The American League (AL) and National League (NL) Rookie of the Year Awards are given each year to the best first-year player in each league. Winning the Rookie of the Year is usually a good indicator that a player will go on to have a great big league career and perhaps even enter the Hall of Fame.
While it’s too early to tell if that’s the case with 2021 Rookies of the Year (Randy Arozarena and Jonathan India), past recipients of the award include Yordan Alvarez (2019), Shohei Ohtani (2018), Ronald Acuna Jr. (2018), Aaron Judge (2017), and Jacob deGrom (2014).
There are several candidates to join such elite company in 2022, but Seattle Mariners outfielder Julio Rodriguez and San Diego Padres pitcher MacKenzie Gore are the favorites through the first two months of the season.
Julio Rodriguez – A Threat at the Plate and on the Basepaths
A 21-year-old center fielder from the Dominican Republic, Rodriguez signed as an international free agent with the Mariners in 2017 and the move is finally paying off at the big league level. After rising through the Mariners’ minor league system in three seasons over four years (he didn’t play in 2020), Rodriguez has been one of Seattle’s best hitters this season.
Through his first 50 games of the season, Rodriguez had 52 hits, six home runs, 24 RBI, and a .272 batting average. He also had a team-leading 15 stolen bases and a .746 OPS. He has recorded an OPS of at least .929 in his three minor league seasons, so there’s still room for growth this season.
Rodriguez leads all rookies in both leagues in hits and stolen bases and is tied for first in RBI. He’s third in WAR.
MacKenzie Gore Meeting the Hype
It’s not easy to step into the big leagues as a rookie pitcher and dominate, but that’s exactly what 23-year-old MacKenzie Gore has been doing for the Padres this season. The former third overall pick in the 2017 MLB Amateur Draft has allowed only 31 hits through 42 innings pitched in eight appearances, including seven starts.
Gore came into the season as one of the top prospects in baseball and is proving himself worthy of that tag. He has a 1.71 ERA (first among all rookie starters), 47 strikeouts, and an impressive 1.07 WHIP.
Other Candidates in Both Leagues
Other candidates to contend for the AL Rookie of the Year include Houston Astros shortstop Jeremy Pena and Minnesota Twins pitcher Joe Ryan.
Pena has more home runs (eight) than Rodriguez and a better batting average (.285), but isn’t as big of a threat on the basepaths and isn’t quite as integral to his team’s success. Ryan, meanwhile, is a former seventh-round pick of the Tampa Bay Rays who has become an unlikely stud for the Twins with a 5-2 record to go along with a 2.28 ERA and 0.99 WHIP.
St. Louis Cardinals second baseman Nolan Gorman is the most likely player to take the NL Rookie of the Year Award from Gore. The 22-year-old didn’t get the call to the big leagues until late May, but has already shown potential for a massive season. He’s batting .387 through 31 at-bats with two home runs, seven RBI, and a 1.150 OPS.
Other standout rookies in the NL include Seiya Suzuki (Chicago Cubs) and Alek Thomas (Arizona Diamondbacks).