Neftali Feliz has dominated for the Rangers, helping propel the franchise into the playoffs for the first time since 1999. (photo: zimbio)

Unlike in all of the other award categories, the candidates for the American League Rookie of the Year is a pretty thin group. It’s a very close battle between two players, outfielder Austin Jackson of the Detroit Tigers, and Neftali Feliz, the Texas Rangers closer.

Feliz, 22, was named the closer in early April, and though manager Ron Washington said Frank Francisco would assume the duties upon working out the kinks, Feliz stuck and flourished. In years past the Rangers bullpen had been their weakness, but Feliz helped make it one of their overwhelming strengths. With Francisco’s inconsistencies, Texas would have had a difficult time holding off both the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim and the Oakland Athletics. They needed Feliz, and the Dominican proved his worth.

He reached the 40-save plateau in his first full season, a goal he set for himself. He was dominant in reaching that mark, allowing just 21 runs on 43 hits in 69 innings to compile a 2.73 ERA. Feliz rarely dug himself into a hole, with a miniscule 0.88 WHIP (Walks+Hits/Inning pitched), and only blew three saves. Hitters only hit .177 against him and reached base just 24 percent of the time. Only two closers held opponents to a lower batting average and a lower on-base percentage. He helped build a winner, and his importance anchoring the back end of their bullpen makes him a terrific candidate, one who should take home the hardware.

With him deserving to be named Rookie of the Year, that means Jackson has to settle for second place. I wouldn’t be surprised if the speedy Tigers outfielder did win. The race is just that close, and who wins is a matter of whether a team’s success should factor into the decision. Jackson put up amazing statistics, but Feliz was one of the reasons why Texas is in the playoffs for the first time since 1999.

Jackson, 23, was acquired by Detroit from the New York Yankees in the deal that sent Curtis Granderson to the Bronx, and he quickly made the Tigers glad a trade was completed. Granderson was a fan-favorite, a talented hitter, and did tremendous work in the community. But, though he had big shoes to fill, Jackson quickly won over Detroit, possessing speed and a major-league ready bat to anchor the top of their order. He is one of four rookies in history to reach 180 hits, 100 runs, 30 doubles, 10 triples, and 25 steals, joining Juan Samuel of the Phillies in 1984, Hanley Ramirez of the Marlins in 2006, and Shoeless Shoe Jackson in 1911.

He has been their sparkplug, a balanced all around hitter to compliment his superb play defensively. Some rookies come up to the majors and flourish for a short while until pitchers figured out their holes. Jackson has been consistent throughout the year, missing only five games and amounting 600-plus at-bats. He never hit a wall, which is eye-opening considering the American League boasts so many solid pitchers.

It is hard to go against Jackson. His team had a down year, but he certainly did everything he could to provide a winning energy. Feliz just did a bit more as one of the more important Rangers during their run into the playoffs.

Honorable mention: Jackson, Wade Davis and Danny Valencia

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