No matter the status of the Major League club, rookies everywhere have something to play for in early September.
For some, that something is the opportunity to push for the playoffs in their first tastes of the Majors. For others, it is the chance to impress the Major League brass and earn a way back to The Show for the following season, perhaps with an even more prominent role. This edition of the Rookie Hot List is filled with examples from both categories. The two Blue Jays below have helped Toronto surge in the American League Wild Card race. The two Cubs that bookend the list have made the most of the playing time they’ve found in Chicago that they may not have elsewhere.
These are the hottest rookies from Sept. 1-14:
1. Frank Schwindel, 1B, Cubs
Claimed off waivers in July after the A’s designated him for assignment, Schwindel is close to achieving cult-hero status in Wrigleyville for the way he’s taken to the Cubs. Playing in his age-29 season, the right-handed slugger has been one of the Majors’ most productive hitters lately, with a .400/.444/.740 line and five homers through 12 games to begin September. His 1.184 OPS is eighth best in the Majors this month, and he has 10 more total bases than any other rookie in that timeframe.
2. Triston McKenzie, RHP, Indians
McKenzie was a model of consistency in September. His lines in his three starts were all roughly the same -- all including six innings, one earned run and one walk and 2-3 hits and 6-7 strikeouts. That worked out to a 1.50 ERA, 20 K’s and only three walks in 18 frames. Going even further back, the 24-year-old right-hander has a 1.76 ERA and 48 strikeouts in his last seven starts (46 innings) dating back to the beginning of August, giving Cleveland hope that he could fit comfortably aside Shane Bieber at the top of future rotations.
3. Alejandro Kirk, C, Blue Jays
No one is hotter than Toronto these days, and while the veterans are grabbing their share of the headlines, don’t ignore the part Kirk is playing in this playoff push. The rookie backstop has hit .303/.410/.697 with four homers, a double and eight RBIs in the last nine games. He has also walked six times and struck out on only four occasions. That all works out to a 192 wRC+. Kirk is splitting time with Danny Jansen and Reese McGuire behind the plate, but his bat is so good that he’s also gotten DH looks when George Springer has been out. The hot Jays will want to keep finding spots in the lineup for his bat.
4. Bobby Dalbec, 1B, Red Sox
Dalbec entered the season as a potential Rookie of the Year contender, only to struggle to make contact and show off his trademark power. It got to the point where Boston considered Franchy Cordero and the newly acquired Kyle Schwarber as first-base options, despite their extensive times in the outfield. No longer. Dalbec has become a key part of Boston’s postseason aspirations and has justified that with a .275/.326/.675 line and four homers in 11 games. If he could keep it up, this would be the slugger’s second straight month with an OPS above 1.000.
5. Wander Franco, SS, Rays
Look, putting an injured player on a list of hottest rookies is a tough call. A hamstring strain landed Franco on the IL over the weekend. But then again, putting a rookie with an active 39-game on-base streak isn’t all that tough either. The switch-hitting shortstop went 11-for-30 (.367) with a homer, one triple, three doubles and -- get this -- only one strikeout over eight games in this period before suffering the injury. His ability to put the ball in play and reach base was unrivaled among this rookie class. The injury may hurt his Rookie of the Year and future Rookie Hot List cases, but his previous dominance is too good to overcome in this one.
6. Jonathan India, 2B, Reds
With Trevor Rogers and Patrick Wisdom falling back in September, India didn’t have to go crazy in these past two weeks to solidify his standing as the NL Rookie of the Year favorite. He was still his impressive self, though, with a .292/.346/.563 line, three homers and a 138 wRC+ over 12 games. His season slugging percentage, in particular, jumped 11 points in the month as the Cincinnati infielder has shown improved pop as he gets more comfortable at the top level. His 3.8 fWAR is highest among rookie position players this season, comfortably above Adolis García (3.1) in second.
7. Joe Ryan, RHP, Twins
Ryan would have been a Hot List contender for his seven-inning, one-hit performance against Cleveland on Sept. 8 alone. But he had two other solid outings on Sept. 1 (his Twins debut) and Tuesday, only improving his standing. Acquired from the Rays in the Nelson Cruz deal back in July, the 25-year-old right-hander is making a solid impression with Minnesota with a 2.12 ERA, 14 strikeouts and only two walks over 17 innings to begin his Twins career.
8. Logan Gilbert, RHP, Mariners
Gilbert’s season ERA ballooned to 5.44 heading into September, but he’s brought it back down to Earth at 4.97 with three good starts to begin the month. He owned a 2.35 ERA with 18 strikeouts in 15 1/3 innings in this span, and his nine K’s over six innings in a quality start against Boston on Monday tied a career high. Even when he has struggled, Gilbert hasn’t had an issue with pitching in the zone -- he hasn’t allowed more than one walk in any of his last seven starts -- and if he can find a way to marry control with keeping hitters off-balance, there could be more stretches like this one in his future.
9. Alek Manoah, RHP, Blue Jays
Call it recency bias, but a lot of Manoah’s placement here can be attributed to his eight-inning, one-hit gem against the Rays on Monday. The 23-year-old right-hander fanned 10 Tampa Bay batters as well, making it one of the best starts by a rookie in 2021. Unfortunately, we need to include all aspects of the last two weeks here, so it should be noted that Manoah allowed nine earned runs over 10 2/3 innings in his two September outings before that. But that’s why he’s at No. 9 and not in the top five. If we’re talking hottest rookies, you won’t find a hotter pitcher in this immediate moment.
10. Scott Effross, RHP, Cubs
A 2015 15th-round pick out of Indiana, Effross made his Major League debut as a 27-year-old reliever on Aug. 29 for a Cubs team willing to give everyone looks before the end of the season. He is certainly making the most of his opportunity. Effross allowed just one earned run while striking out 11 and walking one over 7 2/3 innings out of the Chicago bullpen in these last two weeks. It’s perhaps no coincidence that the Cubs, who are 7-6 this month, went 4-1 in games that Effross made an appearance. He generates weak contact primarily with a low-90s sinker, paired with a low-80s slider.