As baseball enters the awards season, there are plenty of intriguing battles for the various honors being bestowed. The race for AL Rookie of the Year is not one of them.
Mike Trout will win the award handily. He deserves to win it unanimously after posting one of the greatest seasons ever by a rookie.
Lost in the glow of Trout’s accomplishments was the rookie season that Yoenis Cespedes churned out for the Oakland A’s.
In 129 games, Cespedes hit .292 with 23 home runs and 25 doubles, drove in 82 runners and stole 16 bases. Those numbers earned him finalist honors for the AL Rookie of the Year, but very little attention.
Indeed, when compared to Trout’s statistics, Cespedes’ numbers fail to impress. But if the standard for Cespedes were not a historic rookie season but merely an excellent one, then his 2012 effort would look very special.
The last AL hitter to win rookie of the year honors was Evan Longoria. He turned plenty of heads by leading the lowly Tampa Bay Rays to the postseason and was immediately considered one of the premier third basemen in baseball. His stats? A .272 average with 27 homers, pretty similar to Yoenis Cespedes.
The biggest reason why Cespedes should not be swept under the rug is the leadership that he provided for the A’s during their push towards the postseason.
After the first few months of his career were marred by nagging injuries that slowed his offensive production, Cespedes finally got healthy in June. His team was lagging behind, near the bottom of the AL, right where most pundits predicted they would finish. The primary reason was that the team just could not hit. Cespedes could, and from June on he batted .304 to close out the season.
Before long, Cespedes was the number three hitter. In game two of the ALDS he tried to beat the Detroit Tigers all by himself when he singled, stole second, stole third and scored on a wild pitch to tie up the game late. Although the A’s lost that game and the series, Cespedes hit .316, an impressive performance by a rookie. You never would have guessed that he had not been on that stage before.
It was tough for Cespedes to draw attention all year, not just in the AL Rookie of the Year race, but on his own team. Coco Crisp was the wise old veteran who came up with clutch hits and seemed to be the de facto leader. Jonny Gomes led the charges from the dugout and provided the inspirational quotes about believing in the team. Josh Reddick was the fun guy who dressed up in Spider Man costumes for post-game celebrations.
Cespedes? He was just the best player.
This is not to say that the baseball world does not know who Yoenis Cespedes is. But with Mike Trout looking like the next Mickey Mantle, (not to mention Bryce Harper over in the NL) it is easy to label Cespedes as just another good rookie.
He has the potential to be much more, the sort of All-Star caliber hitter that the A’s have not had since Miguel Tejada.
If he lives up to that hype, Cespedes will not remain an also-ran for long.