At the age of 23, Japanese baseball superstar Shohei Ohtani came to the United States to play Major League Baseball. Instead of waiting a year and signing a multi-million dollar deal, he made the questionable decision to sign for the league minimum in 2018. That’s just how much he wanted to play here. After two months in the big leagues, Ohtani looked like a steal for the Angels. He was a two-way player and the easy pick for the AL Rookie of the Year, but now everything has gone wrong thanks to an elbow injury.
Ohtani had been pitching to a 3.10 ERA and 3.23 FIP with an outstanding 11.13 K/9 in 49 innings so far this season. As a hitter, he also provided a .289/.372/.535 batting line with six home runs. He had accumulated about 2.0 WAR between his role as a starting pitcher and a designated hitter, and it was hard to see how someone like Gleyber Torres, as good as he has been, could beat that.
As we all know, baseball can be unfair sometimes. Ohtani has been diagnosed with a Grad 2 elbow sprain, and even if he ultimately avoids surgery, he is expected to miss a significant amount of time all the same. Either way, it feels like his run as the leading Rookie of the Year candidate has ended, opening the race for several other contenders to have a chance to compete. As much as you don’t want to root for a player to get hurt, this turn of events could end up helping two Yankees rookies in the end.
Between what Gleyber Torres and Miguel Andujar have done at the plate, they should both be among the favorites to win the American League Rookie of the Year Award. It’s still early, but it’s never a bad time to take stock of the field. Torres has hit .297/.356/.559 with 11 home runs since he was called up in April. Andujar, meanwhile, is just behind him with a .340/.552/.891 line and eight homers. They have both surprised with their increase in power and ability to collect clutch hits in key situations.
Overall, the two have a wRC+ of 147 and 133, respectively, which is second and third behind Ohtani among AL rookies. Anyone else in the conversation doesn’t measure up to either of these two. Astros catcher Max Stassi has only hit .259/.336/.491 with six home runs, Rays second baseman Joey Wendle is merely hitting a league-average .277/.325/.379, and White Sox outfielder Daniel Palka has hit .264/.298/.520 and six home runs with no value in the field. Advanced stats have not been kind to either Yankees rookies, but neither of them have been a hinderance thus far. Considering there are no rookie starting pitchers bursting onto the scene, it seems like the Yankees are in the clear here.
As long as one of Torres or Andujar continue to hit, they should be able to distance themselves from the rest of the field. It’s cool to think that after going 20 years without a Rookie of the Year, the Yankees could have two winners in a row, after Aaron Judge won last year. If you include Gary Sanchez’s rookie run in 2016, that’s three years of Yankees finishing at or near the top in voting. It’s disappointing to see Ohtani go down like this, but one of Torres or Andujar will surely deserve it by the end of the season.