Predicting award candidates for all 30 teams

Detroit Tigers

Award winners can come from anywhere — the contenders, the pretenders and even the basement-dwellers. Some teams have an abundance of award candidates, others make us squint a bit. But all of them have at least one guy who could conceivably win a Most Valuable Player, Cy Young or Rookie of the Year honor in 2021.

So let’s take a look at all 30 Major League clubs and guess who is the most likely award recipient this year.

Note that we are only focused here on MVP, Cy Young and Rookie of the Year — the three preeminent player honors presented annually by the Baseball Writers’ Association of America.

Blue Jays: Vladimir Guerrero Jr., 1B, MVP

The Blue Jays will almost certainly have a viable MVP candidate if they surge to the top of the AL East standings, and one would imagine a Vlad Jr. breakout would be a key component of any such surge. He’s doing his part to influence the narrative with his slimmed-down physique. So we’ll take a gamble on him here, even if it means snubbing back-to-back Cy Young Award finalist Hyun Jin Ryu, a not-hard-to-imagine MVP candidate in George Springer and a Rookie of the Year candidate in Nate Pearson (who could potentially begin the season on the injured list), among others.

Orioles: Ryan Mountcastle, OF/1B, Rookie of the Year

One of the many strange repercussions of the shortened season is that there will likely be players getting Rookie of the Year votes in consecutive years. The 24-year-old Mountcastle could be one such guy. He had a .333/.386/.492 slash and a 0.7 bWAR in 35 games in 2020.

Rays: Randy Arozarena, OF, Rookie of the Year

And then there’s this guy, who didn’t get a single Rookie of the Year vote but, by the end of a postseason in which he hit 10 homers with a 1.219 OPS, would have been everybody’s choice for that award. He’s still eligible, so it’s an easy pick here, though Tyler Glasnow does have Cy Young-caliber stuff.

Red Sox: Xander Bogaerts, SS, MVP

A shortstop with a .300/.372/.535 slash over the past three seasons is pretty darned valuable. Bogaerts was a fifth-place MVP finisher in the last full season, so there’s no reason to think he can’t finish similarly strong. But teammate Rafael Devers is equally capable of an MVP-type season, and first baseman Bobby Dalbec could be a Rookie of the Year candidate.

Yankees: Gerrit Cole, RHP, Cy Young

It’s hard to post a league-best ERA and strike out 326 batters and NOT win the Cy Young. But Cole did exactly that in 2019. Now that he’s settled in with the Yankees, there’s reason to believe he can have a similarly seismic season, and a slightly altered baseball could potentially suppress pretty much the only way Cole gives up runs — the long ball. (But, yes, the Yankees have a few MVP candidates in their lineup, too.)

Indians: Shane Bieber, RHP, Cy Young

If you take roughly the equivalent of a full season and look at Bieber’s last 30 starts — beginning June 25, 2019 — he’s 17-6 with a 2.38 ERA and a .586 OPS against. The only starters with better ERAs in that span are Jacob deGrom (1.95) and Gerrit Cole (2.10). José Ramírez could vie for the MVP again.

Royals: Bobby Witt Jr., SS, Rookie of the Year

He’s the Royals’ top prospect and the No. 7 prospect in baseball, per MLB Pipeline, and he’s had a great spring. He’s only two years removed from being taken second overall in the Draft, and the cancelation of the Minor League season didn’t help his development. So this could be a stretch (and Witt would likely have to play second in the bigs). But Royals general manager Dayton Moore doesn’t hesitate to promote players as soon as they are ready, and Witt might be deemed ready soon.

Tigers: Casey Mize, RHP, Rookie of the Year

It’s either him or Tarik Skubal. Both are still eligible after last year’s initial exposure and both are strong candidates. Both also struggled last season, and Skubal (5.63 ERA) fared a bit better than Mize (6.99). But Mize, the No. 1 overall pick in 2018 and the No. 11 prospect in MLB, has one of the sickest splitters in the game already.

Twins: Alex Kirilloff, OF, Rookie of the Year

Yes, Kenta Maeda is the reigning AL Cy Young runner-up. But he has yet to throw more than 175 2/3 innings or post an adjusted ERA+ greater than 115 in a full season. So if we’re going for “most likely,” Kirilloff is a really good bet not just because of the talent that makes him the No. 26 overall prospect in the game but because he has a leg up on a starting job in a really good lineup from Day 1. That could help him accrue the counting numbers worthy of Rookie of the Year consideration.

