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10 Exciting Contenders for 2024’s NL Rookie of the Year

The Major League Baseball season is now more than one-third of the way through. And there’s been plenty to discuss over the season’s first two months.

One interesting development has been the National League’s rookie class.

Over the first two months of 2024, a handful of rookie position players and pitchers have made strong impressions. Entering play on June 10, 13 NL rookies have made at least 100 plate appearances and 28 NL rookies have pitched at least 25 innings or made at least five appearances on the mound (thresholds that were used to weed out players with good numbers in small samples for the list down below).

Of those players, more than a handful have stood out, meaning the NL Rookie of the Year race has the potential to be a fun one to watch over the summer.

Here’s a list of players currently in contention for the award after the first two months of the regular season.

Michael Busch

Busch made his major league debut for the Los Angeles Dodgers last year. But after appearing in just 27 games for LA, he kept his rookie status entering 2024.

After being acquired in an offseason trade by the Chicago Cubs, Busch has taken over as Chicago’s primary first baseman. He’s appeared in 61 games for the Cubs and has slashed .242/.341/.440 in 214 plate appearances with a 121 OPS+. Busch’s eight home runs are the most among rookies in the NL while his 10 doubles are second. He’s shown patience at the plate, evidenced by his 12.6% walk rate and NL-leading 27 walks among rookies. The left-handed hitter also ranks second among rookies with 80 total bases.

Overall, Busch’s 1.2 bWAR is fifth among NL rookies. He’s also been a fine defender at first with two defensive runs saved and four outs above average, according to FanGraphs.

Busch isn’t the NL Rookie of the Year leader here in early June. But he could certainly put himself in contention with a strong summer.

Nick Gonzales

Gonzales made his big-league debut last year for the Pittsburgh Pirates but is still considered a rookie. The 2020 first-round pick made his season debut on May 10, meaning he’s appeared in around just half of the number of games the other position players on this list have. But since being called up, Gonzales has been one of the game’s better hitters across his 111 plate appearances.

Gonzales’ .359 wOBA since his season debut ranks 18th in the NL among qualified hitters. With runners in scoring position, he’s hit .375/.400/.583 in 31 plate appearances. His 23 RBIs since May 10 lead the NL.

Overall, he’s slashing .310/.345/.500 with a 140 OPS+ in 27 games. He’s mostly played second base for Pittsburgh and has graded out as a slightly above-average defender in his small defensive workload.

Gonzales has posted a 0.8 bWAR in his first month of games. If he continues to play the way he has, he may be talked about as one of the NL’s top rookies in September.

Bryan Hudson

When thinking about the league’s best rookies, Hudson may not be the first one to come to mind. The 27-year-old left-handed reliever made his big-league debut with the Dodgers in 2023 and made six appearances. After he was designated for assignment by LA during the winter, the Milwaukee Brewers acquired the lefty via trade. And things have worked out well since.

Hudson currently ranks second among NL rookie pitchers with a 1.9 bWAR. He’s made 23 appearances for the Brew Crew, amassing 35 innings. In that workload, he’s pitched to the tune of a 1.03 ERA, 2.72 FIP and 0.714 WHIP. Hudson has struck out 42 batters while walking just eight. The southpaw has limited opposing batters to a minuscule 33 OPS+.

Hudson isn’t a leading candidate in the NL Rookie of the Year discussion right now, but he certainly should be. He’s been one of the best relievers in one of the baseball’s better bullpens this year. If his summer is just as good as his spring, Hudson could be an under-the-radar pick for the award come voting season.

Shota Imanaga

Imanaga has been nothing short of impressive in his first season in the majors. He’s been the Cubs’ best pitcher so far, along with one of the league’s best arms. He also looks like a potential bargain after signing a four-year, $53 million contract in January.

The Japanese-born lefty has made 12 starts for the Cubs, finishing 69 innings with 72 strikeouts and just 11 walks. His 1.96 ERA is second among NL rookies and third among NL starting pitchers. Meanwhile, Imanaga’s 2.86 FIP is fourth among NL rookies and seventh among NL starters.

Altogether, Imanaga’s 2.3 bWAR is the best of all NL rookie pitchers and second among NL starters. His fastball, which he uses 56% of the time and averages 91.8 mph, has been his best pitch. Batters are hitting .206 against it and slugging just .326. Overall, hitters have a 67 OPS+ against the first-year big-leaguer.

Right now, Imanaga is one of the top choices for NL Rookie of the Year. A lot can change between now and the end of the season, and regression is possible as clubs get a better look at him. But if he keeps pitching at his current level throughout the summer months, he’ll be in contention for more than just NL Rookie of the Year.

Jared Jones

At just 22 years old, Jones has been a bright spot for the Pirates this year. And he looks like someone who could evolve into one of baseball’s better pitchers moving forward.

The right-hander has made 13 starts for the Pirates with a 3.27 ERA and 3.76 FIP across 74 1/3 innings — the most of any NL rookie. Jones’ 79 strikeouts are second among the league’s rookies and he’s walked just 18 batters. He also has a 1.063 WHIP and has held hitters to a 91 OPS+.

Jones’ 1.7 bWAR is currently third among NL rookie pitchers.

Jones has been fun to watch with his high-velocity fastball and nasty slider. And the young starter has dominated opposing lineups at times.

