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Cardinals’ Brendan Donovan finishes third in National League Rookie of the Year voting

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Brendan Donovan

Cardinals second baseman Brendan Donovan, left, tags out Philadelphia  designated hitter Bryce Harper as he tried to stretch a single into a double in  Game 2 of a National League wild-card playoff series on Saturday, Oct. 8, 2022, in St. Louis.

Behind a pair of Braves, Cardinals utility man Brendan Donovan finished third in voting for the Jackie Robinson National League Rookie of the Year Award.

Atlanta’s 21-year-old center fielder Michael Harris II won after he received 22 first-place votes from the 30 Baseball Writers’ Association of America members who cast ballots, it was revealed Monday. Harris’s teammate Spencer Strider — a 24-year-old pitcher — finished second in the voting.

Donovan was the only Cardinal to factor into the final tally. This marks the second consecutive year a Cardinal finished third in rookie voting, after Dylan Carlson did so in 2021. Albert Pujols remains the last Cardinal to be recognized as the NL’s top-performing rookie. He won the award in 2001.

“It’s cool, man,” Donovan told MLB Network hosts during the awards show bout being a candidate. “I think it’s just a testament to the work ethic, my teammates, my support group, and the organization I’m in. I’m just grateful to be here.”

In 126 games after receiving a promotion from Class AAA Memphis, Donovan batted .281 with 21 doubles, five home runs, 45 RBIs and a .394 on-base percentage and became a regular name in Cardinals manager Oliver Marmol’s starting lineup regardless of where played in the field. The 25-year-old South Alabama product led NL rookies in walks, (60), on-base percentage and hit by pitches (14) while finishing second in hits (110) behind Harris and runs (64).

Donovan drew the most walks for a Cardinals rookie since Pujols had 69 in 2001 and finished third all-time in OBP for Cardinals rookies. He was behind Pujols’s .403 mark and franchise great Stan Musial’s .397 in 1942.

Compared to his rookie peers, Donovan’s 15% strikeout rate was the fourth-lowest across the majors and the best in the NL. He ranked third behind Washington’s Joey Menses and Harris in weighted runs created plus (wRC+) with 129, according to FanGraphs. A 100 wRC+ is considered league average.

Donovan, who was one of 13 Cardinals rookies to debut in 2022, filled a super-utility role on defense for the NL Central division winners. He played 38 games at second base, 37 in the outfield, 31 at third, 16 at shortstop and seven at first. Donovan became the only player since 1900 to start at four different infield spots in his first four MLB starts, according to the Elias Sports Bureau.

That movement around the field and his quality of his play defensively at each spot won Donovan the first Rawlings NL utility Gold Glove over finalists that included Arizona’s Daulton Varsho and Donovan’s teammate and 2021 Gold Glove-winning second baseman Tommy Edman. The award made Donovan the first Cardinals rookie to win a Gold Glove.

Donovan credited his teammates with helping him find success with his defense.

“No matter how many questions I ask, they’re more than willing to answer them, willing to come to me if there’s ever something,” Donovan said earlier this month after winning his Gold Glove honor. “No matter what it was, everyone has an open mind, and they’re willing to listen and learn and grow. So that’s the thing about the Cardinals organization, man. It’s like, it’s all about winning. And guys are willing to help each other.”

Harris — an Atlanta-area native who grew up a Braves fan — began the year at the Class AA level and skipped Class AAA. He debuted for the Braves on May 28. He proceeded to hit .297 with 19 home runs, 27 doubles, 64 RBIs, and produce an .853 OPS in 114 games as the Braves’ everyday center fielder. Harris’s 4.8 wins above replacement calculated by FanGraphs (fWAR) was the third-highest for MLB position player rookies and the best in the NL. The next closest to him was Donovan, with 2.7 fWAR.

In August, Harris was signed to an eight-year, $72 million contract that can reach up to $102 million and keep him under contract until 2032 if two club options are exercised.

”It’s crazy,” Harris said. “I mean, I grew up in Atlanta just rooting for the team. I just thought it was crazy enough to get drafted by my home team but let alone get into the league and get a contract and make the playoffs in the same year. Everything’s just moving so fast. It just means a lot. A lot of the players that have been through this organization I’ve watched. Just to be a part of it, kind of unreal.”

The award makes Harris the eighth Braves player to earn the recognition. The last three Braves to do so include Harris’s teammate Ronald Acuña Jr. (2018), closer Craig Kimbrel, and former Cardinals shortstop Rafael Furcal (2000).

Strider pitched 2⅔ innings at the end of the 2021 season before beginning this season on Atlanta’s opening-day roster. He was used out of the bullpen in his first 11 appearances and made his first MLB start on May 30.

Strider led rookie pitchers in wins (11), innings (131 2/3), fWAR (4.9), and strikeouts (202). Strider’s 2.67 ERA was the lowest among rookie starters. In two starts against the Cardinals, he struck out 19 batters in 12 innings and allowed just one run.

Rodriguez wins in AL

On the American League side, Seattle’s Julio Rodriguez won the accolade. Cleveland’s Steven Kwan and Baltimore’s Adley Rutschman were the other finalists. Rodriguez, 21, received 29 first-place votes after he hit .284 with 28 homers, 25 doubles, and 75 RBIs. He also posted a 147 OPS+ and stole 25 stolen bases. He led all rookie in fWAR (5.3).

Aside from recognition as the AL’s top rookie, Rodriguez’s first season included an All-Star appearance and a Silver Slugger Award, making him the fourth rookie outfielder to win a Silver Slugger since it began in 1980.

Rodriguez is the fourth Mariners player to be named AL Rookie of the Year and the first since Kyle Lewis won it in 2020. Rodriguez joins the likes of Lewis, franchise great outfielder Ichiro Suzuki (2001), right-handed reliever Kazuhiro Sasaki (2000), and first baseman Alvin Davis (1984).

Rodriguez also went from the Class AA level straight to the majors. It came with it’s challenges as he batted .206 and didn’t homer in his first 20 games.

”It was definitely a process to kind of like to slow myself down,” said Rodriguez. “There was a lot of excitement, a lot of things going on. But it was definitely a process. But the turning point, I just feel like it was throughout time (and) playing. ... Talking to my team, asking questions. I feel like it was slowly but surely that’s how I was able to adjust better. Just seeking information and putting it into play.”

Like Harris, Rodriguez was signed to a contract extension in August by the Mariners that keeps him with Seattle through 2034 and possibly through 2039 with club options. The deal guarantees the Dominican Republic born outfielder $210 million and can reach a record-setting $470 million.

The AL and NL Rookie of the Year Awards were the first of four BBWAA awards that will be revealed this week. Managers of the Year will be announced on Tuesday followed by the Cy Young Awards on Wednesday. The awards week concludes with the MVP Awards reveal on Thursday.

The Cardinals have two contenders for National League MVP — Paul Goldschmidt and Nolan Arenado.

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