Outfielder George Springer was promoted on Wednesday by the Houston Astros, and the highly-anticipated rookie wasted no time getting his major league career underway with a single in his debut. He is, of course, far from the only big name playing his first full season in the big leagues. Here are some of the other early contenders for the Rookie of the Year awards in the American and National Leagues.
Chris Owings, SS, Arizona Diamondbacks
The Diamondbacks made some odd decisions over the offseason, like shipping out Adam Eaton and Tyler Skaggs for Mark Trumbo -- a designated hitter in a league that doesn't use the DH rule. But one of the lesser-remarked oddities was apparently giving up on shortstop Didi Gregorius, just one season after GM Kevin Towers made glowing comparisons in the press between Gregorius and Derek Jeter. The reason, of course, was Chris Owings, the team's No. 3 prospect coming into the season -- he was major league ready, and either he or Gregorius had to go. Gregorius lost that particular battle in camp for whatever reason the Diamondbacks make any of their decisions these days, and now he's being actively shopped around the league for pitching while Owings is playing everyday. Reading Owings' scouting reports, perhaps it's easy to see why the Diamondbacks are enamored of him. While he's only got average defense at shortstop and had problems not taking walks in the minors, he's a "gamer" whose "tools play up" thanks to his high energy level and athleticism. Sounds like a Diamondback, all right. And right now he's not having any problem getting on base at all, hitting .320/.370/.360 to start the season. With most of the interesting early Rookie of the Year battles going on in the AL right now, Owings could be a contender as long as he continues to get on base. But one suspects that as the season lengthens, there will be another Diamondback -- starting pitcher Archie Bradley -- who will take his place in the spotlight.
Tony Sanchez, C, Pittsburgh Pirates
We've learned a lot about how catchers are perhaps the most important players on the field thanks to the recent work done in pitch framing -- and in fairness to the traditionalists, the defensive importance of a catcher with "soft hands" isn't something that took PITCHf/x for people in baseball to figure out -- so it's only fitting that one of the early contenders for the Rookie of the Year Award is Tony Sanchez of the Pittsburgh Pirates. So far we have no idea how good a framer Sanchez is in the majors, just like we have little idea about how well the rest of his skill package will translate on the big stage -- but he was the best defensive catcher in the Pittsburgh system coming into the season. Still, Sanchez is an extreme long shot for RoY. First, he needs to be the everyday catcher, and that means Russell Martin needs to move out of the way, either by trade or by injury, neither of which seem particularly likely. But the race in the NL right now is notoriously weak, with most of the major assumed players -- Bradley, Noah Syndergaard, Javier Baez -- still in the minors. If Sanchez is able to establish himself, and if those guys either don't come up this year or get held back too late to make a major impact, Sanchez could have his time in the sun.
Jose Abreu, 1B, Chicago White Sox
Abreu is as advertised: a big guy who demolishes mistakes left in the zone and (so far, at least) doesn't do much else. He's got four homers so far on the season but is only hitting .213, and his defense at first base has been serviceable at best. Now, none of that matters as long as Abreu continues to homer in every other game, but that's not a particularly sustainable pace for the entire season -- though Abreu certainly has the power to be a 40-45 HR hitter on a regular basis through the rest of his prime. The good news is that the one thing separating Abreu from the Mark Reynolds power hitters of the world is that he's not striking out much so far, with a strikeout rate of 18.1 percent; the main reason he's not getting on base is a low BABIP of .200. Given Abreu's body type and speed (or lack thereof), it's unlikely that's going to be improving much -- but even the biggest, slowest guys can usually sustain BABIPs higher than that. Either way, it doesn't matter that much if the dingers continue; if Abreu goes over 40 HR, the award is virtually his. Unless…
Masahiro Tanaka, SP, New York Yankees
... goes and does something like win 20 games. Tanaka has two pitcher wins so far -- and yes, pitcher wins are a bad stat, but he's also striking out 11.45 batters per nine innings and walking only 0.82, with an ERA of 2.05. Tanaka's only thrown three games so far, and opposing hitters are sure to figure out something about him to key in on eventually. But so far, he's completely been the dominant force that's been advertised -- and if CC Sabathia continues to struggle, he might end up the staff ace by the time the season is over. He's certainly already getting paid like it.
Yordano Ventura, SP, Kansas City Royals
If Tanaka's year falls apart, or even just slows down to the acceptable freshman season one expects from a young pitcher getting his first taste of the highest level of competition in the world -- regardless of where he came from or what his paycheck is -- Kansas City's new young arm might be there to take his place at the top of the ballot. Ventura's ERA is a bit more deceptive when compared to his peripherals -- his ERA is 0.69 and his FIP is 2.74, while Tanaka is actually underperforming his 1.95 FIP by a tenth of a run -- but he's a legit talent whose start should be very encouraging to the Royals and their fans. It'll take some doing for him to leapfrog both Tanaka and Abreu, but he should be up for it.
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Again, it's early -- most guys are still getting their legs under them, and it would be unfair to write off the candidacies of guys like Kolten Wong based off of a few weeks of subpar hitting. But it's always better to be performing than the alternative. Narratives being what they are, the guys who establish themselves strong at the start are usually the guys still hanging in there at the end.