A couple of weeks ago, we explained how the American League Rookie of the Year race was being dominated by older newcomers, including Texas Rangers outfielder Adolis García, the early frontrunner. It's only fair, then, that we spend this week's edition of Prospect Watch breaking down the National League's younger, more interesting Rookie of the Year Award scene.
Trevor Rogers wasn't the young Marlins pitcher everyone was excited about in spring (that was Sixto Sánchez, who hasn't started a game this season because of injury), but he's solidified himself as the early favorite for the award. He hasn't allowed more than three runs in any of his 12 starts, and he hasn't permitted even that many in any of his last six tries, resulting in a 1.97 ERA on the season. Rogers' success can be credited to two of his three pitches: his fastball and his changeup, which make up nearly 80 percent of his offerings. His heater clocks in at 94.6 mph, though it plays quicker than that because of his deep release point. (It also features an above-average amount of run.) Meanwhile, Rogers does a fantastic job of killing the spin on his cambio, a characteristic that has helped him achieve the 15th highest whiff rate among the 57 pitchers with at least 150 changeups thrown this season. People were right to think the Marlins had an All-Star-caliber arm in their rotation; they just had the wrong pitcher in mind.
For whatever reason, it's easy to overlook Dylan Carlson. Maybe it's because he doesn't stand out in many statistical categories? Carlson leads NL rookies in OPS+ (125), yet his .277 average ranks third; his .360 on-base percentage ranks third; and his .432 slugging percentage ranks third. (In case anyone doubted that the universe had a sense of humor, he wears the No. 3.) In other words, Carlson is the best rookie hitter in the NL by virtue of being solid across the board rather than outstanding in any specific way. All he excels at is commanding the strike zone and hitting a high percentage of balls within the 10-to-30-degree "sweet spot." You can't put that on a label and expect to move product, but it does make for a solid hitter.
It's a testament to the weirdness of the pandemic era that Ian Anderson seems likely to improve upon his seventh-place finish in last fall's Rookie of the Year Award voting despite allowing 1.69 more earned runs, 1.5 more hits, and 0.6 more home runs per nine innings.
The dark horses
It's important to remember that three-plus months, or more than half the season, is left to be played. For some idea of how much things can change in that span, consider what's happened to Jazz Chisholm. He was, without a doubt, the most exciting rookie in April: in 21 games, he hit .290/.375/.551 with four home runs and seven stolen bases (on as many tries). He's since missed time because of injuries to his hamstring and his ankle. When he has been healthy enough to play, he's hit just .234/.279/.391 with four extra-base hits, two steals (on four attempts), and 23 more strikeouts than walks in 68 plate appearances. The injuries are likely to blame, alongside a shaky approach and some general regression, but that's the point: these things happen in baseball, even to those who appear to be en route to stardom.
Adbert Alzolay had been on a roll prior to leaving his start on Monday early because of a blister. In his six starts prior to that one, he had accumulated a 2.94 ERA and 30 more strikeouts than walks in 33 innings. Alzolay is throwing far more strikes this season than he did in either of his previous big-league cameos, and he's doing it while making changes to his release point (he's moved toward the third-base side) and his pitch mix (he's now a slider-first pitcher). It's doubtful he'll take the award, but becoming a legit big-league starter is more important, anyway.
In the distance
Ryan Weathers ranks second in ERA+ and third in Wins Above Replacement among NL rookie hurlers with at least 30 frames. Unfortunately for his chances of taking home the hardware, he trails Rogers in both of those categories, as well as another that will likely doom his candidacy: innings pitched. Weathers opened the season in the bullpen, a predicament that has left him well behind Alzolay, Anderson, and Rogers in workload. If Weathers was blowing away those three in other areas, like the aforementioned statistical measures, then he might have a shot at overcoming the gap. As it is, he'll have to settle for down-ballot consideration and a reputation for being tougher than undercooked octopus.
At 27 years old, Yonathan Daza is a better fit demographically for the AL's rookie crop. He's taken over in center for the Rockies recently after hitting .331/.373/.403 (105 OPS+) in his first 153 trips to the plate. Daza doesn't walk or hit for power, meaning his desired outcome is the same as a pop star's: hit singles. He's delivered so far. He entered the week ranked third among qualifiers in batting average on ground balls (.368), behind Austin Riley and Randy Arozarena. (The league-average mark, by the way, was a grim .235.) While Daza possesses above-average footspeed, an attribute that has enabled him to make several highlight-reel-worthy plays defensively, it seems unlikely that his grounders will continue sluicing through the infield at this rate. Even if they do, would the voters really elevate a slap-hitting Rockie over the others? Nah.