Is it way too early in the Major League Baseball season to be handing out awards such as most valuable player, defensive player of the year, rookie of the year and others? Obviously, it is – but it wouldn’t be any fun if we didn’t forecast our selections way too soon.
Among the post-season awards handed out every season, the one I want to focus on where I think the Seattle Mariners may have the best chance of turning a candidate into a winner, is the rookie of the year award. Outfielder Mitch Haniger is certainly making his case – just don’t tell anyone from Boston – or the south side of Chicago for that matter (just to be safe).
EAST COAST BIAS – IT IS A THING
For whatever reason, Boston Red Sox outfielder Andrew Benintendi (it is his real last name…it isn’t a pasta company or an Italian version of a Nintendo video gaming system) is already getting nation-wide accolades for his performance this year with many baseball analysts and sports enthusiasts already penciling him in as the American League Rookie of the Year.
Yes, during the offseason he jumped up on almost all lists to the No. 1 prospect in baseball spot, so I am sure this was an “easy out” (pun intended a little bit ) to select him as the favorite for AL ROY.
Has anyone heard of this Haniger guy? Besides Jerry Dipoto – who obviously has – and apparently former MLB all-star Phil Nevin, who currently works as a coach for the San Francisco Giants. Nevin endorsed Haniger in the offseason and the Mariners were ready to make a move to get him.
Benintendi got 105 at-bats in 2016, which wasn’t enough to erase his rookie status, but it was enough for him to make his mark on Major League Baseball. All of the critics, analysts and such devoted to this sort of thing were suddenly on board Team Benintendi. The now 22-year old, hit .295 with 14 RBI, 16 runs scored, two home runs and one stolen base in 2016, which was good enough to vault him ahead of the rest of the prospect pack including former teammate (now of the Chicago White Sox), Yoan Moncada.
There will be more on Moncada later, but please stay with me you Haniger fans – there is a reason for this comparison.
INSIDE THE NUMBERS
For the sake of being fair, let’s talk about Haniger’s 2016 numbers first and get those out of the way. As a member of the Arizona Diamondbacks last year, the now, 26-year old outfielder had a taste of the big leagues and his numbers weren’t exactly “top prospect material”. In 109 at-bats (VERY SIMILAR TO BENINTENDI’S AB’S!), he hit.229 with 17 RBI, nine runs scored, five home runs and no stolen bases.
So, arguably, he wasn’t as good as Benintendi in the batting average department, but he displayed more power with the five home runs. To put it into perspective, however, you have to realize Haniger wasn’t even among the top 100 prospects according to Baseball America in 2016, and who knows how far away from 100 he was. I don’t think analysts at Baseball America go into in-depth analyses on the top 100-300 prospects in MLB, so the research was a bit tricky.
I know Haniger is four years older than the Boston center-fielder, but let’s take a look at what they have done this year following their respective 2016 campaigns with very similar service time.
As I write this, I realize I am in the middle of one of Haniger’s worse games this season as he is currently 0-for-3 with a walk and 3 LOB in the seventh inning against Oakland where the Mariners are trailing 6-5. He still has a 13-game hit streak going and will likely get at least one more at bat tonight to extend that.
Also, worth noting – I didn’t include other stats in my ‘chart of doom’ for everyone on Team Benintendi, but minus maybe on-base percentage and strikeouts, I included the most relevant ones.
It looks like Haniger is winning…I am just saying.
THE ‘ROY’ REALISM
Without looking it up, I really think there have been a lot of rookie of the years in both leagues who have won their awards because of their stats within the last few months of the season. Many times, there is a divisional title or a playoff spot at stake and a rookie gets called up in July or even later – totally makes a difference – and ends up with the hardware at the end of the year.
There is also the Chris Coghlan type. He comes to mind in the National League when he won it randomly in 2009, and has pretty much been a fourth or fifth outfielder for a variety of teams ever since. Other dudes out there have had like two or three months of fantastic baseball and earned the award to help a team make the post season.
The point being, it certainly isn’t a barometer for any career accolades or stipulations, but it still is a very relevant reward. Other contenders for AL ROY in 2017 include Yoan Moncada of the White Sox who might not get called up for a few months or other soon to be announced players.
Until any of these guys with a fleet of high-end cars (ask Moncada…he really thinks buying customized, high-end vehicles is what you should do with signing bonuses) make the big leagues, Haniger will be contributing every day to a winning ball club.
Haniger acts like a veteran, plays like a veteran and ultimately wants to win like a veteran. He’s a class act who plays with “professionalism” (whatever that means – I just hear it a lot. Maybe he doesn’t show up to work in sweat pants?)
As long as he keeps working hard, Moncada keeps worrying about cars more so than his strikeout rate, Benintendi keeps growing his hair and Francis Martes of the Houston Astros remains on track for a bullpen role in 2017, then Haniger can wrap up this ROY award sooner than later.
Let’s make it happen, Mitch!