What happens to rookies the year after the Rookie of the Year?
Whether they won the award or were merely in the conversation, the hope is that they follow up with a sophomore season that is equally successful or more so -- that they'll make the transition from interesting new talent to everyday player (or rotation stalwart, or bullpen fixture). Some do; some don't. Going back through history there are a lot of great players represented in the Rookie of the Year voting rolls -- and a lot of guys like John Castino, an infielder who had a couple okay years for the Minnesota Twins in the nineties and was out of the majors before his 30th birthday.
Many players don't get Rookie of the Year votes at all, of course -- not every rookie can factor into the voting, after all, and not all really deserve to -- but that doesn't mean their teams aren't expecting them to step up and step forward in their second seasons in the bigs. Here are some of the guys who are making noise one month into their sophomore year in MLB, despite not being in the conversation for Rookie of the Year during their first year of eligibility (more on that later).
Anthony Rendon, 2B/3B, Washington Nationals
Anthony Rendon came up too late in the year -- and too late in the narrative -- to make any sort of dent in the runaway momentum that Miami's Jose Fernandez and Los Angeles's Yasiel Puig had built. Nor should he have: He was a league average bat in just under 400 plate appearances and learning a whole new position on defense, while Fernandez and Puig were putting up seasons good enough to get them Cy Young and MVP votes respectively. But that doesn't mean Nats fans weren't hoping for him to build on the momentum from last season and step it up this year, and so far he has.
Rendon's been an everyday player since Opening Day, with 122 plate appearances of .316/.352/.544 hitting so far in the young season. Not only that, but with Ryan Zimmerman sidelined for the time being by injury, Rendon's been able to move back over to his natural position, third base. Given that Rendon is far more familiar with third than he is with second, and given that Zimmerman's permanent move off the hot corner and across the diamond is a question of "when" now instead of "if," the Nationals should be more than willing to give Rendon third base on a full time basis -- and if he keeps putting up an OPS near .900, they won't really have much of a choice.
Marcell Ozuna and Christian Yelich, OF, Miami Marlins
Marcell Ozuna quietly followed Jose Fernandez to the majors last year, coming up just about this time last year after spending less than two weeks at AA and remaining in the bigs for the remainder of the season. Considering he had all of 10 games above A ball in his entire professional career before April 30th of last year, then-22-year-old Ozuna acquitted himself well, hitting .265/.303/.389 in 291 PA and playing acceptable defense in both right and centerfield. One had to wonder what the Marlins were up to however, starting a young prospect's clock so early and then letting him learn to hit advanced pitching at the major league level -- especially considering that this is the Marlins we're talking about.
There was concern from some quarters -- this one included -- that the Marlins calling up Ozuna along with fellow outfield prospect Christian Yelich shortly after Jose Fernandez was mainly about optics; that Miami wished to appear as if they were in the middle of a vibrant youth movement to offset the bad PR of the previous offseason's massive salary offload to Toronto. Whatever the motives, so far this season Ozuna has rewarded that faith, hitting .310/.364/.480 in 110 PA while playing good defense in center. Yelich has been no slouch, either. He hasn't improved on his 2013 line much, but he had a much better season at the plate last year than Ozuna did: his .765 OPS line this season in 118 PA is a near-mirror of his ,766 OPS from last season. As a leftfielder (who can moonlight in center, but shouldn't) the Marlins would like to see a bit more power production out of Yelich, but he's got time to grow into it; he only turns 22 years old this July.
Josmil Pinto, C/DH, Minnesota Twins
Pinto was another guy who came up too late in the season to make much of an impact on the Rookie of the Year race, but compared to the above players over in the National League, it really was a matter of quantity for him, not quality. Had Pinto been given more than 21 games to show his stuff -- 21 games over which he hit .342/.398/.566 in 83 PA -- he might have scored at least a few downballot votes in an American League Rookie of the Year race whose runner-up was a utlity infielder that got traded in the middle of the season. So far, Pinto's 2014 has been about as solid as his 2013: he's hitting .246/.410/.492 through the end of April.
But his 2014 has the same specific cautionary notes as his 2013 as well: Through April 30, he again has only had ... 83 plate appearances. A .250/.410/.500 line is roughly the kind of production that Miguel Sano in his prime delivers in the loftiest of lofty Twins fan dreams; it's not something Josmil Pinto is going to keep doing on a regular basis. That said, he brings some power to a Twins lineup that looked like it desperately needed it this time last month -- though Brian Dozier, Kurt Suzuki, and Trevor Plouffe haven't hurt, either. (No, I did not anticipate ever typing that sentence and meaning it.)
Sonny Gray, SP, Oakland Athletics
Whatever Rookie of the Year votes Sonny Gray would have gotten for his 10 starts of 2.67 ERA ball -- and they weren't going to be many, because although the Athletics first called him up on July 10th of last season, he was used mainly as an injury replacement and spot starter until rosters expanded in September -- went instead to Dan Straily, who had an ERA over a run higher but who pitched 152.1 innings, almost triple Gray's MLB workload. But it's 2014 now, and while Straily's got an ERA over 5 to start the campaign, Sonny Gray's thrown 41 innings of 1.76 ERA baseball and is one of the best starters in the American League.
However, there's good news for Gray (and Pinto too) -- it might be his second year in the league, and he might not have gotten any votes for Rookie of the Year last season, but thanks to the insane, arcane way that Major League Baseball calculates rookie status (130 AB, 50 IP, or 45 days of MLB service time before September) he could still actually win Rookie of the Year this season. This sort of thing isn't even uncommon; Jose Iglesias came in second in Rookie of the Year voting last season in what was actually his third year in the majors in some capacity.
The bad news for Gray? He'll have to go through an AL rookie crop headed by Masahiro Tanaka to claim his prize, and as long as Tanaka stays within a run of his ERA that's probably not going to happen. Pinto, in all honesty, doesn't even stand that much of a chance. Doesn't mean either guy can't have a great year, though.
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These aren't the only guys we could talk about. Derek Dietrich is yet another Marlin in his second pro year off to a hot start, while Juan Lagares (Mets) and Corey Dickerson (Rockies) are both improving on their 2013 numbers in limited action so far. And then there's all the guys who got actual Rookie of the Year votes -- Jose Fernandez, Yasiel Puig, Evan Gattis, Martin Perez and Julio Teheran are all tearing it up to start the year. It's a good time for young talent in MLB -- and that doesn't necessarily just mean the guys making it to the show for the first time.