Globe iconLogin iconRecap iconSearch iconTickets icon

Toolshed: Handicapping Rookie of the Year races

Selecting five favorites among young players in AL, NL award hunts
Dylan Carlson's .914 OPS across the top two levels of the Minors last season marked a career best. (Jeff Roberson/AP)
@SamDykstraMiLB
July 24, 2020

It feels like we should throw out so much of what we know about baseball for the 2020 Major League season. The campaign will last only 60 games, not 162, because of the delay caused the coronavirus pandemic. There will be 16 postseason teams instead of 10. Summer Camps. Opening

It feels like we should throw out so much of what we know about baseball for the 2020 Major League season. The campaign will last only 60 games, not 162, because of the delay caused the coronavirus pandemic. There will be 16 postseason teams instead of 10. Summer Camps. Opening Day in July. No Minor Leagues. No All-Star Games. No fans in the stands. Et cetera, et cetera, et cetera. It's all a bit topsy-turvy, isn't it?

For those looking for any sense of normalcy, turn to the award races. Sure, a 60-game season's 2.7 times smaller than a typical Major League schedule, but the basics of the major awards stay the same. The best players (and to the degree that it matters, the ones on winning teams) will win the MVP awards. The best pitchers will be rewarded with Cy Youngs. And the best newcomers will be named Rookies of the Year.

This being a prospect-based column, we'll focus on the latter category. Let's preview the 2020 Rookie of the Year races in the American and National Leagues.

First, consider the recent history of the award and see how we can apply the lessons from those years to the season that is to come.

 

Rookies of the Year, 2010-19 (Position Players)
Season Lg Name Team Pos G AB AVG OBP SLG OPS HR SB WAR Debut Playoffs? Rank
2019ALYordan AlvarezHOUOF/DH87313.313.412.6551.0672703.86/9Yes44
2019NLPete AlonsoNYM1B161597.260.358.583.9415314.83/28No51
2018ALShohei OhtaniLAADH104326.285.361.564.92522103.83/29No1
2018NLRonald Acuña Jr.ATLOF111433.293.366.552.91726163.74/25Yes2
2017ALAaron JudgeNYYOF155542.284.422.6271.0495295.14/2Yes45
2017NLCody BellingerLADOF/1B132480.267.352.581.93339104.04/25Yes13
2016NLCorey SeagerLADSS157627.308.365.512.8772636.94/4Yes1
2015ALCarlos CorreaHOUSS99387.279.345.512.85722145.26/8Yes3
2015NLKris BryantCHC3B151559.275.369.488.85826136.14/17Yes2
2014ALJose AbreuCWS1B145556.317.383.581.9643635.33/31No29*
2013ALWil MyersTBOF88335.293.354.478.8311352.36/18Yes4
2012ALMike TroutLAAOF139559.326.399.564.963304910.14/28No3
2012NLBryce HarperWASOF139533.270.340.477.81722184.44/28Yes2
2010NLBuster PoseySFGC108406.305.357.505.8621804.05/29Yes7*
Rookies of the Year, 2010-19 (PItchers)
Season Lg Name Team R/L G GS IP ERA WHIP K/9 BB/9 HR/9 WAR Debut Playoffs? Rank
2018 AL Shohei Ohtani LAA RHP 10 10 51 2/3 3.31 1.16 11.0 3.8 1.0 3.8^ 3/29 No 1
2016 AL Michael Fulmer DET RHP 26 26 159 3.06 1.12 7.5 2.4 0.9 3.1 4/29 No 53
2014 NL Jacob deGrom NYM RHP 22 22 140 1/3 2.69 1.14 9.2 2.8 0.4 3.6 5/15 No NR
2013 NL Jose Fernandez MIA RHP 28 28 172 2/3 2.19 0.98 9.7 2.7 0.5 4.2 4/7 No 7
2011 AL Jeremy Hellickson TB RHP 29 29 189 2.95 1.15 5.6 3.4 1.0 2.0 4/6 Yes 6*
2011 NL Craig Kimbrel ATL RHP 79 0 77 2.10 1.04 14.8 3.7 0.4 2.8 3/31 No 86*
2010 AL Neftali Feliz TEX RHP 70 0 69 1/3 2.73 0.88 9.2 2.3 0.6 2.0 4/5 Yes 9*
2009 AL Andrew Bailey OAK RHP 68 0 83 1/3 1.84 0.88 9.8 2.6 0.5 2.3 4/6 No NR

A couple quick notes from the above. Shohei Ohtani's WAR evaluation combines his time on the mound and at the plate in both tables, and the prospect rankings for Jose Abreu and Buster Posey come from Baseball America while the others are from MLB.com preseason rankings.

