The case for each NL Rookie of the Year finalist

November 12th, 2018

The National League Rookie of the Year Award race was tightly contested, with the three finalists each turning in an outstanding campaign worthy of recognition. Two slugging outfielders, the Braves' and the Nationals' Juan Soto, dazzled us with their prodigious power, and the Dodgers' overpowered opposing hitters with 100-mph heat. Each shined in big moments for their respective clubs, making the choice for the Jackie Robinson NL Rookie of the Year Award in 2018 a difficult one. With the announcement of the winner coming Monday at 6 p.m. ET on MLB Network, here's a look at the case for each finalist.
Ronald Acuna Jr., Braves
Acuna entered the All-Star break as an NL Rookie of the Year Award underdog and exited the season as a down-ballot NL MVP Award candidate. (5.4) was the only NL player to produce a better second-half WAR (FanGraphs) than Acuna (3.4), whose 171 Weighted Runs Created Plus after the break ranked third in the NL. As Atlanta's heralded outfielder hit .322 with 19 homers and a 1.028 OPS in the second half, he significantly influenced the Braves' charge toward an unexpected division title that Soto's Nationals were predicted to win.

Soto (3.7 WAR, 22 homers, .923 OPS, 146 wRC+) and Acuna (3.7 WAR, 26 HR, .917 OPS, 143 wRC+) produced similarly impressive season stats. Speed differentiates the capabilities of these two phenoms.
Per Statcast™, Acuna's Sprint Speed (29.6 feet per second) ranked 18th among all Major Leaguers. Soto ranked 286th at 27.2 feet per second. The Braves outfielder stole 16 bases and had +4 Outs Above Average. The Nationals' 19-year-old phenom swiped just five bags and had -4 OAA.
Acuna debuted on April 25 and the Braves won seven of the first eight games of his career, going from 3 1/2 games out to 1 1/2 games up in the NL East during that span. The 20-year-old left fielder endured some growing pains and missed a month when he sprained his left anterior cruciate ligament on May 27. But his presence was certainly felt during the second half. Atlanta turned a half-game deficit into a two-game lead as it went 12-4 while Acuna tallied an MLB-best nine homers and a 1.357 OPS from July 31-Aug. 15.
-- Mark Bowman
Walker Buehler, Dodgers
Less than three years after the Dodgers selected him 24th overall in the 2015 MLB Draft, Buehler made his first career start on April 23. The 24-year-old right-hander tossed five scoreless innings to open a tremendous rookie campaign in which he posted a 2.62 ERA with 151 strikeouts and 37 walks over 24 appearances (23 starts). His ERA was the best among rookie pitchers with a minimum of 100 innings pitched, as was his ERA+ of 148.
Buehler's finest performance came on Sept. 14 against the Cardinals at Busch Stadium, a crucial game for the Dodgers as they entered the day 1 1/2 games behind the Rockies in the NL West with two weeks to go in the regular season. Buehler threw eight scoreless innings, yielding two hits while walking two and striking out nine in a 3-0 Los Angeles victory.

In Buehler's next start, he faced the Rockies with the Dodgers holding a 1 1/2-game division lead over Colorado on Sept. 19. Buehler gave up two unearned runs on three hits while walking one and fanning 12 as the Dodgers padded their advantage in the standings with a 5-2 victory at Dodger Stadium.
Buehler was at his best when the Dodgers needed it most, posting a 1.58 ERA over the final two months of the season as Los Angeles won its sixth consecutive NL West title with a victory over Colorado in a tiebreaker at Dodger Stadium on Oct. 1. Buehler started that game as well, delivering 6 2/3 scoreless frames.
-- Manny Randhawa
Juan Soto, Nationals
The question was posed to Soto at the end of a brief slump. Well, the closest thing to a slump anyway, during his historic rookie season. How had he broken out of his skid while continuing to avoid any prolonged slumps in his first taste of the big leagues? He smiled and answered, "Just keep doing Juan Soto things."
It became the slogan for each impressive feat Soto accomplished during perhaps the greatest season by a teenager in MLB history. His 22 home runs this season tied for the second most by a teenager. Soto drew more walks and owned a higher on-base percentage than any teenager ever. He set records for OPS, wRC+ and wOBA for any player before their 20th birthday.

The Nationals never anticipated Soto would be this good this quickly. But a combination of injuries in the Majors and Soto's dominant performance in the Minors led them to accelerate his promotion in May. Soto never looked back. He led all NL rookies in on-base percentage, OPS, RBIs and walks, and ranked second in homers. He is the first rookie since in 2001 to compile a slash line of at least 290/.400/.500 and the only teenager to do so.
Soto's resume is not just impressive against rookies. His .406 on-base percentage and .923 OPS ranked second and third among all NL hitters with a minimum of 490 plate appearances. And Soto did it all at 19 years old.
-- Jamal Collier