Bautista looks to repeat as Aaron Award winner

Bautista looks to repeat as Aaron Award winner

TORONTO -- Jose Bautista took the baseball world by storm last year, but his 2011 campaign was arguably even more impressive.

Toronto's right fielder took the lead in most of the major offensive categories early in the season and never let up despite battling through a variety of injuries.

The reigning Hank Aaron Award winner in the American League has been rewarded for the banner campaign by being nominated for the award again this season. Voting is underway, exclusively at MLB.com through Sunday, to help decide the 13th annual Hank Aaron Award, to be presented at the Fall Classic.

"I feel pretty good about it," Bautista said of his performance, which has proven a lot of critics wrong. "I feel like I've been able to help the team win some games and be able to contribute on a daily basis."

Bautista spent the entire year downplaying the importance of hitting home runs -- instead choosing to put an emphasis on his entire body of work.

The right-handed-hitting slugger likely knew it would be hard to top last season's total of 54 homers, and while that turned out to be true, the overall production has been nothing short of spectacular.

Despite missing 13 games with injury, Bautista led the Majors in home runs (43), walks (132), on-base percentage, slugging percentage (.608) and OPS (1.056).

It marked the second consecutive season that Bautista had at least 40 homers, 100 runs, 100 walks and 100 RBIs. Nobody else in the AL has accomplished the feat even once since 2006.

"He has set the bar extremely high," Blue Jays manager John Farrell said. "As good as his year was last year, he has improved in a number of ways. You look at the average, the on-base [percentage], the total number of walks.

"What we've seen inside of individual games, pitchers have tried different approaches against him where he has made the adjustment from at-bat to at-bat. That goes back to the awareness and intelligence inside the game above and beyond the numbers."

Toronto general manager Alex Anthopoulos took some criticism after signing Bautista to a five-year contract extension worth $65 million in Spring Training. Some people around baseball felt it was premature to offer a lucrative contract to a player who was a relative unknown prior to the 2010 season.

Bautista disproved that theory, and all of a sudden his contract looks like a major bargain for the Blue Jays. That's bound to be the case when a player puts up the type of numbers Bautista did this season.

The 30-year-old became the first player since Mark McGwire (1996-99) to lead the Majors in home runs for back-to-back seasons. His 132 walks are the most since Barry Bonds also drew 132 in 2007.

That performance led to a standing ovation in his final at-bats of the year at Rogers Centre in Toronto on Sept. 22. The crowd chanted "MVP, MVP" for the Dominican native, who has been embraced as one of Canada's own.

"It feels good when your home crowd is backing you up like that," Bautista said. "It was a bittersweet moment. It was the last [home] game of the season, but at the same time, I felt like everybody was behind me like they have been all year long, and I feel very appreciated in this city."

Farrell said Bautista is the best player he has ever spent time with in the same organization. That's high praise from a man who spent eight seasons as a pitcher in the Major Leagues, another five as the director of player development in Cleveland and an additional four as the pitching coach in Boston -- where the Red Sox won a World Series championship in 2007.

But to Farrell, there is no one else who matches Bautista's overall skill set combined with his leadership abilities on and off the field. The performance has been so good over the past two seasons that it's easy to take for granted.

"There have been times throughout the course of the year where series have been more highlighted because he's had five home runs in a three-game series, like in Minnesota," Farrell said. "But what happens when you get around a great player and see him every day, you begin to expect it.

"I haven't been in this position long, but I've been around a number of players. What he's willing to do for the team, in addition to how good he is individually, very well might be the best player I've ever been around."

Gregor Chisholm is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, North of the Border, and follow him on Twitter @gregorMLB. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.