The results of the AL and NL Rookie Of The Year Award balloting will be announced tomorrow, capping off a season that saw one of the more distinguished rookie classes in recent history make some immediate impacts in the big leagues.
Put it this way — Walker Buehler, Brad Keller, Jaime Barria, Dereck Rodriguez, Ramon Laureano, Lou Trivino, Seranthony Dominguez, Jack Flaherty, and Harrison Bader all had strong-to-outstanding rookie campaigns in 2018, yet none of this group is expected to crack the top two in balloting in their respective leagues. (The AL rookies might not even reach the top four.) The races in both leagues have been dominated by some major names and eyebrow-raising statistics, leaving voters with a tough choice as the regular season ended. As a reminder, the Rookie Of The Award doesn’t cover the postseason, so Buehler’s performance during the Dodgers’ NL pennant run has to be ignored.
Let’s sort though the big six options and then let the MLBTR readers decide on their preferred choices…
This has been a two-horse race between the Braves’ Ronald Acuna and the Nationals’ Juan Soto for months. While a quick breakout wouldn’t have been surprising for either player (Acuna was heralded as baseball’s top prospect prior to the season, while Soto was also ranked in the 20-60 range of preseason top-100 prospect lists), it was still rather stunning to see both post numbers that will net them some MVP votes, let alone Rookie Of The Year consideration. Making it an even more difficult choice for voters, both players had remarkably identical numbers:
Acuna: .293/.366/.552 over 487 PA, 26 homers, 78 runs, 143 wRC+, 144 OPS+, 3.7 fWAR
Soto: .292/.406/.517 over 494 PA, 22 homers, 77 runs, 146 wRC+, 142 OPS+, 3.7 fWAR
Adding to the similarities, both posted slightly below-average defensive numbers (Defensive Runs Saved, UZR/150) as left fielders, though Acuna boosted his overall DRS and UZR/150 totals with 96 2/3 solid innings in center field and right field. The two also had similar amounts of batted-ball luck — both had a .366 xwOBA, indicating that each was moderately fortunate with their real-world weighted on-base averages (Soto .392, Acuna .388).
Soto supporters can point to their man’s OBP edge, plus the fact that Soto did all of this during his age-19 season, setting several Major League single-season records for a teenage player along the way (such as highest OBP, highest OPS, and most walks). Acuna fans can counter with the argument that the Braves outfielder was only 20 years old, accomplished his feats in the heat of a pennant race, and could’ve outpaced Soto in numbers had Acuna not missed a month on the disabled list with a sprained ACL.
All eyes were on Angels right-hander Shohei Ohtani in his attempt to become the first two-way player in the modern era, and the results were astounding. As a hitter, Ohtani posted a 152 wRC+, 22 homers, and a .285/.361/.564 slash line over 367 plate appearances. As a pitcher, Ohtani had a 3.31 ERA, 11.0 K/9, and 2.86 K/BB rate over 51 2/3 innings, before arm problems that eventually required postseason Tommy John surgery derailed his time on the mound.
After Aaron Judge was the unanimous AL Rookie Of The Year pick in 2017, the Yankees’ youth movement continued as Gleyber Torres and Miguel Andujar quickly stepped into everyday roles at second and third base, respectively. Torres was the centerpiece of the prospect package New York received from the Cubs in the 2016 Aroldis Chapman trade, and the infielder lived up to the hype by hitting .271/.340/.480 with 24 homers over 484 PA. Andujar swung an even mightier stick, with 27 homers and a .297/.328/.527 slash over 606 plate appearances.
While none of the five rookies featured were contributors on defense, the Rays’ Joey Wendle’s excellent glovework at multiple positions fueled his value. This combination of solid defense and a strong bat (.300/.354/.435 over 545 PA) resulted in Wendle posting a 3.7 position player fWAR that tied both Acuna and Soto in the category among all rookies in baseball. Wendle was in many ways the manifestation of the Rays as a whole in 2018 — an unheralded player who surprised many by emerging as a versatile and productive threat.