Who should win the NL Rookie of the Year?


Who should win the NL Rookie of the Year?

We've already seen some MLB postseason awards, but the biggest accolades kick off this week.

The Rookie of the Year for each respective league will be announced Monday night.

The finalists, as already announced by the league, are Washington's Bryce Harper, Arizona's Wade Miley and Cincinnati's Todd Frazier.

Harper took the world by storm when he was called up at the end of April. He didn't put up other-worldly stats like Mike Trout, his counterpart in the AL, but Harper had arguably the best season ever for a 19-year-old.

The Nationals' super rookie hit .270 with a .817 OPS, 98 runs, 22 homers, 59 RBI and 18 steals in 597 plate appearances over 139 games. He ran hard on the bases, played hard in the field, and swung hard at the plate, netting a 5.0 WAR (according to BaseballReference's metric).

Miley, 26, got a taste of big-league action last season, starting seven games for the Diamondbacks. The southpaw appeared in 32 games in 2012 (including 29 starts) and compiled a 16-11 record with a 3.33 ERA and 1.18 WHIP in 194.2 innings. Miley struck out 6.7 batters per nine innings and boasted a fantastic 3.89 KBB ratio while putting up a 3.2 WAR

Frazier, 26, also saw some time in the majors last season, with 121 plate appearances over 41 games. The big right-hander spent most if his time at third base for the Reds this year, but also started 36 games at first base in Joey Votto's absence and even made a few appearances in the outfield. He slugged 19 homers and drove in 67 in 465 plate appearances with a .273 average and .829 OPS, good for a 1.9 WAR.

Harper and Miley were both named to the NL All-Star team, while Frazier missed out. Given the hype surrounding Harper and the fact he is a full six years younger than both of the other challengers, the Nationals' phenom will likely take home the award Monday night.

All three are good choices, as both Harper and Frazier helped lead their team to the playoffs while Miley was Arizona's most consistent starter, but I think one more player should have been added to the finalists.

Milwaukee signed Norichika Aoki away from Japan this winter and the 30-year-old outfielder forced his way into the starting lineup as the season progressed. Aoki hit .288.355.433 with 37 doubles, 10 homers, 81 runs and 30 steals in 151 games. As the Brewers made a push for the playoffs in the season's final month, Aoki keyed the charge with an .898 OPS in September, adding seven steals, 21 runs, 18 RBI and 18 extra-base hits.

Aoki also played a very solid outfield and sported a 3.3 WAR, second only to Harper among NL rookies. There are some out there that believe foreign players should not be eligible for Rookie of the Year awards, and it's a valid point, but the adjustment from Japan to MLB is arguably just as hard as going from Double-A or Triple-A to the big leagues.

Aoki won't usurp any of the three candidates, but he should at least have been in the consideration.

MLB will announce the Manager of the Year Tuesday night, Cy Young winners Wednesday night and the MVP of each league Thursday evening.

Michal Rozsival, Jordin Tootoo extensions give Blackhawks flexibility at expansion draft

Michal Rozsival, Jordin Tootoo extensions give Blackhawks flexibility at expansion draft

The Blackhawks agreed to one-year contract extensions with defenseman Michal Rozsival and forward Jordin Tootoo, the team announced Tuesday.

Rozsival's deal is worth $650,000 while Tootoo's deal carries a $700,000 cap hit, according to ESPN's Pierre LeBrun.

The move gives the Blackhawks two players eligible to be exposed during this summer's expansion draft.

NHL teams must expose two forwards and one defenseman that have played at least 40 games in 2015-16 or more than 70 in 2016-17, and they must be under contract in 2017-18.

[MORE: The Blackhawks' 9-1 February by the numbers]

Rozsival and Tootoo meet those requirements, which means the Blackhawks can now protect Ryan Hartman, who is also eligible.

They are allowed to protect seven forwards, three defensemen and one goaltender or eight skaters (regardless of position) and one goaltender. 

Rozsival, 38, has one goal and one assist in 16 games this season, often serving as the team's extra defenseman. Tootoo, 34, has no points in 36 games.

