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The 2022 MLB rookie class should go down as one of the best ever, and the six nominees for the Jackie Robinson Rookie of the Year Award are paragons of exactly why.
Do you like uber-versatile infielders? We’ve got one on this list.
How about a catcher who looks like the total package? Or a flamethrowing pitcher who turns bats into sawdust? They are here, too.
In short, this crop has it all. It may even contain the next face of the entire sport.
Here’s a look at the case for each of the six finalists before the AL and NL winners are announced Monday on MLB Network at 6 p.m. ET.
Steven Kwan, LF, Guardians
Without Kwan, the Guardians would not have been remotely close to being as successful of a team in 2022.
Heading into Spring Training, Kwan was an outfielder who had rave reviews from Cleveland’s player development system. Guardians manager Terry Francona jokes that he tried to find someone to tell him that Kwan shouldn’t make the Opening Day roster because he was young and inexperienced, but he couldn’t. Within the first few days of the regular season, Kwan stole the national spotlight, seeing 116 pitches before his first swing and miss, the most of any player to start a career since at least 2000, according to the Elias Sports Bureau.
His first (and only) test came in May, when he scuffled for a three-week span, but the way he responded to those hurdles proved he was more than ready for his big league career, finding a way to not only get back on track but continue to get better for the remainder of the season. He became the permanent fixture atop Cleveland’s lineup, setting the tone for the team’s patient approach at the plate. He hit .298 with a .773 OPS (124 OPS+), 25 doubles, seven triples, 52 RBIs, 19 stolen bases and 62 walks with just 60 strikeouts in 147 games.
His consistency transferred from the batter’s box to left field, where he became a reliable defender, whether it was game-saving diving plays, assists or throwing himself into the stands to make a catch. MLB proved what Cleveland already knew at the beginning of November when it awarded Kwan a Gold Glove for his efforts. — Mandy Bell
Julio Rodr?guez , CF, Mariners
Where to start? How about statistically? The 21-year-old was the only rookie All-Star this year and paced first-year players in virtually every offensive category, including home runs (28), wins above replacement — by both Baseball-Reference (6.0) and FanGraphs (5.3) — slugging percentage (.509), OPS (.853), wRC+ (146) and total bases (260). He ranked second in RBIs (75), runs scored (84) and stolen bases (25) and third in hits (145).
Rodr?guez also accumulated the volume of an entire season, having played his way onto the Opening Day roster by wowing just about everyone with the best Spring Training of any player on the Mariners’ roster. Though injuries to his right wrist and lower back sidelined him for a period and he was limited to 132 games total, Rodr?guez still was among not just the best power-hitting rookie outfielders, but those in the entire game. On Thursday, he was named an AL Silver Slugger Award winner, along with Aaron Judge and Mike Trout.
Steven Kwan was outstanding, played in more games (147) and impacted just about every one of them with his incredible flair in the field and slap-hitting ability, and Adley Rutschman almost single-handedly lifted the Orioles into contention after his arrival, but he didn’t debut until May 21. Both are fine candidates, but Rodr?guez should be the unanimous winner. — Daniel Kramer
Adley Rutschman, C, Orioles
The switch-hitting catcher’s 5.3 fWAR ranked first on the O’s and was tied with Rodr?guez for best among all rookies this year. Without Rutschman, Baltimore likely would not have come close to its 83-79 record (which was a 31-game improvement from the previous year).
Rutschman’s offensive stats were impressive, especially for a backstop. He batted .254/.362/.445 with 13 homers and 42 RBIs. The 24-year-old’s 35 doubles were the most in a season by a catcher or a rookie in Orioles history — records previously held by Javy Lopez (33 in 2004) and Hall of Famer Cal Ripken Jr. (32 in 1982), respectively.
But Rutschman’s impact went well beyond what he did with his bat. His 18 Defensive Runs Saved ranked second among MLB catchers behind only the Yankees’ Jose Trevino. Rutschman also greatly helped out Baltimore’s pitchers — FanGraphs graded him as the second-best pitch-framer this season, tied with Texas’ Jonah Heim and behind only Trevino.
