Welcome to the return of the Rookie Power Rankings, where MLB Pipeline keeps tabs on the top rookies for the 2021 season.
As voted on by MLB Pipeline writers, the RPR will take a regular look at rookie performances throughout the 2021 season. Unlike our Top 100 list, which focus on long-term projections, these rankings will be looking only at performance this year, though prospect rankings will come into play to break ties with each update as the year progresses.
In this season preview, there’s a close correlation to the Rookie of the Year Draft we recently held, with seven of the 10 players selected appearing in our opening top 10 below.
1. Ke’Bryan Hayes, 3B, Pirates (No. 1/MLB No. 9)
He had to be the front-runner for NL honors after hitting .376/.442/.682 during his big league debut last year. Even though he played just 24 games in 2020, Hayes still received multiple ROY votes, and he's now shown he’s ready to compete for the award with a .413/.449/.696 line this spring. And we haven’t even talked about his Gold Glove-caliber defense.
2. Randy Arozarena, OF, Rays (No. 3/MLB No. 34)
To have Arozarena anywhere but atop the AL contenders wouldn’t make much sense, not after he homered seven times in 64 regular-season at-bats to close out 2020, then set the world on fire during a postseason that included a combined .377/.442/.831 line with 10 homers and an ALCS MVP. A tepid spring (.257/.278/.314) is nothing to worry about, but contributes to him coming in behind Hayes.
3. Andrew Vaughn, 1B/OF, White Sox (No. 1/MLB No. 14)
While the 2019 No. 3 overall pick has just 205 career professional at-bats on his resume, he’s such an advanced hitter that the White Sox believed him ready to get regular at-bats in the big leagues at the start of this season. He’s hit a respectable .271/.377/.458 this spring, and while it initially looked like the bulk of his ABs would come as the designated hitter, the injury to Eloy Jiménez could mean a lot of time in left field for Vaughn this year.
4. Ian Anderson, RHP, Braves (No. 2/MLB No. 18)
Like Hayes, Anderson received some ROY love for his time in the big leagues last year after he finished with a 1.95 ERA, 11.4 K/9 rate and .172 batting average against in six regular-season starts. He followed that up by allowing just two earned runs (0.96 ERA) over four postseason starts, and he didn't allow a run until his fourth and final outing. Anderson's spring has been a little up-and-down, but he’s continued to miss bats (10.9 K/9) and will be counted on to be a mainstay in the Braves' rotation.
5. Dylan Carlson, OF, Cardinals (No. 1/MLB No. 13)
Carlson’s spot in the Cardinals outfield is cemented, especially with the injury to Harrison Bader. The Carlson we saw after he got called up the second time in 2020, with an OPS over 1.000 and a spot in the postseason roster, is the guy we should see full-time in 2021. He has 20-20 potential offensively and should play a very solid center field while doing it.
6. Sixto Sánchez, RHP, Marlins (No. 1/MLB No. 15)
We all saw how electric Sánchez's stuff was during his 2020 debut, and he received a ROY vote for his seven-start showing before he went on to make two postseason outings. He’s given up just one run over eight innings after getting a late start to his Spring Training. He’s not going to start the year in the rotation, but Sánchez will be there sooner rather than later, and that stuff is going to play.
7. Bobby Dalbec, 1B, Red Sox (No. 3/MLB No. 93)
There’s as much raw power in Dalbec’s bat as just about anyone, as he showed in 2020, when he hit eight homers in just 80 big league at-bats. He secured his spot as the Red Sox’s first baseman this spring by hitting .311/.392/.822 with seven more homers in 45 ABs. The power numbers should give him a shot to be a ROY candidate.
8. Ryan Mountcastle, OF, Orioles (No. 5/MLB No. 77)
Mountcastle became a strong ROY contender this year after he hit .333/.386/.492 with five homers and 23 RBIs over 35 games in 2020 (earning him a ROY vote). He’s shown more run-producing ability this spring, with four homers and 13 RBIs in 49 Grapefruit League at-bats. Left field is all his and he’s a good bet to hit enough to stay there.
9. Nick Madrigal, 2B, White Sox (No. 3/MLB No. 40)
We all know by now that Madrigal is some kind of bat-on-ball wizard. The 2018 first-round pick hit .340 while striking out just seven times in 109 plate appearances during his big league debut in 2020. That came after he struck out in just 3 percent of his plate appearance in the Minors in 2019. Sure, it comes with virtually no power, but he’s already showing this spring since returning from shoulder surgery that he’s ready to continue piling up hits (.357 in 28 Cactus League at-bats).
10. Cristian Pache, OF, Braves (No. 1/MLB No. 12)
Pache is beginning the season as the Braves’ starting center fielder despite a .481 OPS in 37 Grapefruit League at-bats, mostly because of his outstanding defense. There’s plenty of offensive upside to tap into here, with his power just starting to show up. He’ll be hitting down in the Braves’ lineup, without much pressure on him, but look for him to move up -- both in the lineup and on this list -- if he gets his bat going.
Others receiving votes: Jarred Kelenic, OF, Mariners; Ha-Seong Kim, 2B, Padres; Wander Franco, SS, Rays