White Sox: Lucas Giolito, RHP, Cy Young

So many options here. José Abreu is the reigning MVP, and Tim Anderson and Yoán Moncada have each received down-ballot support within the past two years. The Sox might have viable Rookie of the Year candidates in Andrew Vaughn and Nick Madrigal, and of course they have other Cy options in veterans Dallas Keuchel and Lance Lynn. But because Giolito is 26, has elite strikeout stuff and has legitimately made The Leap in starter standing in the past two years, he’s our pick.

Angels: Mike Trout, OF, MVP

Any questions? Didn’t think so.

Astros: Carlos Correa, SS, MVP

A potentially problematic pick here, because Alex Bregman was an MVP runner-up in 2019, Jose Altuve won it in 2017 and 2019 Rookie of the Year Yordan Alvarez might have a monster return this year. But with Bregman dealing with a hamstring issue, Altuve coming off an unusual .629 OPS in 2020 and Alvarez slotted in as a DH, a healthy Correa might make sense. Due to a variety of injuries, he has played in more than 110 games just once in his career (153 in 2016), but this is a contract year and he’s one of the game’s most talented players.

Athletics: Matt Chapman, 3B, MVP

Chapman’s recovered from last year’s hip issues, and his Platinum Glove-worthy defensive prowess gives him a high WAR floor. If he can build on the .263/.348/.507 slash he logged from 2018-19, he has clear MVP potential.

Mariners: Jarred Kelenic, OF, Rookie of the Year

Maybe it’ll be a Rookie of the Year repeat in Seattle after Kyle Lewis’ win last year. Right-hander Logan Gilbert, the Mariners’ top pitching prospect, would be just as good a choice here, and Seattle has other talented youngsters who will get opportunities. But with Kelenic making a quick return from a knee injury, hopefully he’ll get the call before long, and his power and speed profile could make him an impact player from the jump.

Rangers: Leody Taveras, OF, Rookie of the Year

The at-bats should be there for Taveras, a switch-hitter who is viewed as the Rangers’ center fielder of the future and ranked as the No. 4 prospect in their system. He had four homers and eight stolen bases in his first 33 games in the bigs last year. Trade acquisition Dane Dunning and Japanese import Kohei Arihara are other rookie options here.

Braves: Ronald Acuña Jr., MVP

No disrespect intended toward the reigning NL MVP (Freddie Freeman), but, at 23 years old, Acuña is just entering the sweet spot of his career. He fell just three stolen bases shy of a 40/40 season in 2019, and his 5.3-WAR projection by Steamer is the fifth highest of any MLB player. The Braves might also have multiple Rookie of the Year candidates in center fielder Cristian Pache and starter Ian Anderson.

Marlins: Sixto Sánchez, RHP, Rookie of the Year

The hype around Sánchez proved justified when he debuted last season and put up a 129 ERA+ in 39 innings and followed it up with five scoreless innings against the Cubs in the Wild Card Series. He finished seventh in last year’s rookie voting. Keep those numbers up in what still qualifies as his true rookie year, and he’ll finish a heck of a lot higher.

Mets: Jacob deGrom, RHP, Cy Young

If the Mets get where they intend to go this season, they’ll certainly have an MVP candidate, and maybe it’ll be prime offseason import Francisco Lindor or a revitalized Pete Alonso or somebody else. But deGrom has two Cy Youngs and a combined 2.10 ERA over the past three years and is hitting 102 mph on the radar gun. So… yeah.

Nationals: Juan Soto, OF, MVP

The Nats have a three-time Cy Young winner in Max Scherzer, and yet this is still an easy call. Soto’s offensive numbers the past three seasons (.295/.415/.557 slash) are extraordinary, and at 22 with an improved lineup around him, he’s only getting more dangerous. His 5.8-WAR projection by Steamer is third highest in the NL.

Phillies: Aaron Nola, RHP, Cy Young

There’s a pretty decent chance we come to regret not listing Bryce Harper’s MVP bid here, as he’s coming off his highest OPS+ since his MVP year in 2015. But the 27-year-old Nola has finished in the top seven in the NL Cy Young voting in two of the past three seasons, with a 3.13 ERA and 138 ERA+ in 79 starts in that span. So we can sleep at night with this pick.

