2022 MLB Rookie of the Year Watch 1.0
Four full weeks into the 2022 season, rookies are already making an impact.
Expectations of a historically good American League rookie class haven’t materialized with Bobby Witt Jr., Julio Rodriguez and Spencer Torkelson off to slow starts and Adley Rutschman and Riley Greene injured. In their stead, Guardians outfielder Steven Kwan set the baseball world ablaze with his record-setting start and Twins righthander Joe Ryan has emerged as an anchor at the front of the Twins rotation.
The National League rookie field hasn’t had many impactful contributors so far, but Japanese import Seiya Suzuki has been an early star for the Cubs and positioned himself at the head of the NL Rookie of the Year race. Padres lefthander MacKenzie Gore made his long-awaited debut and has settled into the Padres rotation to provide an intriguing challenger.
Here is the first edition of Baseball America’s Rookie of the Year watch for 2022. All statistics are through May 5.
Note: This is not a re-ranking of the BA Top 100 Prospects or the Top 20 Rookies For 2022. This is simply a snapshot of where the Rookie of the Year races stand at various points in time during the season.
1. Steven Kwan, OF, Guardians
Kwan got off to a historic start when he became the first player in the live-ball era to reach base in 15 of his first 19 plate appearances and went a record 116 pitches before the first swing and miss of his career. While he obviously hasn’t kept up that pace and missed time with hamstring tightness, he is still making an impact in the Guardians lineup. Kwan delivered a walk-off RBI single to give the Guardians a win in the second game of a doubleheader on Wednesday and followed by hitting his first career home run on Thursday. Overall, he leads all qualified rookie hitters with a .328 batting average, .423 on-base percentage and .907 OPS. When it comes to pure contact skills, few in the game are as prolific as Kwan. His 1.8% swinging strike rate is the lowest in MLB, with the second-lowest rate more than double that.
2. Joe Ryan, RHP, Twins
Ryan got the Opening Day assignment for the Twins and has pitched like an ace worthy of the honor. His 1.63 ERA is eighth-lowest in the majors, his 0.63 WHIP is sixth-lowest and his .167 opponent average is tied for seventh-lowest. Ryan’s sneaky fastball has held hitters to a .111 average and his slider has jumped forward to become a dominant putaway pitch. Add in an effective changeup and curveball that neutralize lefties and some of the best control in the game, and Ryan has been not only one of the top rookies this season, but one of the best pitchers in the major leagues.
3. Jeremy Pena, SS, Astros
Peña has lived up to his reputation as a premium defensive shortstop to help the Astros withstand the loss of Carlos Correa on the infield, even with a few more errors than ideal. He also leads all rookies with six home runs and is third with an .802 OPS. Peña has cooled off some after a hot start—he is batting .160 in his last 14 games—but his total contribution on both sides of the ball has made a big impact for the Astros early.
DON'T FORGET ABOUT
Julio Rodriguez, OF, Mariners
Rodriguez has begun to heat up after his slow start and is batting .298/.353/.426 in his last 13 games. Most notably, he’s cutting down on his strikeouts. After striking out 22 times in his first 48 plate appearances (45.8%), Rodriguez has just 14 strikeouts in his last 51 plate appearances (27.5%). No matter how he’s been going at the plate, Rodriguez has contributed defensively. He’s showed off impressive range in center field and a knack for making highlight-reel plays.
Dany Jimenez, RHP, Athletics
In the last two and a half years, Jimenez has been selected from the Blue Jays in the Rule 5 draft by the Giants, returned to the Blue Jays, selected again in the next year’s Rule 5 draft by the A’s, returned again to the Blue Jays, granted free agency and signed to a minor league contract by the A’s. After all that, he’s found a home in Oakland. Jimenez has yet to allow an earned run in 10 relief appearances and is four for four in save opportunities while emerging as the A’s closer. He has held batters to a minuscule .056 batting average against his dominant slider and has been a bright spot in an otherwise disheartening season for the A’s.
Podcast: How Cleveland Scouted And Signed Steven Kwan
Conor Glassey joins the podcast to discuss scouting and signing Steven Kwan.
1. Seiya Suzuki, OF, Cubs
Suzuki has been slumping the last two weeks after a red-hot start, but he still has the most hits (20), doubles (six), home runs (four) and RBIs (15) of any National League rookie as well as the highest OPS (.840). His plate discipline has been excellent and his 9.4% barrel rate ranks among the top 25 in MLB, signs that bode well for continued offensive success.
2. MacKenzie Gore, LHP, Padres
After a long and winding road, Gore is pitching like the burgeoning ace the Padres hoped he’d be. He has a 1.71 ERA through his first four starts, has allowed only 16 hits in 21 innings and has largely managed to avoid the serious control issues that plagued him the last two years. He ranks second among all rookie starters in ERA, third in strikeouts (22) and fifth in opponent average (.211). Most importantly, he’s been consistent. He has pitched at least five innings and allowed two earned runs or less in all four of his starts.
3. Spencer Strider, RHP, Braves
Strider continues to battle his control, but his effective work in long relief gives him a boost in a thin NL rookie field. He has allowed only five hits in 12.2 innings and posted a .122 opponent average, lowest among any NL rookie with at least 10 innings pitched.
DON'T FORGET ABOUT
The rest of the NL rookie field has struggled badly, from the Top 100 Prospects to the potential sleepers. Giants catcher Joey Bart, Padres shortstop CJ Abrams and D-backs shortstop Geraldo Perdomo are all batting under .200 and Phillies shortstop Bryson Stott was demoted to Triple-A after 30 at-bats. Reds righthander Hunter Greene has an 8.71 ERA with 10 home runs allowed in 20.2 innings and Reds lefthander Nick Lodolo posted a 5.52 ERA in three starts before going on the injured list with a back strain. Braves righthander Bryce Elder has more walks than strikeouts, Nationals righthander Joan Adon has a 7.33 ERA, D-backs DH Seth Beer is batting .224 with one home run, Pirates infielder Diego Castillo is batting .233 with a .554 OPS and Reds lefthander Reiver Sanmartin is 0-4, 13.78—yes, a 13.78 ERA—while getting rocked to the tune of a .384 opponent average. Without significant turnarounds from the aforementioned players or a wave of impactful midseason callups, this year’s NL rookie class will go down as one of the worst in recent history.