The youth movement that has progressively taken over the sport of baseball is at it again in the 2019 season, as more top prospects, late bloomers, and interesting youngins are all vying to take home the honors of being the best rookie in their respective league. This article will focus on those prospects that are looking to try to win the honors in the National League, which seems to be a very wide open race.
Each team has a varying amount of prospects that are knocking at the door to earn a spot on the big-league rosters, which seemingly creates a conundrum not only for the team’s manager but for the front office too. With needing to juggle a whole plethora of minor leaguers as well as the 25-man and the 40-man rosters, general managers and farm directors look forward to but also dread this time of year.
Spring training is a great time to weed out exactly which youngsters are ready to make that jump and which ones need a bit more seasoning, but it does not prevent certain players from showing out in front of the decision makers on the staff. Players like Vladimir Guerrero Jr. and Bo Bichette, both of the Toronto Blue Jays, had a fantastic spring training in an act to perform well enough to make the big-league roster.
However, much to the chagrin of most MLB fans and front offices looking on from afar, both players were kept down in the minors, in what has become one of the league’s worst kept secrets of ‘unintentional service time manipulation,’ a term that was coined first by how the Chicago Cubs handled bringing up Kris Bryant to the big-league team.
By holding players down longer in the minor leagues, specifically until late April, they are able to retain the player’s rights for an extra season if the player does not reach 172 days on a major-league roster or injury list. This extra year of control means pushing out their arbitration another year down the road, meaning that players are reaching the time in their careers when they should be looking for that first big-time contract… but they are still under team control, cheaply.
Nonetheless, rookies are taking over the MLB, which is a huge part in helping garner more and more interest in younger fans who can relate more to these younger prospects (sorry Bartolo Colon). Here are five first-year players who should factor hugely into the 2019 NL Rookie of the Year race.
Pete Alonso – 1B, New York Mets
An absolute unit who loves crushing the ball, Pete Alonso enters his first season in the big leagues fully entrenched as the New York Mets’ starting first baseman. While Alonso could see some of his starting time taken away by Robinson Cano and Dominic Smith, Alonso’s bat is what is playing him into the starting lineup every day.
Across nine games to open up the year, Alonso has 34 plate appearances, 13 hits, three home runs, 11 runs driven in and a .382 average, good enough for fourth-highest average on the team and fifth-highest at-bats so far this season.
The knock on Alonso has been his defense, but it has improved enough through his development in the minors that hopefully, his bat will be enough to speak for why he should be starting most games. Alonso has good odds to win the award but is not that flashy prospect who will garner a lot of attention throughout the year (except for the fact that he plays in New York).
Fernando Tatis Jr. – SS, San Diego Padres
One of the most highly sought-after and tracked prospects throughout his career in the minor leagues, Fernando Tatis Jr. is exactly what the San Diego Padres needed to pair with hotshot third baseman Manny Machado on the left side of the infield. Dripping with swagger but with the on-field play to back it up, Tatis Jr. is looking to step into his first full season in the big leagues with hopes of bringing the Friars back to postseason glory.
A prospect that some thought would fall victim to the service time mismanagement that has been running rampant throughout the league, Tatis Jr. broke spring training with the team, which was exactly what Machado had pined for throughout camp, saying that Tatis Jr. was the shortstop he wanted next to him and why he was perfectly fine playing third base if it meant this uber-prospect would have a shot to start beside him.
The 20-year old and son of former MLB player Fernando Tatis (pretty easy to associate), Tatis Jr. is struggling a bit in his transition to MLB pitching, with eight hits and a .222 average across 36 at-bats.
With his fame and his story alone, Tatis Jr. is one of the favorites to win the NL award. Provided there are no injuries or service time issues, look for Tatis Jr. to be in a two rookie race by the time Aug. 31st comes around.
Dakota Hudson – RP, St. Louis Cardinals
One of a plethora of young, big-time arms on the St. Louis Cardinals staff, Dakota Hudson is the ultimate dark horse in the NL ROY race, mostly due to his lack of page-jumping stats and skills that he possesses.
In his cup of coffee last season, Hudson put together a rather strong stretch, going 4-1 with a 2.63 ERA in 26 games out of the bullpen. Hudson is being used in a split role so far, as he has started a game (a 3/30 loss against Milwaukee when he pitched 4.1 innings and allowed three earned runs) and closed a game (a 4/3 win at Pittsburgh when he walked one in 0.2 innings).
Currently listed in their rotation, Hudson is a solid piece that should immensely help the Cardinals rotation as the team again tries to make it back to the playoffs on the heels of acquiring both Paul Goldschmidt and Andrew Miller this offseason.
Victor Robles – CF, Washington Nationals
With no superstar like Bryce Harper breathing down his neck, Victor Robles now gets the run of the outfield, being able to lead the ranks in the field while impressing people at the plate.
Robles is the betting favorite to win this award, and his combination of speed, power, hitting prowess, and defensive awareness makes it easy to see why he is favored so heavily. The Nationals keep plugging in sparks into the outfield, and combing Robles with Juan Soto makes for a scary youthful combination for many years to come in our nation’s capital.
Look for both Robles and Tatis Jr. to be duking it out for the winner’s rights all the way down to the end of the season.
Touki Toussaint – SP, Atlanta Braves
Bearing one of the league’s coolest first and last names, Touki Toussaint is a revelation for an Atlanta Braves’ starting rotation that was looking for its final piece to help compete. After storming away with the NL East crown last season and falling to the Los Angeles Dodgers in the NLDS, the Braves need to ramp it up.
Their division now consists of a very dangerous Philadelphia Phillies team sporting Harper, a Mets squad built for the long run, and a Nationals team that believes its claim to fame is breeding superstar outfielders and giving the Brinks truck to every ace starting pitcher they see.
Toussaint will be tasked with shutting down the power bats in the East, which will be a tough ask for the rookie, but one that he should be able to stand up and meet. For the Braves, the success of their season comes down to their pitching staff, and Toussaint has all the pieces to be that guy for them when they need outs the most.