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2022 MLB Rookie Of The Year Watch 3.0: Julio Rodriguez, Spencer Strider Take The Lead At Midseason



Every team has now played at least 81 games after Thursday, meaning every team has officially crossed the halfway point of the season. As such, it’s time to take stock of where the Rookie of the Year races stand.

Below is the third installment of Baseball America's Rookie of the Year watch for the 2022 season. 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 July 7. 

AMERICAN LEAGUE

1. Julio Rodriguez, OF, Mariners

The red-hot Rodriguez has surged ahead of Astros shortstop Jeremy Peña in every major category to grab a firm hold of the AL Rookie of the Year race. Rodriguez leads all qualified AL rookies with a .275 batting average and .812 OPS and also leads the field with 15 home runs, 43 RBIs and 21 stolen bases. He’s not only been the best rookie in the league, but one of the best players in baseball since his slow start. After a 6-for-44 start to his big league career, Rodriguez is batting .297/.356/.535.

2. Jeremy Peña, SS, Astros

Rodriguez may have taken the lead in the AL Rookie of the Year race, but Peña remains in striking distance. His .270 batting average, 12 home runs and 31 RBIs all rank in the top three among qualified AL rookies and his .792 OPS is second behind only Rodriguez. He’s done that while providing exceptional defense at shortstop—his six Outs Above Average, as measured by Statcast, are tied for third-best among all major league shortstops.

3. Joe Ryan, RHP, Twins

Ryan spent three weeks on the Covid-19 injured list, but he returned in mid-June and has quietly continued to hum along as an effective starter for the AL Central-leading Twins. Ryan leads all qualified AL rookie starters in wins (six), ERA (3.09), strikeouts (63) and WHIP (1.09) and is tied for the Twins lead in innings pitched, providing reliability and durability for a playoff contender.

IN THE PICTURE

Steven Kwan, OF, Guardians; George Kirby, RHP, Mariners

Kwan’s .362 on-base percentage leads all AL rookies and his .274 batting average is second behind only Rodriguez. After a record-breaking start followed by a miserable slump, he’s rediscovered his form and is batting .307 since May 30. Kirby, meanwhile, has stepped seamlessly into the Mariners rotation and been effective from the outset. His 3.75 ERA and 58 strikeouts are second among AL rookie starters behind Ryan.

DON’T FORGET ABOUT

Bobby Witt Jr., SS, Royals; Adley Rutschman, C, Orioles.

It’s been a roller coaster of a season for Witt, who appeared to be rounding into form after a slow start but has fallen back into a slump in recent weeks (.203, .697 OPS since June 17). Witt still ranks second among AL rookies in hits, runs, extra-base hits and home runs even with that inconsistency and could find himself back in contention with another surge. Rutschman, meanwhile, is starting to shake off his slow start and perform like the franchise catcher most expect him to be. His overall numbers remain underwhelming, but he has an .880 OPS since June 15 and is beginning to catch fire.

WORTH MENTIONING

Brock Burke, LHP, Rangers; Jhoan Duran, RHP, Twins; Felix Bautista, RHP, Orioles.

With the exception of Devin Williams during the shortened 2020 season, non-closer relievers don’t win Rookie of the Year. Still, Burke, Duran and Bautista merit attention. Burke has been one of baseball’s most dominant relievers with a 1.09 ERA in 41.1 innings. Duran isn’t far behind him with a 1.95 ERA in 29 appearances and 48 strikeouts against just six walks in 37 innings. Bautista has helped the Orioles bullpen surprise as one of the best in the AL with a 1.89 ERA over 36 appearances and 41 strikeouts in just 33.1 innings.

 

NATIONAL LEAGUE

1. Spencer Strider, RHP, Braves

Strider moved into the Braves rotation at the end of May and has taken the reins in the NL Rookie of the Year race. The 23-year-old righthander leads all qualified rookies—in either league—with a 2.60 ERA and has a whopping 102 strikeouts in only 65.2 innings. He’s getting better, too. Strider has allowed one run in his last three starts while recording 30 strikeouts against just three walks in 18 innings.

2. Brendan Donovan, 2B, Cardinals

Donovan continues to do it all for the Cardinals, leading all qualified NL rookies in batting average (.291) and on-base percentage (.398) while capably playing six different positions. Donovan isn’t hitting for much home run power, but he leads all NL rookies with 14 doubles and is providing plenty of overall impact with his contact ability, on-base skills and defensive versatility.

3. MacKenzie Gore, LHP, Padres

Gore has fallen into a rut recently with a 7.94 ERA and more walks (15) than strikeouts (11) in his last four starts. He still fares well compared to the rest of the NL rookie field—he is second behind only Strider among qualified NL rookies with a 3.18 ERA and .232 opponent average—but given his recent history of control struggles, the overall trendline is concerning.

IN THE PICTURE

Juan Yepez, DH, Cardinals; Luis Gonzalez, OF, Giants; Christopher Morel, OF, Cubs.

Morel leads all NL rookies with an .846 OPS, Gonzalez leads with a .302 batting average and Yepez ranks among the top five in hits, doubles, home runs, RBIs, batting average and OPS. None have played a full complement of games, but if they continue to hold their performances over a longer stretch, they’ll have every chance to jump into the top tier of the ROY field.

DON’T FORGET ABOUT

Jack Suwinski, OF, Pirates; Roansy Contreras, RHP, Pirates

Suwinski leads all NL rookies with 14 home runs following his recent home run binge, which included three home runs in a game on Father’s Day. His overall .215/.300/.463 slash line puts him behind the top of the field—his batting average ranks 10th and his OPS ranks eighth among qualified NL rookies—but he’ll have every opportunity to boost those numbers as a starter in the Pirates outfield. Suwinski’s teammate Contreras, meanwhile, has quietly been one of the more dominant rookie pitchers since he entered the Pirates rotation at the end of May. He is 3-2, 3.78 with 50 strikeouts in 50 innings and just rebounded from his worst start of the season with his best start, going a career-high six innings with only one run one allowed and seven strikeouts against the Reds on Thursday.

WORTH MENTIONING

Michael Harris, OF, Braves 

Harris has only played 38 games, but what a thrilling 38 games they’ve been. The 21-year-old center fielder has hit .290/.324/.500 with six homers, 20 RBIs and six stolen bases, putting him on pace for a 15-15 season. He’s done that while playing highlight-reel defense in center field and shoring up what was a weak spot for the Braves early in the season. Harris’ 32-to-5 strikeout-to-walk mark is a concerning sign of how aggressive he is and a red flag that he is likely to face a major adjustment period soon. If he’s able to keep up his performance over a longer period, though, he’ll be right in the thick of the race.

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