With the first two months of the season completed the competition for season-long awards is beginning to become clear. One of the most exciting awards competitions this season is for Rookie of the Year, as both the American League and National League have an exciting group of young players competing for the award.
Former top prospects Julio Rodriguez, Bobby Witt, Spencer Torkelson, Adley Rutschman, and Jeremy Pena are competing for the AL’s award. In the National League former Nippon Professional Baseball star Seiya Suzuki was the preseason favorite, but an injury to the outfielder has opened the competition to players like MacKenzie Gore, Alek Thomas, and two Cardinals, Juan Yepez and Nolan Gorman.
The AL Rookie of the Year Race
Interestingly, the start of the season saw most of the favorites for AL Rookie of the Year struggle. Julio Rodriguez finished April with a .544 OPS and no home runs and Bobby Witt’s OPS was just 14 points higher at .558 while he too had no home runs.
On the other hand, Jeremy Pena got out to an incredible start to his MLB career. Pena had a lot to live up to for the Houston Astros as he replaced Carlos Correa at shortstop. He didn’t disappoint, hitting four home runs on his way to a .763 OPS in April. He had an even better month of May, adding another four home runs with an OPS of .872 in his second month in the big leagues.
Pena’s incredible start has put him firmly in the middle of the Rookie of the Year race, but he isn’t without competition. Since April, Rodriguez has become a key part of the middle of the Seattle Mariners lineup. On the first day of May, the 21-year-old hit his first career home run, and he has been productive ever since. He had 11 extra-base hits in May, including six home runs, on his way to the AL Rookie of the Month award.
Steven Kwan, the winner of the same award in April when he had a .959 OPS, fell out of the race somewhat in May. Kwan had a month-long slump, much like what Witt and Rodriguez experienced in April. However, the first few weeks of June have seen Kwan turn things around, with the Guardians outfielder reaching base 48% of the time to start the month to bring himself back into the competition.
Bobby Witt, like Rodriguez, had a much-improved stretch in May, but he has struggled again in June. The third baseman has had just two extra-base hits since May 28 and only has six hits in 34 plate appearances this month. He’s made good contact, with his average exit velocity in the 78th percentile, and his expected stats say he’s had bad luck over his last two weeks of plate appearances, but it remains to be seen when this slump will come to an end.
Similarly to Witt, Tigers’ top prospect Spencer Torkelson has struggled to find his footing, with a .605 OPS across his first 51 MLB games. However, Witt’s teammate, MJ Melendez, has started out his career with an excellent month-long stretch since being called up on May 3. Melendez has hit five home runs across his first 32 games and has slashed an excellent .259/.339/.463 to bring himself into the conversation for AL Rookie of the Year.
Baseball’s top prospect, Adley Rutschman, started his rookie campaign with a triple in his first game on May 21, but he’s experienced the same struggles most of the other rookies did during their first month over the last couple of weeks. Rutschman seemed set to make the Orioles’ Opening Day roster but got a late start on the season due to an injury. With such a large group of players competing to win Rookie of the Year, the late start could end up costing Rutschman.
On the pitching side, Joe Ryan leads the way. The Twins starter, acquired from the Rays last season as part of the trade that brought Nelson Cruz to Tampa, has been dominant to begin his major league career. Ryan has done an excellent job of limiting hard contact during his first eight starts of 2022 on the way to a 2.28 ERA, but a recent stint on the IL means he hasn’t pitched since May 21, although he is nearing a return.
Another potential pitcher who could contend for the award is also set to make his return from an injury. Shane Baz, MLB Pipeline’s No.12 overall prospect, is set to be activated from the IL to make his first start of the season this weekend. Baz was excellent across a short MLB debut in 2021, making three starts and recording a 2.03 ERA across 13.1 innings.