From that -- and the additions of Pete Alonso and Yordan Alvarez last season -- we can continue what we'll call the Toolshed ROY Rubric. The main categories are as follows.

An early debut date and high prospect ranking certainly help a candidate's case. The more you're around, the better chance you'll put up better stats and stand out to voters. And if you're a highly ranked prospect to begin with, your reputation might precede you. Of course, in order to be a highly ranked prospect, you have to be highly talented, which obviously helps.

WAR continues to be a big determination in these and all awards. For instance, Alonso and Alvarez were first and third respectively in rookie fWAR last season. Mike Soroka (4.0) was second but fell behind Alonso in the NL.

The playoffs don't hurt, but they're not a be-all, end-all as Alonso proved. In that way, Rookie of the Year might be an even more pure award than MVP. No debates over semantics about what "valuable" really means or if "player" should be mean a pitcher who has his own award anyway. Rookie means rookie, i.e., anyone who entered the season with lower than 130 at-bats, 50 innings or 45 days on the active roster (outside of September roster expansion) in the Major Leagues.

Now that we know how the 2020 crop will be judged, let's look at the five favorites in the American and National Leagues:

American League

1. Luis Robert, OF, White Sox: The easiest pick here and not just because of the viral home runs he hit during his time at Summer Camp. Robert signed a Major League deal in the offseason, thus putting aside any concerns over service time and making him the starting Chicago center fielder right away. The reason he was offered such a deal was because he was arguably the Minors' most effective offensive player in 2020. Robert finished with a .328/.376/.624 line with 32 homers and 36 stolen bases across three levels, the last of which was Triple-A Charlotte. Beyond the offensive tools, he has plus-plus potential speed and is a gifted fielder up the middle with a strong arm. In other words, he ticks all the boxes to generate a high WAR. All those tools made him MLB.com's No. 3 overall prospect in baseball entering 2020, so he has the name recognition too. The White Sox were in contention to reach the playoffs for the first time since 2008 before the postseason expansion, and big contributions from Robert would go a long way toward getting them there and adding the first piece of Major League hardware to his shelf.

2. Jesus Luzardo, LHP, Athletics: The Majors already got to see what the No. 12 overall prospect was about when he struck out 16 batters over 12 innings out of the bullpen down the stretch last season. Luzardo, who tested positive for COVID-19 earlier this month but has since returned, will open as a reliever again to begin 2020 but is expected to move into the Oakland rotation once he's lengthened out. No matter the role, Luzardo has the stuff -- headlined by a 65-grade fastball and changeup -- and remarkable control to put up impressive numbers against top-level bats. Once he enters the rotation, he will be right there with Frankie Montas for the title of team ace. Because of the limitations of the season, it might be more difficult for pitchers to make an award-worthy impact in the 60-game sprint, but Luzardo is in the right place with the right potential to climb over that hump.

3. Jo Adell, OF, Angels: Imagine a world in which the Los Angeles outfield features not one but two five-tool superstars. That dream could be a reality at some point this summer, and if the Angels really want to make a run at giving Mike Trout the postseason spot he so richly deserves, they should consider bringing up Adell quickly. MLB.com's No. 6 overall prospect has pluses across the board and might even be plus-plus in the power department in time. The 21-year-old hit .289/.359/.475 with 10 homers in 76 games, mostly at Double-A Mobile and Triple-A Salt Lake, last season, and he should be primed for another step, even against Major Leaguers. Adell would be a center fielder in most other systems, but next to Trout, he'll slot in the right-field position, where he'll still cover a lot of ground and make good use of his strong arm. He could be held back by some initial struggles with the hit tool -- which young prospect isn't? -- but the biggest thing that will hold him back is playing time. An early callup from the alternate site at Long Beach State could keep him neck-and-neck with Robert for this title.

