MLB.com Columnist

Richard Justice

Seager stands out as top NL ROY Award candidate

Dodgers All-Star a cut above fellow shortstops, duo of hurlers in Senior Circuit

Seager stands out as top NL ROY Award candidate

Dodgers shortstop Corey Seager is every bit as good as advertised. That's the bottom line with the National League Rookie of the Year Award competition. That's saying something, too, because the reports were off the charts before Seager had even played his first Major League game.

Some scouts even predicted that Seager would be one of baseball's top five players within a year or two. They raved about the usual stuff: skills, smarts, work ethic. They also saw that perfect combination of talent and a relentless drive to be great.

At this point, it's not a question of whether Seager will be the NL Rookie of the Year Award winner. He will be. He's on pace for 44 doubles, 30 home runs, 191 hits and an .888 OPS. He's batting .349 in his past 41 games.

Cardinals shortstop Aledmys Diaz has had a phenomenal rookie season, and his offensive numbers line up nicely against Seager's. If he hadn't suffered a fractured left thumb on July 31, he might have pushed Seager right down the stretch.

That said, the totality of Seager's game -- the great defense and the polish and all the rest -- still would have landed the trophy on Seager's shelf.

Perhaps the question is if Seager will also be the NL Most Valuable Player Award winner. He has a 4.3 Wins Above Replacement according to baseballreference.com, and he trails only Cubs third baseman Kris Bryant (4.6) and Nationals second baseman Daniel Murphy (4.4).

Seager is in the top five in the NL in runs (73), hits (133) and doubles (31), and he ranks in the top 20 in both home runs (21) and OPS (.888). Bryant is a solid favorite to be the NL MVP Award winner, but Seager's emergence into the race says plenty about the kind of season he has had.

However, other rookies have had some special seasons, and plenty of teams are thrilled with what those emerging stars have contributed.

Here's how the top five rookies might line up in the NL:

1. Seager, SS, Dodgers
This is the time of year when young players are tested, because they're sometimes playing more games than they've ever played before. Seager is hitting .321 since the All-Star break, and he hit a pair of home runs in a 9-4 victory over the Phillies on Monday night.

Seager's two-homer game

2. Diaz, SS, Cardinals
Diaz will be sidelined another month or so with a fractured left thumb, which has put a temporary halt to a phenomenal rookie season. After starting the season at Triple-A Memphis, injuries on the big league squad opened up a spot for Diaz two games into the first week of April. After that, Diaz began spraying line drives all over the field. He made the NL All-Star team and was headed for a 20-homer, 80-RBI season when he got hurt.

Diaz's two-run homer

3. Trevor Story, SS, Rockies
Another sweet story interrupted. If not for Jose Reyes' suspension, Story might not have made the Rockies out of Spring Training. He was the NL Player of the Week in his first week in the Majors, and he had 27 home runs and a .909 OPS in 97 games when a left thumb injury forced him to have season-ending surgery. Story nevertheless had established himself as one of the game's bright young stars.

Story's two-run smash

4. Kenta Maeda, RHP, Dodgers
OK, Maeda is a rookie in name only since he's 28 years old and went 97-67 during eight seasons while pitching for Hiroshima in the Japan Central League. Some voters have resisted voting for veterans from foreign leagues. There's no arguing he has been the NL's best rookie pitcher and a godsend for a team that has been decimated by pitching injuries. In 130 2/3 innings, Maeda has a 3.31 ERA. He has been hit hard a few times in recent weeks, but his overall body of work holds up.

Maeda's winning start

5. Steven Matz, LHP, Mets
This place on the ballot could turn into a coin flip between Rockies right-hander Jon Gray and Matz. At the moment, Matz has the edge with a much better ERA -- 3.60 vs. 4.26. Matz rebounded nicely from a tough start to limit the D-backs to two runs in six innings on Tuesday. Gray was hit hard in his most recent start, but he had a 1.64 ERA in six games before that to help the Rockies climb into contention.

Matz strikes out nine

Richard Justice is a columnist for MLB.com. Read his blog, Justice4U. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.