Abreu, Tanaka On Way To Rewriting Baseball History

by Daniel Levitt | Posted on Tuesday, July 1st, 2014
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Masahiro Tanaka

Each year the baseball season unearths a selection of rookie starlets, outstanding from the rest of the field, directly impacting their team’s postseason chances. As a rookie, we cannot expect much other than prosperous numbers, creating optimism and hope for years to come. Very rarely can we pinpoint a freshman as the league’s best, 2014 however, we can with two.

In 2001 we saw the arrival of a mysterious left-handed slap hitter from Japan, who stormed his way to a .350 average and American League MVP honours in the process. Yes, 2001 was the year that Ichiro Suzuki revolutionized baseball in America and opened its doors to the rising talent in the Far East.

Then in 2012, we experienced the best rookie not to win MVP. Mike Trout was (and still is) the league’s greatest five-tool player since Bo Jackson. He had (has) it all: speed, power, average, arm and glove and would have won the AL MVP had it not been for an even more historic Triple Crown season from Miguel Cabrera.

That season Trout had 30 home runs, 83 RBIs, 49 stolen bases and a .326 average, quite remarkable for a player just 21 years of age at the time.

That brings us to the present day and a couple of 2014 rookies are trailblazing their own path to baseball history.

Like so many of their fellow countrymen have done in the past, Masahiro Tanaka and Jose Abreu made the leap from Japan and Cuba respectively, and have thus far made the transition look seemingly easy. I mention “thus far” as we are only three months into the season, but as we advance into September, the two aforementioned are on their way to rewriting history themselves.

Tanaka, a result of the reformed posting process from the Nippon Professional Baseball League in Japan, is half way towards completing a feat not completed before. If the season ended today, Tanaka would be a frontline favorite to win not just the AL Rookie of the Year, but the Cy Young Award also.

His 11-3 record and 2.10 ERA are best in the AL, and just 17 strikeouts behind leader David Price having played a game less. What makes his numbers even more impressive is the fact that he calls Yankee Stadium home, notorious for being a hitter-friendly ballpark.

The sensational right-hander faces stiff competition from “King” Felix Hernandez for Cy Young honors, as they own almost identical numbers. The man from Seattle has a 10-2 record and 137 strikeouts, while also owning a 2.10 ERA. Their WHIP, opponent’s average and walks are barely discernible, with Tanaka just pipping Hernandez due to his youth.

Abreu on the other hand has a similar situation. He is in his own league with regards to offensive production (Houston’s George Springer deserves a mention), and will certainly gain a share of the MVP votes should he continue at such a torrid pace.

His 25 home runs are tied for first with Edwin Encarnacion in the AL, while his 64 RBIs and 953 OPS are both good enough for fourth, all that after missing 14 games in May due to an ankle injury. Had Encarnacion and Nelson Cruz not been on course for career years of their own, Abreu would be alone in offensive production.

Should their seasons continue as they have done for the first half of the season, Masahiro Tanaka and Jose Abreu will be forever compared with the great rookie seasons of all-time. Each has had a rather disparate journey to the majors, yet they appear to be on the same path to personal glory.

If their respective clubs, the New York Yankees and Chicago White Sox, can get it together and make the playoffs, we’ll have to seriously review how they both compare to their record-breaking predecessors.


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Daniel Levitt
About the Author

Daniel has been following the minor-leagues since 2012, and is BHC's go-to guy for all things prospects. Daniel is eager to enthral you all with his love and passion for baseball. Follow Daniel on Twitter @DanielLevitt32. http://daniellevitt32.com/

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