4. Nate Pearson, RHP, Blue Jays: You want stuff? Look no further than the No. 8 prospect in the game. Pearson's signature triple-digit heater grabs plenty of headlines, but his slider is absolutely a weapon as well and the changeup has improved enough to lock in his presence as a Major League starter. The 23-year-old right-hander, who struck out 119 batters in 110 2/3 Minor League innings last year, opens the 2020 season on the Toronto taxi squad -- a sign the Jays plan on using his electric arm in short order. If he's up within two weeks, he'll likely accrue enough innings to put him in the awards race, and the velocity should get him enough K's to make him stand out on the rookie leaderboards. Consider Pearson the pitching version of Vladimir Guerrero Jr. and Bo Bichette in Toronto's youth movement.

5. Casey Mize, RHP, Tigers: This involves a little bit of dreaming, which is something Detroit fans should be used to during the rebuild. Without the Minors, Mize doesn't have a place to get in-game innings this season outside of the Majors. Sure, his time at the Tigers' alternate site in Toledo will be filled with sim games, bullpens and live batting practices. But if Detroit wants its top prospect to develop by facing someone from outside his own organization, those opportunities will have to come in the Majors. At a certain point, the scales might tip toward Mize's Major League debut being necessary for his long-term outlook. The 2018 No. 1 overall pick is certainly capable of seizing the moment. His plus-plus splitter might be the best in the Minors, and he works with two other plus pitches in his mid-90s heater and slider. The fact Mize brings all this and only racked up 23 walks in 109 1/3 innings last year are reasons why he's the No. 7 overall prospect. His arrival would signal a turning point in Motor City, and a dominant award-winning run in an otherwise odd year could accelerate the team's plans for contention.

Other notables: Like Robert, Evan White signed a Major League contract in the offseason and will open as the Mariners starting first baseman in a jump straight from Double-A. His offense should be average for the position, but his defense is Gold Glove-worthy right away. Competing for that award would certainly help his case in this race as well. ... Nick Madrigal has the hit tool to put up a high average in the Majors right away and should get plenty of at-bats as the White Sox second baseman at some point. ... Kyle Lewis deserves mention alongside Robert as arguably the most potent power prospect in Summer Camp, and he'll begin the season in the Mariners outfield. ... Jarred Kelenic's at-bats were must-watch during his camp time in Seattle, and while he's too inexperienced to get much time in 2020, he could force his way to the table and show off five tools with no Minor Leagues available for development. ... Matt Manning is arguably the better pitching prospect than Mize and finds himself in a very similar situation as the game's No. 24 overall prospect. It could very well be him who gets the call should the Tigers choose to press their young arms. ... Sean Murphy will be the A's starting catcher to open 2020 and is a gifted defender behind the plate. His power will bring value too, but he needs to stay healthy after battling knee injuries in previous seasons.

National League

1. Dylan Carlson, OF, Cardinals: This feels like a bit of a hot take given who stands at No. 2 on this list, but we'll get there in time. What to know about Carlson: He's coming off a breakout season in which he hit 26 homers, stole 20 bases and finished with a .914 OPS between Double-A and Triple-A. The 21-year-old switch-hitter solidified his place as one of St. Louis' best outfielders with a strong spring, and that resumed in Summer Camp, where he continued to show above-average tools across the board. He was reassigned to the alternate site in Springfield before Opening Day, but he shouldn't be there long. The Cardinals are in a loaded NL Central, and they'll need every ounce of talent they can get to hold off the Cubs, Brewers and Reds even in an expanded postseason format. As such, they may not be able to stomach many strikeouts from left fielder Tyler O'Neill or a light bat from center fielder Harrison Bader. An early callup followed by a rounded performance featuring plenty of homers and stolen bases would give Carlson's candidacy a huge boost. It might feel weird to call him the favorite right now, but someone has to be at the top.

