Interestingly enough, neither Judge nor Bellinger went into the 2017 season as the Rookie of the Year favorite. Judge made his MLB debut late last year and struck out 42 times in 84 at-bats. It wasn't even clear he'd be on the Opening Day roster. Bellinger started the season in Triple-A and wasn't expected to get called up until later in the season. And yet both won the Rookie of the Year unanimously. Go figure.
Trying to predict next season's Rookie of the Year winners is as much about picking talented players as it is picking players who will actually play. Playing time matters. Remember Gary Sanchez last year? He was as good as anyone in baseball for two months, but it was only two months, so he didn't win Rookie of the Year. Playing time is very important in the Rookie of the Year race.
So, with Opening Day more than four months away, here are the super early candidates for the 2018 Rookie of the Year awards. We'll start with the American League because it is the superior league.
OF Willie Calhoun, Rangers: Calhoun, 23, was the centerpiece of the Yu Darvish trade and the kid is a hitting machine. He put up a .300/.355/.572 batting line with 31 homers and a microscopic 11.4 percent strikeout rate in 128 games this season before getting a September call-up. Pretty much everyone agrees Calhoun will hit. Where will he play defensively? No one knows for certain. Calhoun has spent most of his career at second base, though he played left field with Texas and could very well end up at DH. His Rookie of the Year case will be built around his bat, and it's an awfully good bat.
RHP Brent Honeywell, Rays: I was a bit surprised the Rays did not call Honeywell up in September just to get his feet wet in the big leagues. The next great young Rays pitcher threw 136 2/3 innings between Double-A and Triple-A in 2017, posting a 3.49 ERA and 172 strikeouts along the way. Honeywell, 22, has excellent stuff -- -- and good control, which is something the Rays value. They like guys who throw strikes. Tampa tends to take it slow with its pitching prospects, though I think Honeywell will force a call-up fairly early in 2018.
IF Gleyber Torres, Yankees: If not for a fluke season-ending elbow injury suffered sliding into home plate in June, the 20-year-old Torres almost certainly would've been called up in the second half this year. He went to New York in the Aroldis Chapman trade with the Cubs, and hit .287/.383/.480 with seven homers in 55 games split between Double-A and Triple-A before having Tommy John surgery on his non-throwing elbow. Torres has already started hitting and is expected to be ready for the start of spring training. Once he gets a few weeks to shake off the rust off in Triple-A, I suspect you'll see him at third base in the Bronx.
Other notables: IF Willy Adames, Rays; RHP Chance Adams, Yankees; IF Franklin Barreto, Athletics; IF Nick Gordon, Twins; RHP Michael Kopech, White Sox; C Francisco Mejia, Indians; C Chance Sisco, Orioles
OF Ronald Acuna, Braves: Normally I would not include a 19-year-old in an early Rookie of the Year candidates post, but Acuna is no normal 19-year-old. hit .325/.374/.522 with 21 homers and 44 steals at three minor league levels this year, and he is currently annihilating the Arizona Fall League. Acuna had a two-homer game this past weekend.
Acuna got better each time he was promoted this season -- he hit .344/.393/.548 with nine homers in 54 Triple-A games -- and it's very likely he will force the Braves to call him up next season. I don't think they'll let Matt Kemp or Nick Markakis stand in the way once Acuna is ready.
OF Victor Robles, Nationals: Robles is a little older than Acuna and he didn't play in Triple-A this season, but he did get some big league time, and was even on Washington's postseason roster as a pinch-runner. The 20-year-old Robles authored a .300/.382/.493 batting line with 10 homers and 27 steals in 114 games this season, and he's an electric athlete with a chance to be a five-tool player. The Nationals are going to be desperate to win in 2018, before Bryce Harper and Daniel Murphy become free agents, and before Max Scherzer and Stephen Strasburg begin their decline phases. That desperation could lead to Robles getting an early call-up and outfield spot.
3B Nick Senzel, Reds: Senzel, the No. 2 pick in the 2016 draft, is one of the best pure hitters in the minors. He hit .321/.391/.514 with 40 doubles, 14 homers, and 14 steals in 119 games split between High-A and Double-A in 2017, and there's no reason to think he won't destroy Triple-A when he starts next season at the level. Sanchez wasn't able to do it last year, but we've seen some other players come up in June or July and win the Rookie of the Year in recent seasons (Carlos Correa and Jacob deGrom are two notable examples). I think Senzel can do it next year after a few tune-up weeks in Triple-A.
Other notables: OF Lewis Brinson, Brewers; RHP Walker Buehler, Dodgers; RHP Jack Flaherty, Cardinals; RHP Tyler Mahle, Reds; 1B/3B Ryan McMahon, Rockies; OF Austin Meadows, Pirates; RHP Alex Reyes, Cardinals; RHP Brandon Woodruff, Brewers