MLB Rookie of the Year Odds & Betting Picks: Our Staff Drafts its Best Bets for 2021
Getty Images. Pictured: Braves pitcher Ian Anderson, Rays outfielder Randy Arozarena, Marlins pitcher Sixto Sanchez, Pirates third baseman Ke’Bryan Hayes
The 2021 Major League Baseball season begins this week, and with it comes a new group of young players looking to make names for themselves in the majors.
Because of MLB’s rookie eligibility rules being prorated given the shortened 2020 season, many players you grew familiar with a year ago are still rookie eligible, making the pool of candidates for the two Rookie of the Year awards more diluted than usual.
Our experts pored over the field to come up with their favorite bets, and made their selections fantasy draft-style, with price of course a driving force. Below are their 18 favorite bets to win the AL and NL Rookie of the Year awards.
1. Collin Wilson — Bobby Witt Jr., Kansas City Royals (+2500, FanDuel)
The biggest skeptic to the Royals’ No. 1 prospect was the Royals’ No. 1 fan: me. Witt has always been described as a “plus defender, outstanding arm, potential for double-digit home runs.” This kind of description often turns into the Andrelton Simmons’ of the world where the bat never pans out but the defense is remarkable. After visiting Surprise, Ari., this spring to get my eyes on Witt, I am completely sold.
He is a complete menace at the plate by extending pitch counts and making contact with anything. This is a player who had no service time in 2020, so his growth is unknown. Witt displayed excellent defense and a better knack of plate discipline than Adalberto Mondesi, but the power was a bit of a shock. What you won’t see in a box score is that Witt took Julio Urias 350 feet deep in foul territory before sending one in his next at-bat over left center with ease.
Witt has been a frozen rope machine throughout Royals camp with a home run rate closer to Jorge Soler than Whit Merrifield. There is a legitimate chance Witt has a 20/20 season if the Royals call him up early, and with the defensive metrics and a Royals’ push towards .500, that is a Rookie of the Year quality.
2. Sean Zerillo — Ian Anderson, Atlanta Braves (+800, William Hill)
If you allow me a hot take for the Braves’ 2021 outlook, it is that Anderson — and not Max Fried nor Mike Soroka — will be Atlanta’s most effective pitcher. The former No. 3-overall pick dominated at every stop on his quick ascent through the minor leagues, while striking out 11.4 batters per nine innings in 2019 in the high minors — matching his 2020 strikeout rate at the MLB level.
Moreover, his low-spin fastball (10th percentile) and curveball (seventh percentile) help to generate a high number of ground balls (52.5%), while his best pitch — a changeup — worked to tame left-handed hitters (.201 wOBA vs. .269 vs. righties). It’s difficult to find any weaknesses in Anderson’s profile; he’s extremely polished for a young pitcher, and on the path to an All-Star caliber season if he repeats his 2020 success.
3. Matthew Trebby — Ke’Bryan Hayes, Pittsburgh Pirates (+350, DraftKings)
Three of the last 10 Rookie of the Year winners have been pitchers. One was Shohei Ohtani and the other was Devin Williams, who might have been the best reliever in baseball.
For this award, it’s smart to look at guys who are going to play every day. Among the biggest favorites, only Hayes and Dylan Carlson fit the bill. While Carlson struggled in the majors in 2020, while Hayes showed flashes last season of potential that could be the saving grace for what is surely going to be a horrible Pirates season.
A phenomenal athlete, Hayes can do it all. He raked last season in 24 games to the tune of a 1.124 OPS, and he’s going to play every day. The pitching prospects are good, but probably not good enough to take this award away from a position player candidate as strong as Hayes.
4. Travis Reed — Jazz Chisholm, Miami Marlins (+3000, DraftKings)
For MVP bets, I discard players who are projected to play on bad teams. For top rookies though, I think being on a bad team can actually help as teams should be inclined to let their younger players play everyday to get a better idea of how good they really are.
Chisholm fits this mold, as the Marlins are not expected to compete for a playoff spot. Jazz’s numbers last year don’t jump off the page as he hit .161 in 58 at-bats. His skills make him worth a bet as a long shot, though. He is in the 81st percentile in sprint speed according to Statcast and had a hard-hit percentage of 33%. His main concern is the strikeout rate of 29%. If he can cut down on his swings and misses and use his speed to get on base more, he could break out for Miami.
5. Brad Cunningham — Sixto Sánchez, Miami Marlins (+500, DraftKings)
The Marlins’ rotation starts with rookie Sixto Sánchez, who has some of the most electric stuff in the game.
— Prospects Live (@ProspectsLive) September 3, 2020
His numbers in only nine starts were pretty fantastic: 3.50 FIP, 2.54 BB/9, and 0.69 HR/9. Righties hit him pretty well last year, posting a .329 wOBA, but he was dominant against left-handed hitters. Lefties were only able to put up .239 wOBA and of the 74 lefties he faced only two were able to get extra base hits.
Sixto usually mixes between his three main pitches, but throws his changeup most often and for good reason, since opponents were only able to put a .149 wOBA against it last season. He somewhat struggled with his fastball and sinker, but if he can figure out some control on both pitches he’s going to be incredibly effective since he can top out both pitches at 99+ mph with movement.
