MLB witnessed an unusually strong rookie class in 2022. Julio Rodríguez became the quickest player ever to reach 25 homers and 25 steals while Michael Harris II posted the third-highest WAR (5.3, per Baseball-Reference) of any rookie age 21 or younger in the last 40 years.
And that’s just the two Rookie of the Year winners. Adley Rutschman finished second among all MLB catchers in bWAR (5.2) despite not debuting until late May because of a triceps injury. Bobby Witt Jr. became the second-youngest rookie to post 20 homers and 30 steals. Spencer Strider became the fastest pitcher ever to attain 200 strikeouts in a season. Six-foot-7 Oneil Cruz not only became the tallest shortstop in big league history but also seemed to break Statcast on a nightly basis.
We could go on, but instead we’re going to shift our focus to the future and identify each team’s leading Rookie of the Year candidate for 2023:
Orioles: Gunnar Henderson, SS/3B (No. 1/MLB No. 2)
We couldn’t have a list of ROY candidates and not have our Pipeline Hitter of the Year on it, right? He hit his way from Double- to Triple-A and then up to the big leagues and more than held his own in 34 games. He’ll be in the starting lineup from Day 1 with a chance to take the American League by storm.
Red Sox: Triston Casas, 1B (No. 2/MLB No. 25)
Casas gave a preview of coming attractions in September, when he flashed his power and patience with five homers and 19 walks in 27 games, and he’ll improve upon his .197 batting average in the future. The 2018 first-rounder from a Florida high school stands out most with his pop, but his hitting ability, approach and defense are also impressive
Yankees: Anthony Volpe, SS (No. 1/MLB No. 5)
Volpe became the first Minor Leaguer with 20 homers and 50 steals in a season since Andruw Jones in 1995, and he batted .249/.342/.460 between Double-A and Triple-A at age 21. His baseball IQ is as impressive as his tools, and he could slide into the Yankees’ lineup at either shortstop or second base.
Rays: Curtis Mead, INF (No. 2/MLB No. 35)
Between the Australia native and Taj Bradley, the Rays boast two potential Rookie of the Year candidates. We’ll lean toward the everyday player here in Mead, a career .306 hitter in the Minors who has started to show more power with each coming year. The difficulty might come in finding him a spot; Mead played mostly second and third last year and has mixed in some first in the past. He’ll hit enough to play anywhere, and the Rays will want that bat in the lineup before long.
Blue Jays: Yosver Zulueta, RHP (No. 5)
The 24-year-old right-hander certainly had the stuff to appear in the Majors last year and would have done so, perhaps, if shoulder and knee issues didn’t shut him down for most of August. His upper-90s fastball remains a plus-plus pitch, while his curve, slider and change all flash above average. Despite that mix, Zulueta’s injury concerns likely mean he’s headed for the bullpen, but he could dominate there early for Toronto and join Devin Williams and Craig Kimbrel as Rookie of the Year relievers.
White Sox: Oscar Colas, OF (No. 2/MLB No. 95)
Signed for $2.7 million in January, Colas hit .314/.371/.524 with 23 homers in 117 games while advancing from High-A to Triple-A. While he won’t be “The Cuban Ohtani” he once was touted as, he does have well-above-average raw power and arm strength that could plug Chicago’s hole in right field quite nicely.
Guardians: Bo Naylor, C (No. 5/MLB No. 75)
After struggling horribly in Double-A in 2021, Naylor bounced back to hit .263/.392/.496 with 21 homers and 20 steals in 118 games in the upper levels of the Minors and make his big league debut alongside big brother Josh in October. Part of the only Canadian sibling tandem to both be first-round picks, he’s also a solid defender behind the plate.
Tigers: Joey Wentz, LHP (No. 24)
Which Wentz will we see in 2023? The 25-year-old left-hander looked good down the stretch for Detroit, posting a 1.73 ERA over his last five starts (26 innings) in September and October, before adding three scoreless appearances in the Arizona Fall League. But he hasn’t thrown more than 72 innings in a season since 2019 due to 2020 Tommy John surgery and a shoulder problem this summer. If he’s healthy all season, he should get enough starting opportunities to be a ROY threat.
Royals: Drew Waters, OF (No. 7)
Waters is sitting on exactly 45 days of service time, meaning he hasn’t exceeded the minimum needed to lose rookie status, so on the list he goes. The 23-year-old switch-hitter looked like he was languishing at Triple-A with the Braves but hit another gear after getting traded in early July, producing a .295/.399/.541 line in 31 games with Omaha. He was an above-average hitter (125 wRC+) over 109 plate appearances in the Majors, too, also showing good speed and a strong arm. Assuming KC keeps a spot on the grass open for him, Waters has the tools to build a strong second MLB season.
