Image credit: Trevor Rogers (John Fisher/Getty)
Below is the first 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 May 2.
1. Yermin Mercedes, DH, White Sox
Forget rookies. Mercedes ranks third in the major leagues with a .395 batting average, fourth with a .435 on-base percentage and fifth with a 1.063 OPS. While he won’t maintain those numbers over a full season, the 28-year-old is providing plenty of reasons to believe he can continue being an impactful hitter. He has an above-average barrel rate, low whiff and strikeout rates and a maximum exit velocity in the top 10% of baseball. In the context of rookies, it’s Mercedes followed by everyone else. He leads all rookies in all three slash line categories, hits and RBIs and is tied for the lead in home runs.
2. Michael Kopech, RHP, White Sox
Clearly, missing two full seasons didn’t cause Kopech any setbacks. The 25-year-old flamethrower has worked as a long reliever, setup man and spot starter and dominated in each role for the White Sox, posting a 1.45 ERA that is the lowest of any qualified rookie in MLB. He leads all qualified AL rookies in strikeouts (30), WHIP (0.64) and opponent average (.125) and is showing none of the control issues that plagued him in the minors with four walks in 18.2 innings. Kopech’s fastball has been particularly unhittable. Batters are 2-for-38 with 19 strikeouts against it.
3. Nick Madrigal, 2B, White Sox
The White Sox aren’t where they want to be in the standings, but it’s not their rookies’ fault. Madrigal completes the trifecta of standout White Sox rookies with a .313 batting average that ranks second among all AL rookies and a .364 on-base percentage that ranks third. Even with an aggressive approach that limits his walks and no power to speak of, Madrigal’s ability to consistently put the bat on the ball—especially with two strikes—makes him an asset to the White Sox’s lineup and one of the AL’s top-performing rookies.
On The Cusp
Emmanuel Clase, RHP, Indians
The 23-year-old has returned from Tommy John surgery and taken over as the Indians closer without a hitch. Armed with his 100-plus mph cutter, Clase has yet to allow an earned run in 13 appearances and is 5-for-6 in save opportunities, with his one blown save the product of an error on what should have been a game-ending groundout. He has 13 strikeouts and three walks in 12.1 innings, a 0.97 WHIP and a .188 opponent average.
Don’t Forget About
The two Top 100 Prospects have had their struggles, but there are positive signs to build on. Arozarena is batting a respectable .273/.345/.404 despite a 33% strikeout rate and appears to be trending up after reaching base in 10 of his last 11 games. Vaughn made the enormous jump from High-A to the majors, was forced into an unfamiliar position in left field and has dealt with inconsistent playing time, but has still managed to hit .275 with a .373 on-base percentage. His power hasn’t shown up yet, but for him to hit and get on base like he has given the circumstances is impressive.
Garrett Whitlock, RHP, Red Sox
It’s hard for a reliever to win rookie of the year if he isn’t a closer, but Whitlock’s performance at least merits mention. The Rule 5 pick began the season on a 13.1-inning scoreless streak before allowing his first run of the season on Sunday. He owns a 0.63 ERA with 19 strikeouts and just two walks in 14.1 innings and is progressively beginning to pitch in higher-leverage spots.
1. Trevor Rogers, LHP, Marlins
After impressing in his debut last year, Rogers appears to have taken another step with the Marlins this season. The 23-year-old lefthander ranks first among rookie starters—and ninth among all starters—with a 1.91 ERA through six starts this season. He is tied for the rookie lead with 33 innings pitched, leads all rookies with 44 strikeouts and has limited opponents to a .195 average this season. His fastball and changeup have been particularly potent with each drawing whiff rates above 35%.
2. Dylan Carlson, OF, Cardinals
Carlson began the year with high hopes after finishing last year strong and has delivered on his promise so far. Carlson leads all National League rookies in hits (26), runs (18) and extra-base hits (12) while posting a .265/.348/.469 slash line. Even more impressive, he spent most of the season’s first month playing center field after Harrison Bader suffered a forearm injury near the end of spring training and rated as average to slightly above by various defensive metric while showing a knack for making impressive catches over his head at the wall.
3. Jazz Chisholm, 2B, Marlins
Chisholm could very well be No. 1 on this list if not for his hamstring injury he suffered April 27. The electrifying Bahamian hit .290/.375/.551 with four doubles, four home runs and seven stolen bases through his first 21 games and ranked near the top of the majors in both barrel percentage and sprint speed. Whenever he returns, he has the talent to quickly rise and become the favorite in the NL rookie of the year race.
On The Cusp
Stephenson and McKinstry have both impressed in limited action. Stephenson’s .364 average and .404 on-base percentage rank second among qualified rookies behind only Yermin Mercedes and McKinstry hit .296/.328/.556 with five doubles and three home runs in 17 games before going on the injured list. Both have only played 17 games, but as Stephenson gets more playing time and McKinstry returns from the IL, they’ll keep rising in what is shaping up to be a deep and talented NL Rookie of the Year crop.
Don’t Forget About
Ian Anderson, RHP, Braves
Perhaps it’s because expectations were so high after his dominant 2020 debut, but Anderson hasn’t received a lot of attention despite pitching quite well for the Braves. He is 2-1, 3.27 in six starts, is tied with Rogers for the MLB rookie lead with 33 innings pitched and is second among all rookies with 36 strikeouts. He did struggle against the Blue Jays on Sunday, but preceded that with a 13.2 scoreless innings streak.
Dom Nuñez, C, Rockies
After making the Opening Day roster for the first time, Nuñez has taken over as the Rockies starting catcher and is doing his best to keep the job. The 26-year-old rookie is tied for the MLB rookie lead with five home runs and ranks third among all rookies—behind only Mercedes and Chisholm—with a .923 OPS. Nuñez is only batting .222 and his 41% strikeout rate isn’t sustainable, but for now he’s doing enough damage on contact to rank among the top power-hitting rookies in the game.