Welcome to the second edition of theScore’s 2022 Rookie of the Year rankings, where we pick five top candidates from each league. Let’s see which talented freshmen have shaken up these races after two months.
5. Bobby Witt Jr., Royals
The hype surrounding Witt’s debut had to be tempered after his slow start, but his rookie campaign seemed to turn a corner in May. Witt posted an .829 OPS and hit six of his seven home runs last month, a good sign that he’s turning the corner. The former second overall pick is now one of just three AL rookie hitters with at least 1.0 WAR, and he ranks tied for 11th in the AL in doubles (13), tied for second in triples (three), tied for 10th in stolen bases (seven), and tied for fifth in extra-base hits (23). He’s also been solid defensively while splitting time between two infield positions; he’s saved one run at third base and recorded one out above average at shortstop. It’s shaping up to be another forgettable season in Kansas City, but at least the Royals and their fans can watch Witt continue to grow and, potentially, move up these rankings the rest of the year.
4. Brock Burke, Rangers
If you were expecting Burke’s reliever bubble to burst, think again. Burke, perhaps the most surprising name to make the first edition of our rookie rankings, has continued to dominate out of the Rangers’ bullpen. After not allowing an earned run in May, the southpaw now ranks sixth among qualified AL relievers in ERA, fourth in strikeouts, and tied for fifth in WAR. While he’s still giving up his share of base hits, Burke’s limited the long ball successfully, allowing only one home run all season. Relievers who vie for awards usually need to rack up saves to capture the attention of voters, but Burke’s doing more than enough as a middle reliever to warrant serious consideration in the Rookie of the Year race. The Rangers may have stumbled into a legitimate bullpen ace.
3. Joe Ryan, Twins
Ryan, who’s currently on the COVID-19 injured list, has been the best AL rookie pitcher, starter or reliever, by a wide margin. He’s the easy leader in ERA, strikeouts, and ERA+ (163) among qualified AL rookie starters, and he’s done it while walking just 2.9 batters per nine innings. The right-hander’s gone at least six innings in four of his eight starts and allowed fewer than three earned runs in seven of those outings. He also surrendered just one home run in May. As Ryan continues to mature into the Twins’ ace, expect him to hold onto a top-three spot in these rankings while pushing to get back on top. He just might get there.
2. Julio Rodriguez, Mariners
J-Rod’s rough start is officially a thing of the past. Rodriguez is now tied for the AL rookie RBI lead while ranking second in WAR, third in runs scored, and second in wRC+ (117). He’s also making his mark on a wider scale, stealing a major league-best 15 bases while being caught just three times. The 21-year-old’s defense in center field continues to be solid, with four outs above average at the position. While he could stand to cut down on the strikeouts and add some extra-base hits that aren’t homers, Rodriguez is planting his flag as one of the AL’s top rookies. Even if he doesn’t end up with this award, it’s clear he’ll be a force in the majors for years to come.
1. Jeremy Pena, Astros
Pena’s done quite the Carlos Correa impression so far this year, and he’s probably not going to let up any time soon. He’s the only rookie in either league who’s passed the 2.0-WAR mark, and he leads all AL shortstops in WAR. Thanks to his May surge at the plate, Pena also leads Junior Circuit rookies in homers, slugging, and wRC+ (137). If that wasn’t enough, he’s been one of the best defensive shortstops by several metrics; only Jorge Mateo has saved more runs at the position this year. Yes, it’s only been two months, but this already looks like it’s Pena’s award to lose.
5. Christopher Morel, Cubs
On May 17, the Cubs summoned Morel to Wrigley Field before he’d played a game above Double-A. All he’s done since is hit everything thrown his way and shake up a relatively lackluster Senior Circuit rookie race. The 21-year-old has already set a Cubs franchise record by reaching base in his first 17 big-league games, a streak that began with a homer (and epic celebration) in his first at-bat. Morel’s run has been so incredible that he needed just 77 plate appearances to accrue the third-most WAR among NL rookie position players. His six steals are also tops among his league’s qualified freshmen. That’s enough to warrant his inclusion here, shocking as it may be to those outside Chicago. Now the question becomes, can he keep up the pace?
4. Seiya Suzuki, Cubs
While Morel has exploded onto the scene, his teammate Suzuki has taken a bit of a step backward. The 27-year-old has struggled since being named April’s NL Rookie of the Month and began June on the injured list with a sprained finger. But thanks to the hot start, he remains atop the NL rookie leaderboard in RBIs, runs, and doubles (12) and third in WAR while also boasting a respectable 12.9% walk rate. Suzuki isn’t like the other rookies on this list, having come to the majors following an All-Star career in his native Japan. As long as his health permits, there’s no reason to count him out of this race just yet.
3. Luis Gonzalez, Giants
One of the better stories of the year, Gonzalez is quietly authoring a pretty solid rookie season in San Francisco. The Giants picked him up last August when the Chicago White Sox released him after nine total appearances in 2020 and ’21, and he’s taken off since being called up to Oracle Park in late April. After being named NL Rookie of the Month for May, Gonzalez ranks second among NL rookies in RBIs, second in wRC+ (132), and is the runaway freshman leader in batting average. The 26-year-old has also recorded eight multi-hit games. While his outfield defense hasn’t been great, Gonzalez’s overall contributions to the Giants have thrust him into the middle of this race, and he’s showing no signs of slowing down.
2. Brendan Donovan, Cardinals
Top Cardinals prospects Nolan Gorman and Matthew Liberatore got more press after they reached the majors this year. But Donovan beat them both to the show, and he’s quickly proven to be an important and versatile weapon for manager Oliver Marmol. The 25-year-old’s excellent batting eye – he’s walked 17 times to just 15 strikeouts – has helped him lead NL rookies in OBP, walk rate (17%), wRC+ (146), and WAR (0.7) after only 100 plate appearances. Donovan can also be plugged in anywhere on the diamond, starting games at five different positions. As the season moves along, Donovan’s unique skill set should ensure he remains in the Rookie of the Year race.
1. MacKenzie Gore, Padres
Gore’s arrival in San Diego was more than worth the wait. He’s the only NL rookie pitcher worth more than 1.0 WAR, but that only scratches the surface of how good he’s been. The 23-year-old has yet to allow more than three earned runs in a start, has given up only one home run in 42 innings, and is third among rookies in strikeouts. With each outing, Gore is going deeper and deeper into games, which is what you expect from an ace. Yes, it’s a bit of a weaker class of rookies thus far, but Gore is already starting to pull away from the crowd.