6. Collin Whitchurch — Ha-Seong Kim, San Diego Padres (+1800, DraftKings)
This is admittedly a bit of a risk, as the biggest question with Kim is a matter of playing time. On a stacked San Diego team, plate appearances might be scarce for the former KBO star, particularly if he gets off to a slow start. At present, FanGraphs projects Kim to get 322 plate appearances, while Baseball Prospectus says 395. That’s a little more than a half-season’s worth of plate appearances, and rest assured, there will be rookies who get more.
But what Kim has over the others is a seven-year professional track record of hitting the snot out of the ball. There is plenty of precedent for professionals from other leagues winning the award (Shohei Ohtani, José Abreu in recent history) and if Kim becomes a key part of a dominant San Diego squad — which I think he will — 18/1 odds are too good to pass up.
7. Collin Whitchurch — Deivi García, New York Yankees (+3000, FanDuel)
There isn’t a lot of evidence that playing in a major market boosts a player’s chances of taking home an award, but it certainly can’t hurt. Likewise, if the narrative becomes a young flamethrower boosting his contending team’s shaky rotation, and that player happens to be a Yankee, it’s a recipe for a winner.
García isn’t currently projected to be in the Yankees’ rotation, but the four guys behind Gerrit Cole aren’t exactly models of good health. And whether it’s in a starting role, a multi-inning stopper, or something in between, García is certainly going to contribute, and he has the stuff to be really good. He’s worth a shot at 30/1.
8. Brad Cunningham — Bobby Dalbec, Boston Red Sox (+2000, DraftKings)
The Red Sox aren’t going to contend this season, so Dalbec is going to get a lot of time at first base. He’s been drilling homer after homer run in spring training right now as he already has six and 13 RBIs in only 39 at-bats.
Anyone who wasn’t on the Bobby Dalbec 46-homer train two weeks ago isn’t allowed on after today. pic.twitter.com/1qTtmcJWud
— Jared Carrabis (@Jared_Carrabis) March 22, 2021
Dalbec has amazing raw power, which is what has scouts salivating coming into the 2021 season. In his brief appearance in the big leagues last season he was fantastic, hitting eight homers and put up a .400 wOBA.
ZIPS has him hitting 26 homers this season, so if he can outperform those projections, while also hitting for a decent average, he’s worth a shot at 20/1.
9. Travis Reed — Dylan Carlson, St. Louis Cardinals (+850, FanDuel)
Carlson has been the Cardinals’ top hitting prospect for a few years now, and this figures to be the year that he gets the most playing time to confirm that ranking. All of the skills are there to become a great hitter, and the biggest boost to his chances may have come in an offseason trade.
While the Cardinals’ lineup isn’t set in stone, he very well could be hitting in the 2-spot in front of Paul Goldschmidt and Nolan Arenado, which should give him plenty of pitches to hit. The other option would be hitting behind those big boppers which could lead to plenty of opportunities to drive in runs. While RBI isn’t that important to the sabermetrics community, it still is valuable to the media that vote on this award.
If Carlson becomes an important cog in the Cardinals’ lineup that leads to a division title, that could be the perfect narrative to him winning the award.
10. Matthew Trebby — Randy Arozarena, Tampa Bay Rays (+350, DraftKings)
It’s crazy that Arozarena is about to play in his third major-league season but is still considered a rookie. Down the stretch, he was the heart of the Rays’ lineup and is set to play a prominent role again in 2021. In 99 career games, Arozorena has a .991 OPS, and, of course, hit 10 home runs in 18 postseason games last season.
With rookies, you want opportunity and talent for this award. Both boxes are checked here.
11. Sean Zerillo — Triston McKenzie, Cleveland Indians (+3000, Westgate; +2000, William Hill)
No organization does a better job of developing young pitching talent than Cleveland, and McKenzie looks like the next in a long line of young aces to emerge from this system. The lanky righty posted a 33.1% strikeout rate in 2020, becoming the fourth pitcher in MLB history (along with Kerry Wood and Stephen Strasburg) to strike out more than 33% of batters faced over five or more starts during their first big-league season.
McKenzie is a strike thrower with three above-average offerings (fastball, slider, curveball) and a still-developing changeup, whose stuff plays up, relative to his Statcast metrics, as a result of his height, reach, and arm angle.
The only concern with McKenzie is durability — can his beanpole handle an MLB workload? He tossed a career-high 143 innings at Double-A in 2018, and subsequently missed the 2019 season due to lat and pectoral muscle strains. McKenzie hasn’t surpassed the 90 inning threshold in any other professional season, and it’s difficult to project him to pitch more than 140-150 innings this season.
12. Collin Wilson — Jarred Kelenic, Seattle Mariners (+700, William Hill)
The view of Mariners fans has always been that Jarred Kelenic was the crown jewel of the farm system, not Kyle Lewis. It has been a quiet spring for the rookie with just four extra base hits in 23 plate appearances, but ZIPS projected Kelenic with 24 home runs and 14 stolen bases on the season.
