Major League Baseball's regular season is right around the corner, making this the optimal time to focus on everyone's favorite subject: the potential Rookie of the Year Award races in both leagues. To help scratch that particular itch, we here at CBS Sports have decided to take a comprehensive look at the field, highlighting the prospective favorites and the trendy dark horses.
In this piece, we'll be focusing exclusively on the American League.
Before we dive in, we should note that this exercise is more of an art than a science based on the information we have on hand. The universe is vast and infinite in its possibilities. Should a player not listed below end up winning the award, take that not as a sign of our incompetence (though that may also play a role), but as a testament to the sweet, unexpected joy of life itself.
Let's get to it.
"That ball was SMOKED!"— MLB Pipeline (@MLBPipeline) March 20, 2023
MLB's No. 1 overall prospect, Gunnar Henderson, connects on his first homer with the @Orioles this spring. pic.twitter.com/XDkz5z0b8b
We'll begin with two Baltimore Orioles who cracked CBS Sports' top 10 prospect list: infielder Gunnar Henderson and right-hander Grayson Rodriguez. Henderson ranked No. 1 overall thanks to his above-average athleticism, raw strength, and disciplined eye. He's had some issues with left-handed pitchers, but he posted a 123 OPS+ in 34 games last season and he should start most of the time at a premium defensive position, presumably shortstop. Rodriguez, No. 7 on the list, would've made his big-league debut last summer had he not injured his lat. He could break camp with the Orioles thanks to an arsenal that includes three well-above-average pitches. He struck out 37 percent of the minor-league batters he faced last season. No other team had two players in the top 10 (the Orioles had three), and certainly none of them had two prospects of his quality ready to join the big-league club.
Holy Yoshida!! What a CLUTCH home run to tie it 🤯🇯🇵 pic.twitter.com/e4GJeVYKBQ— FOX Sports: MLB (@MLBONFOX) March 21, 2023
As with New York Mets right-hander Kodai Senga, it feels silly and almost insulting to include Boston Red Sox outfielder Masataka Yoshida in a piece about rookies. Yoshida is 29 years old and he spent the last seven years battering Nippon Professional Baseball league pitchers to the tune of a .326/.419/.538 slash line. He's a rookie by MLB's definition, so it would be foolish of us to not mention him. The evaluators we've spoken to about Yoshida have praised his contact and on-base chops, but have doubts about how much of his power will transfer to the MLB environment. We'll find out.
#Yankees top prospect Anthony Volpe is hitting .308 this spring. Seven of his 12 hits are for extra bases, including this double today: pic.twitter.com/DWUznioOJp— Bryan Hoch (@BryanHoch) March 21, 2023
We'll wrap up the favorites section with a pair of shortstops employed by the New York Yankees. Oswald Peraza figures to get the first crack at the job. He showed off last season, hitting for a 139 OPS+ in 18 big-league games. Peraza won't keep up that production at the plate, but he is a good defender and his candidacy can't be harmed by playing for the Yankees. At some point this season, Anthony Volpe figures to join New York's lineup. He's a better hitter than Peraza, even if he ends up shifting down the defensive spectrum. Both Volpe (No. 12) and Peraza (No. 41) made CBS Sports' top 50 list.
The dark horses
Hunter Brown vs. (his idol) Justin Verlander, Mechanics. pic.twitter.com/x8AKa1Q90C— Rob Friedman (@PitchingNinja) September 6, 2022
Lance McCullers Jr.'s injury meant that Houston Astros right-hander Hunter Brown will begin the season in the majors instead of the minors. You may know him as the pitcher whose delivery mimics Justin Verlander's. He has good stuff -- last year he struck out more than 30 percent of the batters he faced between the majors and minors -- but his location could be better. McCullers has recently begun throwing again, though he'll need to go through what amounts to his own personal spring training before he's ready to roll. Brown will have plenty of time, then, to prove he's ready for showtime.
Elsewhere in the AL West, the Texas Rangers have Josh Jung slotted in at the hot corner. He's a former No. 8 pick whose ascent has been slowed by injury and the pandemic. He performed miserably in 26 games last season, hitting for an 83 OPS+ and compiling 35 more strikeouts than walks. This is Jung's age-25 season, so it's time to fly or flop. The Los Angeles Angels also have a pair of intriguing rookies either arriving or coming soon: Catcher Logan O'Hoppe was a good, well-rounded get from the Philadelphia Phillies last deadline as part of the Brandon Marsh trade, while recent first-round pick Zach Neto could take the six as his own by summertime, albeit perhaps too late to factor into voting.
Tanner Bibee was firing on all cylinders 🔥— MLB Pipeline (@MLBPipeline) August 26, 2022
The No. 8 @CleGuardians prospect ties his career-high with 10 strikeouts for the @AkronRubberDuck! pic.twitter.com/lHrdRq04BC
In a way, the Chicago White Sox's decision to let Jose Abreu leave in free agency helped create an opening for Oscar Colás, formerly a two-way player who was nicknamed the Cuban Ohtani. (Abreu's departure allowed Andrew Vaughn to slide to first.) Colás is just a hitter these days, and he batted .314/.371/.524 with 23 home runs across three levels in 2022. He has good power, but he seldom walks and he'll need to keep his strikeouts in check. The Cleveland Guardians, for their part, could call upon various starting pitching prospects, be it Gavin Williams, Tanner Bibee, or Logan Allen (not to be confused with the former San Diego Padres and, amusingly, Guardians pitcher of the same name).
The Tampa Bay Rays have their share of potential rookie contributors. Infielder Curtis Mead (No. 29) and right-hander Taj Bradley (No. 32) get most of the print. First baseman Kyle Manzardo also deserves a mention. He's hit at every stop so far in his minor-league career, resulting in a .330/.427/.616 slash line with nearly as many walks as strikeouts. He saw only 30 games in Double-A last year, so the Rays may take a more conservative approach with him.
Triston Casas has arrived. pic.twitter.com/NhsFhX0buC— Red Sox (@RedSox) September 6, 2022
Let's keep the AL East theme going a bit longer to close out the piece. Red Sox first baseman Triston Casas has power, patience, and a clear pathway to the most-days job provided his pinkie finger doesn't get in the way. Over in Baltimore, the Orioles have yet another intriguing position player prospect in Colton Cowser. The fifth pick in the 2021 draft hit .278/.406/.469 across three minor-league levels last season and should debut relatively early this spring. The Toronto Blue Jays presumably won't push lefty Ricky Tiedemann hard enough for him to factor into this year's race. Infielder Addison Barger could be a sneaky candidate if he gets a greater opportunity than expected and finds a way to keep his strikeouts in check.