With less than seven weeks remaining in the regular season, theScore’s MLB editors break down the leading candidates for National League Rookie of the Year.
5. Walker Buehler, Dodgers
The first sign of how crowded the Rookie of the Year race is in the National League is Buehler getting the nod over Miami Marlins third baseman Brian Anderson. Anderson has cooled in August (.518 OPS), while Buehler has righted the ship after a DL stint and some bumpy starts in June and July. Over his last three starts, he’s 1-1 with a 1.40 ERA and 21 strikeouts in 19 1/3 innings. He’s also opened a game without allowing a hit through four innings on three separate occasions.
4. Dereck Rodriguez, Giants
The progeny of 14-time All-Star catcher Ivan Rodriguez didn’t make the grade out of nepotism. No, the junior Rodriguez joined the Giants’ depleted rotation in June and has kept his spot by virtue of his consistency. Over 12 starts, he’s allowed more than two earned runs only twice, entering his most impressive stretch in the season’s second half. In five starts since the All-Star break, Rodriguez is 2-0 with a 1.35 ERA. He’s gone seven innings in three straight and has made up for a pedestrian strikeout rate with pinpoint control, issuing only six walks in his last 33 1/3 innings (1.62 BB/9).
3. Harrison Bader, Cardinals
At the start of the campaign, Bader appeared destined for fourth-outfielder duties, with a crowd of players blocking his path. He forced his way into the lineup, though, and is the main reason the Cardinals aren’t missing Tommy Pham (traded) and Dexter Fowler (injured). The 24-year-old’s been fine at the plate (.779 OPS), but it’s his defense that’s turning heads. The most exciting Cardinals outfielder since Jim Edmonds leads all major-league outfielders with 21 defensive runs saved in 560 2/3 innings. To put that in context, Lorenzo Cain is third with 17 DRS in 866 innings.
2. Ronald Acuna, Braves
Another week like the one he just had will launch Acuna into the top spot. He hit home runs in five consecutive games during that stretch, with a leadoff blast in three straight before Wednesday’s melee with the Marlins. An early injury and an uneven opening month made it seem like Acuna wouldn’t have a chance, but he’s shown why he’s so highly touted with a whopping 37 extra-base hits in only 68 games.
1. Juan Soto, Nationals
It’s going to take more than one scorching-hot week for Acuna to overtake the Nationals’ slugging teenager. Soto has shown a level of patience at the plate that few seasoned veterans have, especially in a time when it’s not uncommon to strike out at a 30 percent clip. Yes, his power is palpable, but Soto has walked in 17.3 percent of his plate appearances. If he counted as a qualified batter, that’d be tied for fourth-best in the majors behind only Mike Trout, Joey Votto, and Bryce Harper. Acuna may have more flash, but Soto appears to be the more balanced hitter.
Honorable mention: Anderson (Marlins), Christian Villanueva (Padres), Jack Flaherty (Cardinals)
(Photos courtesy: Getty Images)
(WAR courtesy: Fangraphs)