On Monday night, Kyle Lewis of the Mariners and the Brewers’ Devin Williams were chosen as the 2020 Jackie Robinson Rookies of the Year. Now that that’s been decided, we can start looking at who will win the hardware in each league in 2021.
Some of the 30 candidates below already started making a claim for their candidacy during their big league debuts in 2020. Others will certainly break through on Opening Day, or soon thereafter, in 2021.
AMERICAN LEAGUE EAST
Blue Jays: Nate Pearson, RHP (No. 1/MLB No. 6)
Pearson had flashes of dominance during his first four starts before landing on the injured list late in August with right elbow tightness. The ailment proved a non-issue for the 24-year-old right-hander, as he returned the following month to strike out five batters while hitting 101 mph in a two-inning relief appearance. Despite having obvious upside as a reliever, Pearson has a significantly higher ceiling as a starter, possessing all the raw ingredients needed to become a true front-of-the-rotation force.
Orioles: Ryan Mountcastle, OF/1B (No. 5/MLB No. 90)
Mountcastle didn’t get called up in 2020 until Aug. 21, but showed that his bat is definitely going to play at the big league level by hitting .333/.386/.492 with five homers in 35 games. He played both left field and first base, but it’s his offensive production that earned him a Rookie of the Year vote. His 126 at-bats keeps him under the wire for consideration next year.
Rays: Randy Arozarena, OF (No. 19)
Acquired from the Cardinals last offseason in the deal that sent 2018 first-rounder Matt Liberatore to St. Louis, Arozarena tested positive for COVID-19 before finally making his Rays debut on Aug. 30. The 25-year-old outfielder was one of the hottest hitters down the stretch, posting a 1.022 OPS with seven homers in 23 games, then turned in one of the greatest rookie performances in postseason history, slashing .377/.442/.831 with 10 home runs in 20 games for the American League champions. With his ability to hit for average and power as part of an overall five-tool profile, he’s sure to be an early favorite to take home 2021 Rookie of the Year honors in the AL.
Red Sox: Bobby Dalbec, 3B/1B (No. 3/MLB No. 100)
After ranking sixth in the Minors with 59 homers in 2018-19, Dalbec gave a preview of coming attractions by going deep eight times in 80 big league at-bats this summer. The 2016 fourth-round pick from Arizona also plays a quality third base, which could push shaky-fielding Rafael Devers to another position.
Yankees: Deivi García, RHP (No. 3/MLB No. 87)
García had a reputation for owning one of the best breaking balls in the Minors and didn’t disappoint while posting a 4.98 ERA and a 33/6 K/BB ratio in six starts with the Yankees, highlighted by six shutout innings against the Mets in his first big league outing in August. Signed for just $200,000 out of the Dominican Republic in 2015, he gets high spin rates on his curveball as well as his fastball and slider — and his changeup was his most effective pitch in his first taste of the Majors.
AMERICAN LEAGUE CENTRAL
Indians: Nolan Jones, 3B (No. 1/MLB No. 38)
The Indians could be remaking their infield in 2021, which could include finding a spot for their top prospect, who theoretically also could shore up a weakness by shifting to an outfield corner. Drafted in the second round out of a Pennsylvania high school in 2016, Jones offers one of the best combinations of power and patience in the Minors as well as a plus arm.
Royals: Daniel Lynch, LHP (No. 3/MLB No. 54)
The first pieces from Kansas City’s pitching-dominant 2018 Draft class arrived this past season in Brady Singer and Kris Bubic, with the rookie hurlers combing for 22 starts and 114 1/3 innings. Lynch, the No. 34 overall pick in ’18, could be the next to arrive. The 6-foot-6 left-hander arguably has the best stuff in the organization, boasting a fastball in the mid- to upper-90s that he complements with a devastating slider and a curveball and changeup that both continued to improve this summer at the Royals’ alternate training site.
Tigers: Casey Mize, RHP (No. 2/MLB No. 5)
Promoted by Detroit roughly a month into the season, the former No. 1 overall pick (2018) struggled to find consistency in his Major League debut, going 0-3 with a 6.99 ERA and seven home runs allowed in 28 1/3 frames (seven starts). And while Mize’s stuff was plenty good — he operated with three plus pitches in his best outings — the highly touted right-hander’s control and command both left something to be desired. That said, don’t be surprised if Mize begins to put it all together next year after gaining valuable experience in 2020.
Twins: Alex Kirilloff, OF (No. 2/MLB No. 27)
Kirilloff became one of the few rookies to ever make his Major League debut in the postseason and was the first to pick up his first hit in the playoffs (though it doesn’t officially count toward his career hit total). After raking in Summer Camp and at the alternate training site, he’s ready to contribute full-time, so look for him to hit his way into the lineup and stay there for good.
