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In a normal year, Orioles first baseman/left fielder Trey Mancini would be at or around the top of the early discussion for the American League Rookie of the Year Award.
It’s late June, and Mancini has 14 homers and 43 RBIs while hitting .321 with a .366 on-base percentage and a .589 slugging percentage. He has the third highest number of homers, second most RBIs, third highest average and second highest slugging percentage among AL rookies with at least 100 at-bats.
But this isn’t a normal year. There’s this big guy in New York that you might have heard of by the name of Aaron Judge. And he’s doing some pretty incredible things with his bat.
Among qualifiers heading into Monday night, Judge was leading all AL players – rookies and otherwise — in the three Triple Crown categories: homers (26), RBIs (59) and average (.332). He’s the current favorite for AL MVP – and, did I mention, he’s a rookie?
Mancini, who went to the University of Notre Dame, doesn’t exactly have the luck of the Irish on his side here, at least when it comes to when his breakout season has occurred.
“I think it’s more of a race for second place at this point. Judge is ridiculous,” Mancini said with a laugh about his chances at the AL ROY award. “I played against (Judge) in the minors and always knew that he was going to be a special player. He’s a great guy too, and I’m really, really happy for him and all the success he is having. But, to go along with that, it is cool to hear your name at least mentioned in there for the race, if there really is one right now.”
Mancini is starting to get some national love for his breakout year at age 25. I talked with him recently about his season, his hot start and the fact he’s been able to continue to play well after hitting an inevitable rough patch.
“Defensively and offensively, there’s a lot of adjustments you have to make and the word gets out on you quickly. And you have to kind of know what other people are trying to do to you,” he said. “And I knew at the end of April that I was going to have to make some adjustments at the plate and, luckily, they’ve been working out for the most part. People will adjust again and then I’ll have to maybe switch some things up again. That’s how it is. It’s just an everlasting chess match here.”
The Rookie of the Year thing is pretty interesting to me, because if Judge weren’t a rookie, it would be an exceptionally tight race right now. Chicago’s Matt Davidson, Boston’s Andrew Benintendi, Seattle’s Mitch Haniger and Ben Gamel, Houston’s Yuli Gurriel and Kansas City’s Jorge Bonifacio are having noteworthy seasons.
Mancini is probably having the best run so far of that group – but Judge has already laid down the law in the race, terrible pun intended.
If Mancini were to win the 2017 Rookie of the Year Award, however, he would snap the club’s 27-year drought for that honor – one that goes back to closer Gregg Olson in 1989. No AL team has gone longer without having a player win the ROY award, and only one team in baseball has had a lengthier ROY drought: The San Diego Padres, whose last winner was catcher Benito Santiago in 1987. The Arizona Diamondbacks have never had a Rookie of the Year winner, but they didn’t come into existence until the 1998 season, nine years after Olson’s award.
Even an NL team has had an AL ROY winner more recently than the Orioles: Pat Listach captured it for Milwaukee in 1992; the Brewers switched to the National League in 1998.
The Cleveland Indians have had a similar drought as the Orioles – their last ROY winner was catcher Sandy Alomar Jr. in 1990. He’s now a coach for the team.
The Orioles have six Rookie of the Year winners in modern franchise history: Ron Hansen (1960), Curt Blefary (1965), Al Bumbry (1973), Eddie Murray (1977), Cal Ripken Jr., (1982) and Olson. They haven’t had a whole lot of close calls recently.
You have to go back to 2002 for a second-place finish by an Oriole: right-hander Rodrigo Lopez. Reliever Jorge Julio was actually third in the voting that season, with the duo losing to Toronto’s Eric Hinske.
So, what Mancini is doing right now is pretty special for a rookie around these parts – even if it pales in comparison to Judge’s exploits with the Yankees.
If you want to hear the whole interview with Mancini, which ran as part of my weekly radio show on WOYK, Sports Radio 1350 in York, Pa., you can listen on the station’s archive or click the play arrow below or download it from iTunes. Also during this episode, I talk all things Orioles with Mark Viviano, the sports director at WJZ-TV. Check it out.