Although there is still nearly a month of baseball left in regular season, and then the playoffs after that, we thought we would share our early predictions for the Bull League player awards based on season performances thus far.
As was discovered last year, sometimes a player can be out by early August and still win an award, as was the case for Judson Martel last year.
Rookie of the Year
The predictions for Rookie of the Year for 2018 are relatively easy to call at this point. In the Lake League, no one has made as big an impact as Evandro Cerigo, the Minneapolis Ravens’ right fielder, who came in to the league like a lion, signing a $9.4 million one-year deal as an international free agent from Venezuela, a deal which he is sure to extend for a large premium.
He is approaching 20 home runs and 50 RBIs, putting him among the top power hitters in the LL. He’s posted an OPS nearing .880, and swiped four bases along the way. He leads LL rookies in almost every batting stat except average, hits, runs and doubles, which admittedly are big ones that Bill Heimberg of Montreal has filled. But in terms of demonstrating pure power, Cerigo is tops, and his WAR of 1.9 puts him nearly a full point above the other rooks.
For the American Eagle League, Tak-keung Yang of Arizona is the obvious choice. The Japanese free agent signing was named Rookie of the Month for June and July, and leads the AEL rookies in all the percentage categories, including average, OBP, slugging, and OPS. And, in several of those categories, as well as WAR, he doesn’t just lead AEL rookies, but all AEL batters. His WAR of 4.8 puts him at the top of the entire Bull League currently.
The 29-year-old first baseman will not reach any land speed records, and has yet to record a swipe of a base. But at the rate he gets on base and hits home runs (30 and counting) speed it not required in Yang’s repertoire. The Cowboys days as a last place fixture are soon to be over with Yang signed for another solid 3 seasons, and the club improving to the 7th best minor league system.
Sandy Koufax Award
Ricky Rodriguez is looking like a solid choice to nab a fifth career LL Sandy Koufax Award if he maintains his incredible presence on the mound this year. Already at 12 wins, he could set the new single-season record for wins if he manages just four more. The 29-year-old Cuban has already solidified his place in Bull League history, and earlier this year reached a milestone 1000th strikeout, and has had four games with more than 10 K’s so far this year, including a 4-hit shutout back on June 30.
Over in the AEL, Jose Soto of the St. Petersburg Admirals could become only the 6th player in AEL history to win back-to-back Koufax awards. Soto may have ended his win streak (at a record-setting 16 consecutive wins) that began with his debut of 15-0 last season, but he’s not done setting records. If he continues to knock down batters at his current pace, he will set a new record for single-season K’s and break the 200 strikeouts mark, and set a new record in that category too.
Soto and Rodriguez are both in their prime and are both almost guaranteed to find themselves eventually gracing the Hall of Fame with their likeness. But for now, they are our early prediction candidates for the 2018 Sandy Koufax Awards.
Carl Simms MVP Award
The LL Carl Simms MVP Award is very much a toss up, and Cerigo is in the running along with another solid rookie, Les Groves, the former Oceanic League catcher from Oz who was rafted by Louisville (Battle Creek) last season.
But our prediction actually goes to David Baker, the Minneapolis third baseman who has found himself on an incredible batting streak this year, and is on the leaderboard in several LL hitting categories. He currently leads the LL in runs scored, is 2nd in batting average, third in weighted OBA, fourth in WAR, and second in hits. Teammate Gabel Reyes gets more attention for his home runs, but we think Baker’s bat will ultimately earn him the prize.
The AEL race is lookign very much like Xavier de Soto‘s to win. The Miami third baseman has led the AEL in batting most of the year, is high on the leaderboard for weighted OBA, WAR, and doubles, and leads in hits and total bases. He is a hit machine who has been a solid contributor to Miami’s effort to stay in the wild card race. While Arizona’s Yang has arguably had more success in the power hitting categories, the value of Yang’s efforts are lost on the Cowboys who have no chance at contending this year. On the other hand, Miami’s chances have largely been as a result of de Soto’s incredible offense.
Bonus Bull Cup Prediction
As a bonus we are offering our prediction for the Bull Cup championship. At this early stage, Minneapolis Ravens and the Denver Danger are looking like the dominant warriors who are geared to battle for the top prize.
The Ravens have always had legendary pitching behind Rodriguez and now Jason Myers, and bullpen workhorses like Shigenobu Takahashi, and this year have coupled it with offensive greats like Baker, Reyes, and Cerigo. They look like they will dominate the early playoff rounds, as their only real Achilles this year has been Louisville who are effectively out of the race.
The steady hand of GM and manager Brendan Burke has been key to this team’s success.
That leaves the AEL in the hands of the Denver Danger, a surprisingly great team this year after it was essentially abandoned by previous GM Troy Olsen. The team has placed 1st in their division only twice in their 23-year history, and look poised to do it again this season with run generation coming all through the batting order, from Roberto Lozano, John Webster, Peyton May, and Javier Chavarria. The rotation consisting of Mario Morales, Willie Salazar, Jason Jankovic, Willie Morales, and Jerry Avila have been a finely tuned machine, as all have generated win percentages above .500.
They have managed to keep their successful pace despite losing top aces Rich Ojeda and Greg Whittington, and despite having the worst defensive efficiency in the AEL.
The Danger and Ravens will be the likely finalists for the Bull Cup, with a decided pitching advantage going to the Ravens.
Our prediction: Minneapolis Ravens in 4. Ricky Rodriguez will get two starts and shut the door on Denver in game 4.