Rookies Myers, Fernandez make Florida proud
Rays outfielder, Marlins ace top field to earn hardware in Robinson's honor
A pitcher who made the move from Cuba to Major League stardom in Miami and an outfielder who delivered as advertised for Tampa Bay combined to make the Sunshine State a double winner in the Jackie Robinson Rookie of the Year Award presentations for 2013.
Jose Fernandez of the Marlins won the National League award and Wil Myers of the Rays took the American League honors in voting results announced Monday by the Baseball Writers' Association of America -- both teams from Florida continuing a run of award-winning rookies over the last decade-plus.
Fernandez, a Cuban-born right-hander who turned 21 in July, becomes the Marlins' fourth rookie winner in 11 seasons -- joining Dontrelle Willis (2003), Hanley Ramirez ('06) and Chris Coghlan ('09).
Myers, who at 22 became the first AL winner with fewer than 100 games played, is the third Rays player in the last six years to claim the award, following Evan Longoria in 2008 and Jeremy Hellickson in '11.
Every Rookie of the Year winner has a story, but what Fernandez did to reach the first-year pinnacle stands alone. After two failed attempts, he successfully defected to the United States from Cuba just five years ago to play baseball, selected in the first round of the 2011 First-Year Player Draft out of Braulio Alonso High School in Tampa, Fla.
2013 ROOKIES OF THE YEAR
With his grandmother, Olga, by his side for the first time since he left Cuba, Fernandez accepted the highest honor a rookie can receive, and it was clear where his heart was with so much going on around him.
"I was kind of expecting to be the Rookie of the Year, or [for] it to be close," Fernandez said. "Having my grandma here came out of nowhere. It's completely out of nowhere. I'm trying to let it sink in, and I'm trying to spend time with her."
With a dominant showing in the voting, Fernandez became the first NL winner born in Cuba, joining 1964 AL winner Tony Oliva as the only Cuban-born Rookie of the Year honorees. Fernandez had 142 points in the 5-3-1 voting system, gaining 26 first-place votes and four second-place nods.
Fernandez finished ahead of Yasiel Puig of the Dodgers, also born in Cuba and also coming off a season in which he put his own special stamp on the sport. Puig got the other four first-place votes and 95 total points, far ahead of third-place finisher Shelby Miller of the Cardinals (12 points).
To earn the award, Fernandez led all Major League pitchers with a .182 opponents' batting average and posted a 2.19 ERA that ranked second only to Dodgers ace Clayton Kershaw's 1.83 ERA. Fernandez went 12-6 in 28 starts, racking up 9.75 strikeouts per nine innings, second in the NL.
"I got a chance to be here, and I took advantage of it," Fernandez said. "I play hard. That's what the fans are going to get out of me. I'm going to play hard and give everything I've got."
In the AL, the journey to Rookie of the Year honors was not international in scope, but it certainly came with some hype, some Major League anticipation and, ultimately, a reward for the player and his team.
Myers was voted top rookie by a wide margin over Tigers shortstop Jose Iglesias, with the Rays outfielder taking 23 of 30 first-place votes and 131 total points. Iglesias finished with 80 points, receiving five first-place votes, while Tampa Bay right-hander Chris Archer took third with 35 points, collecting one first-place vote. A's starter Dan Straily also received a first-place vote and earned 15 points.
Acquired from Kansas City last December in a deal for veteran starters James Shields and Wade Davis, Myers didn't come up to the Majors until June 18. Yet he managed to lead all AL rookies with 53 RBIs, batting .293 with 13 home runs as an integral part of the AL Wild Card-winning Rays' run to the postseason.
"I thought I was put in some pretty big spots as a rookie," Myers said. "As far as my season went, there's a lot of things that can improve, but I thought I did pretty well for my first year."
Myers began the season at Triple-A Durham, and after some struggles, made it up to Tampa Bay. He never looked back, making the Major Leagues his comfortable home quickly, rising above the rest of the first-year pack in the AL.
"I feel like any player has awards in the back of their mind, and obviously being a rookie, you think Rookie of the Year," Myers said. "But I honestly just wanted to go out every single day and help my team win. That's the biggest thing -- helping the team win and getting to the playoffs."
Myers' 88 games played were the fewest for a winner of the AL rookie honor, fewer than the 101 played by the Royals' Bob Hamelin in the strike-shortened 1994 season and fewer than the Orioles' Al Bumbry, who in 1973 played 110 games, previously the low for a full season. The Phillies' Ryan Howard won the 2005 NL award with 88 games played, the same as Myers this year.
By picking up two Rookie of the Year Awards, Florida became the first state since California in 1993 to be home to both winners, the AL honor going to the Angels' Tim Salmon and the NL hardware going to the Dodgers' Mike Piazza. That one-state double has been seen only two other times, the other occasions both in the same city -- 1950 with Sam Jethroe of the Boston Braves and Walt Dropo of the Red Sox, and '51 with Willie Mays of the New York Giants and Gil McDougald of the Yankees.
John Schlegel is a national reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.