Rookies of the Year

The 2011 National League Rookie of the Year race is turning into a classic. While many thought last year’s NL rookie squad to be among the best ever with Jason Heyward, Buster Posey, Stephen Strasburg, and Starlin Castro, the 2011 version has their own collection of stars.

[caption id="attachment_222" align="aligncenter" width="381" caption="2010 National League Rookie of the Year Buster Posey (Photo by The Associated Press)"][/caption]


To break down this year’s National League rookie class, Lets look at the frontrunners.

Atlanta Braves closer Craig Kimbrel has been nothing short of spectacular since his Opening Day save on March 31st against the Washington Nationals. The young hurler has converted on 31 of 36 save opportunities and is sporting a 2.16 ERA and amazing 79 strikeouts in only 50 innings pitched. He set the rookie record mark for saves before the All Star break when he reached 27 and has already broken the Braves franchise record for saves by a rookie in an entire season when he picked up number 31 against the Cincinnati Reds on Friday. Last year’s American League Rookie of the Year Neftali Feliz finished the 2010 season with 40 saves and Kimbrel is not only on pace to surpass Feliz’s record, he is on pace to shatter it. He throws a fastball as high as 98 MPH and a knee-buckling slider in the mid 80’s and can throw these two main pitches for strikes in any count. His control has also improved greatly over his tenure in the minors as evident by his. If Kimbrel can play even close to how he has been over the rest of the season, I wouldn’t bet against his chances at winning the NL Rookie of the Year.

[caption id="attachment_223" align="aligncenter" width="528" caption="Braves Rookie Closer Craig Kimbrel (Photo by Getty Images)"][/caption]


The closest contenders standing in Craig Kimbrel’s way are Braves first baseman Freddie Freeman and Nationals shortstop Danny Espinosa. As of right now, I would have to give Freeman the edge over Espinosa because of his higher batting average, but the difference between the two is razor thin. Espinosa is hitting .236 with 17 home runs and 55 RBI’s while Freeman is hitting .280 with a close 15 home runs and 51 RBI’s. Freeman also tops Espinosa in on base percentage (.353, .324) and slugging (.471, .445). Being a shortstop, Espinosa will steal some votes for his defensive prowess if he and Freeman are neck and neck. While Freeman is no slouch defensively, shortstop is generally recognized as a more difficult position than first base.

While Kimbrel, Freeman, and Espinosa are the leading candidates in the rookie race, the National League boasts some other rookie talent. Flamethrowing Reds pitcher Aroldis Chapman has had fans standing after each pitch, one reaching an unheard of speed of 106 MPH. Had Chapman been healthy, many feel he would still be in the running. Giants first baseman Brandon Belt has also sparked his team during his time in the majors.

Winning the Rookie of the Year award is particularly special for the fact that you only have one chance to win it. While many Hall of Famers have never won the Rookie of the Year, it isn’t bad to start building up an impressive trophy case.

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