The calendar has flipped to 2021 and with that comes all the hopes and wishes of a new year and, of course, a new baseball season. One of the most exciting parts, especially here at MLB Pipeline, is contemplating who will be in the next wave of young stars to establish themselves in the big leagues.
Last week, we rolled out a player for each team we’re excited to see break through to the big leagues for the first time in 2021. While that could be used as a master list of potential Rookie of the Year candidates, it doesn’t take players who made it up in 2020 but still qualify for rookie honors into account.
The lists below do, with five ROY candidates listed for each league. With 14 of the last 18 Rookies of the Year having been position players, you’ll notice the lists are hitter-heavy. All but one player debuted in 2020 and eight of the 10 are on the current Top 100 list. This is an early favorites list, with many more players likely to work their way into contention as the 2021 season unfolds. Last year’s winners, Kyle Lewis in the AL and Devin Williams in the NL, weren’t exactly favorites before the season started, so consider this the start of a fluid list of contenders.
1. Randy Arozarena, OF, Rays (No. 21): Yes, he’s under-ranked and yes, that will be fixed in the 2021 rankings. Having anyone but Arozarena at the top of this list didn’t make much sense, not after his 1.022 OPS in 23 regular-season games, followed by his insane .377/.442/.831 line in the postseason that included 10 home runs and an ALCS MVP Award.
2. Jarred Kelenic, OF, Mariners (No. 1/MLB No. 9): The one prospect on this list yet to make his Major League debut, Kelenic knocked on the door very loudly last summer with his performance at Summer Camp and at the team’s alternate training site. Here’s hoping the M’s make room for him alongside Lewis and give Seattle the chance to win back-to-back AL ROY Awards for the first time since international signees Kaz Sasaki and Ichiro Suzuki took home the hardware in 2000 and 2001.
3. Ryan Mountcastle, OF, Orioles (No. 5/MLB No. 90): Mountcastle could always hit, with a huge 2019 season in Triple-A, but it had come with questions about his approach (130 K/24 BB in that ’19 campaign) and concerns about his defensive home. He’s likely never going to win a Gold Glove, but he was acceptable in left, and he showed better selectivity while hitting .333/.386/.492 over 35 games in Baltimore last year.
4. Nick Madrigal, 2B, White Sox (No. 3/MLB No. 36): Madrigal separated his left shoulder in early August, but opted not to have surgery until after the season and returned to hit well down the stretch in Chicago. Expected to be ready for Opening Day, he’ll look to continue to use his innate ability to make contact (.340 in 109 plate appearances in the big leagues) without striking out (6.4 percent K rate), albeit without power.
5. Dane Dunning, RHP, Rangers (No. 3/MLB No. 98): There are several interesting pitching possibilities, from the Tigers’ Casey Mize and Blue Jays’ Nate Pearson at the top of the Top 100 to the resurgent Triston McKenzie of Cleveland closer to the bottom of the Top 100. Dunning, acquired by Texas in the Lance Lynn trade, pitched very well during his seven starts for the White Sox in 2020 and will have plenty of opportunity in the middle of the Rangers’ rotation … and there’s always at least one ROY contender who isn’t at the top of prospects lists, right?
1. Ke’Bryan Hayes, 3B, Pirates (No. 2/MLB No. 37): Hayes performed so well during his 24-game big league debut in 2020 (.376/.442/.682), he got multiple Rookie of the Year votes. Now he gets to try again, and he has to be considered the front-runner as of now, especially if the power uptick he showed last year continues to show up with his plus bat and Gold Glove-caliber defense.
2. Ian Anderson, RHP, Braves (No. 3/MLB No. 34): Injuries in Atlanta opened the door for Anderson in 2020, and he took advantage. He not only posted a 1.95 ERA, .172 batting average against and 11.4 K/9 rate in six regular-season starts (enough to get a ROY vote), he was dominant in the postseason with a 0.96 ERA over four starts.
3. Dylan Carlson, OF, Cardinals (No. 1/MLB No. 14): One of the few on this list who didn’t produce all that well during his 2020 debut, he did perform a bit better down the stretch. And given the ability to hit and his solid overall approach he showed in the Minors and his age (he’ll be 22 for all of 2021), he’s a good bet to take the lessons learned and turn it around this season.
4. Sixto Sánchez, RHP, Marlins (No. 1/MLB No. 19): It feels like we’ve been talking about Sánchez's electric stuff for a very long time, though he was just 22 when he made his big league debut with Miami last year. We got to see just how much the stuff will play as he amassed 1.4 bWAR over seven starts in the regular season and tossed five shutout innings in a Wild Card start against the Cubs.
5. Jose Garcia, SS, Reds (No. 6): This one is going out on a limb a bit. There’s no question Garcia can play shortstop in the big leagues for a very long time. That is, after all, a big reason why the Reds called on him to play there for 21 games last season. He’d yet to play above A ball before his debut and while his offensive production improved from 2018 to 2019, he did only hit .194/.206/.194 in 67 at-bats in 2020. That, combined with talk of the Reds potentially looking at shortstops on the free-agent market, makes Garcia a bit more of a roll of the dice.