Washington touts Andrus for top rookie
Rangers skipper favors shortstop over pitching contenders
OAKLAND -- There are some pretty good pitchers who have a real shot at the American League Rookie of the Year Award.Oakland closer Andrew Bailey has a 1.95 ERA and 25 saves, Detroit starter Rick Porcello is 13-9 with a 4.22 ERA and Tampa Bay starter Jeff Niemann is 12-6 with a 3.80 ERA. Manager Ron Washington has his own opinion. "The guys who strap it on every day are the ones that deserve that award," Washington said. Washington's bias is obvious, but he favors Rangers shortstop Elvis Andrus. "He should win it," Washington said. "In my opinion, he's held us together." As the Rangers fade from contention in both the American League West and Wild Card races, individual accomplishments start coming into focus. In the matter of postseason awards, Andrus has a strong chance to be the first Rangers player to win Rookie of the Year since Mike Hargrove in 1974. Washington's endorsement aside, other American League managers bear witness to what Andrus has meant to the Rangers, especially in how much their pitching and defense has improved this year. "The big thing for me is Elvis Andrus has probably made the biggest difference on that pitching staff," Mariners manager Don Wakamatsu said. "There have been several moves made that have had a big impact on the pitching staff. But I think Andrus is the biggest factor." Oakland manager Bob Geren favors Bailey but has been obviously impressed with Andrus. "He's played very well against us, I know that," Geren said. "He's made a big jump [from Double-A] this year, which makes what he's done even more impressive. Defensively, he's got a lot of athletic ability and range; he gets to a lot of balls other guys might not be able to make plays on. "He can really run, too -- he's quick and he's fast. Offensively, he's dangerous. Like a lot of young players, he has some weaknesses, but if you miss your spots with him, he's got the bat speed to really hurt you. He's having a heck of a first year. He really is." Andrus appears to be the leading candidate among position players. He is the only American League rookie to have enough at-bats to qualify for the batting title, although that is not a prerequisite for being considered for the award. Andrus went into Monday's game hitting .272 with 65 runs scored, 14 doubles, eight triples, six home runs, 34 RBIs and 28 stolen bases in 131 games and 430 at-bats. Others who could get consideration include a pair of White Sox infielders. Third baseman Gordon Beckham is hitting .266 with 12 home runs and 54 RBIs in 92 games and 338 at-bats, and Chris Getz is hitting .269 with 49 runs scored and 25 stolen bases in 103 games and 361 at-bats. Andrus' biggest impact has been on defense. That could be the separator between him and all other candidates. Andrus has given the voters and anybody else watching a steady diet of highlight-worthy defensive plays. Andrus is averaging 5.17 chances per nine innings this season, the highest by an AL shortstop. It's also the seventh-highest by an AL shortstop since 1954. The top two were Toronto's Alfredo Griffin, who had 5.51 chances per nine innings as a rookie in '79, and Baltimore's Ron Hansen, who had a 5.49 mark in '60. Both were named AL Rookie of the Year. "For me, to win the award would be great," Andrus said. "I put it in my mind when I came to the big leagues that I wanted to make a good first impression and stay here. Then things started going good for me and the team and I knew I had a chance to win it. That's my second goal. My first goal is to make the playoffs." There have been errors. He has made 21, tying him with Twins shortstop Orlando Cabrera for the most in the American League. Part of that is letting his focus stray on occasion. Andrus has admitted that the mental part of the game has been his toughest adjustment in his first full season in the Majors. "If you're in the big leagues, that means you have the physical skills and ability," Andrus said. "But you have to be mentally tough. You have to focus on every play. Sometimes I make an out at the plate with a runner in scoring position and I'm still thinking about that in the field. Omar Vizquel has talked about that with me: being prepared every day." Experience has also been a factor. In a game earlier this season in Seattle, Andrus went after a slow-hit ground ball and rushed his throw to first. The throw was off the mark, and the batter was safe. The batter was Ken Griffey Jr., who no longer runs well. Andrus didn't realize he had more time to make an accurate throw. "Those are the kinds of things you learn with experience," Washington said. "You have to understand the situation, the speed of the ball, who hit it and who is running to the next base. How fast are they? Those are the kind of things that will separate him from the rest because the best don't screw those plays up." It's part of being a rookie. From that standpoint, Andrus has been among the best.
T.R. Sullivan is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.