It’ll be interesting to see how he handles a big-league workload as the season progresses. Either way, his stuff is really good and so are his numbers. He’s certainly a name to watch for NL Rookie of the Year entering the summer.

Joey Ortiz

Ortiz was acquired by the Brewers in the trade that sent Corbin Burnes to the Baltimore Orioles. The 25-year-old infielder has been one of the offensive bright spots for Milwaukee, who has been one of the NL’s better clubs.

In 58 games, Ortiz has mostly played third base, grading out well defensively. According to FanGraphs, he’s sitting at one defensive run saved and four outs above average.

At the dish, the right-handed hitter is batting .284/.379/.467 across 199 plate appearances with a 139 OPS+ — all top-three marks among NL rookies. His 12 doubles are tied for first among rookies, too, with his 79 total bases ranking third. When compared to the rest of the majors, Ortiz’s .344 xwOBA falls in the 72nd percentile.

Altogether, Ortiz’s 1.9 bWAR among NL rookie position players is second. Ortiz is showing why Milwaukee wanted him in the return package for Burnes. He’s been a solid defender, offensive contributor, and one of the NL’s best rookies.

Paul Skenes

The 2023 first-overall pick, there was hype around Skenes before he even stepped foot on a professional pitcher’s mound, let alone a big-league one. And since making his major league debut for the Pirates on May 11, the 21-year-old right-hander out of Louisiana State University has been nothing short of electric.

Skenes has only made five starts but he certainly looks the part of NL Rookie of the Year candidate. He’s finished 27 innings and has averaged 12.7 strikeouts per nine innings while walking 2.0 batters per nine innings. He’s pitched to the tune of a 3.00 ERA and 3.04 FIP across his five starts and has held opponents to a 75 OPS+. Skene’s bWAR currently sits at 0.9.

With his electric fastball that averages 99.4 mph and filthy secondary pitches, Skenes has the stuff and makeup of a future ace. And if he continues to perform like he has through the summer, he’ll probably be a top-three vote-getter for NL Rookie of the Year later this year.

Gavin Stone

Stone has been really good for the Dodgers this season. In 12 starts, he’s pitched 67 2/3 innings with a 2.93 ERA and 3.48 FIP. His stuff isn’t flashy and he doesn’t strike out a ton of hitters — he’s at 53 punch outs right now — but he limits quality contact, making him more than effective.

The 32% hard-hit rate against Stone sits in the 88th percentile in the majors, while the 86.9 average exit velocity against him falls in the 87th percentile. He also induces plenty of ground balls. His 44.6% ground-ball rate is in the 59th percentile.

Stone doesn’t walk a ton of hitters, either. His walk rate in his 12 starts is 5.8%, good enough to fall in the 75th percentile.

Overall, Stone isn’t towards the top of contenders for NL Rookie of the Year. But his more-than-solid efforts in the early going have helped his club and are quite impressive.

Masyn Winn

So far, Winn has been the best rookie position player in the NL, according to his 2.2 bWAR. In 58 games for the St. Louis Cardinals, the 22-year-old shortstop has a .306/.355/.435 slash line. His batting average among NL rookies is second-best, while his on-base percentage is also second, and slugging percentage is fourth. Winn’s 126 OPS+ is third.

The Cardinals’ middle infielder is tied with Ortiz for the most doubles by a rookie in the league with 12. His 59 hits are also tied for first while his 84 total bases are the most.

Defensively, the advanced metrics don’t sync up when grading Winn’s glove work. Per FanGraphs, he is sitting at an above-average five defensive runs saved, but a below-average minus-five outs above average.

While those two numbers disagree, the radar gun proves how strong of an arm Winn has. His 93.5 mph average arm strength ranks in the 96th percentile in the majors. Winn is also one of the fastest players in the big leagues. His 28.7 feet-per-second average sprint speed is in the 88th percentile.

Winn has arguably performed like the NL’s top rookie position player. He’s also a fun player to watch. With a great summer, he could cement himself as a legitimate NL Rookie of the Year candidate.

Yoshinobu Yamamoto

The hype around Yamamoto was very high before he signed his record-breaking 12-year, $325 million contract with the Dodgers during the offseason. Heading into the year, he was a heavy favorite for NL Rookie of the Year. And while he may not be the current favorite for the award, he’s still easily a top contender.

In 13 starts, the 25-year-old right-hander has finished 72 innings — second most of all NL rookies. He has a 3.00 ERA in those innings with a 2.64 FIP that leads NL rookie pitchers and ranks fourth among all NL starters. Yamamoto’s 83 strikeouts also lead all NL rookies. He’s also issued just 16 walks in his 72 innings and has a 1.069 WHIP.

Altogether, batters have a combined 78 OPS+ against Yamamoto and his 1.3 bWAR ranks sixth among NL rookie pitchers.

What Yamamoto has done is impressive. He’s lived up to the hype and hasn’t allowed his lackluster first start of the season — he allowed five earned runs in just one inning of work — mess with him. Again, he’s not the favorite for NL Rookie of the Year honors in early June, but by season’s end, it wouldn’t be a surprise if he was.

NOTE: All statistics in this article were accurate entering play on June 10.

Bailey Digh

I've been writing for Diamond Digest since July 2022. I'm also currently a contributor for Phillies Nation. You can find me on X @bailey_digh.

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