NEW YORK - Chris Coghlan and Andrew Bailey both agreed to change, then quickly got their chance in the majors. Now each has a rookie reward that will last forever.
Coghlan, the pesky Marlins leadoff hitter, won the National League Rookie of the Year award in a close vote Monday and Bailey took the AL honor after an outstanding season as Oakland’s closer.
“I couldn’t have written it better,” Coghlan said during a conference call.
A second baseman in the minors, Coghlan made a hasty shift to left field in May and found a home atop Florida’s lineup. Bailey also switched successfully, going from struggling Double-A starter to All-Star reliever in a year.
“I think the move to the bullpen allowed me to get back mentally to who I was,” Bailey said, explaining that he began challenging hitters again. “Just took the opportunity and ran with it.”
Coghlan edged Philadelphia pitcher J.A. Happ, receiving 17 first-place votes and 105 points in balloting by the Baseball Writers’ Association of America. Happ, the only player picked on all 32 ballots, garnered 10 first-place votes and 94 points.
Bailey, who had 26 saves and a 1.84 ERA this season, was selected first on 13 of 28 ballots and finished with 88 points. Texas shortstop Elvis Andrus was the runner-up with 65 points, one more than Detroit pitcher Rick Porcello.
Bailey, a surprise All-Star in July, was driving when he got word that he won.
“At first I thought it was a prank call. Which one of my friends is playing a prank on me?” he said. “I didn’t want to take my eyes off the road.”
Once he realized the news was legit, Bailey passed it along to his family.
“My mom was crying and my dad was stoked,” he said.
Coghlan dug himself out of an early slump and had a superb second half. He batted .321 with nine homers and 31 doubles in 128 games, scoring 84 runs and driving in 47.
Called up from the minors in May, the 24-year-old Coghlan topped NL rookies in batting average, runs, hits (162), total bases (232) and on-base percentage (.390). Though he was left off seven ballots, he became the third Florida player to win the award, joining Hanley Ramirez (2006) and Dontrelle Willis (2003).
“At the end of the year I knew that I put myself in a good position to win,” Coghlan said.
With two-time All-Star Dan Uggla playing second base in Florida, Coghlan’s path to the majors was impeded. He was at Triple-A New Orleans this year when the Marlins told him they wanted to try him in the outfield.
Coghlan played one minor league game in left — without getting a fly ball — and then was brought up to the majors. He finished the season with five errors.
“It wasn’t the easiest transition,” Coghlan said. “I just tried to work as hard as I could to get as comfortable as I could in the outfield.
“A lot of people think I’m pretty bad out there. But I think it’s an adjustment,” he added. “I have confidence playing the outfield. It was a situation I embraced to get me to the big leagues the quickest and to help the team win games.”
After winning Monday, Coghlan thought of his father, who died when he was 15.
“That was a tough point in my life,” Coghlan said. “He was the one who instilled the work ethic in me and taught me the game. I know that he’s proud, and I’m proud to win this award and he’s definitely a big part of it.”
Atlanta pitcher Tommy Hanson finished third in a competitive field with two first-place votes and 37 points. Pittsburgh outfielder Andrew McCutchen, who came in fourth, also was chosen first on a pair of ballots. Milwaukee infielder Casey McGehee received the other first-place vote.
Bailey went 6-3 and had 24 more saves than any other AL rookie. He also led the league’s rookies in ERA.
He is the eighth A’s player to win the award, tying the New York Yankees for most in the AL.
“I can’t feel disappointed,” Andrus said. “Andrew Bailey is a great player, He had a great season, too.”
Bailey was scuffling as a starter in Double-A last year when the A’s moved him to the bullpen. Turned out to be a terrific decision.
In his first big league camp, Bailey made the Oakland roster and soon got an opportunity to close partly due to injuries. He took full advantage of it, earning a trip to the All-Star game as the team’s lone representative.
“I had never been a reliever in my life, so the opportunity to just go in for an inning and let loose was something I had never experienced before,” Bailey said. “It’s been a learning experience, this whole year.”
The 25-year-old right-hander was a quick study, striking out 91 and walking 24 in 83 1-3 innings. He yielded only 47 hits, holding opponents to a .167 batting average.
“Certainly the first credit goes to Andrew. It’s also a credit to our staff and the people who saw the change to the bullpen being a good step,” general manager Billy Beane said. “He had always been a prospect, but as a starter he hit a wall. There was a suggestion to move him to the bullpen and he hasn’t looked back. Since he made the switch to the ’pen he’s been dominant.”
Bailey became the third Oakland player in six years to win the award, joining closer Huston Street (2005) and shortstop Bobby Crosby (2004).
After getting the news, Bailey packed a bag and rushed to the airport to catch a flight to Oakland for a news conference Tuesday. He said he heard from manager Bob Geren and got congratulatory text messages from about 10 teammates.
“It’s been a crazy day,” he said.
Actually, the entire fall has been hectic for Bailey. He moved to Connecticut with his fiancee, Amanda, and they’ve been planning their wedding for next offseason.
And now, when he stops home in New Jersey, Bailey is often recognized.
“It’s kind of strange to go out in the mall and have somebody come up to you and ask for your autograph and you’re in street clothes,” he said. “It’s kind of surreal.”
The AL Cy Young Award winner will be announced Tuesday.
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