A new wave of exciting young players made 2021 a thrilling season, but six rookies stood out from the rest, earning a place as finalists for the American League and National League Rookie of the Year Awards.
Up for recognition in the American League are an outfielder who followed up a record-setting 2020 postseason with a stellar rookie year, the player who entered 2021 as MLB Pipeline’s No. 1 overall prospect and a pitcher who was one of the most reliable starters on a division winner. In the National League, you have a trio of former first-round Draft picks, including two position players who were among their teams’ most productive stars and a hurler who pitched like an ace for much of the year.
Here's a look at the case for each one before the winners are announced Monday on MLB Network at 6 p.m. ET.
Randy Arozarena -- OF, Rays
Statistically, Arozarena’s case is clear. As an encore to his historic postseason performance in 2020 -- 20 games that set an impossibly high standard for his first full regular season -- the 26-year-old outfielder spent the entire year with the Rays, put up some impressive numbers and in late September earned Rays manager Kevin Cash’s endorsement as the AL Rookie of the Year.
He led all Major League rookies with 4.2 WAR, according to Baseball-Reference, and ranked second on the 100-win Rays (behind only second baseman Brandon Lowe) in that statistic. He hit 20 home runs and stole 20 bases, becoming only the third rookie (along with Andrew Benintendi and Mike Trout) in the last 10 years with a 20-20 season. In fact, only 11 rookies have put together a 20-20 campaign since MLB defined rookie status in 1958; among the previous 10, five won Rookie of the Year.
He finished tied for seventh among all MLB rookies and tied for fifth among AL rookies in home runs. He led all rookies with 145 hits and a .274 average and led AL rookies with 94 runs, 32 doubles, 56 walks, 20 steals, a .356 on-base percentage and an .815 OPS. He was a solid defender in left field, accumulating seven Defensive Runs Saved in 81 games there.
Considering all his qualifications -- and stiff competition in the form of Wander Franco and Shane McClanahan, among others -- Arozarena was named the club’s Outstanding Rookie by the Tampa Bay chapter of the BBWAA. So it shouldn’t be a surprise if he adds this award to his collection, too. -- Adam Berry
Wander Franco -- SS, Rays
Franco lived up to the enormous hype associated with being baseball’s consensus top prospect two years in a row despite being 20 years old and having never played above Class A ball entering this season. By the time Tampa Bay reached the postseason, the switch-hitting rookie shortstop already looked like the best player on a 100-win team -- and, as Cash put it, “the most impactful player on any team in baseball.”
Overall, Franco hit .288/.347/.463 with seven homers, five triples, 18 doubles, 39 RBIs and 53 runs scored. He strung together a 43-game on-base streak from July 25-Sept. 29, tied with Frank Robinson (1956) for the longest in AL/NL history among players 20 or younger. During that streak, he produced more hits (55) than swinging strikes (48), a perfect illustration of his rare ability at the plate. His second-half emergence as the Rays’ everyday shortstop, along with the July acquisition of DH Nelson Cruz, changed the dynamic of the highest-scoring lineup in Tampa Bay history.
The only knock against his candidacy is when the Rays promoted him, as he had only 308 plate appearances in 70 games while the other two finalists spent a full season in the Majors. Willie McCovey won the NL award in 1959 despite only 219 plate appearances, however, and Wil Myers won the award for the Rays in 2013 despite 373 plate appearances in 88 games. Franco finished the year with 3.5 WAR, according to Baseball-Reference, fourth-most among all MLB rookies behind Arozarena, Jonathan India and Adolis García, despite playing in half as many games. -- Berry
Luis Garcia -- RHP, Astros
After making the jump from Class A to the big leagues during last year’s pandemic-shortened season, Garcia solidified himself as a solid big league starting pitcher by going 11-8 with a 3.48 ERA and a 1.18 WHIP in 30 games (28 starts).
The righty led AL rookie pitchers in WAR (3.1), wins, innings pitched (155 1/3) and strikeouts (167) -- the second-highest strikeout total by a rookie in Astros history, trailing Tom Griffin (200 in 1969). He was the eighth Astros rookie pitcher to post an 11-win season and first since Collin McHugh in 2014.