White Sox: Nick Madrigal, 2B (No. 3/MLB No. 36)
Madrigal had the best bat-to-ball skills in the 2018 Draft, where he went fourth overall out of Oregon State, and hit .340 with a miniscule 6-percent strikeout rate in his 29-game big league debut this summer. There’s still some questions about how much power he’ll provide, but there’s no doubt he’ll hit while also providing plus speed and defense. The White Sox could have four Top 100 Prospects making contributions next year, with first baseman Andrew Vaughn, right-hander Michael Kopech and left-hander Garrett Crochet also on tap.
AMERICAN LEAGUE WEST
Angels: Brandon Marsh, OF (No. 1/MLB No. 73)
Marsh will certainly be protected on the 40-man roster this offseason, paving the way for him to join the Angels outfield at some point in 2021. It’s a little crowded up there, with Mike Trout, Justin Upton, Taylor Ward and Jo Adell, but Marsh’s plus defense and his ability to hit should force the issue.
A’s: A.J. Puk, LHP (No. 1/MLB No. 53)
Had it not been for a shoulder injury, Puk likely would have joined Jesús Luzardo in making a major contribution toward the A’s playoff push in 2020. Instead, he had surgery to clean out his shoulder and all signs are pointing to him being 100 percent ready to go by Spring Training, putting the big lefty back in line to establish himself on the big league staff.
Astros: Forrest Whitley, RHP (No. 1/MLB No. 17)
It’s hard to know what to expect now from Whitley, who has totaled just 86 regular-season innings in the last three years because of a drug suspension and minor oblique and lat injuries (2018), shoulder inflammation and command issues (2019) and the pandemic and a sore arm (2020). But the 2016 first-rounder from a Texas high school still can reach 98 mph with his fastball and display five different pitches that can earn at least plus grades when they’re on.
Mariners: Jarred Kelenic, OF (No. 1/MLB No. 9)
The Mariners could very well make it two Rookies of the Year in a row in their outfield in 2021. Kelenic was the talk of the Mariners alternate training site and probably could have managed a callup in 2020. Instead he’ll undoubtedly knock loudly on the door in Spring Training and could make a very strong claim on the left field job right out of the gate.
Rangers: Leody Taveras, OF (No. 3)
Taveras’ speed and instincts on the bases and in center field were a big part of why the Rangers signed him for $2.1 million out of the Dominican Republic in 2015, and they immediately translated when he made his big league debut this summer. He also drove the ball better than ever, posting isolated power (.168) that nearly doubled what he did in the Minors (.098).
NATIONAL LEAGUE EAST
Braves: Ian Anderson, RHP (No. 3/MLB No. 34)
Anderson made only six regular-season starts, but was so dominant (1.3 WAR, 1.95 ERA, 1.082 WHIP, 11.4 K/9) that he still got a Rookie of the Year vote. Had postseason performance figured in (2-0, 0.96 ERA, 11.6 K/9), perhaps he would’ve won. He’ll get a full season of starts in 2021 to show he deserves to be in consideration and could very well be the pitching front-runner in the National League.
Marlins: Sixto Sánchez, RHP (No. 1/MLB No. 19)
In his introduction to the Majors this summer, Sánchez was everything the Marlins hoped he would be when they acquired him from the Phillies as the prize of the J.T. Realmuto trade in February 2019. Relying heavily on a fastball that averaged 97 mph and a tantalizing changeup, he permitted just five runs in his first six starts and threw five scoreless innings against the Cubs in the Wild Card round.
Mets: Thomas Szapucki, LHP (No. 8)
The former fifth-round pick (2015) returned from a nearly 22-month absence due to Tommy John surgery in 2019 to post a 2.63 ERA with 72 strikeouts in a career-high 61 2/3 innings across three levels, including Double-A. The Mets are increasingly confident that the 24-year-old southpaw can remain a starter, especially after he made progress developing his changeup during a healthy summer at the team’s alternate training site. But should that not work out, Szapucki could still impact games as a reliever with his deceptive fastball and plus curveball.
Nationals: Cade Cavalli, RHP (No. 2)
The Nationals were so impressed by their 2020 first-round pick’s showing at the alternate training site that he likely would have been a late-season callup had the Nationals been in the playoff hunt. Physical and athletic with a good delivery and a dynamic four-pitch mix, the 22-year-old Cavalli has the look of a future No. 2 starter — one who could move quickly through the Minor Leagues.
