2006 Major League Baseball Rookie of the Year Candidates

Just like 2005 with the emergence of players like Huston Street, Ryan Howard, and Prince Fielder, there is a crop of rookies in 2006 that are making big contributions to their respective clubs. Some of these young ballplayers have even been labeled as saviors’ of their teams, a task difficult for a player with plenty of experience, let alone a rookie. Personally, I think that a candidate for Rookie of the Year should have played the entire season, as it is obviously much more difficult to achieve success over a long season rather than just half. That being said, here are some candidates for the award as the baseball season approaches its All-Star break.

American League

Johnathan Papelbon, Boston Red Sox – He leads the American League in saves and his original job with the Red Sox was to someday be in Boston’s starting rotation. That is still the ultimate plan for Papelbon, but Boston won’t complain with the results. In his first run through the American League, Papelbon has fooled plenty of hitters (over 60 strikeouts) and demonstrated superior command (less than ten walks). An amazing statistic for this youngster (and one that could ultimately win him the award if it stays this low) is his ERA. Papelbon has surrendered a mere two earned runs all season; his ERA hovers around 0.20. He also brings hope to Sox fans should the team make the post-season; Johnathan has pitched in the likes of Yankee Stadium with the calmness of a wily veteran.

Francisco Liriano, Minnesota Twins – This is one guy whose numbers may actually overshadow Papelbon’s. The only problem is, Papelbon plays for Boston and Liriano plays for Minnesota. Luckily for Liriano, the entire country was able to witness him as he out-dueled Roger Clemens in his return to Houston on June 22. He is approaching double-digit wins at the All-Star break and, if it wasn’t for a mistake on management’s part by starting him off in the bullpen, he would easily have 11 or 12 wins. Since he became a starter on May 19, he has won seven of his first eight decisions and has demonstrated Johan Santana-like control. Again, if he was a starter all season, he would be on pace to record 200 strikeouts. It could have been possible (and possibly still could be) that Liriano would have been looked at as a potential Cy Young candidate as well.

Kenji Johjima, Seattle Mariners – I must admit that I am not a big fan of players that come from other professional leagues such as Japan’s and are still considered “rookies” when they come to play in the United States. Nonetheless, Johjima is having a solid “rookie” season. His recent blistering hitting streak has seen his average creep towards .300 while he has also surpassed double-digit home runs. He is also on pace to drive in around 90 runs. His strikeout to walk ratio is solid as well, but his streakiness as a hitter may prevent him from winning the award.

Justin Verlander, Detroit Tigers – He rocketed through the Tigers’ system in just one year and has been proving how he did it. Thanks to a great team behind him, Verlander has reached ten wins before the break and his ERA is only a touch above three. He walks a few too many batters and has not struck out as many batters as anticipated, but he has easily made a case to be considered one of the top starters in the Tigers’ rotation. Verlander has shown some signs of fatigue and injury as of late, and some rest down the stretch may prevent him from earning the honors.

National League

Dan Uggla, Florida Marlins – He’s one of the main reasons that the Marlins are playing so well; he’s batting over .300 with double-digit home runs and is on pace to possibly drive in over 90 runs as well as score 90 to 100 runs himself. He also has some speed, evidenced by his small amount of stolen bases (it’s possible he’ll get ten) and four triples. Although hampered by a hamstring injury as of late, he continues to have a solid rookie year, one that should continue through the second half.

Hanley Ramirez, Florida Marlins – There are many players that could be considered for this award on the Baby Marlins, but Hanley Ramirez is near the top for consideration. He had a blistering start to the season and has cooled off a bit lately. This once top prospect in the Red Sox organization has seen his average dip near mid .200 but has stolen over 20 bases and is on pace to score over 100 runs. He also has the ability to hit for triples and has served as a valuable leadoff man in the Marlins’ lineup (although in recent weeks he has hit in the second spot as well).

Conor Jackson, Arizona Diamondbacks – He’s hitting near .280, but has not shown a lot of power in his rookie season. The best thing that Jackson has going for him is that he has drawn more walks than strikeouts (almost by double-digits). Even though he has almost the same amount of walks as he does RBI, he’s still on pace to have around 80 which is by no means a terrible number for a rookie to achieve. Perhaps his power will come on in the second half; if that happens, coupled with his excellent plate discipline and high average, he could become a stronger candidate for Rookie of the Year in the National League.

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