Oh, and Rutschman wasn’t even in the big leagues until May 21, six weeks after Opening Day. It didn’t take long, though, for him to look like one of the best catchers in the Majors and to become a leader for the Orioles in their turnaround season.
How much better were the O’s once Rutschman arrived? They went 16-24 before his debut, then 67-55 following his callup. There weren’t many players this year who had such a large impact on a team — especially not as a rookie. — Jake Rill
Brendan Donovan, UTIL, Cardinals
Donovan became the first rookie in the rich history of the Cardinals to win a Gold Glove and he needed only a week in Major League Baseball to notch a modern-day achievement that showed off his tremendous defensive versatility. That said, Donovan is expected to finish a distant third in the voting for the top rookie award behind Braves stars Spencer Strider and Michael Harris II, but being a finalist is still a tremendous nod to the first season the 25-year-old Donovan had in St. Louis.
Despite starting the season at Triple-A Memphis, Donovan became just the third rookie in the Modern Era to play at least six games at six different defensive positions, per Elias Sports. In his first week in the big leagues, Donovan started at shortstop, third, second and first base – a first for any AL/NL rookie since 1900, per Elias. Ultimately, Donovan played 854 1/3 MLB innings across six positions and committed just eight errors. That earned him the first Rawlings NL Utility Gold Glove and made him the only Cardinals rookie to nab a top defensive honor.
Donovan’s excellence carried over to the plate where he showed tremendous patience and maturity. He led NL rookies in walks (60) and on-base percentage (.394) while ranking second in hits (110) and runs (64). His biggest moment of the season came on Sept. 22, when he smashed a go-ahead grand slam to help the Cardinals end a three-game losing streak and beat the Padres. Four nights later, the Cardinals clinched the NL Central crown. — John Denton
Michael Harris II, CF, Braves
Despite not making his MLB debut until May 28, Harris led all NL rookies with a 5.3 bWAR. The Cardinals’ Brendan Donovan ranked second with a 4.1 bWAR.
Harris experienced just one full professional season before making the smooth leap from Double-A to the Majors. The 21-year-old outfielder hit .297 with 19 homers, 20 stolen bases and a .853 OPS. He finished one homer shy of becoming just the second NL rookie to record 20 homers and 20 stolen bases in one season (Arizona’s Chris Young in 2007 is the only one to do it).
Along with strengthening Atlanta’s lineup with his power and speed, Harris quickly showed why he could be a future Gold Glove Award winner. He missed most of the season’s first two months, but still finished fifth among all center fielders with eight Defensive Runs Saved and ranked eighth among this group with eight Outs Above Average.
Harris was five games into his career when the Braves began a 14-game winning streak that propelled them to a fifth straight NL East crown. Atlanta went 79-35 with Harris in the lineup. That equates to a 112-win pace over 162 games. — Mark Bowman
Spencer Strider, RHP Braves
Strider entered 2022 with just one full Minor League season under his belt. But that didn’t stop him from recording 200 strikeouts faster than any other NL or AL pitcher has in any season.
Strider reached 200 strikeouts at exactly 130 innings. Randy Johnson had previously set the record when he needed 130 2/3 innings to notch 200 strikeouts in 2001. Gerrit Cole had ranked second, needing 133 1/3 innings to reach the mark in 2019.
Though Strider didn’t transition from reliever to starter until May 30, he became the Braves’ first rookie of the Modern Era to produce a 200-strikeout season.
Strider went 11-5 with a 2.67 ERA over 31 appearances (20 starts). He limited opponents to a .517 OPS and produced a 38.3 percent strikeout rate, which ranked first among all MLB pitchers who completed at least 130 innings.
Selected in the fourth round of the 2020 MLB Draft, Strider entered this year having completed just 96 1/3 innings above the college level. But he experienced few pitfalls in the big leagues. He dominated as a reliever during the season’s first two months and then truly shined while producing a 2.77 ERA over 20 starts. He constructed a 0.988 WHIP and struck out 38.1 percent of the batters he faced as a starter. — Mark Bowman