Garcia began the season in the bullpen and appeared in two games in relief before going to the rotation full-time on April 29. He blew past his career high in innings pitched, which was 108 2/3 prior to this year. Among Astros pitchers, he ranked second in strikeouts, tied for second in starts and tied for third in innings. He was terrific against right-handed hitters, holding them to a .182 (52-for-286) batting average and a .548 OPS. The Astros were 16-12 in games he started, and the was the Astros’ only starting pitcher who didn’t spend time on the injured list. -- Brian McTaggart
Dylan Carlson -- OF, Cardinals
If the voters for Rookie of the Year considered the dynamic nature and flexibility of each candidate, then Carlson would be the runaway winner. The former top prospect played all three outfield positions because he needed to. He started in each batting order position (save for cleanup and the pitcher's spot) because he was asked to. Along the way, he provided highlight-reel defense and an overall solid slash line (.266/.343/.437, 117 OPS+) by season's end around a few bumps in his first 162-game slate at 22 years old.
Carlson is the youngest of the three finalists and made history while doing so. He's the first rookie in AL/NL history to homer from each side of the plate in multiple games in one season, doing so twice in 2021. -- Zachary Silver
Jonathan India -- 2B, Reds
India's numbers and performance from the 2021 season indicate he should be the leading contender to take home the NL Rookie of the Year Award. India, 24, batted .269/.376/.459 with 21 home runs and 69 RBIs. Besides leading the NL with 23 hit-by-pitches, he led the Reds with 12 steals, 98 runs and 150 games played.
A critical member of the lineup from the leadoff spot most of the season, India batted .318 with a .974 OPS and 13 homers in Reds wins and .214 with a .679 OPS and eight homers in team losses.
“He’s personally had just a great season, great accomplishments, but he’s just simply made us a much better team by being in our lineup every day and I think that’s what it is all about,” Reds manager David Bell said. “I absolutely think he is deserving.”
Among rookies, India topped the Major Leagues in games, on-base percentage, doubles (34), walks (71) and runs scored while ranking second with an .835 OPS. India cemented himself after a move to the leadoff spot on June 5 and he made all 103 of his remaining starts batting at the top of the order. He had a .382 OPS in with 17 homers and 82 runs after the switch.
“I think he has a chance to possibly win a batting title or Silver Slugger one year,” Reds shortstop Kyle Farmer said. “He’s an All-Star second baseman and I’m looking forward to watching him grow as a player.” -- Mark Sheldon
Trevor Rogers -- LHP, Marlins
Entering Spring Training, it was another Marlins starting pitcher -- Sixto Sánchez -- with better odds to win NL ROY. While shoulder trouble sidelined Sánchez all year, Rogers produced one of the better rookie seasons in history.
Since the mound was lowered in 1969, only six other pitchers have matched Rogers' total in wins (seven) and strikeouts (157) while recording as low of an ERA (2.64): the late José Fernández (2013), Hideo Nomo (1995), Mark Eichhorn (1986), Dwight Gooden (1984), Fernando Valenzuela (1981) and Jon Matlack (1972). All but Eichorn went on to win ROY in their respective leagues. Rogers managed to allow three runs or fewer in 21 consecutive starts to open the season, setting a franchise record.
During his age-23 season, Rogers quickly became the frontrunner after garnering Rookie of the Month honors in April and May. In a four-start span, he outdueled two-time NL Cy Young Award winner Jacob deGrom and 2021 NL Cy Young finalist Corbin Burnes on the road. Rogers later would be named an All-Star for his first-half performance (2.31 ERA through 18 starts). Unfortunately, family health matters kept him away from the mound for just over a month in the second half. Upon his return, there was understandable rust.
Still, Rogers finished 2021 pacing all NL rookie pitchers in ERA, strikeouts, starts (25), innings (133), WHIP (1.15) and average against (.218). More importantly, he showed Miami he could be a reliable piece in its young but talented rotation for ‘22 and beyond. -- Christina De Nicola