Phillies: Spencer Howard, RHP (No. 1/MLB No. 28)
Howard’s big league debut this season was up-and-down (5.92 ERA in 24 1/3 IP), but the stuff, when healthy, was very much apparent. The health question won’t go away, however, as he’s now been shut down with shoulder issues two years in a row. Assuming he’s 100 percent, he should fit in nicely to the back end of the Phillies rotation to start off the 2021 season.
NATIONAL LEAGUE CENTRAL
Brewers: Tyrone Taylor, OF (No. 21)
Taylor, 26, has fared well in a bench role for Milwaukee, producing a .271/.340/.521 line while appearing in 37 games since the start of 2019. The former second-round pick (2012) is an excellent athlete who can play all three outfield positions and offers some sneaky pop from the right side of the plate.
Cardinals: Dylan Carlson, OF (No. 1/MLB No. 14)
Coming off a breakout age-20 season in which he batted .292/.372/.542 with 26 homers and 20 steals in 126 games across Double-A and Triple-A, Carlson was initially overmatched in the Major Leagues and was demoted after a .162/.215/.243 showing through his first 23 contests. But he was a different player when he returned two weeks later, and after batting .286 with seven extra-base hits and 11 RBIs over his final 11 regular-season games, Carlson served as the Cardinals’ cleanup hitter in the postseason.
Cubs: Adbert Alzolay, RHP (No. 6)
The Theo Epstein/Jed Hoyer regime hasn’t produced a homegrown pitcher of note in nine years with the Cubs, but that may be about to change with Alzolay, who signed for a mere $10,000 out of Venezuela in 2012. Alzolay logged a 2.95 ERA with 29 strikeouts in 21 1/3 innings with the Cubs this summer, averaging 94 mph with his fastball and getting the vast majority of his whiffs with a sharp curveball.
Pirates: Ke’Bryan Hayes, 3B (No. 2/MLB No. 37)
Based on what he did during his debut, he has to be considered the NL front-runner, right? He got three ROY votes in 2020 (one second place, two third) based on him posting a .376/.442/.682 line and playing his expected Gold Glove caliber defense. Even though he played in just 24 games, his 1.8 bWAR was still higher than any other rookie in 2020. We can’t wait to see what he can do over a full season.
Reds: José García, SS (No. 6)
The Reds top rookie honors could go to García or catcher Tyler Stephenson, depending on opportunity. Right now, though, Stephenson is blocked by Gold Glover Tucker Barnhart and Curt Casali, while García currently has no one in his path. García showed he can play his position defensively at the highest level, but will have to keep making strides with the bat to really have an impact in 2021.
NATIONAL LEAGUE WEST
D-backs: Corbin Martin, RHP (No. 6)
When Arizona acquired Martin, along with three other players from Houston for Zack Greinke, at the 2019 Trade Deadline, he was less than a month removed from having Tommy John surgery. Before getting hurt, the 24-year-old righty had showed mid-rotation upside with his size, across-the-board stuff and natural bat-missing ability. After rehabbing the injury with no issues this summer at the alternate training site, Martin could soon become a long-term fixture in Arizona’s rotation.
Dodgers: Josiah Gray, RHP (No. 1/MLB No. 62)
The Dodgers have a seemingly endless supply of impact rookies and the next in line is Gray, who converted from shortstop to pitcher at NCAA Division II Le Moyne (N.Y.), became a Reds supplemental second-round pick in 2018 and went to Los Angeles in the Yasiel Puig/Matt Kemp seven-player trade six months later. He throws strikes with four pitches, most notably an explosive 92-97 mph fastball and a low-80s slider.
Giants: Joey Bart, C (No. 1/MLB No. 11)
The No. 2 overall pick in the 2018 Draft out of Georgia Tech, Bart joined the Giants out of necessity this summer after just 130 games of pro experience. While he struggled at the plate during his debut, he has legitimate plus power and did a nice job of handling the big league pitching staff.
Padres: MacKenzie Gore, LHP (No. 1/MLB No. 3)
Gore may not have reached the Majors in 2020 as many expected he would, but the former No. 3 overall pick (2017) was in the mix for a promotion until the very end of the season, even earning a spot on the team’s postseason taxi squad. While the 21-year-old left-hander has long exhibited ace potential, the Padres would like to see him establish more consistency with his secondary pitches from start to start before turning him loose at the highest level.
Rockies: Ryan Rolison, LHP (No. 2)
This might seem like a stretch, given that the 2018 first-rounder has yet to pitch above the Class A level and has a grand total of 160 professional innings under his belt. But he was drafted as the kind of advanced college lefty who could move quickly, so even if he starts the year in Double-A, seeing him carve up Minor League hitters to move up to Coors Field early enough to make a Rookie of the Year type impact doesn’t seem unrealistic.