2019 MLB Rookie of the Year: Vladimir Guerrero Jr., Eloy Jimenez and other candidates who could make first-year splash
Major League Baseball announced its 2018 Rookie of the Year Award winners on Monday night. Shohei Ohtani, the Los Angeles Angels’ two-way phenom, took home the hardware in the American League. Meanwhile, Atlanta Braves outfielder Ronald Acuna Jr. won the National League honors. Last season was a fantastic one for rookies as a whole, with Juan Soto and Gleyber Torres among others, proving that baseball has a bright future.
With that in mind, let’s take a look ahead to next season and forecast who might be in the running for the 2019 Rookie of the Year Awards in each league. To be clear: this is more art than science, which is to say it’s entirely art. Opportunity and injuries are two of the biggest variables for all of these players — and two variables that are essentially unknown at this point.
Vladimir Guerrero Jr. is the top pick here after hitting .381/.437/.636 across multiple levels as a 19-year-old. The main obstacle for Guerrero might be his own team. The Toronto Blue Jays abstained from promoting him to the majors due to his defense, and are all but certain to suppress his service time in order to save millions down the road. As such, Guerrero may not see the majors until summer rolls around. That doesn’t eliminate him from the race, but it may hamper his chances, depending on how others perform.
The Chicago White Sox could play similar games with Eloy Jimenez’s earning potential. Chicago seems more likely to try than Toronto, however, and that could be enough to land Jimenez in the majors earlier than Guerrero.
The Houston Astros could enter next season as the favorites in the AL. They have a pair of top prospects they’re likely to graduate at various points: outfielder Kyle Tucker and pitcher Forrest Whitley. Tucker struggled in his first big-league run, but profiles as an above-average hitter. Whitley is considered the best pitching prospect in the game. An injury- and suspension-littered 2018 will likely delay his debut until the second half.
The dark horses
Let’s stick with the Astros and mention Josh James here. He struck out 29 batters in 23 big-league innings this season, but the real reason for excitement is his stuff. His fastball sat in the upper-90s and his changeup and slider coerced whiffs on more than half the swings taken against them. James could well open the season in the rotation, giving him a real shot.
If the New York Yankees are again to have two of the top rookies, it’ll probably because Justus Sheffield and Jonathan Loaisiga each broke into the rotation. We’ll have to see what the Yankees do this winter before buying in.
It feels weird to have not mentioned any Tampa Bay Rays yet. It’s just a matter of circumstance. Willy Adames and Austin Meadows exhausted their rookie eligibility in 2018; Brent Honeywell is working his way back from Tommy John surgery and might not debut until the second half; Brendan McKay’s two-way play is intriguing, but it’s unclear if voters would go for him if he doesn’t come up until after the Super Two deadline. That means the top Rookie of the Year candidates for the Rays — and this isn’t always another way of saying best young player — are infielder Brandon Lowe and first baseman Nathaniel Lowe. Both can hit a lick.
Fernando Tatis Jr. hit .286/.355/.507 in 88 games in Double-A. He’s the San Diego Padres shortstop of the future, but when does the present end and the future begin? With the Padres intent on improving next season, perhaps sooner than not. In addition to Tatis, the Padres figure to have two other young hitters worth keeping tabs on: catcher/outfielder Francisco Mejia and infielder Luis Urias.
Nick Senzel and Victor Robles were top candidates for the 2018 Award heading into the season.
Senzel was then limited by injuries and the Cincinnati Reds trying to find the best possible fit for him defensively thanks to Eugenio Suarez commandeering third base. Who knows where he’ll slot into the lineup, but there’s sufficient reason to think he’s going to develop into a good player wherever he lands defensively, be it at second or in the outfield.
As for Robles, he’s another talented Washington Nationals outfielder. He has game-changing speed and a big arm. Oh, and he can hit. If the Nationals let Bryce Harper walk, don’t be surprised if Robles becomes the face of their outfield — yes, perhaps over Juan Soto.
The dark horses
Victor Victor Mesa gets compared to Albert Almora Jr. every 17 hours, per our numbers. We don’t have as good of a read on whether the Miami Marlins will let him spend most of the season in the majors, thus limiting the chances of him taking home the trophy.
Sticking with the NL East, the New York Mets have Pete Alonso to plug in at first base at some point. The Atlanta Braves, meanwhile, have about a half-dozen pitchers who merit mention. Kyle Wright is our favorite of the group, but pick one, any one, and you have a chance.
We’ll end with two players who feel like they’ve been on these lists forever: Los Angeles Dodgers outfielder Alex Verdugo and St. Louis Cardinals right-hander Alex Reyes. Verdugo hasn’t received a long look due to the talent ahead of him, while Reyes hasn’t been able to stay healthy.
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