(GAME DATE — May 27, 2020) — As we move towards a third of the way through the 2020 season, we begin to see an early picture forming of who the top players in the LL and ML are, and we can offer predictions about who may be holding that hardware at the end of the year.
Injuries have already taken some pieces off of the chess board, meaning a four-peat for Admirals ace Jose Soto as ML Sandy Koufax Award winner is unlikely, and Montreal’s Jose Ramirez will not likely accumulate the numbers required for a Carl Simms MVP Award this year.
But loads of talented players are in the mix and we will list them here, starting with our Rookie of the Year Award predictions.
LL ROOKIE OF THE YEAR: John Rambo (Chicago)
ML ROOKIE OF THE YEAR: Cain Morris (Nevada)
Rambo looks as solid as promised as the 22-year-old who was drafted first overall last year by the Pit Bulls out of Arizona State clobbers the Lake League pitchers with impunity. After being drafted last year, he had cups of coffee at AA and AAA, long enough to demonstrate to Chicago GM Scott Davis that he was in fact ready for the “Show”. And he is certainly proving it, with a LL leading batting average of .383 and slugging % of .699, as well as mixing it up near the top of the HR and RBI leader boards.
In fact, Rambo is looking so solid, that he is also our runner-up for the LL Carl Simms MVP trophy. With 50 games under his belt this season, Rambo is on pace to hit 52 home runs (he is at 16 now), and score nearly 150 runs (at 46 now). The amazing thing is that scouts don’t even think he has reached his full potential yet. When he improves his plate discipline, he is sure to bring down the strikeouts and improve his OBP, meaning he will not only claim the Rookie award this year, but be in the MVP conversation for years to come.
Meanwhile, Morris is the closer for the Nevada Speeders and looks to be a great ML rookie award candidate. Since his debut in an Opening Day 4-3 win over the Seattle Salts in which he struck out all three batters he faced, he has had relatively few stumbles, just one blown save and a handful of no-decision appearances. But he is 8 for 9 in save opportunities, and striking out batters at an incredible 4.8 K/9. His 2.18 ERA is third on the ML leader board among relievers. Morris joined the Speeders as one of those rare unicorns, a experienced international free agent from Australia, not known as a powerhouse baseball nation, but formerly the home of the Bull Oceanic League.
Morris and Rambo are our early locks for the Rookie of the Year prizes, but there are potential albeit unlikely runners-up for both as well. Chicago’s Rule 5 pick pinched from California, Morgan Marley, is collecting wins the way no bullpen arm should. He is already at a 7-2 win loss record, for the team lead. In the ML, our runner-up would be Roberto Gutierrez of the Washington Freedom. The first baseman is hitting .342 and it looks like it could be sustainable.
LL SANDY KOUFAX AWARD: Neal Moran (Boston)
ML SANDY KOUFAX AWARD: Al Mota (Nevada)
With St. Pete’s Jose Soto on the mend with a partially torn UCL, the way is clear for someone else to take the ML Sandy Koufax prize this year. Soto has won it three years running.
Al Mota is the “next man up” in the ML, currently 3rd among qualified starters in ERA with 2.54, leading in wins with 8 and strikeouts with 75, and behind only Soto and Chris Zerkle in WAR. Soto is ahead of him in ERA and WAR, which means he will soon drop off the charts as the qualifying innings moves up. Mota finished 2nd in SKA voting last year, and 3rd in 2018, and 2020 appears to be his year finally.
In the LL, Neal Moran has put up impressive numbers so far, including a razor thin 1.65 ERA and 1.07 WHIP, a minuscule .198 opponent batting average, and respectable numbers of wins (6) and WAR (2.4), ranking him in 3rd place ties for both stats. Moran is competing with the proven Knuckles Malone, but is a few years younger and appears to be figuring things out this year, backed by a solid Boston offense.
The LL runner-up is Toronto Nomads 2-time Sandy Koufax winner Malone, who had a shaky start but appears to now have righted himself, winning his last 5 starts and bringing his ERA down to 2.49. He pitched a 12-strikeout game against California, and already has 5 complete games. Toronto is giving him more run support this year, and thus he could easily top his 22 wins he set as a record last year, as he is on pace for 25. In the ML, Norfolk’s Julio Ramirez who is 7-2 and on pace for 23 wins, with an ERA of 2.51 right now. If he brings his WHIP down and his strikeout numbers up, he will be the only serious competition for Mota.
LL CARL SIMMS MVP AWARD: John Rambo (Chicago)
ML CARL SIMMS MVP AWARD: Tak-keung Yang (Arizona)
The race for the LL Carl Simms MVP Award was probably decided the moment Chicago put Rambo on its roster for 2020, instead of keeping him another year at AAA. Rambo is the current batting leader at .383, 2nd on the home run and RBI charts, and 2nd in WAR. He is a one-man hitting machine, who singularly could be responsible for Chicago forcing themselves into a wild card if his progress continues. He already has had a 7-game scoring streak, 5-game RBI streak, and 9-game hitting streak, and it hasn’t even been 2 months.
Over in the ML race for the top player award, Tak-keung Yang seems poised to place himself above the rest. The Arizona first baseman is 5th in batting with a .339 average, but it one of the few on that list with power as well, as he currently leads the ML in home runs with 20 and is tracking to hit 65 this season if he maintains that pace. Yang’s fielding leaves a lot to be desired, but Arizona has benefitted in a big way from his bat.
The runners-up are Detroit’s Peyton Bint for the LL and Norfolk’s Danny Sanchez for the ML. Bint is the current home run and RBI leader, and has been a hit machine all year so far. If he brings his strikeout numbers down he could improve his average and wind up a threat to snag the award if Rambo goes off the rails. Sanchez is a perennial contender for the batting title and the incumbent MVP from 2019, his second time claiming the prize. With his golden swing he is always going to be in the conversation for MVP for the foreseeable future.