12), 4th in runs scored (88) and total bases (238), and 5th in SLG (.449)... Joining Schumaker (and, oddly, Longoria) as the only rookie batters in this year's All-Star Game was New Jersey's Elijah Dukes. The troubled young man has long tempted DMBL owners with his five-tool ability -- he was first drafted in 2007 as a 23-year-old ineligible prospect -- but he finally made his debut with New Jersey this year, after being drafted #12 overall. Dukes is a nice compromise choice -- he has more HRs and RBIs than Schumaker, but a higher BA and OBP than Choo. But while his overall numbers are balanced (.270/.372/.480, with 26 2B, 21 HR, 73 R and 59 RBI), they might not be strong enough to sway the voters... Hoboken's Denard Span (.273/.366/.388, .754 OPS, 7 3B, 93 R) also had an all-around solid campaign, with one odd caveat -- though he led all rookies in stolen bases, he also led all rookies in caught stealing -- 13 each!

Looking for someone other than an outfielder? Catcher John Baker was drafted by the Endzone Animals in the 6th Round (#72 overall) by Philly, where he hit .304 but with almost no power (.415 SLG); then he was traded to Las Vegas, where the thin desert air apparently helped his power stroke (.267, but .453 SLG). Overall, Baker hit .284 with a .436 SLG and an impressive .372 OBP (.808 OPS), with 32 2B, 13 HR, 90 R and 77 RBI, a very nice season from a catcher. Other solid seasons from guys who play tough positions -- Carolina 2B/SS Mike Aviles (.290/.312/.429, .741 OPS, 28 2B, 13 HR, 61 RBI); Hillsborough C Kelly Shoppach (.247/.317/.488, .805 OPS, 39 2B, 65 RBI); and New Jersey 2B/3B Ian Stewart (.245/.317/.466, .783 OPS, 24 HR, 72 RBI).

The Starters

Our Top 5 Starter Candidates
(in alphabetical order)
Joba Chamberlain
SP, Sardine City
8-12, 3.80 ERA, 12.9 R/9
.586 QS%, 210 K, 168.1 IP
Armando Galarraga
SP, Amityville
7-17, 5.52 ERA, 13.0 R/9, .433 QS%, 136 K, 169.2 IP
Jair Jurrgens
SP, Arkansas
13-9, 5.33 ERA, 15.1 R/9, .419 QS%, 135 K, 192.2 IP
Edinson Volquez
SP, New Jersey
6-12,5.24 ERA, 14.6 R/9, .424 QS%, 171 K, 185.2 IP
Chris Volstad
SP, Amityville
17-11, 3.92 ERA, 12.4 R/9, .576 QS%, 113 K, 197.2 IP

It's always tough to survive as a rookie starter in the DMBL, and this year was no exception. But it's not impossible for a rookie starter to win the Listach -- in fact, four of the 11 ROY Awards have gone to starters, most recently Francisco Liriano in 2007.

Perhaps the all-around most successful rookie campaign this year was turned in by Amityville's Chris Volstad. The 22-year-old righthander led rookie starters in wins (17), W% (.607), innings (197.2), H/9 (7.8), R/9 (12.4), OPS allowed (.681), and quality starts (18), was tied for the rookie lead in starts (33), and was second among rookie starters in ERA (3.92), HR/9 (0.8), and quality start percentage (.576). Among all DMBL starters, Volstad tied for second in H/9, was 4th in OPS allowed, tied for 4th in wins, tied for 6th in HR/9, and tied for 8th in QS. His season is all the more amazing when you consider Volstad, the 8th overall pick in this year's draft, pitched for an Amityville team that lost 91 games!

The runner-up in several of those categories -- and the winner in quite a few others -- Joba Chamberlainwas long-heralded Sardine City sensation Joba Chamberlain. Drafted #3 overall in the 2008 draft as an ineligible prospect and then protected, the 23-year-old right-hander made his debut this season to mixed results -- he went just 8-12. (But then again, he had it even worse than Volstad -- Sardine City lost 100 games!) If you can overlook the W-L record, Joba may have had an even better year than Volstad -- he led all pitchers (not just rookies) with an impressive 11.2 K/9; among rookies, he led the starters in ERA (3.80), Ks (210), HR/9 (0.7), K:BB (2.8) and QS% (.586), and was second in H/9 (8.7), R/9 (12.9), OPS allowed (.695), and QS (17). Among all DMBL starters, he was tied for 3rd in HR/9, tied for 4th in Ks, 9th in ERA, 9th in OPS allowed, and tied for 10th in QS%. He also was the only rookie starting pitcher named to this year's All-Star team.

