The MLB stretch run is here. With playoff spots up for grabs and the trade deadline in the rearview mirror, young players thrust into starting roles could be a huge part of deciding whether their teams make it to October.
And, along the way, they might pick up some hardware for themselves.
The Rookie of the Year race is all but decided in the National League, and still up for grabs in the American League, but plenty of fresh faces could be making names for themselves over the next seven weeks. Here are nine rookies in the pennant race you need to know.
(All stats current entering Monday’s games.)
Jonathan India, Cincinnati Reds second baseman
The biggest revelation of the class, India has all but sewn up the NL Rookie of the Year award with a super polished approach at the plate. With the fifth-best on-base percentage among all qualified hitters, he has taken over the leadoff spot in Cincinnati and become one of the most productive hitters in baseball, rookie or not.
Of note: As the Reds chase the Padres in the NL wild card race, India is hitting better than ever. He has blasted nine of his 15 homers since the All-Star break.
OK, so you probably already know Arozarena. The out-of-nowhere 2020 postseason hero is still a rookie and currently the favorite to take home AL Rookie of the Year honors. He’s doing about what was expected outside of his October hot streak — plenty of power (16 homers) and speed (11 steals) along with a bushel of strikeouts, which nets out to a productive corner outfielder.
Luis Garcia, Houston Astros pitcher
The Astros right-hander leapt directly from High-A ball in 2019 to the majors for 12 1/3 innings in 2020, and now into the rotation in 2021. If that seems like a daunting test, well, Garcia has passed with flying colors. The latest pitching development triumph for Houston, he’s striking out a stellar 29.4% of batters he faces and running a 3.30 ERA.
Andrew Vaughn, Chicago White Sox outfielder
Another player who jumped directly from High-A to the majors because of the pandemic’s disruption of the minor leagues, Vaughn has made serious adjustments on the fly while also learning to play outfield when the White Sox were hampered by injuries.
There will be plenty of work to do to maintain this level, but Vaughn has been absolutely locked in since the start of July, slashing .309/.372/.537 and establishing himself as a slugger who is also difficult to strike out.
Ian Anderson, Atlanta Braves pitcher
After a sensational debut in 2020, Anderson retains rookie eligibility. He’s currently on a rehab assignment, and when he returns to Atlanta he will be dropped into the middle of a razor-thin NL East race. Just 23 years old, his ace potential makes a 3.56 ERA this season feel like somewhat of a letdown, but he has plenty of time to put the Braves on his shoulders. He already showed that no moment is too big for him with postseason dominance.
LaMonte Wade Jr., San Francisco Giants outfielder
Wade is not going to eclipse India and take the award, but he should win some other award for being the clearest example of what has made Farhan Zaidi’s Giants so good this year.
A Twins castoff who never gained traction in the majors despite strong minor-league numbers, Wade has unlocked a power stroke and filled in admirably at several positions in San Francisco.
Shane McClanahan, Tampa Bay Rays pitcher
Quick, which current Rays pitcher has made the most starts for the AL East leaders this year? That would be McClanahan.
A 2020 postseason debutante, McClanahan — along with Ryan Yarbrough — has to be considered something like the workhorse for this ever-fluid Rays staff. Having lost Tyler Glasnow, and traded away Rich Hill, they need McClanahan to give them some innings. So far, so good. He’s striking out more than 10 batters per nine with a 3.73 ERA, and has gone at least five frames in his last five starts.
Alek Manoah, Toronto Blue Jays pitcher
Giving chase in the AL East, the Blue Jays are getting a huge boost from Manoah. A burly 6-foot-6 righty, Manoah has come out firing. Armed with two different fastballs and a slider that will break all the way across the plate, he has a 2.59 ERA through 11 big-league starts.
Wander Franco, Tampa Bay Rays shortstop
Finally, there’s Franco. The consensus No. 1 prospect in baseball started too late and a bit too slow to truly contend for Rookie of the Year, but his unspectacular full-season numbers belie how well he has played recently.
Over the past month, he’s batting .272/.333/.485 with four of his six homers, and doing all that while striking out less than 15% of the time. He might not win hardware to go with his prospect pedigree, but Franco could still be the most impactful young player come playoff time.
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