Earlier today, we broke down the AL Rookie of the Year candidates. Now, it's time for the NL candidates. Coming off of the wretched Chris Coghlan selection in 2009, the last three winners of the ROY in the NL have been stars (Buster Posey, Craig Kimbrel, Bryce Harper), and the cumulative rookie crop in the National League has largely been better than the American League crop over the last few seasons.
Our staff picks for the NL ROY have been clustered as opposed to being overwhelming like in the AL, but one thing that appears to be consistent is that a Cardinal is the favorite to win the award. Shelby Miller looks like the early front runner after winning St Louis' fifth starter job. The 22-year old Miller was highly touted after being drafted 19th overall in 2009, and his pedigree has only grown in recent years. He's been a top 50 prospect in baseball over his four years of eligibility (including 2013), and has been a top 15 prospect over the last three years. In 27 starts for AAA Memphis last year, Miller struck out 160 hitters in 139 2/3 innings, walking 50. Despite a 4.74 ERA caused in part by the offensively friendly PCL, there's every expectation that Miller will dominate during his career in the majors, which we got a brief taste of in September when Miller one-hit the Reds (and a lineup that featured mostly regulars for most of the game) in the final game of the regular season.
The other Cardinal has a tougher road to the majors in 2013, and that's outfielder Oscar Taveras. Taveras is going to remain with the major league club "as long as regular playing time is available", but it's hard to see him ousting veteran corner outfielders Matt Holliday or Carlos Beltran from a starting job. The 20-year old could overtake Jon Jay in center though, and after a 2012 saeson that saw him hit .321/.380/.572 for AA Springfield with 23 homers and ten stolen bases, Taveras could provide a massive spark to an already formidable Cardinals lineup. At any rate, the 20-year old should land in the majors no later than 2014 thanks to the expiration of Beltran's contract after this season, but I'm sure the Cardinals would love to give the kid a whirl in 2013.
A pair of Mets could also make waves in the 2013 NL ROY race: catcher Travis d'Arnaud and pitcher Zack Wheeler. d'Arnaud will start the year in AAA after only playing in 67 games a year ago, but will probably be in the majors sooner rather than later, especially considering the two catchers New York is likely going to go with to start the season are veteran John Buck (who had a .192/.297/.347 line in Miami last year) and career minor leaguer Anthony Recker. The 24-year old d'Arnaud will return to Las Vegas, where he mashed last year with the Blue Jays (.333/.380/.595 with 16 homers in just those 67 games). That familiarity could result in a nice bounceback for him after tearing his PCL in June, and a trip to the majors could follow shortly thereafter.
As for Wheeler, he struck out 148 in 149 innings last season in AA and AAA, and will start the year in AAA this season. If he's able to hold his own in the hitter-friendly Las Vegas of the PCL, Wheeler could jump to the majors quickly, especially considering the walking MASH unit that is the Mets rotation led by Johan Santana and Shaun Marcum.
In the AL piece, we mentioned players that have to be considered for the sole reason of them having a job and not having to worry about playing time (at least immediately, that is). There are several players like that in the National League, too: Julio Teheran, Hyun-Jin Ryu, and Jedd Gyorko. Adam Eaton of the Diamondbacks also would have been on this list had he not strained his elbow, knocking him out of action until mid to late May.
Teheran has been a heavily hyped prospect in Atlanta's system for years. He was the fifth-best prospect in baseball going into 2011 and 2012 before losing some luster after a disappointing 2012 season, but is just 22 and is coming off of a spring where he struck out 35 hitters in 26 innings, walking nine and allowing only seven hits. There won't be any pressure on Teheran thanks to a rotation that features established names like Tim Hudson and Paul Maholm, and more experienced youngsters like Mike Minor and Kris Medlen, but if Teheran struggles, he could lose his starting job at midseason to Brandon Beachy, returning from Tommy John surgery. A low groundball rate led to a spiked homer rate for Teheran in AAA Gwinnett in 2012, and that's a trend that he needs to reverse to succeed in the majors.
Ryu has struck out 23 in 23 1/3 spring innings, and after investing a small fortune into him this winter, the Dodgers are going to probably give him a pretty long leash despite lots of rotation depth. Despite some underwhelming scouting reports of Ryu this spring, Los Angeles seems comfortable with his performance, and he could really blossom as a star in that media market with a heavily-hyped team surrounding him. However, he might only end up being the third or fourth best pitcher on his staff when all is said and done this season, and that could hurt him.
Gyorko is a converted third baseman that will be starting at second for the Padres in 2013. Gyorko hit 30 homers in 126 games split between AA and AAA last season, and the 24-year old should be able to hit enough to make people take notice. However, the Padres likely won't be a contender thanks to a ghastly rotation, and with All-Star third baseman Chase Headley out of commission to start the season, there probably won't be much attention given to Gyorko and the Padres. But if he turns into Dan Uggla with fewer strikeouts this year, it will be tough for people to not give him attention.
There's one more name I want to mention, and that's Gerrit Cole of the Pirates. Cole will start the year in AAA, and the former first overall pick could end up in the majors at some point this year after torching the minor leagues in 2012. The Pirates rotation is thoroughly underwhelming in the back-end, so much so that Jonathan Sanchez has a spot. Jonathan Sanchez! With the desire to win in Pittsburgh growing stronger by the year, and GM Neal Huntington on the hotseat after the team collapsed in the second half over each of the last two seasons, Cole could get the call to the majors if he progresses well in AAA this year and the Pirates are close to a playoff spot.