As I type this in early April, the MLB season is officially underway. There will most likely be 162 games. Some fans are back in attendance. The sport we know and love is returning to normal. As with any somewhat normal season, the Rookie of the Year award is in play for any first-year eligible star who provides their team with the best performance. And unlike 2020, a full sample size will be available to MLB writers. So, who are these potential breakout players? Before this analysis, it is important to note that any player who didn’t exceed 130 at-bats or 50 innings would be eligible for the 2021 Rookie of the Year. So, there are some situations where a player who was on an active roster for over half of the 2020 season failed to move on from rookie eligibility, making this year’s contest extra interesting. While it is still very early, these players have already begun making an impression on their clubs. Without further ado, here are the NL and AL candidates.
National League Candidates
Johnathan India - Cincinnati Reds
Coming up in 2021 Spring Training, India was not expected to make the Opening Day Roster whatsoever. After all, his highest level of MLB experience was AA. By hitting .313/.441/.604 with 3 homers and 7 RBIs in Spring Training, the Reds had no other choice than to put him on the club. Immediately coming into the lineup, India made an impression in an already offensively explosive team. Through his first 6 games, he currently has a .460 wOBA (Weighted On Base Average), a 189 wRC+ (Adjusted Weighted Runs Created), as well as accumulating 0.4 WAR. Again, while it is still very early, and these current stats are not realistic for an entire season, producing these types of numbers for the very beginning of one’s career is quite impressive. On top of that, India has made a point in shining on defense. Through diving plays and amazing throws, this 2018 first-rounder is a lower-end pick for this award assuming he production does not dramatically fall off.
Ke’Bryan Hayes - Pittsburgh Pirates
Being the 2nd Ranked Prospect within the Pirates and 37th overall, Ke’Bryan Hayes has big expectations. Playing 24 Games in the shortened 2020 season, the young Pirates slugger has already had a taste of the Major Leagues. In that stint, Hayes had a .464 wOBA, a 195 wRC+, a 198 OPS+ (Adjusted On-Base Plus Slugging), as well as having a 1.6 WAR. In that same period, he managed to stun teammates and coaches through his defensive effort at the hot corner, showing off a great arm and tremendous fielding ability. While even 24 games is a fairly short time to judge a player, Ke’Bryan has demonstrated that he can produce at a big-league level. While he was placed on the Injured List after only his 2nd game in the 2021 season, he managed to already hit a homer as well as score 2 Runs. Given that Hayes returns to full health in a short time, he is a serious contender and one of my favorites to win Rookie of the Year this year after coming in 6th last year.
Ian Anderson - Atlanta Braves
Also being another high-end prospect (Braves No. 3/MLB No. 34), Ian is expected to be a big part of the future of the Brave’s rotation. As part of the expanded rosters in the 2020 season, he was awarded the opportunity to start. Through 6 games in that season, Anderson posted a 3-2 record over 32.1 innings pitched, carrying a 1.95 ERA, 11.41 K/9 (Strikeout Average over 9 Innings), a 2.54 FIP (Fielder Independent Pitching), with a 1.1 WAR. Even in an amazing 2020 Braves rotation, he continued to be a star on their staff. Even with Anderson only completing one start in 2021 (1 ER over 5 IP, No Decision), if he can continue to post numbers that are only somewhat similar to 2020, he could upgrade his spot in the rotation and become a serious frontrunner in the close competition for the ROY honors. With the MLB writers association selecting a relief pitcher last year for the NL award, they could be more open to voting a starting pitcher this year.
My Favorite Candidates Not Mentioned - Dylan Carlson, Joey Bart (if called up), Sixto Sanchez.
American League Candidates
Randy Arozarena - Tampa Bay Rays
In the 2020 Postseason, there was hardly a more interesting story than that of Randy Arozarena. He had previously played with the Cardinals for 19 games in 2019 but went on to shine in 23 regular-season games in 2020. Arozarena produced a .422 wOBA, 176 wRC+, as well as a 182 OPS+. His regular-season numbers far outpaced the league average, yet he didn’t stop there. In that postseason, Randy hit 10 Homeruns, had 14 RBIs, as well as owning a 1.273 OPS. Against the best competition in the league with the highest amount of pressure, his offensive output only grew. So far in 2021, through his first 5 games, he has not hit a homerun but has a 111 wRC+ as well as a .326 wOBA. While he may not exactly be on a hot start, the season is only 3% of the way through. As with him or any of the players listed, their early 2021 stats can only be taken with so much weight, as such a small size of data can easily see a major good or bad flip. Even with a slower start, I foresee Randy being a major power hitter in the Rays lineup throughout the season and personally think he has the highest likelihood of winning the AL Rookie of the Year honors.
Ryan Mountcastle - Baltimore Orioles
Stuck on the team that Fangraphs projected to have the worst record in baseball, Mountcastle will hopefully bring a light to this down-trodden squad. Barely maintaining his Rookie status with 140 Plate Appearances, Ryan had a good 2020 at the plate. Through 35 games, he had 5 HRs with 12 Runs scored, a .377 wOBA, 141 wRC+, and 140 OPS+. While his 2020 numbers trail Arozarena, Mountcastle is considered to be a darkhorse pick assuming his competition fails to meet expectations and he meets his goals. So far in 2021 through 6 games, he has not hit a home run and has a .206 wOBA and 29 wRC+. Although a rough start, his talent could easily turn these numbers around to be possible league leaders.
Triston McKenzie - Cleveland Indians
Being drafted in 2015, Mckenzie has been a prospect for quite a bit. Struggling with forearm soreness and an upper-back strain in part of 2018 and all of 2019, his pitching career was put on hold. After pitching 33.1 innings in 2020, Triston is back as a Rookie for 2021. Through 8 games pitched, he held a 2-1 record, 11.34 K/9, 3.24 ERA, 3.91 FIP, and 0.6 WAR. While I would personally not consider that a stellar season as the FIP is relatively high with such little innings pitched, it is a solid year. With his only appearance in 2021 so far coming in a rough relief effort (3.2 IP, 1 ER, 4 BBs!), the Indians utilizing him as a consistent starter will be essential for him to produce Rookie of the Year numbers. Even with that, I feel that McKenzie will have to do better than what he has previously done to win this award.
My Favorite Candidates Not Mentioned - Nick Madrigal, Andrew Vaughn, Wander Franco (if called up), Taylor Trammell.
With the little information that I have, I personally believe that Ke'Bryan Hayes will win NL Rookie of the Year and Randy Arozarena will win AL Rookie of the Year. After examining their statistics and comparing them to the other candidates, I am of the belief that these two will be able to produce the best sustainable numbers for a rookie. Even though one is injured and the other is off to a rocky start, those factors will more than likely just be a road bump in the grand scheme of the 162 game season.
If you have any questions or opinions regarding my picks, please feel free to contact me!