Fantasy baseball: 1st half rookie of the year candidates

Rookies can not only provide an additional boost to major league teams, but also to any fantasy baseball team. Each season, the fantasy baseball-savvy may steal a heavyweight-in-the-making either in the late rounds of a draft or off the waiver wire. Here's a look at some 2010 contenders.
Texas Rangers pitcher Neftali Feliz was the only rookie named to this year's MLB All-Star Game for the American League squad. ((Jared Wickerham/Getty Images))

It was 1947 when Jackie Robinson won the first ever Major League Baseball Rookie of the Year award.

Two seasons later, the American and National Leagues began giving out the award separately. Roy Sievers of the St. Louis Browns and Don Newcombe of the Brooklyn Dodgers took home the honours.

Over the next several decades, players such as Carlton Fisk, Lou Piniella, Willie Mays, Frank Robinson, Pete Rose, Johnny Bench and Cal Ripken Jr. would go on to win the award in their respective leagues and become household names. In recent years, young unknowns have become baseball icons, including Derek Jeter, Ichiro Suzuki, Albert Pujols and Ryan Howard.

Not only do rookies have the potential to provide an additional boost to their major league teams, but they can do the same for any fantasy baseball team too. Each season, rookies serve as a useful way for the fantasy baseball-savvy to steal a heavyweight-in-the-making either in the late rounds of a draft or off the waiver wire.

Though nothing is ever guaranteed, some players are expected to have such an impact in the majors that one can't help but wonder if we might be witnessing the beginning of the next Andre Dawson or Rod Carew.

*All stats through July 21

The NL contenders

Stephen Strasburg (Washington, SP)

It seems only natural to begin with Stephen Strasburg. The 22-year-old may have joined the Nationals well into the season, but the media circus that has followed him has been second to none. The first round pick in last year's amateur draft is second among those rookies with double-digit innings pitched, with a miniscule 2.32 earned-run average. Strasburg boasts a 5-2 record in nine starts with just 15 walks allowed. He's also fifth in strikeouts with 68, despite having pitched at minimum 30 less innings than those ahead of him. Though his stats speak volumes, as much as his fantasy owners surely want him on their roster all year (he's owned in 94 per cent of Yahoo! fantasy leagues), Strasburg is unlikely to finish the season in the big leagues.

Jaime Garcia (St. Louis, SP)

Strasburg may be getting all of the attention, but that one player with a better ERA than the highly touted Nationals' starter is Jaime Garcia. Garcia sports a 2.27 ERA and is first among rookies in the majors with nine wins and 90 strikeouts. However, the St. Louis Cardinal is also tied for second with 43 walks.

Mike Leake (Cincinnati, SP)

While we're talking about National League rookie pitching, Mike Leake of the Cincinnati Reds deserves to be mentioned. He's tied for third in the majors with seven wins, but has just one loss in 18 starts. Leake is seventh in strikeouts with 73, 10th with a 3.45 ERA, but is also fourth with 40 walks.

Jason Heyward (Atlanta, OF)

The only player to make the All-Star Game representing the NL was Atlanta's Jason Heyward. The slugger leads all rookies in walks (43), is second in RBIs (46) and runs scored (46), fifth in total bases (126) and tied for fifth in doubles (15), as well as fourth in home runs (11). Despite being fourth in strikeouts among rookies with 74 and having a mediocre .259 batting average, Heyward is top 10 in almost every offensive category and, as a result, his percentage owned in Yahoo! leagues continues to rise. He is now at 87 per cent.

Buster Posey (San Francisco, C/1B)

It may be early in his career, but the Giants' Buster Posey is already showing his raw talent with the bat. He's first in the majors among rookies with a .349 average and a .560 slugging percentage. He's also third with a .383 on-base percentage. And if Posey had enough at-bats to be officially included in the race for MLB's top batting average, he would be second only behind all-star Josh Hamilton of the Texas Rangers.

The AL contenders

Neftali Feliz (Texas, RP)

Texas Rangers' closer Neftali Feliz was the only rookie named to this year's MLB All-Star Game in Anaheim for the American League squad. That fact arguably makes him the frontrunner for the AL's rookie of the year through July 21. And Feliz is deserving — he has fit right into the big leagues. He's now owned in 91 per cent of Yahoo! fantasy leagues. Perhaps it was the 20 games he had under his belt last season. Nevertheless, in 2010, Feliz is first among rookies in saves with 25 (in 27 opportunities), which is also good for fifth in the majors (and second in the AL). He has a record of 1-2 with a 3.76 ERA. just 13 walks and 46 strikeouts in 42 appearances.

Austin Jackson (Detroit, OF)

Austin Jackson may strike out a lot — in fact, he leads all rookies and is 10th in the majors with 95 — but he sure can hit and has already proven himself to be a versatile player. The Tigers' lead-off man tops the rookie list in hits (105), runs scored (55), doubles (23), steals (16), at-bats (340) and is second in triples (5). He's second among AL rookies behind teammate Brennan Boesch with 141 total bases and third with a .309 average. However, he has just one homer and 20 RBIs.

Brennan Boesch (Detroit, OF)

The other Detroit Tiger making waves this season is Brennan Boesch. Though he doesn't have quite as many at-bats at his aforementioned teammate, the difference between the two is Boesch's ability to produce runs. He leads all rookies with 50 RBIs and ranks third with 12 home runs, 86 hits and 19 doubles. Boesch is also first among AL rookies with a .316 average and 147 total bases.

Alfredo Simon (Baltimore, RP)

Besides Feliz, there's only one other rookie in double-figures in saves. Baltimore's Alfredo Simon has converted 13 saves (in 15 opportunities) this season. He has a record of 2-1 with 23 strikeouts and is fourth among rookie relief pitchers with a 3.14 ERA.