By Michael Levitt
Baseball season is underway, and the race for Major League Baseball’s most prestigious individual awards will continue all season. Between the Most Valuable Player Award, Cy Young Award and Rookie of the Year Award, almost anyone on a baseball team has a chance to win an award come October.
Starting with the Most Valuable Player Award, the American League race is a lot more settled than the National League at this point. Pretty much the only frontrunner for American League Most Valuable Player is Los Angeles Angels outfielder Mike Trout. He has been a shoo-in as a finalist for the award since his rookie season in 2012, and there should be no reason that trend does not continue. The only plausible explanation for Trout not being a finalist would be if he has a major injury, but even missing a month in 2019 did not stop him. Pretty much anyone else in the American League could be considered a step down from Trout in the award race, although there are players who are closer to Trout than others. Some players who could be a finalist to the surprise of many fans would be Angels designated hitter and starting pitcher Shohei Ohtani and Chicago White Sox catcher Yasmani Grandal. If Ohtani wins the Most Valuable Player Award, that would mean that he has a successful return to the pitching rubber and continues his hitting success. Balancing both things together is a feat that not many players can accomplish, so Ohtani being able to do that would be award worthy. Grandal, on the other hand, is most likely the best all-around catcher in the American League and did well last year in his first action with an American League team. However, catchers tend to start less games than players at other positions, so Grandal will have less of a chance to make an impression on voters, though the White Sox could put him at designated hitter at times to keep his bat in the lineup when he is not catching. The National League Most Valuable Player Award is more up in the air than the American League. Take your pick from outfielders Mookie Betts, Juan Soto or Ronald Acuna Jr., and you have a good chance of being right no matter which one of the four you took. Shortstop Fernando Tatis Jr. was in that conversation as well, but he hurt his shoulder on Monday and is expected to miss a good amount of time. However, there are still players who are going under the radar. These include Atlanta Braves second baseman Ozzie Albies and Philadelphia Phillies first baseman Rhys Hoskins. Neither player is the most well-known on their team, but both are quietly very good and have the potential to surprise if they can put it all together this year. What helps in Albies’ case is that the second base position is weak, which makes Albies more valuable. Hoskins has been a consistent middle-of-the-lineup bat in the lineup for the Phillies since he came up to the majors and has a chance to take another step forward this year and become an even bigger part of the Phillies’ lineup.
The Cy Young Award also has more frontrunners in the National League than the American League, but the American League still has plenty of pitching talent to go around. The two main favorites in the American League are starting pitchers Gerrit Cole and Shane Bieber, but some other players could also become part of the hunt for the award. A couple players to watch are White Sox starting pitcher Lance Lynn and Minnesota Twins starting pitcher Jose Berrios. For some time now, Lynn has been a dependable starting pitcher who throws a lot of innings and does not give up many runs, but he took the next step in 2020 with the Texas Rangers. This offseason, the White Sox traded for him with the hope that he can be a very good third starter for them as they enter the competition window with their core players. And while he is not their biggest name for the White Sox in the race for the Cy Young Award, he can certainly make a run for it if he can continue his success. Berrios had a great first start of the season on Saturday with six perfect innings, and while he will likely not be that dominant all season, he is in position to have a shot at the Cy Young Award. Like Lynn, Berrios is not the best starting pitcher on his team since the Twins also have Kenta Maeda, but it is more of situation where the Twins have a #1a and #1b starting pitchers than one where they have a clear #1 and #2. Both pitchers are excellent and can be dominant, but Berrios has more potential that he can unlock to become even better. In the National League, the Cy Young Award is like the Most Valuable Player Award in that there are multiple favorites who you can pick randomly from and have a good chance at being correct. For the Cy Young Award, those favorites include starting pitchers Jacob deGrom, Max Scherzer, Walker Buehler and Yu Darvish. Some other players could enter the conversation as well, such as Milwaukee Brewers starting pitcher Brandon Woodruff and Braves starting pitcher Max Fried. Woodruff is incredibly underrated and has become the Brewers’ best starting pitcher, but he is still relatively unknown among baseball writers. On the other hand, Fried had an incredible rookie year in 2019 and continued that success into 2020, but will look to become even better in 2021. If Woodruff becomes more known to baseball writers and Fried takes another step forward, they can each compete for the Cy Young Award and solidify their place among the best young pitchers in baseball.
The Rookie of the Year Award is harder to predict since the same players are not in the race year after year. In the American League, the favorites are outfielders Randy Arozarena and Jarred Kelenic, with others just a step down. However, in the tier below that, there are some players who could surprise and exceed expectations. A couple of these players are White Sox relief pitcher Garrett Crochet and Cleveland Indians starting pitcher Triston McKenzie. Crochet was a first round pick in last year’s draft who made it to the major leagues without pitching in the minors. He may be a starting pitcher long-term, but for now he is a hard-throwing reliever who has adjusted quickly to the majors. On a talented White Sox team, Crochet has quickly made a name for himself and can be in the race for the Rookie of the Year Award if he can continue his success from last season. McKenzie made his season debut in relief but is expected to be the Indians’ fifth starter in their rotation once they need one. He made a good impression in his first taste of major league action in 2020 and will try to carry that over into 2021. If he can, that would improve his chances of being in the running for the Rookie of the Year Award, not to mention make him another successful starting pitcher that the Indians have developed. In the National League, the frontrunners seemed to be Pirates third baseman Ke’Bryan Hayes and Braves starting pitcher Ian Anderson, though Hayes was placed on the injured list on Sunday with a wrist injury and will miss some time. Hayes is not expected to miss much time at this point, but it still at least opens the door a crack for some other players to enter the conversation. Some lesser-known players who could compete for the award are Phillies starting pitcher Spencer Howard and Miami Marlins second baseman Jazz Chisholm. Howard was in the running for an opening day rotation spot but ultimately was sent to the minors to start the season. He has a lot of promise and will try to prove that he belongs in the majors if he is given a shot. He is the Phillies’ sixth starter for now, so if they need another starting pitcher during the season, it is likely that they turn to him. Chisholm beat out Isan Diaz for the starting second base job and will look to run away with it this season. He will likely be at shortstop in the long-term, but Miguel Rojas is there for now. Chisholm struggled in the major leagues last year and will look to bounce back and at least partly fulfill his promise. If he can take a step forward and show why the Marlins acquired him in exchange for starting pitcher Zac Gallen, who has blossomed at the major league level, Chisholm can be in the running for the Rookie of the Year Award. It does not hurt that his defense is solid as well.
All these players can be considered longshots to win awards at the beginning of the season, and some may disappoint this year, though at season’s end, they could be in the running for the award. It can be hard to accurately predict award winners at the start of the season, but it can be a fun thing to do and can show which players are undervalued and overvalued in the eyes of the writers.
Edited by Emma Moloney