Twins: Matt Wallner, OF (No. 5)
Wallner’s carrying tool is his power (though he also has a hose for an arm), and it carried him across two levels of the Minors and up to Minnesota in 2022. He hit 27 homers and slugged .541 in the Minors before adding two more home runs in the big leagues. There’s going to be swing-and-miss, but it’s going to be fun watching how his power plays over a full season.
Astros: Hunter Brown, RHP (No. 1/MLB No. 68)
After posting a 2.55 ERA, a .185 opponent average and 11.4 strikeouts per nine innings in Triple-A — all of which would have easily led the Pacific Coast League if he hadn’t fallen just short of qualifying — Brown allowed just two runs in 20 1/3 regular-season innings with Houston and worked 3 2/3 scoreless frames in the postseason. His mid-90s fastball that reaches 99 mph couples with his power curveball that falls off the table to give the 2019 fifth-rounder from Wayne State (Mich.) the upside to pitch in the front half of a rotation.
Angels: Logan O’Hoppe, C (No. 1/MLB No. 64)
The Angels got O’Hoppe in the Brandon Marsh trade with the Phillies at last year’s Trade Deadline, and he went on to post a 1.146 OPS in 29 Double-A games following the trade. He was rewarded with his first callup to the big leagues for a brief 14 at-bat audition. He should have every opportunity to be the club’s starting backstop on Opening Day, allowing Angels fans to truly appreciate his all-around skills.
A’s: Zack Gelof, 3B/2B (No. 3/MLB No. 94)
Gelof went to Double-A in an aggressive assignment to start his first full season of pro ball and hit .316/.372/.458 over his first two months. Then he tore the labrum in his non-throwing shoulder, derailing the express train to Oakland. He did return and made up for some lost ABs in the Arizona Fall League. Perhaps he’ll get some more time in the Minors to start the 2023 season, but seeing him hit his way in a hurry to the big leagues, where he can play third or second, is extremely reasonable.
Mariners: Emerson Hancock, RHP (No. 2)
The M’s have a few potential pitching options who could compete to become their second straight ROY winner, with Bryce Miller and Taylor Dollard also knocking on the door. This is a roll-the-dice pick as Hancock, the No. 6 overall pick in the 2020 Draft, has struggled with injuries and command. But he started to figure things out last year and a continued progression could have him ready to join former first-rounders Logan Gilbert and George Kirby in Seattle’s rotation.
Rangers: Josh Jung, 3B (No. 1/MLB No. 36)
Jung would have been a prime 2022 Rookie of the Year contender if he hadn’t torn the labrum in his left shoulder while lifting weights in February, sidelining him until late July and delaying his big league debut until September. The No. 8 overall pick in the 2019 Draft from Texas Tech is an all-around hitter with a career .311/.381/.538 line in the Minors, and he slugged five homers in 26 games with the Rangers.
Braves: Jared Shuster, LHP (No. 2)
It’s pretty much an annual occurrence, the Braves having a ROY candidate, with a player getting votes for five straight seasons, with two winners (Ronald Acuña Jr., Michael Harris II). In 2023, we could see Kyle Muller and Braden Shewmake compete, but we’ll put a marker on Shuster, the 2020 first-rounder who pitched his way to Triple-A last year and finished with a combined 3.29 ERA, .212 BAA and a solid 3.82 K/BB ratio.
Marlins: Eury Pérez, RHP (No. 1/MLB No. 9)
He won’t turn 20 until April, but Pérez is more advanced than most pitchers his age, as evidenced by his 4.08 ERA, .223 opponent average and 106 strikeouts in 75 innings as a teenager in Double-A. Signed for $200,000 out of the Dominican Republic in 2019, he can make hitters look bad with a lively mid-90s fastball, solid upper-70s curveball and dancing mid-80s changeup.
Mets: Francisco Álvarez, C (No. 1/MLB No. 1)
New York already showed a willingness to throw Álvarez in the deep end with his late-season callup and inclusion on the postseason roster, so we wouldn’t consider James McCann or Tomás Nido considerable roadblocks at this stage. Should Álvarez continue to show plus-plus raw power and prove that he’s close to average defensively, the Mets will make room for their 20-year-old phenom, and over a close-to-full season in the bigs, Álvarez could challenge to be the Majors’ first 30-homer rookie catcher since … Mike Piazza in 1993.
Phillies: Andrew Painter, RHP (No. 1/MLB No. 24)
Too soon? We don’t think so. Yes he’s had just one full pro season and will be just 20 for the 2023 season. But the Pipeline Pitcher of the Year was dominant across three levels last year, including in five starts in Double-A (three in hitting-friendly Reading). Give him a little more time at the upper levels, but he’s looking like the kind of talent whom age and experience doesn’t matter much.
Nationals: Cade Cavalli, RHP (No. 4/MLB No. 55)
Early command issues and then right shoulder inflammation that shut him down in August after one MLB start meant Cavalli never threatened the NL Rookie of the Year race in a way many thought he could in 2022. Assuming he’ll be healthy next year, the 24-year-old right-hander could rejoin the conversation with his four-pitch mix, which still generates a healthy amount of whiffs. He should get every chance to win a rotation spot out of the spring, too.
