American League Rookie of the Year Odds & Picks
After breaking down the National League’s Rookie of the Year race, it’s time to do the same thing in the American League. Unlike the NL, where the Dodgers and the Nationals are both World Series contenders with rookies in their lineups, the junior circuit’s top rookies mostly play for lesser teams that are unlikely to contend in 2020.
That makes the job both easier and harder at the same time. On the one hand, the writers are unlikely to be concerned much with regular-season success in their votes, because there’s not going to be much regular-season success for some of these teams (except for possibly the Rays or Athletics). On the other, that means that you’ve got to deal with one of the most annoying parts of baseball: service time manipulation.
When a team that doesn’t plan to contend for a year or two, such as the Blue Jays or the Mariners, gets an outstanding rookie, they’ll often wait until the middle of the season to bring him up to the major leagues. That’s because a rookie remains entirely under team control for three full seasons after they first get to the majors unless their third year of service time puts them in the top 22 percent of players with more than two full seasons but not quite three. Because of that, non-contending teams will often leave a top prospect in Triple-A for a month or two after he’s ready so that they’ll get an extra year of his rookie contract, minimizing the amount they have to pay for him.
That’s great for them, but it’s not so great for us, because it makes it tougher to bet on certain players for the AL ROY award. But here’s our best guess of who’s got the best chance of giving you a return on your money when all is said and done.
Michael Kopech, Chicago White Sox, +350
Kopech is one of the biggest reasons why most baseball insiders expect the White Sox to be in the playoffs in 2021. From Chicago’s perspective, Kopech was the centerpiece of the trade that brought Chris Sale to Boston, a deal that the Red Sox likely regret every day. While Sale has fizzled in Massachusetts, Kopech has set him-self up as the potential long-term ace on the South Side.
What Kopech does better than just about any young pitcher is throwing heat and miss bats. Kopech has al-ways had an excellent strikeout rate and great control. During his final five starts at Double-A Birmingham, Kopech racked up 49 strikeouts while allowing just five walks and two earned runs. He’s a true power pitcher who can throw over 100 miles an hour, and unlike a lot of power pitchers, his command of the strike zone likely means that he won’t be wasting time or batters getting his pitch count too high.
The concern with Kopech is a simple one: nobody knows for sure how his arm will respond after missing all of 2019 to recover from Tommy John surgery. Reports out of spring training were that Kopech’s arm had lost none of its velocity, as his fastball was still hitting over 100 miles an hour in Arizona. But even with those en-couraging reports, the reality is that Kopech hasn’t thrown a pitch in a competitive game at any level in more than a year. Spring training performances are nice, but there’s no guarantee that they’re going to translate into top performances when he starts pitching for real. Every once in awhile, you get a Freddy Sanchez, who turns a strong spring training season into a breakout year, but there’s often little correlation between the spring and the summer.
If Kopech’s return to form is real, he’s got to be a top option for this bet. There’s no question that the White Sox are going to give him every chance to establish himself in the rotation, as they’ve bet a lot on his right arm and are more concerned about 2021 than 2020. However, unlike previous years, the Sox aren’t tanking this season, so there’s plenty of reason to be optimistic that Kopech will produce solid win totals along with his strikeout numbers.
Jesus Luzardo, Oakland Athletics, +650
When your team trusts you enough to send you to the mound in a postseason game as a rookie, that’s a sign that you’re likely headed for big things in the future. Luzardo had the misfortune to come in after Sean Manaea had already spotted the Rays a 4-0 lead, but he was easily the most effective pitcher the Athletics sent to the mound against Tampa Bay, striking out four and allowing just one hit while keeping the Rays scoreless for three innings.
Thanks to a strained shoulder last season, the Athletics weren’t able to bring Luzardo up to the majors until the middle of last season, and that’s great news for gamblers because that meant he finished well short of the 50 inning cap for rookie pitchers. That keeps him eligible for the award this year, and there’s every indica-tion that he’s either going to be in the Oakland rotation or come out of the bullpen from Day 1 this season.
When Luzardo was able to pitch in Oakland, he was quite effective, posting an ERA of 1.50. He’s averaged better than one strikeout per inning in both regular season and postseason competition, and the Athletics trusted him enough to allow him to earn two saves in six appearances last season. The big question for him is how the Athletics choose to use him. If they have him come out of the bullpen, he’ll need to be either a set-up man or closer in order to garner real consideration for the award. If they have him start, however, he’ll have a much better shot at earning the honor at the end of the season.
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Casey Mize, Detroit Tigers, +500
The odds on Mize are reasonably low, and truthfully, I don’t see it this season. Truth be told, there’s a real question now about whether Mize even gets to Michigan before the year is out, as the virus makes it highly likely that the Tigers will give Mize extra time at Triple-A Toledo to make his mistakes for a team that actually has a chance of giving him some wins. The Tigers are going to be just awful in 2020 (and probably pretty terri-ble in 2021 as well). So, there’s little reason to kill Mize’s confidence by throwing him to the wolves against the likes of the Twins, Indians, and White Sox with one of the American League’s worst defenses (and its worst offense) behind him.