NFL Scouting Combine represents opportunities — good and bad — for Bears

NFL Scouting Combine represents opportunities — good and bad — for Bears

The NFL Scouting Combine convening this week in Indianapolis isn't really the high point of pre-draft assessing being done by NFL teams. Those evaluations have been going on for many, many months — on college campuses, at bowl games — and will go on with Pro Days and selected visits to team headquarters.
But what it does represent is two things: a chance for teams to probe for detailed medical information on some 300 potential draftees, and a case study in savvy brand marketing by the NFL that has become its own hot-stove league on steroids (hopefully not literally for any of the participants).
Covering the event 25 years ago, representatives of the three Chicago-area newspapers comprised one of the two largest media contingents (the other being New York's) going about the business of football reporting after the sport had largely moved off the sports-front with the wrap-up of the Super Bowl. No TV, no internet, and the Combine operators really didn't want media around for what was set up as a purely team-centric.
Now the NFL has created a media event that keeps it in news prominence at what had always been a dormant calendar nadir for pro football, with not only some 1,000 media members and outlets welcome, but also with fans able to attend events like the 225-pound bench press and 40-yard dashes, whose results were once something that reporters dug around for as news scoops.
But beyond the observed events, including group media interviews for the majority of athletes, individual draft stocks will be affected by vertical jumps, cone drills and such. And by interviews with individual teams, which are still private. (For now. Somehow, it's not beyond imagination that someday even those will be televised, in an NFL guise of "transparency" or something, but that's for another time.)
Strengths, weaknesses and the QB conundrum
One annual refrain are the assessments of the overall draft class, what positions are its deepest, its weakest, an evaluation that carries some weight because invitees to the Combine include underclassmen, which the Senior Bowl does not.
But a danger within the process is exactly that — the "weight" assigned to results, particularly the on-field ones. On-field evaluations are the best indicators, but the right on-field ones were there on playing fields and now tape, not inside Lucas Oil Stadium this week.

[RELATED - Which direction will Bears go at pick No. 3?]
Combine performance has affected drafts rightly and wrongly over the years.
ProFootballTalk.com's Mike Florio has made an excellent case for players declining that test for reasons of confidentiality. And frankly, if teams have a problem with a player declining the test, then teams and the NFL need to do a better job of keeping the results in-house, particularly given that correlations between the Wonderlic and NFL success are questionable at best.
But some player or players will move up or slip down on draft boards because of drill work. That may be unfortunate for the player, and for the teams.
QB or not QB
It is at this point that the Combine becomes increasingly relevant to the Bears, or at least to those trying to discern what realistic chances exist for the Bears to address their well-documented areas of need (quarterback, tight end, cornerback, safety).
An inherent problem at this stage is the difficulty in arriving at a right decision, particularly at the paramount position. NFL Network draft expert Mike Mayock did some checking that illustrates the issue.
Between 2007-14, teams selected 21 quarterbacks in the first round. Nine of them are no longer even in the league, and only a handful have achieved something close to the coveted "franchise" distinction: Matt Ryan in Atlanta, Matthew Stafford in Detroit, Carolina's Cam Newton, Andrew Luck in Indianapolis and Joe Flacco in Baltimore. Only Flacco has won a Super Bowl.
"It gives a pretty good feel for the 'hit' rate of franchise quarterbacks in the first round," Mayock said on Monday.
"My message to NFL teams is, 'you've got to keep trying, keep on swinging.'"
Whether the Bears take a swing at a franchise quarterback at No. 3 is still many weeks off. But Mayock didn't endorse making that swing at that point.
"I don't have any quarterbacks anywhere near the Top 10," Mayock said. "That doesn't mean I think there's no talent there, because I think there are four quarterbacks that have first-round talent. In my order I had for my initial Top 5, it was [DeShone] Kizer, [Deshaun] Watson, [Mitch] Trubisky, [Patrick] Mahomes. All four of them have holes in their games.
"I don't think any of them are ready to start Week 1."
More to come over the next week. Make that "weeks."