Making the Case for Six 2023 Rookie of the Year Candidates
The 2022 American League Rookie of the Year race was one of the most exciting in recent memory. Julio Rodriguez and Adley Rutschman both set the league on fire and cemented their status as future superstars and cornerstones of their respective franchises. Gunnar Henderson of the Orioles and Corbin Carroll of the Diamondbacks would be the early favorites to be the Rodriguez and Rutschman of this year. They are the top two prospects in baseball and have both already debuted at the major league level. They seem sure to break camp and are likely to hit the ground running. Due to their positions as the odds-on favorites to win the award, I won’t be making a case for either Henderson or Carroll here. They are the frontrunners and likely have targets on their backs heading into the season, but the following guys are some lesser-known candidates that could snatch the award by the season’s end.
Josh Jung looked like a solid bet to cross the 130 PA threshold and qualify for 2022 ROTY voting before getting injured early in the year and not being fully rehabbed and able to debut until September. His first 100 plate appearances at the big league level weren’t stellar, but it’s not a large enough sample to argue against Jung’s clear star power. The Rangers’ infielder is only 25 years old and has over 3 seasons of professional experience under his belt. That experience is seen in his mature plate approach. He shouldn’t have to fight for plate appearances, as Jung looks to be on the fast track to winning the opening day job. His name will come up in the AL Rookie of the Year race because there will not be much volatility in his results. I think that there is a high chance Josh remains a productive hitter throughout the year. The biggest challenge for him will be slugging enough to sway voters into his camp. If Jung can stay healthy throughout the season, he’ll likely end up being one of Henderson’s biggest challengers.
This is a bold pick. Generally, catchers aren’t the best bet to win major awards. The physical demand of the position takes a toll and results in catchers getting fewer at bats. Buster Posey was the last catcher to win a ROTY award, and Geovany Soto is the only other catcher to win the award this century. The odds are not in O’Hoppe’s favor. However, Logan’s health has held up really well throughout his professional career, and he hasn’t had many bouts with injury. He is going to start the season as the Angels’ backstop and should get the majority of reps there throughout the year. On both sides of the ball, Logan lacks the star power that we see in the typical award candidate. However, that doesn’t really matter if a player is as consistent and fundamentally sound as O’Hoppe. He won’t light up the stat sheet, but he’s a rock behind the dish, has an advanced plate approach, and has impressive raw power when ahead in the count. It will be exciting to see him get major league at bats and if his superb minor league plate approach holds up against a higher level of competition. If O’Hoppe can keep a professional approach and tap into the same raw power he flashed last year, he could be a contender in the American League race.
This may be a longshot, as Espino has yet to appear in a game above the AA level. If he gets to the show by June, however, it’s hard to imagine he won’t be a force to be reckoned with. A 22-year-old right-hander in the Guardians organization, Espino has the electricity factor that both Jung and O'Hoppe lack. His fastball lights up the radar gun and might be the best in all of minor league baseball. His slider has a bit of sweep on it and pairs perfectly with the run on his fastball. Daniel’s injury track record and the natural volatility of young pitchers make him unlikely to make a run at the Rookie of the Year, but if he can stay on the field, he’s going to light up the AL Central. Additionally, playing in perhaps the weakest division in baseball could inflate Espino’s stats and make his case for Rookie of the Year look better.
Switching over to the National League, my money is on Jordan Walker to walk away with the 2023 NL Rookie of the Year Award. The Cardinals’ top prospect is a natural third baseman but has seen the majority of his reps in the outfield due to the logjam in the St. Louis infield. Walker has incredible arm strength and decent speed, meaning he should be able to play above-average defense at just about any spot on the field. A huge physical presence at 6’5”, 220 pounds, Jordan’s power is going to be on display immediately. His contact skills should be adequate right now and will only improve as he gets more experience under his belt. Should all go well, Jordan Walker will be an anchor in the Cardinals’ lineup. However, the Cardinals’ lineup is stacked, and they’re going to be forced to have Walker on a short leash this year. If he doesn’t produce immediately, St. Louis cannot afford to give him consistent playing time. As of right now, I’m not sure that he’ll break camp with the big league squad, but he should find his way to Busch when the Cardinals feel he has enough outfield experience to play at the big league level. When he does get the call-up, expect to hear his name throughout the rest of the season as a contender for Rookie of the Year.
Similarly to Espino, Kyle Harrison hasn’t appeared above the AA level, but he has the skill to be in the majors by the middle of the year. If injuries accumulate early, the Giants will be forced to call up Harrison to slot into the back end of their rotation. Nothing about Harrison stands out as elite, but he has the profile of a very good pitcher. His fastball and slider play well off of each other, and his changeup is solid for a third offering. His control has been rock solid at all minor league levels, and, despite not having a triple-digit fastball or a devastating offspeed pitch, he manages to generate a fair number of whiffs. Kyle’s low three-quarters arm slot also offers a lot of deception. All of that combines to give Harrison a stable future in a big league rotation. Harrison is by no means a favorite, but he should end up getting some votes, as his debut seems inevitable this year.
Bobby Miller is pretty much the polar opposite of Harrison. Miller’s stuff is among the best in minor league baseball, but he’s been hit a bit harder than you’d expect of someone with his pitch data. However, there is no certain factor to attribute this discrepancy to. People hitting against Miller have run an unsustainably high BABIP, fueling the belief that he will eventually give up fewer hits with a larger sample. His fastball sits in the high 90s and pairs well with a quick slider and fading changeup. The curveball provides a huge change in speed and keeps batters off balance as well. The Dodgers are obviously an incredibly hard rotation to crack, and Bobby potentially finds himself on the outside looking in as of today. Nevertheless, it’s safe to assume that Miller will get opportunities to start for the big league squad at some point this year. His Rookie of the Year case will start and end with sample size, and if he is given a larger workload, Miller will be a major player in the NL ROY voting.
Remember to watch out for all of these players as they start to see MLB playing time this year. Gunnar Henderson and Corbin Carroll remain the overwhelming favorites, but I could see any player on this list challenging them for the award as we get into August and September of this season. I’m excited to see the positive impact that these rookies have on their team’s success in the 2023 season, and they have the opportunity to become household names as they start their major league careers.
"Bobby Miller_21" via Joel Dinda licensed by CC BY 2.0