2018 Rookie of the Year: Sizing up the finalists

Baseball season isn’t truly over until Major League Baseball hands out its yearly awards. That process will begin Monday as the league names the Rookie of the Year winners in the American and National League.

Unlike last year, when the respective Rookie of the Year races were over well before any votes were cast, this year offers far more intrigue. Sure, Los Angeles Angels two-way star Shohei Ohtani is the clear-cut favorite in the American League, but there’s a legitimate case to be made for New York Yankees’ stars Miguel Andujar and Gleyber Torres. Both were strong supporting players in a record-setting season for New York’s offense.

On the National League side, it’s even more wide open with three candidates that have strong enough résumés to run away with the award most seasons. Juan Soto and Ronald Acuña Jr. were seemingly setting new records every single day, while Walker Buehler made a case to be considered as the Los Angeles Dodgers best starting pitcher.

MLB Network is hosting a live special to announce the winners at 6 p.m. ET on Monday. We’ll be providing full coverage of the announcement and the fallout right here. But before we get there, we’re going to break down the six contenders, while offering up picks from the Yahoo Sports crew.

New York Yankees' third baseman Miguel Andujar has made a strong case for AL Rookie of the Year. (AP)
New York Yankees’ third baseman Miguel Andujar has made a strong case for AL Rookie of the Year. (AP)

American League

Miguel Andujar — 3B, New York Yankees

It’s difficult to stand out in the Yankees loaded lineup. Andujar did just that by showing consistent and notable improvement throughout the entire season. Third base wasn’t his job to start the season. He got an opportunity in April and gave Aaron Boone no choice but to continue starting him. By season’s end, he was arguably the toughest out in the Yankees lineup.

Key stat: Andujar’s 27 homers were impressive enough. He also passed Joe DiMaggio with a Yankees’ rookie record 44 doubles.

Shohei Ohtani was a pitching and hitting star for the Angels during his rookie season. (AP)
Shohei Ohtani was a pitching and hitting star for the Angels during his rookie season. (AP)

Shohei Ohtani — SP/DH, Los Angeles Angels

The hype was massive, but it wasn’t too big for Ohtani. A slow spring training set an ominous tone, but Ohtani proved ready for MLB by stacking brilliant outings on the pitching mound and consistent production as a hitter. Despite injuries limiting his pitching opportunities, he lived up to being billed as the “Japanese Babe Ruth.”

Key stat: Ohtani hit 22 homers, slashed .285/.361/.564 and had an OPS+ of 152. That alone is worthy of award consideration. On the hill, he posted a 3.31 ERA in 10 starts and had a 11.0 strikeouts per nine.

Gleyber Torres set several New York Yankees rookie records. (AP)
Gleyber Torres set several New York Yankees rookie records. (AP)

Gleyber Torres — 2B, New York Yankees

Like Ohtani, Yankees 21-year-old infielder Gleyber Torres was hyped well in advance of his debut. Also like Ohtani, he exceeded expectations. Of the three finalists, Torres was the only one selected to the All-Star game after mashing his way into Yankees history during a hot first half.

Key stat: Though he cooled some down the stretch, Torres still finished tied for first among all MLB second basemen with 24 home runs.

Atlanta Braves' rookie Ronald Acuna Jr. was a homer-hitting machine. (AP)
Atlanta Braves’ rookie Ronald Acuna Jr. was a homer-hitting machine. (AP)

National League

Ronald Acun`a Jr. — OF, Atlanta Braves

The NL Rookie of the Year favorite coming into the season, Ronald Acuña Jr. did nothing to change that mindset during the season. In fact, he instantly elevated the Braves upon his call up on April 25 and essentially carried the offense for long stretches from that point on. No moment was too big for the 20-year-old, and the only thing keeping him from being the clear choice is his remarkable competition.

Key stat: His 1.028 OPS during the second half was the third-highest in MLB.

