When was the last time the National League Rookie of the Year race came down to two players from the same team? This is exactly the scenario that is playing out for the Atlanta Braves with youngsters Freddie Freeman – the sweet swinging left-handed first baseman and Craig Kimbrel – the hard throwing closer with filthy stuff. If you’re a baseball fan, and these names are foreign to you, allow me to get you up-to-speed.
First a history lesson.
Remember those great Braves teams from the 1990s that were built on pitching, surrounded by good, but not superstar talent (Chipper Jones the exception) and a farm system that was the envy of every other team in baseball? The Braves seem to be pulling a page from the past, with the emergence of Jason Heyward, last year’s National League Rookie of the Year runner up, Julio Teheran who is considered baseball’s best pitching prospect, Jonny Venters, and of course, Freeman and Kimbrel. The Braves are in the top 3 of best farm systems in baseball and they keep graduating talent to the majors and then seamlessly replenishing it with new prospects.
Freddie Freeman, selected 78th in the 2nd round of the 2007 MLB draft by the Braves, made a fast ascent through the minor leagues and was named the Braves starting first baseman out of spring training. After shaking off a sluggish April, Freeman hit his stride by July, hitting .362, with six home runs, 17 runs and 18 RBIs. He has also carried a 20 game hitting streak and through August 25, Freeman was batting .293 with 18 home runs and 64 RBIs.
Nobody knows how great Freeman will become, but his natural, raw talent is undeniable. At only 21 years of age, Freeman is a better-than-average athlete, runs the bags well, has a solid glove and can only get stronger with time. At this pace, a future All-Star selection seems within reach.
Where to start with 23 year-old Craig Kimbrel? He was selected to the National League All-Star team this year, recently tied the record for most saves by a rookie in MLB history (a record that he will soon break), and has a wicked slider that is regarded among baseball scouts as one of the best in the National League.
Kimbrel hasn’t given up an earned run since June 11. For those of you keeping track at home that is zero earned runs in 33 games and 31.2 innings, to go along with 55 strike outs and 22 saves during the same period of time. I think what most impresses me is, for a guy that is relatively inexperienced, he has shown tremendous poise to close games and has not hit the rookie wall like so many young guys do going through a 162 game season for the first time. Granted he doesn’t play everyday, but still.
So the race for National League Rookie of the Year comes down to two incredibly talented players and teammates. Ultimately, while both are deserving of the award, I would give Freeman a slight edge, simply because he plays everyday.
This is a good problem for Atlanta though. With Freeman and Kimbrel, coupled with the Braves’ other young talent, I have a feeling we’ll be hearing a lot more of the postseason chop this season and for the foreseeable future (Atlanta is currently sitting 6 games back in the NL East, but first place in the Wild Card standings).
Ohhhh…Ohhhh…Ohhhh [insert chopping arm].