Major League Baseball's regular season is right around the corner, making this the optimal time to focus on everyone's favorite subject: the potential Rookie of the Year Award races in both leagues. To help scratch that particular itch, we here at CBS Sports have decided to take a comprehensive look at the field, highlighting the prospective favorites and the trendy dark horses.
In this piece, we'll be focusing exclusively on the National League, but you can read about the American League here.
Before we dive in, we should note that this exercise is more of an art than a science based on the information we have on hand. The universe is vast and infinite in its possibilities. Should a player not listed below end up winning the award, take that not as a sign of our incompetence (though that may also play a role), but as a testament to the sweet, unexpected joy of life itself.
Let's get to it.
We have to begin with Arizona Diamondbacks outfielder Corbin Carroll. He ranked second overall on CBS Sports' top 50 prospect list after debuting last season and batting .260/.330/.500 in 32 big-league contests, and there's no question he'll be on the Opening Day roster after agreeing to an eight-year extension worth $111 million.
Bird's eye view of @Dbacks' Corbin Carroll going 1st to 3rd in 11.43 seconds yesterday -- home to 2nd in 7.58 before "coasting" into 3rd.— MLB Pipeline (@MLBPipeline) March 15, 2023
Fastest home-to-2nd times in @MLB in 2022:
7.43 - Corbin Carroll
7.56 - Corbin Carroll
7.60 - Corbin Carroll
And he only played 32 games. pic.twitter.com/mjNbdMmdPE
Carroll is an elite speedster with surprising power given his diminutive frame. He's also a true center fielder playing left out of deference to Alek Thomas. There's a real chance Carroll posts some silly defensive metrics as a result, boosting his Wins Above Replacement total. Not every voter looks at those numbers, but enough do to make him the favorite.
If not Carroll, how about New York Mets right-hander Kodai Senga? He signed a five-year pact worth $75 million after posting a 1.89 ERA and 3.18 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 23 appearances for Nippon Professional Baseball's Fukuoka Softbank Hawks.
Kodai Senga, 83mph Ghost Fork. 👻🍴 pic.twitter.com/p62NS4J4hI— Rob Friedman (@PitchingNinja) March 5, 2023
It feels silly, bordering on downright insulting to refer to him as a rookie given that he's a 30-year-old with more than a decade of professional experience. MLB's classifications regard him as a rookie, however, so we feel obligated to include him. (Ditto for Masataka Yoshida in the American League.) Senga can run his fastball into the upper 90s, and he complements it with a devastating forkball. The latter generated a whiff on more than 50 percent of the swings taken against it last season, and boasts the fittingly cool nickname of "Ghost Fork." He's dealt with a minor injury this spring, but all indications are that he should be ready to go on Opening Day.
We'll wrap up this section with St. Louis Cardinals outfielder Jordan Walker, CBS Sports' No. 6 ranked prospect. He hasn't appeared in a Triple-A game and he won't be allowed to legally drink alcohol until late May, yet the Cardinals announced he made the Opening Day roster over the weekend.
Jordan Walker is UNREAL. 😱 pic.twitter.com/w8jtpxNl8f— MLB (@MLB) March 4, 2023
Walker moves well and possesses elite raw power, though he'll need to continue to learn to lift the ball to maximize his slugging output. That's not a huge red flag at this point; Vladimir Guerrero Jr., of the 70 home runs over the past two years, faced a similar predicament earlier in his career. Guerrero was able to stay afloat in the majors until things clicked. We'll see if Walker fares equally well.
The dark horses
Philadelphia Phillies right-hander Andrew Painter would have been listed among the favorites had he not sprained his ulnar collateral ligament. The Phillies remain optimistic that he'll pitch for them this season, but it's anyone's guess as to whether or not that belief will bear fruit. Furthermore, awards are all about counting stats.
Andrew Painter, Sword. 🧑🎨⚔️ pic.twitter.com/ZfctREnwid— Rob Friedman (@PitchingNinja) March 1, 2023
If Painter is limited to a half-season of big-league appearances, that will hamper his chances of winning the hardware. There's too much uncertainty here to list him above.
Both the Mets and Los Angeles Dodgers have a collection of players who could garner consideration. In addition to Senga, the Mets have catcher Francisco Álvarez and third baseman Brett Baty. Each could play a large role this season, depending on how things break and what New York does with Omar Narváez and Eduardo Escobar. The Dodgers seem likely to have second baseman Miguel Vargas and outfielder James Outman on their Opening Day roster, and perhaps even in their starting nine. They also have a small army of pitchers on the way, including Ryan Pepiot, Bobby Miller, and Gavin Stone.
Gavin Stone's 8Ks in 3 innings. 😯— Rob Friedman (@PitchingNinja) March 20, 2023
That changeup is gonna be a problem. pic.twitter.com/AlfrjBgh0O
Cincinnati Reds shortstop Elly De La Cruz is as dynamic a talent as anyone else in this piece. He's a 6-foot-5 switch-hitter with big-time power and speed. He needs to improve his approach at the plate before evaluators feel comfortable with his game porting to the highest level. Still, he fared well in 47 games at the Double-A level last season, and there's an enormous ceiling here if he continues to show he can hang and adjust against advanced arms.
Colorado Rockies shortstop Ezequiel Tovar has a good glove and some offensive promise. He's playing in a great ballpark for posting inflated statistics. Alas, voters are aware of the Coors Field effect and have shied away from Rockies hitters for non-Silver Slugger Awards.
Sal Frelick extends Italy's lead to 6 runs here in the bottom of the 8th!— FOX Sports: MLB (@MLBONFOX) March 12, 2023
📺: FS2 and the FOX Sports App pic.twitter.com/ioYvD9XQQG
Let's wrap this up by addressing a few other dark horse candidates in one-liner fashion. The Milwaukee Brewers have several outfielders who could place themselves in the running, including Garrett Mitchell, Sal Frelick, and Joey Wiemer. (Jackson Chourio, just 19, probably won't be a fact until later in the year, if at all in 2023.) Diamondbacks righty Brandon Pfaadt should make his debut early in the year. Atlanta Braves southpaw Jared Shuster doesn't have a high ceiling, though he has commanded his decent three-pitch mix this spring and his candidacy may benefit from a full season on a good team.