Baseball awards season gets under way Monday with the announcement of the AL and NL Rookies of the Year. Carlos Correa likely will get the (narrow) nod over Francisco Lindor and Miguel Sano in the American League, and Kris Bryant would seem to be the favorite over Jung Ho Kang and Matt Duffy in the National League. What better time to break out the old crystal ball and take a look at the 2016 ROY races, a full year in advance?
Projecting Rookies of the Year is a dicey proposition in comparison to, say, the MVP and Cy Young Awards. There are perhaps 10 names in either league that can be thrown out right now as potential MVP or Cy Young candidates in either league; there are only so many players who can be projected to rack up the 6.0 WAR or more necessary to even join the conversation. And while projecting the major award winners is largely based on talent, there is one other major consideration that affects the ROY: opportunity. Most, if not all, clubs possess high-end, upper-minors talent that has preserved its award eligibility into 2016. A small percentage of those top prospects, however, will garner the requisite MLB playing time to truly contend for the award.
In addition, there are two other sizable populations of young players that will not win the 2016 ROYs. First, there are those who barely exhausted their award eligibility in 2015. This group includes Byron Buxton, Dalton Pompey, Greg Bird, Michael Conforto and Dilson Herrera, to name just a few. There's a bunch more who weren't full-timers until the second half of 2015, if at all, but their rookie eligibility is exhausted as well. That includes Joey Gallo, Kyle Schwarber, Domingo Santana, Maikel Franco, Luis Severino, Aaron Nola and Joe Ross. Ineligible, all of them.
So the trick is identifying the most talented prospects who have retained eligibility and who have the most opportunity for MLB playing time in 2016, either from the get-go or who stand as a clear "Plan B" should the incumbent regulars succumb to poor performance or injury.
Where were the 2015 ROY candidates a year ago? Well, Correa, Bryant, Lindor and Sano were all blue-chippers who might have appeared in an article like this last November. Sano, Correa and Bryant all had a peak ranking of No. 1 or 2 on my annual minor league position player lists, which are based on relative production adjusted for age and minor league level, and Lindor was a four-time Top 100 guy peaking at No. 44. Then you have Kang, who came directly from the KBO league in Korea, and Duffy, who was an under-the-radar prospect who never ranked better than No. 160 on my list. He simply got a chance after Casey McGehee turned into a pumpkin, and ran with it.
The 2016 races would appear to be a little more difficult to predict a year in advance than they might have been last year. That's particularly true in the American League. With that, let's get to the names.
Top 2016 NL Rookie of the Year candidates
If there's a prohibitive favorite in either league, Seager is it. He clearly fits the "blue-chip" profile, ranking as high as No. 7 (in 2014) on my annual minor league position-player ranks. Plus, the opportunity is there for him, he had a big September in the majors and he'll hit somewhere in the middle of a contending club's lineup from Day 1 next season. He'll hit for average and power that would support a move to third base but will field well enough to stay at shortstop. You know, like Correa.
The Dodgers also have some impressive young pitching prospects, including LHP Julio Urias, my No. 1 pitching prospect in 2014 and 2015, but his innings aren't built up to major league standards just yet.