With Memorial Day come and gone, we're starting to get an inkling of the way the season's shaping up as we swing past the turn and into the long, hot stretch of summer. There's still a lot of baseball left to play, and while some things still are more likely than not a mirage -- I still haven't quite bought into Carlos Gomez, franchise player just yet -- one place we are starting to get a sense of the shape of things is everyone's favorite semi-arbitrary wishcasting prize, the Rookie of the Year Award. Without further ado, here are the top candidates from each league in the last week of May.
RHP Nick Tepesch and Justin Grimm, Texas Rangers
The Texas Rangers actually have two of the strongest early candidates for Rookie of the Year. (The AL in general is a bit thin on qualified contenders at the moment; Baltimore's Manny Machado would be far and away ahead of the pack had he not burned his eligibility at the end of last year in the shadow of the juggernaut that was Mike Trout's 2012.)
If one of these two young Rangers righthanders doesn't pull away from the other, they could end up splitting the vote and both miss out. They've thrown roughly the same number of innings through the first two months of the season (48.2 for Tepesch coming into Memorial Day; 46.2 for Grimm), and while Tepesch has a prettier ERA (3.88 to Grimm's 4.05), Grimm not only has slightly better peripheral stats at the moment but has a 4-3 record to Tepesch's 3-4, and that's something voters still care about. Tepesch might have a slightly better narrative, as Grimm was a known top prospect in the Rangers organization before the year started, while Tepesch made everyone ask "Who?" and scramble to look him up in Baseball Reference when the Rangers named him fifth starter out of the gate. The summer will make or break both their cases -- perhaps more in relation to each other than to the rest of the American League rookies.
3B Conor Gillaspie, Chicago White Sox
The White Sox offense isn't the most fun group to watch hit baseballs right now --to be honest, it hasn't been for a year or so now -- except for one guy they picked up for cheap in spring training from the San Francisco Giants for a minor-league pitcher named Jeff Soptic. Gillaspie wasn't supposed to start, but offseason acquisition Jeff Keppinger has been so utterly lost since joining the White Sox that Robin Ventura had no choice but to give Gillaspie a shot at the position.
The numbers he's put up so far have been somewhat tepid in the grand scheme of things -- .291/.355/.433 in 141 PA -- but compared to both the rest of his team and the rest of the American League rookie batters so far, that's downright impressive. He can also hold his own with the glove, and while the hot corner isn't the most defensively valuable position on the field, it's certainly up there in both difficulty to play and importance. Still, and this is probably just last year's Rookie of the Year race talking, it's a bit disappointing that so far the best hitting candidate from the AL is an average-bat, average-glove 3B, especially when it's possible even the offense Gillaspie has shown so far is him playing over his head.
C Yan Gomes, Cleveland Indians
The dark horse in the mix in the American League right now is Yan Gomes, the Indians catcher that came over from Toronto in the Esmil Rogers trade. Gomes suffers from small sample size problems even more than the other guys in this conversation, as when the season started he wasn't even with the team. He only got a shot at the job when backup Lou Marson, who has been plagued by injuries, once again hit the DL early in the season.
Gomes gives Cleveland manager Terry Francona a chance to either DH or play Carlos Santana at first base, as Gomes is far more comfortable behind the dish than the Indians' franchise slugger. So far he's made himself a hard guy to bench, too, hitting .292/.309/.631 so far in 68 plate appearances. He showed a better eye last year in similarly limited playing time in Toronto, and if I had to pick three regression candidates from a list of all the guys listed in this piece it would just be Yan Gomes's name three times. Still, Rookie of the Year isn't really about sustainability or potential, but performance. If he keeps slugging well -- not .600, but .480-.520 -- keeps hitting for average and starts walking a little bit more across 300 PA or so from the catcher position, the rest of the field probably won't be strong enough to make up for his reduced playing time.