2. Gavin Lux, 2B/SS, Dodgers: If we wrote this column at the start of the week, Lux would have been the odds-on favorite. He was expected to be Los Angeles' Opening Day second baseman after playing there down the stretch and in the club's brief postseason run. But he was a late show to Summer Camp for undisclosed reasons, and manager Dave Roberts said Lux needs some time to find his swing. The 22-year-old was optioned to the alternate-site roster, and he'll wait at USC for an undetermined length of time. When he's on, Lux can be a plus hitter from the left side with plenty of power. He hit .347 with 26 homers and a 1.028 OPS between Double-A and Triple-A last season, and after some growing pains in 2019, he seemed prime to pounce on Major League pitching after becoming more established. If he finds his footing at USC in a way that pleases Roberts and Dodgers brass, the hope is that he'll be back in Chavez Ravine within a week or two. If this is about his service time, then the wait unfortunately will be longer, hurting his Rookie of the Year chances. The Dodgers are so good at the outset of 2020 that they don't need Lux on the active roster to make them the best team in the NL West. But one thing's for sure, the club is better with him than without him, and his proving that will be big for his Rookie of the Year chances.

3. Carter Kieboom, 3B, Nationals: It seems a little unfair that the defending World Series champions can have an opening at third base following the departure of Anthony Rendon and fill it with the game's No. 21 overall prospect, but that's how things stand for the Nationals and Kieboom. Ignore the 22-year-old's brief turn in the capital last season. He's still a plus hitter with decent power, as he showed by becoming a Pacific Coast League end-of-season All-Star with a .303/.409/.493 line in 2019. Naturally a shortstop, Kieboom is still learning third, but he has the arm for it. The bat will provide the value here, and by way of winning the third-base job, he'll get the plate appearances to bring plenty of that value. His ceiling isn't as high as that of Lux or Carlson, but the floor is plenty capable of making him a contender.

4. Joey Bart, C, Giants: Buster Posey's decision to opt out of the 2020 season because of his family was an understandable one, but it did create an opening behind the plate in San Francisco. While Tyler Heineman and Rob Brantly are on the active roster right now, it's no secret Bart will get his chance at some point before the 60 games are out. Based on his ceiling and proximity to the Majors, that should come quickly. Bart ranks as the No. 14 overall prospect because he shows easy plus power to go with a strong glove and arm at the catching spot. His hit tool could be questioned by big league arms, but his pop could take off just as easily at a time when the hitting of homers is at a high. Mix in the defensive value, and Bart could pull off what Posey did in 2010.

5. MacKenzie Gore, LHP, Padres: One last spot to get nuts. The Padres were on the outside of Wild Card contention before the postseason expanded, and now that it has -- especially to include all second-place teams in each division -- the club has more of a chance to head to the playoffs for the first time since 2006. It would be a shame to get that close and leave the game's most talented left-handed pitching prospect at the alternate site, where he won't face meaningful in-game situations. At 21 years old, the No. 5 overall prospect doesn't have the experience to make the jump, but he likely has the arsenal to do it with four plus pitches in his fastball, curveball, slider and changeup. He's also typically good at hitting his spots, and that's a gift that can carry him to the top level. The Padres trusted Fernando Tatis Jr. and Chris Paddack by calling them up for Opening Day 2019. They haven't done the same here with Gore, but it would be a surprise if he didn't get at least a look by mid-September. If it's much earlier than that, he could take the Majors by storm a lot earlier than previously expected.

Other notables: Dustin May showed velocity and lots of movement with his pitches in as the Dodgers' emergency starter on Opening Day, enough that he could find a season-long pass into the club's rotation. The added innings would make him a Rookie of the Year award candidate and might help him swipe it from teammate Lux. ... Bryce Harper already called for the early promotion of Spencer Howard after the right-hander showed dynamite stuff in Summer Camp, and the Phillies do face big needs in the pitching department. ... Staying with the Phils, Alec Bohm could benefit from the universal DH with Philadelphia moving around players to get him looks at third and first base. His hit and power tools should play in the Majors, and it wouldn't be surprising to see the right-handed slugger put up some solid numbers over the next two months. ... Nico Hoerner is almost pure hit tool with some speed at this stage, but that's enough to win him a job on the Cubs infield right now. He could find other at-bats at shortstop or in the outfield as needed, and voters might smile on that type of value in a weird season.

Sam Dykstra is a reporter for MiLB.com. Follow and interact with him on Twitter, @SamDykstraMiLB.