Rookie of the Year 2017: Sizing up the finalists

It’s MLB awards time once again! And Big League Stew is here for you, ready to tell you everything you need to know before the awards are given out. Appropriately, the first one being handed out in 2017 is Rookie of the Year.

You could say that it’s quite the race this year, but if you said that, you’d be wrong. Some years the field is wide open, and this just isn’t one of them. There’s a clear winner in both the American League and the National League, and they staked their claims early. In the AL, Aaron Judge dominated pretty much everyone while swatting a ridiculous amount of home runs. But that’s not to say that his competition isn’t worthy. Trey Mancini had a fantastic rookie campaign, and Andrew Benintendi’s great plate discipline led to a solid year.

Over in the National League, it’s a similar situation. Cody Bellinger is all but guaranteed to win the award, and with good reason. Bellinger had an exceptional year and even set an NL record. But Josh Bell and Paul DeJong are accomplished in their own right, with Bell providing consistency and pop, and DeJong impressing over a shortened season.

MLB Network is hosting a live special to announce the winners at 6 p.m. ET on Monday, and don’t forget to come by Big League Stew for full coverage. But before any of that happens we’re going to break down the six contenders, and get picks from our four writers.

Red Sox left fielder Andrew Benintendi is in the running for AL Rookie of the Year. (AP Photo)

American League
Andrew Benintendi — LF, Boston Red Sox

In brief: The preseason Rookie of the Year favorite, 23-year-old Benintendi was more than able to keep up with his young, talented teammates. After a brilliant debut at the end of 2016, Benintendi came into 2017 as a starter, and showed impressive plate discipline along with a key ability to get himself out of slumps. It was a solid rookie effort, especially for a guy on an offensively challenged team.

Key stats: Benintendi triple slashed .271/.352/.424, but more impressively, his on-base percentage led all qualified Red Sox hitters. He also struck out less than 20% of the time, and hit 20 homers.

Case for: Benintendi held his own on the Red Sox, and showed flashes of the complete player he could grow to be. He has plate discipline, an above average walk rate, and great contact skills. Those may not be the sexiest qualities in the game, but they’re important, and Benintendi showed them off.

Case against: He’s not Aaron Judge. And get used to hearing that. Benintendi had a fine rookie year, but it pales in comparison to what Aaron Judge did. It’s a tough break for Benintendi, who might’ve had a bit more luck with his candidacy if Aaron Judge hadn’t come along.

Aaron Judge of the New York Yankees reacts after hitting a home run, something he did quite a lot in 2017. (AP Photo)

Aaron Judge — RF, New York Yankees
In brief: He’s the guy you’ve been waiting for. Judge had an absolutely otherworldly first half, hitting homers seemingly at will and destroying parts of Yankee Stadium in the process. He’s one of the players responsible for energizing and powering the Yankees to a wild-card spot. Oh, and he’s also one of the three AL MVP candidates. When a player is up for both Rookie of the year and MVP, you know he’s pretty incredible.

Key stats: I could just put “52 home runs” here and leave it at that. But he also hit .284/.422/.627 and broke the MLB record for home runs by a rookie. He also broke Yankees home run records that had been set by guys you might have heard of: Joe DiMaggio and Babe Ruth. Oh, and there’s more! He had his own fan section at Yankee Stadium, and also beat Giancarlo Stanton in the Home Run Derby.

Case for: Look above at the “key stats” section if you’ve got a question. Judge did things that rookies just don’t do. Every one of his at-bats were can’t miss. You never knew when he’d yank the ball clear out of the park. He was just better than everyone else for at least half the year, and even when he wasn’t, he was still pretty impressive.

Case against: The case against Judge winning RoY is legitimate, but it doesn’t amount to much. His second half was pretty dismal, and he batted .228 with 99 strikeouts. But he also hit 22 homers and had an OBP of .391 during that time. Even when he wasn’t doing great, he was still doing just fine.

The Baltimore Orioles’ Trey Mancini had an excellent and surprising rookie year. (Getty Images)

Trey Mancini — LF/1B, Baltimore Orioles
In brief: Mancini was far from a sure thing when the season started. The 25-year-old wasn’t a lock to make the team out of spring training, and when he did, he wasn’t even playing every day. That changed quickly once Mancini showed what he could do. He could hang with the best of the Orioles’ established stars, and the first baseman provided much-needed depth in the outfield.

Key stats: A .293/.338/.488 triple slash is a good look for a rookie. He tied with Jonathan Schoop for the highest batting average on the team, and hit 24 home runs to boot. In fact, those 24 homers are third-most for an Orioles rookie. He also had a 17-game hitting streak, which outpaced every other rookie in Orioles history.

Case for: There’s something to be said for being both good and surprising. Mancini didn’t just have a fantastic rookie season, he had a season that no one expected of him. It’s exciting when a player defies expectations, and that’s just what Mancini did. He made history as one of the best Orioles rookies ever.

Case against: Again, he’s not Aaron Judge. In another year, Mancini would be the favorite. It’s not that what Mancini did isn’t impressive, it’s that Judge was just so good. There’s no shame in losing to the best.