Brewers: Christian Yelich, OF, MVP

The underrated Brandon Woodruff is one step closer to more serious Cy Young consideration. But because we’ve already seen Yelich soar to MVP heights and the lack of in-game video that affected him last year is no longer an issue, this is the safest pick for now. Yelich’s 1.046 OPS from 2018-19 was second only to Mike Trout (1.086) in that span, and he’s still just 29 years old.

Cardinals: Jack Flaherty, RHP, Cy Young

The choice here comes down to Flaherty and the Cy or Nolan Arenado and the MVP. Both might be primed for a bounceback year, but, because Arenado is adjusting to a new team, we’ll fixate on Flaherty. He threw just 40 1/3 innings last year, and we’re not inclined to make any meaningful conclusions from them. What matters is the strikeout stuff and the trajectory Flaherty was on prior to the strange, COVID-affected year.

Cubs: Adbert Alzolay, RHP, Rookie of the Year

Maybe Kris Bryant roars back to life or another core position player guides the Cubs back to October and wins the MVP. But the more likely scenario for a team in transition is that Alzolay gets enough innings to possibly vie for this honor. He had a 2.95 ERA and 29 strikeouts in 21 1/3 innings last season.

Pirates: Ke’Bryan Hayes, 3B, Rookie of the Year

He is perhaps the consensus early Rookie of the Year favorite. Hayes had a .376/.442/.682 slash with five homers, seven doubles and two triples in 24 games last September and had the highest bWAR (1.9) of any rookie. He finished sixth in the NL Rookie of the Year voting and is still eligible for the honor this year.

Reds: Luis Castillo, RHP, Cy Young

The 28-year-old Castillo has a 3.35 ERA and 140 ERA+ across 260 2/3 innings over the past two seasons. He has elite fastball velocity (97.4 mph average last year) and one of the best changeups in the game. Now that the Reds finally had their first Cy Young winner in Trevor Bauer, who’s to say they can’t go back-to-back?

D-backs: Zac Gallen, RHP, Cy Young

Gallen has been gallant the past two seasons, to the tune of a 2.78 ERA, 162 ERA+ and 178 strikeouts in 152 innings over 27 starts. With a strong four-pitch mix that generates whiffs and limits hard contact, Gallen absolutely has what it takes to put himself in the Cy conversation.

Dodgers: Mookie Betts, OF, MVP

You might have noticed that the defending champs have a loaded roster, and with that comes a load of award possibilities, be it Cody Bellinger reclaiming the MVP he won in 2019 or Trevor Bauer or Clayton Kershaw having another Cy Young season or Corey Seager winning an MVP in his walk year or Walker Buehler taking a Cy leap or Josiah Gray becoming the latest in a long line of Dodgers winning Rookie of the Year. But the most likely scenario of all is Mookie being Mookie, i.e. one of the absolute best players in the sport. His 5.9-WAR projection from Steamer ties for the NL lead with a guy whose name is just a couple spots down on this list.

Giants: Heliot Ramos, OF, Rookie of the Year

No. 2 prospect Joey Bart finished last season as the Giants’ everyday catcher. But with Buster Posey back and backup Curt Casali signed, it might be difficult to get the requisite at-bats for the rookie honor. No. 3 prospect Ramos, though, has had an impressive spring camp, which could be a springboard to a longer look at some point this season.

Padres: Fernando Tatis Jr., SS, MVP

Remember when we said someone ties with Betts for the highest WAR projection (5.9, via Steamer) in the NL? Yeah, it’s this guy. And while selecting Tatis over teammate Manny Machado isn’t necessarily easy after Machado edged Tatis to be an MVP finalist (and finish third) last season, it’s not hard to determine which player has the higher ceiling moving forward. If the Padres are as good as they look, they’ll have multiple award candidates, but Tatis is the focal point.

Rockies: Ryan Rolison, LHP, Rookie of the Year

The state of the Rockies doesn’t lend itself to an MVP and the Coors Field conditions, as history has demonstrated, don’t lend themselves to a Cy Young. So perhaps Rolison, the Rockies’ No. 2 prospect per MLB Pipeline, can make a rookie run. He hasn’t pitched above Class A ball and spent last year at the alternate site, but he’s an advanced, college-experienced arm who could advance quickly.

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