Rookie Walker Buehler was the Los Angeles Dodgers best pitcher for much of 2018. (AP)
Rookie Walker Buehler was the Los Angeles Dodgers best pitcher for much of 2018. (AP)

Walker Buehler — SP, Los Angeles Dodgers

If the postseason counted, Buehler might be the clear favorite. It doesn’t, but he was still firmly in the mix before that after contributing to another Dodgers division championship. Not only did Buehler start a Dodgers combined no-hitter on May 5 against the Padres, he got the ball and dominated the Rockies in Game 163 to decide the NL West. He’s already ace material.

Key stat: Buehler’s 2.31 ERA as a starting pitcher was the lowest by a rookie with at least 130 innings since Jose Fernandez posted a 2.19 ERA in 2013.

Juan Soto was a teenage sensation for the Washington Nationals. (AP)
Juan Soto was a teenage sensation for the Washington Nationals. (AP)

Juan Soto — OF, Washington Nationals

The 19-year-old wasn’t in the Nationals’ plans for 2018, but like all of the Nationals plans that quickly changed when injuries struck early. Once Soto arrived, he dominated, posting a .295/.406/.515 slash line. Had Washington made the postseason, this might be his award to lose.

Key stat: Soto’s 22 homers tied teammate Bryce Harper for the second most ever by a teenager in a single MLB season.

Our picks

Chris Cwik

AL: Shohei Ohtani: Miguel Andujar, Gleyber Torres and Joey Wendle all deserve credit, but Shohei Ohtani was the choice for me. The league hasn’t seen a player like him in decades. He was not only an excellent pitcher, posting an ERA 26 percent better than league average, but he proved the doubters wrong with his bat. His 152 wRC+, an advanced stat that measures offensive performance, would have ranked sixth in MLB if Ohtani qualified for the batting title. He’s not going to be special. He already is.

NL: Juan Soto: Can two players just share the Rookie of the Year award in the NL? It’s impossible to choose between Soto and Ronald Acuña. Both players had fantastic seasons and produced eerily similar stats in almost exactly the same amount of playing time. Soto’s .406 on-base percentage was the deciding factor for me. It’s rare to see a 20-year-old show that level of plate discipline. It was razor thin, but I give Soto the slight edge. If you disagree and support Acuña, I completely understand. It’s that close.

Mark Townsend

AL: Shohei Ohtani: Even with arm troubles limiting him, Ohtani managed to surpass the enormous hype as both a hitter and pitcher. It was his award to lose coming into the season. Miguel Andujar and Gleybor Torres definitely made him earn it with their remarkable seasons. Flat out win it is exactly what Ohtani did.

NL: Juan Soto: I don’t know that there’s a wrong answer among the NL finalists. All three were outstanding. Soto definitely feels most like the right answer. It seemed like every day the 19-year-old took the field he set a new record. The Nationals were definitely a disappointment this season, but they avoided being a total disaster thanks largely to Soto.

Mike Oz

AL: Shohei Ohtani: There are certainly cases to be made for both of the other two finalists, but this is all Ohtani. His unprecedented rookie season didn’t include a full year of pitching, but the combination of what he brought to the mound and what he achieved at the plate was unmatched. Ohtani’s offensive output was on par with Torres and Andujar, when you add the pitching, this is a no-brainer.

NL: Juan Soto: It’s a pretty tight race between Ronald Acuna Jr. and Juan Soto. They’re equal in most ways except one — Soto’s on-base percentage was better by 40 points. That’s a big difference. And when all else is mostly equal, that OBP difference stands out even more.

Liz Roscher

AL: Shohei Ohtani: Shohei Ohtani is the first two-way player MLB has seen in nearly 100 years. He didn’t manage to both pitch and hit for the entire season, but he had a 3.31 ERA in 10 starts and a .285 average with 21 doubles, 22 home runs, and 10 stolen bases. Other rookies may have been good at one thing, but Ohtani was good at two when people questioned whether he’d even be good at one.

NL: Juan Soto: It was so hard to pick between Soto and Acuña. They both had incredible rookie seasons that were statistically similar. When the race is this tight, it’s the little things that make the difference; Soto got my vote in the end because he walked 34 times more than Acuña did, but also because Soto’s first major league hit — a three-run home run he hit in his first-ever major league start — is what baseball dreams are made of.

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