Rookie Watch: Marlins’ Fernandez finds another gear

With two more months remaining in the 2013 season, here’s our latest look at the top five rookies in baseball:

1. Jose Fernandez, SP, Marlins
Stats: 8-5 record, 2.54 ERA, 3.21 K/BB, 2.9 WAR

With his recent run of success for the Marlins, the dynamic right-hander already ranks as one of the 10 best pitchers in the National League, holding opponents to three runs or fewer in every start since May 27. He’s only getting better, too. In his last two starts, Fernandez has pitched 16 innings, allowed just two runs and struck out 27 batters. Oh yeah, he gave up just one walk in those two wins (to pitcher Ubaldo Jimenez, no less).

As my colleague Jay Clemons mentioned in last week’s Rookie Watch, Fernandez could be behind the 8-ball if the Marlins elect to cap his innings. If they are aiming for a 150-inning ceiling for the 21-year-old, he’ll barely make it into the month of September at his current rate (127 2/3 innings pitched). In all likelihood, this will open up the NL’s Rookie of the Year award to a few of the other guys on this list.

Still, after watching his eight-inning, three-hit game against Cleveland on Aug. 2, one in which he fanned 14 opposing batters and did not allow a single run, it’s clear that no rookie out there is playing better baseball.

How about this: The Marlins are 24 games below .500 this season … but they are 13-8 in games Fernandez starts.

2. Yasiel Puig, OF, Dodgers
Stats: .376/.429/.600, 11 HR, 25 RBI, 2.9 WAR

Given his immediate celebrity status and the winning streak he helped spark in Los Angeles, Puig is still the NL Rookie of the Year favorite. He went through some rough spells in July — including some ugly, ugly strikeouts — but he’s yet to post a below-average month and, by the looks of his early August numbers, he’s back on track.

In four August games, he’s hitting .500 with a home run and three walks.

Puig’s sample size keeps growing the numbers aren’t exactly falling off. Among all MLB players with at least 200 plate appearances this season, he ranks second in runs created (190 WRC+, where 100 is the average). Only teammate Hanley Ramirez, who would be the NL MVP frontrunner had he not missed two months with a hamstring injury, has put runs on the scoreboard at a better rate. Puig’s .373 average would lead the majors were he qualified to win the batting title.

As the Dodgers continue to push toward the NL West title and the playoffs, Puig’s star isn’t likely to fade in the coming months.

3. Julio Teheran, SP. Braves
Stats: 8-5 record, 3.02 /ERA, 4.18 K/BB, 1.9 WAR

Aside from Fernandez, there is not a rookie starter out there pitching better than Teheran right now. Though the 21-year-old ranks behind Shelby Miller and Hyun-Jin Ryu in terms of WAR and FIP, Teheran’s numbers have steadily been improving ever since a rough April start.

There have been hiccups along the way, but in his his past three starts he’s gone 18 innings, allowing just two runs on 11 hits while striking out 23 opposing batters. The Braves won all three games. His strikeout-to-walk ratio is 16th-best in baseball among qualified starters and opposing batters are hitting .251 against him — a comparable clip to the likes of Adam Wainwright, Doug Fister, Zack Greinke and Cole Hamels.

4. Wil Myers, OF, Rays
Stats: .329/.379/.533, 8 HR, 30 RBI, 1.6 WAR

Since inserting the hot-shot prospect into the everyday lineup, Tampa Bay has won 27 of its 39 games and closed the gap in the AL East standings.

In fact, over the last 30 days, only three other offensive players have been more valuable than Myers: Mike Trout (2.2 WAR), Andrew McCutchen and Milwaukee’s Jonathan Lucroy (1.6 WAR). That’s some pretty good company to be in. Over that same time span, Myers is hitting .397/.471/.658 with five home runs, 17 RBI, five stolen bases and walking nearly as much as he’s striking out.

Cleveland’s Yan Gomes (.310, 7 HR, 2.3 WAR), Kansas City’s David Lough (.300, 4 HR, 1.9 WAR), Texas’ Leonys Martin (.273, 6 HR, 20 steals, 1.3 WAR) or Detroit’s Jose Iglesias — Jhonny Peralta’s replacement for the potential World Series contender — could give Myers a run for AL Rookie of the Year, but no one has been better.

Honorable Rays mention: Right-hander Chris Archer also found another gear in July, winning Pitcher of the Month honors after posting a 4-0 record with a 0.73 ERA. Overall, he’s 6-4 with a 2.65 ERA this season. If he can maintain a level of consistency, he might just be Myers’ biggest competitor for AL Rookie of the Year honors.

5. Shelby Miller, SP, Cardinals
Stats: 11-7 record, 2.89 ERA, 3.77 K/BB, 2.3 WAR

The problem for Miller, in terms of his drop in our rookie rankings, is that he’s a solid and steady No. 3 starter for the Cardinals over the past few months while others (Fernandez, Teheran) appear to be No. 1-caliber starters already. After a fast start to the season — Miller was 6-3 with a 1.82 ERA as of June 1 — the 22-year-old has not been the same.

Though his overall numbers (11-7, 2.89 ERA) still impress, he’s allowed three runs or more in five of his last 10 starts. He’s blanked opposing offenses twice during that span; however, his ERA is a very rookie-like 4.33 during that time. That’s below average for an MLB starter in 2013. Miller is still a viable option for St. Louis’ playoff run, but he has not been in the same echelon as Teheran and Fernandez over the past few months.