Somehow, the halfway point of the MLB season is already here.
That means the race for the NL Rookie of the Year is quickly heating up, and this year San Diego Padres fans should certainly have a vested interest. Let’s take a look at how the league’s top rookie stars stack up as the second half approaches.
1 ) 1B Pete Alonso, NYM – 327 PA, .280 BA, 1.015 OPS, 27 HR, 3.3 WAR
Probably most notable to Padres fans because of the feud-that-wasn’t-really-a-feud with Chris Paddack, Pete Alonso has been so much more than that and is the clear-cut favorite for NL Rookie of the Year as it stands right now. Ever since breaking camp with the big club, he’s been far and away the most consistent producer in a Mets lineup that features some pretty established names – Robinson Cano, Todd Frazier, Michael Conforto – in addition to some under-the-radar young talent like Jeff McNeil and Dominic Smith.
Consistently at the top of the leaderboards in Statcast exit velocity, Alonso has been crushing, and I mean crushing, baseballs at a rate not many people have seen since exit velocity became widely tracked in 2015. Per SNY, Alonso had 13 batted balls of 112-plus mph through just 263 at-bats in 2019. In the previous two seasons combined, the Mets had 11 such batted balls as a team. That’s almost 11,000 at-bats. He is also second in the entire league in home runs. And would be getting MVP consideration if the Mets were better. That sort of seems good, I guess.
2) SS Fernando Tatis Jr., SD – 186 PA, .323 BA, .978 OPS, 9 HR, 2.1 WAR
Fernando Tatis Jr. has been a game-changing talent from the jump. I’m sure I’m not breaking any news in saying this. At the same time, though, it really is hard to overstate just how valuable he’s been to the best Padres ballclub in nearly a decade. He leads the team in batting average, on-base percentage, OPS, stolen bases and triples, and is on pace to become the first Padre shortstop to post a 4-WAR season since Ozzie Smith did it 39 years ago.
Oh, and he would certainly be tops in plenty of other categories as well had a hamstring injury not kept him out of the lineup for more than a month. If Tatis can stay healthy the rest of the way while still doing outrageously athletic things like tagging and scoring on infield pop-ups, he has a real chance to win this thing.
3) SP Mike Soroka, ATL – 78.1 IP, 2.07 ERA, 63 SO, 19 BB, 2.0 WAR
Outside of Atlanta, Mike Soroka isn’t as well known as an Alonso or a Tatis, but he’s been every bit as good and represents the third of three players who have positioned themselves to have a legitimate shot at winning the award. He’s stepped up as an unexpected ace for a Braves team that never really had one, and as a result, they’ve looked like one of the very best clubs in baseball. The only thing that keeps Soroka in the number three spot is the imminent inning management that will certainly limit his regular season production. As mentioned, Atlanta is almost sure to be playing baseball in October, and his availability around that time of year is going to be prioritized over his Rookie of the Year candidacy. He’s been so good, though, it might not even matter.
4) OF Alex Verdugo, LAD – 255 PA, .304 BA, .840 OPS, 7 HR, 1.8 WAR
If you thought the Dodgers didn’t have any stud rookies left on that tree they seemingly pluck from every year, you thought wrong. Verdugo made sporadic Major League appearances in 2017 and 2018 amid persistent trade rumors but has largely been kept in the minors to develop behind an extremely talented big league roster. He finally got a full-time shot in 2019 and has run with it to the tune of an .840 OPS and 10 Defensive Runs Saved, the latter of which ties him for second among all Major League outfielders. It’ll be interesting to see how his playing time is affected by the return of free-agent signee AJ Pollock, who is expected back sometime after the All-Star break, but if he keeps producing like he is right now, the Dodgers will have no choice but to keep him on the field. His relative lack of power and at-bats, however, keep him at arm’s length away from the first three, more deserving candidates.
5) OF Austin Riley, ATL – 158 PA, .279 BA, .914 OPS, 12 HR, 0.8 WAR
Soroka’s teammate, Austin Riley, rounds out the top five after coming out of the gates scorching hot following his May 15 call-up when he blasted nine homers in his first 18 games. As he’s come back down to Earth, however, some alarming peripheral numbers have been exposed and have limited him from realistically having a chance to contend for this award. A 33 percent strikeout rate and 5 percent walk rate don’t feel like numbers of someone who can maintain a .280 batting average or .914 OPS, and his league-average defense will make it hard for him ever to have a dynamic impact like Tatis or Verdugo. His power is legit, though, and that won’t be going anywhere, so if he can ride that power for the rest of the year while continuing to improve the more nuanced parts of his game, he can certainly make a push if other leading candidates falter.