2019 Rookie of the Year: Breaking down the finalists

Awards announcements represent the final chapter of a Major League Baseball season. 

The first winners will be revealed Monday when the Baseball Writers Association of America names the American and National League Rookies of the Year.

This race should be more clear cut than last year’s, but closer than the 2017 contest. The awards winners should follow the theme of the 2019 season as the big boppers with the gaudy home-run numbers are likely to take home the hardware. 

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New York Mets slugger Pete Alonso and Houston Astros bruiser Yordan Alvarez are the league’s respective frontrunners. But cases can be made for Mike Soroka, who emerged as an ace for an Atlanta Braves club that won a second consecutive division title, and John Means, one of the few bright spots for a 54-win Baltimore Orioles squad.

Fernando Tatis Jr. took the first steps toward establishing himself as a cornerstone of the San Diego Padres future. And Brandon Lowe proved to be the latest of the Tampa Bay Rays under-the-radar success stories. But injuries limited them both to less than 85 games, and likely soured their chances at claiming any hardware.

This year’s Rookie of the Year finalists posted an identical combined bWAR, 26.0, to the 2015 class which included Kris Bryant, Carlos Correa and Francisco Lindor. Unlike that All-Star trio, Alonso, Tatis, Lowe and Means played on teams that either had no intentions of manipulating their service time, or simply needed a rookie to build their best roster out of camp.

The winners will be announced during a live special on MLB Network at 6 p.m. ET on Monday. Stay tuned for full coverage of the announcement and the ensuing reactions. But take the weekend to size up the six contenders, and keep an eye out for picks from the Yahoo Sports crew.

American League

Yordan Alvarez - OF/DH, Houston Astros

It took 65 games for the Astros to give Alvarez a chance to boost their already loaded lineup. And it took the then-21-year-old two at-bats to reward their faith. Alvarez left the yard 27 times in 87 games at the major league level, driving in 78 runs and batting .313 with a 1.067 OPS. He didn’t carry that dominance into the postseason but had something of a resurgence in the World Series, recording seven hits in 17 at-bats.

Defining moment: Alvarez blasts the longest homer by an Astro in the Statcast era to cap a string of back-to-back-to-back long balls.

John Means - LHP, Baltimore Orioles

The 26-year-old broke camp as a potential bullpen option and finished the season as the Orioles’ best starter. He was Baltimore’s only All-Star representative, winning 12 games for a team that claimed just 54 total victories while striking out 121 batters in 155 innings. His 3.60 ERA was the lowest among AL rookies and the best on a team that finished dead last in team ERA league-wide.

Defining moment: The Los Angeles Dodgers didn’t pull punches by sending out a “B” lineup at Camden Yards a day after clinching the NL West title. Means navigated the Dodgers’ lineup for 6.1 innings, twice striking out MVP candidate Cody Bellinger.

Brandon Lowe - IF/OF, Tampa Bay Rays

Lowe signed an extension through 2026 a week before the season began. But he missed nearly half of the first year of that deal with a bone bruise on his right shin and, later, strained quadriceps. Prior to landing on the injured list in July, Lowe had an excellent first half, batting .276 with 16 homers and 49 RBIs. He played four positions for Tampa Bay, mainly staying in the infield, and unexpectedly returned to finish the season, though he had just three hits in his final 17 at-bats.

Defining moment: Coming back from injury was impressive, especially after manager Kevin Cash said Lowe was likely done for the year in August. But the rookie was thrown right into the thick of a playoff race and helped the Rays stay alive in the ALDS with a Game 3 homer off Zack Greinke.

National League

Pete Alonso - 1B, New York Mets

Alonso was unanimously named Baseball America and Baseball Digest Rookie of the Year. He was a home run champ in every sense of the phrase, winning the Home Run Derby en route to a league-best 53 dingers to break the MLB rookie record set by Aaron Judge in 2017. He also batted .260 with 30 doubles and 120 RBIs while recording a positive UZR at first base. The intangibles — which included a tribute to first responders in the form of custom cleats on Sept. 11 and a very large check after the Home Run Derby — immediately endeared him to a starved fanbase.

Defining moment: The Mets fell three games shy of a playoff spot, but Alonso gave them something else to play for during the season’s final weekend. Judge himself was impressed when homer No. 53 left the yard. Alonso, not shy about wearing his heart on his sleeve, then was overcome with emotion as he returned to the field.

Mike Soroka - RHP, Atlanta Braves

Soroka emerged as the staff leader for a perennial contender after injuries stalled the beginning of his major league career. He led MLB with a 1.55 road ERA in 16 starts and his 2.68 overall ERA was fifth-best among qualified starters league-wide. Soroka should garner some lower votes for Cy Young and would be a clear frontrunner if not for Alonso’s historic season. In fact, his 5.6 bWAR is likely to be the highest by a player to not win ROY since Jason Heyward (6.4) in 2010. 

Defining moment: Soroka had one of his best performances in his first and only postseason start. He yielded a run on two hits while striking out seven over seven innings in Game 3 of the NLDS against the St. Louis Cardinals. 

Fernando Tatis Jr. - SS, San Diego Padres

A lower-back injury brought a swift end to an entertaining season for an equally exciting player. In just 84 games, Tatis batted .313, blasted 22 homers, stole 16 bases and churned out incredible defensive plays at shortstop on a regular basis. Had he remained healthy, he’d probably be in better consideration for this award, but what he displayed in just about a half a season showed that Tatis has what it takes to be a future MVP candidate.

Defining moment: Tatis showed he can soon be one of the toolsiest players in the game with each trait fueled by his athleticism. Here’s an example, where Tatis tags and scores on a pop-up to second base, of how those tools can impact the game.


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