MLB Rookie Of The Year Watch: 2024 AL, NL Favorites On May 15


Image credit: Cubs LHP Shota Imanaga (Griffin Quinn/Getty Images)

In the early stages of spring training, Baseball America ranked the top 20 MLB rookies for 2024.

Dodgers righthander Yoshinobu Yamamoto ranked No. 1, and the former NPB ace has lived up to the hype. On the other hand, the top young position rookies have not met expectations—at least through the first six weeks of the season.

Rangers outfielder Evan Carter (104 OPS+), Brewers outfielder Jackson Chourio (64), Orioles second baseman Jackson Holliday (–48) and Rangers outfielder Wyatt Langford (70) ranked Nos. 2 through 5. Not one of them is in the Rookie of the Year conversation at the quarter pole.

Neither is preseason No. 6 rookie Junior Caminero, the Rays third baseman who suffered an early quad injury and was at Triple-A Durham.

Fortunes change quickly in baseball—especially for young players in the growth phase of their careers—and at least one of Carter, Chourio, Holliday, Langford or Caminero is sure to make a ROY push.

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National League Rookie of the Year Race

1. Shota Imanaga, LHP, Cubs

Imanaga led the Japanese major leagues with 174 strikeouts last season, and the 30-year-old’s early results in MLB have been impeccable. He has gone 5-0 with a 0.96 ERA through eight starts, with 51 strikeouts and eight walks in 46.2 innings.

Four of Imanaga’s eight appearances have been scoreless. He has worked with at least five days of rest in all but one start, mimicking his NPB once-per-week schedule.

Imanaga is a pitcher of extremes: 27.9% strikeouts (16th among qualifiers), 4.4% walks (12th), 46.7% flyballs (10th) and 5.3% home runs per fly ball (10th). Even his pitch mix is extreme. Imanaga throws more four-seam fastballs than any starter but Kyle Harrison and more splitters than anyone but Cal Quantrill—and more splitters than any qualified lefthanded starter of the pitch-tracking era. 

What to watch: In the early stages of 2024, MLB hitters have done much less damage on contact than in recent seasons. This has helped keep Imanaga’s home run rate in check. If that trend reverses, or if the ball simply carries better in warmer weather or batters gain enough familiarity with his unique release characteristics, Imanaga’s homer rate and ERA will rise sharply. Still, his strikeout rate and control are legit, making him at worst a quality No. 3 or 4 starter. 

2. Yoshinobu Yamamoto, RHP, Dodgers

Yamamoto signed the richest contract ever for a pitcher and has generally lived up to the hype. The Dodgers have spaced out his starts to keep the 25-year-old on a familiar once-per-week schedule. Yamamoto has responded by going 4-1 with a 3.21 ERA and 53 strikeouts against 10 walks in 47.2 innings. 

Yamamoto’s attack plan focuses on a 95 mph fastball, a plus splitter and a curveball he can command in any count. He occasionally mixes a slider and cutter, but his true strength is how he ties his repertoire together with command, sequencing and overall feel.

What to watch: Yamamoto looks every bit the part of dependable No. 2 or 3 starter. While Imanaga has gotten off to a faster start, Yamamoto is more well-rounded with more ways to adapt and grow. He could emerge as the ROY favorite once again. 

3. Jared Jones, RHP, Pirates

Jones pitched his way onto the Opening Day roster with 15 strikeouts in 16.1 innings during spring training. Power stuff sets the 22-year-old apart. Few qualified starters throw a faster four-seamer (97.3 mph) or slider (88.5) than Jones, and those two pitches account for more than 85% of his deliveries.

Jones leads all rookie starters with a 30.9% strikeout rate and 27.1% K-BB. He has recorded a 2.68 ERA through 47 innings to go with 56 strikeouts and seven walks. He has been somewhat homer-prone with eight allowed in eight starts. Additionally, opponents have hit .297/.333/.487 in 39 plate appearances when facing Jones for a third time in a game.

What to watch: In many ways, Jones resembles Spencer Strider in his remarkable 2022 rookie season and looks like a high-end young starter. Jones and Paul Skenes could front a formidable postseason rotation if the Pirates can get back in the wild card race.

American League Rookie of the Year Race

1. Mason Miller, RHP, Athletics

Two things must be true for a closer to receive ROY notice: (1) He must utterly dominate, and (2) the rookie field must be shallow.

Check. And check.

Miller has saved eight games for the feisty A’s and has turned in one-quarter of an elite closer season. To this point, his 56.7% strikeout rate is the highest ever for a qualified reliever. So is his 49.3% K-BB. 

Major caveat: It’s early and a lot can change.

But Miller is truly a singular talent who fires untouchable 100 mph fastballs and nasty power sliders. Through 14 appearances, he has allowed two runs while striking out 38 and walking five in 18.1 innings. 

What to watch: At this juncture, Miller is the rare closer who is a strong contender for ROY, just like Oakland’s past two winners: Andrew Bailey in 2009 and Huston Street in 2005.

2. Colton Cowser, LF, Orioles

Orioles prospects Jackson Holliday and Coby Mayo got all the attention on our preseason rookie ranking. All Cowser has done is produce results.

The 2021 first-rounder hit his way onto the Opening Day roster but didn’t become a regular until the third week of the season. In his first 18 games as an everyday player, Cowser produced a 1.029 OPS with six homers and 17 RBIs. He also played strong defense in Baltimore’s spacious left field. 

The hits stopped falling for Cowser after a hot start, and he endured a 5-for-37 (.135) spell over his last 12 games that could see his role shrink with the return of Austin Hays from the injured list. Through 38 games he was hitting .250/.331/.500 (141 OPS+) with six homers and three stolen bases.

What to watch: Cowser looks like a contributing player to the Orioles’ incredible young core. His focus on becoming more selectively aggressive after he sputtered in 2023 during his MLB debut appears to have paid dividends.

3. The Field

No other AL rookie played convincingly enough to warrant a spot. 

Rangers outfielder Evan Carter has been perfectly mediocre. 

Red Sox corner outfielder Wilyer Abreu is in a strict platoon and was hitting .318/.408/.546 versus righthanders. We want to see where he settles when his .410 BABIP in the split regresses. 

Yankees righthander Luis Gil helped cover for the absence of Gerrit Cole by logging a 2.51 ERA through eight starts. The soon-to-be 26-year-old piled up 48 strikeouts in 43 innings while allowing just three home runs, but the center will not hold with his near 15% walk rate and poor first-pitch strike rate.  

MLB Rookie Power Ranking

1. Shota Imanaga, LHP, Cubs
2. Yoshinobu Yamamoto, RHP, Dodgers
3. Jared Jones, RHP, Pirates
4. Jackson Merrill, CF, Padres
5. Mason Miller, RP, Athletics
6. Colton Cowser, LF, Orioles
7. Wilyer Abreu, RF, Red Sox
8. Luis Gil, RHP, Yankees
9. Joey Ortiz, 3B, Brewers
10. Masyn Winn, SS, Cardinals

Three to watch: Paul Skenes, RHP, Pirates; Christian Scott, RHP, Mets; and Andy Pages, OF, Dodgers

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