Normally, this conversation is not dominated by one name, but the race for the American League Rookie of the Year award in 2019 seems to be that way. The Toronto Blue Jays, sporting one of the league’s best farm systems due to high-level talent in Triple-A, are looking to bring that award north of the border for their best prospect in many, many years.
His name? Vladimir Guerrero Jr., a familiar one to most.
The son of the long-time Los Angeles Angel, Texas Ranger and Baltimore Oriole, Guerrero Jr. has some insanely large shoes to fill, although expecting him to live up to his father’s shadow is not the most ideal scenario. Not because he is not capable of reaching those goals, because his talent surely has that level of potential, but because Guerrero Jr. is a different kind of player than his father and should be treated as such.
Besides Guerrero Jr., the AL has many other top-tier prospects that will have good to great seasons in 2019, but once Guerrero Jr. overcomes his service time manipulation issue that the Blue Jays are covering up with an injury, he should be in the majors and tearing apart big-league pitching for many years to come.
Here are the five best candidates for the 2019 ROY award in the AL.
Vladimir Guerrero Jr. – 3B, Toronto Blue Jays
Having reached Triple-A ball at the ripe age of 19, Guerrero Jr. is built like a Mack truck with the nitrous tank of a drag racer. His immense power that is covered in the exact swag that the MLB is looking for to draw in new viewerships is exactly what the league, but most importantly the Blue Jays, need.
Guerrero Jr. is one of those prospects that only comes around every 15 years or so, if not longer, and the only issue is that with the expectations being set for him are sky high, he may become a “disappointment” to some if he does not become the perennial MVP in his first season, along with ROY, the league’s best third baseman and the best player to ever play ever (see how ridiculous that sounds? Continue.)
Regardless, Guerrero Jr. has the fast track to winning this award and may make this one of the biggest runaways in recent memory.
Kyle Tucker – OF, Houston Astros
A name frequently thrown around in trade talks for big-time pitching prospects at the deadline, Kyle Tucker is one of those cannot-miss young outfielders who is looking to make a huge impression in his first season at the big-league club. The Houston Astros are looking to replace the talents of Marwin Gonzalez after he left for the Minnesota Twins, and with free agent signee Michael Bradley being counted on in center fielder and potentially at first base, Tucker will play the role of big-time bench bat with the abilities to become an everyday starter if injury issues arise.
Tucker is a household name to most and has good odds to win the award if a certain prospect falters down the stretch, although he is not currently on the active roster.
Josh James – RP, Houston Astros
Another member of the Astros, Josh James figures to factor into the bullpen in 2019 after making his presence known after making the postseason roster last year in the Astros’ run through the AL playoffs.
With a future potential of slotting into the starting rotation, James currently comes out of the ‘pen as a solid option for the Houston relief corps that is in need of a few shutdown arms.
Not as well-known as Tucker, James differs from his outfielder teammate in the sense that he is already on the active roster and making an impact on the team’s chances this season. James is more of a longshot, but he can definitely play himself into a bigger role for the Astros and manager A.J. Hinch as the season progresses.
Yusei Kikuchi – SP, Seattle Mariners
An unconventional rookie in the fact that he has already pitched in Japan (see Suzuki, Ichiro) before coming over to the MLB, Yusei Kikuchi is the perfect complimentary arm in the starting rotation to help bridge any concerns of Felix Hernandez and his injury past. Kikuchi had an immensely successful career overseas and is the first-ever Japanese-born player to make his major league debut in Japan.
The 27-year old southpaw followed a similar path that Shohei Ohtani did last season in signing with the Los Angeles Angels, and now he plays in the same division as Ohtani. He will be asked to take on a big load in his freshman MLB campaign with the Mariners, as they look to rebuild but not take too long after dumping Robinson Cano and Edwin Diaz this offseason to retool their farm system.
Brandon Lowe – 2B, Tampa Bay Rays
The final prospect on this list just got paid too, as the Tampa Bay Rays bought out the final three years of his arbitration eligibility and tacked on three more seasons in a six-year, $24 million deal that has two club options tied on at the end.
A big-time deal for an up-and-coming prospect that can have implications on this season is great news for the Rays, who are looking to make it back to the playoffs for the first time in five seasons.
Lowe has great potential and got a cup of coffee at the big-league level last season, where he underwent an 0-for-19 offensive stretch before he turned it on at the end of the season, ending with six long balls and a .233 average.
Lowe is an integral piece in the final stages of the Rays rebuild, and he is firmly apart of their plans for the foreseeable future after being extended.