Outside of those two, it was an ugly year for rookie starters: no one else had an ERA under 5, and the only rookie starter other than Volstad to post a winning record was Arkansas's Jair Jurrgens, who went 13-9 with a 5.33 ERA and 15.1 R/9. The other notable rookies were New Jersey's Edinson Volquez (6-12, 5.24 ERA, 14.6 R/9, 171 K in 185.2 IP); D.C.'s John Lannan (9-14, 6.13 ERA, 15.1 R/9); Amityville's Armando Galarraga (7-17, 5.52 ERA, 13.0 R/9); Hoboken's Nick Blackburn (4-5, 6.18 ERA, 15.9 R/9); and Hiroki Kuroda, who went 3-9 with a 5.62 ERA but 12.8 R/9 (and a rookie-best 2.1 BB/9) between Vancouver and Philly, but made just 13 starts (73.2 IP).

The Relievers

Our Top 5 Reliever Candidates
(in alphabetical order)
Jose Arrendondo
RP, Hillsborough
12 wins, 2 saves, 12 holds
3.19 ERA, 11.3 R/9, .229 IR%
Joey Devine
RP, Newark
5 wins, 35 saves, 0 holds
1.55 ERA, 9.0 R/9, .946 SV%
Jim Jonhnson
2 wins, 2 saves, 4 holds
1.91 ERA, 11.2 R/9, 113.0 IP
Edwar Ramirez
RP, Carolina
5 wins, 3 saves, 16 holds
3.14 ERA, 11.0 R/9, .081 IR%
Brad Ziegler
RP, Marietta
3 win, 2 saves, 21 holds
2.93 ERA, 13.5 R/9, 0.2 HR/9

In the 11-year history of the ROY Award, it's been won by a reliever just once -- setup man John Rocker, who split his rookie season in 1999 between Hawaii and Arkansas. Could it happen again this year?

This year's top candidate is Newark's Joey Devine. Joey DevineThe 25-year-old closer is just the second rookie to win the Dennis Eckersley Rolaids Reliever of the Year Award as he finished first in relief points; he also led the league in saves and was named to the All-Star team. But most impressively, Devine set a new all-time DMBL record with a .946 save percentage (35 saves in 37 opportunities), just edging out the old mark of .938 set by John Smoltz in 2003. The #9 pick in this year's draft led all rookie relievers with at least 50 IP in ERA (1.55), R/9 (9.0), and OPS (.502); he was tied for 1st in H/9 (5.9), was 3rd in K/9 (8.4) and 4th in IR% (.256); among all relievers with at least 50 IP, Devine was 2nd in ERA, 2nd in OPS, 3rd in R/9, and tied for 5th in H/9.

The only other rookie entrusted with even a share of the closing duties was Hoboken's Craig Breslow. The 3rd Round pick (#34 overall) split the closing duties with Ryan Madson and Takashi Saito, and the 28-year-old lefty seemed up to the challenge, recording 14 saves in 21 tries, plus 8 holds, while posting a 3.87 ERA and 13.1 R/9 in 83.2 IP.

Some solid work was turned in by rookies in other bullpen roles as well. Jim Johnson, taken one spot ahead of Brewslow (#33 overall), was terrific in middle relief for Sardine City (1.99 ERA, 10.8 R/9 in 81.1 IP), but with the team heading toward a 100-loss season, he was waived and promptly claimed by the Endzone Animals. Johnson kept it up in Philly (1.71 ERA, 11.9 R/9 in 31.2 IP); overall he had a 1.91 ERA and 11.2 R/9, and he led all relievers (not just rookies) with 113.0 relief innings. On the downside, Johnson walked a staggering 51 batters against 52 Ks, and he pretty much pitched in garbage time -- despite 61 appearances, he recorded just 2 wins, 2 saves, and 4 holds... Marietta's Brad Ziegler led the league in holds (21) and led all relievers with at least 50 IP in fewest HR/9 (0.2 -- 2 HR in 86.0 IP). His 2.93 ERA was 4th among rookie relievers with at least 50 IP. But he also posted a 13.5 R/9, thanks to his nearly 1:1 K:BB ratio (43 BB, 44 K)... Carolina's Edwar Ramirez was second in the DMBL (and tops among rookies) in stranding inherited runners. Ramirez inherited 37 runners and just 3 scored (.081 IR%), making him the most popular guy on the team. Overall, Ramirez had a 3.14 ERA, 11.0 R/9, and 9.9 K/9 with 5 wins, 3 saves and 16 holds... Hillsborough's Jose Arrendondo (3.19 ERA, 11.3 R/9) led the league in relief wins (12) and also picked up 2 saves and 12 holds, and joined Devine as the only rookie relievers on the All-Star team... Marietta's Jesse Carlson (5-1, 1 SV, 3 holds, 3.32 ERA, 10.1 R/9) and Vancouver's Cory Wade (5-0, 4 SV, 7 holds, 2.89 ERA, 10.0 R/9) also had solid rookie seasons.

Phil Plantier, one of the top prospects of the last decade, was picked by baseball guru Bill James in 1991 as the player most likely to lead the majors in HRs during the 1990s. In 1994, at age 24, he hit 47 round-trippers with 118 RBIs for the Charleston Chiefs, his first and last DMBL season. He's currently an analyst for Fox Sports Net. Click Here for past articles.