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NL Rookie of the Year: Who You Got?

The 2018 crop of Rookie of the Year finalists are serious studs, ready to take the game to the next level.

Ronal Acuña, Jr. by Ian D’Andrea is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

NL Rookie of the Year: Who You Got?

Estimated Reading Time: 8 Minutes

The Rookie of the Year awards often signal the future superstars of the League. in the last few years, ROY winners like Jacob deGrom, Aaron Judge, Kris Bryant, and Carlos Correa have all gone on to dominate their respective leagues. The 2018 class is no different, and the crop of finalists is chock full of solid youngsters ready to take the game to the next level. 

So let’s dive right into your 2018 NL Finalists.

Walker Buehler – P, Los Angeles Dodgers

Walker Buehler is a beast and he showed up in a big way for the Dodgers in 2018. The 24th pick in the 2015 MLB draft was taken by the LA ballclub after the likes of Andrew Benintendi, Ian Happ, Alex Bregman, Carson Fullmer and first overall pick, Dansby Swanson. 

Buehler was didn’t do so well in his first MLB appearances in 2017, getting shelled to the tune of a 7.70 ERA and a WHIP above 2.000, which is by any metric, not great. 2018, he changed the conversation. 

Buehler was dominant during the beginning of the season. Through his first seven starts, Buehler posted a 2.20 ERA, averaging 6.8 strikeouts a start. Not too shabby for a rookie. The next two months, wouldn’t be so kind to young hurler. 

However, in the last two months of the season, Buehler turned on the jets. 

Over the last two months, in his final 11 starts, Buehler tossed a 1.58 ERA. This was also int he midst of the Dodgers late push to the playoffs. During that span, while the Dodgers were attempting to edge out the Arizona Diamondbacks and Colorado Rockies, Buehler faced those divisional opponents 6 times. 

If Buehler were to pull of an upset (more on that later) and take home the 2018 Rookie of the Year honors in the NL, the Dodgers would complete the ROY 3-peat, putting the third consecutive award on their shelf. The Dodgers are young surprisingly young, and their core stars are just getting started, Buehler included. 

Regardless of what the media reports will say about Kershaw’s return to LA, I think we can all safely say that the addition of Buehler, as a reliable arm in the rotation, was certainly a burden. There’s nothing Buehler showed us in 2018 that would indicate that he’s not ready to help take some of the weight off Kershaw’s shoulders. 

And frankly, it’s been a few years since the Dodgers have had a guy like Buehler coming up through their ranks. 

Ronald Acuña, Jr. – OF, Atlanta Braves

Each year there’s one player who truly electrifies the sport and ignites a city. This year that player was Ronald Acuña, Jr.

Acuña’s reputation came into the league before he did, with many pundits talking about his bat, his speed and his fielding ability. When the Braves once again failed to compete in 2017, there was a lot of speculation as to who much the rookie outfielder would help Freddie Freeman take the NL East crown. 

The answer was a lot. Acuña helped a lot. 

In the second half, Acuña posted the 3rd best OPS in the majors with 1.092, giving him the second best OPS of all rookies in the MLB, behind fellow ROY finalist Juan Soto.

Acuña also found himself with many a web gem in 2018. Proving that not only was he a menace at the plate, but his glove wasn’t too shabby either.

And then there was the NLDS. 

The 2018 NLDS wasn’t everything the Braves hoped it would be, eventually losing to the Dodgers three games to one. But there’s a lot to like on this team. I mean, with a young team centered around Freddie Freeman, it feels like the Braves are one or two arms away from being solid threats throughout the league. 

So in Game 3, the first postseason game played at SunTrust Park, Acuña decided to make some noise, and he did it off of fellow finalist Walker Buehler.

Ronald Acuña took Buehler yard for not one, not two, not three, but four runs, becoming the youngest player to hit a postseason Grand Slam. Is that stat going to become a footnote about a terribly dull series? Sure, but it cemented Acuña as a force in this league. It put the Braves back on the map. It was a warning shot across the bow of the National League saying:

I’m not going anywhere.

Juan Soto – OF, Washington Nationals

Full disclosure: I hate the Nationals. They took my Expos away and they once murdered young pitching prospect Kevin Plawecki’s dreams in May of 2016. But if there’s one thing I like, it’s Juan Soto. 

Why? Because he’s very good and he’s not Jayson Werth.

Juan Soto made his first MLB start on May 21st of this year, and on the first pitch he saw, the first swing he took, Juan Soto hit a 3-run home run. I mean, how baseball is that? It gets better. 

Not only did Soto hit a bomb on his first swing, but managed to homer before that. Soto played in a rescheduled continuation of a game against the Yankees from 5 days before. So technically, Soto’s first home run will be his second, but still his first. 

So Baseball. 

Soto’s first year in Washington was a bright light in the midst of a lost season. The Nationals took a hard nose dive, despite not really making any changes to their roster, except adding Dave Gonzalez as Manager and former Mets Hitting Coach Kevin Long. Thos additions were subtractions. 

So when Soto finally gets his big league call-up, things seemed like they would click. But this is the Nationals, and just when you think things can get better, they don’t and the team implodes. 

But Soto is still crushing it. Leading all MLB rookies in OPS with .923, Soto’s slashing line is impeccable, sitting at .292/.406/.517. We know the Nationals have all-star talent, so when I tell you that Soto led the Nats in On-Base% and OPS and was 2nd in Slugging% and Average, you know this kid’s got solid numbers. Soto’s a beast, and he’ll haunt the NL East for years. This kid is the real deal.

My fiancée gets on my case at games because I use the term “Kid” a lot when talking about players. To me, everyone is a kid. I’ve yelled several “Come on, Kid”s in my day. 

I bring this up because Juan Soto is legitimately a kid. When Juan Soto stepped into the box on May 21st, he was 19 years old. So when he parked his first hit, that 3-run bomb, he became the first teenager to hit a home run in an MLB game since his teammate Bryce Harper did it in 2012. Not bad.

So he’s got solid numbers, is young as hell (born in 1998… how old do you feel?), but the best thing about Soto is how veteran his eye is. Soto didn’t strikeout all that much by comparison to his rookie cohorts and his Nationals teammates, but the interesting thing is his walk numbers. 

Juan Soto was second on the Nats in free passes and led the rookie class in ball 4s as well. That kind of discipline isn’t something you see from 19-year-olds every day. 

The other thing to note is that Juan Soto bested Bryce Harper’s Rookie season numbers, and Bryce took home the hardware that year. 

So there’s something to smile about, Nationals fans. 

So who wins?

Frankly, this race was never close. Ronald Acuña, Jr. will be your 2018 Rookie of the Year. Simple as that. The power-hitting outfielder is one of the main reasons the Brave reached the playoffs for the first time since 2013. While all of these finalists are once in a lifetime players for a franchise, it’s Acuña who comes out on top. I mean, you can’t bash 27 homers in your first year and not win some hardware, right?

Justin Colombo is a 2017 Broadway Show Softball League All-Star at 3B/SS. He's essentially the Manny Machado of the Kinky Boots team. Justin has been writing about Baseball since he was a little kid. Now that being an actor in NYC has given him a lot of free time, in 2015 he decided to take his passion public and founded Three Up, Three Down as a way to express his love for the game. From there, Three Up, Three Down grew from a hobby to an obsession. After years of growth and one insult from MLB's Historian, Justin launched The Turf, a way to expand into all areas of the sporting world. Follow him on Instagram and Twitter. LET'S. GO. METS.

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