Since the inception of the Rookie of the Year Award in 1947, there has only been one Canadian winner (Jason Bay, 2004). In 2019, there are two Canadians competing for the Award, one in the American League and one in the National League. Vladimir Guerrero Jr. (Montreal, QC) of the Toronto Blue Jays and Mike Soroka (Calgary, AB) of Atlanta Braves could both compete for the AL and NL honours respectively. Here is a look at the case for Guerrero and Soroka.
Vladimir Guerrero Jr.
MLB’s top-ranked prospect has struggled in his first month and a half with the Jays. Guerrero Jr. won the AL Player of the Week for May 13-19, hitting .333, with 6 runs, 4 home runs, and 8 RBI. But outside that week he has struggled – hitting .233, with 3 home runs and 7 RBI.
Prior to the season, a poll was conducted by MLB.com, predicting the Rookie of the Year winners and the American League the experts overwhelmingly voted for Guerrero Jr. His offensive dominance of pitching in the minors (.331/.413/.531 in the minors) had many analysts thinking it would be a smooth transition to the Show.
They also listed MLB Pipeline’s number three ranked prospect Eloy Jiminez and a pair of Mariner pitchers, Yusei Kikuchi and Justus Sheffield. A third of the way into 2019, none of the predicted frontrunners are in contention. But a weak American League rookie class has left the door open to the Jays third baseman to jump back into the race.
Tampa Bay Rays second baseman Brandon Lowe leads all AL rookies in runs, hits, doubles, home runs, RBI, and stolen bases. On the pitching side, Detroit Tigers starter Spencer Turnball, Boston Red Sox reliever Marcus Walden, and Baltimore Orioles starter John Means are all early contenders for Rookie of the Year. Red Sox second baseman Michael Chavis was an early contender, but has fallen off after a hot start.
The American League race is wide open and Guerrero has nothing but time to claim back his rightful throne of Rookie of the Year favourite.
Despite being a top-20 prospect last year, and holding his own in five starts in 2018 – Soroka was not considered a frontrunner for the 2019 NL Rookie of the Year.
The Calgary-native went 3-1, with 3.51 ERA, and 21 strike outs in 25.2 innings before being shutdown with right shoulder inflammation last year. Soroka was thought to be a strong contender for one of the Braves open rotation spots, but a shoulder issue this Spring, forced him to miss the start of the season.
But since being called up on April 18, Soroka has been lights out against Big League batters. He gave up one or less earned run in his first six starts of the season. Fernando Valenzuela was the only other rookie pitcher under 21 years old to accomplish this feat.
There is a case to be made that the 20-year old has benefitted from the Braves schedule, as five of his seven victories have come against lowly offensive teams (Marlins, Tigers, Giants and Reds). But in the other five games, he has only given up 4 earned runs in 30 innings (1.20 ERA), with 26 strikeouts.
The 2015 first-round pick is currently on pace for 18 wins this season, which would be the most wins by a Canadian rookie pitcher since Russ Ford won 26 with the New York Yankees in 1910. Scott Diamond was the last Canadian to earn double digit wins in his rookie season (12 wins in 2012).
There is a flashy and exciting NL rookie class this season, but Soroka has been arguably the flashiest and most exciting of the bunch. Other leading NL rookies, include number two overall prospect Fernando Tatis Jr. of the San Diego Padres, New York Mets slugger Pete Alonso, and Padres ace Chris Paddack.
The pre-season predictions by MLB.com had Tatis Jr. winning the Rookie Award. Despite a mediocre Spring offensively, he broke camp with the Padres. The son of former Expos third baseman Fernando Tatis, missed over a month with a left hamstring strain but has looked solid, when healthy.
Fellow Padres rookie Chris Paddack may be the most talked about rookie starter this season. The 23-year has quickly stepped into the ace role in San Diego and his 2.97 ERA and 66 strikeouts in 60.2 innings certainly keeps him in the conversation for Rookie of the Year. But even so, Soroka still leads Paddack in most stats, including innings pitched, ERA, wins, and he has only given up one home run compared to Paddock’s nine.
Mets slugger Alonso, looked like the early run away candidate, as he hit .292, with a .382 OBP, and 9 home runs in his first month in the League. The 24-year has continued to hit the long ball but he has struggled to hit consistently, seeing his average dip to .258 since May 1.
Having two legitimate candidates for Rookie of the Year would be huge for Canadian baseball. Since Jason Bay became the first, and only, Canadian to win the Rookie of the Year, only five Canadians have received any votes for the Award. Freddie Freeman in 2011 and Joey Votto in 2008 were the only two that came close to winning (both finished second). 2005 was the only season that Canadians received votes in both the American and National League, with Jesse Crain of the Twins finishing eighth and Jeff Francis of the Rockies finishing sixth.
The Rookie of the Year is rarely decided in the first few months of the season and the pool could look very different by season’s end. Richard Justice of MLB.com recently wrote an article on current Rookie of the Year leaders. He had Alonso and Lowe winning the NL and AL respectively, but had Guerrero Jr. and Soroka both right behind.
(Top Photo: Marc Serota/Getty Images)