Jeremy Peña, MacKenzie Gore Move Into The Lead

Jeremy Peña, MacKenzie Gore Move Into The Lead

Below is the second installment of Baseball America’s Rookie of the Year watch for the 2022 season. Please note this is not a re-ranking of the BA Top 100 Prospects or BA’s preseason rookie rankings, but rather a snapshot of where the Rookie of the Year races stand at various points in time throughout the season.

All statistics are through June 1.

AMERICAN LEAGUE

1. Jeremy Pena, SS, Astros

Peña entered his rookie season with the unenviable task of replacing Carlos Correa. He made clear from the outset he was just going to be the best version of himself, and that’s been more than enough for the Astros. Peña has weathered some early ups and downs to emerge as not only the top rookie in the American League, but the top rookie in MLB. His .285 batting average, eight home runs, .494 slugging percentage and .825 OPS are all best in the majors among qualified rookies, and he’s done that while playing stellar defense at shortstop. His six outs above average, as measured by Statcast, are tied with the Angels’ Andrew Velazquez for the most of any shortstop in the majors.

2. Julio Rodriguez, OF, Mariners

As he did throughout the minors, Rodriguez adjusted rapidly and is now excelling against older competition. Since opening the season 6-for-44 with 22 strikeouts, Rodriguez is batting .310/.355/.500 over his last 37 games. He leads all major league rookies with 50 hits and 14 stolen bases, is tied for first with 24 RBIs, is tied for second with six home runs and is tied for third with 21 runs scored. With another stretch like Rodriguez has had the last five weeks, he’ll be right with Peña at the head of the AL Rookie of the Year race.

3. Joe Ryan, RHP, Twins

Ryan hasn’t pitched since being placed on the Covid-19 injured list May 25, but he was continuing his dominance unabated until he was sidelined. Ryan is 5-2, 2.28 in eight starts for the Twins with 43 strikeouts against only 12 walks in 43.1 innings. He leads all major league rookies in wins, ranks second in ERA, WHIP (0.99) and opponent average (.186) and has remained impressively consistent. He has held opponents to two runs or less in all but one of his eight starts.

DON’T FORGET ABOUT

Bobby Witt Jr., SS/3B, Royals

Witt is slowly starting to turn things around after batting .216 with no home runs in April. All six of his home runs this season have come in the last 30 days, and he’s been especially productive the last two weeks. Witt has an .871 OPS over his last 15 games, all while moving over to shortstop and making numerous impressive defensive plays.

MOVING-UP

MJ Melendez, C/OF, Royals

Melendez has provided a shot in the arm for the Royals since being called up on May 3. The 23-year-old backstop has hit .259/.323/.471 with four doubles, a triple and four homes runs in 25 games and is already tied for fourth among all rookies in homers. With Salvador Perez back from his sprained thumb, Melendez has started playing right field so the Royals can keep his bat in the lineup. He’s moved up to the No. 5 spot in the order and is already becoming one of the Royals’ most dangerous hitters.

FALLING DOWN

Steven Kwan, OF, Guardians

Kwan got off to a historic start, but it’s been ugly since. Kwan reached base in 18 of his first 24 plate appearances over his first five games. Since then, he’s beating .186/.283/.277. Kwan remains the Guardians’ everyday left fielder and leadoff hitter, but he’s going to have to adjust now that opponents have clearly adjusted to him.

NATIONAL LEAGUE

1. MacKenzie Gore, LHP, Padres

While most of the NL’s other top rookies have fallen off, Gore continues to deal in the Padres rotation. The 23-year-old lefthander is 3-1, 1.71 in eight appearances (seven starts) and is only getting better. He completed six innings for the first time in his young career in a win over the Giants two starts ago, and followed with seven scoreless innings with only two hits allowed against the Pirates in his most recent start. Overall, Gore has the lowest ERA and WHIP (1.07) of any qualified NL rookie and is beginning to separate himself in the NL Rookie of the Year field.

2. Seiya Suzuki, OF, Cubs

Suzuki has cooled off considerably since his hot start, batting .211 with no home runs in May, and is now on the injured list with a sprained finger on his left hand. Still, he leads all NL rookies in runs (20), doubles (12) and RBIs (21) and ranks second in hits (34) and home runs (four). One thing to watch when he returns is his strikeout rate, which has ballooned to 30% as pitchers across the majors become familiar with him.

3. Luis Gonzalez, OF, Giants

Gonzalez has played nine fewer games than Suzuki, but he has already overtaken him for the NL rookie lead in hits with 35. The 26-year-old outfielder has hit a scorching .337/.374/.471 in 31 games since he was called up at the end of April, all of which would lead major league rookies if he had enough flat appearances to qualify. He’s done that while playing all three outfield positions and even coming in to pitch on occasion (he was a two-way player in college at New Mexico). Gonzalez needs to prove he can keep it up, but so far, he’s been one of the Giants’ best hitters.

DON’T FORGET ABOUT

Hunter Greene, RHP, Reds

Greene is slowly putting his ugly start behind him after wisely altering his pitch mix to throw his fastball less and his slider more. Over his last four starts, the 22-year-old righthander has a 3.42 ERA and is holding opponents to a .192 average. He leads all rookies with 56 strikeouts even with his disastrous early showings and appears to be putting it together in the Reds rotation.

MOVING-UP

Brendan Donovan, 3B/OF, Cardinals

The Cardinals have gotten big contributions from a handful of callups this year, including 1B/OF Juan Yepez and 2B Nolan Gorman, but Donovan has been the biggest contributor of all. The 2018 seventh-rounder out of South Alabama has an .848 OPS since he was called up, second-highest among any NL rookie with at least 75 plate appearances. Overall, he is batting .297/.429/.419 with more walks (15) than strikeouts (13), all while playing five different positions.

FALLING DOWN

Geraldo Perdomo, SS, D-backs

Perdomo took over the D-backs starting shortstop job on Opening Day and just hasn’t been able to do anything with it. The 22-year-old switch-hitter is batting .216/.329/.280 with only six extra-base hits—and no home runs—in 44 games this season. His 84.1 mph average exit velocity is the eighth-lowest of any qualified player in the majors leagues, according to Statcast, and his 104.6 mph max exit velocity is eighth-lowest, too. Even more concerning, Perdomo rates as a below-average defensive shortstop by every major metric, a stunning development given the Gold Glove potential he showed in the minors.

Mackenzie Gore (Photo By Matt Thomas San Diego Padres Getty Images)

After Two Years Of Trials And Tribulations, MacKenzie Gore Finally Reaches The Majors

Gore’s journey was a long one, full of peaks and valleys more extreme than those of even the most volatile pitching prospects.

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