- It'll be a close tally in both races, but Shohei Ohtani and Ronald Acuña should be your Rookies of the Year.
MLB Awards week is here, meaning it's time to scour the respective cases for the top-three candidates in races for Rookie of the Year, Manager of the Year, Cy Young and MVP all separated by division. The announcements begin on Monday with the Rookie of the Year award, where the races are arguably closer than any of the others this week. Baseball is currently flush with young talent, and its magnificence was on display throughout the 2018 season. On Monday, two youngsters will have hardware to evidence the brilliant seasons they compiled as MLB newcomers. Let's take a look at the nominees!
Miguel Andújar, Yankees: The surprise contributor for the Yankees in 2018, the 23-year-old stole the starting third base job from new acquisition Brandon Drury and exploded for a slash line of.297/.328/.527 with 27 homers over 149 games. Despite some defensive deficincies, Andújar followed an excellent spring training with a breakout season in pinstripes, compiling a host of clutch hits through the middle of the season and helping stabilize a lineup that suffered injuries to sluggers Aaron Judge and Gary Sanchez. Once considered major players for Manny Machado, the Yankees have a viable long-term option in Andújar unless they want to trade him for starting pitching. For an opening season, however, the dark horse to even make the team in 2018 was brilliant.
Shohei Ohtani, Angels: The most anticipated rookie of the 2018 class, Ohtani showcased his magnificent hitting and lights-out pitching despite being plagued by elbow trouble the entire year. Over just 10 starts, the 24-year-old wünderkind logged a 3.31 ERA and 11.0 K/9. The second start of his MLB career was one of the most dominant outings of the entire season, a one-hit, 12-strikeout performance over seven innings against an offense that would become one of the best in baseball. As a hitter, he stroked 22 homers and compiled a 152 OPS+ over 104 games and just 367 plate appearances. For comparison, Andújar hit 27 homers over 606 plate appearances ... and did not make any make appearances as a starting pitcher. Ohtani also stole 10 bases because, apparently, he can.
While he won't be pitching in 2019 because of an injury to his UCL, Ohtani will be the designated hitter for the Angels, and he'll probably be one of the league's most feared hitters. When he returns to the mound, he'll probably be one of the best starters around. All of which to say ... the hype is very real.
Gleyber Torres, Yankees: Torres started smashing the ball as soon as he arrived, blasting his way to a .340/.398/.649 slash line with nine homers over his first 109 plate appearances. The rest of his season was a bit more muted, but a .271/.340/.480 campaign with 24 homers as a 21-year-old middle infielder is enough to garner plenty of attention in the pressure cooker of New York. While he'll likely finish a distant third in this year's race, Torres's upside is as high as any infielder's in all of Major League Baseball.
Winner: Ohtani: Andújar had a phenomenal, unexpected year, but this one shouldn't be close at all. In limited action, Ohtani was dominant as a designated hitter and even better as a starting pitcher. A talent like his is unprecedented, and he routinely demonstrated his other-worldly abilities in limited action this season.
Ronald Acuña, Braves: Praised after his excellent performances in the Arizona Fall League and in Spring Training, Acuña was the most anticipated rookie in the National League. After Atlanta held him in the minor leagues for the first month of the season, the brawny 20-year-old arrived to mash MLB pitching the way he crushed pitchers at every other level. Acuña finished his rookie season with 26 homers, a slash line of .293/.366/.552 and a 144 OPS+, higher than his perennial MVP candidate teammate Freddie Freeman (who finished with 140). Acuña led the team in homers (26), was second in stolen bases (16) and third in runs (78) despite playing just 111 games and making 487 plate appearances. Had he played the entire season, he'd be a finalist for NL MVP.
Walker Buehler, Dodgers: The future of the Los Angeles rotation made plenty of highlights during the Dodgers' run to the World Series, but complemented those with a superb rookie season. The 24-year-old Kentucky native completed his opening campaign with a 2.62 ERA and 10 K/9 over 23 starts and allowed more than two earned runs in just four of those outings. What was most impressive was Buehler's command, averaging just 2.4 walks per game despite explosive stuff that usually lends itself to wildness. On a staff with Clayton Kershaw, Buehler is a budding ace who will become one of the National League's best.
Juan Soto, Nationals: What were you doing when you were 19? Juan Soto was hitting dingers in Yankee Stadium. Overshadowed by fellow top outfield prospect Victor Robles, Soto arrived in May to help transform a struggling Nationals lineup that lost centerfielder Adam Eaton to injury. Expected to be a brief call-up, Soto proceeded to hit breathtaking homers and exhibit advanced pitch recognition and discipline for a teenager. By season's end, Soto trailed only Bryce Harper and Anthony Rendon in homers while logging the highest OPS+ (142) on one of baseball's most feared lineups. A .292/.406/.517 slash line with 22 homers and 79 walks against 99 strikeouts is a remarkable full season for any veteran player. It's simply transcendent for a teenager with no prior MLB experience.
A vote for Soto is justified, but Acuña was the driving force behind a young Braves squad making the playoffs for the first time since 2013. The 20-year-old stud finally allowed Freeman the lineup protection he's lacked for years, and Atlanta became one of the league's most feared offenses in turn. Whether Acuña or Soto wins, baseball fans should be thrilled that neither player is yet of legal drinking age.