Reid Detmers broke out into the Rookie of the Year conversation following his no-hitter against the Rays in early May, and he and Mariners’ starting pitcher George Kirby remain in contention for Rookie of the Year. Detmers hasn’t given up an earned run in the month of June in two starts, while Kirby has given up just two runs across his last 12 innings.
The AL Rookie of the Year race remains hard to predict, with one of the most exciting groups of young players in recent memory competing for the award. As things stand, Julio Rodriguez leads the race after a dominant May that has continued into June. However, there is still plenty of time left for things to change, with Witt, Ryan, Pena, Kwan, and others still in a position to challenge for the award.
The NL Rookie of the Year Race
When the season got underway Seiya Suzuki was the clear favorite to win the National League’s Rookie of the Year award. A former star in Japan, Suzuki was one of the best hitters to make the switch to the MLB from the NPB.
During April, everything went as expected. Suzuki was not only one of the Cubs’ best players or one of the best rookies in the NL, but one of the best hitters in the league overall. He finished April with a .934 OPS and four home runs.
However, Suzuki struggled after the great start. The outfielder hasn’t hit a home run since April 18 and had a .616 OPS in May before suffering an injury to his ring finger on May 26 against the Reds.
Suzuki’s tough stretch in May and subsequent injury have opened up the NL Rookie of the Year race. MacKenzie Gore has emerged as the favorite for the award over the past month. Gore was formerly the Padres’ top prospect, but in the minor leagues in 2021 he struggled with control and command after having issues with his delivery.
So far this season, the Padres and Gore have resolved his command issues, and the right-hander has been dominant. Gore is 4-1 with a 1.50 ERA and is part of a starting rotation that has helped the team to a 35-22 record despite Fernando Tatis’ injury.
In St. Louis, two other contenders for NL Rookie of the Year are teammates. Juan Yepez has been a steady presence in the middle of the Cardinals order since his debut on May 4, with an OPS of .740. His teammate in the infield, Nolan Gorman, is MLB Pipeline’s No.27 prospect and has been given the opportunity to establish himself in the Cardinals’ middle infield after Paul DeJong was sent down to Triple-A Memphis.
Over the past couple of days, Gorman has almost exclusively faced right-handed pitching, and his 33% strikeout rate remains an issue, but the second baseman has been extremely productive. His ISO of .231 across his first 17 games is reflective of his excellent power, and the quality of contact he is making so far this season is outstanding.
In Arizona, the Diamondbacks’ talented farm system is beginning to reach the major leagues, with Alek Thomas leading the way among a talented group of young players. Thomas’ first 100 MLB plate appearances have been very good, with the outfielder having hit five home runs on the way to a .756 OPS. He’s been extremely consistent, and with a strong foundation to build from he could be well-positioned to improve over the next couple of months and contend for NL Rookie of the Year.
Two pitchers, Edward Cabrera and Roansy Contreras, have made headlines with dominant starts in recent weeks. Cabrera is one of the most exciting players to watch in baseball. The young Marlins right-hander throws a 94 mph changeup to go along with a 97 mph fastball and has been dominant in his first two starts this season against the Rockies and Nationals.
After a three-inning start in September against the Cubs last season, Contreras has been excellent since entering the Pirates rotation on May 24. Contreras has allowed just two runs, both to the Padres, since entering the starting rotation and has 16 strikeouts across 15.2 innings during that stretch.
May’s NL Rookie of the Month Luis Gonzalez has also been a surprise contender for the league’s Rookie of the Year Award. The Giants outfielder has just two home runs this season, but his OPS stands at .802 due to an incredible .314 batting average. In May he hit seven doubles to go along with one home run, a .368 batting average, and a .910 OPS to win the Rookie of the Month award.
Through the first few months of the season, the NL and AL Rookie of the Year award competitions have provided some of the most exciting storylines in baseball. With Julio Rodriguez and MacKenzie Gore arguably leading each race, but a large group of players in contention in both leagues, the competition for these two awards will be fascinating to watch in July, August, and September.