Pre-season award predictions had Andrew Benintendi as the hands-down pick to win the AL Rookie of the Year Award and Dansby Swanson, of the Braves, was the pick for the NL RoY. Because both Swanson and Benintendi had debuted in the big leagues in 2016, the pundits felt they had enough information to make more than a WAG before the season began. Coupled with strong springs and good minor league track records, these predictions weren’t even mildly controversial. Benintendi hit .295/.359/.476 in 34 games for the Red Sox last season, while Swanson hit .302/.362/.442 in 38 games for the Braves. These two owned the inside track to the 2017 Rookie of the Year awards.
There are plenty of similarities between Swanson and Benintendi. Both players were drafted out of successful programs in the SEC: Benintendi (23), after winning almost every award a college player can, was drafted out of Arkansas with the 7th overall pick in the 2015 draft by the Red Sox; Swanson (23), who played in college for Vanderbilt, was drafted with the first overall pick of the 2015 draft by the Diamondbacks and then traded to the Braves that December; both players had good springs and were named as starters for their parent clubs. But once the season got underway, it was soon apparent that the similarities ended there.
Rookies typically have seasons with peaks and valleys. Swanson – who grew up just up the road from the Braves new stadium in Marietta – has spent his entire rookie campaign in a long valley, slashing just .214/.284/.314 in 102 games. He was even sent down to AAA Gwinnett during the last week of July after being benched prior to the All Star break. He’s now back with the Braves, but only because of an injury to the player who took his spot in the lineup, Johan Camargo.
Benintendi, on the other hand, has had a season featuring both hot and cold streaks. Despite some struggles, he is hitting .279/.361/.449 on the season, with 17 homers and 17 doubles. His play in left field has been helped to create one of the best outfield defenses in the game, and he’s been on fire since being given a couple of days off to begin August. So far this month, he’s hitting .413.491/.804 with five home runs, including two three-run shots in the Bronx.
But as good as Benintendi’s season has been, Aaron Judge’s has been better. Despite his post-ASG struggles Judge all but wrapped up the AL Rookie of the Year award before he won the Home Run Derby in his first all-star game appearance. In the world of position players, Judge has been The Story all season, hitting the ball out of the park at both a record pace, becoming the Yankees new rookie home run record holder, displacing Joe Dimaggio, and hitting the ball harder than anyone else in the game.
In early August, Judge has already bashed 37 homers and is hitting .291/.420/.614 overall this year. Before the all-star break, he hit .329/.448/.691 with 30 homers. That is a great full season for most of the league – and a pace not far from Barry Bonds or Babe Ruth. His latest moon shot was last night in CitiField, just another run-of-the-mill shot into the third deck in left.
Meanwhile, in the NL, no one predicted the Dodgers Cody Bellinger would emerge as the leader in the clubhouse for the RoY. Bellinger has been tearing up MLB pitching to the tune of .277/.357/.621 with 34 homers in only 99 games. He played 18 games in AAA this season! His previous high in home runs was in 2015 in High A ball when he hit 30 in 128 games. Swanson’s struggles took him out of contention for the award months ago and it is Bellinger’s race to lose at this point.
In the AL race, Judge is proving he is still a rookie and is currently mired deep in a valley: in the 31 post-ASG games he’s hit just .185/.346/.398 with seven homers. This swoon, which has been mainly caused by the pitchers adapting to him – his infield fly% has jumped from 2.8% to 13.3% and his hard hit ball% has fallen from 49% to just 34% – has his overall numbers plummeting back to earth, and his RoY chances shrinking just a little.
Benintendi’s surge should bring #16 back into the RoY conversation – slow and steady often wins the race, and a continued hot streak as the Red Sox win the division would give Benintendi a real chance. But it’s still Judge’s award to lose. If Judge continues to struggle with the adjustments pitchers are making, and he remains under .200 as the Yankees fade out of the playoff race, then the RoY race could be up for grabs as the season draws to a close.
Featured image courtesy of Getty Images
Swanson image courtesy of talkingchop.com
Benintendi image courtesy of csnne.com