Cubs: Matt Mervis (No. 21)
A 2020 nondrafted free agent from Duke who scuffled in his pro debut last year, Mervis recovered to bat .309/.379/.605 with 36 homers in 137 games, topped the Minors with 78 extra-base hits, 310 total bases and 119 RBIs and advanced from High-A to Triple-A. As of now, he’s the Cubs’ best option at first base with his left-handed power, especially if he proves he can handle big league southpaws.
Reds: Spencer Steer, INF (No. 7)
The Reds acquired the Futures Gamer from the Twins in the Tyler Mahle trade, and Steer made his big league debut with Cincy after hitting a combined 23 homers and slugging .515 in the Minors. He played third, second and first in the big leagues and could get consistent at-bats as an offensive-minded super-utility type.
Brewers: Sal Frelick, OF (No. 2/MLB No. 46)
Jackson Chourio has the higher ceiling and Garrett Mitchell and Esteury Ruiz have actual Major League experience, but if we’re looking for a player who could thread the needle of a special talent with MLB proximity, we should turn to Frelick. The 2021 first-rounder hit everywhere he played in his first full season and was perhaps at his best at Triple-A Nashville, where he sported a .365 average and 16/19 K/BB ratio in 46 games. His plus speed and defensive range on the grass would be immediate assets for Milwaukee and strengthen his award case.
Pirates: Quinn Priester, RHP (No. 3/MLB No. 44)
Priester missed a good chunk of the start of the season with an oblique injury, but finished well in Triple-A and made up for lost innings in the Arizona Fall League. He’s developed into more of an efficient pitch-to-contact type, but he can miss bats (8.9 K/9) and there’s still ceiling to reach as he’ll be just 22 for the 2023 season.
Cardinals: Jordan Walker, OF (No. 1/MLB No. 6)
Perhaps the biggest hurdle to Walker’s candidacy was his full-time move to the outfield after opening his career in Nolan Arenado’s shadow at third base. He’s handled the transition fairly well, especially when it comes to his throwing ability from the grass, so that’s less of a concern. We know his raw power is MLB-ready, and after a strong Double-A and Fall League campaign, the overall bat looks pretty close, too. Walker’s immense talent is one you make room for, and the Cardinals should by early 2023.
D-backs: Corbin Carroll, OF (No. 1/MLB No. 3)
Carroll should enter 2023 as the NL Rookie of the Year favorite after he followed up a special Double-A/Triple-A season by hitting .260/.330/.500 with four homers and two steals in 32 games in the bigs. The 22-year-old outfielder already ranked in the 100th percentile for speed and was a defensive wizard in left, though he can play center well, too. While there are some lingering questions about his power, it’s still a five-tool profile, somewhat similar to the one that helped Michael Harris II win ROY last week.
Rockies: Ezequiel Tovar, SS (No. 2/MLB No. 27)
This is a terrific combination of talent and opportunity. Although Tovar missed a bunch of the 2022 season with a groin injury, he did return to make his big league debut at age 21. He took a big step forward offensively (.319/.387/.540 in 71 Minor League games) in 2022 and has the chance to be a Gold Glove-caliber shortstop as well.
Dodgers: Miguel Vargas, 3B/OF (No. 3/MLB No. 41)
The Dodgers could have openings at third base and in the outfield, leaving plenty of opportunity for Vargas, who defected from Cuba with his father Lazaro (the DH on the 1992 and 1996 Olympic champions) in November 2015 and signed for $300,000 two years later. He has an advanced understanding of hitting and solid raw power, which translated into a .304/.404/.511 line with 17 homers and 16 steals in 113 Triple-A games before he got a cup of coffee in Los Angeles.
Padres: Eguy Rosario, INF (No. 5)
A thin and young Padres system isn’t likely to produce many award candidates on its win-now Major League club in 2023, but Rosario — a 20-20 performer at Triple-A last season — has a puncher’s chance. The 23-year-old can be an average hitter and shows above-average speed and a strong arm that helps him move around the infield. As things stand, he might be San Diego’s Opening Day second baseman, should Jake Cronenworth move over to first, and he can put the ball in play enough, while providing value in the field and on the bases, to scrape together a darkhorse candidacy.
Giants: Kyle Harrison, LHP (No. 2/MLB No. 21)
The game’s best left-handed pitching prospect, Harrison topped the Minors in strikeout rate (14.8 per nine innings) and strikeout percentage (39.8) while compiling a 2.71 ERA, .196 opponent average and 186 strikeouts in 113 innings between High-A and Double-A. A third-round pick who signed for first-round money ($2,497,500) as a California high schooler in 2020, he owns a mid-90s fastball with plenty of arm-side run and a power mid-80s slider.
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