15 Early Contenders For American League Rookie Of The Year

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.
  • Daniel Vogelbach, Mariners – Now 26, Vogelbach is finally getting his shot to play regularly, as he’s already reached a career-high with 109 plate appearances.  As a designated hitter/first baseman on a roster with Edwin Encarnacion and Jay Bruce, Vogelbach could see his playing time threatened if he enters a prolonged slump.  On the other hand, he’s been the best hitter in the American League thus far despite coming back to Earth of late.
  • 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.
  • Dwight Smith Jr., Orioles – The AL East’s much-less-heralded son of a big league outfielder, Smith has run with the Orioles’ left field job by posting a 129 wRC+ in 132 plate appearances.  Despite a similar performance in 75 big league plate appearances last year, the Jays designated Smith for assignment in March to clear a spot for Clay Buchholz, and then traded the outfielder to the Orioles for international pool money.  What a fascinating story, then, it would be if Smith ultimately took home the AL ROY instead of Guerrero!  Though he’s now 26, Smith was a first round draft pick back in 2011 (right after Blake Snell) and playing for the Orioles, he should have an excellent opportunity to demonstrate that his hot start is sustainable.
  • 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.

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from MLB Trade Rumors http://bit.ly/2H5s0z9

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