Spring training is just beginning, but there's plenty to talk about in baseball. For instance, who will win the awards given out in six months? For Houston, this is an important topic, since the Astros might actually have a legitimate Rookie of the Year candidate in play.
Who will give Springer his biggest competition? Who could surprise as a candidate? Who leads the race before spring games even begin?
If I had a vote, these would be the players making my watchlist for 2014:
Nick Castellanos, Detroit - Oh, what could have been. For those of you unaware, the Astros could have taken Castellanos in the 2010 draft, but instead chose Michael Kvasnicka. At the time, the rationale (not from the team, but from general consensus) was that they were avoiding paying Castellanos big money by taking a safe college guy. They also had to afford DDJ and Foltynewicz in the first round, so passing on Castellanos meant avoiding a huge price tag for the draft.
However, Castellanos turned into a super prospect and Kvasnicka is now a Twin (maybe, I can't bring myself to look him up). After struggling in his first go-round in Double-A in 2012, Castellanos was still promoted to Triple-A in 2013. He hit well there, batting .276/.343/.450 with 18 home runs and a nine percent walk rate. If that power/patience/contact combination remains at the major league level and Castellanos plays decent defense at third, he'll be a co-favorite to win this award.
Xander Boegerts, Boston - Why isn't Castellanos the heavy favorite, then? Because of Boegerts, the shorstop heir in Boston who would be the top prospect in baseball if not for Byron Buxton. Boegerts didn't hit a ton last season in 50 plate appearances in the majors. But, he brings a combination of 15 homer power and very high walk rates with good defense at short. That makes him very valuable for a team with postseason aspirations and should put him in the top two of this award heading into the season.
George Springer, Houston - You know my feelings on Springer. The only reason I'm dropping him to third is we don't know when he'll be promoted. Otherwise, he'd win ALL the awards.
Erik Johnson, Chicago White Sox - One of two real dark horse candidates on this list, Johnson threw 27 innings in the majors last season with a good ERA but bad peripherals. He's not Jarred Cosart bad, but his strikeout rate is too low and his walk rate a tad too high. But, he makes this list because he looks like he'll be the White Sox fourth starter and he's been very good in the minors. If he puts up 180 innings with a 3.50 ERA and 15 wins, he'll be in this discussion.
Kevin Gausman, Baltimore - One of my favorite prospects from the 2012 draft made his debut last season and threw 47 lackluster innings. He still has rookie status, though his 5.66 ERA won't make him a front-runner for this award. Instead, you have to look at his 3.04 xFIP. The disparity comes from an extremely inflated home run rate that did not match any of his minor league numbers. Expect Gausman to win a spot with the O's and pitch well next season.
Taijuan Walker, Seattle - Well, reports this morning that Walker is suffering from shoulder soreness make him a less likely candidate. But, the kind of dominant stuff he flashed in the majors last season (2.25 FIP in 15 innings) and showed for the past two seasons in the minors shouldn't be ignored. Until he's shut down for a big chunk of the season, he's worth watching for ROY.
Yordany Ventura, Kansas City - Slated at the No. 5 spot in the Royals rotation, the other dark horse may have the best chance to go "Jose Fernandez" and take the league by storm. With very impressive strikeout rates in the minors, Ventura has the stuff to dominate. His peripherals didn't hold up in 15 innings in the majors last season, but sample size. If he makes the rotation, he's worth keeping an eye on.