Twins Daily Awards 2015: Best Rookie
Image courtesy of Jesse Johnson, USA TodayVoting Results
1. Miguel Sano: 24 points
2. Eddie Rosario: 13.5 points
3. Tyler Duffey: 6 points
4. Trevor May: 4.5 points
There were eight voters and points were awarded on a three-point scale, meaning that Sano received first-place votes from every participant (Seth Stohs, Cody Christie, Jeremy Nygaard, Steve Lein, Eric Pleiss, John Bonnes, Parker Hageman and myself).
I mean, what choice did we really have? Sano's season was not only head-and-shoulders above the rest of this year's class, it was also one of the best rookie campaigns in franchise history. Playing in 80 games following his early-July promotion from Double-A, Sano hit .269/.385/.530 with 18 home runs and 52 RBI. He became an intimidating force at the cleanup spot and completely changed the complexion of the Twins lineup during the second half of the season.
Among Twins players to make 300 or more plate appearances as a rookie, Sano's .916 OPS ties him with Tony Oliva (1964) for best all-time, beating Bobby Kielty (.890 in 2002) and Justin Morneau (.875 in 2004). He has the most home runs, walks and RBI for any Twin through 80 games.
In his first taste of the majors, Sano struck out at an exorbitant rate of 35.5 percent; the leader among qualified MLB hitters was Baltimore's Chris Davis at 31 percent. However, the young Dominican slugger made up for the whiffs by drawing tons of walks and batting .468 with a .925 slugging percentage in at-bats where he didn't strike out. The huge numbers on balls in play were driven by an AL-leading hard-hit percentage of 43.2 percent. Only Miami's Giancarlo Stanton had a higher rate, at 49.7 percent.
Sano's ability to absolute smash the baseball every time he made contact was certainly impressive, but what might have been most encouraging was the consistent quality of his at-bats as a 22-year-old getting his initial exposure to the big leagues. He ran the count full in 28 percent of his plate appearances and batted .240/.581/.700 when he did so.
That mature and advanced plate approach set Sano apart from the No. 2 finisher on this list, Eddie Rosario, whose advantages over Sano included providing substantial defensive value where Sano provided none, and playing in about three-quarters of the team's games where Sano played only half.
Rosario was a solid hitter in his own right, piling up 46 extra-base hits in 474 plate appearances, including a league-leading 15 triples. His plate discipline issues proved problematic, leading to an ugly 118-to-15 K/BB ratio and .289 on-base percentage, and ultimately his .748 OPS was only a shade above the MLB average for a left fielder (.736).
That's not exactly a bad thing. Delivering average offensive production while mixing in excellent defense and dynamic speed on the base paths made Rosario a highly valuable asset at age 23. His ability to cover ground in the outfield, contrasted against slow-footed predecessors like Oswaldo Arcia and Josh Willingham, can hardly be overstated and he ranked second in the majors with 16 outfield assists. Opponents ran on Rosario's arm and he made them pay, repeatedly.
Rosario placed second on six of eight ballots but was edged on a couple by Tyler Duffey, who made his 10 starts count in a big way. The 24-year-old curveball connoisseur went 5-1 with a 3.10 ERA after joining the team in early August, including 5-0 with a 2.25 ERA following his rocky debut in Toronto. By the end of the season, Duffey had essentially established himself as the rotation's most trustworthy starter, firing quality starts in each of his last five turns, all of which carried significant importance.
Trevor May appeared on only a few ballots, probably because most didn't think of him as a rookie since he pitched a fair amount last year. However, May came a few innings short of the rookie cutoff in 2014 and did qualify this season. He looked good as a starter in the first half and great as a reliever in the second half. His performance should not be overlooked in this discussion.