When he does make the short trip up Interstate 75, Mize is likely to show why he was the first pick of the 2018 draft. He hasn’t missed bats quite as much as you would like for a ROY candidate, but he has fantastic control, averaging just 1.5 walks per nine innings and posting a WHIP of 0.942 last season at Single-A Lakeland and Double-A Erie. Mize also doesn’t allow many home runs, which will serve him very well in pitcher-friendly Comerica Park whenever he gets to Detroit.
If not for the virus, Mize would be a strong candidate for this coming season. However, he’s never thrown a pitch above Double-A, and the Tigers plan for him to be the ace of their staff throughout the next decade, which means there is no reason for them to rush him. Without the virus, Mize probably would have made the jump to Detroit around the all-star break and had an outside shot at making a charge for the award. As it stands, he’s probably going to be my choice to win the AL ROY award in 2021, as I don’t think he gets to 50 ma-jor-league innings this season. I’m personally rooting for him to spend the entire season in Toledo because that’s going to give us better odds next year on Mize winning this award if the general public doesn’t get to see him pitch in the majors. But for 2020, don’t bother.
Brendan McKay, Tampa Bay Rays, +1000
Noticing a trend here? Most of the top rookies coming up on the junior circuit are pitchers…although McKay is also a hitter, a la Shojei Ohtani. But it’s his left arm that has the American League East worried for 2020, as he blitzed through Double-A Montgomery and Triple-A Durham with a 1.10 ERA before having a few prob-lems when he got to St. Petersburg.
And that’s what’s prevented him from moving up to the big club on a permanent basis. McKay plays for a team that’s clearly in win-now mode, as the Rays are easily the second-best team in the AL East and the only one with any real shot to take down the Yankees. Given that, Tampa Bay doesn’t have time to toss McKay out there if he’s struggling, especially if MLB condenses the season and forces a greater emphasis on each indi-vidual game.
That makes this a high-risk, high-reward bet, as McKay has a high ceiling but no guarantee that he’s going to start the season in Tampa. He’s too good for Triple-A, but because he plays for a playoff contender, he might end up stuck in North Carolina for much of the year.
Luis Robert, Chicago White Sox, +400
The fact that the Pale Hose has two of the favorites to win the AL ROY award only gives further credence to the idea that Chicago is about to become a force in the AL Central. Robert’s also the only full-time position player on this list, and what makes him a top contender is that he’s got the perfect combination of power and speed for the majors. Last year at Triple-A Charlotte, Robert slugged 32 home runs and stole 36 bases, making it clear that he’s got the tools needed to play at the next level.
Robert can also hit for average, but the big concern with him is that he strikes out far too often. Robert fanned five times more often than he walked, and if opposing pitchers can get him to chase bad pitches, he’s likely to struggle quite a bit in the early going. Plus, while the White Sox can be patient with him, they also have three other quality outfielders already on the roster, so if Robert doesn’t get off to a great start, they’re much more likely to bench him or send him down to Charlotte than they are with Kopech.
The other potential issue with Robert is that he’s struggled with injuries during his rise to Chicago, as he missed large chunks of time in 2018. But if you believe that his offense will persist at the major league level, he makes for a solid bet.
Nate Pearson, Toronto Blue Jays, +2000
And here’s your longshot, as Pearson has all the tools needed to win the award, but probably not the oppor-tunity. Pearson held Triple-A hitters to a .176 average while pitching for Buffalo last season, and he seems to have put his injury problems from 2018 in the past. Plus, he plays for a team that’s clearly building toward 2021, as the Blue Jays are trying to piece things together for a run next year or the year after to take ad-vantage of the Red Sox rebuilding.
So why isn’t Pearson going off at better odds than 20-to-1? Remember what we said earlier about service time manipulation? The Blue Jays are likely to be the biggest offenders of this trend this season, as they’ll likely keep Pearson in Triple-A until they can safely bring him up without making him a Super Two in terms of the arbitration. That means that he’s likely going to rack up enough innings to make him ineligible for the award in 2021, but probably won’t pitch for enough innings to have a real shot at the award this year while he is eligible. Such is life when you play in a division with the Yankees and need to keep players under your con-trol as long as possible, but that likely takes a real threat to win the award off the board.
Dan’s Pick to Win the AL ROY
If he’s fully healthy, Kopech has an excellent shot at winning the award, as the White Sox are on everyone’s minds as the team of the future. But honestly, I’d rather put my money on Luzardo. At +650, you’re getting a pitcher who already has real postseason experience and has already shown an ability to perform under pres-sure. Plus, Luzardo has demonstrated the same tendency as Kopech to miss bats, and the Athletics have a better defense than the White Sox do. New-school metrics play a much greater role in the award than they used to, but some baseball writers are grizzled veterans who still place a value on overall ERA, which would give Luzardo an edge over Kopech.
There’s also the possibility of Luzardo getting more media attention than Kopech simply because he plays for a better team. If voters see more of Luzardo pitching in big games, that’s going to weigh in his favor a lot more than Kopech winning games for a team that’s up and coming, but not there yet. There’s nothing wrong with betting Kopech, as he’s the favorite for a reason, but I’m going to place my money on Luzardo. Bet your AL ROY pick for FREE by taking advantage of a special deposit $100 to $300 and get a dollar for dollar matching bonus added to your account! This isn’t a flimsy match play bonus, this is a REAL CASH bonus from one of the biggest and best betting sites on the internet! You must click this special link to take advantage of this offer AND use bonus/promo code PREDICT100 in order to have the bonus credited properly.