Ranking the 10 Best Rookies of the 2021 MLB Season so Far
The 2021 MLB season has been a strange one for some of the top rookies.
National League Rookie of the Year candidate Ke'Bryan Hayes injured his wrist in the second game of the season and missed two months. Miami Marlins right-hander Sixto Sanchez has yet to take the bump because of a shoulder injury.
While those guys were sidelined, Chicago White Sox designated hitter Yermin Mercedes became the talk of baseball after he hit .422 with a 1.113 OPS in April. Only, Mercedes has come crashing to earth with a .330 OPS in June.
Another White Sox rookie, Nick Madrigal, was off to a tremendous start before he suffered a season-ending hamstring injury. Meanwhile, Baltimore Orioles utility man Ryan Mountcastle had a woeful April only to post a .748 OPS in May and 1.017 OPS in 18 games this month. Needless to say, it's been a wild ride for rookies around the majors.
But who's making the biggest impact? We ranked the top 10 rookies based on performance. First, a couple of stipulations:
- The list will not contain any players hampered by long-term injuries. That means no Madrigal, who otherwise would have made the top 10.
- All position players must have more than 100 plate appearances, so no Patrick Wisdom or Jake Fraley. Pitchers must have more than 30 innings pitched.
All clear? Time to break down the rooks.
10. 2B Jonathan India, Cincinnati Reds
Cincinnati Reds second baseman Jonathan India has sure seen some peaks and valleys in 2021.
India had a 1.099 OPS and 10 RBI through his first six games. However, his OPS would fall to .675 by the end of April. The Florida native saw a rise in OBP (.352) in May, but his slugging dropped 19 points.
The 2018 No. 5 overall pick has put it all together in June. India is slashing .315/.444/.493 with three homers and four doubles in 20 games. He ranks sixth among rookies (min. 100 PA) in weighted runs created plus (wRC+).
India's batted-ball numbers aren't anything special, but he has shown advanced plate discipline for a rookie. He ranks in the 82nd percentile in walk rate and 75th percentile in chase rate. There's also the speed: He has five stolen bases and ranks in the 90th percentile in sprint speed.
Reds catcher Tyler Stephenson has also been impressive, but it's India who cracks this list for Cincy.
9. 2B/SS Jazz Chisholm, Miami Marlins
In terms of sheer charisma and electric talent, Jazz Chisholm could easily be No. 1 on this list.
The Miami Marlins acquired him from the Arizona Diamondbacks for Zac Gallen in 2019. He made his debut last season but struggled to a .161 average and .563 OPS. However, the first month of this season saw Chisholm become a star.
He busted out of the gates with four homers, seven stolen bases and a .926 OPS in April. He turned on 100 mph fastballs from Jacob deGrom and tore around the bases like his blue hair was engulfed in flames.
However, things have gone south since Chisholm was activated from the IL in mid-May after hamstring strain that cost him close to three weeks. His batting average has fallen 37 points, while his OPS is down from .926 to .745. Strikeouts have been an issue, which is not the best sign for a guy who ranks below league average in hard-hit rate and just above average in barrels.
Still, Chisholm has flashed immense talent with his bat speed and foot speed. He still has a 106 OPS+ and could see substantial improvement if the contact rate starts to go up.
8. CF/RF Dylan Carlson, St. Louis Cardinals
St. Louis Cardinals fans had reason to expect big things from Dylan Carlson heading into 2021.
Although the switch-hitting outfielder managed a mere .616 OPS in 2020, he showed signs of the kind of player he could be by amassing an .806 OPS over his final 14 games. Plus, he was MLB.com's No. 14 overall prospect in 2020.
Interestingly, Carlson hasn't exactly been the high-OBP, high-slug kind of guy he projected to be as a minor leaguer. He is getting on base at a solid rate, though.
Carlson has a .350 OBP and ranks in the 88th percentile in chase rate. He has surprisingly been more of a guy who hits for decent average (.265) rather than big pop, although he did slug .494 in April and maintains a 115 OPS+.
Like other switch-hitters—think Ozzie Albies—Carlson has more success hitting right-handed. He has a .328 average with an .837 OPS as a righty as compared to a .245 average and .728 OPS batting left-handed.
Carlson has plenty of physical strength and good discipline. He should see results if he can start doing more damage against breaking balls (.228 slugging percentage).
7. LF/RF Randy Arozarena, Tampa Bay Rays
Randy Arozarena was one of the preseason favorites for the American League Rookie of the Year Award after his historic October. While the Tampa Bay Rays outfielder hasn't been quite as prolific as he was during the playoffs, he's still been good.
There is a case to be made that he deserves better results. The 26-year-old has a 90.8 mph average exit velocity (75th percentile) and 43.6 percent hard-hit rate (63rd percentile). The problem is his whiff rate is still quite high, while the ground-ball rate is up over six percentage points from last season.
Perhaps Arozarena's slugging numbers will improve if he can start lifting the ball. In the meantime, he's doing other things quite well. He has 11 stolen bases and eight defensive runs saved (DRS).
Arozarena might not be setting the world on fire like he did in October, but he has been a valuable player all the same.
6. CF/LF Akil Baddoo, Detroit Tigers
It appeared for some time Akil Baddoo's fairy-tale story was bound to end. His swing-and-miss tendency seemed way too prevalent for a guy who doesn't make a ton of hard contact.
Yet, over two months later, the Rule 5 pick is still putting up big numbers for the Detroit Tigers.
Baddoo is slashing .272/.367/.490 with an .857 OPS and 139 OPS+. He's tied for the lead among rookies (min. 100 PA) with a 132 wRC+, hitting five homers and an AL-best four triples to go with 10 doubles.
