Saturday, May 29, 2010

AL Rookie Of The Year - Jackson or Boesch?

Fifty games into the MLB season, the Detroit Tigers still trail the Twins by a few games. We're probably not going to the playoffs this season, and even less likely to win the October Classic.

But we have what no other team in the MLB has, and what every team wishes they had.

The best rookie in baseball.

The only question is, which one? Austin Jackson, or Brennan Boesch?

Jackson won AL Rookie of the Month honors for April by a landslide, and Boesch is a lock to win the award in May after batting .350 with 8 doubles and 3 HRs. Both are playing great in the field; both are impressive on the basepaths; both hit for power as well as average; and most importantly, both guys are helping the Tigers win.
In fact, with putrid hitting continuing to plague the Tigers' at the bottom of the order (where Laird and Everett combine to hit under .180), Boesch and Jackson are two of the biggest reasons why Detroit even has a shot at the playoffs. If not for Boesch's sudden, unexpected rise to prominence, Detroit's order would completely fall apart after Cabrera. With Guillen missing the past month and a half, Brandon Inge stepped momentarily into the 5 spot behind Cabrera, and needless to say, that didn't work out.

But from the moment Brennan Boesch entered the batter's box on April 23rd, he hasn't been afraid to swing. In fact, the first pitched he faced in the Majors was smacked for a double. Four games later, he faced one pitch in the 5th inning and one pitch in the 6th inning - both doubles.

Everyone expected Boesch to slow down from his torrid hitting pace, including Skipper Jim Leyland - but he's done the complete opposite. He hit an impressive .261 in 6 games in April, and earned a permanent spot in the order while Guillen sat out, largely because of his .522 slugging percentage.

But then in May, Boesch became pure gold - hitting an unbelievable .349 with a .602 slugging percentage, top 15 in the AL in both categories. Against lefties, Boesch has a .500 batting average and the best slugging percentage of anyone in baseball. When he faced the best left-hander in the business, Yankee's ace CC Sabathia, Boesch took him deep for a homer and followed that with a double.

Remember, not only is this guy a rookie, but he wasn't even expected to see the field this year. The Tigers expected to have two rookies playing a prominent role, but it was supposed to be Jackson and second basement Scott Sizemore.
Instead, Sizemore stunk it up, and was actually sent back to the Minors to make room on the roster for Boesch. Guillen will now play 2nd, instead of DH, and Boesch, Ordonez and Damon will rotate between the outfield and the DH spot. It's a much improved offensive line-up, and the best move Jim Leyland could have made. As Boesch continues to pummel pitches, Leyland looks all the more brilliant.
Now, with Guillen healthy and hitting well, the Tigers' regular line-up looks like this:
1. Jackson
2. Damon
3. Ordonez
4. Cabrera
5. Boesch
6. Guillen
7. Inge
8. Laird
9. Everett

While we're still awful at the 8 and 9 spots, the 1-6 hitters are among the best in the Majors. Ordonez, Cabrera and Boesch each knocked in at least 14 runs in May and are all hitting at least .330. If that continues, the Tigers just may have a shot at the AL Central.

A big part of that will hinge on the play of the lead-off man, and fellow Rookie of the Year candidate, Austin Jackson.

Since the controversial trade that sent fan favorite Curtis Granderson to the Yankees, Jackson has made the Steinbrenner family miserable. While Granderson is hitting just .230 with 2 home-runs in the hitter-friendly new Yankee stadium, his replacement has been lethal for Detroit, hitting .330 overall and an AL best .364 in April.
Jackson leads the Tigers in triples and steals, but unfortunately, also leads the American League in strike-outs. For a lead-off man, his walks to strike-outs ratio is quite terrible (15-54). But Tigers' fans can overlook that if he continues to hit. And so far this season, AJ has done nothing but hit.
He ranks in the top 10 in the AL in both hits and batting average, putting him in company with names like Ichiro, Beltre, Guerrero, Cano, Jeter, Crawford, Longoria and Cabrera. That is an amazing list of batters to be associated with, especially as a rookie.

He's also one heck of a fielder. His .992 fielding percentage is one of the best among center fielders, and Jim Leyland isn't shy about saying that Jackson, as a rookie, is the Tigers' best outfielder. Dare I say, he's stepped into Granderson's large shoes and taken off in a sprint, while Curtis is left barefooot in New York.

If not for Boesch's outstanding May, Jackson would easily be the Rookie of the Month in consecutive months to start the season. Instead, another Tiger will be winning the award, which isn't necessarily a bad thing if you're a Tigers fan.

As we approach the pivotal month of June, the Tigers will rely heavily on Boesch and Jackson as they try to close the gap with the first-place Twins. It's a foregone conclusion that the 2010 AL Rookie of the Year will be a Tiger. It's just not clear yet which one it will be.

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