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Happ, Hanson among NL ROY candidates

Happ, Hanson among NL ROY candidates

A year after Cubs catcher Geovany Soto won the National League Rookie of the Year Award in a landslide, the landscape is much different in 2009 as it is a wide-open race with no obvious favorite.

It's seemingly going to come down to a matter of taste for the voters this year, with four top candidates emerging in balloting to be released Monday.

So if the voters are looking at ace-quality hurlers, then they need not look any further than Braves right-hander Tommy Hanson and Phillies left-hander J.A. Happ, who both finished the season with sub-3.00 ERAs in 20-plus starts for their clubs in their rookie seasons.

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And if an outfielder who can do a little bit of everything is what they want, then the Pirates' Andrew McCutchen is their man, with 12 home runs and 22 stolen bases as well as an on-base plus slugging percentage (OPS) of .836.

Then there's Marlins outfielder Chris Coghlan, who was a hit machine during the season and finished with an impressive .321 batting average and .390 on-base percentage. Coghlan had 47 hits during August, which was the most by an NL rookie since Wally Moon had 52 hits in a month with the Cardinals in 1954. He followed up with 46 hits in September and finished with more hits than anyone in baseball after the All-Star break.

Those are just a few of the candidates for the award, as there are plenty deserving of consideration this season.

Take Cardinals outfielder Colby Rasmus, who emerged as one of the best defensive center fielders in the game, while also hitting 16 home runs. He also was excellent in the playoffs with a .444 batting average against the Dodgers in the Division Series, although voters turned in their ballots before postseason play began.

There's also McCutchen's teammate, Garrett Jones, who displayed the most power by an NL rookie this year, hitting 21 home runs in just 82 games with the Pirates.

And let's not forget that the Brewers' Casey McGehee led all NL rookies in RBIs with 66, and the Rockies' Dexter Fowler led all NL rookies in stolen bases with 27.

Finally, on the pitching side, Cubs right-hander Randy Wells was somewhat lost in the shuffle with the way Happ and Hanson pitched, but he had an excellent year in his own right with 12 wins and an ERA of 3.05 in 27 starts.

So there appear to be some interesting options in this year's NL Rookie of the Year race. Here's a look at the favorites, contenders and dark horses:

THE FAVORITES:

Andrew McCutchen, Pirates: The 22-year-old could be considered the most well-rounded candidate as he displayed both power and speed as well as above-average defense in center field for the Pirates. He finished the season with a .286 batting average with 12 home runs and 54 RBIs in 108 games.

Chris Coghlan, Marlins: Coghlan led all rookies in several categories, such as batting average, on-base percentage, hits and runs. His production helped the Marlins stay in contention in the NL East throughout most of the season.

Tommy Hanson, Braves: Hanson is clearly ace material as the big right-hander has been dominant ever since his first start in early June. He also has the best stuff of any NL rookie pitcher, as evidenced by his 116 strikeouts in 127 2/3 innings of work.

J.A. Happ, Phillies: Happ was surprisingly one of the Phillies' most consistent starters during the year with a 12-4 record and a 2.93 ERA. He also made 12 appearances out of the bullpen, which is where he pitched during the postseason as Philadelphia appeared in the World Series for the second straight year.

THE CONTENDERS:

Garrett Jones, Pirates: Jones displayed plenty of power, as he led all NL rookies in home runs and slugging percentage this season in 82 games. But the biggest knock on him is that he didn't play in enough games this year to warrant serious consideration.

Colby Rasmus, Cardinals: Rasmus was as good as advertised for the first-place Cardinals by bringing excellent defense to center field while also displaying plenty of power potential. His low batting average in comparison to other contenders, however, puts a dent into his candidacy.

THE DARK HORSES:

Dexter Fowler, Rockies: Fowler led NL rookies in games played and made headlines when he stole five bases in one game against the Padres to tie a modern rookie record. His speed and ability to steal bases is his biggest asset, but he also led NL rookies in walks to post a .363 on-base percentage.

Randy Wells, Cubs: While the Cubs' season was certainly a disappointment, Wells was a pleasant surprise for the team this year after being designated for assignment by the Blue Jays last year. His 12 wins were the most by any Cubs starter, and he led the staff with a 3.05 ERA.

The Field: Casey McGehee, Brewers; Everth Cabrera, Padres; Gerardo Parra, D-backs.

Rhett Bollinger is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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