However, he ranks in the bottom 10 percent in both whiff rate and strikeout rate. Still, Baddoo is getting his extra-base hits and staying vigilant in the box, ranking in the 67th percentile in chase rate and 91st percentile in walk rate.
The 22-year-old is also a menace on the bases. Baddoo has eight stolen bases and ranks fifth among rookies in FanGraphs' baserunning metric (BsR) while also ranking in the 93rd percentile in sprint speed.
Baddoo might not have the most explosive pop, but he squares up the ball nicely and can change games with his speed.
5. RHP Luis Garcia, Houston Astros
The Houston Astros' rotation needed a lift heading into the 2021 campaign.
Justin Verlander was on the shelf after undergoing Tommy John surgery last fall. Framber Valdez then fractured his finger during his first start in spring training. The Astros went into scramble mode and signed Jake Odorizzi, but the veteran right-hander would eventually miss over a month with tightness in his forearm.
Those injuries put quite a bit of pressure on Houston's internal options to perform. Luis Garcia has answered the bell.
He has emerged as a full-time starter, posting a 2.82 ERA across 70.1 frames and striking out 10.2 opponents per nine innings prior to Thursday's quality start. He ranks above the 70th percentile in both whiff rate and chase rate despite not having much velocity or spin-crazy breaking balls.
The 24-year-old peppers righties with sliders away and cutters on the hands. That combination has been terrific, as right-handed hitters are hitting .155 with a .532 OPS against him.
Lefties are having more success against Garcia, and the four-seam fastball (.375 xwOBA) hasn't been terribly effective. Still, his struggles with the fastball have not hindered him much. That bodes well for his future, especially if he can add velocity and spin.
4. RHP Emmanuel Clase, Cleveland
Maybe this ranking is a little high for a reliever, but that's just how dominant Emmanuel Clase has been in Cleveland this season.
He was the main piece going to Cleveland in the Corey Kluber trade after the 23-year-old had a 2.31 ERA in 23.1 innings with the Texas Rangers. However, the right-hander was suspended 80 games after testing positive for an anabolic steroid in 2020.
After returning, he has given up just three earned runs in 30.2 innings and converted 11 of his 12 save opportunities. He ranks 15th in fWAR among qualified relievers.
Clase has been downright unhittable at times. He ranks in the 96th percentile in xSLG and 99th percentile in barrel rate, using a ridiculous 100 mph cutter both to get swings and misses as well as to pound batted balls into the dirt, posting an absurd 73.5 percent ground-ball rate. That'll play, especially since he can follow the cutter with a hard-biting slider as another out pitch.
Cleveland has needed its bullpen arms to carry a heavy load. Clase and James Karinchak have done that at the end of games, keeping opposing offenses at bay and often carrying the team to tight victories.
3. RHP Ian Anderson, Atlanta Braves
Is it possible Ian Anderson was so good last season that he is flying under the radar?
Long a top arm in the Atlanta Braves system, he sparkled in his 2020 debut. The right-hander posted a 1.95 ERA in six starts during the regular season and had a 0.96 ERA in four postseason starts.
The 23-year-old hasn't seemed to garner quite as much buzz this summer, but he's still been excellent. Anderson has a 3.33 ERA in 14 starts and has 79 strikeouts in 75.2 innings. He has been an anchor for a Braves staff that has needed rotation quality with both Mike Soroka (Achilles) and Huascar Ynoa (hand) out and the bullpen struggling.
Anderson isn't having nearly as much success avoiding barrels, while his strikeout rate is also down. Still, the 2016 No. 3 overall pick has cut his walk rate and actually has a marginally higher whiff rate. The ground-ball rate is about the same as it was last season, as well.
Anderson would probably be the leading candidate for NL Rookie of the Year if not for another dazzling young arm, who we'll get to in a bit.
2. CF Adolis Garcia, Texas Rangers
The Texas Rangers can thank their lucky stars no other team showed enough interest in Adolis Garcia this past offseason.
Garcia, a Rule 5 draft pick, was designated for assignment by the Rangers in February. However, he returned to the club after clearing waivers and has since become a star.
The 28-year-old has scuffled a bit in June after he hit .312 with 11 homers and a .981 OPS in May. However, Garcia still has 18 homers and an .833 OPS with a 126 OPS+. He remains atop the leaderboard in rookie fWAR among qualified players and is tied for the lead (min. 100 PA) in wRC+.
Garcia's power surge in May grabbed everyone's attention. Indeed, he can mash a baseball. He ranks above the 84th percentile in average exit velocity and hard-hit rate while also ranking in the 94th percentile in barrel rate. However, he has also been one of the sport's best defensive center fielders.
The former St. Louis Cardinals farmhand has serious pop and tremendous defensive instincts and ability. He also has terrific speed, with seven steals on the season.
Garcia could be a real building block for the Rangers, though his age might not align all that well with their competitive timeline.
1. LHP Trevor Rogers, Miami Marlins
Trevor Rogers hasn't only been the best rookie. He's also been one of the best starting pitchers in baseball.
The Miami Marlins left-hander ranks fifth among all qualified starters in fWAR. He also ranks in the top 15 in expected fielding independent pitching (xFIP) and is 18th in skill-interactive ERA (SIERA).
Rogers has a 2.08 ERA in 15 starts. He is striking out 10.5 opponents per nine innings and is leading the NL with 0.4 home runs per nine innings. His 194 ERA+ also ranks seventh among all starters if you include Jacob deGrom.
The 23-year-old excels at inducing soft contact while still getting plenty of swings and misses. He ranks in the 86th percentile in barrel percentage and 84th percentile in whiff rate while also placing in the 71st percentile in chase rate.
Rogers keeps hitters off balance with a deadly fastball-changeup combination and can deploy his slider at any time. That arsenal should continue to yield strong results if he keeps missing bats and avoids hard contact.