In the Mix: CF Leonys Martin, TEX; OF J.B. Shuck, LAA; OF Oswaldo Arcia, MIN
Outside Looking In: RHP Kevin Gausman, BAL; RHP Trevor Bauer, CLE
* * *
RHP Shelby Miller, St. Louis Cardinals
This year, the big boys in the Rookie of the Year race are over in the National League, at least so far. By now you are undoubtedly familiar with Matt Harvey, the new ace of the New York Mets; he's dating supermodels, he's getting Sports Illustrated covers, he's getting terrible nicknames from those Sports Illustrated covers (seriously, The Dark Knight of Gotham?). He isn't eligible for Rookie of the Year, but he is on the early short list for the National League Cy Young award, along with Dodgers ace Clayton Kershaw.
So far, his primary competition comes from Shelby Miller, who despite being a St. Louis Cardinal -- one of the league's premier franchises with a fairly national fanbase, and one which has enjoyed far more recent success than the Mets -- is getting far less press than Harvey, mostly because one of them plays in New York City and the other does not. So it goes. That doesn't make what Shelby Miller is doing any less impressive, however; his stats are fairly similar to Harvey's across the board: 62.1 IP, 2.02 ERA, striking out four times as many batters as he's walking (Kershaw, of course, is otherworldly, his ERA down at 1.63 in 80.1 IP). He has as many wins as Harvey and Kershaw, but he also has three losses. When a guy with an ERA around 2.0 has three losses two months into the season, we all know there are eight other players who need to shoulder the blame for that, but a number of voters still like to pretend that's not the case. Kershaw also has three losses and considering where his ERA is sitting, that's even worse. Regardless, while Miller probably won't be walking away with the National League Cy Young, he's doing mighty fine for himself in the Rookie of the Year race.
SS Didi Gregorius, Arizona Diamondbacks
Poor Didi Gregorius. Why couldn't he be playing in the American League, where he'd be walking away with RoY honors right now? I harbor deep suspicions that this weighs more heavily on the minds of Indians fans, who might be wishing that their team had been able to cut out the middleman and pry Gregorius free for themselves rather than get pitcher Trevor Bauer, than it does on Gregorius himself. He's more likely than not paying most of his attention to helping his team win games, and he's doing pretty well at that so far: .330/.395/.515 in 116 PA, with good but not great defense from the shortstop position. Kevin Towers was roundly mocked in the offseason for saying that Gregorius reminded him of a young Derek Jeter; so far, the young shortstop has given his new general manager absolutely no cause to regret those words. There's still a lot of season to go, however, and even the rosiest projections about Gregorius's bat should probably stop well shy of a .900 OPS. We'll check back in with him (and the rest of these guys) after the All-Star Break.
C/OF Evan Gattis, Atlanta Braves
Gattis is probably getting the most press so far out of all the Rookie of the Year candidates, mostly because his Braves are in first place and playing extremely entertaining, 90's-style go-yard baseball. Gattis is a nice story, too, the janitor-turned-elder statesman of the RoY race at 26 years old, who got his shot when Brian McCann went down with an injury in camp. Gattis got to play behind the dish, started hitting bombs, and the rest is history. If this season has given us one really awful nickname -- for some reason, this Matt Harvey "Dark Knight of Gotham" business has legs when every cell in a sane person's brain should be shouting "NO" at it -- it has also given us Gattis's "El Oso Blanco," the White Bear, which is at least topical and coherent.
Gattis has no real defensive home -- he's really pretty bad at catcher, all things considered, and the Braves are full up on starting corner outfielders and first basemen -- and has mostly been relegated to the bench for now, but he's a nice insurance policy to have in case one of those guys or McCann goes down for an extended period of time. Still, he probably won't get the playing time for serious consideration against Gregorius and Miller.
In the Mix: OF A.J. Pollock, ARI; OF Marcell Ozuna, MIA; LHP Hyun-Jin Ryu, LAD; RHP Jose Fernandez, MIA
Outside Looking In: RHP Tyler Cloyd, PHI; LHP Tony Cingriani, CIN; IF Jedd Gyorko, SDP