I'm not a member of the BBWAA and I don't vote for any major awards (I know, I know, it's a travesty, right?). But that doesn't mean that I can't write up some unofficial ballots on each of the major awards, so I'm going to get through each of them in the next week or so. The AL Rookie of the Year will kick things off, so here's my very unofficial ballot.
The Winner: CF Austin Jackson, Detroit
He didn't have an incredible year, but it just wasn't an incredible year for AL rookies. Sure, you can discount the performance somewhat because of the near-.400 BABIP, but this is also a guy who almost never pops it up (a guaranteed out, basically) and hits a ton of line drives. His .293/.345/.400 line is quite solid, but the former Yankee farmhand is particularly valuable because he's such a strong defender in center field. And while you can point to the ugly strikeout rate, his plate discipline numbers really aren't that far off from league averages, so presumably that's something that he'll improve on. Put it all together and he was a 3.7 WAR player this year, right up there with guys like Alex Rios, Vernon Wells, Torii Hunter and, oh, Curtis Granderson.
No. 2: RHP Neftali Feliz, Texas
Feliz is presumably going to get a lot of support to win this award, but I still don't think he was a better rookie than Jackson this year. With that said, Feliz still had a pretty exceptional season in his own right. His WAR was the third-best among all AL relievers, he went 40-for-43 on save opportunities, and he firmly established himself as one of the best relievers in baseball. Launching 97 MPH fastball after 97 MPH fastball, Feliz emerged as the closer on a team that's now four wins from the World Series. It's pretty crazy to think that he's only 22, and he could only get better from here if the Rangers decide to give him another shot to start. But until then, he'll have to settle with being one of the best closers in the league.
No. 3: 3B Danny Valencia, Minnesota
Man, who saw this coming? The third baseman batted .289/.322/.421 in 484 Triple-A plate appearances, only to bat .311/.351/.448 in 322 PA in his MLB debut. He doesn't have a ton of power or walk very much, but he's got strong contact skills and a good glove at third base. Joe Pawlikowski outlined Valencia's case on FanGraphs, but came to a similar conclusion that I did: while he had a great year, it's tough to put his half-season over Jackson's full season. But the 26-year-old, who wasn't exactly seen as an elite prospect before the season, certainly should be proud of what he did this season. He's easily been Minnesota's best third baseman since Corey Koskie.
No. 4: LHP Brian Matusz, Baltimore
One of the favorites heading into the season, the 23-year-old Matusz struggled at first but finished the season quite strong. His 4.30 ERA and 10-12 record won't stand out to anyone, but putting up a 4.05 FIP as a rookie in the AL East is no easy feat. He's going to have to put up strong K/BB numbers because he gives up a lot of fly balls, but he's shown flashes of the ability to do that. And I mean, it's hard to not be impressed by his final 11 starts: 7-1 W-L, 2.18 ERA, 52 strikeouts and 16 walks in 62 innings. The club went 10-1 in those starts. So while Matusz didn't emerge early in the season like some expected, don't be surprised if he has a David Price-like breakout next season.
No. 5: C John Jaso, Tampa Bay
This is a guy that more people should talk about. I'm not sure why people weren't more excited about a catcher with on-base skills as strong as Jaso's, but he could be one of the better catchers in the game if he can keep this up. Only Joe Mauer, Victor Martinez, John Buck and Mike Napoli put up better WAR marks among AL catchers, and only Mauer had a better on-base percentage among the same group of players. His walk rate was the fifth-highest among AL players with 400+ plate appearances. There's just a ton to like here even while noting this his power is middling at best and he's not exactly a defensive whiz, because a .370+ OBP is incredibly valuable from a catcher. It's tough to know how much of this Jaso can maintain going forward, but he's established himself as Tampa's primary catcher going forward.