Jazz Chisholm, Akil Baddoo and more: MLB's 10 best rookies this season so far
By Jake Mintz
FOX Sports MLB Writer
Rookies in April are fascinating beings.
Sure, we saw some of these dudes briefly last season, but that was just a glance. September baseball is a mirage, the thinking goes, but April baseball is truth. The joy and wonder of it all make it very easy to get swooned by a rookie’s hot week in April.
Hell, after a week of Akil Baddoo, I was ready to give him the MVP award, let alone Rookie of the Year. But youngsters are volatile things, rising and falling like waves. Baseball, like life, moves fast and changes often. Patience tends to be the best course of action.
Yet while the season is still in its infancy, and there’s a decent chance that our eventual Rookies of the Year aren’t even in the majors right now, let’s collectively put discretion on the backburner and get irrationally overhyped about some rookies. Here are the first-years who had the best Aprils.
If the season ended right now, which it thankfully does not, Chisholm would be the NL Rookie of the Year — no questions asked. The Bahamian whirlwind has arguably been the league’s most enrapturing figure in the early going. He’s must-see-TV, a demon on the bases and a problem at the dish, all the while flashing a smile that four out of five dentists could only dream of. Chisholm makes the game look shockingly easy, and more importantly, he makes the game look intoxicatingly fun.
Rogers is, in some ways, the opposite of Chisholm. There might not be a player on the Marlins less likely to dye his hair blue than the soft-spoken, 23-year-old lefty from New Mexico, but Rogers is still spectacularly entertaining on the mound. When drafted, Rogers was built like four string beans taped to a carrot, but now he has Trout neck. He has carved thus far in 2021, thanks to a mid-90s heater that he has been able to locate effectively inside to righties. On Monday, he solidly out-dueled Corbin Burnes, who’d been the hottest pitcher in the game. Rogers is a low-key dude on a high-key team, but he has a shot to be one of the league’s best southpaws in a few years.
Weathers has the baby face of a teen movie bully, and honestly, he pitches like one, too. He is the league’s youngest regular starting pitcher so far this season, and despite being on the league’s most visible club, the Padres, he has kind of gone under the radar. The young lefty succeeds with high heat, a wipeout slider and relentless aggression. In his two starts against the Dodgers so far this year, Weathers allowed a total of no runs and struck out a batter an inning. That's not bad for a dude who was born after "SpongeBob" premiered.
When the Dodgers let Kiké Hérnandez leave in free agency, there was never really a worry about finding a worthy replacement, considering that the Dodgers' player development machine could probably turn my 86-year-old grandma into a league-average hitter. Enter stage left: Zach McKinstry. A 33rd-round pick out of Central Michigan, McKinstry is this year’s Chris Taylor or Max Muncy. He's the Dodger you’ve never heard of, but he is is frustratingly good and on your TV all the time.
Carlson doesn’t really do anything sexy, but who am I to talk? The dude is just a flat-out good hitter. He has a mature approach for his age and moves around a baseball field like he’s the son of a coach (which he is). He is exactly the type of nondescript yet dominant hitter the Cardinals always seem to have in droves. It's easy to see Carlson casually hitting .280 with 25 homers and 25 doubles and winning ROY.
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Seven years ago, he was at the bottom of the professional baseball ladder, slugging taters and riding desert busses for the White Sands Pupfish in Alamogordo, New Mexico. Now, he’s an MLB sensation. And while it’s still early, Mercedes is starting to look like more than just a flash in the pan. Very few hitters have Yermín’s light-tower power and borderline deadball-era ability to spray base hits "where they ain’t." The 28-year-old is an absolute joy to watch and a gleeful addition to what was already a party atmosphere on the South Side. No one else on this list has a hamburger named after him.
Built like a "Baywatch" lifeguard with the fastball to match, Kopech has been dominant out of the pen so far for the White Sox. Once one of the game’s most enticing pitching prospects, Kopech missed the previous two seasons (Tommy John/opted out of the COVID Cup), so there were some doubts heading into this season about what he could do. Doubt no longer, fools. The charismatic, fireballing Texan is back, and he should be a huge factor in the AL Central race, whether or not he slides back into the rotation.
The 28-year-old Cuban has been the Rangers' best hitter this year by far. After defecting in 2017, García languished for a few years in the Cardinals system before being dealt to Texas for everyone’s favorite player, Cash Considerations. García has completely reinvented his swing — it’s much, much simpler and quieter — and as a result, he has been blasting baseballs nonstop. His strikeout rate is still pretty high, but that won’t matter much if he keeps hitting laser beams.
We certainly got a tantalizing taste of what Baddoo could be in his first two weeks in the show. Whether or not he can be that dude over a full season is the bigger question. But even though that’s a fair question, it’s important to not let that turn into snarky skepticism. Baddoo is probably not a true talent .300 hitter with 40 home runs, but that shouldn’t stop us from letting the wonder of his unexpected success for the Tigers wow us. If the former Rule-5 pick develops into an extremely fun, average big leaguer, that’s a huge success for both the club and Baddoo himself.
Believe it or not, we’ve never before had a situation in which the reigning ALCS MVP, who broke the record for home runs in a postseason, is still rookie-eligible the following year. While Arozarena was tearing the autumn to shreds for the Rays, there was quite a bit of chatter about how real his breakout performance was. Well, early reports on Arozarena's 2021 are that he looks pretty darn good. Despite the ascensions of Baddoo and Mercedes and the impending arrival of Jarred Kelenic, Arozarena remains the AL Rookie of the Year front-runner for the time being.
Jake Mintz is the louder half of @CespedesBBQ and a baseball analyst for FOX Sports. He’s an Orioles fan living in New York City, and thus, he leads a lonely existence most Octobers. If he’s not watching baseball, he’s almost certainly riding his bike. You can follow him on Twitter at @Jake_Mintz.