Before the 2019 season, it was preordained that Vladimir Guerrero Jr. would take home the American League Rookie of the Year trophy, and everyone else was just fighting for second place. That may yet be the case, but eight games into the prodigy’s career, it’s clear he has some catching up to do. Here’s a look at the top contenders.
- Vladimir Guerrero Jr., Blue Jays – The game’s best prospect in years, Guerrero strained an oblique during Spring Training, providing Blue Jays a little bit of cover in their plan to keep him in the minors long enough to gain a seventh year of control. Just 34 plate appearances into his career, Vlad Jr. is fully expected to rake over the remainder of the season.
- Eloy Jimenez, White Sox – Jimenez was allowed on Chicago’s Opening Day roster after signing a $43MM contract, and he started to come around at the plate in his final 15 games before suffering an ankle sprain. He’s close to a rehab assignment and still has plenty of time to demonstrate why he was the typical prediction as the second-place AL ROY finisher.
- Brandon Lowe, Rays – Lowe owns a 153 wRC+ in 121 plate appearances, mostly as the Rays’ second baseman. His 1.5 WAR is tops among AL rookies. Lowe also enjoys the comfort of a $24MM contract signed back in March.
- Michael Chavis, Red Sox – Mostly playing second base for the Red Sox, Chavis made his big league debut on April 20th and has already smacked six home runs. Chavis may eventually be squeezed for playing time once Dustin Pedroia and Brock Holt return, though not if he keeps hitting anything like this.
- Spencer Turnbull, Tigers – If Vogelbach is the league’s most surprising rookie hitter, the 26-year-old Turnbull deserves that designation for pitchers. Rated just a 40-grade prospect by Baseball America prior to the season, the righty claimed the Tigers’ last rotation spot out of Spring Training and never looked back. He’s rocking a 2.31 ERA in seven starts, and even if that can’t last he’s shown himself a capable big league starter. Having tallied 135 2/3 innings last year and 112 in 2017, it seems unlikely Turnbull will be allowed to keep his current 200-inning pace.
- Yusei Kikuchi, Mariners – Kikuchi owns a 3.98 ERA in eight starts, including a gem last time out in Cleveland. Having made a large investment in Kikuchi, the Mariners have a plan to periodically give him a one-inning start, which so far happened in his seventh outing. That approach still might get him around 150 innings, so Kikuchi has a shot at the award.
- Ty Buttrey, Angels – It’s hard to ignore what the 26-year-old Buttrey has done out of the Angels’ bullpen so far. He’s posted a 1.06 ERA with 21 punchouts and just three walks in 17 innings and has been pitching in high leverage situations all year. Buttrey, who has touched 100 with his fastball, looks like the Angels’ closer of the future.
- Trent Thornton, Blue Jays – Thornton, 25, was traded by the Astros to the Blue Jays for Aledmys Diaz in November. According to Baseball America, his curveball features one of the highest spin rates in baseball, and he “has the stuff and control to fit as a No. 4 starter with a chance for more.” So far he has a 4.08 ERA and 9.7 K/9 in seven starts.
- Rowdy Tellez, Blue Jays – The Jays’ DH/first baseman has popped six home runs in the early going. If Tellez is able to approach 30 bombs in a lost season for the Jays, he’ll be in the Rookie of the Year conversation.
- Jesus Luzardo, Athletics and Forrest Whitley, Astros – Luzardo’s impressive spring and rotation bid was cut short by a shoulder injury, though the top prospect could return to game action in June. It seems unlikely he’ll get enough innings with the A’s to compete for the award. Whitley, meanwhile, has been knocked around in two of his four starts at Triple-A and may also have a half-season at best in the Majors this year.
- Danny Jansen, Blue Jays – Jansen has started about two-thirds of the Jays’ games behind the plate, but has been awful as a hitter through 90 plate appearances. Luke Maile hasn’t been any better, so Jansen should have a chance to shake off his April and finish as the league average hitter he was projected to be.
- Christin Stewart, Tigers – Stewart was off to a decent start as the Tigers’ left fielder before going down with a quad injury. He’s currently on a minor league rehab assignment and has the plus power to make some noise in the ROY race.
A correction has been made to this post, thanks to a comment from reader txtgab. We have confirmed that Dwight Smith Jr. is in fact not rookie eligible. Additionally, reader tieran711 has kindly pointed me to this tweet from Larry Stone of the Seattle Times, which indicates that Daniel Vogelbach is also not rookie eligible. Both players have been removed from the post.
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