2021 MLB Rookie Of The Year Watch Version 2.0
Below is the second edition of our monthly Rookie of the Year stock watch for the 2021 season. Please note this is not a re-ranking of the BA Top 100 Prospects or BA's preseason rookie rankings, but rather a snapshot of where the Rookie of the Year races stand at various points in time throughout the season.
All statistics are through June 2.
1. Adolis Garcia, OF, Rangers
The legend of “El Bombi” continues to grow. Garcia is tied for second in the majors with 16 home runs and leads all rookies with an .893 OPS after a scorching May. The 28-year-old hit .312 with 11 of his 16 homers during the month, highlighted by a walkoff three-run blast against the rival Astros to kick off a three-game sweep. (He also had a walkoff RBI single two days later to complete the sweep). Garcia’s journey took him from Cuba to Japan to the Cardinals, who designated him for assignment in December 2019 and sold him to the Rangers for $100,000. While the Cardinals’ move looks bad in hindsight, even the Rangers didn’t know what they had—Texas designated Garcia for assignment in February. Now, he’s batting .284/.320/.574 as its starting center fielder and is only one home run behind Vladimir Guerrero Jr. and Ronald Acuña Jr. for the major league lead.
2. Yermin Mercedes, DH, White Sox
It was an eventful month for Mercedes. He homered on a 3-0 pitch during a rout, was criticized by his manager and defended by his teammates and suddenly found himself at the center of yet another debate about baseball’s unwritten rules. Debates aside, Mercedes has fallen back to Earth a bit after his blistering start to the season. He has hit .212/.282/.313 since May 1 and is currently mired in an 0-for-19 slump. Even with the slowdown, Mercedes still leads all qualified rookies with a .304 batting average and ranks second with a .359 on-base percentage, 55 hits and 30 RBIs.
3. Luis Garcia, RHP, Astros
After impressing in his debut last year, Garcia has stepped into the Astros rotation and become one of their most reliable starters. The 24-year-old Venezuelan is 4-3, 2.72 with 60 strikeouts in 53 innings and is getting stronger as the year goes on. He pitched six innings without allowing an earned run against the Dodgers on May 26 and followed with a career-high seven innings and only one run allowed against the Red Sox on Tuesday. Overall, Garcia has the lowest ERA and WHIP (1.02) among qualified rookie starters in the AL and the second-lowest opponent average (.193)
IN THE MIX
Emmanuel Clase, RHP, Indians; Michael Kopech, RHP, White Sox
Clase continues to shine as the Indians closer. The 23-year-old finally allowed his first earned run on May 7—in his 16th appearance—and has been nearly automatic at the end of games for Cleveland. Clase has a 1.14 ERA, leads all rookies with nine saves and has kept opponents scoreless in 20 of his 25 appearances. Kopech has been similarly dominant with a 1.72 ERA while filling multiple roles for the White Sox, but he was just placed on the 10-day injured list with a hamstring strain.
ON THE RISE
Casey Mize, RHP, Tigers
The first overall pick in the 2018 draft is starting to come around. Mize has lowered his ERA to 3.28, second-lowest behind only Garcia among qualified AL rookie starters, and has been one of the majors’ hottest pitchers since May began. In his last five starts, Mize is 2-0, 1.74 and has limited opponents to a .162/.252/.238 slash line.
Jake Brentz, LHP, Royals
Brentz isn’t going to win Rookie of the Year as a middle reliever, but his performance deserves mention. The 26-year-old lefthander has held opponents to a .149 batting average this year, lowest of any rookie with at least 15 innings pitched, and has a 2.10 ERA in a team-high 27 appearances for the Royals. Brentz has walked 17 batters in 25.2 innings, but when he’s been in the strike zone, he’s been more difficult to hit than any rookie in MLB.
1. Trevor Rogers, LHP, Marlins
If the season ended today, the question would not be whether Rogers would win NL Rookie of the Year, but how high he would finish in NL Cy Young Award voting. Rogers’ 1.87 ERA is fifth-lowest in the NL and his 10.9 K/9 ranks seventh in the league, just below Zack Wheeler and ahead of Yu Darvish. Rogers leads all rookies in ERA, wins (six), innings (62.2) and strikeouts (76) and is holding opponents to a .213/.289/.317 slash line. He has allowed two earned runs or less in 10 of his 11 starts and is the runaway favorite for the NL Rookie of the Year award to this point in the season.
2. Pavin Smith, OF, D-backs
The D-backs' season spiraled into the abyss with a 5-24 record in May, but the emergence of Smith has at least been one bright spot. The seventh overall pick in the 2017 draft got his pro career off to a slow start, but he began to turn things around during the second half of the 2019 season at Double-A and has continued to hit since making his major league debut last year. Smith leads all NL rookies in batting average (.290), runs (33), hits (51) and extra-base hits (21), is tied for second in home runs (five) and has the second-highest OPS (.804). He isn’t showing any signs of slowing down, either. Smith is currently riding a 13-game hitting streak, during which he’s hit .417.
3. Dylan Carlson, OF, Cardinals
Carlson continues to hum along as one of the Cardinals’ most steady and reliable hitters. The 22-year-old switch hitter ranks second among NL rookies with a .279 batting average, is tied for first with six home runs and ranks third with a .799 OPS. One thing that stands out in particular is how productive he’s been in big spots. Carlson is batting .324/.453/.514 with runners in scoring position this season and leads all NL rookies with 26 RBIs. He’s done that all while once again stepping in and playing a capable center field for the Cardinals after Harrison Bader fractured a rib making a diving catch against the White Sox on May 24.
IN THE MIX
Jazz Chisholm, 2B/SS, Marlins; Ian Anderson, RHP, Braves
Chisholm came off the injured list May 16 and has picked up where he left off, leading all NL rookies with an .816 OPS and tying Carlson for the NL rookie home run lead despite playing in 23 fewer games. Chisholm’s 35% strikeout rate bears watching, as does his health—he spent three weeks on the IL with a hamstring strain and missed another week at the end of May with a sprained ankle. Anderson got hit hard in his most recent start against the Mets, but his total body of work this season remains impressive. He is 4-2, 3.27, and his 59 strikeouts rank second among NL rookies behind only Rogers.
ON THE RISE
Adbert Alzolay, RHP, Cubs
Alzolay has quietly been the Cubs’ best starting pitcher this year. His 3.62 ERA is best among Cubs starters by more than half a run and is fourth among qualified NL rookies. He has been particularly sharp recently, holding opponents to three runs combined in his last three starters. With the surge, Alzolay now owns the lowest WHIP (0.91) and best strikeout-to-walk ratio (5.27) of of any qualified rookie in MLB.
Cody Poteet, RHP, Marlins
A fourth-round pick out of UCLA in 2015, Poteet ascended to the Marlins rotation on May 12 and has made a case to stay in it. He is 2-1, 2.95 through four starts and has held opponents to two earned runs or less in three of those four outings. Poteet is sitting 93-94 mph and touching 97 mph on his fastball, a significant uptick from the 88-92 mph fastball he showed in college and early in his pro career. Opponents are just 5-for-36 with 11 strikeouts against Poteet’s new and improved fastball, and the added separation has made his changeup a more effective pitch, too. Opposing batters are hitting .053 against Poteet’s changeup, according to Baseball Savant, and are whiffing on it more than 29% of the time.