By Ethan Salm
Every year, the “Next Big Thing” comes up through one of the MLB teams farm systems. Every year, players are drafted through the first-year player draft, or the international draft pool. Every year, someone who few have heard of comes up from AAA and surprises the league. These players get their own award, the American League and National League Rookie of the Year Award.
Before looking at some of each league’s candidates for the awards, it’s important to note the average stats for rookies in baseball this year. The average batting average for a rookie is around .260, and average about 48 RBI.
For comparison, Los Angeles’ Cody Bellinger won NL Rookie of the Year with a batting average of .267 with 97 RBI and a WAR of 4.2 over 132 games. Aaron Judge batted .284 with 114 RBI and a WAR of 8.2 over 155 games. Now let’s get into the candidates for this year’s rookie of the year.
In the National League, two rookies stand above the rest- Juan Soto of the Washington Nationals and Ronald Acuña Jr of the Atlanta Braves. Soto played his first game of the season for the Nationals on May 15. He spent only three seasons in the Nationals farm system before his MLB callup. In his debut, he went 1-2 with a home run and a strikeout. He had a fantastic rookie year- .292 with 70 RBI. His WAR was 3.0 over 116 games, which is decent for a rookie- but nothing special. He has proven himself a capable defender in the outfield as well.
As for Acuña Jr., He spent only two seasons in Atlanta’s minor league system. He came up to the major leagues on April 25 and went 1-5 in his debut, a loss to Cincinnati. He batted .293 with 64 RBI in 2018. Perhaps most notably, he hit 26 home runs including a stretch where he hit three leadoff home runs in a row, home runs in 5 straight games, and home runs in 7 of 8 games. He was the youngest player since 1908 to go deep in 5 straight games, and the youngest player ever to leadoff three games in a row with a home run. There are only nine other players in MLB history to hit over 25 home runs while under 20 years old. In addition to that, he has a WAR of 4.1 over 111 games in the regular season. The Braves took on the the Los Angeles Dodgers in the NLDS. While both 19-year olds have performed tremendously well this season, I believe Acuña is the favorite to win NL Rookie of the Year.
This offseason the biggest buzz among MLB general managers was the signing of Los Angeles Angels OF/RHP Shohei Ohtani. Multiple teams made huge offers for the Japanese prospect, who eventually signed with the Halos. He lived up to the hype in his rookie season, and is a candidate for AL Rookie of the Year.
Los Angeles used him as a designated hitter for most of the season. We were shown only a small sample of what he could do on the mound due to injury; but what we saw of his pitching was electric. His stats aren’t incredible- a 3.31 ERA 1.16 WHIP- but he only pitched in 10 games and went 4-2 over that stretch. His strikeouts per 9 innings (K/9) is 11, which is almost the same as NL Cy Young front-runner Jacob deGrom. He throws four main pitches- the foru-seam fastball, slider, splitter, fastball, and curveball. As his pitching skill develops he has the potential to become one of the games great pitchers. His hitting has been great as well. At the plate, Ohtani batted .285 with 61 RBI and 22 home runs- with WAR was 3.9 over 104 games. He suffered a UCL tear in his elbow, and will require Tommy John surgery, putting his entire 2019 season in jeopardy.
Also in the consideration for AL Rookie are two New York Yankee infielders. Third baseman Miguel Andujar, hit an impressive .297 with 27 home runs and 92 RBI over 149 games. However, he struggled on defese. Andujar is not an elite infield defender, but his offensive stats are what puts him in consideration for the award.
Andujar’s counterpart, middle infielder Gleyber Torres, has also been fun to watch this season. After coming up in the Chicago Cubs farm system he was traded to the Yankees in the deal that sent Aroldis Chapman to Chicago in July 2016. He finally got the chance to shine this year.
Across 123 games he batted .271 with 24 home runs and 77 RBI. He has also filled a hole in the second base role for the Yankees.
You might’ve never heard of Tampa Bay’s Joey Wendle, who is a model versatile player. He played second base, third base, shortstop, and every position in the outfield this season. Wendle also hit .300 in 139 games. He’s not a power hitter, with only 7 homers,, but he still drove in 61 runs. Wendle’s 4.4 is what really puts him in the rookie of the year conversation. It highest among AL Rookies.
National League Rookie of the Year: Ronald Acuña Jr., Atlanta
American League Rookie of the Year: Shohei Ohtani, Los Angeles
Edited by Garrett Jones | firstname.lastname@example.org