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Quality over quantity in AL Rookie pool

Quality over quantity in AL Rookie pool

A dearth of rookies in the American League meant there was a much shallower field to choose from in the Rookie of the Year balloting.

However, the quality of a few rookies who spent all season in the big leagues creates a tough field to choose from and an interesting debate. What kind of player has the biggest impact ... a position player, closer or starting pitcher?

Tigers center fielder Austin Jackson put up a statistical combination that only three other rookies -- Hanley Ramirez, Juan Samuel and Shoeless Joe Jackson -- have matched in Major League history. Rangers closer Neftali Feliz became the first rookie to record 40 saves. Somehow, voters had to decide which season was better.

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The winner will be revealed on Monday at 2 p.m. ET.

Voters faced just as difficult a choice last year, when A's closer Andrew Bailey beat out Rangers shortstop Elvis Andrus, White Sox second baseman Gordon Beckham and Tigers starter Rick Porcello. And in this case, it's about more than what a closer must do to outweigh the feats of a position player. It's also about whether a team's success plays a factor in the choice, and how much a player's combination of offense and defense warrants consideration.

With Jackson, there's much more than the obvious offensive success, though his aforementioned combination of 180 hits, 100 runs scored, 30 doubles, 10 triples and 25 stolen bases is a historic accomplishment for a 23-year-old leadoff man who hadn't played a game in the big leagues before this year. Jackson's stellar work in center, punctuated by a slew of highlight catches on the run toward the fence, arguably warranted Gold Glove consideration. The combination helped Detroit fans forget about the loss of Curtis Granderson, whom Detroit traded to the Yankees to get Jackson last December.

Likewise, the 22-year-old Feliz's resume goes beyond the pure save totals for a Texas squad that won the AL West. His 59 games finished led all AL pitchers -- rookies or otherwise -- and he struck out better than a batter an inning while posting a nearly 4-to-1 ratio of strikeouts to walks. He grew stronger as the season rolled along, including a scoreless final month with 12 1/3 innings of three-hit ball in September and October.

Although it arguably could have helped Feliz's case, postseason performance doesn't factor into the voting. Baseball writers who are members of the Baseball Writers' Association of America had to turn in their ballots before the playoffs began.

After Jackson and Feliz, the group thins out. However, Wade Davis' value to the Rays on their way to the AL East title can't be overlooked, especially his 7-1 record from July 1 to season's end. Amazingly, while starters have won the NL Rookie of the Year four times in the past 15 years, Justin Verlander of Detroit, who won in 2006, is the only starter to take AL honors since 1982.

Here's a look at the leading candidates:

Neftali Feliz, RHP, Rangers (4-3, 2.73 ERA, 40 saves)
The case for: With 40 saves and stellar secondary numbers for the AL champions, Feliz made the biggest rookie impact on a playoff club.
The case against: Rarely do closers win with ERAs higher than 2.50.

Austin Jackson, CF, Tigers (.293, 4 HR, 41 RBIs, 27 SB)
The case for: Showed offensive and defensive consistency beyond his years, including carrying a .300 average every day from April 11 to mid-September.
The case against: Led the league in strikeouts, quite a feat for a leadoff hitter.

Wade Davis, RHP, Rays (12-10, 4.07 ERA, 168 IP, 113 Ks)
The case for: Went 7-1 from July onward to help the Rays fend off the Yankees for the AL East crown.
The case against: While he did perform well overall, he didn't stand out statistically in any categories, including wins and losses.

Also worth consideration: Brennan Boesch, OF, Tigers; Reid Brignac, IF, Rays; Jason Donald, SS, Indians; Brian Matusz, Orioles; Will Rhymes, 2B, Tigers; Chris Sale, LHP, White Sox; Sergio Santos, RHP, White Sox; Carlos Santana, C, Indians; Josh Tomlin, RHP, Indians.

So does Jackson's all-around performance outweigh Feliz's job as closer, or does Feliz's direct impact on a winner with games on the line top Jackson's stats? And where does Davis' success fit into all this?

Jason Beck is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @beckjason. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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