Despite the raw power, Kelenic has the biggest question is when his service time will start in Seattle. The expectation is the Mariners keep him in Tacoma to start the season in order to extend the clock on his contract. For that reason, I would sit on the current odds of +700 and buy after the dip when it is announced that he may not be with the team until May.
13. Collin Wilson — Wander Franco, Tampa Bay Rays (+1000, William Hill)
Health questions persist for the No. 1 prospect in all of MLB. Throwing issues due to bicep soreness has led Franco to limited playing time in the spring with just 29 plate appearances. The prospect has shined in Single-A ball as a teenager, especially in the swinging strikes department.
Franco projects to be one of the best contact hitters in MLB with developing power as he grows — he’s still only 20-years-old. There is “Future MVP” attached to his name, as leading off for the Rays during a playoff push in the second half of the season could easily snag him the Rookie of the Year award.
14. Sean Zerillo — Nick Madrigal, Chicago White Sox (+2000, William Hill)
Among the 510 batters to record more than 100 combined plate appearances over the past two seasons, Madrigal ranks second with a 6.4% strikeout rate, and third with a 3.3% swinging strike rate, which isn’t wholly surprising for a batter who posted a 58:37 walk to strikeout rate in college, and a 51:21 ratio in the minor leagues.
Madrigal’s higher-end projections for 2021 are hilariously exciting, with PECOTA’s 99th percentile outcome predicting a .407/.479/.572 triple slash line. Now, I obviously don’t expect Madrigal — or anyone — to hit .400 in the modern major-league environment, but he’s a rookie with an actual path to winning a batting title, which by itself might be enough to secure AL rookie honors. My primary concern here is volume. Madrigal seems to be relegated to the 7-9 spots in Chicago’s lineup, but he has the bat control of a classic No. 2 hitter.
15. Matthew Trebby — Andrew Vaughn, Chicago White Sox (+1250, DraftKings)
When we did this exercise, Vaughn was +1800. While news of Eloy Jiménez’s brutal injury that will cause him to miss most of the season dropped Vaughn’s odds, that’s because it opened up a clear path to playing time.
While plans to play him in left field are suspect, there is zero doubt about Vaughn’s ability to hit the hell out of the baseball. All the White Sox need to do is find him a home in the lineup.
Once he gets in a rhythm, which he has been in spring training, his bat has the potential to win this award by itself, regardless of what he does out in left field.
16. Travis Reed — Joey Bart, San Francisco Giants (+2500, FanDuel)
Buster Posey is the Giants’ catcher of the past, Joey Bart is the Giants’ catcher of the future. Bart is having a great spring training, although he will still start the season in the minor leagues. With the NL West expected to be a heavyweight battle between the Dodgers and Padres, San Francisco could be looking to the future sooner rather than later.
Even if Posey is still on the team, Bart could still get playing time if Posey plays some first base or designated hitter for interleague games. I could very easily see him as the everyday catcher by June. While he may be behind some of the other rookies that start in the majors, his longshot price makes it worth it if he takes over behind the plate and continues to hit like he has at every level.
17. Brad Cunningham — Ryan Mountcastle, Baltimore Orioles (+1200, DraftKings)
If you want to take a shot at someone who is going to hit in the middle of the lineup and can hit for both average and power, Ryan Mountcastle is your guy.
Mountcastle was taken at the end of the first round of the 2015 draft and has quickly risen up to being the Orioles’ fifth-ranked prospect. He has fantastic raw power and usually makes solid contact. He was called up halfway through the 2020 season and hit .333 in 35 games while also recording 10 extra-base hits.
He’s projected to take a big leap in 2021 even though the Orioles are likely going to be one of the worst teams in baseball. ZIPS has Mountcastle projected for 21 HRs, 81 RBIs, .333 wOBA, and 107 wRC+ which are fantastic numbers for a rookie.
The thing I really like about Mountcastle at 12/1 is he is going to be in the lineup every day, he’s can play a number of different positions on the field and Baltimore will likely move him around to make sure his bat is the lineup.
18. Collin Whitchurch — Taylor Trammell, Seattle Mariners (+5000, FanDuel)
We’ll wrap this up with the longest of longshots. While all eyes around Mariners camp have understandably been focused on Jarred Kelenic, Trammell, who has been a top-100 staple for most of the last three years, won himself a spot on the Opening Day roster and figures to see the lion’s share of playing time in left field … at least to start the season.
Trammell has been traded twice already in his young career. He went from Cincinnati to San Diego in the three-team blockbuster that sent Trevor Bauer to the Reds in 2019, and from San Diego to Seattle last summer in the deal that netted the Padres Austin Nola, among others.
Throughout all that, he’s been a talented but flawed prospect. He shows plus hit and power tools and the ability to handle center, but has a lot of swing-and-miss in his game. His arm is below-average.
There’s a strong possibility that Trammell strikes out 50% of the time in April and spends the rest of the reason in Triple-A. But he’s got a lot of talent, and it’s also possible that he takes this job and runs with it. At 50/1, that’s worth a shot.