Rays' Longoria, Cubs' Soto win rookie of year awards

NEW YORK -- The rookie races were all but over by July, when Evan Longoria and Geovany Soto gave an All-Star glimpse of things to come.

Longoria won the American League Rookie of the Year award in a unanimous vote and Soto ran away with the NL honor Monday, capping impressive seasons that included All-Star appearances for both players at Yankee Stadium.

Pretty rare stuff for a pair of first-timers -- but these were no ordinary freshmen.

"I had a great year, bar none," Longoria said. "I know I have the ability to do more."

Following a season of breakthroughs for the AL champion Rays, Longoria became the first Tampa Bay player to win a national award from the Baseball Writers' Association of America. The power-hitting third baseman received all 28 first-place votes, making him the league's first unanimous rookie winner since Nomar Garciaparra in 1997.

Soto, the steady catcher with pop who helped the Cubs win the NL Central, got 31 of 32 first-place votes. The other went to Cincinnati's Joey Votto.

"It's kind of surreal. It really hasn't sunk in yet," Soto said on a conference call from Puerto Rico.

Called up from the minors in April, Longoria batted .272 with 27 homers and 85 RBIs despite missing five weeks after breaking his right wrist Aug. 7. Confident at the plate and splendid on defense, he was a big reason for the Rays' stunning surge to the World Series after 10 straight losing seasons.

"I definitely felt some awe most of the time during the season. I kept that to myself," Longoria said on a conference call from his California home. "I didn't start the year in the big leagues. I struggled all the way through high school ball and college ball. The journey that I went through as a baseball player -- to be sitting here means a lot."

Chicago White Sox second baseman Alexei Ramirez was the runner-up after receiving 18 second-place votes. Boston outfielder Jacoby Ellsbury finished third.

Soto hit .285 with 23 homers, 35 doubles and 86 RBIs. He became the first catcher to win Rookie of the Year in either league since Mike Piazza of the Los Angeles Dodgers in 1993.

The previous winner from the Cubs was pitcher Kerry Wood 10 years ago.

"I just didn't want to put extra pressure on myself. I just wanted to do my job as the team required," Soto said.

The Rays were so sure Longoria would become a big star that they gave him a $17.5 million, six-year contract after only six major league games. The deal could be worth up to $44.5 million over nine seasons.

So far, he's delivered.

Tampa Bay started play in 1998 and had never won more than 70 games until Longoria helped lead the Rays to 97 wins this year and the AL East title. He also hit a tying double with two outs in the eighth inning during the July 15 All-Star Game in New York.

Soto became the first National League rookie catcher to start an All-Star Game. In addition to his productive hitting all season, he did a nice job handling a Cubs pitching staff that compiled a 3.87 ERA, third-best in the NL. He even caught a no-hitter by Carlos Zambrano.

Soto credited backup catcher Henry Blanco and other veteran teammates for giving him advice and pep talks that guided him through a "roller coaster" year.

"That's what helped me have a strong season all the way around," Soto said. "I did try to act very sure about myself, very secure. But I had doubts."

After his injury, Longoria, who turned 23 last month, returned in time for Tampa Bay's playoff run. He homered in his first two postseason at-bats against the White Sox, then connected four times against Boston in the AL Championship Series to set a rookie record with six homers in one postseason.

But his offensive tear ended in the World Series, when Longoria went 1-for-20 with nine strikeouts and two RBIs as the Philadelphia Phillies beat Tampa Bay in five games.

"Obviously, I would have loved to play well and help the team," Longoria said. "I was still pretty content that we had a great year."

The 25-year-old Soto had a disappointing October after his team compiled the best regular-season record in the National League. Bothered by a nagging hand injury, he went 2-for-11 (.182) with no RBIs as Chicago was swept in the first round by the Dodgers, leaving the Cubs without a World Series title since 1908.

Balloting for BBWAA awards is conducted before the postseason. Votto garnered 21 second-place votes and 76 points to Soto's 158. Atlanta pitcher Jair Jurrjens came in third.

"I worked really, really hard in past years," Soto said. "I feel very, very special right now. It's a very good moment in my life."

The NL Cy Young Award will be announced Tuesday.