Kirk Nieuwenhuis is off a strong start in his rookie season. If he keeps up the pace, Captain Kirk has a legitimate shot at winning the National League Rookie of the Year award. However, in order to do that, he’ll have to beat out the heavy favorite, Bryce Harper.
Besides the fact that they both play the outfield, there aren’t a lot of similarities (on the surface) between Niuewenhuis and Harper. Kirk spent four years in the minors, working his way up to the big leagues this year, while Harper burst onto the scene after a little over
a year down on the farm. Kirk’s role in the future is uncertain, while Harper is expected to be a star and the face of the franchise. Kirk is 24 and Harper is 19.
So far, Harper has been dominant during his short stint in the Majors, but Niuewenhuis has held his own as well. Here is a quick comparison of their numbers:
Niuewenhuis: 229 PA, .298/.360/.429, 5 HR, 23 RBI, 4 SB
Harper: 177 PA, .303/.384/.548, 7 HR, 19 RBI, 4 SB
In any other season, Kirk’s stats would put him towards the front of the pack, but the way Harper has started, the teenager is clearly in the lead. The two rookies have similar batting averages and on-base percentages, but Harper has hit for more power thus far. As he gets more comfortable in the big leagues, Kirk should hit more doubles and home runs, closing the gap.
What might handcuff Niuewenhuis, at least for now, are his struggles against lefties. Niuewenhuis is just 10-50 against southpaws this season, and with Scott Hairston mashing lefties and Andres Torres hitting better from the right side, Kirk has been sitting against lefties for the most part. Harper, on the other hand, has performed well against lefties, going 18-46 with a pair of homers thus far. There also is no question every day as to whether or not Harper will be in the lineup: you can bank on seeing number 34 patrolling the outfield. Kirk is going to get the bulk of the playing time against righties, but until he can prove that he can also hit southpaws, he will platoon with Torres.
Harper has a lot going for him regarding the NL ROY race. He’s got all the hype and the stats to back it up. However, if Niuewenhuis can up his power numbers and gain some playing time against lefties, he might give the phenom a run for his money.