Pittsburgh Pirates’ Josh Bell bats during a baseball game against the Washington Nationals, Sunday, Oct. 1, 2017, in Washington. (AP Photo/Mark Tenally)

National League
Josh Bell — 1B, Pittsburgh Pirates

In brief: In his first full season, the 25-year-old Bell looked solid. He played in every Pirates game but three, and overcame an early-season slump to become the first baseman the Pirates have been looking for. Bell is a converted outfielder who worked hard on his defense at first base, and he improved enough during the year that he stopped being replaced in the later innings.

Key stats: Bell hit 26 home runs, which tied the Pirates’ record for homers by a rookie. He also set a National League record of his own — 26 homers is the most ever by a switch-hitting rookie. He also played 159 games and stayed healthy the entire season, something that’s becoming rarer and rarer these days.

Case for: It feels a little awkward to say it, but there almost isn’t a case for Bell winning. Bell was more than decent in 2017, turned in a solid rookie campaign, and will give the Pirates some much-needed security at first base, but it feels like he might be here by default.

Case against: Just like Aaron Judge’s competitors for AL RoY, the case against Bell is roughly the same: Bell isn’t Cody Bellinger, who was just so good. When you look at rookie accomplishments throughout the year, you simply cannot deny that Bellinger is better. That doesn’t diminish what Bell did in 2017, but he just simply wasn’t as good as Bellinger.

Cody Bellinger of the Los Angeles Dodgers has the NL Rookie of the Year award all sewn up. (AP Photo)

Cody Bellinger — 1B/LF, Los Angeles Dodgers
In brief: Following in the footsteps of Corey Seager before him, 21-year-old Bellinger didn’t miss a step in the transition between Triple-A and the majors. He came out and started swinging, and never looked back. He had a pretty sharp slump at the end of his first month, but he found his way out and delivered consistency the rest of the way.

Key stats: His .267/.352/.581 triple slash is good, but the big news here is Bellinger’s home run power. He hit 39 dingers in 132 games, breaking the record for homers hit by a National League rookie. His first two homers came in the same game, and he’d go on to have a total of six multi-homer games in 2017, the third most ever for a rookie. He also hit for the cycle, and even had an inside-the-park home run.

Case for: Bellinger is just good. Right out of the gate, he was good. Home runs are enchanting, and they are no doubt helping his case, but they’re not hiding anything. Bellinger started the year in the minors, but found his way in the majors very easily. He set a slew of Dodgers rookie records, and it looks like he’s about to follow in Corey Seager’s footsteps with the RoY award.

Case against: Bellinger’s strikeout rate is pretty breathtaking. And he’s lucky that voting for this award happened before he set a new postseason strikeout record. But despite that, he’s widely expected to be unanimously voted the NL RoY, and that’s because he played the best rookie baseball in the National League.

The St. Louis Cardinals’ Paul DeJong didn’t get promoted until the end of May, but he got a lot done in the majors anyway. (Getty Images)

Paul DeJong — SS, St. Louis Cardinals
In brief: Just add DeJong to the list of Cardinals players who just seem to work out. It was a tough year for the Cards, but DeJong was one of the bright spots. Promoted at the end of May, he became the team’s starting shortstop in June and never gave it back. And you’d never be able to tell he missed the first two months of the season — in 108 games, he got a lot accomplished, and sits at the top of several rookie stat categories.

Key stats: 25 home runs in 108 games is pretty impressive, but he also led NL rookies in doubles with 26, and was second in slugging percentage at .526. His average wasn’t too shabby either, hitting .285 in 443 plate appearances.

Case for: DeJong really did a lot in a short time. Given a full season he might not have outpaced Bellinger in homers, but he would have made a stronger case in every other category. DeJong’s breakout is a bit of a surprise, and a welcome one for Cardinals fans.

Case against: Sounding like a broken record here isn’t the intention, but it’s impossible not to: DeJong isn’t Bellinger, and Bellinger was just better overall. DeJong had great success in 2018, but in a shorter time than Bellinger. Bellinger had a head start, and sometimes that’s what makes the decision.

OUR PICKS
Chris Cwik
AL: Aaron Judge: The easiest award pick in years. No rookie came close to matching Judge.
NL: Cody Bellinger: Unless you rooted for their teams, you probably didn’t hear anything about Bellinger’s competition all season.

Mike Oz
AL: Aaron Judge: Picking anyone else would be like picking Flo-Rida for best rapper.
NL: Cody Bellinger: Picking anyone else would be like picking Kid Rock for best singer.

Liz Roscher
AL: Aaron Judge: I love home runs. I just love them so much. Trey Mancini had a great year, but good Lord do I love home runs. 
NL: Cody Bellinger: Since none of these guys are named Rhys Hoskins, might as well pick Bellinger.

Mark Townsend
AL: Aaron Judge: When you’re a rookie with your own fan section in the stands at Yankee Stadium, a spot in the Home Run Derby and your at-bats are must-see events, this award belongs to you.
NL: Cody Bellinger: While not quite the showstopper Judge was in 2017, Bellinger was the driving force behind the Dodgers remarkable regular season.

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Liz Roscher is a writer for Big League Stew on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email her at lizroscher@yahoo.com or follow her on twitter! Follow @lizroscher