Lawrie, Ackley look like future stars

September, 9, 2011
9/09/11
11:45
AM ET
Brett LawrieChristopher Pasatieri/Getty ImagesThird baseman Brett Lawrie is the kind of talent who could help Toronto topple the AL East giants.
The American League Rookie of the Year race appears to be a battle between Tampa Bay right-hander Jeremy Hellickson, Yankees right-hander Ivan Nova and Angels first baseman Mark Trumbo, with Seattle's Michael Pineda and Kansas City's Eric Hosmer lining up after those three.

But here are two fun statistics, courtesy of ESPN Stats & Info maestro Mark Simon:

1. The best WAR (wins above replacement) among major league position players over the past 30 days belongs to Blue Jays third baseman Brett Lawrie, at 2.1, edging out Ian Kinsler and Troy Tulowitzki.

2. Mariners second baseman Dustin Ackley's OPS+ (on-base + slugging, adjusted for home ballpark) of 139 ranks 10th among AL hitters with at least 300 plate appearances, not far behind MVP candidate Jacoby Ellsbury's 144 and better than hitters such as Dustin Pedroia, Robinson Cano, Josh Hamilton and Michael Young.

Lawrie and Ackley won't get much support in the rookie voting since they don't have as much playing time as the other top candidates, but FanGraphs rates Ackley and Lawrie as more valuable than Trumbo, despite the gaps in games played. Ackley has also impressed on defense, a good sign since there were some concerns about his glove.

In fact, if I had to pick which AL rookie I'd most want over the next six years, I think I'd rank the top six like this:

1. Lawrie. At just 21, he looks like a beast at the plate, a guy who has the potential to turn into one of the elite hitters in the game. He's hitting .330/.403/.678 with eight home runs in 33 games. There have been doubts about whether his glove is good enough for third base, but he's played well there and he's even 6-for-6 stealing bases. He's from British Columbia, which will make him a huge fan favorite in Toronto. The Brewers don't regret acquiring Shaun Marcum, but the Jays are going to love Lawrie for a long time.

2. Hosmer. Another 21-year-old, Hosmer has raised his average nearly 20 points in the past three weeks, lifting his season line to .285/.334/.457. He's got the sweet swing, the size (6-4, 230 pounds) to hit for power and the athleticism to be a solid glove at first base. He plays the game with confidence and looks like the kind of on-field leader the Royals may finally build a winner around.

3. Ackley. The only issue is how much power he'll develop, but at the minimum he'll be an on-base machine who should hit around 15 home runs per season. He has good speed although hasn't shown that base-stealing instinct yet (four stolen bases).

4. Pineda. There is one obvious reason to take Pineda's future over that of Hellickson or Nova. Here, let's run their season stats:

Hellickson: 12-10, 2.95 ERA, 164.1 IP, 130 H, 18 HR, 56 BB, 107 SO
Nova: 15-4, 3.94 ERA, 144 IP, 144 H, 13 HR, 50 BB, 87 SO
Pineda: 9-9, 3.74 ERA, 159 IP, 122 H, 17 HR, 52 BB, 163 SO


See the difference in strikeout rate? Always bet on the power pitcher. Pineda's overpowering fastball/slider combo has led to the second-highest strikeout rate among AL starters at 9.2 per nine innings. Hitters have caught up to him a bit in the second half, sitting on the fastball, so he'll need to refine his slider and improve his changeup, but that K rate gives him a huge edge of Hellickson and Nova.

5. Desmond Jennings. He's been terrific since finally getting recalled, hitting .302/.392/.544, with nine homers and 15 steals in 44 games. At 24, he's three years older and has much more minor league experience than Lawrie or Hosmer, which is why I like those guys more, but Jennings is displaying the all-around skills projected of him.

6. Hellickson. He's not overpowering, but he knows how to get batters out with his wide arsenal of pitches. He's taken to the Trop -- 2.27 ERA at home versus 3.62 on the road -- but it will be difficult to keep that ERA under 3.00 long-term unless he improves the strikeout rate.

The reason I don't rate Trumbo as high as those guys is pretty simple: He's older (25), which means his skills are already close to peaking, and he doesn't control the strike zone very well. With just 24 walks in 512 plate appearances, his on-base percentage is .295. He's been a great story -- he grew up 10 minutes from Angel Stadium, rooting for the team -- and has provided many clutch hits and big home runs this season. I just don't see him as a future star like the six guys above.

(By the way, I didn't include Mike Trout here, although it is possible he'll extinguish his rookie eligibility. He has 87 at-bats; the cutoff for rookie eligibility is 130; of course, as long as Vernon Wells continues to play regularly, Trout's rookie status for 2012 should remain safe.)

Follow David Schoenfield on Twitter @dschoenfield.

David Schoenfield | email

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