Newly crowned Rookie of the Year Carlos Correa was the first player chosen in baseball’s 2012 draft. It’s still possible for the second pick of that draft to earn the top rookie honor, too.
An ESPN.com column this week that attempts to project next year’s Rookie of the Year candidates — Twins righthander Jose Berrios and Korean slugger Byung-ho Park among them — states that Byron Buxton, chosen one spot behind Correa in 2012 (and 30 ahead of Berrios) is not eligible for the 2016 award. That’s incorrect.
A player forfeits rookie eligibility once he exceeds 130 at-bats, pitches 50 innings or spends 45 days on the 25-man roster, according to MLB rules. But September games (when the roster is expanded to 40) and time on the disabled list do not count toward the 45-day maximum.
Buxton spent 13 days with the Twins in June before going on the DL, and 12 more after being recalled from Rochester in August, which means he stayed well below the 45-day limit. And his at-bats? Buxton had 129 — just one fewer than the maximum allowed.
It’s odd that at-bats, and not plate appearances, determines eligibility, since identical amounts of playing time can produce different numbers of at-bats. Buxton, for instance, had 138 plate appearances in 2015, but he drew six walks, was hit by a pitch and executed two sacrifice bunts. If he had swung at two more ball fours, or if he had swung away instead of bunting, Buxton would not be a rookie in 2016.
But that’s the rule, and the Twins confirmed Buxton’s status with Major League Baseball, just to be certain. It matters to the team not for any competitive reason, but for commercial ones — promoting a player as the league’s top rookie helps draw attention and sell tickets. And fans certainly respond enthusiastically to the addition of promising young talent, as Miguel Sano, Eddie Rosario and Tyler Duffey proved last season.
MLB not only corroborated that Buxton remains a rookie, but pointed out one recent (and, the Twins hope, precedent-setting) example: Mike Trout. The Angels’ star outfielder debuted in 2011 (as a 19-year-old!), and batted 135 times. By drawing nine walks, being plunked twice and hitting a sacrifice fly, Trout’s official at-bat total was just 123, leaving his rookie status intact.
Trout followed up with a 2012 season — 30 homers, 49 stolen bases, among other things — that not only made him a unanimous choice for Rookie of the Year, but also earned him a runner-up finish in Most Valuable Player award voting.
Projecting award-winning play on a soon-to-be-22-year-old outfielder is an unfair level of expectations, of course, especially since Buxton’s brief taste of major-league life didn’t go particularly well. But despite the .209 batting average and 44 strikeouts in 46 games, the Twins remain confident that the center fielder is steadily progressing toward stardom.
Whether he gets there in 2016 or not, that ESPN article had this fact correct: The Twins have good reason to be optimistic about their crop of rookies next season, and perhaps even the Rookie of the Year award. In fact, you could make a case that Buxton is only the Twins’ third-best potential candidate for the award, which no Twin has won, or even come particularly close to winning, since Marty Cordova in 1995.
Berrios is one of the most electrifying pitching prospects in baseball, having kept his ERA below 3.00 in three of his four professional seasons, and striking out 175 hitters in 166 innings at Class AA and AAA last season. He’ll be given a chance to make the rotation in spring training, and even if he doesn’t open the season in Minneapolis, he almost certainly will pitch in Target Field sometime next year.
And if Park agrees to a contract with the Twins, the power-hitting Korean will be expected to make an impact on the Twins’ lineup. If he hits even half as many as the 53 home runs he slugged in South Korea last season, he’ll be a strong candidate for the award. At 29, he’s not a conventional rookie, but there is plenty of precedent for Asian veterans winning the award: Kazuhiro Sasaki was 32 when he debuted in 2000, Ichiro Suzuki was 27 the following season, and both Mariners took home the top-rookie trophy.