Every season there seems to be a new crop of young stars that rise through the rookie ranks. Last year, Cody Bellinger and Aaron Judge set rookie records and tore up the majors en route to winning the N.L. and A.L. Rookie of the Year awards.
There is no denying that rookies can make an immediate impact on their franchise.
Now that the baseball calendar has flipped to September, this year’s N.L. and A.L. ROY races are beginning to heat up and take shape. Both races have seen compelling shifts in the past few months as new candidates have emerged and some old ones have resurfaced.
Regardless of who wins each league award, there is no denying that the future of baseball is as bright as ever with these new players in the fold. Potential and star power is aplenty as I breakdown the rookie races.
1. Miguel Andujar
When the season started, Andujar was playing Triple-A baseball, and the Yankees had traded for Brandon Drury, expecting him to be their starting third baseman. However, after Drury was placed on the 10-day disabled list, Andujar was called up. His position as the everyday starter at third has been solidified over the course of the year, as he’s logged in 133 games, hitting at a .299 clip. He’s not only been a powerful force in the Yankee’s lineup, providing 23 home runs, but he’s also been the best pure-hitter this year on a team filled with stars.
Impressively, Andujar leads all rookies in batting average, hits (153) and RBIs (79), and has an .853 OPS. His consistent production has helped salvage the Yankee’s playoff hopes, with Judge and others injured. While his defense can improve, his offensive numbers have been extremely valuable to the Yankees and their impressive record. Therefore, Andujar gets the nod over the rest of the competitors.
2. Shohei Ohtani
The Ohtani hype for the Los Angeles Angels coming into this season was real, and justifiably so. As a pitcher and hitter, Ohtani aimed to be the new-age Babe Ruth. Everything was going well for Ohtani, as he was living up to the hype, striking out batters and jacking home runs to start of the season. Unfortunately, Ohtani suffered a Grade-2 UCL sprain in his throwing elbow in June so he was limited from baseball activity for about a month. Even when he was cleared to hit again, his pitching has been limited since his return from the disabled list.
Although he’s had an injury-plagued rookie campaign, Ohtani has made history, becoming only the second major leaguer in history to hit 15 home runs and pitch 50 inning (Ruth was the first.) Although he has been suggested to undergo Tommy John surgery, Ohtani has elected to hit for the rest of the year. His .291 average, 19 home runs and 54 RBIs are impressive, considering he’s been limited to 97 games. Moreover, he leads all AL rookies with a 3.7 WAR.
Yet, due to his injuries, and the fact that he is a designated hitter that doesn’t need to field, he will fall short of Andujar in the Rookie of the Year award hunt.
3. Gleyber Torres
Torres started off torrid, hitting home runs at a prodigious rate. In fact, he was the star rookie on the Yankees that was expected to explode this season. While he has cooled down from his hot start, Torres is still hitting .277, with 104 hits, 47 runs, 23 home runs and 70 RBIs.
It’s his defensive weaknesses and his offensive cold streaks that put him behind Andujar and Ohtani. At shortstop and second base, he has compiled 16 errors, only one ahead of Andujar. Nonetheless, the Yankees have a bright future with Andujar and Torres added into the fold.
1. Ronald Acuña Jr.
Coming into the season, the Atlanta Braves were not expected to be in playoff contention. However, with the emergence of youngsters Ozzie Albies and Acuña Jr., the Braves are now one of the best teams in the N.L. Their success can partly be attributed to the monster stat-line and five-tool game of Acuña Jr. He has flashed plenty of potential this year, with a .290 average, 25 home runs, 53 RBIs, and a .946 OPS.
Acuña Jr’s 25 homers, 14 steals and 4.3 WAR, leading all NL rookies, proving he has the all-around game. His stellar defense and ability to affect the game in multiple facets gives Acuña Jr. the slight edge over Soto.
2. Juan Soto
At only 19-years old, Soto has done things only few other major leaguers have matched. He made his MLB debut on May 20, becoming the youngest debutant ever. Since his call-up to the majors, Soto has done nothing but shine, hitting .306, with 18 home runs, 60 RBIs. He also leads all rookies with a .950 OPS, and has helped reshape the Washington National‘s future plans in the wake of their recent trades and Bryce Harper‘s impending free agency.
The teenager has played in 99 games, a handful more than Acuña Jr., and has been a steady presence in the Nationals lineup. His offensive production is unquestionable and he is making history doing so.
3. Jack Flaherty
Flaherty has had a solid start to his St. Louis Cardinals career. The second starter behind Miles Mikolas, Flaherty has a 2.92 ERA and 1.07 WHIP in 24 starts this season. His 160 strikeouts leads all rookie pitchers, and he is amazingly averaging 10.9 strikeouts per 9 innings.
Flaherty has been a stabilizing and dominant force within the Cardinal’s pitching staff. His work this year deserves recognition, but it simply doesn’t match the numbers produced by Soto and Acuña Jr.