NL West boasts top rookie candidates

NL West boasts top rookie candidates

Last season, a bumper crop of talented rookies entered the National League, including Ryan Zimmerman of Washington, Matt Cain of San Francisco, Prince Fielder of Milwaukee, Andre Ethier of Los Angeles and Dan Uggla, Hanley Ramirez, Josh Johnson and Scott Olsen of Florida.

Those eight were among the dozen candidates who received NL Rookie of the Year Award votes, with Ramirez topping the field to win the honor. It was the biggest balloting field since a dozen rookies vied for the award in 1997, and it tied for the second most since '93, when Mike Piazza finished first in a 13-candidate Rookie of the Year class, which also included Pedro Martinez and Jeff Conine.

Though it would be difficult to match last season's deep rookie class, this year's National League crop has several candidates with the resumes and opportunities to make the ballot in the fall.

To qualify for rookie status, a player must not have exceeded 130 at-bats or 50 innings pitched in the Major Leagues, or accumulated more than 45 days on the active roster of a Major League club or clubs during the 25-player limit period, excluding time on the disabled list or in military service.

So even if a player hasn't had 130 at-bats or 50 innings pitched, he may still have exhausted his rookie eligibility if he was on the Major League roster for more than 45 days, not counting days in September when the roster expands.

Here's a look at five Senior Circuit rookies who have a good shot to start the season in the Majors and figure to be in the running for the 2007 NL Rookie of the Year Award:

5. James Loney, 1B/RF, Dodgers -- Though he's not a lock to make the team and is blocked by Nomar Garciaparra at first base, look for Loney to get playing opportunities whenever possible as the Dodgers would like to keep his bat in the lineup. A first-round pick in the 2002 First-Year Player Draft, Loney hit .284 with four homers and 18 RBIs in 102 at-bats for the Dodgers in '06. Fifteen of his 29 hits went for extra bases, and he made national headlines by driving in nine runs in a Sept. 28 game at Coors Field. Loney has been smoking the ball this spring and seems primed for a fine season.

4. Chris Iannetta, C, Rockies -- The 23-year-old was called up to the Rockies for 21 games at the end of last season and hit .260 with two homers and 10 RBIs in 77 at-bats. Iannetta hit .303 over the past three years in the Minors, and while his defense still needs refining, he appears ready to take over as the starting backstop in Denver.

3. Chris Young, OF, D-backs -- Called up at the end of last season for 30 games, Young hit .243 with two homers, 10 RBIs and two stolen bases in 70 at-bats. The 23-year-old is expected to be Arizona's starting center fielder and has all the tools to be an outstanding one. Young has power (73 homers over his past three Minor League seasons) and speed (82 steals during that same span).

2. Troy Tulowitzki, SS, Rockies -- As Colorado's first-round pick, seventh overall, in the 2005 First-Year Player Draft, the Long Beach State product, who hit .240 with a homer and six RBIs in a 96 at-bat rehearsal at the end of last season, has moved quickly through the system. Tulowitzki, a very good athlete with excellent range, a plus arm and power to all fields, should get most of the starts at shortstop this season and put up very good numbers at Coors.

1. Kevin Kouzmanoff, 3B, Padres -- The Padres wanted Kouzmanoff so badly that they were willing to part with second baseman Josh Barfield to get him during the offseason. Kouzmanoff hit .332 over his last four Minor League seasons and didn't strike out a lot. In a 16-game callup last season, Kouzmanoff batted .279 with three homers, 11 RBIs and 23 total bases. Through his first nine games of the Cactus League season, the 26-year-old is hitting .349 with three homers, 17 RBIs and a .739 slugging percentage. The Nevada-Reno product appears to be ready to take over at the hot corner.

Jim Molony is a writer for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.