May 20, 2014; Chicago, IL, USA; New York Yankees starting pitcher Masahiro Tanaka throws a pitch in the rain against the Chicago Cubs during the third inning at Wrigley Field. Mandatory Credit: Jerry Lai-USA TODAY Sports

Rookie of the Year races: Swapped storylines between the leagues

Last year, the National League had one of the most exciting rookie classes in recent memory. Rookie stars Yasiel Puig and Jose Fernandez were must-see performers for the Dodgers and Marlins. Both foreign-born players received votes for awards beyond the rookie of the year voting, Fernandez was third in NL Cy Young voting and Puig was 15th in the NL MVP voting.

The top two rookies in the National League were among the top overall performers in the league, but the American League was a different story. Wil Myers and Jose Iglesias were the top two finishers win the Rookie of the Year voting. Myers, a top flight hitting prospect, played just 88 games, and Iglesias was traded mid-season and hit just .259 in his 46 games with the Detroit Tigers.

This season, the rookie production has swapped leagues, but there are some distinct differences in the 2014 rookies.

In the American League, the rookie race has been dominated by two international performers. One is a pitcher dominating with his stuff and control  and the other is an imposing and dynamic Cuban slugger.

The top pitching rookie of the AL so far is Masahiro Tanaka and his numbers compare favorably to those of Jose Fernandez in 2013. Fernandez had one of the most spectacular rookie seasons in the history of the sport, but Tanaka is well ahead of the pace Fernandez set last season.

Fernandez started slowly with a 3.78 ERA in the first two months of the season. He was also shut down early, making his last start on September 11. These are two things that Tanaka will likely avoid.

Tanaka has been one of the best pitchers in the AL in the first two months of the season with a 2.06 ERA with an 8-1 record and sixth in the league in strikeouts. Although some will debate if he is a rookie, the 25-year-old pitched for seven seasons in Japan, his current status as a rookie has him set up to go in to the record books as baseball’s best rookie ever.

One mature rookie deserves another, and that is exactly what Jose Abreu is.

Abreu is a 27-year-old rookie this year, and his power and production has been a sight to behold in this young season. While his batting average, speed and defensive prowess are not up that of Yasiel Puig, his power has been spectacular.  Before injuring his ankle, Abreu was on pace to make a run at Mark McGwire‘s rookie home run record.

Since the last time he played, Abreu has been passed by Edwin Encarnacion and Nelson Cruz in the home run department, but is still in the top ten in the AL in homers and RBI. His home run off of Clayton Kershaw means he has a chance to bounce back even stronger than before.

As for the National League, no player has run away from the rest of the pack. Chris Owings and Billy Hamilton are the only rookies playing on a regular basis with a batting average over .200.

This has left the door open for some mid-season call-ups, particularly Oscar Taveras. Taveras was the second ranked prospect on when he was called up on May 31, one spot better than Wil Myers when he was called up in 2013. Myers sparked the Rays offense and helped them take one of the wildcard spots. The Cardinals are hoping Tavaras can bring that same spark to their struggling offense, and if his first career hit is any indication he may be of some assistance.

David Hale may be able to make a case for the award — 39 innings with a 1.38 ERA — but if Taveras takes off like Myers did last year, Taveras will win the award going away.

This year’s races are far from decided, and they may be the most exciting races of all this season.

Tags: Jose Abreu Masahiro Tanaka Oscar Taveras

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