New faces jump into Rookie Power Rankings

April 21st, 2021

Enough prognostication. Time to bake in some actual results.

This is the second round of the Rookie Power Rankings, a top 10 as voted on by MLB Pipeline writers that takes a snapshot of the current favorites to win Rookie of the Year Awards in 2021.

This edition allows the Pipeline team to incorporate performance from April 1-20 into their votes but also includes a good amount of projection as well, given how much of the 2021 campaign still remains to be played. That means there are a healthy amount of holdovers from the preseason list, but there are more than a handful of changes as well. For example, Sixto Sánchez’s right shoulder injury is expected to keep him an out for another month or so, and that questionable short-term future knocked him out of this update. Not to worry, Marlins fans. Another Miami rookie features prominently.

1. Ke’Bryan Hayes, 3B, Pirates (No. 1, MLB No. 9)
Previous Rookie Power Rank: 1
The favorite remains the favorite. A wrist injury suffered in his second game of the season isn’t expected to keep the 24-year-old third baseman out much longer; in fact, his return seems imminent. It's conceivable the wrist could slow Hayes down offensively, but even then, he’d be coming down from a strong spring and impressive 2020 season. His glove should remain elite all season long, and barring more injuries, he’ll get plenty of playing time in Pittsburgh to catch up to the rest of the group in at-bats.

2. Dylan Carlson, OF, Cardinals (graduated from Top 30)
Previous RPR: 5

Carlson’s 2020 was a bit of a roller coaster, leading to questions about which version of the switch-hitting slugger would return to the Majors this season. So far, so good. Carlson leads National League rookies in total bases (30), extra-base hits (eight) and runs scored (12) and has produced a solid .259/.369/.556 line that speaks to his overall offensive production. His place in center field and the heart of the St. Louis lineup should be solidified for the long term.

3. Randy Arozarena, OF, Rays (graduated from Top 30)
Previous RPR: 2

No, this isn’t the same Arozarena who decimated last year’s postseason. Yes, he still has a legitimately good shot at winning the AL Rookie of the Year, based on his track record. The Rays outfielder is hitting .269/.329/.388 with two homers and one steal over 16 games on the young season. His 18 total hits place him second among all rookies, while his 26 total bases are tied for fifth. The biggest adjustment he’ll need to make to get back to his homer-happy ways is to better hit the breaking stuff; Arozarena is only 1-for-19 on breaking pitches so far. This head start, at least, gives him a leg up on other AL contenders who haven’t seen the Majors yet.

4 (tied). Ian Anderson, RHP, Braves (graduated from Top 30)
Previous RPR: 4

It hasn’t all gone to plan early on for Anderson. The right-hander has posted a 4.70 ERA through three starts, though all three have lasted at least five innings. There are reasons for continued hope, however. Anderson continues to average 94.3 mph on his fastball, and his changeup (the standout pitch of his 2020 debut) gets a whiff rate above 40 percent. In all, the Atlanta starter has fanned 19 in 15 1/3 innings. He just needs to find ways to generate weaker contact -- opposing batters have an expected slugging percentage of .524, up from .233 last season – and that could come as he settles more into his promising stuff over a larger sample.

4 (tied). Jazz Chisholm Jr., 2B/SS, Marlins (graduated from Top 30)
Previous RPR: Unranked

The highest jumper from the land of the unranked this week, and for good reason. Chisholm has become one of the most electric young players in the game by showcasing the mix of power and speed that made him a Top 100 prospect in the Minors. The Marlins infielder leads NL rookies with a 1.069 OPS and sits atop the overall rookie leaderboard with four steals. Through 15 games, he is hitting .326/.439/.630 overall with three homers and nine walks. There’s nothing light in those numbers, either; Chisholm ranks in the 90th percentile or above among all Major Leaguers in barrel percentage, expected slugging percentage, walk rate and sprint speed. His strikeouts could haunt him eventually, but there are lots of reason to board the Jazz train.

6. Casey Mize, RHP, Tigers (graduated from Top 30)
Previous RPR: Unranked

The 2018 top overall pick missed out on the preseason Rookie Power Rankings because of a difficult introduction to the Majors last season. He has looked much closer to his potential self this time around. The Detroit starter has posted a 3.38 ERA and 1.25 WHIP with 13 strikeouts over 16 innings through his first three starts of 2021. His scoreless seven-inning at Houston on April 12 was arguably the best start by a rookie so far in 2021, though that was followed by a five-run clunker in Oakland on April 17. The fastball-slider-splitter-curve mix is still rounding into better form, and Mize’s college and Minor League track record point toward even brighter days ahead.

7. Dane Dunning, RHP, Rangers (graduated from Top 30)
Previous RPR: Unranked

Lance Lynn has a 0.92 ERA, 0.92 WHIP and 27 strikeouts through 19 2/3 innings. The pitching prospect he was traded for -- Dunning -- has been just as good by some measures. The 26-year-old right-hander sports a 0.60 ERA and 0.80 WHIP to go with 16 K’s and only two walks through his first three starts (15 innings). Dunning is succeeding by throwing 65 percent sinking fastballs. That method could catch up to him in time as hitters note that reliance, but it hasn’t happened yet.

8. Michael Kopech, RHP, White Sox (No. 2, MLB No. 34)
Previous RPR: Unranked

Kopech opened the season as a dominant reliever for Chicago before, in a sign of potential things to come, he received a three-inning start on Sunday. No matter the role, the 24-year-old right-hander has looked dominant in his return to a Major League mound for the first time since 2018. Kopech has struck out 17 of the 40 batters he has faced, and he’s been charged with only two earned runs on three hits in 10 2/3 frames. The top White Sox pitching prospect, who has averaged 96.7 mph on his fastball so far, could find an even more prominent spot in the Rookie of the Year discussion if he gets extended further.

9. Triston McKenzie, RHP, Indians (graduated from Top 30)
Previous RPR: Unranked
Speaking of AL Central pitchers who have worked out of multiple roles, McKenzie seems to have settled into his place in the Cleveland rotation. The 6-foot-5 right-hander is getting plenty of K’s, striking out 18 of the 54 batters he has faced so far. In fact, his whiff rate ranks in the 92nd percentile of all Major League pitchers so far on the young season. Control has been an issue as he’s walked 10 in 12 2/3 innings, and that has hurt his 3.55 ERA and 1.50 WHIP. But that skill hasn’t been a major issue for the Cleveland hurler in the past, and it’s in the swing-and-misses that fans should derive the most optimism.

10. Emmanuel Clase, RHP, Indians (Graduated from Top 30)
Previous RPR: Unranked
There are no questions as to Clase’s role in northeast Ohio. The right-hander with a triple-digit cutter (i.e. the fastest average fastball in the Majors) is settling as Cleveland’s closer and bringing results to back up that placement. Clase has notched four saves over his eight appearances and has yet to allow an earned run over 7 1/3 innings. He has fanned 10 batters and walked only two in that time. Brewers star Devin Williams was the first reliever to win Rookie of the Year since Craig Kimbrel in 2011. Clase has at least a chance to make sure the gap will be much closer this time around.

Others receiving votes: Bobby Dalbec, Tyler Stephenson, Yermín Mercedes, Zach McKinstry

Dropping out: Andrew Vaughn, Sixto Sánchez, Bobby Dalbec, Ryan Mountcastle, Nick Madrigal, Cristian Pache