San Francisco Giants' Joey Bart
San Francisco Giants' Joey Bart runs drills during spring training baseball workouts, Tuesday, March 15, 2022, in Scottsdale, Ariz. (AP Photo/Matt York)

BETTING THE N.L. ROOKIE OF THE YEAR – THE TOP FIVE CANDIDATES

Mike Shara

The Rookie of the Year candidates this year are decidedly deeper on the American League side. I could make a pretty convincing argument that the top 10 potential rookie players this season will all be playing in the Junior Circuit. Nevertheless, they’re still going to give this award out in November and the fact that the field looks less crowded in the National League seems like it would make betting on the winner a little easier. Here are the five players I think are currently the frontrunners. 

JOEY BART, C, San Francisco
Buster Posey wound up his future Hall of Fame career last season, helping the Giants to a 107 win regular season in his final MLB tour of duty. Now the time has come for Bart, the second overall pick of the 2018 Draft out of Georgia Tech, to seize the reins for a team with serious championship aspirations. He hasn’t really made any impact in his brief MLB call ups thus far, but he hit .294/.358/.472 at AAA Sacramento despite missing time with a quad injury. He has a decent defensive reputation and has shown above average power everywhere but the majors thus far in his career.  The Giants haven’t really got anyone to challenge him for playing time (Curt Casali ain’t it), so he’ll probably be given lots of room and he won’t have any pressure to carry the team offensively, which should help him amalgamate quickly. 

ALEK THOMAS, OF, Arizona
The Diamondbacks won just 52 games last season and have only made a few minor tweaks to their team this offseason, meaning there is plenty of room for improvement and Thomas might be the best way for them to make some upgrades internally right away. He played a strong center field while hitting a lusty .369/.434/.658 over 149 at-bats in AAA after getting called up mid-season. Admittedly, Reno is a great hitting environment, but Thomas and his smooth left-handed swing clearly don’t have much more to prove there. He’ll be just 22 this season, but there isn’t a warm body on their current roster that he should be losing at-bats to at this point, especially if Ketel Marte moves back to the infield or is traded. Either way, he’s a homegrown player with a good power/speed combo that likely won’t need a platoon partner and can stick at CF. Those guys don’t grow on trees. 

ONEIL CRUZ, SS, Pittsburgh 
I just want to see a 6’7” dude play shortstop every day in the major leagues. If there is a franchise that has the room to take a chance on something like that happening, it’s the woeful Pirates. Cruz only spent 6 games at AAA last year, but he hit .524 with 5 home runs in those 6 games before Pittsburgh realized they had nothing to lose by pushing him to the show for a few games late in September. Kevin Newman, the Pirates’ starting shortstop last year, is a good defensive player but hit just 5 home runs in 148 games in 2021. If Cruz proves himself capable defensively this spring (he has a ridiculous arm) you have to figure he’s going to get the chance sooner than later because no one else in the entire organization has his pure power. Pittsburgh could desperately use impact bats and speed (he stole 20 bases in AA/AAA last year and was caught just once) anywhere they might be able to get them. 

EDWARD CABRERA, SP, Miami 
He struggled last season after being promoted to the majors, starting 7 games and finishing with a 5.81 ERA  as he battled command and control issues. In fairness, Miami was his fourth stop that season, as the big 6’5” righthander had a 2.93 ERA and threw 92 strikeouts in 61.1 innings at three different minor league stops before that. He’s not too young to be ready – he’ll turn 24 at the start of this season, and the Marlins have already shut down Sixto Sanchez with another arm injury this spring, so a spot in the rotation just got more realistic for him. If in spring training he can show a little bit more depth with his slider to combine with his high-90’s fastball and above-average change up, that will ensure that his impact is felt throughout the 2022 season. Any chance the Marlins have of competing this year are dependent on their pitching staff and Cabrera looks like he’ll be a solid part of it starting now.

AARON ASHBY, SP, Milwaukee
His MLB debut was successful last season, as he filled a number of roles for the Brewers down the stretch as they chased down a playoff spot. He made 4 spot starts and finished 3 games, even earning his first career save while striking out 39 batters in his first 31 MLB innings. His FIP was a full run lower than his ERA, meaning he was also probably a bit unlucky last year, too. While the Brewers rotation looks to be a strength right now, every one of the five guys in it threw the most innings of their MLB careers last season. I’m no Tom House, but that sounds like a recipe for a few injuries the next season, especially with a shortened spring training. Ashby’s plus command, five pitch mix (including a wipeout slider) and deceptive delivery make him a good bet to be first in line if (when) injuries hit a starter. He’ll probably be on the team in April but by September he might be filling a much more significant role for Milwaukee. 

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