The 2018 Rookie of the Year awards were simple to predict – Ronald Acuna Jr. and Shohei Ohtani. They were my picks before the season began and they remained my picks for the awards when the season ended. Yes, those were easy picks.
But in 2019? Well, the selections will be tougher to narrow down. Still, it will be fun to try to select which young guys will have a legitimate opportunity to win one of the two prestigious awards for the two leagues.
I am going to take a wild guess here and say you have already noticed the influx of younger players being brought into the major leagues over recent seasons. With the exception of the Boston Red Sox, the teams winning the World Series in the last three seasons have gotten younger each season. Boston was a little older than the Chicago Cubs, the 2016 World Series champions and the Houston Astros in 2017. But, the majority of the offense for the Red Sox came from players under 25 years old. The move to younger players has been successful.
Perhaps the movement towards these younger players is why it will be harder to select the top prospects for Rookie of the Year. That is the excuse I will use anyway when my pre-dictions fall short – there were just too many rookies in the major leagues in 2019.
Let’s have a look at which rookies will draw the most attention.
Vladimir Guerrero Jr. of the Toronto Blue Jays seems to be at the top of everyone’s list for American League Rookie of the Year. This player will barely be 20 years old as the 2019 season starts. Guerrero has elite bat speed and great balance which generates raw power. The third baseman could easily transform into a 30-home run player with a .300 plus batting average once he becomes an everyday starter.
Eloy Jimenez of the Chicago White Sox is a very similar player to Guerrero. In fact, Jimenez could easily surpass Guerrero for the top spot on my list and the list of many more people. This guy has light-tower type power with plus bat speed. Last season in Triple-A, Jimenez batted .355 with 12 home runs in 55 games. He projects as a 30-plus home run guy over the course of a full season in the majors. He was expected to begin the year in the minors, but that did not happen. Jimenez was in the Opening Day lineup in the outfield for the White Sox.
Forrest Whitley with the Houston Astros battled injuries and a drug-related suspension last season. When he was able to step on the field, Whitley dominated, He struck out 34 in 26.1 innings. He has a mid-90s fastball and a solid curve. Whitley is the best pitching prospect in baseball. He will start the season in the minors.
Fernando Tatis Jr. of the San Diego Padres has the arm, range and athleticism to be a solid major league shortstop. If he can improve his plate discipline, he could average 25-30 home runs and 15-20 stolen bases. He made the Padres’ Opening Day lineup.
Nick Senzel of the Cincinnati Reds appeared to be a lock to make the Reds’ starting lineup. Senzel can play third base, second base and in the outfield. As he matures, Senzel should gain some pop in his bat. As for now, he can hit for average as a rookie. He should develop into a .300 hitter with around 20 home runs in the majors.
Wander Franco with Tampa Bay just turned 18 on March 1 and has yet to play above rookie ball. But, do not be surprised if you find his name at the top of this list next season. Last season, Franco hit .351 and struck out just 19 times to 27 walks. He is a combination of power, patience and contact ability when he steps to the plate. Franco can also hit from either side of the plate. It is doubtful he will remain at shortstop as he takes strides to make the major league club.
Of these players, I think Eloy Jimenez will be the Rookie of the Year in the American League. Vladimir Gurrero Jr. will fall in close behind. And, I think San Diego’s Fernando Tatis Jr. will get the award in the National League. As I always caution, do not bet the farm on these picks. Last year, I was lucky to get the predictions correct. This year, I may do the same, but maybe not.
Mark Clark is a local sports writer for
The Citizen of East Alabama.